We all know recitals can build excitement for our studios. Could we get even more creative with them? Give folks a performance to remember. Families will talk about it to friends, friends will see clips or photos on Facebook or in emails, and word will spread about the teacher whose students know how to put on a show. Students will be excited to have been a part of it. You’ll probably add to your waiting list as a result. Here are the first five buzz-making recital ideas:
How can I impress on my students that music is for life? Few sports can be played into later years. But music is for life. A job might be fulfilling until retirement. Music is for life.
I’ve started a master class series in which I’ll invite musicians to share their music and their stories.
Martha Nelson shares why music is for life
The first was Martha Nelson, a drummer/singer/pianist/accordion player who entertained in all-girl bands in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Martha practicing accordion
Martha sang weekly on the Jerry Blake Show for Madison, Wisconsin’s WKOW TV its first year on the air.
Martha Nelson about to sing on WKOW-TV Madison, WI in the 1950s
She passed her music on to her daughters, who are both working musicians (and one of whom is yours truly). She drummed for our family’s dance band through the 1980s.
Martha played several pieces for my students (including the Glenn Miller hit “In the Mood”), and shared the story of how she got her start. She went all the way back to her mother. Grandma planned to travel to the U.S. from Sweden to join her husband. She was booked to sail on the Titanic. But her first-born, my Aunt Vicky, got sick, and they had to wait. Mom told my students their teacher wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that.
She taught herself piano. One of ten children, her dad brought a drum home one day, handed it to her, and told her that would be her instrument.
Now at 89, she still plays piano and sings. And one can often see her foot going or hear her fingers tapping in true drummer fashion.A year ago she joined me singing in a coffee shop—and I gotta tell you, she’s still got it! Her voice hasn’t really aged. Music helps keep her young.
Yeah, play it!
After Martha’s presentation, my students entertained her. The final song, by Chris, was—“My Heart Will Go On”—the theme from the movie Titanic!
Dane & Chris
Ava, Sam & Sara, seated
Music is good for many things: for background, for relaxing, for accompaniment to shopping or working,
for inspiration, entertainment, making a living,
passing on to another generation,
Passing the gift of music on to the next generation and the next…
and enjoying—from the womb till one’s final breath and into eternal life.
There are so many facets to a musical education; reading, theory, ear training, transposition, repertoire, and on and on. One of my personal frustrations is trying to get students ready to perform in special events without enough lesson time. Is it realistic to think that a teacher can cover all these skills and prepare for competitions with just 30 minutes a week with each student? With longer lessons more can be accomplished, but parents may be resistant to increasing the lesson time due to time and financial concerns. However, maybe as teachers we are not presenting a realistic picture of what they are getting for their investment. Below are some thoughts about better defining what can be accomplished over time with various lesson lengths. This is just one example, but perhaps it will encourage you to think about how you define your product.
30 minute lessons
(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)
basic study of music structure
Piano Basics is a place for every student to get exposure to the language of music and the fundamental skills involved in learning to play the piano. The student’s understanding of western music’s structure, along with proper playing technique, is developed through the use of the Piano Partners series by Bernard Shaak. Music reading is introduced through the (national reading program). These two books form the core of the curriculum. As the student progresses in ability, other music is brought in to supplement this core based upon the student’s individual interests.
45 minute lessons + 20 minutes lab time
(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)
intermediate level technique
extra music selection
Achievement Day access
As the student progresses and demonstrates an interest in music, and a willingness to dig deeper into the learning, the Rising Stars program will be recommended. At this level the student will be encouraged to learn performance preparation, step up their technical abilities, and dig more deeply into the details of their music. Achievement Day participation is encouraged. Several other performance opportunities will be available throughout the year requiring extra preparation.
60 minute lessons + 30 minutes lab time
(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)
performance level technique
advanced rhythm patterns
wide range of musical genres
collaborative duet work
lead line skills
advanced performance preparation
extra curricular learning activities
Achievement Day, Piano Festival and Federation, Sonatina Festival access
For the student who demonstrates exceptional interest and ability, and a willingness to work hard, the Comprehensive Musicianship program provides an amazing foundation in all aspects of becoming a well-rounded pianist. Technique is prioritized, and the student is given a broad palate of musical genres. He or she is encouraged to understand the history of western music and to be able to interpret music in its intended historical style. At this level students are also encouraged to create their own original music, incorporating their knowledge of music structure and patterns. Collaborative efforts are encouraged in the form of duets, playing with a string quartet, and accompaniment of soloists or other instruments. Basic keyboarding and ear training skills are taught so that a student can play from a lead line with a contemporary musical group. Students are encouraged to participate in several judged events throughout the year, and will be expected to develop a personal repertoire list. Group lessons usually involve a second lesson time for the week. Group lessons are alternated with education field trips to meet the total of 10 per year. Field trips involve musical experiences such as a trip to a special music store, or a symphony performance.
