Traditional piano lessons used to mean traveling to the teacher’s home and learning assigned pieces. Kimberly Beth Taylor has turned this model on its head. She makes house calls to her students in Forest Park, Oak Park and River Forest.
“It’s more beneficial to come to the student’s home,” she said, “because they’re practicing on their own instrument.”
That’s just one of perks to Taylor’s approach. She also allows students to choose their own material to play, including contemporary pop songs and soundtracks from current films.
Of course, having the teacher come to your home is more convenient for parents. In fact, the lesson becomes a family affair.
“First of all, it has to be quiet,” she said. “You can’t have distractions like TV. The younger siblings are curious. They’re learning, too. After the lesson, the student doesn’t have to stop playing and leave. Some students are still practicing after I go.”
She can also help them with their instruments.
“If they have keyboards, I can show them how to use different features like the metronome.” Taylor even carries a tuning wrench, in case a piano needs adjustment.
She teaches students from age 4 to adult. She was 4 years old herself when she first started learning to play. She took group lessons at the Baldwin showroom in Oak Brook, before beginning individual lessons and continued until she entered high school. At North Central College in Naperville, she first took courses in molecular biology before switching to a music major. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Piano and Music Education.
Taylor started her career as a public school teacher in the western suburbs while teaching piano lessons on the side. For 14 years, she taught after-school lessons at Music Makers of Western Springs. Then she made the fateful decision to leave the classroom to start her own business. She received invaluable help from her husband, Ian, in launching the enterprise.
“He runs the promotions and takes care of the business side,” she said, “so I can just teach.”
Reaching students is a passion for Taylor.
“I use a varied repertoire approach. I encourage a blend of different styles, from light classical to banging out a bluesy-bassy piece,” she noted.
To teach this eclectic mix, it helps that Taylor can play by ear.
“My dad could play by ear,” she recalled, “without music in front of him. I was inspired by him to figure it out. I ask a student what piece they want to learn. It might be a song by Rhiannon, or music from Zootopia.”
Taylor’s skill is so advanced, she can listen to the music and transpose the notes onto the staff paper she carries.
“I can adjust the key to a friendlier one. I can customize their interests to the level they’re at. Sometimes they pick songs that are beyond their ability.”
Having student-led lessons is really fun for her. “I like being put on the spot to do something brand new,” she said. Often the student’s repertoire will expand beyond their initial interests.
“I have a student who loves the Star War themes. After he learned all the themes, I asked if he’d like to learn the music that inspired John Williams.”
Besides being spontaneous, Taylor uses storytelling to help students learn technique.
“Everyone feels music,” she observed. “I make connections to teach them, for example, how to keep time.” She recalled how her piano teacher taught her technique and then encouraged her to play the music that gave her joy, like Chopin.
Taylor currently has 45 students to visit. Her rates are affordable: $20 for 20 minutes and $27 for a 30-minute lesson. To keep travel costs down, she drives an electric Nissan Leaf.
Taylor and her husband moved with their two young daughters to Forest Park four years ago.
“We intentionally re-located to Forest Park from the western suburbs,” she said. “We were looking for a tightly-knit community near public transportation. We love it here. It has really nice parks and a great downtown business district. We can walk to the library or hop on a bus. It has a real community feel.”
Speaking of which, Taylor is holding a community recital for her students at the Oak Park Arts Center, 200 N. Oak Park Ave., on Saturday, June 4. There will be performances at 3 and 4:30 p.m. She is mixing the younger and older students together. It’s another way for Taylor to break with tradition.