Friday Film Find

Beth Tadeson, of Grimsby, Ontario, has created a couple of studio trailers that are really fun to watch! (She got the idea from Anne Crosby’s recital trailer.) Here’s one:

So…this really makes me want to create a studio trailer, too. Has anyone else created a trailer for their studio? If so, I would love to see it! If you send me a link to it, I think it would be cool to create a compilation of studio trailers!

Monday Mailbag – 5 Suggested Resources for a New Teacher

I have been reading your site for the past year and have found it very helpful. I am a new teacher starting out so I have 4 students right now. In the fall I will be partnering with an after school program doing private lessons with possibly 8-10 more students. I saw your post about memorizing where you recommended Thinking as You Play: Teaching Piano in Individual and Group Lessons. I am planning to order a copy of the book but was wondering if you might have any other resources you would suggest to a teacher starting out.

Even though I have been teaching for 15 years now, I still feel like a new teacher in many ways! However, I am grateful for the many excellent resources in the music education community that have helped me develop competency and confidence as a piano teacher. Here are the resources that have been the most helpful to me in the order I would recommend them:

1. Association with music teaching colleagues – This is by far the number one most valuable resource you could ever have! If you have a local association in your area (check the MTNA website for local affiliates), you should definitely join it and become active in the meetings and student events. It would be impossible to measure the extent to which the teachers in our local associates have influenced me and my teaching. I have learned SO much through their input and example, and I honestly doubt that I would still be teaching if not for their encouragement and instruction. I know that not every area is blessed to have an association and not every association is populated with welcoming and generous teachers, so in that case I recommend moving to Kansas. :-) And if that’s not a possibility, then find some way to connect with other colleagues, perhaps through an association you can travel to once a month, a state or national conference, an on-line community, a collection of bloggers you can follow and interact with, etc.

2. Subscribe to industry magazines – in addition to being an avid book reader, I also love magazines! Industry magazines even have an advantage over books in that they can disseminate more current and relevant cultural trends and information about the latest musical research and technology available to music teachers. They also feature articles written by our contemporaries who are dealing with the same issues and student needs as we are. There are three magazines that I read regularly and highly recommend: American Music Teacher, Clavier Companion, and Listen.

3. Read a wide variety of books – there are a handful of specifically piano pedagogy books on the market that all have helpful insights related to both teaching and running a studio. However, I have found that I receive just as much inspiration from reading books on other subjects where I can relate the ideas and philosophies to teaching in a different way. Sometimes that might be a biography of an educator or a pianist; sometimes it might be a philosophy book; sometimes it might be a history of specific educational theories; sometimes it might be a theological book and how our view of God relates to the way we live and interact with others. (If you happen to be interested, here are links to the posts I’ve written for the past six years that compile brief reviews of the books I read during that year: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012) If I had to pick a few personal favorites to recommend, though, here are the three (other than Thinking As You Play) I would choose: The Savvy Musician by David Cutler, Color Outside the Lines by Howard Hendricks, and The Musician’s Way by Gerald Klickstein.

4. Study teacher guides – if you want to get to the nitty-gritty practical side of teaching, one of the most helpful things you can do is study detailed explanations and ideas from other teachers on how to teach or reinforce specific musical concepts. Some piano method series publish a guide for the teacher that is extremely useful for understanding the pedagogy behind certain activities or approaches. Legendary pedagogs Randall and Nancy Faber have an on-line guide with videos for their Primer Level piano method. The relatively new Alfred Premier Piano Course has an online assistant with lots of supplemental resources for teachers and students. And the one I’ve been poring over recently (and will be posting about much more extensively soon!) is the Teacher guide for the fabulous new Piano Safari method!

5. Follow piano teacher blogs – lastly, as a long-time blogger I would be remiss in not extolling the virtues of the myriad blogs now comprising the online music education community! There is nothing quite like peeking into the studio of another teacher and seeing the creative ways they run their studios and teach their students. It’s so much fun to look at pictures, download carefully crafted resources, and implement the imaginative ideas gleaned from other devoted teachers.

