Monday Mailbag – Determining Monthly Tuition

After the past few months of lost income due to students canceling lessons for injuries, soccer games, vacations, etc., I am realizing how wise you and other teachers are for charging monthly tuition rather than per-lesson fees! Switching to such a policy for this fall is top on my priority list, but I am curious about one thing: how do you handle monthly tuition when students have different lesson lengths? Do you charge one tuition for everyone, or is it dependent on length of lessons?

Glad you are finally seeing the light! Unfortunately, most of us have to learn the hard way. Having a parent call a few minutes after their lesson is supposed to start to say they can’t make it because they are at the mall shopping and lost track of time makes you start re-evaluating your business practices real quick! [True story, by the way…]

The only lesson times I offer are 45-minute and 1-hour. I charge a different flat monthly rate for each of those and the families pay accordingly. I’ve been offering 45-minute lessons as the minimum now in my studio for many years and I can’t imagine teaching 30-minute lessons. You can read a post I wrote several years ago about How to Transition to Longer Lessons.

Some teachers pro-rate longer lessons, but it makes more sense to me to charge the same base rate and just bill the family based on whether they opt for the 45-minute lessons or something longer. Some teachers actually prefer to charge by the semester, which I think is a great option as well. For now, the monthly seems to work best for my studio. As you’re switching over to this new tuition model, you might want to check out another post I wrote on Three Simple Questions to Help You Figure Out What to Charge for Lessons.

I would love to have input from other teachers on this important subject as well, especially those who have made the transition from per lesson fees to monthly or semester tuition!

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!

Five Ways to Introduce Concert Music to Children By Robert Greenberg

Robert Greenberg, author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart, has written a humorous and helpful article for those looking for ways to introduce children to concert music. I’m looking forward to reading his book and gleaning new ideas for myself and my students! Enjoy the following guest post: Five Ways to Introduce Concert Music to Children by Robert Greenberg:

“Concert Music” is music written by primarily dead Euro-males between roughly 1650 and 1900, music typically heard in the rather formal environs of a concert hall. Yes, this music is often referred to as “classical music”, which is as useless and misleading a phrase as “real imitation margarine!” When we call something “classic”, we are identifying it with the ideals and restraint of ancient Greek art, which immediately rules out the great bulk of concert music, which as often as not is filled with       schmerz und schmutz, sturm und drang, angst and exaltation. Even if we use the word “classic” in its loosest permutation — to indicate something exemplary — who’s to say there isn’t such a thing as “Classic Jazz”, “Classic Rock” — and even, painful though it may be to contemplate, “Classic Death Metal/Grindcore”. So: a pox on the phrase “classical music”. Concert music it is.

And why, pray tell, should we want to introduce our children to concert music? Because it constitutes some of the greatest art our species has ever cooked up, musical art that informs, educates, entertains, inspires, and ultimately packs a toy shop’s worth of joy that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

1. It is a truism that children will read if they are read to and if they see their parents read. It is incumbent upon parents to set an example by listening to concert music at home and in the car (the latter might require some negotiation, but it CAN BE DONE). Don’t be afraid of playing the same piece over and over again; familiarity breeds affection.

(Having said all this, don’t play one type of music to the exclusion of all others. The distinctions we have created between “concert music” and “rock ‘n’ roll”, and “jazz” and so forth are generally meaningless to children. They tend to just like music — all music — which is how it should be.)

2. Invest in some decent percussion toys and encourage your kids to “play along” with recordings and videos. Yes, I’m aware that this can drive an adult up a wall, which is why we should do it with them. This makes us active, not passive participants in the musical process, and it’s more fun than you might think. As for “insulting” Bach or Mozart or Beethoven by doing this; my friends, they’re dead and beyond insult. Besides, do you really think playing along with a recording is more insulting than the disco arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that was featured in the movie Saturday Night Fever? I rest my case.

3. Rent/buy/download and play cool movies like “Beethoven Lives Upstairs”, “Mr. Bach Comes to Call”, Disney’s “Peter and the Wolf” and “Fantasia 2000”. Each episode of Disney Junior’s “Little Einsteins” series focuses on a different piece of concert music and teaches all sorts of musical terminology as well. My three year-old son and five year-old daughter love them.

4. Go to local orchestral concerts TOGETHER, in particular children’s/family concerts. Outdoor festival concerts are even better, because the kids can run around and move to the music. Try to listen to the pieces on the program before hand. Music literacy is akin to written literacy, and a little (even a tiny!) bit of preparation pays off big time in terms of intensifying the experience.

