“The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot

Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousand hands, they carry me”

– 10,000 Hours by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

 

When I was a boy, I would spend the days reading up in a willow tree in my backyard.  It was my way of escaping to far-flung lands of adventure, mystery, and intrigue.

There just wasn’t much else to do.  And, I loved it.

Today there are so many other ways to spend our attention.

With our smartphones, we can instantly gratify any curiosity, itch or bet we have with a friend.  

It’s a blessing and a curse.

As a parent, I love the ability to “find my friend” and track my son’s location.

But this instant gratification has made a problem.  A problem of attention.  

With the lure of instant gratification, our attention has become shallow and scattered.  (Note the rise in cases of ADHD.)

In his book, Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in A Distracted World, author Cal Newport states

“The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”  

Faster…But Is It Better?

To be a contributing member of society today, one needs to achieve mastery of multiple areas.  As the pace of innovation increases, we need to learn new skills, behaviors, and tools that didn’t exist a few years ago!   

And to do this, we need to learn “how to learn.”  We need to develop the muscle of concentrated focus.  It’s a skill that is not inherent.  Simply clearing away the noise is not going to make you a master of focus.  It’s a skill that needs to be cultivated, honed, and practiced.  

Catching Up With Prodigies

Perhaps because I was bored and lonely in my teens, I spent hours and hours practicing guitar. I felt like I had to “catch up” to all the other prodigies who started when they were 5 years old.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was engaging in the “10,000 hours” rule that Malcolm Gladwell describes in his fascinating book, Outliers – The Story of Success.

The basic idea is that it takes a long time, about 10,000 hours, to achieve mastery in anything.

The Art of Practice

Studying a music instrument is like a zen practice on the art of practice!  It cultivates attention skills required for deep focus.  In psychology terms, they call it deliberate practice: repetitive performance of intended cognitive or psychomotor skills.  

This is what will set apart anyone for future life success.

Deep work is not an inherent ability but a skill that needs to be practiced.

By the way, you can’t multi-task your way to mastery.  

Multi-tasking is not a real thing.  

Studies have shown that you are not actually doing more than one thing at the same time, but rather jumping between two or more things quickly.  This results in a slow-down and lowering of quality of attention.   So when you want to get things done, you need to go into the world of Deep Work.

Success in life is not about innate abilities/talent, but rather skills of focus, courage, action, and perseverance.    

As music teachers, we help foster these skills.  We become a factor in their life success.  We are coaches of practice.  Mentors of mindset.  Role models of focus and should embody the successful work ethic.

“My earliest memories of my father are of seeing him work at his desk and realizing that he was happy. I did not know it then, but that was one of the most precious gifts a father can give his child.”? Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

So I encourage you my fellow music teachers, to keep on keeping on, knowing you are more than just teaching someone to play a tune.  You are activating a person for life.  Carpe diem.

 

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Posted in Professional Development

Reuben Vincent

Teaching Adults

March 6th, 2017 by

Teaching adults music is both rewarding and challenging!

Rewards

I enjoy teaching adults. During the course of their lesson, our conversations together are very stimulating. The stories they relate from their own life experiences are a great source of enrichment and entertainment. Over the weeks and months, we form good friendships together. From a practical point of view, teaching adults can also help to strengthen our teaching businesses. Adults can often come later in the evening when it’s too late for younger pupils, or if they are retired or work shifts, they might be able to come in the daytime.

One thing I like about adults is their high level of motivation. They seem to fall into either one of two categories. Those who started having lessons as children but stopped for one reason or another. And those who simply never had the chance earlier in life. Either way, they have probably wanted to take up lessons for quite a considerable time and are therefore incredibly determined.

Challenges

Adults often tell me that they don’t think they can make very quick progress because they are Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Reuben Vincent

Music Arranging

February 16th, 2017 by

What is music arranging?

Arranging music simply means taking existing music and making it playable on your instrument or for your ensemble. Good reasons to arrange might be to make a piece easier to play. Or convert music originally written for an ensemble so as to be played on a solo instrument, possibly with accompaniment. Although arranging can be a highly complex skill, it is also realistically within the grasp of every music teacher and most music students. Also, it’s great fun!

