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The Virtual Music Education Conference produced by Janice and Kevin Tuck packs four days with online presentations by experts in the field of music education. Even though it’s been around for years, my very first time to attend the online conference was this year. To be honest, I attended because I was invited as a presenter for the conference. I discovered that it was not only an honor to be included in the schedule as a speaker but also an honor to have access to the highly esteemed conference and learn from so many leaders in our field. There’s still time to access the conference. Learn more here.

I was glued to my seat listening to the first day’s presenters. In fact, I already purchased a couple of books while listening to the first two sessions! One of the books that I’ll be rereading soon is Todd Whitaker’s entitled, What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most. As I listened to Whitaker speak and then while reading his book, I kept thinking that I should have absorbed his advice years ago. It would have helped me to deal more professionally and effectively with troublesome student behavior and needy parents!

As I know you’ll want to purchase his book yourself I won’t “ruin” it by providing those 17 things here in this post. Instead, I’ve made some tweaks that show how I applied Whitaker’s advice for me as an independent piano studio teacher. For those you don’t teach piano, please make minor adjustments!

Begin each of the following sentences with: Great piano teachers…

1) Know that it may be the teacher that needs to improve before the student can improve at the keys.

Ex: Before you believe the student is the problem, check to see if you might be the problem and make steps to find a solution.

2) Understand that the method book and exams are not the keys to measuring success on the bench.

Ex: If a student wants to play “Fur Elise” great teachers will adapt their curriculum and realize that even though this may be the 100th student in their studio playing “Fur Elise”, it’s the student’s very first time to experience and enjoy “Fur Elise.” Read more…

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

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Summer is here and that means vacations! For everyone else. Summer is often the most dreaded time of year for music teachers. Why? Well our students leave! That’s a lot of lost income, and unfortunately most teachers just let it happen. There are ways to handle this problem, or at least minimize the damages. So let’s go through some options every teacher should consider.

1. Bill By Semester

Do you charge for lessons by the month, or even worse, by the week? Try experimenting with charging for an entire semester up front. In this way they would owe for the summer semester or they would lose their spot come the fall. Often students that have been with you for a long time don’t want to lose you. Let them know you don’t want to lose them as students either, but that you can only guarantee that they can continue with you in the fall if they continue with lessons through the summer.

Although there are people that go on vacation literally all summer, it’s rare. Most of the time there are vacations here and there and they could easily have quite a few lessons. But they just don’t want to deal with it, so they quit for the entire summer, often never to come back. Billing by semester can alleviate this problem, by encouraging them to continue through their vacations.

2. Bill for the Year

Similarly to billing for the semester is billing for the year. Calculate how many lessons you plan on teaching in the year excluding holidays and maybe a couple of weeks for the summer and make a regular monthly bill. So as an example if you think 40 lessons a year is reasonable and you charge $50/lesson, you would multiply $50 by 40 lessons and get your students yearly income of $2000. Then divide it by 12, which would be about $166/month. Then require that when they sign up they either pay the $2000 outright, or they pay $166/month, every month. That way in the summer they may be taking fewer lessons, but you receive the same income.

It’s very important to make sure you are very clear about this type of billing, because it can be confusing. Show them that you are billing for a year’s worth of lessons, and they are just paying for those lessons in installments. Show them a calendar with all of the days you plan on teaching. Make sure this is clear up front, so when you or they miss a couple lessons in a month and they owe the same amount as always there is no confusion.

3. Summer Music Camp

Kids don’t just play all summer. Often their parents want to get them in extra programs because they have so much free time. This is where summer music camp can come into play. Plan a week where you have group classes, music appreciation, theory, and recitals. It can be extremely fun for students and can actually be an extra income stream for you! Plan on a few hours a day for about a week. Invite all of your students and try to join with other teacher’s students to minimize your load.

Camp can be so fun and rewarding, and you can charge quite a bit to make it worth it to you. Beyond the income you receive from the camp itself though, you’ll realize that it gets students to want to continue their lessons even after the camp is finished. Your retention rate will go through the roof. It can be a challenge to plan and organize, but the results will definitely make up for your work. If you own a commercial studio, or work at one, that is likely your best bet for venue. Be creative. There are plenty of places you can hold camps like these including local churches. Roll in your costs of venue into the price for the camp.

