Music Teacher's Helper Blog

A Summer Change of Pace ~ Lessons, Workshops, Camps???

AN ONGOING CONCERN for many independent music teachers is the change of commitment level of students during the summer months. While some teachers enjoy the usually lightened studio schedule during the summer months, most of us depend on our teaching as our livelihood and have bills that do not go away during this time. I would love to hear your ideas, especially those of you that have been successful at insuring yourselves regular employment year long!

ESTABLISHING A SUMMER REQUIREMENT (a minimum number of lessons, with the option of replacing some private lessons with one of the various summer workshops), has been most helpful for me in keeping things going in my studio.  Though I  cannot really make anyone take classes, the ones that do are assured their slot, or first choice of times in my schedule when the school year comes back around.  My students and parents seem to really enjoy the flexibility with having a couple of options for summer lessons and a variety of supplemental classes.  I can pretty much count on earning at least two out of the three months salary this way, and usually bring on a few new students by offering the workshops to my students as well as students outside my studio. Those who want to do above and beyond the minimum requirement, and anyone who is responsible for an outside registrant receive a 20% discount on a class or monthly tuition charge.  This has been a motivator for some, taking advantage to afford extra music involvement for their child, or additional siblings. New students have also joined the studio through these summer referrals.

AS I PONDER MY CLASS OFFERINGS for this coming summer workshops, I am reflecting back to past years. Which classes were most successful and most popular? Which ones am I feeling enthusiastic about teaching again? Which ones brought in new students? Which ones stretched or broadened my current students the most? All of these things are important considerations.  I have learned from last year’s experience to limit my offerings to a few subjects that will fit the student interests that particular year. Offering too many different classes can end up with you using lots of your time and resources to teach many small classes. I tend to enjoy most having six students in my workshops, give or take (depending on the subject and activities that will be involved.  This allows enough for good interaction, games, and good hourly wage and at the same time is a manageable number (most of the time!)

It has worked well for me to distribute brochures, giving extras to my students to share with friends and school music teachers. I usually post a few on church bulletin boards and local music stores.  Thenthere’s the whole question regarding how to market your summer program, what to call it, if you want a catchy heading for your brochure, etc.  Working on my brochure, I remembered a recent comment,   “Do you think kids are really going to want to sign up for something called a WORKshop in the summer??? You need to call it a CAMP! Camp sounds like more fun!”  I sure don’t like to think that everything has to have “fun” as the prerequisite to be successful with kids. But of course, it sure does help nowadays, doesn’t it? We’re competing with church camp, horse camp, Lego camp, sports camp, and a myriad of others. I know my students think music is fun, but some of the most valuable things in life require WORK too! If the title on the brochure is too fun and childlike, my high school kids won’t find it as appealing, and I find they’re a bit difficult to reel in this time of the year anyway! So, two brochures? Maybe one brochure, half fun/child appealing and half cool and sophisticated for the more mature group? Actually, I haven’t tried the idea of separate brochures or sections to target the different age groups yet…maybe this time I’ll go with that approach.

STUDENTS HAVE ENJOYED and benefited greatly from a change of pace and material over the summer vacation (pianist adding voice or composition lessons, singers learning some basic piano and chords or songwriting to help round them out as musicians. )  Some have even added  additional lessons in a new area of study with me for the following school year because of having been introduced through a summer workshop.

Here are some of the workshops I have offered over the years. The ones with asterisk were most popular and successful in recent years, and will be among the choices for my future summer offerings:

  • Musicianship and Techniques for Singers
  • Songwriting*
  • Theater Prep*
  • Keyboards for Worship*
  • Classical Composition
  • Jazz & Improvisation*
  • Piano Chops (technique builders)
  • Theory for Singers (adult course)
  • Theory Games
  • Music History

I’m sure many of you have other great ideas for keeping students motivated and in your studios over the summer months. Please share your ideas by replying with a brief (or not so brief) comment to this blog article! We’d love to hear from you!

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  1. Barb Ennis

    I think it’s a great idea if you’re offering workshops or camps to make them appeal to and to market to a wider audience than just your regular students. Wonderful ideas above!

    If running a camp is too much for you to do yourself, pair up with another music teacher, maybe even one from another town, and offer the same camp in both locations different weeks.

    For myself, I do not depend on my teaching income for a living. My first year teaching I planned to take the summer off, but some of my students didn’t like the idea! So, working around our family summer schedule, I found a few days here and there I could offer for teaching. This year I will send out a notice after I’ve put some available lesson times on my Music Teacher’s Helper online calendar and let them book their own summer lessons, as many or as few as they wish.

    I will also use July and August to schedule free trial lessons and select a few more regular students for next fall from my waiting list.

  2. David Edwards

    I am the sole “bread-winner” in our home. My wife teaches school to our 4 children. Our summers used to be “the black hole” financially, because of the phenomenon you speak of. Several years ago, we began realizing we needed 52 weeks of pay like most everyone else, so we added monthly Performance/Music History classes of about 90 minutes in length. We hold several to accommodate all the students (classes are anywhere from 4-10 in number of students). One year we did some interesting composition classes. This year we really dug into the 1’st 5 of Beethoven’s symphonies (all of this in addition to playing prepared pieces for each other). In addition to these we do about 4-5 public recitals – some low-key like playing Christmas music in an assisted living home, to pretty important like our end-of-the-year Chamber Recital. All of these classes and extra rehearsals add up to 52 sessions (or more sometimes). We get all of these done in about a 10 month period. We have each student sign a 1-year commitment letter. We thank God, these things have helped us a great deal, and I know the students are benefiting from the commitment and constant playing. Also, very, very few negative words from parents about all this. I recommend being creative to get the money coming in. If we don’t make a decent amount, we stop doing this, and a lot of sweet little kids will miss that particular gift of teaching that God has made us for and that only we can provide for them in just the way that we do. I say, earn what you should to stay in the business.

  3. Christine Schumann

    Barb and David, thank you both so much for your contribution to this topic!

    Barb, I especially like the ideas of letting people do their own booking on the Music Teachers Helper website calendar through the summer, and offering free trial lessons during this period as a way to field new students for the fall!

    David, I’ve been really considering revamping my payment plan, and I love what you’ve done. I think I will look into something similar!

    Thank you for taking the time to read my article, and for your valuable comments!

    Musically yours,

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