Those are my top 5 suggestions for new teachers, but I’d love to hear from other teachers as well! What advice would you give to a new teacher? What resources have been the most helpful to you in your teaching endeavors?

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 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.

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.

Sample Lesson Note Template

Leila Veiss has written a wonderful post about the “Apps I Use at Every Lesson” that relate to the business side of studio operations. One of the listed apps is Evernote, but she also includes with it a Sample Lesson Note Template that is fabulous!

I love the Glossary of Terms section, especially the brief explanation of what “Learn” and “Master” mean (I guess my students aren’t the only ones that seem confused by what I really meant when I told them to learn a particular piece or portion thereof… :-)). I also really like her Progress Score numbers and explanations. What a great tool for maintaining consistency and providing tangible instruction and feedback for each lesson!

Skype and Three Other Solutions for Snow Days!

Our area has received an inordinate amount of snow in the last week so we’ve had a couple of snow days. Whenever my students ask if I’ll be teaching I tell them that my philosophy is that I don’t have to go anywhere so I’ll gladly teach anyone who wants to come for a lesson. :-) However, I know that sometimes it’s not safe or desirable to traverse the icy roads to make it to a piano lesson, so it’s nice to have some other options in place. Plus, I have a number of rural students who were literally snowed into their homes and couldn’t make it out the driveway. Since I don’t offer refunds or make-up lessons, it’s nice for families to know that our studio has other possibilities available to them for these types of situations. Here are some possibilities:

1. Skype (or Facetime for those who have Apple products) – This is definitely the most ideal alternative for those who can’t make it to the studio. I usually use the Skype app on my iPod Touch, but you can also download a free desktop/laptop version which makes this a great option for almost any family!

2. Phone Call – Yeah, this feels pretty 20th Century now, but I actually did give a lesson over the phone yesterday. The internet went out for one of my families, so the kids put their cordless on the speaker phone setting and then propped it on the piano.

3. Instant Messaging -Yes, we’ve actually resorted to this a few times for lessons when we were having sound issues with the video chat. Obviously it doesn’t work for listening to the student play, but you can at least touch base with them, go over assignments, and answer questions. Plus, this is a fun way to invest in your relationship with students and get to know them better!

4. E-mail – Sometimes just putting together an e-mail with some specific suggestions and assignments for the student for the following week can be helpful so they have some direction for their practicing. Even a little bit of accountability and focus like this can help students maintain a regular practice routine.

The bottom line is that I want to be available for my students in any way I can during their lesson time. How do you handle snow days? Any other creative ways you’ve found to teach lessons?

Monday Mailbag – Media Release Forms for Piano Students

Love the student videos. Do you have your students sign media consent forms before filming and posting publicly online? Just curious if you’ve experienced any negative reactions. I’m sure there are plenty of very positive ones as well!

Yes, I include a Media Release Form along with the Parent Questionnaire, Studio Policy, and business card at all of my initial student interviews.

I wrote this based on what seemed necessary for my studio, so I recommend obtaining legal counsel as you develop a form that meets your studio needs. Here’s the wording from mine:

“I, _______, hereby grant permission for my child, __________, born on ____________, to have his/her photo and/or video used by Natalie’s Piano Studio in promotional materials, downloadable products, website content, and blog posts.”

Parent Signature _________________________ Date ______________

I have only had one family decide not to sign the form because they prefer not to have any public internet presence. However, it has still worked out great to record the student and post the videos on my YouTube account, but set them to “Private” and just send the parents the links to the videos. They are pleased to retain their privacy, but still get to experience the technology used in the studio.

I’d be curious to know how other teachers handle this. Do you have parents sign a Media Release Form? What do you include on the form? Have you received complaints from parents?

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!

Tips for Buying a Piano – Guest Post by Coach House Pianos

Buying a piano is not as dissimilar as we think to buying a car. Before we want to hand over a large amount of money to a car dealer, we would want to fully inspect the goods, test it out and make sure it is as described. This is the mindset we should have with any large purchase. A piano is a very personal thing. It is a significant investment and you, and your piano shall likely be together a long time. As such, you must be absolutely sure of your decision before you commit.