4. Get New Students

One way to make sure your income doesn’t drop during the summer months is to recruit more students. Although you may see a dip in your current students from June through August, maybe you didn’t realize that those months are also the months that most NEW students sign up. That’s right. A lot of parents want to sign their kids up for lessons over the summer. Even if your studio is full when late May or June hit, start advertising. You know some students will likely drop off for the summer, so if late May you can sign up two or three new ones you can keep the income you would have lost.

5. Free Group Classes

I know as teachers that get paid for our time the notion of “free” is not that appealing. But if you can offer a free group class, you’ll be surprised at how high your signups will be. These group classes are extremely attractive for the summer because parents want to get their kids into more activities. Once the group class is over, you can sell them on private lessons.

Recently we signed my three year old daughter up for ice skating classes through our city. It was free. She had four group classes and she loved it! After the last class the teacher handed out a $10/off coupon for signing up with private lessons, and she approached us directly saying she would like our daughter to continue with private lessons. This was absolutely never our plan. But now all the sudden our daughter is in weekly ice skating lessons. If they would have advertised to us before, we never would have signed up. But because they got us in the door and taking a few free classes, here we are for who knows how long paying for ice skating. As music teachers we should try applying this same marketing principal as often as possible!.

6. Start a New “Program”

Make the summer lessons sound different than lessons during the school year. Perhaps you could work more on sight reading and ear training than you normally do. Give this program a name like “Summer Sight Reading” and tell the parents what the outcome will be at the end of your 8 week course. Make up an awesome flyer and the cost of the lessons. It could just be the same cost of a normal 8 lessons, or you could discount it. These may be very similar to your normal lessons with just a little more focus on one particular topic. Framing the lessons in this way though can make the child and parent feel like it’s special and they need to stick around to get your special course.

Make a certificate for when they “graduate”. Make different levels for students that did it last year.

7. Encourage More Practice Throughout the Year

This could easily be an entire blog post, or even book by itself. But your most serious students will stay with you through the summer. Why? Because they are actually looking to learn and play well. The question then becomes how do you get your students to be serious? Well they need to practice more. How do you get students to practice more? For one thing try to encourage them to take lessons more often. Students that take lessons more than once a week are likely your most serious students. Try to encourage this. Even if they are not practicing, that extra lesson where you can practice with them can be invaluable.

8. Budget

Ok this one is not actually a way to keep your students. But if all else fails and you still lose students and income, you should have a budget. Well you should always have a budget, but this is a good incentive to actually make one. I know what you’re thinking “I can’t budget, my income is all over the place.” or “I’ve tried budgeting before and it doesn’t work.” Honestly you probably weren’t doing it right.

Let’s avoid the excel spreadsheet this time. Use some specific budgeting software. My favorite is YNAB. It’s not my place here to explain exactly how you should be budgeting, but YNAB makes it easy. I would suggest reading everything on their site about how to budget just in general, and you’ll get a better idea as to what you’re doing.

When you budget, even if you don’t bill by the year, you can budget that way. You get paid more during the school year, so you allocate some of that money for months where you get paid less. It works. I promise. Try it out!

Conclusion

Summer doesn’t have to ruin you. You just have to be proactive about it. Commit now to being different this summer and making some changes that will not only help your pocket book, but also your students. Because we all know the benefits of music lessons, and it would be a shame for your students to miss out on those benefits over the summer.

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Posted in Financial Business, Studio Management

imageThe school year is coming to an end, and it is once again time to host my annual studio recital. I used to organize two studio recitals every year, once in December (called Holiday Recital) and once in June (Summer Recital). The Holiday recital became more and more difficult to schedule around everyone’s holiday plans, and now with a new baby, I decided to just do one big recital in June to celebrate the students’ achievements throughout the year. I now call it Annual Studio Recital and Awards Ceremony.

