Win a Copy of The Right Notes Piano Assignment Book!

Have you seen the new Alberti Publishing Company yet? Their first published product is a fabulous piano assignment book called The Right Notes that incorporates snippets of music history on every page.

Alberti Publishing has generously offered to give away 5 copies of their colorful assignment book to readers of Music Matters Blog. All you have to do is register on their website and then leave a comment below on this post. I will use a random number generator to select the five winners on Monday, June 1, at noon.

Here’s a cool extra incentive – any super sleuths who can identify the upside down illustration in The Right Notes Piano Assignment Book can also enter for a chance to win an iPod! Visit the contest page on the Alberti Publishing website for all the details. So, even if you don’t win a copy, you may want to purchase a copy and start investigating for a chance to win something even better!

Monday Mailbag – Advertising for New Students

How do you advertise for more students?  What works for you?

Here are the things that I have personally found to be most effective:

1. Become a member of one or more local music teachers associations. We have two excellent associations in our area that provide a referral service for members. We’ve had new members fill their studios within the first year through the assistance of our referral program. Check to see if there is an MTNA local affiliate in your area and find out if they provide a referral service. Even if they don’t, there are many other benefits to belonging to such an organization!

2. Brand yourself. What is distinctive about your studio? What sets you apart from other teachers? Capitalize on that image, then, in everything you do – in your literature, personal correspondence, website, etc. For example, the approach will look significantly different for a teacher who specializes in preparing students for competitions than a teacher who specializes in teaching hymn improvisation or keyboarding skills. Know what your goals and objectives are and what kind of students you want to attract; then develop specific strategies to target your niche market. (Always put yourself in the shoes of a potential student and ask where you would look to find a teacher, or what type of advertising would grab your attention…)

3. Build your on-line presence. There are numerous teacher searches, yellow page listings, and website and blog platforms that you can use to market your business. Even teachers with full studios should be doing this in order to present a professional image and keep their name in front of the public eye. This is where many people look first anymore when they are searching for a music teacher, so it’s good to have your information easily accessible.

4. One of the things I learned in a business study that I did was that you should strive to be first…first in the minds of your clients (or potential clients). You want to build your own identity in such a way that whenever anyone is talking with a friend and hears that they are considering taking piano lessons, they think of you first. Speak easily, readily, and often about your vocation – in casual conversations, in formal speaking engagements, in articles, in by-lines, etc. Be enthusiastic about your studio and your teaching, and look continually for opportunities to draw others in and encourage them to study music.

5. Give generously of your own skills and talents to serve and bless others. Whether it is accompanying soloists, playing for church services, providing background music for special events, or playing for weddings and funerals, there are so many opportunities to invest in others through music. The more people hear beautiful live music, the more they are inclined to pursue study themselves. And naturally, they tend to look first to one who inspired them to receive instruction. You never know what connections and blessings will come from such opportunities!

6. Be a teacher that your students and families love and will eagerly recommend to their friends and acquaintances. Word-of-mouth will probably always be the best advertising. If your students love taking piano lessons from you, they will spread the word. Don’t underestimate the far-reaching effect of your impact on every student who sits on your piano bench and every parent with whom you visit in person or talk on the phone. Be professional but personable at all times. One of my overarching life goals is to always show respect to every individual and to never burn bridges behind me, no matter how much pride I have to swallow in the process!

Most of these ideas are more abstract than they are practical, but this stems from the fact that I’ve lived in the same city for almost 22 years and have pretty well-established social networks. I get calls or e-mails almost weekly from people inquiring about lessons and have a waiting list of 20+ students. I’m sure it’s a whole different ball game when you’re trying to establish a studio in a new area. In that case, I’d highly encourage you to take a look at Laura Lowe’s blog. She has been doing a series called Minute for Marketing and shares some great thoughts from her experience starting a studio in 5 different cities.

Does anyone else have some great marketing strategies that have proven effective in acquiring students?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Music Matters Blog Now Available on Kindle!

For all of you Kindle users out there, just thought you might want to know that subscriptions to Music Matters Blog are now available through the Kindle store. I haven’t taken the plunge and gotten a Kindle yet, but I am more and more tempted to do so! Right now, though, I’m thinking that I’ll just keep racking up my swagbucks until I have enough to get one for free. If you haven’t signed up for swagbucks yet, I definitely recommend it. I’ve already earned $15 worth of free Amazon gift certificates just by using their search engine (which, by the way, I don’t like…sometimes I still revert to google because I like the way it works better, but for basic searches I do like earning the free bucks…).

