Teaching Approach and FAQ

Teaching Approach

The goal of lessons is to train the student to become an independent musician who plays with confidence and artistic expression in order for music to become a source of life-long enjoyment.  I believe that students can achieve excellence without being demoralized.  Therefore, lessons are taught in a warm, caring environment with an emphasis on mutual respect between the teacher and the student.  Details of my approach are:

Playing duets develops ensemble skills, aural skills, and artistry- and it's fun!
Playing duets develops ensemble skills, aural skills, and artistry- and it's fun!
  • Artistic expression and the development of a healthy technique are emphasized for all students at all levels. 
  • Because I am classically trained, instruction reflects the disciplined, sequential approach that is the hallmark of classical training.
  • When errors occur in a student's playing, the student is taught specific techniques for correcting the errors.
  • Students are taught effective practice techniques.
  • Students are encouraged to play music in many settings such as school, church, musical theater, and with friends who may play instruments or sing.  I am happy to help the students learn the music that they perform in these settings.
  • Although classical music is the core, a wide variety of music is used for teaching.
  • Students do not all play the same music.  Music is selected for each individual student based on the following criteria:
    • The music will motivate the student to want to learn.
    • The music will further the student’s technical and artistic development.
    • The music will further the student’s music reading ability.
  • Training in scales, chords, and arpeggios is included at all levels.
  • Instruction in music theory and music history is woven into the curriculum so students will be better able to understand and interpret the music that they are playing.
  • Organ students also receive instruction in hymnody, pedal technique, and registration.

What level students do you teach?

A student plays for her father's U.S. Navy retirement ceremony.
A student plays for her father's U.S. Navy retirement ceremony.

Piano: I teach piano students who are able to study repertoire at the intermediate and advanced levels.


Organ: I teach students who may have never played the organ, provided they have keyboard skills that they have learned through previous piano study.  I also teach experienced organists who wish to advance their skills.





Do you teach adults?

Joann leading a church choir retreat.
Joann leading a church choir retreat.

Yes.  I enjoy my adult students very much.  For more information, please see the page for adult students on my website.

What should I consider before committing to music lessons?

Performing music written for two pianos.
Performing music written for two pianos.

The primary reason for not succeeding in learning to play a musical instrument is not lack of talent.  It is lack of skills.  Skills are acquired through consistent, daily practice.  Anyone who wishes to become proficient enough to enjoy playing a musical instrument needs to be prepared to work.  The work can be joyful work, but it is hard work nonetheless.


Before starting music lessons, I strongly urge students (and their parents, if the student is a child) to evaluate whether or not the schedule will allow time for daily music practice.  Although everyone starts lessons with the best of intentions, the reality of a multitude of other activities often means that there is simply not enough time in the daily schedule to add one more thing.  Students who enter into lessons without the requisite amount of time available for practice become discouraged because they fail to make progress. 


Planning ahead for practice time in the schedule is the first step towards success as a musician.

What are your expectations for practice?

Students having fun at the Kitsap Music Teachers Association Music Carnival.
Students having fun at the Kitsap Music Teachers Association Music Carnival.

Plan on 30 to 90 minutes per day, at least five days per week.  Students who wish to enter competitions or who are planning for a career in music practice much more.  It is the reinforcement given by consistent daily practice that will ensure success.  Setting a consistent practice time in the daily schedule is one key to success.  My most successful students have scheduled their practice at a set time daily-- "if it's 4:00, then it's time to practice."


There is no way to sugar-coat this-- no matter how much students may learn in their once-per-week lesson with me, they will not acquire the skills necessary to be able to play a musical instrument unless they practice regularly at home.  This takes discipline, time, and work on the part of the student.  I can guide my students, but I cannot do the work for them.


Goal based practice is essential.  My students have assignment notebooks that clearly outline the goals that need to be accomplished before their next lesson.  I teach my students concrete methods for accomplishing those goals.  Simply playing through a piece a few times or noodling while watching the clock until a set amount of time passes will not accomplish these goals.  Having said that, a portion of each practice period should be devoted to playing familiar pieces and improvising just for fun.



How Can Parents Help their Children Succeed?

Parents are vital to the success of student musicians.  Students crave positive comments from their parents.  Research has shown that praising a student's hard work in achieving a goal is extremely motivating to the student and sets the stage for future accomplishment.  Students who are praised when they know that they have not accomplished anything soon ignore praise, so keeping it "real" is essential.  "Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard." (Kevin Durant)


Unconditional love is absolutely essential.  There will be times when a child will play poorly in performance-- every musician has occasional bad performances.  When this happens, the child does not need to be reprimanded or reminded of mistakes (or even that they should have practiced more).  The child already feels bad.  The child needs the parent to show unconditional love.


Now for the hard part for parents...  Most children are not developmentally able to set a practice schedule and stick to it without being reminded by an adult.  Sometimes I hear from parents that they don't want to get into a fight with their child over practice, so if the child doesn't feel like practicing, then so be it.  Unfortunately, what those parents are doing is setting the child up for failure.  If a child does not practice regularly, then the child will not acquire the skills necessary in order to play a musical instrument.  Playing music is a skill based activity.  No skills = no music.  Sadly, the children who don't succeed due to lack of practice often interpret their inability to play as their not being "talented" enough.  In reality, they have plenty of "talent."  What they lack are skills.



Having raised two children who took music lessons from other music teachers, I can sympathize with parents who are struggling to get their children to practice.  However, one of the keys to success is to treat the music education that the child receives through private lessons as being equally important to the education that the child receives in school.  Once this has been firmly established in the household, then practice becomes a non-negotiable issue-- it simply becomes "homework,"  just like math or any other subject.  The child soon realizes that having free time is dependent upon getting homework done first-- including practice.  

