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

Welcome to 2017! We hope this year is even better than the last for you and your studio. A few announcements to start off the new year. First, you will now see an option to experience Beta mode once logged into your account.

Why Use Beta Mode?

Beta mode offers over dozens of improvements and new features in the Student, Calendar, Lesson, and Settings areas of the site. Here’s a list with links to instructions for the major new features in Beta mode. You can switch out of Beta mode at any time if you’d prefer not to use it at this time, but we hope to transition everyone over to the new features before too long.

Beta mode allows you to experience new features and gives our programming team an opportunity to fix any minor issues before making it permanent. While in Beta Mode, you’ll see a Feedback button on the right-hand side. Your feedback lets us know how it’s working and gives you an opportunity to share ideas for how we can continue to improve Music Teacher’s Helper.

Have a great first week of the new year and happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes

composing holiday activity with music students

I didn’t warn my students they’d be composing. I was pretty sure they’d feel intimidated, so I simply asked them for favorite holiday phrases. When they asked why, I said, “You’ll see.” And once they heard the glimmer of a secret, they were hooked.

Here’s what we did.

STEP 1

“Think of one or two short holiday phrases .” (Three or four phrases for older students.)

“What’s a holiday phrase?”

“A word or group of words you hear around Christmastime. It could even be words to a song.”

Some might want an example, such as “Merry Christmas!” Or show them this.  I heard “Ho, ho, ho!” “Open up the presents.” “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” In addition, one came up with “Hark! How the jingle bells rock!” Another said, “Elf on the shelf.”

This exercise provided both rhythm and lyrics for the composing activity. But it only took about five minutes.

STEP 2

We listed the phrases and spoke them in rhythm one after the other. We switched the order until they liked the flow. Then I had them tap and clap the rhythms. If they gave too long a phrase, I said “We need it shorter.” Or if the first phrase was in three but the next in four, “Try another.”

This took five minutes or under.

STEP 3

The melody of their composing came next.

Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Promoting Your Studio

We hope your holiday break is off to a great start! Starting this Wednesday, the Beta option will be available to all members! You’ll see a green notification near the top of your dashboard when logged in. For instructions on how to turn Beta mode on and off, and for a full list of new features in Beta with tutorials, please reference this support article. We’ll continue adding to that list and making announcements as Beta features are added. 

Additionally, an improved billing feature is on the way that will be easier to use and offers more control over what shows on invoices. There will be more details as we get closer to launch, but we’re excited about how the changes will improve you and your students’ experience!

Have Feedback?

While in Beta Mode, you’ll see a Feedback button on the right-hand side. Please let us know how it’s working for you and share your ideas for how we can improve Music Teacher’s Helper. We continue to receive excellent feedback that helps us further improve the new features.

Have a great week and happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes

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

Everyone here at Music Teacher’s Helper would like to wish our members and their students a wonderful upcoming holiday and new year. Thank you for using Music Teacher’s Helper this past year to manage your studio – our team enjoys serving you and continually striving to deliver software that makes your lives’ better. Let’s get into this week’s announcements:

New Attendance Tab in Beta Mode

One of the most requested features we’ve had is the ability to track individual attendance for group lessons. This week, we’ll be releasing this feature to our beta members as part of the new Attendance page. Attendance and lesson notes are now entered on the Calendar under a new tab called “Attendance”, found next to the month/weekly/agenda and location views.  

Other Recent Beta Changes:

  • You now have the ability to switch a student between child and adult status. This is convenient in case you’ve entered them as a mistake or as child students grow up and begin paying for their own lessons.
  • In addition to creating events in the lesson menu, you can also create events in the Calendar of various durations by clicking and dragging from start to end time on week or day view. This also works for multi-day events on month view.

We’re also working on lots of other updates behind the scenes that and will continue to release them to Beta in the coming weeks.  

Have Feedback?

While in Beta Mode, you’ll see a Feedback button on the right-hand side. Please let us know how it’s working for you and share your ideas for how we can improve Music Teacher’s Helper. We continue to receive excellent feedback that helps us further improve the new features.

