by Sarah Morris

(Article first published in 2001 in ‘The California Music Teacher’ - the Official Journal of the Music Teachers’ Association of California)

I was recently given an assignment for an English project in school to ‘capture the spirit of a worker.’ I am a sophomore in high school and my mother is a piano teacher. Although I’m well aware of her job, well, who wouldn’t be? – the noise penetrates the whole house – I’d never really  discussed how she views herself in the role she has chosen as her profession. So one hot summer evening I sat down with her. After I took a seat on my rocking chair across from her she found some sewing to do and this is the result of the interview.

Why did this job appeal to you?

‘I could set my own hours and work out my own schedule around the needs of my family. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish with three small children! After sending eight years teaching music to classes of thirty or more in junior high and high schools, I now had the privilege of working one on one with a student, something that is very special to me. I could take vacations around my own children’s schedule. From a musical standpoint, I don’t think the music teaching that I got when I was young was very good, so I try to be a better teacher than the ones I had.’

When and how did you decided to do this job?

‘Twelve years ago my family moved to California from the East Coast. One of the first places I visited in my new town was the local music store and a fellow musician suggested I do some private teaching. ‘You could rent a studio here,’ he suggested. That’s how I got started. I couldn’t teach at home because my children were too small and made a great deal of noise! It was a great beginning because parents would come into the store looking for a piano teacher and they would be referred to me, so very quickly I built up a full studio.’

Do you have any regrets?

‘I didn’t meet any other adults in this job. It can be a lonely profession. In spite of my love of interacting with children, there were times it would have been good to talk to other adults about their teaching experiences. That’s why I joined the Music Teachers’ Association, and found out there were lots of other people out there teaching piano too.’

What drives you to keep on doing this job?

She leaned forward in her chair and thought about this one long and hard. I could see the creases on her brow as if she was debating whether she should say what was on her mind or not. Finally she said, ‘ I’m getting to be a better teacher. The more I do it, the more I learn. I like  learning new material, presenting familiar  pieces in different ways and the daily challenge brought about by  every student  having different needs and learning styles.’

What were your experiences in training for the job, and what helped you most?

‘The training I had was very poor.’ She pauses, thinking of something to add to this observation. ‘It was not geared to being a private music teacher, but primarily focused on learning how to teach music in public schools. Even then, it was very poor. It was totally irrelevant; I never used anything I learned in college, as regards teaching music. What helped me most was taking lessons with my current piano teacher and getting involved, through him, in the Music Teachers’ Association, so I could exchange ideas with other teachers and learn from their wealth of experience.’

How does you job affect your daily life?

‘I have to keep the house clean.’ She laughed aloud, but I know it is true. ‘It means starting work just as my own children are getting home from school. I have the mornings free to do whatever I like-go for a walk, work out at the gym or have lunch with friends. But the downside if that I begin work in the afternoons. Just at the point where my own body rhythm is slowing down, I have to get psyched up and organized for work. I’d like to teach longer in the evenings but that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the family, so I don’t do it. In the past two years I’ve started going to music conferences and that’s the best excuse I can find for getting away for a few days and doing something just for me!’ 

Has anyone in particular influenced you?

‘I think that if I’d have remained teaching only at the music store, never meeting other teachers I would probably have given up by now. So in my present job I have everything to thank my current piano teacher for. Way back when, my college piano teacher was the first person who made me believe in myself -  that I could actually play the piano well and that I might be able to have some sort of career in the music world.’

Does teaching piano affect your personality in any way? 

‘I’ve got to be incredibly patient for several hours at a time, which sometimes means that I am not very patient with my own children immediately I finish teaching for the day. You have to be very resourceful when you are teaching because every child learns in a different way. So I think that the creativity I cultivate every day as I teach overflows into everything else I do.’


After the interview my mom went to practice for her own piano lesson the next day. Everything my mother does in her life somehow relates to music or teaching. I think that being able to teach piano to children has taught her to be more patient with her own children. She doesn’t get frustrated when we can’t do our homework, or come to her with our problems. My mum just lets her creativity take over.

© Sarah Morris 2001

P.S. Sarah graduated as a music major at U C Santa Cruz and is now a music teacher herself!