Music Teacher's Helper Blog

No written music lesson policy? Here’s part of the phone conversation that motivated me to create mine:

“We’ll have to miss K’s lesson tonight. She has an extra dance rehearsal, and we can’t miss it, because we paid in advance. And there are no makeups.”

Last month I shared how I came to create a written lesson policy. In that post you’ll also find tuition concerns, payment options, registration fees, and what I offer in lessons.

Part II includes the remainder of my policies. These are things other teachers often ask me. I recommend reading several different teachers’ policies for ideas. Take the ones that seem right for you.

Cancellations and Make-ups

I dislike twiddling my thumbs waiting for a student who doesn’t show up. Fifteen minutes of waiting could be put to much better use. A written lesson policy may not guarantee that you’ll never have a no-show, but it can help.

My policy states that if they must cancel a lesson, parents should notify me by phone as soon as possible. Especially since someone else might be able to fill in that time slot.

If a student knows in advance that they must miss a lesson, they can use the Swap List (see below). Or they might use one of the master classes as a makeup. Here is where I place my disclaimer: “Please understand. Tuition remains the same no matter how many of the scheduled lessons the student uses. Unlike some professionals, I can’t take walk-ins or resell the lesson time, nor can I create extra teaching times in which to give make-up lessons. Tuition covers much more than the lesson time itself. Therefore, there are no refunds, reductions or credits for student-missed lessons, nor make-ups available (except in certain cases listed below).”

Master classes cannot be carried over to a new semester and won’t be rescheduled.

If students must miss lessons for an extended time and can’t swap, their slot is reserved if they pay by semester or continue their equal monthly payments. I’ve had students who get involved in a sport or other activity who appreciate not losing their lesson time. And I don’t lose income.

In case of true emergencies (e.g. emergency room visit or death in the family) or a real or contagious illness (not sniffles, tired, had a party or an orthodontist appointment), they can go on a three-week Cancellation List. If anyone else cancels in the three weeks following their missed lesson, they may opt to come then. I tell them there are no guarantees that a time will open.

I teach during bad weather unless it seems to me too dangerous for people to be on the road. Many teachers close whenever the public schools are closed. But I have several adults and home-educated students. So I often stay open. Others are welcome to use the Swap List, go on the three-week Cancellation List, or consider a master class as a makeup.

I offer a Facetime lesson when weather happens. This has worked beautifully. We’ve even had success playing learning games at a distance.

A no-show is not eligible for the Swap List or three-week Cancellation List.

If I’m the one to cancel, I’ll credit a future lesson or try to find time for a make-up. I will do everything possible to contact parents, the students themselves, or their schools ahead of time. If all else fails, I tell them I’ll tape a note to my front door. Therefore, they should always be certain the student is safely inside the house before they leave. And if someone else is driving them, please make sure they know this. No one wants a child sitting alone on the doorstep!

Swap List

The Swap List has been a much-loved resource among my families.

As soon as students know they must miss a lesson, they can request a current list of participating families. The list is in the form of a daily schedule. Parents’ names, phone numbers and emails are included.

My lesson policy includes Swap List guidelines:

  • Notify me if you must miss a lesson. I will email you the current Swap List with names, numbers, and times.
  • The parent who requests the swap is responsible to let me know so I can prepare for the correct student.
  • All swaps must be done PARENT to PARENT. Students are NEVER to arrange their own. I will not arrange swaps.
  • If there is confusion, and two students show up for the same lesson, I will teach the one whose lesson is normally at that time. I will not offer a make-up lesson.
  • Students have 30, 45 or 60 minute lessons. If there is a choice, please swap with someone who has the same length lesson. Otherwise, you’re stuck with that person’s amount of time.

What to Bring to Lessons

  • An appropriate tote. I’ve had students show up with their materials in various states of ruination. Crammed into tiny totes, awkward boxes whose lids fly open or won’t open, paper sacks or plastic grocery bags. So I specify a sturdy tote larger than the largest book they have. Some teachers provide totes, with the cost absorbed into the registration fee. This can be an advertising opportunity, if you have your studio’s name and logo on the tote.
  • A binder with dividers and assignment sheets, which I provide. This should come to each lesson.
  • Instrument. If students take lessons other than piano or voice, they must bring their own instrument. It boggles the mind, but I can’t count the times students have shown up for lessons with no instrument. If they come without their instrument, they’ll spend their lesson listening to youtube performances or doing note reading activities.
  • All music and materials. When I say all, it’s because of how often things get left behind. If they come with no books, they’ll likely sightread for the lesson. I’ll sometimes show mercy if they are usually responsible. We might play music games.

Lesson Materials

Many teachers include materials in their registration fees. Some ask to be reimbursed. Others expect parents to go to the music store themselves. If you choose the latter, I suggest calling the store ahead to have them set aside the materials for that student. This avoids the problem of parents purchasing the wrong items, wasting weeks.

