Why Choose Howard or Karen Pancoast as teachers?

Karen and Howard Pancoast

Over the years, prospective students seem to ask the same sorts of questions when they are considering taking piano lessons.  The following FAQ section will offer our answers to those questions and why we think we are the best place for adults and teens to take piano or keyboard lessons.

Your website and ads say "Piano Lessons for Grown-Ups". Do you teach only adults

Yes, we specialize in adults and teens. Over the years we have had a few children younger than teens, especially the children or grandchildren of our adult students. However, we most enjoy teaching adults and teens. It's the focus of our full-time business. If you are looking for lessons for a younger child, we can make recommendations to several other area teachers who are very good for younger children. See our links page for that information

How is teaching adults different from traditional piano lessons for children?

Adults are very different from children in many ways. Perhaps most importantly, adults are taking lessons because they want to, not because a parent or teacher thinks they should.

Adults are usually very good at what they do professionally. They are used to being able to do what is required of them on the job from long experience. Starting over at square one (or coming back to piano after MANY years) can be intimidating because as adults we are less comfortable looking like a beginner.

Adults have "a life" which often includes travel schedules for work and the competing demands not only of their work life, but also of running their family life as well. We recognize these competing demands and don't insist on an artificial number of required hours of practice each week.

Adults, especially, want to sound good quickly. A child may be willing to take 2 or 3 school years to learn to read a chapter book. But an adult wants to play well enough to please him or herself right away. For that reason, we build in early success so that within a few months, beginning adults can play recognizable songs and enjoy listening to themselves at the piano.

What method books do you use?

We don't believe any of the method books currently available meet the needs of adults or teens. We have tried some of the more popular method books, even those written especially for adults, and our students uniformly find the music uninspiring to say the least. We use a wide variety of real music books that have recognizable songs in them and find our students enjoy playing music they know.

Is there a certain set of steps, exercises, or books all students go through? And will I have to play a lot of scales?

We tailor the lessons to each student completely to that student. We are very good at matching the lesson material to the skills needed so that the student can reach his or her unique goals. Our students are never asked to play significant numbers of repetitious exercises. We teach the techniques of piano playing primarily through the music itself, not separate exercises like scales or Hanon.

Do you focus on classical music or any one style of music?

We encourage our students to play from a wide variety of styles. Some of our students do enjoy classical music and we certainly do ourselves. But we, and our students, also like popular music, jazz, show tunes, ragtime, New Age, gospel, and hymns. Since our approach is skills based, the particular genre of music a student is interested in doesn't matter. The skills are applicable to all.

What about improvising? Can I learn to improvise like the piano players I hear on cruise ships, or in hotels or retail stores?

Yes, we encourage all of our students to learn even the most basic improvising skills. All of our students can play from written piano music or from a Lead Sheet or Fake Book (see Fake Books below). A beginning student can sound VERY good in quite a short period of time by learning to improvise from a lead sheet. In addition, it allows the player to put his or her own "stamp" on a song and play it their way.

Do you teach students to actually read music?

Yes, we insist that all of our students learn to read the standard piano notation. We go a step further and differentiate the skills of "figuring it out" and actually "reading" the music. Many teachers, and their students, say they can read music, but what they really mean is they can figure out what the notes are and figure out how long to hold each one down and then play a measure or a few measures at a time. Then they can figure out another few measures and eventually "learn" a piece.

What we mean by reading is the same thing ordinary people mean when they talk about reading English from a book or newspaper. We mean to look at the music, identify the chords, notes, and musical patterns, control your fingers to push down the right keys, and all at the same time play along the line of music in a steady rhythm.

I've heard you use fake books. Doesn't that mean student aren't playing real music?

We make extensive use of a wide variety of fake books. A fake book is a collection of lead sheets, which are a musical piece or song in "outline form". The lead sheet shows the melody line written in the treble clef and the appropriate chords to play. So our students thoroughly learn their chords, which helps even more when reading standard written music. From that basic outline of the lead sheet, the player can create a dozen or more different ways to play the song to allow their own creativity to emerge. And for beginners, lead sheets are a terrific way to sound like "a real piano player" in a very short time.

Will I have to pick one or two pieces and practice them for months until they are perfect?

No, we avoid picking just one or two pieces to work on for a long time. Instead, we encourage our students to gradually develop their reading skill (see read music above) so that they can play through entire books of music. If, along the way, they find a piece or two that they really enjoy, we suggest they work on that piece for a few weeks while continuing to explore and read and enjoy other music.

How about recitals? I'm too nervous to get up on stage and play for people.

Many adults have tortured memories of student recitals – either their own or perhaps a child or grandchild's recital. We do not have recitals. We do not require public performance. However, there are monthly opportunities for those people who want to play for others to do so. We have monthly Piano Groups either in our home or in one of our student's homes where a dozen or so people gather to play for each other. Some of our students have never come to a piano group. Some come once or twice a year. Others come every month because they want to get over their "nerves" at performing and enjoy listening to others play. Many of our students have described the piano group as the most supportive and caring audience they ever play for. We make it safe to play for each other.

What equipment do you have in your teaching studio?

We each have a 6 food well-tuned grand piano and a top of the line Roland Digital piano placed side by side. We play along with our students during many of the lessons. This encourages our students to play in steady rhythm and allows us to demonstrate any sections a student is having trouble with. It's also a lot of fun to use the keyboard orchestra so our students get the feel of playing in a combo or band.

What equipment must I have to take lessons?

Our students have a variety of instruments from large grand pianos to upright pianos or consoles. In addition, many of our students have either portable keyboards or digital pianos or keyboards. A beginner can easily start with just a keyboard and graduate to a digital piano or acoustic piano down the road. If a student chooses to start with a keyboard the only thing necessary is that has at least 76 full size keys that are touch sensitive and has the ability to plug in a foot pedal. We often make suggestions for our students of where to find an economical keyboard to get started.

Can students make recordings?

We also have recording capability so that students can record and listen to their own playing. But more importantly, as our students build their skills many of them have made CDs to give to family as gifts. Some of our students have recorded commercial CDs and sheet music that they sell at retail. We use an Alesis Masterlink to create the studio quality master from which CDs can be made. We offer any interested student lessons in using both music editing software (Cakewalk) and music printing software (Sibelius).

Have you made any recordings I can listen to?

We have made many recordings of a wide variety of music. We have recorded Classical, Blues and Boogie, New Age, Jazz improvisation, and original compositions. You will find links to over 1,000 recorded pieces in the recordings section of this site. Several of our commercial CDs are available on CD Baby or through iTunes.