Learning to play a musical instrument is like learning another language.

Music is something that can transport you to another world in an instant, or help you to escape the stresses of everyday life.

Whether it is your dream to learn how to play the piano for enjoyment or to progress and hone your skills until you are a professional, your first step is finding the right piano tutor for you.

And sometimes this is the most important music decision you will ever make.

Your First Steps to Getting Started

There are a number of important things to know when searching for piano lessons for beginners and this article will guide you on where to find the right piano tutor and how to know whether the tutor is right for you.

Be Guided by the Cost of Your Tutor

One of the key guiding principles in determining who should teach you how to play piano, is cost. Bear in mind that piano tutors who are employed by music institutions, like private music schools are likely to be more expensive than tutors who teach from home, or will even teach you at your home. Both of these options have their own benefits, it depends what is right for you.

angle view of piano
Be clear about the type of piano you wish to play. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Qualified music teachers will cost more than an advanced student, but depending on the level of experience that your piano teacher has, rates are usually quite standardised.

In South Africa, you can find a piano tutor on an online platform like Superprof, ranging from R100 an hour for a lesson to R435. Some of these tutors teach piano online and even offer the first introductory lesson free.

If you really need to keep costs down when deciding on how to learn to play piano, consider learning in a group, or sharing your tutor with someone else. Not all tutors will teach music this way, but it’s a good question to ask.

How to Find Your Piano Tutor

Finding a number of good piano tutors is not difficult these days, you could search online or ask friends and family for a recommendation. This word-of-mouth option is often a good idea as the person making the recommendation probably knows you quite well and therefore knows what would suit you.

School and shopping centre notice boards are good places to look for music teachers and these are also good places for you to place an advert to say that you are looking for one – this option gives you the opportunity to be specific about what kind of tutoring you require.

Another option to find your private tutor is to drop an email to the head of a music school as many advanced students offer tutoring services part time as a way of paying for their own tuition.

How to Choose Your Piano Tutor

Sheet music
Find out as much as possible about your piano teacher's background. ⎢Source: Unsplash

There are so many tutors who could teach you how to play piano, however, learning by individualised tutorial is a very personal experience. This makes it absolutely vital that both tutor and student are comfortable with each other.

Also, certain piano teachers have specific strengths, so it is worth deciding for yourself upfront what aspect of learning how to play piano you want to emphasis and then making sure that your tutor is skilled in that area. You may simply want to learn to play piano for fun and to entertain your friends, but on the other hand, you might have serious aspirations or even want to become a teacher yourself in the future.

Some music tutors are self-taught while others have traditional education specialising in one or more instrument. Some piano teachers are also able to play and teach guitar, cello, violin, bass etc.

A few questions you could ask yourself before you get started:

  • Why do I want to learn how to play the piano?
  • What other instruments interest me?
  • How quickly do I want results?
  • What type of music would I like to play?

The answers to these questions could certainly help you with a search online for piano tutors near you.

In this day and age it is tempting to get in touch via text or WhatsApp, but because private tuition is so personal, it is recommended to take the time to make a call and to talk over the phone or meet. This way you can also see the environment your lesson might be taking place in, if it’s not at your home.

woman teaching child to play piano
Ask for recommendations for a good piano teacher. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Another fantastic method to search for your tutor is via the internet on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Generally responses are immediate, you can see reviews and also get a good idea of what your tutor is like and why they are popular.

Dedicated tuition platforms like Superprof  not only specialise in assisting potential students to find the ideal tutor, but also take into account your location, which makes everything so much easier – especially when busy schedules and traffic congestion challenges could unnecessarily eat into your piano playing practise.

A free introductory lesson is a really good opportunity for both student and teacher to establish whether they will get along. One-on-one tuition is very personal and will require high amounts of interaction. It is not like being in a large class when you don’t have to engage, so this free lesson, like many Superprof tutors offer, could save you time and money down the line.

Don’t Forget to Ask About the Piano  

This is another good reason to meet your tutor before committing to paid lessons. You might have ideas of learning to play on a grand piano while your piano tutor offers lessons on an electronic keyboard or upright piano. Ask yourself what type of piano you would like to learn to play on and then don’t forget to ask.

Private Tutors and Timing

One of the advantages of being taught piano by a private tutor when you are a beginner is that you won’t need to commit to a five year plan upfront. You may even have the option to dip in and dip out when you are learning how to play piano. This of course needs to be discussed upfront with your piano tutor, you may need to commit to a term or a month at the least.

Your First Lesson: Manage Your Expectations

This could be the lesson where you ask all the questions to establish whether your piano tutor is right for you, so it could take a little longer.

Expect the teacher to ask you questions too - if these are not forthcoming, offer as much information as you can about your goals, as well as what you would like to emphasise in your piano lessons for a beginner.

It would be very helpful and motivating for you to walk away from this first meeting or lesson with a schedule, programme and goal for you to learn to plat piano.

Private Tuition Etiquette

man playing piano
Practise at every opportunity. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Your future piano tutor may have some standards for engagement, but if not, find out what their private tuition do’s and dont’s are.

For instance:

  • If you have to cancel a lesson, how much notice does your tutor require?
  • Will you be able to reschedule?
  • If the tutor cancels what happens to your lesson?
  • Find out about things like whether you can take a call, or reply to a text in a lesson, or whether this would this be against the rules.   

In summary, think about what you need to know from your tutor and what you want them to know about your piano playing goals. Be as honest and upfront as you can as this will manage expectations and save you from jumping from tutor to tutor in trying to learn how to play piano.

Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced piano player, it is possible to find just the right tutor for you. So whether it’s learning jazz chords, how to improvise, or how to play by ear or read music, make sure your tutor is aware of your goals.  

Perhaps you just want to improve your rhythm or fingering or master a chord. Or perhaps you want to learn how to compose. With so many tutor options at your disposal, the right person to teach you how to play piano is out there.

Remember that music is one of the great joys of life so the main thing is to make sure that you enjoy every moment, whether it’s a short escape from reality, or whether you intend to make it your life’s work.

All the best with your first piano lesson.

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Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.