So you've taken the leap. You finally bought your piano or keyboard and found your ideal teacher. Then you wonder, "How do I get ready for the first lesson?"
aaaaand ... you draw a blank.
In a perfect world, your piano teacher would prepare everything you need - and I'd have a free lifetime supply of Lebanese kebab. We both know that's not going to happen (sad face). You're probably never going to find the "perfect" piano teacher, which means you'll have to do some homework. Well ... I've done it for you.
Here's a simple guide to prepare you on what to know, and what to expect, before your first piano lesson.
Before Your First Piano Lesson
Your Heart's Desire
Know exactly what you want before your first lesson. Do this one thing and you're already in the top 90% of piano students. I can't tell you how many times a client hasn't even decided, by our first lesson, what music they want to play. Either that or they leave everything up to me.
What musical interests do you lean towards? Furthermore, does your teacher know how to actually teach it? Because learning something like jazz can be a totally different path than playing classical music.
Also, how serious are you? Do you want to work on fundamental piano skills and develop solid technique? Or are you looking for a laidback approach?
At the very least, know what you want to play and how much time you can dedicate to practice.
Let's Play Limbo
Lower your expectations! This is especially important for you older students out there. Though I have a great track record when it comes to kids, I can't say the same for adults.
It's frustrating, because the reasons they ended up quitting were purely psychological. I can't say for certain what they were thinking (though I've been there many times), but if I had to put it into words ... it's fear of failure.
So here's an effective, but counterintuitive, suggestion: expect to fail.
This does not mean to be a sourpuss. You still want to have positive expectations you'll succeed in the long run.
But it's the long run.
Let's say you have expectations of success from the very first lesson. What if it doesn't go the way you want?
That's going to discourage you. This is because you will judge yourself according to those expectations.
So I find it's better to have no expectations. No expectations = no judgment.
And no judgment means no pressure.
Now I'm not saying to not have a goal, the problem has to do with setting it so high that it's too difficult to reach.
Let's take writing as an example: A novice writer will look at a blank page and visualize the entire project (be it an essay, short story or, God forbid, a novel).
If you approach writing like this, you'll be so overwhelmed you won't even start.
A better idea is to set and achieve smaller goals (also known as benchmarking). The more goals you reach, the easier it is to keep things going.
As Stephen King says, "you write one word at a time." You can't win the war if you lose each battle.
Can't get that entire paper done? Write a page. Can't do a page? Write a paragraph, a sentence, a single word.
This is not about taking it easy on yourself (in a way it is), it's about setting realistic goals you can achieve on a deadline.
Side note: If you're interested in the topic of goal-setting, I highly suggest you google "S.M.A.R.T. goals" (after you're done reading wink wink).
And no matter what happens, don't blame yourself. This one lesson is not a make-it or break-it moment.
What new students don't realize is that I'm thinking at least one year ahead from where they're at. They can only see what's in front of them, yet I see the thousands of babysteps that will lead to their destination.
At Your Lesson
So the big day is finally here. Your goal shouldn't be to just jump straight into the material. Think of the first lesson(s) as a "feeling out" process.
1. Ask Questions and
2. Bring a notebook (in addition to your instructions booklet)
Curiosity Didn't Kill The Cat
Here's a sample action plan to discuss with your piano teacher:
The better your teacher knows you, the more effective your plan will be. Ideally, he or she will be asking you the following questions:
Additional questions: How many days (weekly) are you planning to practice? Will you take any breaks from lessons during the year? If you do take breaks, what will your strategy be?
Now let's say you don't get any of these questions. Then you need to go first.
I know it's not easy, remember the last time when you were in grade school? How did you feel asking a question in front of the entire classroom?
If your experience was like mine, 1 of 2 things happened. You either didn't ask because you were petrified (too many eyeballs on you) or you did ask and the teacher criticized you in front of everyone.
And you said to yourself, "NEVER AGAIN!"
