Prospective Male Piano Teachers Are Like Volcano-Prone Golf Balls

In the field of private piano teaching, men make up a little over 15% of all MTNA members 1, but this low percentage isn’t all that I find peculiar about private male piano teachers. To help illustrate these oddities, consider a miniature golf analogy.

We’ve all experienced endless struggle with the dreaded volcano at miniature golf courses. Volcano obstacles have the effect of repelling balls away from the hole since even the slightest miscalculation in aim or distance results in the ball ending up somewhere at the bottom of the volcano. If we define “successful career private piano teacher” to be the hole in the middle of the volcano, male piano students behave a lot like golf balls rolling toward the volcano:

  • When the ball is hit at just the right speed but the aim is off by even the slightest amount, the ball veers off to one of the sides of the volcano.  This represents the student who might have been a good piano teacher but who decided to pursue a different career instead.

    See below for photo credits

  • When the ball is hit too hard (“gorilla putted”), the ball goes to the opposite side of the volcano.  This represents the piano student who gets a Ph.D. and teaches at a university.
  • When the ball isn’t hit hard enough, the ball returns. This represents con artist piano teachers – teachers who are not giving their students anywhere near what they are paying for. This includes a) teachers who had a few lessons as a kid who impersonate master teachers, and b) teachers who may be decently qualified but who focus more on extracting as much money from students as possible by doing as little work as possible.

The Side-Veering Golf Ball

Let’s examine those in the first category: males who would be good piano teachers but for whatever reason decide not to be. I believe males are more likely to have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to private music teaching: “If I can’t turn this into a very lucrative and secure career, then I’ll go find a different career in which I can.” Men are still more often the main income earners for households, so they don’t have as much flexibility as females do when it comes to teaching piano for “a little extra income.” Society perceives that music teachers don’t make very much money and that what little they make is unstable. Catharine Saint Louis refers to their profession as one that is “known for its ups and downs” in this New York Times article, and it’s views like this that scare males away from this career.  Society isn’t necessarily wrong for having this perception since so many of the largest population of private piano teachers (females) are part-time teachers.

The percentage of male private teachers in my organization who teach part time by choice is significantly lower than females. I’ve only ever met one male teacher who teaches part time by choice, while many of the female teachers in my organization declare their studios “full” when they teach 20 or less students, which is only 10-15 hours of teaching per week. Obviously, anyone teaching on the side will usually either have a second well-paying job or a bread-winning spouse behind them, and females continue to have bread-winning spouses behind them more often than males do.

The Gorilla-Putted Golf Ball

Now let’s turn to the second category: piano professors. I think most people know from experience that there are a disproportionate number of male teachers in high-level positions, but just to be sure, I Googled “piano faculty” and chose the first three universities that came up. Here’s what I found:

This would suggest that somewhere between 50-70% of college music faculty are male, in stark contrast to the 15% of all MTNA music teachers who are male.  And, because professors must perform, present and publish their way to tenure, this would lead us to also expect a disproportionately high male-to-female ratio among those who publish articles and present at conferences.  Do these expectations pan out?

It turns out they do.  First, I looked at the three most recent editions of American Music Teacher (Aug/Nov 2011 through  Dec 2011/Jan 2012) and kept a tally of articles written by males vs. females.  I came up with 15 articles written by males and only 8 written by females2. Clavier Companion is a little less skewed toward males – 25 males, 36 females over four issues from July/Aug 2011 through Jan/Feb 20123 – but this is still a much higher ratio than the MTNA male/female membership ratio of about 3 to 20.

Click on image to make it larger

As for presenting at conferences, MTNA was kind enough to provide me with some statistics that more than validate my expectations. From those statistics I was able to compile the table to the right. First, it’s interesting to note that the gender breakdown for education of MTNA members is equal. I find this to be surprising considering a) the college gender gap reversal that began in the ’80s (today only two-thirds the number of males go to college as women) that now includes higher degrees4, and b) women have long outnumbered men in getting music and other arts degrees. But there are some substantial differences when it comes to conference presenting and attendance (see yellow highlighted cells):

  • Males were 367% more likely to present in the 2011 conference than what we would expect – Based on the number of females who presented (34), there should have been 6 males presenting if the presenters were to reflect the same ratio as the female/male general membership ratio (which is 84.6% to 15.4%, respectively), but 28 presented, which is 367% more than we would expect.  I would imagine there are also a disproportionate number of conference proposals submitted by males.
  • 38% more males attended the 2011 conference than what we would expect – The MTNA female/male membership ratio would lead us to expect 116 males to attend the 2011 conference based on the 635 females who attended.  But 160 males attended.  This figure is 38% more than expected.  Do keep in mind that this figure also includes the presenters themselves.  If we only count those who attended the conference without presenting, then the 38% figure is reduced to 20%, which is still a high figure.