Why arrange?

I have personally found that arranging pieces especially for my students has given me a USP (unique selling point) to help me market my music teaching business. The idea that a prospective student can learn any song they want at the skill level they are at, is an extremely appealing reason to start having lessons. I also enjoy arranging as it is often very creative without the pressure to compose something from scratch. Encouraging students to try their hand at arranging is a practical way for them to develop their Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

 

Welcome to the beginning of the rest of your life.  

At this time of the year, most people are fresh off the holidays and have set goals or are still setting them.  The thing is, many people over estimate what they can accomplish in a year, but underestimate what they can achieve in three.  If you haven’t done your goal setting, here’s a great process from one of my mentors.

In today’s article, I want to help guide you to making this your best year ever.

So how do you make your goals and dreams come true?

How do we stay the course through all the stresses, worries, distractions, problems and stuff which just gets in the way?  

Finite Resources

It’s now known we have a finite amount of mental focus.  So in reality, it’s the freedom to focus on what’s important which will exponentially change our lives.
I’ve battled this my whole life.  I’ve used all kinds of goal-setting workshops, techniques, books, planners and apps.  What was missing in my experience of all of these tools?

Focus 

My focus tended to waver.  I would get excited by the next shiny object and jump.  Actually, any planning system, whether it’s old school paper, or a modern digital app will work.  It’s all about sticking with it.  

Chet Holmes describes it as “pigheaded discipline and determination.”  Chet was a fantastic sales guy, author, mentor, coach and a martial artist.  And what is martial arts?  A few moves repeated and perfected until effectiveness is through the roof.  


As legendary kung fu master Bruce Lee says,

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

So let’s talk about how to focus on your goals.   

This is what you are teaching to your music students everyday!  Through showing, modeling and breaking down the art of practice, you are teaching the skills of focus.  So now let’s apply this to your life and business of teaching.

Let’s say you have a goal to increase your student roster by 10 students by the end of the year.  

Okay, now you have to decide what actions to take to achieve this.  You have to figure out what to focus on.  

The Power of Questions

The most powerful tool to focus the mind is questions.  

Questions cause your mind to focus wherever the question leads.  Ask a great questions, you are led to great answers.  Ask a poor question, then you get the same results.  So it’s all about the quality, not the quantity of your questions.

Novice Zen Buddhist monks are given a question they live with for weeks, months, years.  These questions or koans are logically unanswerable.  But the focus created by the constant searching creates a pearl of wisdom and leads to enlightenment.

The quality of your life ultimately is based on the quality of your questions.  Over the years, I’ve become better in my lines of questioning.  

But one tool which has helped me greatly is the mindmap.  The mindmap has also been called a cluster by some.  It’s basically a way of accessing non-linear thinking the way the mind really works.  In computer terms, they call this RAM, or random-access memory.  

An old VHS videotape is linear and sequential.  You cannot easily jump from one part of the tape to the other.  A DVD however is random-access.  You can jump from one chapter to the last chapter to the middle of a film instantly.  The human brain is non-linear.

Here’s an exercise

Write the phrase “How to get more students?” in the center of a blank piece of paper.  

Circle it.  

Now, as quickly as possible, and without any editing, write down as many ideas as you can and draw spokes from the center outward.

I’ve been using an online tool called Mindmeister.  It  creates mindmaps I’ve grown to love.  It allows me to move things around, edit and reorganize which I couldn’t do on paper.

 

Here’s an example of a mindmap you can download at Mindmeister.

How to get more students mindmap

The trick is to get past the 5 or 6 obvious ideas and really push to get at least 10.  Or try to go for 20 ideas.  That would be a great stretch!

Make sure to put down even the most ridiculous and unrealistic ideas.  These may not be doable, but they may open the door to other ideas.  I call these stepping stone ideas.  You step over them to really great ones.

