Archives for 27 Mar,2018

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Guitar classes for groups–do you have questions about how to conduct them? 

I have a first article about guitar classes at MTH dealing with details like age ranges, finding a location, group dynamics, materials to use, policies and how much to charge. Below you will find the nitty-gritty of actual class times, songs to choose, and more.

In an 2014 article, I gave week-by-week specifics of a class I was teaching at the time.

Here are things I wish I’d heard before starting my first classes.

 

First Things First

Do they have working guitars?

  • I prefer not to mess with amps, so I require a six-string acoustic—either nylon or steel will do.
  • I need to see their guitars ahead of time unless they tell me the manufacturer and that they recently purchased it from a store I know and trust. I’ve had students show up with guitars so warped they couldn’t be tuned, strings so far off the fingerboard it would take a bench vise to press them to the guitar, strings missing, and strings so old my fingers turned black touching them—and they appeared ready to break at first touch.
  • I want to know if the guitar will hold its tuning. I’d hate to be in class before I discover it must be re-tuned every three minutes! (If you’re thinking that sounds like a toy guitar and that I’ve been in this situation, you would be correct. Don’t ask. It was turquoise blue plastic, so it should have had a great tone, don’t you know.)
  • If I have time, I’ll put new strings on for them. If there’s more wrong with it than strings, I make recommendations to rent one, buy a new one, or get theirs repaired.
  • I keep a watch-out at garage sales for decent guitars, and sometimes rent them to students until they learn enough to go looking for one for themselves. I go through a policy sheet with renters, educating them about the care of the instrument.

While I’m checking out the instrument, I can get to know the student a little. Find out what music they’re interested in, and what they already know (or don’t know) about music in general and guitar in particular.

 

The actual teaching time

Planning is essential!!!!

What do you hope to cover over the course? Jot down ideas and put them in a logical sequence. You might consult a beginner guitar method for ideas.  You might try Alfred’s, FJH or Hal Leonard.

  • Basics: guitar parts, finger numbers, string numbers, fret numbers, how to read a chord chart.
  • Music reading basics: staff, lines and spaces, quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, the music alphabet…
    • I only get into notes on the staff if I have at least ten weeks or a semester.
    • I find out if anyone has had piano lessons. If so, that person can be of help.
  • Rhythm basics: if you have the luxury of time, you can get into reading rhythms. Otherwise, consider how you’ll “check their pulse.” Will you have them clap rhythms after you? Or perhaps strum across their open strings?

If you prefer a ready-made group guitar course, look at Mel Bay, Jerry Snyder or the adult group class book by Alfred’s.

How much time will it take to tune the instruments at the start of each class?

Will I hold one complete class to teach them to change strings?

In a group you might not spend as much time with students individually. You certainly can’t let the rest of the group sit doing nothing while you work with one person. If you have a strategy in place, you can get the class going on something while you spend a couple minutes with one student. Plan for that time.

Ideas for what to do with the group while helping an individual:

  1. Use a backing track you’ve pre-recorded. I use my digital music recorder to create mp3s for them. You could have tracks with a two-chord or three-chord progression. Spend enough time on each chord to allow for students who are changing chords very slowly. You could add a metronome click on the recording to help them keep the tempo. I send an mp3 of tuning notes, too.
    • Early beginners might do a downstroke on each beat.
    • Some might be able to manage a two-four or four-four strum.
    • If you have a more advanced student, he or she could practice a simple finger-picking pattern or even power chords.
    • Show them the bass note of the chords. Some could simply play the bass along with the progression.
    • This way you have an ensemble going. How exciting for the group!

When they can play along easily, you might play the same progressions with some sort of groove, or in different styles. The fun factor shoots higher.

  1. If you have one or two students who have mastered some chord changes, instruct them to lead a certain number of measures on each chord.
  2. Allow time for each student to work on their own piece while you work with individuals. This could take up fifteen minutes of class, or whatever you determine works for you. If the noise level is too distracting, have students mute their strings with a cloth or sponge under them.

