When Willow Glen piano teacher Jessica Mitrovich takes on a new student, she asks them to bring in five songs they’d like to learn to play. These days, she says, these lists are as likely to include the soundtrack to “World of Warcraft” as the latest hit from Taylor Swift.
But whether it’s video game music or Vivaldi, Mitrovich wants to make sure her students at Willow Glen Music School are engaged in what they’re learning.
“It really is case by case,” she says. “We look at the way each person learns.”
Mitrovich opened Willow Glen Music School in February after teaching piano out of her home for five years. Located in a Willow Street strip mall just off Lincoln Avenue, the school boasts three practice rooms with single pianos and a fourth with two uprights.
“We were at capacity [at my house],” Mitrovich says. “Now I have room to grow.”
This growth has included hiring a staff of six to teach piano, voice and guitar. While the school’s instructors all have backgrounds in music education and performance, Mitrovich says she hired them based on how they approached teaching a simple song.
These teaching styles range from having piano students sing the melody line of the piece they’re learning to having them creatively visualize the music through stories and drawings.
“A lot of traditional teachers don’t have that kind of mindset,” Mitrovich says, adding that while students at the school do learn theory and read music, it’s equally important for them to understand rhythm and melody on a fundamental level.
Typically, students are beginners in the 6-7 age bracket, but Mitrovich has a few senior piano students. She says these older students tend to have some musical experience but have been away from the keyboard for long enough to feel they’re starting from square one.
“A lot of adults call themselves beginners, but music is muscle memory,” she adds. “To me, they’re more like intermediate students.”
The school’s voice students are primarily tweeners and teenagers, many of whom have theatrical experience and were inspired by shows like “American Idol” to improve their vocal chops.
“Voice classes are very popular,” Mitrovich says. “It’s definitely in response to [these shows]. People see them and want to learn how to sing.”
Mitrovich, 38, has been teaching piano since she was 16. She did take on fewer students when she was earning her graduate degree from San Jose State University and then working as a licensed clinical social worker with special emphasis in family therapy. But she eventually came back to her first love.
“Once I became a mom and had my degree and was doing the work I was supposed to be doing, it wasn’t as rewarding or positive” as teaching piano, she says. “It’s draining when you have kids. It’s not a good balance, whereas music is a great balance. It feels 99 percent positive.
“It’s not that I don’t get tired at the end of the day, but I feel good.”
Willow Glen Music School is located at 1060 Willow St., Suite 9. Weekly 30-minute lessons are $165 per month. For more information, visit willowglenmusicschool.