In this world of vanity and self-importance, of affectation and false priorities, the place of study is one of the most important factors that will determine your future.

Many suggest that when you want to become a pianist, the first and foremost thing that you need to choose is the teacher who is going to guide you in your college years, and then the place of study. WRONG.

Many years ago I naively believed that If I found a good teacher, no matter the place of study, be it the greatest music college in the world or the smallest community centre, this would make me a successful professional and a great musician too. Little did I know…

On one hand, I was right; yes, theoretically it’s better if you find your sole-mate-teacher in the local community centre that will guide you to achieve your dreams, than suffer with bad teaching in a recognised institution. It’s true that in many cases pianists have studied with a great teacher in a “lesser” place and have managed to become famous pianists and pedagogues with indisputable musical quality.

However, what happens when things don’t go that brilliantly? For instance, what happens if later in life we lose interest in becoming solo pianists and we have to resort in the readily available art of teaching? Don’t forget that anyone with a little knowledge in piano can become a piano teacher. What happens if we don’t become famous pianists? Because, after all, there’s only so much space for virtuoso pianists in this world. And, please forgive me, and do allow me to become more pragmatic and say, what happens if, touch wood, an accident occurs or we get tendonitis? Who is going to play for us in the concert hall? Certainly not the great teacher from the local music studio.

However, the “Big” qualification on the wall is always going to do the “playing”.

So, do I say that a teacher doesn’t count towards you musical development but just the place of study? No, not at all.

However, you are to answer the following questions before choosing where, and with whom to study:

1. Are you really that sure that your chosen teacher is going to do the trick?

2. What gives you the conviction that the other music college doesn’t have a teacher that would equally inspire you and make you a better pianist?

3. Do you believe that there is only one teacher, at any given time, to help a student succeed? I strongly believe that the place of study is as important, if not more important, than the teacher that you study with. Don’t forget that, at the end of the day, what counts the most is music itself. People are people; they all have their own strengths, wisdoms, weaknesses, etc. So, we need to make sure that we take the right decisions at the right time.

A good place of study will undoubtedly inspire you to create better music. Its students and teachers are going to be of a higher standard, and that in itself will drive you to reach your musical limits and inevitably make you a better pianist. It’s like magic; you don’t know why but when you are in a good place somehow you become good, as well.

Here’s what a good place of study is going to give you on a rainy day:

1. A recognised qualification to always fall back on. When getting older and the ability inevitably goes, the college name still remains there to salvage your career. Yes, you might not have the technique to play Feux Follets energetically any more when you are fifty years old, but you can always say, “Look at the wall my friend, this is how good I used to be!” (“imagine how good a teacher I am now that I cannot play anything”).

2. As incredibly vain as it sounds, your opinion counts when you have a couple of good qualifications on the wall. For example, you are going to be taken more seriously saying exactly the same things if you have a degree from a famous institution than if you have a qualification from a not-so-good place. People see you differently if you have a degree. It’s true! They think you are important and that your opinion counts more. They even think you are a better person. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

3. A good qualification is always a nice accompaniment to an illustrious career. Even though music itself will eventually determine our success as musicians and not the qualifications, it’s always important to look at the more “vain” side of music; the formal qualifications. Of course, the quality of a musician can be “counted” in many ways, such as the success of their students or their own impact in the musical world. However, people always tend to take into consideration the place of study somehow.

So: Aim as high as possible; try to get to the best music places, if you can. Don’t listen to the romantics or the “experimentalists” and just go with the flow; this is a thing that you need to understand if you eventually want to be considered a professional. In this day an era “pieces of paper” can say a lot about you and your qualities as a person. In music, people have consciously and subconsciously decided what constitutes a good musician, and we can’t change that. It’s not always about the sound, I’m afraid. A musician is also a manager, an administrator, a stylist, a public speaker, etc. Music itself can do the talking of course, but don’t forget that it’s always helpful to have a back-up plan if things go south.

Good luck!


© Nikolaos Kokkinis – 16/03/2013.

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