We all know how much time and effort can go into organizing these studio recitals, from renting the venue, scheduling students, to making programs, preparing refreshments, ordering awards…the list goes on and on. Ever since my first studio recital many years ago, I came up with the idea of making postcard invitations to give to the students so they can invite friends and family to come. This has proved to be an excellent investment for my time and effort, as the students hand these out at school to their classmates, and I have gotten new students as a result 🙂

This year, I am doing something extra to further promote my studio recital. I made a movie trailer!

Here is how I did it:

1. I use my iPad.

2. Open iMovie app (free download at Apple Store).

3. Click on the “+” sign to create new project.

4. Select “Trailer”.

5. Choose a theme (I chose Coming of Age).

6. Click “Create” (top right hand corner).

7. Fill out the form under “Outline” (This is the movie credits page).

8. Click on “Storyboard” (next to Outline).

9. Choose pictures/videos stored on your iPad and insert in each box. You can customize the wording to go with the pictures.

10. Done! You can save your new movie trailer on your iPad, email to students, and upload to Facebook and YouTube!

Hope everyone’s studio recital goes well!

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Posted in Product Reviews, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management

What do you do when you have have four marvelous, faithful, dynamic and long-time pianists who are graduating from high school and leaving your studio? You throw a Senior Showcase AND check to see if their skills match your mission statement–you know–that one you post on your website but forget to check!

I held a senior showcase quite some time ago when I had three seniors graduate in one year. I did the same for the four seniors in the picture below. This year’s show included considerable “upgrades” thanks to the latest tech tools and my ongoing desire to provide creative-based teaching.

 

senior showcase

Program cover made with Canva

The agenda for the evening

  1. Offer a knockout printed program featuring dazzling photos and important info about the seniors. TIP: Canva.com is amazing! Make sure to check out this free graphic design program.
  2. Prepare pianists to perform around 5 of their favorite current or past pieces that best represent their playing AND their creativity.
  3. Present a projected slide show featuring snap shots of “lifetime” pics of each senior to loop prior to the showcase.
  4. Include a projected slide reflecting the mood or style of the piece as each pianist performed.
  5. Meet a special-request for one of the seniors by displaying slides with various movie posters as he played a tribute medley honoring all his favorite film composers.
  6. Set up cool lighting to provide sophisticated staging.
  7. Ensure outstanding and confident performances from each pianist showing their unique personalities and skills sets.
  8. Create an opportunity for each pianist to read a score on an iPad and turn pages with a blue-tooth pedal.
  9. Design a pop medley collaboration featuring all the pianists using the piano and the impressive voice selection of the Clavinova.

Read more…

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

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Welcome to our member spotlight series. Today we have Ruth Hartt, a voice teacher in the Boston area. If you are a current Music Teacher’s Helper user and would like to be featured on the blog, please fill out this questionnaire.

How long have you been teaching music?

15 years.

How would you describe your studio space to someone that’s never visited?

My home studio is comfortable, spacious, and bright, with lots of natural light. It is equipped with a Roland electric piano, microphones, recording equipment, iMac computer, and a portable PA system.

Read more…

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Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

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Losing Students

I read somewhere that 85% of music students will quit lessons within two years!

This astounds me. It is so rare for my students to quit and yet so many music teachers are having this problem: How to retain your students?

A Personal Story

When my son was around 8 years old, he began to express an interest in going to sleep-away camp. We were surprised as he has usually been a bit shy and slow to meet new friends. But this was good! Maybe he was breaking out of his shell.  

The thing about sleep-away camp, it’s probably more stressful for the parents than the kids. Parents have separation anxiety!  

The YMCA has rules for no electronic devices, no phone calls, no text messages, not even email because they know it will only promote homesickness and stress. But as parents, that was hard!

What got us through the stress were the daily postings to a camp website where they would post pictures and summaries of the day. It gave us a sense of confidence that our son was being cared for and we could see for ourselves when he was engaged and happy. It was providing information to their clients.

So why not do something similar for music lessons?   

