Private Teacher Focus: Lorraine Banning

I gave my first piano lesson in the early ‘80s, encouraged to do so by the teacher I was studying with at the time and I have continued to teach privately for more than 30 years.

I now run a busy private teaching practice in Bedford which has expanded to include home visit lessons delivered by one of my freelance teachers as demand for lessons remains very high.

In the early days of my piano teaching career I sought a lot of help and advice from teachers and colleagues, I attended many professional development courses and events and made sure I was always up to date with new teaching materials and advice and continue to enjoy attending (and now also sometimes running) lots professional development events, I think that in private practice it is vital to be self-motivated enough to maintain and develop professional skills.

I went on to gain professional qualifications in both performing and teaching, something which I strongly believe is vital but too often missing in private practice as the profession remains unregulated. This is something I would really like to see change and I believe that until it does private teaching will continue to be seen by much of the wider public as a ‘hobby job’ rather than a profession which in turn can lead to highly qualified and experienced instrumental teachers being unfairly treated even in their own private practice. It is difficult to know quite how to address this but I believe that belonging to a professional organisation such as the ISM is vital as it protects the student, parent and teacher; students/parents can be assured that their teacher will have a professional qualification, references, DBS checks and public liability insurance etc and it gives us as teachers recognition of our professional status, not to mention many excellent professional development opportunities, podcasts, contracts and agreements, networking events, legal protection and a collective voice nationally as a profession.

In addition to my private teaching I also teach in a local girls’ school, am a deputy teacher at London’s Junior Guildhall, run workshops and courses, adjudicate and have recently become a Trinity Arts Awards Assessor which is something I shall be incorporating into my private teaching this year with the addition of some summer Arts Awards Workshops. I am also a performer and have various recitals coming up later in the year.

I love the variety of my work and I feel that the different aspects interweave and inform each other. Private teaching can be very isolating so I really enjoy the balance that other aspects of my career bring. That said it can be quite a juggling act with so many different aspects to my work and I am often teaching very late into the evening, but it is hugely rewarding to be able to work with such a wide variety of students and music.

My students have ranged from 5 years old to 85 years old, beginners to very advanced, those for whom playing the piano is a lifelong hobby and serious music students who have gained entry into specialist music schools, colleges and conservatoires, I have enjoyed teaching them all. I don’t subscribe to a ‘one size fits all’ methodology, I prefer to work with individuals, find out how they learn, their strengths and weaknesses and then work out an individually suited course of study. As Pianists we are so lucky to have such a wealth of repertoire and I feel that sticking to one tried and tested ‘method’ or tutor book with little or no research for each student is lazy. We have a duty to know our repertoire and to be able to pick out works, pieces, tutor books that suit each individual and which help them develop and hone their skills as a pianist. I find this strange expectation that the graded exams (whichever board) are a curriculum, or even ‘THE curriculum’ has developed either from parental expectations or uninformed/unenlightened teachers. Whilst I am not anti-exams, do in fact regularly use exams in my teaching and believe that they really do have a place, I also feel strongly that they should be used (when appropriate) as part of an individually devised curriculum designed by a knowledgeable, committed and experienced teacher. One of the pitfalls of private teaching is that parents may feel they have to right to insist on this type of exam 'conveyor belt' approach and it is our duty to explain to both student and parent from the outset how limiting this approach is musically.

We are in a very privileged position as private teachers; there is huge opportunity for discourse with parents whose support is vital to the success of instrumental lessons even if they are not musical themselves. I insist that parents of children less than 16 years old stay during lessons. I find that this really does help parents to understand what needs to be done between lessons and to have a better idea of progress. I also feel that it is vital to be absolutely transparent in all that we do; I welcome the ISM Guidelines for private and one to one teaching and adhere to these at all times.

Teaching is as much a passion for me as playing, I feel that the two complement and feed each other and I hope to continue to do both for many, many years to come.