Even better, do this exercise with a friend.  Your friend’s ideas may be so far out they lead you to an unexpected gem.

You can learn more about mindmaps from the great books by Tony Buzan.  Just Google mindmapping and lateral thinking.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the personal development coach Tony Robbins.

“Most people fail in life because they major in minor things.”

So make sure you’re majoring in the major things of your life!  Otherwise, at this time next year it will be just the same ol’, same ol’.

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Posted in Professional Development

Andrew

Member Spotlight – George

January 6th, 2017 by

Welcome back to our member spotlight series. Today we have George. He teaches guitar and drums in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

How long you’ve been teaching?
Since 1995.

How would you describe your studio space to someone that’s never visited?
I travel to the students’ home.

Was there a specific moment when you realized you loved teaching music?
I think when I realized how much joy it can bring to people both young an old made me realize I was doing something worthwhile, both for them and for myself.

How did you feel in the moment you made the decision to be an independent music teacher? Do you recall being nervous/excited/scared?
I was excited because it is a risk but the reward of being able to do something you enjoy is worth the risk.

What were the steps you took to get your first lessons to having a full student roster?
It is always a little slow going at first but it will happen over time if you stick to it. I mainly started out with flyers and internet ads and then as you go referrals happen and your business spreads through word of mouth.

What is one piece of advice you could offer to someone looking to start teaching music lessons?
Don’t stop you have to always put the work in even when at times it can seem discouraging.

How do you currently find new students?
I use a combination of things to attract new students. You really cannot rely solely on one thing. Try different things find what works best and stick with it.

How do you feel when you think back to all students you’ve interacted with over the years and impacted positively?
It is a good feeling to feel like you possibly may have made a difference in their lives in a positive way.

What is your favorite part of a lesson?
Usually working on songs especially songs that a student enjoys playing.

Is there a favorite piece or style of music you find yourself teaching your students today? And how has that changed from when you started teaching?
I like teaching modern songs and country. When I first started it was more geared towards rock but you need to adapt to the times.

How long have you been using Music Teacher’s Helper?
About 10 years.

What is your favorite thing about Music Teacher’s Helper?
It helps me keep track of my students lessons which is a crucial thing if you are self employed.

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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Hello, friends! As a teacher of over 10 years and a musician for 20 years, I feel like I’ve seen nearly all aspects of the business. Teaching, performing, record sales, composing, recording, music videos, YouTube blogs, you name it. As musicians, we can have many different goals for the present and the future. Some of us just want to strum a guitar on the front porch, some of us want to do this for a living and have it be financially successful. It’s the latter group that I want to address. To those of you that have the dedication, patience, talent, and drive to look at music as a possible career and not just a hobby or pastime.

Over the years I’ve discovered a very disturbing truth about being a musician, and it’s something that each of us must face and know how to deal with to be successful. That truth is that musicians are one of the most poorly treated occupations in the country. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you this:

As a musician, be it a teacher or performer, how many times have you been asked to play a show “for exposure” (a.k.a. for nothing)?

How many times have you been asked to play a show for a bar tab or a payment so small it barely covers the cost of gas to the venue?

How many times have you been in a “pay to play” situation, the worst of all? As a teacher how many times have you been asked for a free “trial lesson”?

My guess is you can answer yes to at least one of these questions and much more just like it, and it may have happened to you many times. I know I can answer yes to all the above. Now let me ask you this: Have you ever asked a plumber if they will fix your clogged sink for free and then if they do a good job you’ll pay them next time? Have you ever walked into a restaurant and asked for a free meal and then said if it’s good you’ll tell your friends and help them get exposure? Have you ever gone into a business that was struggling and offered to pay half price since you know they are desperate?

