In August 2016, I accepted a piano teaching position in Shanghai, China to embark a new chapter of my life. I began my piano teaching path as a substitute teacher teaching young children in 2008 when I was still a conservatory student in NYC. I also spent 2 years teaching University student at NYU. Afterward, I moved to Taiwan and continued to teach high school students who wanted to pursue music in college until I moved to China. Sure, people come to teach in China all the time. Yet, as a piano teacher, I encountered unexpected issues when I moved to China. Issues that no one really talked about. I feel like music and piano teachers actually need a different set of tips to teach in China. Hence, I am sharing my tips about teaching the piano and music in China from my experience.
Here are the 7 tips you can find in this post:
- Freelancing as a music or piano teacher in China
- Communication issues (aka. Dealing with Chinese parents)
- Sending your students for music exams
- Getting piano or music teaching materials in China
- Sign up for Pinterest and save your online resources
- Taking care of your intellectual properties
- Should I come to teach the piano or music in China?
The original post was actually my first post on the blog (2016!). Back then, I only talked about how to acquire teaching materials as that was the very first issue I encountered in China. Two years later, upon leaving Shanghai, I felt the need to completely rewrite the whole piece to cover more areas regarding teaching piano and music in China, so here it is!
#1. Freelancing as a music or piano teacher in China
You need a working visa to work and live legally in China. Secure a job first before you come to China to avoid complication.
This applies to everyone if you are not from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau.
So can you actually freelance as a musician or teacher in China? Sure, plenty of foreign musicians freelance as a teacher or performer. However, like any other countries, if you don’t have a visa that allows you to freelance, do it at your own risk. Just know that this is China. (Whatever that means.)
If you are a native English-speaking teacher who wants to experience living abroad, China has a place for you. Your best option would be getting a full-time job at a school that can sponsor the visa. There are more and more international schools and bilingual schools popping out each year in China. In addition, China has also been emphasising the importance of music and arts education. Many schools offer lessons in piano or other musical instruments as an extracurricular course. Every student learns at least one instrument. My first-grade student who goes to a regular public school says almost everyone in her class can play the piano!
If you are not a school music teacher material (like me), some private music studios offer full-time teaching jobs that
If you teach the piano, violin, and flute and can also speak Mandarin, you will never have to worry about not having students. As stereotypical as it sounds, these three instruments are the most common to learn among Chinese children. Voice lessons and ukulele are also quite popular.
In big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, private teachers who have master degrees or above in performance from foreign institutions can charge a relatively high rate. (Want to know what’s the reasonable rate to charge in China? Feel free to contact me for details.)
#2. Communication issues (aka. Dealing with the parents)
If you are teaching at an international school as a private lesson teacher, know that the students come and go. I used to get new students every term, but some of them would leave after a term due to all kinds of reasons. I had to start a few beginner students from scratch every 3 months. It was frustrating. (On the bright side, my experience in teaching complete beginners also ascend at an incredible speed.)
Also, depends on the policy of the school, sometimes, we don’t get to have direct contact with the parents. It could be very frustrating as lessons for young children and beginners require so much communication. Some of the schools would overlap students’ private lessons and regular classes. In result, students often forget their lesson times.
In addition, since the lessons are held at the school, some kids would always forget to bring their music. Some kids would never have a proper instrument at home for them to practice, either because their families might relocate soon, or they are just “trying it out.”
I’ve written another post discussing the differences between teaching western expat families and Chinese parents. I also offered some tips on how to deal with them as a piano teacher. You can read the post here.
#3. Sending your students for music exams
Major conservatories in China such has Shanghai Conservatory and Central Conservatory of Music have their own music examination systems. However, I personally would only prepare my students for ABRSM (The Association Board of the Royal Schools of Music) as I found the local examination systems illogical and focus too much on memorization. In fact, I would turn a student away if the parent insists on taking the local exam.
Trinity College London Music Exams is also available in China, but ABRSM is the one that’s more well-known by Chinese families.
I haven’t had any expat parents or students asking me to prepare exams for their kids. However, I’ve received countless requests from Chinese parents asking me to push their children for exams. Sometimes, the kid hasn’t even had the first lesson!
I had one student who finished ABRSM Grade 2 in February, and right afterwards, her family already wanted me to push her for Grade within a year. They were afraid that she won’t have time to practice after she becomes a third grader.
It’s all about who get more certifications in China. Everything is a competition.
In my opinion, as teachers, we have the responsibility to guide the students at a reasonable pace. A pace that doesn’t kill their interests in learning the piano. Therefore, I spend a lot of time communicating with the parents on this subject and sharing my view as a professional.
Some parents might withdraw their kids from studying with you when they feel that you are not meeting their expectation because you don’t do what they ask. Just know that whatever they say or do, it is not about you.
#4. Getting piano and music teaching materials in China
Before I moved to China, I rarely had issues finding teaching materials. In both the U.S. and Taiwan, there are plenty of options whether it’s online or in store. Therefore, although my employer warned me about the lack of music teaching resource in Shanghai and told me to bring some books from home, I thought she was exaggerating.
I assume that if you are reading this post, most likely, you are from a western country. Well, definitely bring the books you frequently use from home with you, especially the books for teaching foundation and beginners.
Foreign publications aren’t easy to find in China as importing it is a painful and expensive process. Even in Shanghai (the biggest city in China), I could only find Chinese versions of Faber, Alfred Basics, Bastien, Thompson’s, and Burnam’s A Dozen A Day. The choices are very limited in music stores and many Chinese materials are tailored towards local examinations. Sure, you can always order from Amazon.cn, but it could take weeks even months for the books to arrive from overseas.
#5. Sign up for Pinterest and save your online resources
Some of the excellent online resources I’ve used including Joy Morin’s Color in My Piano and Let’s Play Music by Sarah Mullet. Both websites offer worksheets, musical games, theory practice and other thoughtful supplements and insights.
#6. Taking care of your intellectual properties
If you create your own content to use in your lessons, and if you value your intellectual properties, make sure you protect them well.
By protecting your intellectual properties I mean:
Only give your materials to your students and avoid distribution of any kind on any occasion – That includes sharing your outlines, curriculums, or anything that could be copied and redistributed.
In China, even if it’s a well-known New York Times bestseller book, people would download and print out the eBook version (including the cover) and resell it for dirt cheap on Taobao (basically Amazon in China.) They would even emphasize how good their printing quality is. I had accidentally bought one before. There’s no escape. No forms of legal protection we know in the west could protect your intellectual properties in China.
China doesn’t have a lot of resources, especially when it comes to education because anything that could be published through official channels needs to be examined by the government. Unfortunatelly, that’s also partially why stealing intellectual properties happens all the time China. It just isn’t a serious crime here, and it’s considered as normal.
If you found your materials got stolen in China, you can try to fight it, but I’d suggest to save the energy and look at it as a charitable act.
#7. Should I come to teach the piano and music in China?
Relocating to China is a pretty big decision for anyone. Moving to China is an adventure, and the life here is definitely out of the comfort zones for most of the people. If you are searching for a once in a lifetime experience, spending a year or two in China could be very exciting.
Despite having travelled to many countries in the east and west, living and travelling in a country is ultimately very different. The past 2+ years of living in China has helped me to truly open my mind and my heart to a culture that is very different from the ones I grew up with.
However, do keep in mind that after all, China is a communist country where absolute power is reinforced, and the country is changing at a very fast pace. Policies and regulations in China could change overnight without any warning. Also, the idea of freedom that most of the world commonly know is overrated in China. If you’re one with strong opinions in politics and human rights, I’d strongly urge you to stay out of China!