To help you have a clear idea what it is you need, Coach House Pianos has put together a few things to consider when you are ready to make this investment:

  1. Cost – do you want a good quality second hand piano? This can cost anywhere up to £18,000 ($29,000), whilst a brand new Steinway could cost in excess of £130,000 ($209,000).
  2. Type of Piano – A Grand Piano or an Upright Piano? You will need to consider carefully its use. For home use, teaching, at a venue and many others.
  3. Quality – This applies when inspecting prospective instruments. We would suggest checking for rust on the iron frame, cracks in the wood (particularly the soundboard) and the condition of the strings.

These are to name just a few of the important features to consider. Your piano is one of the bigger investments you will make and like a car, you will intend for it to last and be with you for a long time. There is benefit to buying your piano from people with experience in these beautiful creations. Speak to someone who understands how important this instrument is going to be and who appreciates that it is going to be your personal creative outlet.


Coach House Pianos is our newest advertiser here on Music Matters Blog and we are grateful for their 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.

Monday Mailbag – Year-End Evaluations

A number of people have commented and/or asked questions about the Year-End Evaluations that I hold in my studio. I started doing this ten years ago and it has been so helpful for me and the families! The last lesson of the year one or both parents attend the lesson with their child. The week before this, I send home a Parent Questionnaire and a Student Questionnaire, and I complete a Year-End Student Evaluation. I tweak the questionnaires a bit each year so that I get input and feedback from the parents and students on specific issues. (You can click the above links to download copies of this year’s forms.)

Conducting these evaluations does take a considerable amount of time as I consider each student’s progress and evaluate where they are in different musical areas. But the results of my own time spent doing this and recommending specific goals and ideas for the future, along with the responses on the questionnaires from the parents and students, has proved to be invaluable as I work on a theme and lesson plans for the following year. I highly recommend giving this a try in your studio if you haven’t already! If you conduct Year-End Evaluations in your studio, I’d love to hear what you include and what’s been most helpful to you.

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!

Monday Mailbag – How to Raise Tuition Fees

I have not raised my rates since I began teaching in 2007.  I charge a flat monthly rate, and am considering increasing each month’s payment by $5 starting in Sept.  I find myself worrying about how my families will react to this change, and how I’ll prepare to answer.  I am very involved with MTNA and my local chapter, which I was not 5 years ago, I have more resources at my finger tips, I attend conferences and workshops, and I earned NCTM… not to mention inflation, and the fact that I recently got married and have a hungry husband to feed every day!  I don’t want to go into too many details, but want to stay professional.  Would it be easier if I just increased monthly tuition by a dollar every year?  How do you handle this?  Any advice?

Continuing in the same vein as the last two weeks with a business-related question, I though this one seemed particularly apropos for this time of year as we evaluate and implement changes in our policies for next fall. I’m sure there are lots of different ways to go about raising rates, but I personally think that a brief statement with a reminder of the studio benefits is probably sufficient.

As much as it’s tempting to want to give long-winded explanations (a.k.a. apologies) for rate increases, as you alluded to, the professional approach is to assume that families will understand the rising costs and place enough value on the services and education they are receiving from you to be completely fine with it. A $5/month increase per month seems very reasonable in light of what you are providing for your students. You might want to read this post on Three Simple Questions to Help You Figure Out What to Charge For Lessons for additional ideas. I also encourage you to read the comments on Do Independent Music Teachers Get Sick Days? and Determining Monthly Tuition for some fabulous perspectives from other teachers!

In case it’s helpful, here’s some sample verbiage that I’m using in my studio update this week to inform families about the new studio rates:

The rate for lessons will be increasing from $__/month to $__/month effective September 1, 2012. This will continue to include weekly private 45-minute lessons as scheduled, participation in all studio group classes, recitals, and creative projects, access to the studio lending library, use of studio technology, and opportunity for involvement in many other community festivals and competitions.

If anyone else has input on how to raise tuition rates in your studio, please feel free to offer suggestions!

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!