I feel confident you have never done any of these things, as a matter of fact, if you did the response would be anywhere from a smack in the face to a visit from the police! So why is it that musicians get this honor? Why are musicians looked down on in such low regard that the above treatment is common practice where the same treatment to any other profession would be considered incredibly rude? Well, I have a theory…

The stereotypical musician to a lot of people out there is someone barely getting by, desperate for work, etc. Or sometimes people view musicians as hobbyists only that want to have fun and have no real aspirations. These views are so common that I think people who are otherwise very friendly and caring will do business with musicians in a very denigrating way, and they may not even realize they are doing it! The other reason this happens is that musicians themselves can also fall into this mode of thinking and convince themselves that they aren’t worth very much, or that they should play free shows or charge next to nothing for lessons. It’s a vicious cycle that we need to break!

Allow me to share with you a couple short stories that illustrate both points (these are true stories):

A band is contacted to play a fund-raising show/charity auction for a few hundred people at a nice hotel ballroom. After a discussion about the show and the expectations the band gives a quote to the organizer at a discounted rate since it is a charity show. After a pause of silence, the organizer says that they were hoping the band would volunteer their time. The band’s representative then asked:

Are you paying for use of the ballroom? The answer: “yes”

Are you paying the wait staff that are serving the food? “yes”

Are you paying for the food and the cooks to prepare it? “yes”

Are you paying the auctioneer to run the auction? “yes”

The band then responded: “Ok now that we have established that you are paying for literally everyone and everything involved with this show, now let’s talk about what you are paying the band”.

The organizer was shocked, not because of the attitude of the band, but because they clearly hadn’t thought of it this way, they agreed to pay the band their original quote by the end of the call.

Another story about how this mentality can affect musicians as well:

A good friend of mine teaches piano, she is talented and a good teacher, and has played piano since she was a child. She told me one time that she was having a lot of trouble getting people to pay on time, people doing “no call no shows”, not taking their lessons seriously, showing up late or at the wrong time entirely, etc. I was very confused because I rarely run into these problems, and we live within a few miles of each other so I knew it wasn’t because of location. I thought: could it be that guitar students take things more seriously than piano students? That doesn’t make any sense, what could be the difference? Well, I figured it out: She was charging almost nothing for her lessons, about 1/3rd of what I charge. She was doing this because she felt like she couldn’t charge more, that somehow she isn’t worth it. She fell into this thinking that musicians are somehow not worth as much as other professions. By charging so little she attracted people that weren’t serious about their lessons, the casual students that are looking for a deal, not a great teacher. Since I charge what I know I’m worth, I get serious students that treat me with respect and I do the same in return. I love my students! They are my friends and customers, and I do everything I can to make them happy and satisfied with their lessons. However, I also know what my time is worth after 20 years of experience and education, and I feel it’s very important for a variety of reasons to charge that amount.

So what should you do? What is it that I’m suggesting? I’m suggesting that you, as a professional musician, start demanding what you are worth and stand by that decision. Now you may be thinking: if I charge a reasonable rate for teaching I’ll never get students because there are so many teachers out there charging so much less. Or you may be thinking: If my band starts asking to be paid for shows or a higher rate we’ll lose shows to other bands that are willing to play for free!

Sure, those things are possible, but let me ask you this: Do you think the people at Apple are afraid of losing business because they charge more for phones than other companies? Believe me, they aren’t afraid of that at all. They know they have a good product on their hands and they charge what they believe it’s worth, and they can barely keep their phones in stock. Millions of us are willing to pay more for it when we could have gotten a cheaper phone instead. The same goes for teachers, bands, and everyone else! So maybe you will lose a few students with increased prices, odds are high that you will be replacing them with students that are much more serious and dedicated. So maybe your band won’t be able to play the local dive bar anymore because they won’t pay your rate? The nicer resorts, restaurants, private parties, etc. will! So I say demand what you are worth and stop getting taken advantage of!

Now this doesn’t mean you just raise your rates and sit back and expect huge success! Make yourself the best! I don’t mean the most talented musician in town because honestly, that isn’t really necessary. What is necessary however is being the most professional! Have a nice, quiet, spacious, clean, welcoming lesson room. Offer your students an in-depth learning experience that they can’t get anywhere else. Be knowledgeable and able to answer any question, know your stuff! Be that band that is always on time, always dependable, always practiced up, and always a great show. Make yourself different than everyone else, go above and beyond and offer things that other bands or teachers don’t offer. Treat your customers with the utmost respect, treat them like family. Make your band or your business the best it can possibly be and people will come!