One reason for the higher rates of presenting and attendance at conferences is that many music departments pay travel expenses of their faculty (which, again, consists of a high percentage of males) to attend conferences, although due to recent budget cuts, many colleges have ended these benefits altogether or at least require faculty to give presentations at conferences in order to be reimbursed.

The statistics on male vs. female certification might be at surprising at first:

  • 35% less male members are certified than what we would expect – Based on the female/male membership proportion in MTNA, 595 males would be certified based on the 3,266 females who are certified. But only 384 males are certified, which is short by 35%.

This is less surprising when we remember that many professors choose not to pursue MTNA certification since the demands of getting doctorate degrees are magnitudes more vigorous than the requirements for MTNA certification. Despite the fact that MTNA only requires the signature of the school’s dean for college faculty to be certified (MTNA recognizes that validation of certification requirements for college faculty is redundant because of their high level of training and also because they must already undergo continued evaluations for their university), I’ve met many professors who have never given any thought to professional certification and/or who only join MTNA to take part in its annual national competition. I also think part of this lower certification rate has to do with the returned golf ball.

 The Returned Golf Ball

In my own experience, I’ve found a disproportionate number of con artist piano teachers to be male. Here are some real-life examples of con artist piano teachers, all of whom I have known or know personally quite well (I’ll use fake names here, and I’ll speak about all of them in the present tense even if I don’t still know them):

  • Thomas gives two lessons at the same time, asking one student to practice while he instructs the other (but still charging each student what other teachers charge per hour).  He only has about 10-20 pieces in his entire teaching repertoire, and they are a sequencing nightmare since there is probably an 8-year difference between the easiest and hardest pieces he assigns. Every time I ask him how teaching is going, he answers in monetary terms: “Great! I just made a double-payment on my mortgage!” He goes to jail for tax evasion.
  • Lance charges quadruple the rate of the more expensive teachers in town. Yes, you read it correctly: q-u-a-d-r-u-p-l-e. His rate competes with lawyers in town. His advertising materials make various small achievements (such as one student performing an early intermediate piece from memory in a recital) sound as if only world class teachers can achieve such results.
  • Brad majors in piano performance at UNR, and one day he finds out that he doesn’t need a degree to teach music, so he immediately drops out and opens a piano teaching business. He teaches in a group setting and giving lessons to more students than any teacher in town, and as far as I know, not a single high school senior who graduates under his study ever gets a scholarship to any school despite the teacher’s having an enormous pool of talent to draw from over the years. But he most definitely makes a lot of money! The last time I heard Brad play, he performed the Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 in a kind of “march-waltz” style (I’d say a mere “waltz” if only beats 2 and 3 had ever been weaker than beat 1, but they never were). There was no rubato, no dynamic phrasing, and no balance between the hands. He’s a late intermediate pianist.
  • Another teacher uses “Doc” before her name because of her Ph.D. degree from Rochville University, a degree mill that has awarded degrees to dogs. She claims that her thesis was a piano course she developed (but of course has not been peer-reviewed by anyone), and the course, which is littered with changing font faces, colors and sizes, reads like a miracle weight loss program. She charges more per hour than I do and is very good at getting non-musicians to think she knows more about music than anyone else in the world. The extreme perception imposition she inflicts on those around her is what usually keeps musicians from saying anything to her about her lack of qualifications. She is publicly banned from an online piano forum on grounds of false advertisement of her credentials (a public banning so that the more easily deceived members of the group are protected from falling for her scheme).

Despite the overwhelming ratio of female to male teachers in the world, I’ve met more male con artist teachers than I’ve met female, although that last female example is certainly a doozy. Perhaps we should count her twice. In any case, this disproportionate number of male con artist piano teachers is supported by the fact that males are significantly more likely to be incarcerated than women, and that women are more likely than men to find certain criminal/unethical behaviors unacceptable (Wikipedia).