 

Be on the Lookout for Songs to Teach

Look for lists of songs with two, three or four chords. Do a search for two-chord country, folk, kids’, or rock songs. Do the same for more chords. Try The Guitar Three-Chord Songbook by Hal Leonard, which includes fifty songs in the first volume. There are three volumes, another book of 3-chord worship songs, acoustic songs, etc.

How often do chords change? Choose songs that stay on each chord for awhile before switching, especially in the first few weeks. Gradually add songs that have quicker chord changes.

Make sure you give plenty of chord review by teaching more songs.

If the first two chords you use are the I and V in a key, let the next chord you add be the IV chord in the same key. After that, your next key could be related. Example: start in the key of G (G, D, C), and go to the key of D next, which adds only one new chord (D, G, A). Or instead of going to the key of D, you might simply add G’s vi chord (Em), for their first four-chord song.

There are dozens of two-chord songs. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of three-chord songs, and no end to four-chord songs!

 

Train up Future Worship/Praise Band Members

Many churches these days have worship bands. Who will train the next generation of musicians?

Perhaps the church would allow you to teach in their facility for free. Find out their present song list. Often these choruses have three to five chords. YouTube can be a super tool to help your students learn the songs. You could look into Spotify to create a playlist for them.

Inspirational music can be of great encouragement to others, too. Have your students share these songs at a park or other venue.

 

Find performance opportunities for your students

What motivates students to practice more than knowing they’ll be performing in public?

Christmas is a wonderful time to get your students playing. Set up a time for your studio to ring the bell for Salvation Army, and have them bring their guitars and fingerless gloves!

But don’t wait for Christmas. Set up mini-recitals at the local assisted living homes, memory-care units, or nursing homes. The residents not only enjoy it, but music gets brain cells firing like almost nothing else. And the benefits to students go far beyond the musical realm.

Libraries often welcome musical programs.

How about some easy listening at a coffee shop?

 

Wrapping it up

I like to invite guest guitarists to play for the class from time to time. Especially former students! I encourage them to mention how difficult it was at first, and what practice did for them. Also what guitar means to them now. Let them talk about what vocals and other instruments, listening to music, and playing with other musicians means to them.

Before the guest guitarist visits, teach your class a piece your guest will know. Tell the guest so (s)he can prepare something special on the song. Invite the class to play along with the guest on that piece.

Mini-recital to end each class. Spend the final five to ten minutes letting students volunteer to show the others some improvement, what they learned today, or a new song. I never qualify this suggestion by saying “if you’re comfortable” or mentioning nerves. I’ve found that if I’m matter-of-fact about it, most students simply do it. No big deal. I’ll show them what I’m working on currently, too.

A short recital could be your grand finale for the group session. Sometimes I’ve taught them a song they can share at a local church for special music. If it’s well-known, the whole congregation might be invited to join in singing, with your class accompanying.

If you happen to teach voice, recorder or ukulele as well, perhaps you could combine all of your groups for a few pieces!

Group classes can create buzz to promote your studio. And you can use Music Teachers Helper to do your bookkeeping and provide a website!

I hope you’ll give serious thought to teaching group guitar classes. You can reach and influence so many more people with your music!

Let us know some of your experiences in the comments. Music Teachers Helper readers would appreciate hearing your ideas.

 

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  • How can I get my piano students to play musically?
  • Will they ever learn to truly perform rather than just play?
  • How can I help them to become more confident music readers?

These are some of the challenges that Alison Mathews has addressed in her new book “Doodles” published by Editions Musica Ferrum.

Aimed at beginners to around grade 3 (ABRSM), this chunky book contains 128 little pieces of 4-8 bars (measures) arranged in four difficulty levels.

Now the interesting part! Rather than name each piece, Mathews has provided a small picture, often an emoji, hence the title “Doodles,” which is meant to inspire a mood in the music student. She has also given lots of interesting directions like, “playfully – fish are chasing in the coral” or “fast and furious – what else could you do to make it sound stormy?” I love how at the centre of these short activities the emphasis is on performance. The pupil just simply can’t resist but will soon be inspired to create their own pieces. Watch out John Williams, we will all be writing shark music at this rate!

An interesting feature is the use of the same pieces at each level but with increased difficulty and technique. This a great way to help a student see how to develop a composition. I can see my pupils having lots of fun improvising with these pieces and using them as the basis of their own compositions. Young pupils love engaging their imagination, so this book will inspire them not only to be better readers of music but more importantly, to play with feeling and understanding.

Lots of different playing techniques are explored through the pieces and are an intrinsic part of each song. Legato, staccato, dynamics, tremolandi and glissandi are all represented. I’ve even picked up a tip for helping young pupils to play a glissando without hurting their fingers by using a roll of sellotape!

My only criticism is that there are no key signatures used. I’m very keen on introducing a sense of key very early in development but this is a “minor” grumble compared with the fantastic way that musicality is being taught here. Maybe this is an issue that could be addressed in later editions or subsequent volumes.

For its ability to inspire musicality in such a fun and engaging way, this book gets a big thumbs up from me.

To purchase the book, click here.

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Tax time! If you’re like me, you do it yourself but wait till the last minute!

Partly, no doubt, because it’s a pain and because it’s hard to know sometimes what you’re required to do. Here are some tips that I hope will help out. I’ve tried to tailor it to what’s most relevant to musicians.

I will say one good thing about taxes.  Most small businesses that fail do so because of poor planning, and it’s my belief that because the IRS requires businesses to keep track of income and expenses, and analyze them regularly, many American businesses are far more successful than they would have been without being forced to do that work!  Okay, on to the task at hand!

Keep in mind that tax laws have been changing right and left, so the best way to file taxes is probably to use one of the free online tax software programs approved by the IRS – just visit this link and click on one of the two blue buttons – one if you make less than $66,000 and the other if you make more than that. You’ll see which free software is available for you or you can use their “wizard” to determine the best software for you.

The reason that software is so helpful is that the makers incorporate all the latest tax law changes and walk you through any questions you need to answer.  What they don’t necessarily help you do is categorize your income and expenses as a music teacher/performer. That’s what we’ll take a look at here.

If you are employed by a school, you can use your W2 form to handle your taxes easily, through the online software.

Most music teachers and performers, however, are at least partly self-employed, and this income needs to be filed on a Schedule C form, where you can list your income, your assets (such as CD inventory), and your expenses, which end up being deducted from your income before it is reported on Form 1040 to calculate your taxes. The bottom line is also reported on your self-employment tax, which is often the larger portion of your tax. This is reported on Form SE, which is filled out for you if you use tax software. The self-employment tax includes both the employer portion (you) and the employee portion (also you!) and can add up to about 30% of your income after deductions. It’s a really good idea to set aside 1/3 of your income for this tax, preferably in a special business account, so you don’t get blindsided at tax time. Nowadays you can work out a payment plan or credit card payments for your taxes, but boy, credit card interest will cost you big time, so it’s best to plan ahead. Start now for next year!

If you have owed over $1,000 for taxes, you need to plan to pay 25% of what you are likely to owe in estimated tax payments on April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15. It’s a pain but you will be assessed a penalty and interest if you don’t do it.

All the information below is assuming you are filing a Schedule C to report income and expenses from your own business. Before even collecting your financial information, check out the categories you’ll need to split them into, by looking at or printout a Schedule C and by reading the instructions for it, which can be very helpful.

 


INCOME

Your income can be easily tracked by Music Teachers Helper. Just run a financial report showing your income and expenses for the full calendar year. You may well have other sources of income as well. You can simplify things by entering those all along in your Music Teachers Helper account, or keep track of it on a spreadsheet or account book of your own. One solution for simplifying this is to have all your business income be deposited or transferred (from PayPal, etc.) to a business account. Then you can use statements from that one account to track all of your income.

EXPENSES

It’s helpful to collect your information based on the actual lines on Schedule C where you have to report this information, so that’s how this section is organized. Your business expenses are deductble if they are considered ordinary and necessary for you to do your business. This part requires the most work to keep track of – you’re supposed to keep your business receipts as proof of expenses, which is a little trickier these days when the only evidence is often an online charge. If you want to make things easier on yourself at tax time, put your receipts into folders or envelopes by month, or better yet, enter them into a spreadsheet at some point each month. This makes it a lot easier to even know which expenses were for business because they’re fresher in your mind – for example, did you buy office supplies at CVS, or was it toothpaste? A credit card charge won’t tell you this. There are also software and apps out there to help you, by letting you scan and keep track of your receipts, though their learning curve and the amount of regular work they require might affect whether you find them truly useful. One obvious place to store your expenses is in Music Teacher Helper, where you can enter and catalog your expenses, and have it all show up in your annual financial report of income and expense.

 


 

ADVERTISING:

Schedule C, line 8. Take a look at these examples, to get a good idea of what the IRS considers “advertising” suitable for your business expenses:

  • promotional photos and videos
  • brochures, mailers, flyers
  • newspaper, magazine, TV, radio ads
  • fees for listing services, PR services
  • website creation and hosting expenses (Music Teachers Helper can fit in here or see below under Supplies)
  • promotional giveaways such as CDs (deduct your cost)
  • signs, banners, bumper stickers
  • stationery
  • ads on the web, in Yellow Pages
  • marketing emails or direct mail
  • costs for promotional events
  • business cards

 

CAR EXPENSES:

Schedule C, Line 9. If you keep a log of your miles driven, dates and destinations, you can get a “standard deduction” based on that mileage, which the IRS figures will cover your gas and maintenance for the car – over 50 cents per mile (the exact amount changes each year). You probably drive to gigs or to places where you teach. If you teach at a school, you can’t deduct the mileage commuting to and from the school, but if you teach at two locations you can deduct the miles going from one to the other. If you teach mostly at home, you can deduct the cost of driving elsewhere to teach, and of course performers can deduct mileage for going to rehearsals, gigs, and any travel expenses other than personal travel (visiting a friend or doing a personal chore) while you are on tour. Don’t forget to track your tolls and parking costs. Maintenance and gas is included in the standard deduction. If you rent a car, the cost is deducted under Equipment (see Line 20), but the gas for a rental car can be deducted separately. This information can be listed on Schedule C, but some information may need to be placed on Form 4562, and again, your tax software (remember, it’s free now online!) will determine this and fill it out for you.

 

PAYING OTHER MUSICIANS:

If you book a gig and pay other musicians, you’ll list their fees on line 10 for “commissions and fees.”

 

INSTRUMENT INSURANCE:

If you pay for instrument insurance or liability insurance for your studio, this expense can go on line 15 for insurance (other than health).

 

PAYING PROFESSIONALS:

If you hire lighting, sound, recording, piano tuning, legal, or accounting help, etc., you can list these expenses in line 17 for Legal and Professional Services.

 

OFFICE EXPENSES:

Line 18. Many expenses you would think are office expenses are actually supposed to be listed under “Supplies” so check that paragraph below (line 22) to spot the deductions that apply to you.

  • postage
  • business membership fees to office supply stores like Costco & Sam’s Club
  • pickup and delivery services
  • bottled water delivery
  • costs for backing up data
  • office decorating expenses
  • cable or phone line if separate for your office

 

RENT:

If you rent a car, you can list the expense in Schedule C, line 20a. If you rent teaching studio space, or space to hold recitals, you can list these expenses on the Schedule C in line 20b.

 

INSTRUMENT REPAIRS:

If you pay for rehairing your bow or fixing a ding in your trumpet or keys for your piano, for example, or have other maintenance costs, you can list these on line 21. If your piano tuner also repairs something you can list it here or under Professional Services.

 

SUPPLIES:

Line 22. You might presume some of these expenses fit in the “Office expense” category, so take a look at these examples of “Supplies”:

  • music stands, cases, gig bags, transportation carts
  • reeds, picks, oil, strings
  • sheet music, music paper, notebooks
  • tuners, effects pedals, metronomes
  • mutes, mouthpieces, microphones
  • books for a curriculum
  • monitors, amplifiers, speakers
  • blank media, CDs, tapes, recorders, memory cards
  • performance wardrobe
  • cords, cables
  • music filing envelopes and boxes
  • bottled water for performances
  • reference books, study guides
  • GPS systems, map guides
  • pens, pencils, paper, paper clips, tape, staples, staplers
  • printer supplies
  • whiteboard, markers
  • stamps, labels, envelopes, mailers
  • software for keeping track of billing and expenses (Music Teachers Helper could fit in here or see above under Advertising — as long as you don’t duplicate your expense, either category is justifiable)

 

DUES, LICENSES AND FEES: line 23

  • copyright fees
  • union dues
  • social security, medicare and unemployment taxes
  • professional license fees
  • dues and fees for professional organizations

 

TRAVEL:

Deduct airfares, buses, trains, hotels, and other travel expenses on line 24a.

 

MEALS AND ENTERTAINMENT:

Line 24b lets you list your meals. If you eat while on tour or meeting, for example with an interview subject, agent, editor, agent, manager, lawyer, accountant, or with colleagues at an event or retreat to do with your work, you can deduct 50% of your food expenses – the tax software will calculate this. You can also deduct tickets to performances that relate to your work, because that is research in your field.

 

HOME OFFICE:

Line 30 and Form 8829 (your software will handle that!) If you regularly use your home for teaching, office work, and inventory, this deduction is an accurate reflection of some of the necessary expenses that should be deducted from your income. Because some have abused this deduction, it can be a red flag for IRS audits, so it’s not worth claiming if you don’t gain much from it, not to mention that it can be a pain to gather the information you need for it. You’ll need to know the square footage of your business area and the square footage of your entire living space; you’ll need to collect utilities bills and other home expenses for the year that are partially used by your business. You have a much clearer case for a home office if the space you use for work is exclusively used for that purpose, especially if, for example, your teaching studio has its own entrance. You can also deduct the value of office equipment, although the value of big items like computers are supposed to be spread out over multiple years, and there are IRS calculators for how these items lose value over time. You should look up the “section 179” exception, however, which allows you to take a deduction for the full cost of equipment (including musical instruments) in the year you purchased them, though this doesn’t help you if that amount more than wipes out your income for that year – in that case,, you might want to spread out the deduction so it can help you in future years as well, by using the formulas for depreciation of those items. This is all a part of the tax software. The tax software will ask you questions about your home office and take you through what information you need to supply, and will use that information to fill out Form 8829.

 

Part III Cost of Goods Sold: 

A little complicated and I’m not going get into too much detail here, but this applies if you make CDs, store and sell them. You don’t get to deduct the cost of making the CDs because the CDs themselves are valued at the cost you paid for them, so theoretically you didn’t spend that money, you still have it in the form of the CDs! The Cost of Goods Sold section requires that you start with the value of your inventory (cost paid for it) at the beginning of the year (must be the same as ending inventory from last year), and add any purchases, and by deducting the value at the end of the year, it calculates the cost of the difference, which represents the cost of the CDs that you sold that year. You report the income from selling those CDs, and this form deducts the cost you paid to make just the ones you sold. Line 36 lets you deduct the value of any CDs you sent out for review or used as comps or for personal gifts.

 


 

I hope all this helps!  Keep in mind that I’m not an accountant and am only sharing my years of experience in doing my own taxes as a musician and as owner or director of several related organizations.  As I mentioned above, tax laws keep changing, so if you have questions, be sure to check with the IRS (they can be very helpful!) or an accountant.

Best of luck!

 

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