So even if there's only one person in front of you, subconsciously you're still feeling like the (unwanted) center-of-attention on that day in the classroom.
This is also one of the reasons why we lose our natural curiosity over time.
I know it's hard, but you still have to go first. Remember, good questions lead to better lessons.
Watch Out For This
Now, let's talk about a deceptive problem that I call "Authority Syndrome."
What happens is we tend to automatically defer to people in positions of authority (whether they're knowledgeable or not). And many times, these "authorities" can be arrogant just because they have the credentials - ever been pulled over by a nice police officer?
Now I'm not saying to talk back to that policeman (because that's a fast way to double your traffic ticket), but when you're paying to see a professional it's a different story.
This is important, because most professionals let their ego cloud their judgment. This applies especially to schoolteachers. Think about it: the public education system has been FAILING for years (if not decades), yet you're going to have a hard time convincing ANYONE they're doing ANYTHING the wrong way.
What they don't understand is that book smarts don't equal street smarts and a degree doesn't replace real-world experience.
So if you're dealing with someone like this, what I suggest is doing some homework ahead of time. It will change how they see you.
When it's clear you've done some research, and know some of their terms and methods, they're no longer an authority talking down to you. They become a
But if they stubbornly insist on their way or the highway, I suggest you drop them immediately and begin a new search.
At my lessons, I tell all my students - no matter what age they are - that I want more questions out of them. I want them to understand that it's a good thing.
It's also a way to remind myself that I don't know it all.
If you're still a little nervous, remember this: It's coming out of your wallet. Get a good return on your investment and don't let those dollars go to waste.
The Pen Is Mighty
It's a myth that successful people remember everything. In reality, they write everything down. I mean if Beethoven carried a notebook, I think we should too.
My best pupils are always taking notes (they really pay attention). Unfortunately, the majority of students don't and have to be constantly reminded to write down important things.
Don't make that mistake, write those notes! It's because no one cares about your lessons but you (yes, even your piano teacher won't care as much as you do). By taking the time to write your own notes, you're proving to yourself how bad you want this.
You're showing initiative.
Personally, I ALWAYS have my laptop open while I'm teaching. I'll often have a flash of insight, or have an important thought, during the lesson. I'll make a note on it immediately, since I don't want to risk forgetting.
And I always explain to my students what I'm doing.
When it's their turn to write, I give them as much time (and silence) as they need.
By the way, your teacher should feel flattered when you take notes. It shows you're paying attention - and speaking of attention, just the very act of note-taking snaps you out of any passiveness.
Also, make sure you don't judge what you write down (this goes for questions as well). Write down anything and everything. If you start thinking, "is this good enough?" then you'll end up in paralysis analysis (meaning no notes and no bueno).
Now, in the long run about 90% of your notes may be useless (though that percentage will be much smaller if it's your first time). But listen to me when I tell you that the remaining 10% will be eventually become pure gold.
Remember, note-taking is just like piano: It takes practice.
The Big Picture
Do NOT make a big deal out of your first lesson. It's really not that important - no expectations, remember?
First experiences just feel like a big deal.
But you do want to ask, "can I commit long term?" Because life will definitely get in the way and you'll have no shortage of challenges to both your personal and professional life.
Also consider how far your teacher lives from you. Even if you find a really good teacher, a tough commute can sap your motivation real quick (something I sadly know from experience).
Another factor is cash (dollar, dollar bill y'all). Besides forking up the money for a piano or keyboard, the bills for lessons will definitely add up. So make sure you're in a good place financially.
But if you're strapped for cash, and can't wait to get started, group piano lessons are a good alternative. Although I personally don't think too much of them, group lessons are waaay more affordable and you get to play alongside fellow students (something you don't get at private lessons).
Of course there are many strategies you'll find on this blog to help you through rough times, but just having a firm commitment will make things much easier.
It's all in the preparation. Any good carpenter knows that you measure twice and cut once. And Abraham Lincoln famously said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
And once you do get started, stay alert at your lesson.
You Got This
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