Most teachers, male or female, charge what they feel they are worth, but I’ve noticed that males almost never short-change themselves. Con artist piano teachers obviously will not short-change themselves either – in fact, they are all overcharging.  This theory would certainly be supported by Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.  Dr. Babcock describes in this book her study of students who graduated from Carnegie Mellon with masters degrees in various business fields. Male graduates’ starting salaries were about $4,000 more than women. After controlling for gender, Dr. Babcock found that students who asked for more received a salary that was $4,053 higher than those who didn’t ask.  The gap in pay was apparently a function of boldness in the interview rather than a function of gender.

The point of this study was of course to explore the validity of today’s gender discrimination claims, but my point here is to demonstrate that men are less likely than women to undervalue their worth (and/or men are more likely than women to overvalue it). And it doesn’t stop there. Remember from my Why Gender Matters In Music Performance Anxiety article that boys tend to overestimate their abilities, while females tend to underestimate them. It would be very interesting to see if research would confirm my suspicion that males charge more for piano lessons than females with equal education and experience.

The ball that actually went into the hole

First I want to clarify that while getting the ball in the hole is the most desirable outcome on the miniature golf course, I’m not using the golf ball analogy to assign positive or negative value to one’s career choice in music (so college piano professors don’t have to worry that I think they’re like gorillas playing golf). I’m only using it to create a model of behavior, and what I notice is that females are far more likely to go into the volcano than males. In fact, I almost wonder if a similar article could be written about females, except with the analogy pointing to a sunken whirlpool instead of a raised volcano. Because women are more likely to leave or curtail their careers because of family obligations, and because teaching piano is such an attractive option for those looking to work just a few hours per week, this suggests more part-time females, and that brings us back to the statistic that nearly 85% of all MTNA members are female.

It is no wonder that the world of private piano teachers, music teachers organizations and conferences is a bit of a lonely world for males. In fact, I even submitted my name to MTNA to put on their “looking for roommates” list months before various conferences I’ve attended in the past so that I might be able to split hotel costs with someone else, and, if you can believe it, I was the only male on their list. In MTNA. That’s out of the whole United States and even Canada. Really.

In an article to come, I will have more to say about the lack of male teachers in the private piano teaching profession, but I thought I’d first get the ball rolling (insert rim shot here) with this polarizing “volcano effect.”

(c) 2012 Cerebroom

Photo credit:  Julie Verive (Chad did Photoshopping to add golf balls and remove people)

  1. Statistic provided by MTNA, December 2011.
  2. This ratio would be even more skewed toward males if I counted the obligatory “Dear Reader” article in the beginning of each issue, written by the MTNA President or Executive Director.
  3. As with AMT, this ratio would be more skewed toward males if I included the obligatory opening articles by Pete Jutras.
  4. I’m hoping MTNA will provide me with further gender statistics to distinguish between MTNA members with bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees, in which case I’ll update this article.

About Chad

Chad is a pianist, composer, piano teacher and blogger with a Masters Degree in Piano Performance. He received the 2005 Nevada Arts Council Fellowship Grant for the composing and performing on his Ostinato CD.
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3 responses to Prospective Male Piano Teachers Are Like Volcano-Prone Golf Balls

  1. I really enjoyed this article until I got to the “Con Artist returned ball category”. I don’t think it relates to your analysis, which is very interesting about where male and female piano teachers teach in our global teaching community. Maybe a separate article about “what not to look for” in a piano teacher might be a better place for con artist tactics to lie.

    Just sharing my thoughts, thanks for blogging.

    • Thanks for reading Jay. I’m not sure if I’m following regarding the irrelevancy – my point to the article is to show where prospective male private teachers go when they don’t become piano teachers. All three of the alternatives (side veering, gorilla putted, and returned golf ball) are followed in greater proportion by males than by females, so they all explain where these prospective teachers go. And putting it into a “what not to look for in a teacher” article would belong on a different blog – my blog has an intended audience of mostly teachers, not students. Teachers don’t need any help recognizing the con artists among us – but it’s interesting for them to understand that males seek this path more often than females.

  2. Very interesting discussion and statistics (and great analogy too)! Looking forward to the next article related to this subject.

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