Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Guard your MFA, the MBA is invading! The MBA mentality, which today involves doing everything and anything to increase profits, is so revered these days that many believe it’s rational to install business people in government even if they are totally devoid of experience — or interest — in public service. Local school systems successfully argue they can save money through consolidation even though no study since 1980 has indicated that this actually helps any educational (let alone financial) goals in reality. Somehow, when people present themselves as knowledgeable about making or saving money, they become the expert we’re supposed to heed. (In case you think I’m exaggerating about the MBA nowadays, here’s a recent plea to abolish business schools by a long-time business school professor, and one in the Harvard Business Review about why these schools have lost their way — an older article, but little has changed.)

As music teachers, we’ve been hit with lots of MBA-inspired how-to’s — how to make a lot of money by doubling rates to winnow our student list to just the profitable ones, or how to make our job easier by requiring that students sign contracts guaranteeing our income and flexibility regardless of the students’ experience. Maybe you’ve run across other seemingly smart strategies that make you feel like a dummy or a softie if you don’t take them seriously.

Of course, we can all use thoughtful advice on making our businesses run smoothly. Music Teachers Helper’s motto is “You teach! It does the rest!” (It’s NOT “Let us help you soak your students for the most money with the least effort!”) Music Teachers Helper is meant to help us teachers organize the business part of what we do, so that we can focus on the music, the sharing of our skills, the nurturing of our students. There are many articles in this blog which seek to help give business advice to folks who may not have much experience in that side of things, in addition to the many articles encouraging better teaching and understanding of music.

Nobody goes into music for the money. And yet, whether you teach or perform, you find out pretty quickly that  [···]

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How are you doing with the new software? Here’s a window into how I’m adjusting to it as a teacher — I hope you find this helpful!

I’ve used Music Teachers Helper since way back in 2006. Nearly all updates to the system have included real improvements, and there was one major update some years ago that required some getting used to. I’m happy that the new version stays the course but provides a number of improvements, including one feature I’m excited about — the File Area. This is a feature I used to use it all the time but the last major upgrade made the File Area less workable for me. Now it’s better than ever, and I’m looking forward to working with it again! Yay!

I’m going to focus here on a few essentials I use in my studio plus a few favorite features — emailing, the student list, lesson notes, selected uses of the calendar and its settings, and the File Area.

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Dear MTH blog readers,

First of all, Happy Holidays! I hope this post finds you well, and I hope you are all going to have a well deserved break! I sure am looking forward to mine!

I am pretty sure all of us have recorded our students in some form or another. I remember when I first started teaching (many years ago), recording was a big deal. Cassettes and CDs were the norm. Eventually I acquired an MD recorder. The audio quality was good, but no video. Then I got a camcorder, so I finally could get video, but the audio quality was not desirable. Then I got my first Apple laptop, then I got an iPad. Fast forward to today, I now record my students with my iPhone, on a daily basis. 

I am still no recording expert, and this post is not about how to make a top quality recording. This post is about the benefits of frequent, everyday recordings of students. 

Most of us record our studio recitals. These are always a big deal, and we know more or less that the students are going to perform their best. And that’s what I did before – only recording students when I knew they would be good. So we recorded recitals, festivals, and especially competitions.

But for some time now, I have been recording my students much more regularly, and often during their lessons. We also don’t wait until their pieces are “perfect”- we record while their pieces are still very much work in progress. Moreover, I have been using Facebook “LIVE,” so the recordings are live recordings of their actual lessons. 

I have found this to be tremendously useful:

  1. It gets them used to the idea of performing. They used to get nervous when the camera is on. Now it is not a big deal. This means they get used to dealing with their nerves, and they do better in recitals and other performances. 
  2. They get to watch the recordings later. This is the biggest benefit. They get an opportunity to review what we talk about in the lessons so they are more likely to remember what to fix.
  3. The recordings are online for all to see – parents, grandparents, uncles, friends, and the public. Of course this means the parents must give consent to the recording in the first place. So far my students’ parents are totally on board (I did have one parent question it, but they left now!) Usually, the parents are very proud to share the videos, and other family members get a glimpse of what happens in the lessons. It is also easy to make the videos private or only viewable for selected people, should that be a concern for some. 
  4. It increases your studio’s online presence. I have received many lesson inquiries, because someone stumbled across one of my lesson videos, they witnessed how I worked with a student, they like my approach, and they want to be my student. 

Of course, there are many other recording platforms these days, and YouTube is another indispensable social media tool. I prefer Facebook Live for everyday recordings, because it does not take up any memory space on my phone, which now has three years worth of videos and pictures of my daughter since she was born. I also find YouTube to be more clumsy to use, and Facebook LIVE is just one click away. I still use YouTube for more “serious” recordings, such as for competitions, where it is standard to include a YouTube link of the student’s performance. 

Another something I discovered, just today, is how interesting and beneficial it is, for students to record one another. I had three students come in to the studio today to record, because they are entering one of these video competitions, and today was the deadline. We had been recording at their individual private lessons, but as you all know it is so hard to get that “perfect” recording, so we weren’t satisfied that we had the best recording yet. They did not have any private lesson time left, so I suggested that they all come and take turns to record one another. I set up the phone, showed them what to do, and I closed the studio door and went upstairs to spend time with my daughter. I could hear them. It took them each several takes, but did they do so much better knowing their peers were in the audience and that everyone’s time is precious! I am sure all of our other lesson recordings helped, but it was so interesting to see how well they did. They gave one another support, encouragement, and the comradery between them was endearing and so heart-warming. I had told them to take turns, so if they messed up, they were to let someone else go next, so it was fair for everyone’s time. I could hear from upstairs, that they did not follow this rule, but encouraged their peers to just try again – “it’s ok, don’t worry about us” – when it was clear someone just got nervous and made silly mistakes near the beginning. I was so proud of them and after about an hour and half, all three managed to make the best recording of their piece that they will submit for competition for a chance to perform at Carnegie Hall. 

Whether they win the competition or not, it does not matter. That is not the point. The point is they worked so hard on their piece, they went above and beyond trying to get a perfect recording which, as we all know, is like chasing a unicorn. They had a glimpse of what it takes to be truly amazing at something. I have a feeling what they experienced this afternoon will remain in their memory for many years to come.

If anyone is interested, my live lesson recordings can be found here.

Have a great holiday season, everyone, and happy recording to all of your students!

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