Have a great week and happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes

music student focus

There is a common enemy among music teachers, heck, all teachers!

It’s the battle for the attention and focus of our students!

If you teach children, you know there is a problem of focus that is just not part of teaching teens or adults.  Young children have shorter attention spans and are easily distracted!

Tips for Battling the Distraction

Steps can be taken to keep the distraction at bay.  Some of these things may seem obvious, but you must look out for them

  • Limit clutter in the teaching space
  • Remove potentially attention-grabbing toys or objects
  • Have  a policy that  phones must be set on vibrate
  • Limit the seating to discourage too many siblings in the space
  • Don’t allow eating in the studio
  • Limit or remove pets
  • Use music notation that is visually clear and clutter-free

As so much of our visual attention is placed on reading music notation, the following can greatly assist in attaining focus.

When presented with traditional music notation, students are often overwhelmed by how complicated it all looks.  And it is complicated!

Reading music is a high-level skill.  It takes a long time and a lot of practice  to understand all the symbolic language and the nuances.   

In the first few stages of our Musicolor Notation, students begin to learn structure.   They begin to notice the patterns of the entire piece as a whole and which parts are slightly different but mostly the same.  Then we dive into the smaller details.

With traditional music notation, we do the same.  But so often, students still feel overwhelmed by all the abstract symbols on the page.  

To help with this, we developed a Focus Window.  

What’s a Focus Window?

A Focus Window is a way of directing the student’s attention to a specific portion of the page.  You can use a Focus Window for not only  reading music but also for teaching reading words to young children or to place attention only on a portion of a large picture, graph, map or chart.  

By using a Focus Window, students can work on a smaller area  than they would naturally reach for.   It limits the information overload.

Constructing the Focus Window

There are a few ways you can construct a Focus Window.  

Originally we tried to use flashlights by focusing light beams on  certain areas of the sheet music.  That didn’t work too well with young students.  The dark room was too extreme and all sorts of hilarious screaming ensued!

Paper and cardboard cutout windows were mildly successful.  

Our favorite and simplest method of constructing a Focus Window involves Post-It notes.  These wonderful little 3” by 3” yellow squares of paper with the light adhesive made by 3M have been an essential part of our studio for years.

By using the Post-Its to block certain areas of the page, you can quickly create an area in the middle that is the Focus Window.  

Here’s an example of how to block out a small Focus Window from a larger piece of music.

A Focus Window for music

Only play what’s inside the window

Too often, students try to play an entire phrase which it too much for them to  hold in their mental desktop.  By making that phrase smaller, (much smaller!) and only showing a small portion visually, we can control their focus.

The benefit of using removable Post-It notes is that you can quickly resize the Focus Window or even move it as your student progresses through the piece.

Some Focus Windows are quite large and are made by covering up all the extraneous information many method book publishers clutter the page with.

So often there are instructions meant to be read by a teacher or parent but not the student.  This type of text is very overwhelming for young children.  The same is true of the small duet parts often printed below the student part.

Also, many times there are beautiful illustrations and graphics on the page.  These can be charming and helpful.   For pre-literate children, the illustrations can be the way they remember which song is which as they can’t read the titles.

But the graphics should be limited as they do pull away focus.

We also teach the parents of our students how to do this at home.  It allows us to send home lesson notes that say, “Work on the one measure in the Focus Window and then enlarge it to include 2 measures.”

Learning how to practice is a skill that affects a student’s life forever.  By teaching students  how to effectively practice by limiting data and concentrating repetitively on small parts at a time, we can teach mastery skills.

The Itch of Curiosity

By using a Focus Window we limit the data.  We obscure parts of the whole.  This can be used to our benefit.  It triggers a universal psychological effect known as the information or knowledge gap.  

In the 1990’s, Carnegie-Mellon researcher George Lowenstein put forth the “Information Gap Theory of Curiosity.”

“It comes when we feel a gap “between what we know and what we want to know”. This gap has emotional consequences: it feels like a mental itch, a mosquito bite on the brain. We seek out new knowledge because we that’s how we scratch the itch.” (Wired magazine)

If you tell your students “you can’t peek under this until next week,” you have effectively created some curiosity.  Many of them will actually look just to see what’s there.   