Music Instruction As A Service

Music instruction is a service business. By framing it as this, you can start to ask questions like, what else can I do to offer a richer level of service to my clients?  

I send home a weekly email that details what we worked on, what they should be practicing and even links to videos I’ve created in the lesson or YouTube videos of the pieces being performed. I’ve been told that this is one of the best parts of my service.

I started using Music Teacher’s Helper a little over six years ago. Before that, I was cobbling together a bunch of other services like Google Sheets, Gmail, PayPal and an assortment of databases on my local hard drive. It worked, but the upkeep was a real pain. Initially, I figured the Music Teacher’s Helper (MTH) billing management and automatic email reminders would be all I would be using. But over the years, I’ve discovered the real power is the lesson notes. This is how I send home the aforementioned emails. By using the MTH system, both I and the client gets a copy and they also can log in and review the entire history at any time.

Process

My process is like this. Each teaching day, I check my MTH automated “Daily Summary” email, which arrives at 5:15am, to see my schedule and what was taught in the last lesson. I do a lesson prep on a paper template of my own design noting what I am going to work on this day for each student.

When the student arrives, I am mentally prepared to pick up right where we left off in the previous lesson. I don’t know what I would do without my lesson notes! During the lesson, I write down what was actually done and what I have assigned for the next week. What I planned to do and what actually happens differ often!  

Later that evening, glass of wine in hand, I sit and type up the day’s lesson notes and send them out to the parents. It has become a very efficient workflow.

So what are the results?

I just went through my student logs on Music Teacher’s Helper and I have several students with lesson notes going back over six years! My average student seems to have been with me for 4-5 years. It is rare to have an opening on my roster and when I do get one, I have usually filled it within hours.

Is my success all because of this weekly email? No, but it’s a part of it. I encourage you to start thinking of your lessons as a true service business. Think of ways to offer that extra bit that keeps your students and clients happy, coming back and referring all their friends and family.

What other ideas do you have for serving your clients? I look forward to your comments below.

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Posted in Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper

MTH has the wonderful option to send Lesson Notes after each lesson. Although designed to simply let parents know what’s assigned or happening at lessons, this is an opportunity to save yourself time and keep your customers informed!

Answering ten unnecessary emails = wasted time!

How many emails do you get asking  questions about schedules or upcoming events, even though you previously sent emails or other correspondence with that exact information? Read more…

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Posted in MTH 101, Music & Technology, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper

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So you are heading off to your first recording session. What tips can help you achieve a great recording? Even if you are just having fun recording yourself in your bedroom, hopefully, the following tips will help.

Before the recording session
•  If this is your first time being recorded, if you can, visit the studio so as to get familiar with the vocal booth setup to help you relax. Even just looking at the photos on the studio website will help.

•  If you are recording a vocal, get familiar with the words, ideally, memorise them and bring a copy to help the producer follow for accuracy as you record.

•  When you rehearse, check that you only take breaths at the end of sentences to avoid spoiling the flow of the phrases.

•  Focus on your performance. What does the song mean to you? Can you “feel” the emotion as you perform?

•  Head to the session wearing Read more…

photo by:

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Posted in Music & Technology, Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

When a Group Class Goes Off Course

By Robin Setinweg

What do you do when a group class goes off course?

“It couldn’t. It wouldn’t!” you say. Well, after successful group classes for years, it happened. And it was probably all my fault.

What was I thinking? Spring weather had just begun. That makes squirrely kids. It was right before spring break. That makes kids mega-squirrely. I made it a pizza party. That brings in higher numbers. And—here’s the biggie—I did not recruit help. I didn’t make sure any older students were attending. So I had oodles of young ones, and no older ones with whom to pair them up. Yikes.

It started great. I had three pizzas cooked ahead. I cut them to give my young learners a visual of whole notes, half notes, quarters, and eighths. They had to ask for the number of eighths they wanted to eat, and tell me how many quarter notes they took, or dotted quarter, etc. (nobody got a whole note!). But then the fun started.

Without supervision.

