Monday Mailbag – Best Age Student for a Beginning Teacher

What age range do you think might be best for a beginning teacher?  Or maybe I should rephrase that as, “Are there certain ages which you find significantly more challenging to instruct than other ages?”

This one really made me think! There is a common misconception that it is less critical to have a good/professional/experienced, etc. teacher for the beginning years of a student’s piano instruction, because if they indicate that they are serious about studying piano, they can get in with a good teacher later. I wholeheartedly disagree with this mentality! The beginning years of a student’s music education are the most critical. This is when foundational musical concepts are learned, practice habits are formed, attitude toward music and lessons is developed, and so much more.

For this reason, I think I would almost recommend that a beginning teacher start by taking on some transfer students, rather than starting beginning students from scratch. You will probably find it easier to pinpoint weak areas that need attention and will feel more comfortable helping those students fix problems or answer questions that they have. This will also help you see firsthand what areas are important to include in a child’s beginning lessons.

I’m sure there are other thoughts on this issue, and it certainly depends some on your own personality and how well you interact with various ages of children or adults. And, of course, you may not have the luxury of choosing specific ages or levels – you may just have to take what you get as you are contacted by parents or interested students and learn as you go. As hard as it is to learn “on the fly,” there’s really nothing that can substitute for experience. I know I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my years of teaching, but my goal is to constantly be learning and striving to be the best teacher that I can be for the students that I have.

I would welcome input from any other teachers! What age or level do you think is best for a beginning teacher to start with?

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!

Short Pictorial and Musical History of the Piano

One of the ladies on our committee for the planning of a piano festival next spring sent me the link to this short clip with pictures and music documenting the “Parentage of the Piano.”

I actually got to see some of these instruments in person this summer when I visited the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota. Lots of fascinating history! Students always love hearing little tidbits about the piano’s history and its predecessors, and I find that it is incredibly helpful to them as they learn music from the various style periods. This is a perfect length video to show during a lesson or group class!

Review of Easy Hymn Solos

Attaching the tag line, “stylish arrangements” to a collection of early elementary hymn solos may seem like a bit of a stretch, but composer Wendy Stevens manages to pull it off! I recently played through each of the hymn arrangements in her new three-book collection of Easy Hymn Solos published by Hal Leonard and was delighted with them. Early-level arrangements of this caliber are hard to come by, so I know they are going to be well-used among my students! In fact, truth be told, I’ve already parted with a couple of the books because I just couldn’t wait to let my students get started on some of the pieces. 🙂

Just to give you a taste of what you’ll find in these books, here’s an annotated list of the contents of Book One:

Amazing Grace – The damper pedal is sustained for the duration of the piece, creating a sweet overarching mood and leaving lots of room for expressive playing.

Brethren We Have Met to Worship – A syncopated rhythm (well-notated for the beginning student) in the introduction gets this piece off to a lively start! A brief legato, lyrical section in the middle provides a nice contrast. The performer of this piece will need to have good counting skills and a great sense of pulse!

Come, Christians, Join to Sing – Probably the first thing you’ll notice about this piece is the character created by the rests that appear frequently on the first beat of the measures. Along with the well-articulated staccatos, this piece will be lots of fun for a student to tackle!

For the Beauty of the Earth – Students will love the mature sound they can achieve with the harmonic thirds and fifths that adorn the opening of this reverent hymn. They’ll also get a brief chance to explore voicing left hand melodic notes while the right hand supplies the harmony.

Doxology – This is one of the two pieces in the collection that utilizes harmonic pedaling, so this could provide a great introduction to pedaling techniques for an early level student. A lovely left hand inverted arrangement of the melodic notes provides an echo effect throughout that can be a great lesson in balance between the hands.

God is so Good – Lovely and simple, with a very open sound – perfect for this song. No doubt a few reminders to count all the notes for the full value will be necessary with this arrangement, but it will be a great experience in counting and listening to the sound of the music.

How Firm a Foundation – A few surprising harmonies dot the landscape of this familiar hymn, giving added color. Played up to tempo, this well-articulated and lightly syncopated piece will have you tapping your toes!

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee – What would an early hymn book be without this song? 🙂 Open fifths comprise much of the harmony, giving this a nice cheery sound. A straightforward melody with a few register changes, combined with the familiarity of the tune, would make this a great first choice for a student playing from this book.

Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho – A super fun arrangement! It will probably take a while to master, but will be well worth the effort for any precocious student who wants to have an exciting, impressive-sounding piece to play!

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us – Tender and expressive, with mostly a single melodic line split between the hands. Written in G-Major, this is the only piece in the book in a key other than C-Major or a-minor, but all the F#s are notated individually, rather than in the key signature.

