The Piano Studio as a Small Business

Did you know that May is National Small Business Month? And did you know that if you own a piano studio, you are a small business owner? This can be one of the most rewarding, but also the most challenging, aspects of running a piano studio. Not only are we responsible for the teaching side of our practice, we are responsible for every facet of the business side of the operation. This brief article, “Do you have what it takes to start a business?” that I came across recently has some helpful considerations for those looking to start or improve their business. The article highlights these four tips:

  • Do Your Research
  • Build a Brand
  • Communicate
  • Optimize

Check out the full article for more detail on each point.

Monday Mailbag – Teaching Balance Between Hands

Some of my students have a lot of trouble with balance between the hands.  I have them play one hand very loudly, and “ghost” the other hand, gradually adding the other hand by tapping the keys, then playing softly, getting gradually louder, but would love some other ideas.

This is the same tried-and-true strategy that I use all the time with my students. Here are a couple of other considerations:

  • When teaching specific techniques, it’s helpful to make sure that all other hindrances are removed so that the student can focus all of their attention on the technique itself. For example, instead of having the student attempt to achieve proper balance on a piece where they are still struggling to read the notes or play with rhythmic accuracy, etc. try something simpler like playing a pentascale with one hand louder than the other. I devise lots of simple, on-the-spot exercises for students so that they can develop various technical skills.
  • Utilize exaggeration. One teacher I know uses imagery of a cast iron frying pan in one hand and a feather in the other. Encourage the student to still create sound with each hand, but to completely exaggerate the contrast between the two.
  • Alternate hands. For example, have the student play the melody note first, at the desired dynamic level, followed by the harmony note(s) immediately after. This helps them hear and feel the difference between the two without having to actually play them at the same time at first. Gradually play the harmony note(s) closer to the melody note(s) until they are eventually being played simultaneously.
  • Have the student play one part while you play the other. Skills like hand balance are very much a combination of technical facility and listening. The student has to be able to physiologically achieve the right balance, but they also have to know what they want it to sound like and listen intently to see if they have achieved the desired sound. Playing with the student helps them concentrate on their part while also hearing what it sounds like with the other part appropriately balanced.

Those are a few ideas, anyway. I’d love to hear others! Do you have any tried-and-true methods for helping piano students learn and achieve hand balance in their playing?

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!

Watch the Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

One of my early music inspirations was the CD “World’s Favorite Piano Music” by Van Cliburn. I think because of that and because of the opportunity I had to hear him in person at the 2006 MTNA Conference, he will always have a special place in my heart. The piano competition he began in 1962 is getting ready to hold its fourteenth event.

30 of the finest pianists from around the world will be converging on Fort Worth, Texas, May 24-June 9 to participate in the competition. And the rest of us around the world are privileged to be able to tune in to watch the live webcast on the Cliburn website.

And for those who are in Fort Worth or close enough to make the drive, you should check out the wonderful free events open to the public that are being held in conjunction with the competition. If I was closer, I would sure love to get in on some of these!

Monday Mailbag

One of the fallouts of my computer crash several weeks ago is that I no longer have access to all of my e-mails. In particular, I had over fifty Monday Mailbag questions saved for upcoming postings. So…it looks like we’re going to have to start over from scratch. If you have a questions you’d like to see addressed in an upcoming Monday Mailbag post, please send me an e-mail with the question/topic. We should be able to get back on track with weekly postings, and if you get the question to me quickly yours should get posted soon!

Friday Film Find – Triumphant

Jerald Simon, of Music Motivation, has put together an inspiration video dedicated to athletes everywhere. I assume this also includes musicians, who have been dubbed “elite athletes of the small muscles.” 🙂 This would be a great film to show students to give them an idea of one of the many ways that music can be used to impact and add value to our culture.

Also, be sure to check out Jerald’s collection of free piano resources for teachers and students.

What Music School Taught Me by Adele, Leona Lewis and Friends – Guest Post by Matthew Pink

Can creativity be taught? It’s a difficult one.

The pursuit of artistic practices across all disciplines must involve – out of sheer necessity – the dedication to practice and learning. Sometimes, it has to be said, at the expense of creative flair.

Similarly, if the process of learning involves restrictions and pre-existing straight-jackets unwittingly (or not) passed down from teacher to pupil, then doesn’t the end product (from both pupil and teacher) inevitably end up confined or reduced in some way?

Perhaps the key to great music teaching is better seen as facilitating – the offering of a route map with various options printed thereupon – signposts, helpful clues, pre-plotted pathways – but with the overall goal being that the wayfinder must carve their own route.

