Guest post by Lorraine Augustine
I am aware that this is a very contentious issue/question for many; however it is something I personally feel very strongly about and believe that it should be addressed and discussed widely within the profession.
To that effect, in preparation for my article, I posed the question on an online piano forum as to whether or not piano teachers ought to have achieved a minimum level of piano specific qualifications in teaching and/or performance before setting themselves up as piano teachers, and whether or not the profession should be regulated to ensure that teachers do have the minimum piano specific qualifications.
The post drew some pretty strong reactions, and I must admit I was very surprised at the number of piano teachers who strongly disagreed with me. However, there were many who strongly agreed, one of whom is eminent concert pianist and Professor of Piano, Karl Lutchmayer, who has kindly agreed to share his thoughts and views for this article below:
“Would you send your child to a ‘paediatrician’ who only had an A level in biology? Of course not, and neither would you be able to because it is a regulated profession. Yet, anyone can set up as a private music teacher. As such, every year, professionally qualified music teachers take on students who have been poorly taught and have to put them through the utterly disappointing process of unlearning bad teaching. This may turn the student off music entirely, and occasionally, particularly at higher levels of study, the student has endured long-term psychological or physically damaged that will seriously undermine their future learning. Yet, as long as the first teacher has done nothing illegal there is no way to prevent them doing the same to hundreds of other students.
Such a situation would be intolerable in other forms of teaching. Various commentators point out that there are bad qualified teachers. This is certainly true, and only means that regulation should set the bar higher, particularly with CPD, than it is at the moment, it is not a reason to avoid regulation. Others point out the cost for teachers, but such regulation is required, for instance, for osteopaths who bear the cost as part of their costs. Would you really want osteopathy without regulation? If we are going to accept that bad teaching can cause both psychological and physical damage, then the lack of the requirement for a regulatory body is not only bizarre, it is a derogation of our duty of care as professionals educators..”
I wholeheartedly agree with Karl. Like many piano teachers I regularly inherit transfer students from other teachers, and whilst many have been well taught, and have strong foundations on which to build, at least an equal number have not. The majority of those students who come to me with poor technique, notes written in the score, no idea about phrasing, articulation, tone production, balance and voicing etc, have been taught by unqualified teachers. By this I mean people who have set themselves up as a teacher with a very minimum level of skills themselves, perhaps a playing level of below even grade 5 standard, and very little understanding of the instrument and its repertoire, nor of pedagogy or andragogy.
Sadly, many of these students will not have realised that their teacher does not have the necessary skills required in order to help them build the strong foundations they will need to be able to play the piano well, and by the time they transfer to a teacher who does they are already frustrated at not being able to play the repertoire which they are learning as they lack the technical and musical skills to do so, unfortunately many find the task of rebuilding those foundations too daunting and will give up. I find that incredibly sad as they will have started out with enthusiasm and joy for the piano.
To add to my concerns, I frequently see job advertisements stating ‘piano teachers required, no qualifications or experience necessary’ this is a very worrying situation and not only will lead to more poor teaching and the increased risk of physical injuries due to poor technique, but it seriously undermines our profession.
Every interview I have ever attended has required me to perform and to teach to a panel of highly qualified professionals, followed by rigorous questions on technique, repertoire, my entire teaching ethos and also questions on child protection/ safeguarding issues. This is in addition to evidencing my qualifications and experience, so for me this is answers the argument that others are raising about qualifications not guaranteeing good teaching, they don’t always, but evidencing them in some way, and a requirement to undergo CPD goes a long way towards doing so.
As Karl mentions, other professions require qualifications and have a system of ensuring that standards are upheld. For example, I have recently completed a Coaching course at Guildhall School of Music and Drama where I teach piano, the course is not specific to piano but I have a great interest in studying and in a wide range different educational approaches so I decided to delve deeper into the coaching approach. On completion of this course I received a certificate from GSMD, but to gain the Foundation level qualification I must now complete another 20 hours of coaching which I must record and send for assessment, then this will be submitted to the EMCC for accreditation, if I did not pass then I would need to complete further training and resubmit an application to gain my qualification. This qualification still does not mean that I would be a qualified Coach, the ‘coaching’ which I have experience of within my teaching does not count at all for this qualification, I must evidence that I am competent in order to call myself a Coach. This first course is just a start, I must then complete another course and another 100 hours of (non paid) coaching practice before I can give myself the title of coach. Do I think this is wrong or unfair, no absolutely not and I believe that a similar system would work well for piano teachers.
Another example is that I sing and have done so all my life – from madrigal groups to London theatre choirs and bands; I have been in many professional shows within these choirs but I would never attempt to teach singing lessons. I know how to use my own voice but I do not have the first clue of how to teach someone else to use theirs so it would be morally and professionally wrong of me to try and do so.
There are other professional issues which are really important to consider, one of which is that without professional status it would be more difficult to obtain public liability insurance and the enhanced DBS certificate along with the necessary child protection/safeguarding training that one should have if teaching children one to one in private practice. It will also not be possible to belong to a professional body such as the ISM as a professional member with private teacher status.
Finally, unfortunately because anyone can set themselves up as a piano teacher, it does lead to us being seen as having a lovely ‘hobby job.’ There is much discussion in the press and within music education in general of how music continues to be downgraded, how it is seen as unimportant and more as an add on hobby than a serious subject. By continuing to allow this situation of unqualified piano teachers setting up to continue are we not perpetuating this school of thought?
I am proud of my career and my hard-earned qualifications, I continue to study not only because I am passionate the piano and my lifelong journey with it as a player and teacher, but because I strongly believe that we owe it to our students to offer the very best teaching we can give them because the students, the music and the piano deserve no less.
Lorraine Augustine is a Pianist, teacher and adjudicator based in Bedfordshire, with over 40 years’ experience of teaching and performing she teaches piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and runs a busy private practice in Bedfordshire.