Why wait until a holiday to “turn on the party?” We teachers can find many reasons and ways to celebrate student milestones.
Parents may not understand what a big deal it is to graduate to the next level of books, for instance. We can help them get it by making a bit of fuss over it ourselves. And if they still don’t get it, at least someone has admired the student’s success.
18 Reasons to Celebrate Student Milestones—they:
arrived at the staples—the midway point!—of their book
passed a unit
completed their level and graduated to the next—huzzah!
practiced one hundred days in a row
practiced five days this past week
remembered to trim their nails
memorized a song
accomplished all their weekly practice goals
performed in public for the first time
played in their first recital
played in any recital
mastered certain number of scales (pentascales, octaves or more)
conquered a beast of a piece of music
got their first playing gig
used a metronome successfully
memorized names of lines and spaces
they graduated from high school and are going off to college
Celebrate a Student Milestone
18 Ways to Celebrate Student Milestones:
pull out a kazoo and trumpet a fanfare
tiny milestone—press Staples’ Easy Button
the midway point in their book—offer a candy or let them make a shot at a Nerf basketball hoop
publish their name (and photo?) on your website
include their name (and photo?) in your studio newsletter
a congratulatory certificate
snail-mail a card to their home, addressed to them
notify Piano Explorer Magazine about their completion of 100 consecutive days of practice (or 200+)
post their names on a chart in your studio
play a CD of a regal/fanfarish song as they enter the room
let them wear a costume crown during their lesson
give a blue ribbon
create a banner/ribbon and add iron-on badges for accomplishments (like boy-and-girl scouts)
let them choose from prizes you’ve collected (dollar store items, coupons for ice cream or burger, sheet music, manuscript paper or books, CD, iTunes coupon…)
let them play music games on the computer
bake their favorite cookies
Student milestone? Bake cookies!
for a BIG accomplishment , tickets to a concert or a huge fake-book
I was in for a shock when I looked up the price of karate and dance lessons in the town where my studio is located. My mind was totally blown! I hadn’t raised prices since 2010 because I thought parents would revolt and pull their kids out of my programs. Little did I know, my competitors in the “after-school-club” market were getting almost double for comparable programs, based on the number of instructional hours per week. That’s just leaving money on the table! It’s irresponsible as a business owner to not know your market, AND lost profit. After all, as much as music teachers love our jobs, we are in business to make a profit. Read more…
Each year I’ve observed that students are increasingly unfamiliar with the carols of Christmas. It’s important to me to introduce them to as many as possible, and to enable them to entertain or accompany their families and friends with songs of the season.
Many of them start practicing Christmas songs as early as October. I decided to make Carols of Christmas the subject of our December group master classes.
I chose a Christmas instrumental CD to play as they arrived, and we gathered around my kitchen table for snacks. Food makes everything friendlier! I decided to treat them to sparkling grape juice, which most had never tasted. There was also lemonade and apple cider, grapes, cookies, candies, chocolate-covered pretzels…
While they snacked, I read them stories of several carols’ origins.
I found a number of activities about the carols of Christmas at brownielocks–scroll to the bottom for more.
My biggest challenge was to find those that could apply to a wide range of ages.
I tapped the beginning rhythm of a number of carols. Even the youngest students were able to participate and guess song titles. Of course, I knew what they’d been practicing, so made sure to use those pieces to give them a good chance.
I also sang the first few notes of a carol, without the rhythm, just to see if they could guess—they did pretty well. For more mature students, I had a Carols of Christmas fill-in-the-notes game. I’d give them a few measures of a carol, leaving out a few notes or a measure or two. They could fill in the missing parts.
There were activity pages concerning lyrics of Christmas carols. “Where would you go to hear silver bells?” “Who danced with a silk hat on his head?” Some questions read more like jokes, but all of it got them thinking more deeply about songs they may hear while shopping, but haven’t focused on. Talking about lyrics brought up the meaning and history of words or phrases usually heard only once a year: deck the hall/don we now/noel/gloria/yuletide…
For a final touch, I had bent some sparkly pipe cleaners into treble clef shapes, and set out a variety of beads that they could thread onto the pipe cleaners, and either keep or give away as tree ornaments.
I’ve had reports from various parents how fun it is to hear their children sharing the carols of Christmas with their families.
How do you introduce Christmas songs to your students?
A screenshot of the top of my Thumbtack profile page.
One day I saw an ad on my Facebook page from Thumbtack. Have you seen it? It said something to the effect, “Thumbtack needs guitar teachers!” Curiosity got the best of me one day so I clicked on it.
Turns out they do! Thumbtack connects people that have project goals with professionals that can help them accomplish those goals. As a private guitar teacher, I can post a profile on Thumbtack that allows people searching for a guitar teacher to send me a request for a lesson quote. If they like the quote, Thumbtack puts us in touch and voilá, I’ve got a new student!