5. Get a piano. It doesn’t have to be a 8’11¾” Steinway “D” (list price around 130k); a little spinet will do. Put it in a place where the kids can bang on it without making the rest of the family crazy. When it’s time for piano lessons (at age 6 or 7; no need to rush) the piano will thus be an old friend and not a new torture device. (A “piano” is made out of wood, medal, leather and felt. It breathes. It is real. Its mechanism follows the will of the player’s body. An electric keyboard is made out of plastic and circuitry. It is not real. It does not breath. It has no place in your house or apartment. “But it makes so many different sounds!” So does a cat in a microwave: does sonic variety justify putting little Boots in the micro? “But we don’t have room for a piano.” Yes you do. “But my child can practice a keyboard wearing earphones, so we don’t have to listen”. Oh, that’s a GREAT message to send your child: go practice, but don’t make us listen to you.)

Recording starter kit. Here are some great works wonderfully performed to start out with.

  • Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertos; Trevor Pinnock conducting, on Archiv
  • Wolfgang Mozart, Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, & 41; Neville Marriner conducting, on EMI
  • Ludwig (“my friends call me Louis) van Beethoven, Nine Symphonies; John Eliot Gardiner conducting, on Archiv
  • Camille Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals; Charles Dutoit conducting, on London
  • Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf; Carlo Rossi conducting, narrated by Boris Karloff, Vanguard

© 2012 Robert Greenberg, author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart

Author Bio
Robert Greenberg, 
author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart, is a speaker, pianist, and music historian. He has served on the faculties of UC Berkeley, California State University East Bay, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he was chairman of the Department of Music History and Literature and director of the Adult Extension Division. He is currently music historian-in-residence with San Francisco Performances and also serves as the resident composer and music historian to NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered. Since 1993, he has recorded over 550 lectures for The Great Courses.

Founded in 1990, The Great Courses produces DVD and audio recordings of courses by top university professors in the country, which are sold through direct marketing. It is a nine-figure-a-year business and they distribute forty-eight million catalogs annually. They offer more than four hundred courses on topics including business and economics; fine arts and music; ancient, medieval, and modern history; literature and English language; philosophy and intellectual history; religion; social sciences; and science and mathematics.

For more information please visit http://www.robertgreenbergmusic.com and http://www.thegreatcourses.com and follow the author on Facebook.


Join the Connecticut State Music Teachers Association Live This Morning!

The Connecticut State Music Teachers Association has just launched a USTREAM channel and is hosting a piano ensemble music session live this morning from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET. What fun! I’m loving watching the archived video from their live session on Tuesday morning:

Video streaming by UstreamIf you’re looking for some wonderful piano ensemble repertoire, don’t miss watching these presentations!

More Music Theory Teaching Videos

I just discovered that Yellow Cat Publishing has a YouTube channel with a variety of music theory teaching videos. While you’re checking this out, you might want to download and print one of their free Circle of 5ths diagrams!

Here’s a video clip on using the Circle of 5ths chart to learn the order of sharps and flats:

It’s great to have all these wonderful music theory teaching videos coming out! Anyone know of other great ones that can be used by teachers and/or students?

Rhythm Ensemble Activity – Free Download

One of the other activities at our Travel Tour last Thursday night was a Rhythm Ensemble. This was our first activity of the evening, so as students arrived I let them look through the stack of seven parts and select the one that they felt most confident being able to accurately play. Each of the parts progresses in difficulty, and the rhythmic elements of each part correlate with the requirements of our state Music Progressions curriculum.

Once all the students had arrived, I distributed a selection of rhythm instruments and we all had fun playing the various parts together. Those who didn’t get an instrument snapped the pulse with me while the others played. We traded around instruments so that everyone got a chance to be a part of the rhythm ensemble. It was a simple, fun, musical way to start the class! Feel free to download and print the Rhythm Ensemble parts for use in your studio!

Monday Mailbag – Recital Programs Designed by Students

I think you posted the idea once to have your students design the end of the year recital program covers.  If so, did you judge as a studio which one would be chosen?  I’m concerned about the ramifications of best friends choosing each other or if I choose there might be hurt feelings. Any suggestions?

Yes, you are remembering correctly! You can see examples of the student-designed programs on A Peek Into My Christmas Recital and Inspiration From a Home Magazine. I just collect all the artwork submissions ahead of time, then the night of the rehearsal, I display them all on a pew with a small Dixie cup in front of each one. Each student is given a penny and looks over the submissions, then places their penny in the one they want to vote for. I’m sure some students vote for their own or a friends (I tell them they’re allowed to if their conscience will allow it! :-)), but this process has always worked really well and we end up with a great-looking cover!

Does anyone else do artwork contests with students for their recital programs? Any tips on how to handle the process?

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!