What are you doing for summer?

With all this talk lately about summer and piano camps, I’m curious to know if anyone else has made plans yet. Are you doing anything different or creative? Anyone have a theme for their piano camps? Any great group activities or games you plan to use? I’ve just been collecting all my students’ summer schedule info this week during our evaluations and will start putting together camp ideas in the next couple of weeks. I’d love to get some more ideas from other teachers! Maybe we can brainstorm some ideas together! 🙂

Year-End Evaluations

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this week I am conducting Year-End Evaluations with all of my students and their parents. A couple of weeks ago I sent them the questionnaires for this year (I change the questionnaires each year to collect different information that I think will be helpful) and then I got busy filling out their evaluation forms. As I spent several hours Saturday working on these, I came to the realization that the part of the form that is actually the most helpful for me is the part at the very bottom that says, “Recommendations/Goals for Next Year.”

Filling out this little section really forces me to think through where I’m headed with each student, and how I want to see them develop in the year ahead. It’s incredibly helpful to do this at the end of the year when their accomplishments and weaknesses are still fresh in my mind. Sometimes I list more generic goals/ideas like, “Combine creativity with structure and discipline to make greater progress” and then these lead into more specific goals like “Check into Keys to Success books as a possibility.”

Then I use this information later in the summer when I’m doing more intense planning for the following year to help develop appropriate goals and select new repertoire. One of the benefits of doing this is that it gives the student, their parents, and me a vision of what the student can accomplish in the next year. This is very motivating for all of us and provides good incentive for ongoing practice through the summer!

Monday Mailbag – More About Planning Piano Camps

I’ve received several other great questions that I will be addressing soon, but since Piano Camps seem to be an item of great interest and many teachers are probably gearing up for summer sessions right now, I decided to post a few more questions I’ve received about Piano Camps in response to last week’s Monday Mailbag post:

1. How do you plan before you know which students will be coming?
Short answer: I don’t. 🙂 Throughout the year, I collect ideas, bookmark resources in a Piano Camp Ideas folder, and think through possibilities, but I wait until after I know which students are planning to participate to do the detail work of planning specific goals and activities.

2. Have you done a parent survey?
Yes. I’ve uploaded a copy of the Summer Survey I e-mailed to my families this year so you can see how I formatted it. Usually I send these out in mid-April, but this year I waited until the beginning of May and sent them with the Year-End Questionnaires. I am conducting Year-End Evaluations this week, so parents will be attending the lesson with their children, and we’ll discuss summer plans and scheduling at that time.

3. How much time in advance do you think parents need to know about it?
Since I’ve been doing summer piano camps for so many years now, I figured it was enough advance notice to send the info the beginning of this month. However, if you decide to offer piano camps for the first time, I would recommend putting the word out much sooner. The first year I offered piano camps, I had them fill out summer surveys and return them by the 1st of March so that I would have an idea of who was interested and whether it was worth it to put in the time to start planning. Here is a sample of the wording I used that first year:

I am considering offering week-long piano camps in July. Students would be placed in groups according to level and would attend two hours each day for one week. We would focus intensely on developing practical skills while having fun and gaining valuable performance experience. If you could complete this short survey and return it to me by March 1, I would really appreciate it.

4. How do you determine what to charge?
I’ve personally found that the easiest approach is to just charge the same amount as my regular monthly lesson fee for 45-minute weekly lessons. The parents are already used to paying this amount, so it works well since most families opt to participate in a week-long piano camp instead of private lessons for one month.

5. Would you do it with only a few participants?
I’ve done variations of a piano camp in previous years that I called “Partner Lessons.” This was a great chance to work on duet literature and play fun two-person games. So, if you’re creative in the approach, I’d say it can work with as few as two students. I probably wouldn’t make it as extensive or elaborate as I do for a regular piano camp with 6-8 students, though. It’s definitely worth considering how much time you are willing and able to invest for the end result. Piano Camps do require a lot more planning up front, but they are so much fun for me and the students that I think it is well worth it!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Explaining Scales and Keys