Thumbtack made it pretty easy to get started. The sign-up process was guided and surprisingly easy. When finished, your profile will have a clean and professional look. Here’s a link to my profile. (I’ve included some screenshots of the edit view of my profile page in this post.) You can include a bio, studio logo, details about the kinds of services you offer as well as professional credentials and that’s just for starters. You can included links to your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, too, not to mention your Music Teacher’s Helper Website! When you’re ready to reply to customer requests you purchase credits, which are currency on Thumbtack, you use to pay when you send a quote to a customer. (Quotes cost between 2 and 9 credits depending on the type of project.) For guitar lessons it costs 2 credits or about $3 to send a prospective customer a quote. Would you be willing to pay someone $3 to find you a new student? That should be a no-brainer! Read more…
With this post, I’m going to start a short series of blogs on the theme ‘An Invitation to Performance’. I will be exploring performance as an action, a skill, and as something that every teacher should consider offering as an integral part of his or her teaching studio. As my students and colleagues well know, I can get quite evangelical about the importance of providing access to performance – in particular experimental performance (about which more later) — to all students, whether aspiring professionals or dedicated amateurs.
Performance offers us commentary on and access to a part of our musical self that no other medium can: it is the window into our true, communicative, musical responses, while at the same time being in the only venue in which we can observe or consider those truths. Performance is a lot of other things as well, things that my friends well know that I take great pleasure in discussing far into the wee hours. It’s a space; it’s a shared arena for action; it’s the special place where only musical things happen; it’s our only access to the creativity of our audiences.
I’ll be saying more about these and other ideas surrounding performance in future blogs, but for now, let me me start the series by banging a favourite drum regarding an effective practical option available to all music teachers who wish to give their students more access to the joys and intrigue of performance: the institution of the studio masterclass.
Making masterclasses work
There can be few experiences more stimulating for both music teacher and student than witnessing an expert performer working with a student in a masterclass setting. Once the hard graft of technique, musicianship, and style have been addressed, and once the many long hours of practice have been clocked, the opportunity for students to step out into the light of the concert hall and begin to experiment with performance under the expert guidance of a professional is an invaluable one. It is the crucial step between practice and performance, in particular, professional performance – in my opinion, the crucial step.
And yet, not all teachers make the space for masterclasses as part of the regular studio activities. Read more…
I heard from the music school that a new student had signed up, so as usual, I called him to find out what level he was at, what he wanted, what his email was so I could send him a link to register with Music Teachers Helper.
It became clear soon into my phone call that this new student was hesitating at the music school’s requirement that he sign up for 4 lessons to get started.
“I think I only want one or two to get started,” he said.
I told him that it was a good idea to give it a few lessons to get started and see how it worked, though of course if it didn’t seem a good fit, it was fine to drop out.
“I think really I only want one lesson,” he said.
I said, well, we can get started with some basics in the first lesson, but the second lesson is where I see what he took in, how he did, and where to take it from there.
I admit it. I want everyone to be happy; even me! This fall I took a few surveys to help me better understand what behaviors and circumstances promote happy students, happy parents and happy teachers.
It is much easier for me to know which behaviors in my clients make me happy as a teacher. Some of these things are important enough to be included in a policy statement—a place where clear communication can set healthy boundaries and solve problems before they happen.
Here is what I included in my registration packets this fall: Keep Happy Teacher
be willing to try new things, and new ways of doing old things
listen to directions and follow them at home
read your assignment notes over at home each week
enjoy the songs you are learning
have a respectful attitude
practice faithfully, and record it in your assignment book
smile a lot
tell the teacher frequently that you love piano lessons
always bring all your books to your lesson
participate in studio activities
take good care of borrowed books and return them on time
offer your child support, incentives and encouragement at home
set aside practice space and time in your child’s schedule
say uplifting things about piano lessons in front of your child
provide an adequate instrument on which to practice
keep your expectations high, but fairly close to reality
help your child participate in studio activities and recitals
respond to studio emails in a timely manner
rarely cancel lessons, and call ahead on those rare occasions
drop off and pick children up on time
pay your tuition on time each month, without a reminder
call me when you have a concern or problem so we can resolve it
remember that I thrive on appreciation, and your kids thrive on praise
That covers my side of things, but what about the students’ or parents’ perspectives? For the last few weeks I have been surveying students and parents from my studio, as well as parents with other teachers in my local association, about what makes them happy with a piano teacher. Below is my compilation of the student and parent responses.
I expected certain things to be high on the parents’ list: keep tuition rates low, limit the number of outside activities, high tech studio, make sure we get our perfect time slot, be flexible with sport schedules, vacations and illnesses, have a location close to school or home, have lots of degrees, certifications and professional performance experience.
I was wrong. Not one of these items was mentioned. Read on to find out what wasRead more…