This also doesn’t mean you should NEVER take on a free show or a student at a discounted rate. I’ll play a free performance for a cause I truly believe in, but it would be of my own choosing not because I was made to feel like I must. I would be happy to give a discounted lesson rate to a young student without much money if I felt like they had a real passion for music, but again, this is my own choosing, not pressure from someone that doesn’t think I’m worth what I charge. Being a musician is an incredible gift that very few people have. If you are a good teacher on top of that, or a hard-working reliable band, then you are even rarer and valuable.

I hope this inspires you to rethink the structure of your business, band, teaching studio, etc. I can’t guarantee success of course, but it’s hard to imagine a negative outcome from all of us as musicians believing in ourselves and knowing that our profession deserves just as much respect as any other!

 

Marc Miller is the owner of Sound Theory Studio in Tucson, AZ with 20 years of experience composing and performing, and over 10 years experience teaching guitar. Educated at Berklee College of Music (Master Guitar Certification) with have several albums to his credit in many different genres.

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Posted in Performing, Professional Development

music teaching positive

We asked a few Music Teacher’s Helper members about something positive that happened in their studio this past year. Here are some answers below. Tell us yours in the comment section! 

“I started teaching students as young as five years old this year, and my studio grew. :)” – Brooke

“This year I am thankful that when one branch of my studio closed, a majority of my students from there traveled out of their way to continue to study with me at my home branch. I am grateful for their dedication and trust in my teaching. :)” – Lisa

“In 2016 I became much more professional. One of the things that helped the Alameda Cello Studio was Music Teacher’s Helper. It helped me to have an online presence that looks great, and also to get my student info organized and my calendar online.” – Marcie

“Finished the year with a great student piano recital! I appreciate the immediate, knowledge, and courteous help available through your live chat support.  Thanks!” – Angela

“I’ve had good recitals this year — and gained some wonderful new students, including a 25 year old autistic young man who I love working with.” – Karen

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management

pianostar

As a piano teacher, I have to say that I am often underwhelmed by music books for beginners. To be fair to the composers of such books, it is an extremely difficult challenge to write engaging music with such a limited palette of notes but having said that, young students still need to be inspired to build skill and move their music-making to the next level. So I was curious to take a look at a new series for young pianists from the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) entitled “Piano Star.”

There are three books in the series:

  • Book 1 builds from a very basic skill level up to Prep Test (Pre-Grade 1)
  • Book 2 is at Prep Test level
  • Book 3 continues the journey building to Grade 1 standard

I have to say that I am very Read more…

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Posted in Product Reviews, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Reuben Vincent

Theory Terminator!

November 7th, 2016 by

terminator

A game of “Terminator” in full swing! From left to right, Lauren, Amanda (Mom) and Alisha Adams

Let’s be honest! Who enjoys learning a long list of Italian terms for their music theory exam? Not many! Here’s an idea for making learning music terms fun! Enter “Terminator!”

Giving the activity an exciting name is half the battle. The two girls pictured are currently preparing for their grade 2 theory exam so we called the game “Terminator 2.” Lauren and Alisha have downloaded free buzzer apps onto their phones and their Mom, Amanda, has really embraced the role of game host giving the girls a fun way of learning their terms several nights a week between lessons in the lead up to their exam.

There are lots of ways of calling the Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Andrew

Member Spotlight – Ashli

September 30th, 2016 by

Falcon, CO music lessons

Welcome back to our member spotlight series. Today we have Ashi. She teaches piano and voice lessons in Falcon, CO.

How long you’ve been teaching?
23 years.

How would you describe your studio space to someone that’s never visited?
It’s a wonderful place where learning and creativity combine to support aspiring musicians of all ages! Also, we play on a Yamaha baby grand and a Roland HP550 G, so we have the benefit of both digital and traditional instruments.
Read more…

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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips