Teaching music requires basic tools like staff paper, textbooks, good instruments, patience, people skills, and years of practice. But over time, every teacher discovers various tools and tricks that makes their job much easier. Some are obvious (like a chord stamp) and some are not as obvious (like an over door shoe organizer). Here’s a list of 10 teaching tools and tips.
1) The MGT Mountable Gig Tray
This item started out on crash cymbal stand for my drum kit. It was exclusively used at gigs by student drummers. At home, it started becoming my pencil holder during band practices. One day, after trying to organize the clutter of tuners, rosin and other teaching related items, I had an insight. I unbolted the Gig Tray from the crash stand and carried it to my lesson studio. I attached it to the music stand in my teaching studio. Now it keeps my pencils, tuners, metronome, picks, capo, rosin, rosin remover, index cards, cables, and even a drum machine all organized and close at hand. Even the students noted the improvement in the flow of their lessons simply because items were within easy reach for both teacher and student. More product info at:
2) A Chord Stamp
It’s $6.00. It’s practical and even better, little kids love it. It makes writing chords for guitar and 6 string bass quick, easy, and very neat (as in “no more badly drawn chord diagrams” neat). You can put the chord stamps anywhere you need them. The first time I use it with a very young student (say 5 or 6 years old), I will surprise them and give them a chord stamp tattoo on their hand or arm. Since I am young at heart, I let them tattoo me back on my hand or arm as well.
3) A good LaserJet printer with a duplexer and a networking card.
All 4 computers in the home studio are networked to two LaserJet printers. Even visiting laptops can jump on the wireless network and print documents if they have a password.
My two workhorse printers are a black and white HP 4000N with a duplexer and the other is color HP OfficeJetPro 1150C.
Yes, they are both older printers, but they are both reliable. The 4000N was purchased used on eBay, I refurbished it using a kit (and a good friend’s help). The HP OfficeJet is also used, but reliable. It makes a great stand alone copier as well as a color printer. They, along with my HP ScanJet 8250 bulk scanner are my in-house print shop. They work wonderfully for producing materials for lessons, group classes, clinics, studio newsletters, even advertising for larger events. These two printers handle it all. For me, LaserJet has proven to be much cheaper than inkjet, and the duplexer on the 4000N allows me to automatically print on both sides of a sheet of paper…which saves me big time on paper costs! I love my in-house print shop. I am rarely spotted at Kinko’s anymore.
Here’s another tip for saving money on printing costs; find a store that refills cartridges instead of sending them out to be recycled. I love Rapid Refill. I have purchased both ink and toner cartridges. I consistently pay half the price I would have paid at Staples or Office Depot.
4) The Roland Micro Cube Bass Amp
I won this amp in a drawing at Gerald Veasley’s Bass Bootcamp (more on that in another blog). Since the camp, it is used daily for teaching. First off, it is loud and clear for it’s size . It’s actually pretty darn good sounding for a tiny bass amp. (This is usually hard to do with bass practice amps of this size…small speakers don’t reproduce bass frequencies well. ) Secondly, it has tons of built in features that make teaching a lot easier. I’m not the biggest fan of modeling amps, but I should mention it has eight amp modeling presets. It has a built in tuner, a drum machine with 33 drum patterns and a tap tempo button. It also has a 3 band EQ, onboard effects and a headphone jack.
The Cube is very light and portable at 11 pounds, 8 ounces (including batteries). So it is great for dashing out to another teaching studio and setting up quickly. And I don’t pack my drum machine anymore, I just bring this amp and use the presets. It has the ability to run on batteries. More than once, I’ve been teaching during a thunderstorm and the power may dip or go out entirely. I simply reach down, disconnect the AC power, and keep playing and teaching without missing a beat. The amp seamlessly switches to battery power, (as long as it has batteries in the battery compartment). This also means I can take my bass on the beach or in the woods and play. It is also decent for practice while traveling if I don’t want to use my headphone amp and I don’t want to take the time to set up a larger combo amp.
5) Over Door Shoe Organizers
These are great for more than just shoes. I use one for storing effect pedals, amp foot pedals, patch cables, power adapters, spare tubes, manuals, drum keys & spare parts, packs of strings, rosin, headphones, tuners, etc. I use another organizer on the back of my bedroom door to organize all my office supplies; envelopes, masking tape, extra pens and pencils, index cards, white out, rolls of packing tape, blank post it notes.
It is practical and it is a very visual way to organize. It also has helped keep my studio neat after student band practices. It ends up working like an “effects pedal buffet”. Students can get whatever pedals or gear they may need or want to try for practices, and then freely return them to exactly where they belong. So I can teach all the way up to band practice time. Since the kids can find everything on their own very easily, I come out from my lesson and the band is set up and ready to go.
6) Power Bars, Protein Bars, and Clif Bars
At about 7 PM on most days that I teach, I am getting pretty hungry. Problem is I usually have two to three more hours to go. Hunger makes me cranky. Cranky also means a dazed, unfocused lesson.
I keep a Clif Bar handy on the MGT Mountable Gig tray to quickly eat whenever an opportunity arises…and things proceed smoothly. One Clif Bar equals a happy, focused teacher, a happy student, and happy parents.
7) Items with wheels
Anything with wheels is great. For example:
This cart currently holds all my supplies for group lessons and workshops. This cart has a lot of pockets and even a fanfold file folder. This makes my life so easy. Since I use this to teach beginners at group guitar lessons, I carry my lesson materials in it plus supplies for new student “emergencies”; extra strings, basic tools, etc.
When I get to the location I am working at for the day, I put a bag of 20 folding music stands on top of the cart and wheel the whole thing where ever it needs to go. It is very durable, very strong and functional.
More info online:
And just an FYI, I assure you I did not pay this much for this cart, so shop around. I bought one at Costco for a lot less.
Here’s another example of how some tools are better on wheels:
This Gator case has been a real life saver for playing live. My bass amp and all the associated electronics (compressor, multi- effects processors), are loaded in this case. It’s not necessary to carry that weight if I don’t need to. I can also throw a duffle bag of gigging supplies on top of the case and they both wheel into the venue together.
I also put locking casters on my 65 pound Ampeg bass amp cabinet. Thank god for wheels.
For more info:
I also have wheels on my studio furniture (my computer desk, a table, my heavier amplifiers, a computer cart). This has proven handy. It is easier to retrieve lost items or to change the wiring on a computer or speaker. It also makes it easier to clean behind a piece of furniture.
And I really love my wheeled briefcase. This is always in tow when I am teaching or gigging. I can always stack a second item on top of the briefcase if necessary to keep my hands free.
8) A good camera
Having a good camera is invaluable for documenting what you do and selling yourself. My two current favorites are the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS and the Sony CyberShot DSC-F717. My business cards and other promotional materials were all done with the Sony Cyber Shot. Most of my promo pics feature this picture:
The colors in this photo have not been edited or digitally altered in anyway. I love how the colors pop. And this wasn’t a pro photographer that I paid hundreds for. Often, when I give out my card to other working musicians, they want to know who my photographer is. This was all done by a good friend with a very good eye and a camera with an OS that makes colors pop.
I needed business cards for my home studio, so we shot hundreds of pictures while I played various basses. (Good tip here: don’t be afraid to just take hundreds of pictures…you’ll end up with 5 usable ones out of 200 or 300). This image was one of the results of that session. It came out so well, I was able to use it for “branding” my products and services.
When I run student shows, I need a camera that can also handle low light situations. And during a performance, nervous students don’t need to deal with a camera flash going off. This is where digital cameras really need to be scrutinized closely. Not many handle low light well at all, as I have found out the hard way through experience. Megapixel count and zoom factors aren’t all you need to look at when you buy. In fact, there are so many factors in a digital camera that buying by specs is still buying blind. In the end the best thing is seeing whose digital camera takes the best photos in the situations you’ll be taking photos in and buy the same model. The Sony F717 above is over 5 years old but is great for concerts, it’s colors pop, and it is now very affordable. And I have found that in low light conditions, it surpasses my friend’s newer $1200 Nikon camera.
I’ve also used the Sony to create quality promo pics quickly for requests on a deadline. Examples would include:
– Special gigs – “I need a picture of you in formal wear by tomorrow to promote our Valentine’s Day dinner in the paper.”
– From LightWave company – “We’d like a photo of you with your bass.”
– For the Kids Jamming For Kids program. The venue requested promo pics of all the bands for their website and for newspaper promotions.
The students (and their families) also love getting high quality photos of their performances, especially when we manage to make the students look like rock stars.
I have a friend who enjoys doing photography. He helps me out when I can’t take the photos myself (usually because I am running sound or performing). He isn’t a professional photographer, but we are always guaranteed many high quality usable pics whenever this camera is involved. I’ve even handed my camera to someone in the crowd and asked them to take as many photos as possible. Usually I still get two to three usable pics from every event.
I find having a good camera on hand can help you represent your ideas and your business professionally.
9) Music Money and a Music Basket
Discovered right here through the Music Teachers Helper Blog….and shamelessly stolen and put to use in my own studio. Check out Michelle Payne’s article here:
I have to admit, initially I was not enthusiastic about “bribing” younger students (ages 10 and younger) to practice. It just didn’t fit with my ideology at the time. However, I discovered that many parents were wrangling with their youngsters over practice time. There was a real danger that students were going to be pulled from lessons because exasperated parents didn’t want to deal with the practice situation. As a result, I decided to go ahead and take the route of “bribery” and see what would happen.
What really surprised me was how well the program worked. The music basket has taken a lot of stress off of those parents, and it has made it even more clear to the student that practicing is their responsibility. If they practice, they are rewarded for their efforts. Many students began working towards small rewards in the basket, and they learned to save for higher dollar rewards I occasionally offer. Practice habits and enthusiasm has grown in the younger population. There has been less overall friction, and many young students have been enjoying longer tenures since this program began. The music dollars have now affectionately been dubbed by parents “Brittany Bucks”.
Further, the basket really didn’t end up being “bribery” as much as I thought. For some students the reward of playing as well as they want to is a long way off. This helps them work on the short term goals for short term rewards. It doesn’t take long to see a student quickly learning to save up and work harder for bigger rewards.
Ideally the music should be reward enough, but honestly there are even professional musicians who will admit to not practicing enough. If this helps people practice, in the end it is a positive thing.
10) Music Teacher’s Helper
I typically deal with 60 to 70 students per week and all of their individual needs. This program keeps me organized and on top of everything. The lesson reminders, the online registration, the electronic invoicing, the online payment options, and the homework reminders all help me look professional. The expense tracking function has finally made my taxes easy to prepare. And the experience of other instructors, offered through the MTH blog, has provided many tips to help improve my business and keep it thriving, despite the recession. This summer was one of my most successful seasons yet. I couldn’t imagine running my studio now without this program. Music Teacher’s Helper is an essential.
What other tools have you found “indispensable” for teaching? I encourage you to share them in the comments section.