Here in the UK, the stock of music schooling has not just been in the ascendance over recent years but has undergone something of a starburst. Music teaching had been traditionally viewed as a little on the dour side, creatively speaking. Alex Kapranos of successful British guitar band Franz Ferdinand supports this theory, “None of us had particularly positive experiences of music in education as children. We were taught that music was written by an anonymous person from the past, to be regurgitated without feeling by you, the child.”

Self-schooled musicians, who have taught themselves by ear, learning the tracks from sheet music or from just sheer bloody-mindedness, have really been the dominant gene pool for a number of years. Creativity was never something that they were taught, it was more like something they learned how to make use of in whatever fashion they could find or that came naturally.

But a sea change in attitudes to music schooling in the UK could well be traced to back to the first words uttered by UK rap doyen Dizzee Rascal after he was announced as the winner of the prestigious Mercury Music Prize back in 2003: he thanked his music teacher Tim Smith for rescuing and inspiring him. This, it could be argued, changed the perception of music schooling for a new generation.

Since then to complement Dizzee’s non-street message, there has been a wave of talent to graduate from the now famous Brit School. The glamorous roll-call includes artists who have enjoyed huge success on both sides of the Atlantic; Leona Lewis, Adele and Katie Melua are just three.

Adele is hugely positive about her time at music school; “The Brit School was amazing; I still really miss it. I hate to think where I’d have ended up if I hadn’t gone to The Brit School. It’s quite inspiring to be around 700 kids who want to be something – rather than 700 kids who just wanna get pregnant so they get their own flat.

I didn’t have some rich daddy who built me a studio. But I loved The Brit School. It was a bit like Fame sometimes – you get people doing their ballet stretches and singers having sing-offs.”

By all accounts, the Brit School seems to be getting a lot of things right in terms of showing the way to creativity and not just imposing top-down, dry music learning. It’s even free to attend, if highly competitive.

Says Katie Melua, “They taught us that you are a person, so you are creative. You learnt that you can do anything you want to if you just go out and do it.” Kate Nash concurs, “I loved the place… I wouldn’t have been prepared for what’s happening to me now if I hadn’t been to The Brit School. Being there gave me the confidence I needed.”?

The other big advantage of learning in a music school environment like that of the Brit School is that you are constantly surrounded by others who eat, sleep and breathe music too. This can be very healthy for creativity. The peers have the same mind-set, the same passion and, if the school is doing their job correctly, complementary abilities which should just give alchemy that little nudge along helping duos, trios or groups form.

Moreover, and this is especially crucial nowadays, at a musical school you can have access to the smorgasbord of music-making, and music-recording technology; technology which has played such a big role in the democratisation of music production as well as the liberation of producers world-wide who have found their own direct distribution channels through social media and the web.

However, whether all of this is geared up to teach pupils how to become a musician or, rather, how to further sculpt the musician that is already in existence, is a debatable point.

Moreover, the music school as described by Adele, Katie Melua et al seems more to be about learning how to harness creativity, rather than how to become creative in the first place. In simple terms – benefiting from a musical education is not the same as being a musician.

But what do you think? Can creativity be taught? Engendered? Or just facilitated? What are your methods to make this happen for your students and your particular learning environment?


Matthew Pink is our newest guest poster here on Music Matters Blog and we are grateful for his support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send me an e-mail and I’ll let you know about our advertising packages.

Finale – Essential Piano Studio Software

One of the first new software programs I ordered when I got my new computer system was Finale 2012. I had been using an older version on my last computer and knew I couldn’t live without it! We use Finale all the time in the studio for compositions, but especially this time of year when students are working on their Psalms Projects.

One of the great benefits of Finale is that students can download the free Finale Notepad to use at home to input their compositions, then send the files to the studio for final tweaking. Most of the time students prefer to work on their notation input here at the studio, but for those who want to familiarize themselves with the software and work on their own, this is a great option!

40 Interview Questions for Prospective Piano Students

Years ago I started conducting and interview and evaluation/assessment with every prospective piano student and their parents. This is so helpful in getting to know the families, the individual student, and their musical expectations and aptitude. I’ve recently been coming up with some new questions that I’d like to add to the forms I use, and just came across a list of 40 questions from Yellow Cat Music Education that has some possibilities I’ve never even thought of! These are very thought-provoking and so helpful in establishing clear expectations regarding practice right off the bat. This would actually be a great list to send to parents even before the initial interview so that they have a chance to look over it and think through their level of commitment to their child’s musical studies.