I was kept busy putting pizzas in, taking them out, cutting them and pouring beverages. So the party became quite noisy and full of high spirits. They weren’t naughty or ill-behaved—these are good kids! Just over-the-top energy and behavior. Which meant it was nearly impossible to get them back.

I had learning games planned. I swapped one in to quiet them down. I played a CD, and they were to draw how it made them feel. I spent the next 10 minutes answering questions like, “Can I draw the London Bridge?” and comments like, “Did you know the London Bridge was moved to (some city here in the States) in (some year I missed)?”

When the quiet music time became noisy due to high spirits, and I astutely realized this was not accomplishing the quiet mood I’d thought it would, I moved on to another game.

I think, by the final game, some music facts sank in. I had four chairs set up, with students on them. Each was a quarter note. We counted them. Remove one or more, the counting stays the same, because after all, rests take as much space up as notes (the chair is still there, simply unoccupied). They needed to decide how to make a half note, whole note, dotted half. Only one student was tall enough to lie across all four chairs to make that whole note.

I know they had fun, and they got the point through some games. But I also know I was done-in. I should have had help. I hope to help you avoid “when a group class goes off course.”

Have you ever had a group go amiss? Can you laugh about it now? Comments welcome!

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Posted in Music Theory, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

I tried a new way of organizing my lesson planning this year which has kept me more on track. It involves just three basic pieces: a small plastic box, 8×5 index cards, and tab dividers. (I have included links for similar items on Amazon.com, but I got all my supplies at Walmart.)Lesson Box, cards

Here are ways you can use your box:

Student Lesson Plans Tabs:

Put each student’s name on a tab divider. You can organize them alphabetically, or by lesson schedule. Write each student’s lesson plan on a new 8×5 card each week. I also include the date, the time of their lesson, and any unusual circumstances, such as a makeup lesson. Keep the most current card in the front, right behind their name tab.

You can write the next lesson plan out on a new card right after a lesson, any time during the intervening week, or the day of the next lesson, using the previous week’s card and notes as a guide. Writing out a plan doesn’t mean that you will stick to it exactly, but it gives you an overview of what you should try to cover. During the lesson, you can also jot notes to yourself on this card, and check off things you covered in the lesson. I review the lesson plans at the beginning of the day and get out any games and props I will need that afternoon.Lindas card

It can also be helpful to put a “master list” card in the very front of each student’s tab, with a list of general things you would like to teach the student this year. Check this list every so often as you make your lesson plans to be sure you are meeting your big goals for the student. This is a great place to write down the student’s goals too.

Teaching Tips Tabs:

Add teaching tips tabs behind the students’ tabs for skills such as scales, arm weight, posture, phrasing, and such. You could have just one tab that says Teaching Tips for all your ideas, or you can have a tab for each separate skill area. Write out any helpful hints you come across for teaching these skills on an index card. You could have cards for scales, blues chords, jazz scales, modes, historical eras, improvisation, one-hand ideasperformance prep, and so on. The possibilities are endless. Make these very concise—just notes that will help you remember all the important points. This would be a great project to expand upon after attending a conference, so you don’t lose all those new ideas in a folder somewhere at the bottom of a closet. You can also fold an 81/2 x 11 paper in half and trim two edges so it will fit in the with 8 x 10 cards. This can save recopying information. I also trim card stock to fit the box on which I have printed out helpful hints or graphics. I love having teaching notes and tips available right by the piano, instead of having to run to the other room and look in my file cabinet.Practice Box

“Wing It” Days Tabs:

Use this section when a student shows up with no books, or is having a bad day. Make cards full of ideas for beginning, intermediate, and advanced students that can be done with no preparation, but will be educational and fun. If you have a lot of ideas, put one idea on each card. If you need less to go on, just make three cards, one for each level. Be sure to include directions to games, and where to locate the supplies quickly.

Extra Cards and Tabs:

Keep extra tabs and index cards in the back of the box so you can access them quickly. With a full studio and lots of teaching tips, you may need to give students and teaching tips each their own box.

If this sounds interesting, give it a try! I would love to hear your comments below about how you organize your lesson planning.

 

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Posted in Studio Management