Teachers you have early in life tend to have the most impact. And since the piano is my main instrument I often think of the piano teachers I had between elementary school and heading off to college at Penn State. Some were more strict than others, and some allowed me to play music I was into while others were more by the book. Either way, writing was what kept me interested. Here's a list of the teachers I can remember:
Mrs. Harsen - While she was my first piano teacher she also happened to be my best. She helped teach me the basics of music when I was about six years old, and helped me start writing. And it would take years to come full circle when I moved back to Bradford growing up. See below.
Mrs. Monchern - After my family moved to Oil City, Pa when I was about nine years old, I had two years of learning under Mrs. Monchern. She had a more throwback style of teaching me through theory and the Thompson books, but she was reasonably strict. She had yearly recitals and had her students compose a piece one of the years I was taking lessons. I still remember writing the sheet music to that song and learned a great deal in the process.
Mrs. Finley - I didn't like Mrs. Finley when I was taking lessons from her. In fact I quit playing music for probably the only two months of my life when I was her student. She made me play classical. She made me play in competitions. She wouldn't let me play Beatles, Stones etc. I played by the book, curved my fingers and approached the piano like a frightened schoolchild. Remember this was also around the time I participated in a few Schubert ceremonies. This was when my family lived in Midland, TX for a year when I was in fifth/sixth grade. By the end of it Mrs. Finley made me better and God bless her. She also may have hit me with a ruler. But she also taught me the circle of fifths.
Mrs. Schaffer - She was pretty much the opposite of Mrs. Finley. I remember her being more attractive than being a piano teacher. Sorry. Sometimes that's what it's all about. I bought her a Billy Joel album that had a song named after her on it. Being twelve I didn't realize the song was blatantly about a prostitute. My family moved again after I'd only had lessons with her for about six months, unfortunately.
Mrs. Harsen - When I started taking lessons from Mrs. Harsen in Bradford, Pa again I was twelve years old and had pretty much made my way through the student book series and Classical pieces they prescribe to most beginners. Mrs. Harsen seemed to notice I was someone who saw music more from a songwriter's perspective, and she without knowing it helped me craft a few of my first real songs as I was her student.
Simply allowing me to play what I wanted to, while having me play performances in front of people at a young age helped immeasurably.
At the same time she and all of my other teachers made me keep things by the book as much as possible. I can't thank them enough, and I still think of things they taught me every day, whether I'm teaching or playing a gig. Learning the piano at a young age made picking up the guitar and writing songs so much easier. As great as some of my college professors and musicians I've recently jammed with are, I still think back to some of my earliest lessons all the time.
MMOC frontman Tyler Calkins does his usual ranting