Some teachers keep a lending library of materials for students. If this is the case, be sure to keep good records. Music Teachers Helper has a feature for tracking such items and will notify you when they are due to be returned.

Practice Expectations

The longer I teach, the more I expect students to practice. Non-practice equals boredom and discouragement. Failure.

Almost yearly I revise my lesson policy concerning practice. My incentive programs can help motivate them. But parents must accept responsibility if they want lessons at my studio.

While raising our sons, the rule was simple. Like many things, practice was non-negotiable. You brush your teeth. You do your homework. You practice your instruments. Period.

The goal is to practice each week’s assignment until it is well prepared.

Calendar 

I like to send a calendar to families at the start of a semester. It’s tentative. But it’s better to have that than nothing. Rather than simply the dates, I send mini calendars. I have found that months-at-a-glance stick better than words alone.

One-Sheet 

I’ve create a one-sheet—a single page with the most-often needed studio policies in brief. You might’ve noticed my lesson policy is thorough (i.e. long!). When I get a new family, we go over the pages together. After that, they won’t need to read seven pages to remind themselves about makeups or cancellations. The one-sheet provides needed information in one spot.

I include the following:

  • Contact information
  • Fee and payment schedule
  • Who to write the check to
  • Cancellation and no makeups policy
  • Teacher cancellation
  • What to bring
  • Dates to remember

Registration Forms

It seems every year I tweak my Registration Forms to make them clearer and shorter. I research others’ forms for ideas. I head each page with my studio’s name and the current year.

Page One of Registration Form

  • Tuition
  • Registration fee
  • Payment options
    • Choose 30, 45 or 60 minutes
    • Pay by semester or in equal monthly payments
  • Whether they’d like to be included on the Swap List
  • Agree to involvement in practice (I specify what I hope for under “Practice Expectations”).

Page Two of Registration Forms

This is the Student Information form, parts of which must be filled out separately for each student. I include:

  • Student’s name
  • Student’s school and grade
  • Student’s birthday
  • Who the student lives with
  • Home mailing address
  • Information the teacher should know regarding custody, contact, sharing of information, and who is allowed to pick up the student from lessons
  • Who to contact in case of emergency
  • Best email address to reach them and whether they check email daily
  • Best phone number to reach them
  • Mother’s name, phone, work number
  • Father’s name, phone, work number
  • Allergies or other health concerns
  • Learning style or issue—to help the teacher
  • Behavioral, emotional or other issues the teacher should be aware of
  • Extra-curricular activities, including whether these might affect lessons
  • Hobbies, interests, likes
  • Instrument used for practice: acoustic piano or digital. If digital, how many keys it has and whether they’re weighted, and if there’s a damper pedal. If guitar, I need to know whether they practice on an acoustic or electric.
  • Possible times to meet if they play an instrument other than piano, for the purpose of checking out the student’s instrument prior to the first lesson

Page Three of Registration Forms

The form they’ll sign includes:

  • Name of student(s)
  • This statement “I have read and I understand the document titled Studio Policies for Steinweg Studio of Music 20_ _ Teaching Year in which the following studio policies were covered in greater detail.” I go on to list the main headings of my lesson policy
  • A box to check which will allow the teacher to post photos of student(s) on social media
  • The statement “I agree to abide by studio policies as stated in the above-mentioned document. I agree not to hold Robin Steinweg or Steinweg Studio of Music responsible for any injuries that may occur to students, family or friends at recitals, in the teacher’s studio or home, or while on the teacher’s property.”

NOTE: the disclaimer about injuries may not hold up in a court of law. You should probably research what your home owner’s insurance covers, and whether you need further insurance.

What About You?

Do you have a written lesson policy? If you have different ideas or include items I don’t have, we’d like to hear from you. We grow by sharing with one another, and your input might be of real value to a reader.

A lesson policy can protect and provide relief to teachers, students and families.

Comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So you want to explain a music theory concept simply and then give your student an exercise to help reenforce the point. Enter the website musictheory.net. This is a fabulous resource for teachers and students alike. Best of all it’s free!

Lessons

Here are a series of diagrams laid out logically with little animations to explain various topics of music theory. Although there is accompanying text for self-study, these resources are flexible enough for a music teacher to give their own customised commentary. Using the forward and back arrows, it is easy to navigate through the presentations.

Exercises

This has definitely been a very useful area of the website for my students over the years. There are a great many exercises to test theory concepts. What I’ve appreciated about the design of these tests is that there is no time pressure, which is helpful for allowing some thinking time to the student grappling with a new concept. The best thing about this area is, right towards the bottom of the list, under the heading “FOR TEACHERS” is a page called “Exercise Customizer.” Here you can go to town very easily perfecting the test for the individual needs of your student and then you can copy and paste the unique link to share with them via email or another messaging service. Some of the tests are generic to all instruments and others are specific to keyboards and guitars.