The other two books in the series are equally varied, with a mixture of both lively, fun arrangements, and gorgeous, lyrical arrangements. I love seeing my students get inspired and excited to reach new heights in their musical endeavors, and music like this often provides the impetus they need to launch into that adventure. So, whether you have students who could use a little inspiration to take the next step in their musical studies, or whether you have students who would love some easier stylish arrangements to bring out their musical expressiveness, these Easy Hymn Solos books are sure to be a hit!

Monday Mailbag – New Release Clubs for Piano Teachers

I noticed in one of your blog entries that you mentioned that you get new release packages from various music companies.  Is this available to other piano instructors?

Yes. Several of the major music publishing companies offer new release clubs for piano teachers. I personally only subscribe to the FJH one, but I did a little research and found a few others. If anyone knows of any other companies that offer new release subscriptions or good music samplers, please let us know!

Alfred’s Hot-Off-the-Press Subscription Series – 50% off each new publication in the packet, plus the ability to order one more of each at a substantially discounted price. Annual shipping fee of $6. You can choose from three categories (or any combination of the three): Solo Sheets, Duet Sheets, Recital Suites.

FJH New Release Club – Receive the newest publications at 50% off. You can select up to all six different level packets.

Frederick Harris Mailing List – Not a new issue list, but they do send music samplers periodically that are helpful when making selections for students.

Hal Leonard First Choice New Release Club – Three different level options, with a flat rate per level (40% discount). Four shipments per year.

Kjos Mailing List – This is just a mailing list, but again, they also send mailings periodically with information about new materials.

Even though a lot of these companies offer great deals for teachers, I always purchase my new music from one of our local music stores. We have a couple of fabulous stores that do a lot to support music education and teachers in the community and I want to show my appreciation by supporting them in return. I certainly don’t want them to go out of business!

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!

Establishing Clear-Cut Studio Procedures

Even though I’ve had a studio policy in place for years, it never occurred to me until this fall to put together a list for myself of studio procedures. In particular, I put together a list of procedures for enrolling a new student, and a list of what needs to be done at the beginning of each school year. I think this will be tremendously helpful to me in the future so that I don’t overlook things that need to be done. No doubt, it will help me manage my time more efficiently!

New Student Procedures

  • Conduct interview
  • Set up file folder
  • File interview forms
  • Set up MTH account
  • Record registration fee
  • E-mail family with login info
  • Add e-mail address to studio e-mail group
  • Update studio roster
  • Add student’s birthday to bulletin board birthday cards

New School Year Procedures

  • Update MTH calendar
  • Update Upcoming Events page on studio website
  • Create new studio calendar and upload to website
  • Review studio policy and make necessary changes
  • Send e-mail to families
  • Print daily lesson schedule
  • Update personal calendar with daily lesson schedule
  • Print revised studio roster with contact information

Do you have a list of procedures that you follow at the beginning of the school year and when you enroll new students? Or can you think of any other situations for which it might be helpful to have a list of procedures?

Games from our September Surprise Blast Off Event

As I mentioned last Friday, we had a fabulous time with some fun games at our September Surprise! Here are some video clips and free downloadable files that you can use in your studios as well. (Refer to the Blast Off! post for game directions.)

Tappers and Listeners

Click here to download the list of familiar tunes.

Emotional Quotations

This one was especially fun, and gave a glimpse into some sides of each other that we hadn’t previously seen! My students even insisted that I take a turn at the end… 🙂

Click here to download the compilation of quotes and list of emotions.

Monday Mailbag – Advice for a New Teacher

What would you say would be the best way for a new piano teacher to go about advertising for getting students?  This isn’t in the hypothetical, I am thinking about beginning piano teaching.  I’ve never done taught piano before so am a little intimidated by the whole idea.  I realize that just because I can play doesn’t necessarily mean that I can teach…

This is an excellent question and observation! The fact that you are asking it before jumping in is a mark that you are on the right track. Here are some things I would suggest as far as starting a new studio:

1. Engage in some vigorous self-education. Check pedagogy books out from your local library or university; spend some time at a music store exploring and learning about the different methods; browse the Internet for tons of pedagogy-related sites, forums, and blogs. You’ll probably feel somewhat overwhelmed, but just try to pull tips here and there that you think will be helpful as you get started.

2. Set up a free website with Music Teacher’s Helper. Take the time to think through your policies and any other information that you want to make available to prospective students. (Here’s a studio policy website with lots of examples to help with this process.) I would highly recommend purchasing your own domain name. The cost is nominal, and it will look more professional – not to mention shorter!