The 1-Minute Documentary Project

For Travel Tour (a.k.a. Group Class) #5 last night, one of our activities was what I dubbed, “The 1-Minute Documentary Project.” The idea was inspired by the fabulous Videolicious App, and it turned out to be a lot of fun!

I started by coming up with a handful of music-related topics, like a composer or a musical element. The students were grouped in pairs and each pair drew one of the topics. Here’s a rundown of the step-by-step process from that point on:

1. Read/study material about the topic (students were permitted to use any resource in the studio).
2. Select key information to include.
3. Write a 50 second narration.
4. Select and take 4-8 pictures to correlate with the narration.
5. Open Videolicious App.
6. Select General Video.
7. Select previously taken pictures in the order you want them to appear in the video.
8. Film one student saying the narration.
9. Select an excerpt from your music library to play in the background (if the students have time during their research they can find and download a piece of music for this purpose).
10. Preview and publish the video.

In addition to being a lot of fun, the process was educational and provided a great opportunity for the students to work together. There is still plenty of room for improvement in a variety of aspects (especially the direction of some of the pictures!), but I thought they did a good job in a limited time. And we all enjoyed watching the finished documentaries at the end of the class:


Levi and Andrew on Dynamics


Desiree and Hayley on Bartolomeo Cristofori


Amanda and Mercy on Tempo


Lucas and Landon on Key Signatures


Olive and Noelle on Articulation


Tommy on Domenico Scarlatti

Inspiration from Russia

It’s been quite a few years since I first became familiar with 20th Century Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, but I was re-reading his Templeton Address recently and was struck by this observation he makes concerning art:

“In the East art has collapsed because it has been knocked down and trampled upon, but in the West the fall has been voluntary, a decline into a contrived and pretentious quest where the artist, instead of attempting to reveal the divine plan, tries to put himself in the place of God.”
~ from the Templeton Address, Men Have Forgotten God
I also thought this was a vivid and inspiring statement:
“It is the artist who realizes that there is a supreme force above him and works gladly away as a small apprentice under God’s heaven.”

What if Your Student Could Compose a Piece and Have it Performed by a Professional Musician?

That is exactly the vision behind Music-COMP (formerly the Vermont Midi Project). The organization began in 1995 with the purpose of “encourage[ing] and support[ing] students in composing and arranging music.” This is accomplished via “A community of professional composers, teachers, pre-service educators, and students engage in mentoring and online discussion of student work.”

I had to do a little bit of digging to understand exactly how the program works. (I’m sure once they have fully completed the switch to their new program name and website things will be a little easier to navigate!) Schools or individuals can enroll in the program for a yearly membership fee which provides them access to the online mentoring website where students can submit compositions for critique and reflection. They also have the opportunity to be mentored by a professional composer for an additional fee.

One of the biggest perks of the Music-COMP program is that students can submit compositions for live performances by professional musicians. The motivation for and reward of composing rises to a whole new level when students can hear their work performed by live musicians, not just a computer sound card. This year’s Opus 24 will take place on Wednesday, May 2, in Ludlow, Vermont.

As a huge advocate for expanded approaches to education, I think this would be a fabulous real-world opportunity for any school, studio, or student interested in gaining experience and expertise in the field of composing!

Monday Mailbag – Year End Achievement Awards

“I am curious about student achievement awards.  I am wondering what you and other teachers do.  Do you give out awards based on years in lessons (i.e. 3 year award) or perhaps awards based on level of achievement (i.e. completed Faber level 2A etc.)?  Maybe some teachers simply give out a participation certificate. This will be the first time I am doing a recital and I want to give the students some kind of year end award.  I don’t do an incentive program (yet) and I want to make sure if I start something, it is something that the students will feel a sense of pride and achievement for receiving.”

This is actually a pretty thought-provoking question for me! I’ve never given achievement awards based on years of study or completion of levels, but I can see how something like that might be a good motivator for a student. Some of my students participate in a yearly Music Progressions evaluation program that is comprised of 10 levels. Those who participate receive a certificate each year, but I can’t remember a student ever caring about the certificate (I often find these crumpled in the bag months later). I think it would be kind of cool to have an award of some sort that was progressive from year to year. Extra incentive to stick with piano study through the hard times!

My year-end rewards are almost always tied to our practice incentive theme. And they are usually completely different from year to year. For example, this year the students who earned the specified number of Complication Coins can use them to purchase a custom-designed studio t-shirt. 🙂 You can see a list of other year-end rewards I’ve used on this post about Practice Incentives and Rewards.

My mental wheels are really spinning now, though, and I’m curious to know if other teachers give some sort of progressive award based on years of study or level completion. What do you do in your studio? I’d love to get some new ideas!

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!