Awesome Folding Standup Desk for Teaching Piano!

I am not exaggerating when I say that I spent dozens of hours typing in every search string I could think of and perusing every shopping place that came to mind in order to find my newest piece of studio furniture. Although I’ve made many efforts over the years to do a better job of standing while teaching I always found myself gravitating back toward my trusty office chair. I finally realized that a major deterrent was the need to constantly refer to the student’s assignment book and jot down notes. What I needed was a standing desk!

Little did I realize how hard it would be to find exactly what I wanted! My criteria was that it had to be relatively stylish, adjustable height-wise, and able to be collapsed and stored out of the way when not in use. You try searching for that! 🙂

Actually, I’m happy to report that I found exactly what I wanted and I LOVE it! Just in case you happen to want this little beauty for your own studio and teaching, you can find the Origami Up Down Stand Desk on Amazon.com. See how handily it folds away in the corner? And it’s so wonderful to have a spacious worktop for my laptop, colored pens, and plenty of room remaining for assignment books and other paraphernalia. Can you tell I’m excited?! Sometimes I just can’t help it if little things like this keep me excited and looking forward to teaching each day. 😉


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Finally a Way to Track Repertoire!

One of my favorite things to do is brainstorm creative and effective ways to streamline processes and organizational ideas for both myself and my students. That’s one of the reasons that I develop a practice incentive theme for my studio each year. It provides a ways for students to set goals, manage their progress, and achieve success. Plus, it helps me remain organized from lesson-to-lesson and stay on track with each student’s goals. I also love using Music Teacher’s Helper to manage my studio bookkeeping in an organized and professional manner. However, one area I have consistently struggled with is keeping track of my students’ repertoire in a systematic and organized way. I’ve tried a variety of different approaches, both pen-and-paper style and digitally, but nothing has ever clicked for me in a way that I was able to maintain consistently. Until last month.

Amy Chaplin’s inspirational series on using Evernote for studio organization prompted me to re-download the free software and give it another try. I first tried it several years ago, but wasn’t able to stick with it. Even after downloading it this time, it sat on the “back burner” because I couldn’t figure out quite how to use it in a way that worked for me. But it all started to come together when I was adding a book to my Goodreads reading list and writing a brief review of it last month. As I did so, I wished that there was a repertoire database like Goodreads that would allow me to search for a particular book, add it to my list, create and tag certain categories to place it in, and write my comments about it. I don’t know of any such repertoire database in existence (if you know of one, please let me know!), but as I lay in bed that night I began to wonder if I could use Evernote in a similar manner to at least organize repertoire for my studio and students…

By the time the next morning came around, I was ready to open Evernote and get to work! Amy’s series helped me understand how to use the tagging system effectively, so I started creating a folder-type system using tags. I am SO excited about this system and think it will finally be something I can maintain consistently! Here’s a screen shot of how I ended up structuring it:


Here’s the step-by-step run-down, just in case anyone else wants to give this approach a try!

  1. Create a tag named, “Repertoire.”
  2. Create what will become the next layer of tags: By Era, By Key, By Level, By Meter. Then I also added a few other tags that were included in this second tier: Duet, Rote Pieces, Sacred Arrangements, and Student Favorites.
  3. Create the next layer of tags that will be nested inside the previous ones. In the By Era one I created tags for: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, 20th Century, and Contemporary. In By Key, I created one for each major and minor key, plus a tag titled, “Modal.” In By Level, tags included: Beginner, Elementary, Early Intermediate, Intermediate, Late Intermediate, and Advanced. By Meter has: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8 so far. (It’s tempting to try to think of every possible tag that I might want to use for a piece, but I decided to stick to these four main criteria so that it wouldn’t get overwhelming trying to keep up with every detail for every piece!)
  4. Within each era, I started creating a tag for each composer, titled by last name, then first name so that they appear in alphabetical order by last name.

Next, I created a tag and labeled it, “Events.” In this one, I didn’t nest any secondary tags, but instead I will create a note for each event in which I have students participating. The event is labeled by year, month, and then event title. For example: 2017.04 Music Progressions. This way they are arranged chronologically. In the note, I list each student and the pieces they are performing for the event, plus any other relevant information.

Finally, I used Joy Morin’s suggestion of creating tags for “Students-Active” and “Students-Inactive.” Then within the active students, I have a tag for each current student. Nested in that, I have three tags so far. Each one begins with the student’s name and then has either “Performances,” “Rep Ideas,” or “Rep Learned.”

This is where the tagging system is ingenious! Here’s the process for adding repertoire and assigning it to categories:

  1. Create a new note with the title of a piece of repertoire.
  2. Tag it with: which era it is, who the composer is, what level it is, what key it’s in, what meter it’s in, and then if I want to assign it to any particular student as a piece of repertoire that they’ve learned or as a repertoire idea for a piece I want them to learn. Now it is handily placed in all of those categories and is visible when I click that category. And to add notes, links, or any additional info, all I have to do is change the note once and it’s reflected across the board. So cool! Throughout the years I can keep adding tags to assign it to other students as well.

 

The other thing I do is click back on the event I created and tag it with the “performances” tag for every student who participated in that event. This way I can make any changes I need to to one event note, but then have it automatically updated for every student who participated in the event.

Now that I have a workable system in place that I love and that makes sense to me, I am so thrilled to be able to use it consistently for lesson planning, archiving events, tracking student participation, filing repertoire ideas and notes, and keeping a record of repertoire that every student has learned. I’m sure I’ll keep tweaking this in the days ahead, but for now I am excited to have one landing place for all things event and repertoire-related!

New Sample Pages Added to the Store!

Many of you have requested the ability to see sample pages of the piano Practice Incentive Theme Packages and the Piano Camp Lesson Plans, so I’m excited to report that you can now view samples of every product available in the Music Matters Blog Store! I know many of you are busy getting ready for summer piano camps, and a few overachieving teachers are even planning ahead for next year’s practice incentive theme (I am not one of those!), so as a special thank you for your patience I am offering a special $5 off coupon for any item in the store in honor of the completion of this project! Just enter the following code when you checkout to have the discount applied to your cart: Sample

Also, be sure to check out what other teachers have to say about using these games, piano camps, and practice incentives on the Testimonials page.

I am just beginning to consider piano camp plans for this summer, so if you have any favorite ideas or resources, feel free to share them! For those thinking about offering a piano camp for the first time this year, here are several blog posts to help you get started:

Piano Camp Logistics – http://musicmattersblog.com/2010/06/28/monday-mailbag-piano-camp-logistics/

Planning Piano Camps – http://musicmattersblog.com/2011/04/11/monday-mailbag-planning-piano-camps/

More About Planning Piano Camps – http://musicmattersblog.com/2009/05/18/monday-mailbag-more-about-planning-piano-camps/

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!