Tools

There are some handy utilities under this section like “Tempo Tapper” which very quickly analyses the speed of your tapping and generates a metronome figure in beats per minute. This is useful for discreetly working out how fast or slow a student is playing their piece compared with what tempo it should be. “Staff Paper Generator” quickly produces manuscript paper you can print for free. “Pop-up Piano” is useful to play or mark notes on a virtual piano keyboard.

Products

The man who has provided this wonderful website for free, helps fund the project from the sales of his two apps for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. One is called “Theory Lessons” and the other “Tenuto” which are basically enhanced and offline versions of his website materials. The quality of these two apps is outstanding and make a nice progression if you wish to support his work.

This website is a gem of a find and infinitely useful. If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly recommend you take a look at musictheory.net

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Teaching mature students

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every adult is good at something. As people get older, they often build their sense of self-worth on the skills they’re good at. So when an older adult decides to learn an instrument from scratch or after many years of not playing, they can feel pretty vulnerable.  The teacher’s agenda may therefore need to be flexible.

There are no sure-fire devices or formulas for teaching anything to anybody, but the more you understand a student’s goals and personality, the more adaptable and helpful you can be as a teacher.

I should probably explain what I mean by “older”.  Mostly I’m thinking of seniors, people who are retirement age picking up an instrument or revisiting one they used to play.  But much of this article could also apply to students in their 40s and 50s — it all depends on the student’s self image.

Some older beginners set a time limit for themselves, figuring that they’ll invest in learning the instrument for, say, two years, and if they’re not good enough by then, move on to another project.  While it can be fun for people to try out new things for a few years each, aiming to “get good” at something within a time limit is a false goal.  Part of a teacher’s job is to set expectations.  In that vein, I like to make it clear that “getting good” at an instrument is purely in the eyes of whoever happens to listening at any given time.  The only thing a student can truly aim for, week to week, and year to year, is to get better.  Of course, another part of a teacher’s job is to set no limits and allow a student to go as far as possible, hopefully defying all expectations!

Some older students take on a new instrument because they have always loved music and are thrilled to participate in making it.  They need to learn to make a good sound so they can enjoy working on any melodies they may attempt.  Criticism needs to be always constructive.  Older players know quite well when something doesn’t sound good; what they need most are specific goals for improving each element of their playing.

I mentioned the improvement of “each element of their playing” — this is probably the key point.  Many students, of any age, are discouraged by the slightest bad sound or “mistake”.  It’s the teacher’s job to help them maintain perspective, and balance intonation vs continuity, timing vs sound quality, expression vs precision.  If they succeed in playing a phrase of music in time, for example, they should be made aware of the importance of that accomplishment.  Playing a note out of tune could be quite a minor flaw by comparison, and yet that’s the kind of mistake older players often focus on, sometimes to the point of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  There are some adults who are very quick to say they “can’t play” something, but it may well be that they simply missed a few obvious elements while doing very well with basic music and technique of it.  To such students I joke that if I ever hear them say they “can’t” do something, they’ll have to do 5 pushups!

Learning an instrument is often quite different than anything some people have ever done.  Whereas much of an office job is about checking off tasks on a to-do list, music is never about that; it’s more of an appointment calendar, where you have to get to your next measure on time regardless of whether you finished the previous one.  People have to accept that playing a beautiful sound in time is worth more than playing a string of correct notes out of time.

Above all, older adults have to come to understand that music is not played by the eyes or brain, but by the hands and ears.  Their eyes and brain can’t control everything.  Knowing how to do something is not equivalent to doing it.  Practicing involves giving the muscle memory a chance to sink in.

Much of this is true of all students, but particularly older students can be self-conscious about memory gaps, and may fear seeing their hands be uncooperative or fear not being able to remember some of the music or finger patterns.  It’s essential that the teacher point out that these problems are no different for students of any age.  Memorizing strings of individual notes instead of learning patterns and phrases of music is no more effective for young students as old; it’s just that the older ones might fear that it’s their age that’s keeping them from remembering everything.

In the end, learning music as an older adult is beneficial for people’s mental abilities, expands people’s understanding of themselves and how they learn, and is a pleasure in and of itself.  It’s great to give older students a chance to play with others in a class or in a music party, and while pursuing your own agenda to help them improve musically and technically, it’s an excellent idea to allow them to learn their favorite music, even if you have to work on one measure or two a week on top of their other work.  You may need to simplify the music to make it easier to learn, but they’ll love making progress on it.  Even the most difficult music can be broken into manageable pieces.

There are many retired people who wish they had taken up music, or wish they had continued it instead of quitting as kids.  It’s a pleasure and a life skill that they should not deny themselves, and neither should any teacher!

 

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