Why is consistent practice so important?

At Central Washington University for State Solo and Ensemble Contest.
At Central Washington University for State Solo and Ensemble Contest.

There are no shortcuts when learning to play a musical instrument.  Musical proficiency requires effort over a long period of time.  The three components required for success are:

  1. Adequate time for daily practice (a minimum of five days per week)
  2. Attention to detail when practicing
  3. A step-by-step progression that builds skills 


Learning to play a musical instrument involves a complex interaction of mental and physical training.  Playing music is a skill-based activity.  These skills are developed gradually over a long period of time and must be reinforced on a daily basis.  There is no quick way to learn to play a musical instrument-- it requires hard work over a long period of time.  Once the daily habit of practicing has been established, however, the process of learning and playing music becomes quite enjoyable.

Do I have to perform?

No-one is required to perform.  However, performance is encouraged as part of the educational process, especially for children and teenagers.  I especially encourage students to play for their families and friends.  Students learn to communicate through the music that they play for others.  Students generally practice more carefully when they know that they have an upcoming performance.  Performing helps students develop poise under pressure.  Because there is no perfect performance, students learn how to recover from mishaps — they discover that the world does not end if they make a mistake.  Once students have tried performing, most find it enjoyable to play music for friends and loved ones.

I'm interested in organ lessons.  What can you tell me about your approach?

Sometimes organ lessons are held at local churches.  This allows the student to learn to play on different kinds of organs.
Sometimes organ lessons are held at local churches. This allows the student to learn to play on different kinds of organs.

As a teacher, my training is best suited to teach classical and church organ music.  I do not teach popular music intended to be played on small home organs.  


If you are a pianist who has been called into service to play at church, then lessons will begin with a “crash course” in basic organ playing to allow you to become functional as an organist in as short a time as possible.  Pedaling, basic registration, and manual technique will primarily be taught using hymn playing and easy service music (preludes, postludes, etc.).  More advanced organ technique and learning standard organ repertoire will be gradually added as lessons progress.



If you do not need play for church, then a step-by-step approach to build technique and learn organ repertoire will be followed from the start.  

Will you come to my home to teach?

I teach piano exclusively from my studio.  Organ lessons are taught on the pipe organ in my studio.  Should an organ student need me to give an on-site lesson in order to learn how to operate a particular organ, additional fees to cover travel may be applied for that lesson.

Do you give discounts?

Longer lessons receive a discount in the tuition rate.  Families may choose to share a longer time-slot to receive this discount.

Do you give a free trial lesson?

The first time we meet will be for a free consultation.  The purpose of this consultation is to discuss the student's musical needs.  I will also evaluate the student's current level of musicianship and make recommendations for a course of study.  This consultation usually lasts between 20-30 minutes.  


Should you wish to take a trial lesson, the regular lesson fee will apply.  Based on scheduling, this lesson may occur immediately following the consultation, or it may be scheduled at a later date.   If you would like to schedule a paid-for lesson as a follow-on to the free consultation, please inform me of this when we arrange for our initial meeting.

Can I take lessons for a trial period to see if lessons with you are a good fit?

Yes.  Students who wish to see if my teaching style is appropriate to their learning style may arrange for a trial period of lessons, as my schedule permits, before they commit to a regular lesson time-slot.  These lessons are charged at the rate shown on my studio policy for adult lessons.

Are you a competition-based teacher?

My studio is not competition-based.  My focus is to help students develop well-rounded musical skills that will allow them to play a wide variety of music, both for their own enjoyment and also to be able to play in the community.



Students who wish to enter competitions and study in a highly-competitive atmosphere would be best served by another music studio. 

What kind of instrument do I need?

Piano Students

For optimal progress, piano students need an acoustic piano that is kept in good tune and condition. Because touch and tone production are integral to classical piano training, progress will be held back if students do not have a responsive piano for practice.  Although electronic keyboards have improved, most do not have the touch sensitivity or the resonant tone that is necessary when undergoing classical training.  Therefore, even if the student begins lessons having only an electronic keyboard for home practice, plans should be made for the eventual purchase of an acoustic piano.


Recognizing that there may certain circumstances where a student may not be able to have an acoustic piano at the start of lessons, here are a few recommendations for what to look for in electronic keyboards (some are called electric pianos, depending on the manufacturer).

  • Keys should be full-sized and weighted to simulate the action of an acoustic piano. 
  • Keys should be sensitive and responsive to touch for the purposes of dynamics (playing loud and soft) and articulation (playing notes that sound connected or notes that sound short and separated). 
  • There must be a full set of 88 keys. 
  • The keyboard should have a damper pedal (sometimes called a "sustain" pedal).
  • The tone quality of the keyboard should be pleasing to the ear and sound as close to an acoustic piano as possible.  There are articles online that talk about sampling and velocity layers which can help explain some of the differences in sound quality.
  • The keyboard should have a stand that places the keyboard in a position where the height from the floor to the tops of the white keys measures approximately at 28.5" (inches).  It will not work to place the keyboard on a counter.  The player's knees need to go under the keyboard.

Even when playing an acoustic piano, adjustments in bench height will vary from player to player in order to accommodate different body sizes.  These adjustments are often handled with something as simple as sitting on some big books.  If the keyboard does not come with a bench, sitting in a good, sturdy chair is fine while making the necessary height adjustments.


Organ Students

Organ students need to have access to an organ with a full pedalboard for practice.  Most organists do not have an organ at home. Arrangements for practice several days per week can usually be arranged with a local church.