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Studying Music to Become a High School Teacher

Question: Hi Albert,

I am a 17-year-old musician and I have played the piano for about two years now. As a late starter music has anything but come easy to me but I really do love and have a passion for it.

I would really like to study music in university but they say there’s a minimum grade 10 Royal College of Music requirement in order to be able to study there. I am frankly a little bit frightened and also a little discouraged.

I am looking to start getting piano lessons soon when I get a job and I would like to work up to a presentable level so that I would be considered in an application to the university in which I would like to study.

Since you started at 17 and are now a concert pianist, I thought that you would be able to relate to my dilemma and perhaps give me some advice on how I can work to get into music at a university level.

I really do love music and I really just need direction and someone who can help me believe in myself and make me stop wishing I’d only started as a child.

Thanks in advance and I hope you have some good advice for me.

– Brendon Quick

Albert’s reply: Brendon,

Thanks very much for your question. It would be irresponsible of me to insist that anyone can start at any time and make it to concert pianist level. Although less talented students can often surpass their more talented peers given proper strategies, training and work, so much depends on individual talent, which varies widely. I can tell you nothing of your individual prospects without hearing you play and working with you in person.

However, I can say that becoming a high school music teacher should be an attainable goal. You don’t necessarily need to be a virtuoso, but you do need to have as high a level of artistic achievement as possible. Here, I concur with the great pianist Alfred Cortot (1877–1962):

What one must always try to do in teaching is to convince the student that they have something to say (if they have) and give them confidence to expand on that. If they can say nothing when faced with a great work of art or find nothing meaningful of themselves to weave into their playing, then I advise them to take up cartography, geography, swimming or anything else where they can do no harm. I never, ever advise them to take up teaching as an alternative to public performance. What can they teach for God’s sake!

You are absolutely going to need to find the best possible teacher in your region. Locate the most reputable university music program near you and ask their piano faculty who in their honest opinion is the best preparatory teacher in your area. This is of course no guarantee that you’ll find the best-suited teacher for you, but it’s much better than taking a stab in the dark. Once you find a teacher, do whatever it takes to pay for your studies. You have no time to waste.

If you don’t yet have the money for private lessons (which will be an absolute must), start by leveraging technology. key-notes is but one resource, and I make virtually all of it available to everyone for free. I’ve worked hard to make it a serious and reliable professional resource and am confident in its pedagogical methodology. Pay particular attention to the Piano Practice articles, as your practice regimen is the single most important factor that will determine your musical progress.

Finally, you’re just going to have to get past the fact that you started late, and be grateful that you started at all and that you discovered your love for music. Think of the millions of people who wish they had learned piano! I dedicate key-notes to adult beginners (read Adult Piano Lessons: Seven Hidden Advantages). The vast majority of music students don’t need to become professional musicians. What everybody can do is discover and develop a love for music, as well as continually improve their musical skills.

I wish you all the best in your career, whatever your decision!

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