Sometimes it seems like I have to say the same thing five different ways before a student loses the glazed-over look in their eyes! And then, usually it’s still many more explanations later that the proverbial light bulb goes on in their brain and they finally get it. They’ll say something like, “I realized that to play the I, IV, and V chords, you just have to play the chord on the first, fourth, and fifth notes of the scale.” While I’m tempted to stare incredulously and make some sarcastic remark regretting that I don’t speak English fluently yet, I usually swallow my pride and exclaim over them having made such a remarkable and helpful discovery. I mean, imagine that the I, IV, and V chords would actually start on scale degrees I, IV, and V! 🙂

But I digress. I mainly wanted to point your attention to a helpful website I found that explains succinctly what a scale is, how different scales are formed, how to identify key signatures, and more. I think these explanations would be especially helpful for adult students who really want to understand the principles behind what they are playing. They often need this mental connection in order to play accurately as well. But even for those of us looking for yet another way to communicate important theory concepts to our students…it never hurts to have another resource!

Teaching Your Piano Students How to Accompany

A couple weeks ago, I bookmarked this article on Teaching Your Piano Students How to Accompany. I finally got around to reading it, and really appreciate the thoughts and ideas that Jennifer shares in the post. She gives some practical tips for incorporating accompanying skills into a student’s music education, and also shares her list of “10 Be-Attitudes of Accompanying.” Having just spent the weekend accompanying for several groups, I can attest to the necessity of each item on this list!

Teaching Toward the Future

One thing that I’ve realized that I do frequently with my students that keeps my enthusiasm for teaching fresh is visualize them  in the future. I imagine that Landon is no longer a 9-year old boy with hard-to-control fingers, but a mature 19-year old who sits at his family’s piano accompanying hymns while his family sings along. And 7-year old Holly is more than just a precocious little sight-reader flying through her books; in my mind she is a 17-year old graduate, playing a beautiful rendition of Chopin at her graduation.  And so on.

When I view my students in this light, it makes me care more about the sound that they create. It makes me want to put in the extra time and energy to make sure that they can do more than translate notes on a page to sound; I want them to hear the beauty in what they are playing. It makes me willing to work week after week on the same technique until they master it, knowing that it will serve them well whatever their musical future may hold. It makes me excited to see them not only saying the “right” answers, but actually grasping the concepts that I am teaching, for then they can transfer them to all learning.

Every piece along the way contributes to the whole, but it is in stepping back and looking at the whole that I find the energy and motivation to focus relentlessly on the pieces.

Monday Mailbag – More About Piano Camp

One of my readers asked a handful of great questions as a follow-up to last week’s Carnival of the Animals Summer Piano Camp post. I think I’ll just do a question and answer format for the whole post to make it easy to read!

Q. What was the schedule? 5 days per week?
Yes, we met 5 days of the week for 2 hours each day.

Q. How many students ? Did you divide them into age appropriate groups? How old were your students that participated?
I had between 15-20 students total that I divided into three groups based on age, level, and availability as indicated in the Summer Survey that I had parents complete mid-spring for planning purposes. I ended up with one high school group, and two younger elementary-aged groups.

Q. I am wondering if 5th and 6th graders are too old to be interested in coloring?
For the high school students, I didn’t do the Carnival of the Animals theme. We did an Isaac Watts film project as our main focus in addition to working on an ensemble piece. 5th and 6th grade is a hard call…the creative types would probably do okay, but it would depend a lot on the individual students, I think.

Q. You mentioned the music, which is early intermediate+, so I am wondering if you had students that were advanced enough to play the music in the Schott book and also enjoyed the coloring?
Most of the students in the Carnival of the Animals groups were not advanced enough to actually play these pieces fluently. That’s why I either had them read just the melody line, or even taught it to them by rote. We focused more on capturing the overall mood of the piece than on the details of the printed music.

Q. You mentioned that you had them play the music as best they could…did they take home pieces to practice for the next day? If not, what parameters did you set as you introduced the music to the group? Did a small group play the same piece together? Or did different students play different pieces?
I did not send this music home with the students. They were expected to practice their parts for their other ensemble pieces, though. When I introduced the music to the group, I usually let the students determine who would play the melody and who would play the various instruments. Other than the one playing the melody, the others pretty much improvised based on the overall effect we wanted to create. They loved using the xylophone, various rhythm instruments, and different settings on the little keyboards I have. All the students played the same piece at the same time. I let them each spend a few minutes working on their own, developing the sounds and ideas they liked, and then we tried putting it all together. Some definitely turned out better than others, but the process and experience were so much fun!

Hopefully this additional info is helpful!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!