3. Design and print some professional business cards (Please no perforated edge cards that you print and tear apart yourself…you can get great deals on hundreds of business cards through VistaPrint and similar on0line printers. Just stay away from the free ones that have the VistaPrint logo on the back – also highly unprofessional, in my opinion.). Include your website on your business card.

4.  In all conversations, make a point to share that you are opening a piano studio. Almost everyone has some connection to someone who is looking for a teacher, wants to take lessons, etc. Give them your business card, or two or three! Word-of-mouth is still the best advertising!

5. Join a local music teachers association. (Run a search on the Internet like: Wichita Kansas local music teacher association.) Most local associations offer referral programs to help new teachers build up their studios. Plus, you can learn from the experience of other teachers, attend workshops, enroll students in events, etc.

These are a few starter ideas. You may also be interested in reading another post I wrote on Advertising for New Students. Just remember to take one step at a time, with a mind to learn from the varied people and opportunities that cross your path.

Also, you will notice that I emphasize professionalism a great deal. Whether you view your teaching as a ministry, a side business, a hobby, or a full-fledged business, both you and your studio families will benefit from clear communication of expectations and policies. I learned this the hard way! Just remember that you will tend to attract the kind of students that reflect your philosophies and policies. If you are flaky, distracted, and putting in minimal time and effort, don’t be surprised if your students and their parents are the same. Conversely, if you are committed, focused, and clearly investing your time and energy to provide the best music education possible for your students, they will appreciate that and reflect it in their side of the relationship as well.

If you have other ideas or important pointers for a new teacher, please chime in!

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!


Here’s a short video with a collection of news reports that aired eight years ago on September 11.

HT: The Cloakroom Blog

I can still remember the day vividly. Most of my students canceled lessons that day, but I did have a few that came, and we carried on the best we could. Everyone was pretty somber, though. Today, our music teachers association is having our monthly meeting, and we are playing patriotic music for each other in honor and remembrance of the many lives that were lost and sacrificed on September 11, 2001.

Blast Off!

It’s official! The year has begun in my studio! We had our September Surprise kickoff last night and it was a ton of fun! Almost every one of the students in attendance played something, and I was quite impressed that most of them worked up new pieces and did a very nice job with them.

One of my goals for the year is for all of us to improve our communication skills – in both musical and non-musical areas.  Here are explanations for two super fun games that we played related to this theme:

Tappers and Listeners Game

[Phase One] – group the students in pairs and assign each one in the pair as either the “tapper” or the “listener.” Give each of the tappers a slip of paper with the title of a familiar tune. Have each pair come to the front one at a time. The tapper taps the rhythm of the tune and the listener tries to guess what the tune is. Once all the pairs have finished, discussed why it was so difficult to guess the correct tune.

[Phase Two] – played the same as Phase One, except that prior to tapping the rhythm, the tapper may give information to the Listener that he thinks will help him correctly identify the tune. [This Tappers and Listeners idea was drawn from the book, Made to Stick, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath – an awesome book, by the way, that I highly recommend!]

Analysis: The tapper had the melody in his head, thus was privy to information that was not being communicated to the listener. In our mind, we perceive that we are communicating effectively, but there is a breakdown in the transmission. We have to try to place ourselves in the position of the listener and figure out how to actually communicate effectively. In the same way, when we play a piece of music, we have in our mind how we want it to sound, but unless we can “sit” in the seat of the listener, we won’t know if we have effectively communicated what we desired in our playing.

Part of our emphasis in learning to play the piano this year will be listening to our own playing more acutely, and taking advantage of opportunities to be our own listeners (audio and video recordings). We should always be thinking of and working on ways to improve our communication skills – both in music and otherwise. There will be lots of opportunities to do this this year! [e.g. Written Communication via The SPLOG, Verbal Communication via the Briefing Sessions, Musical Communication via recordings for The SPLOG, Briefing Sessions, and other recitals and festivals.]

Emotional Quotations

One student comes to the front of the group and draws a word from the “Emotions Box” and a quote from the “Quotes Box.” The rest of the students are given slips containing a list of all the possible emotions. The student at the front reads/quotes the quote in a manner that attempts to convey the designated emotion. The rest of the students have to guess what the emotion was. Continue until each student has a turn. [This is a game that I used when I taught drama and public speaking classes, but it served this purpose quite well, especially with the use of composer quotes.]

We shot some video during these games, so I’ll try to get some clips posted so you can see these games in action. They were both perfect for a large group of age-integrated students. All of the students stayed very engaged trying to figure out the “answers”! Let me know if you’re interested in having downloadable files for these games and I’ll post them next week.