Some have even “figured it out themselves.”

Others have practiced even more to make sure they get to “open the window.”

The Hidden Answer Window

The inverse of a Focus Window is a Hidden Answer Window.

Do you remember those interactive children’s books that have hidden flaps that allow a child to discover more content?  These were fun and engaging because of the curiosity invoked by hiding answers or parts of the story.

You can do this with music too.

Sometimes students are just not ready to work on certain phrases or maybe a left hand piano part is too tricky right now and you want them to work only on the right hand.  

Hidden Answer Windows in music

No peeking!

By covering the tricky bits with a little Post-It flap, you create a Hidden Answer Window.  They remind us that there is still unfinished business on this page, but we will discover it  together in future lessons.  

This  lowers the stress level of students who are desperately trying to seek your approval by playing everything perfectly.  It lets them off the hook.

It’s funny how some simple things can transform a lesson from drudgery and pain to effortless progress.

I have a few more practice and focus tips in a free download, 10 Tips To Make Practice Easy, Effective + Fun!

 

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Hi, Everyone. We hope your week is off to a great start and that our members living in cold weather climates are staying warm!

We have several announcements this week. First, our team has been updating more of the blue box help messages and knowledge base content for the new features.

music teacher software updates

 

 Other Recent Beta Changes:

  • Also, we put the Practice Log back under the Student menu. We’ll be improving the practice log more in future, but for now we’ll have the old option as it was, along with the view under the student profile.

What we’re working on next:

  • Ability to add multiple contacts for Adult Students. You can currently add multiple contacts for Child Students, each with their own set of phone numbers and email addresses to keep parents, grandparents, or other payees notified of billing or lesson information
  • As you know, it’s now a lot simpler to add new students to your account. Child students and adult students will both be added from the same form. And we’re updating this form to also make it easier  to add child students to an existing family. Add as few or as many details as you want about the student. This eliminates the need to navigate to multiple areas and saves you time.
  • Big improvements to invoicing and billing – stay tuned!

Have Feedback?

While in Beta Mode, you’ll see a Feedback button on the right-hand side. Please let us know how it’s working for you and share your ideas for how we can improve Music Teacher’s Helper. We’ve received some great feedback so far that has helped us further improve the new features.

Have a great week and happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes

Andrew

Beta Released to 500 Members!

December 6th, 2016 by

Hi, Everyone. We hope your holiday season is off to a great start!

A couple announcements this week, starting with the Beta option being released to our 500 longest-paying teachers. If you see a green notification near the top of your dashboard when logged in, you’ve been selected. We’ll be rolling out the Beta option to everyone shortly and then making those new features live soon after.

As a reminder, this set of features includes major improvements to the Student Management area and Calendar, which we’ve detailed here.

This week, thanks to your feedback, we’ve also made a few changes to the Beta features that you’ll be seeing shortly.

New icon sets

music icons

We’ve updated our icons to give you more choices for different instruments and locations. We’ve also made them colorless so they’ll match better with the colors you choose for your lesson categories. Choose from over two dozen location icons for your calendar. This can be found within Settings under the Calendar tab. When you add a lesson you simply choose which location the lesson will be taught at, which will include your icons.

music student scheduling

There will also no longer be icons indicating the attendance status of events on the calendar. There are a few reasons for this. One is that it reduces the clutter of having too many icons on an event. But more importantly, you can now create your own attendance statuses, such as Late or Teacher Absent, and can set the billing status for each type of attendance. Lessons that have had their attendance set will show on the calendar as italicized and faded. And clicking the event will show you the attendance in the title of the popover that appears.

Emailing Students in Beta Mode

Music student emailing

As a reminder, emailing students is now done within the Students tab under the Manage Students subtab. This change allows you to filter by anything in the advanced student search, and email any types of contacts related to the student. Click here for full instructions.

Have Feedback?

You’ll see a Feedback button on the right-hand side when using Beta where you can let us know how it’s working for you and share your ideas for how we can improve Music Teacher’s Helper. Thank you for your input and for helping us serve you better.

Have a great week and happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes