Ed Pearlman

Ed Pearlman

Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the country. He tours, often with his son Neil, a pianist in Scottish/jazz/Latin/funk styles. Ed directed the Boston Scottish Fiddle Club for 18 years, including major concerts and festivals. He has 3 CDs of his own and appears on others. His primary expertise is in Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle styles, but Ed plays other Celtic, American, and Canadian fiddle music, classical, some jazz, klez and Hungarian. For ten years he ran a CD distribution company to bring music to the USA from Scotland, Atlantic Canada, Ireland, Brittany and Wales. Ed has written the music column for Scottish Life magazine since 1996.

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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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!

 

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

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How much of your teaching depends on a student’s self-discipline? Is self-discipline natural to them, enforced by parents, or taught? What even is self-discipline?

Lots of studies have shown that self-control leads to success in learning, and in life itself — and yet, a new book reviewing psychological studies on this subject suggests that many of us may have an outdated understanding of self-discipline.

New Year’s resolutions are infamous for uncovering how hard it is to follow up on our annual bold promises to knuckle down and get everything right in the new year.

We try to deny it, but we know it’s true — forcing yourself to be disciplined often means fighting with yourself. The toll it takes is not only emotional, but physical. One study showed that it causes premature aging of immune cells.

Forced willpower is stressful — it increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety levels.

David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, just published a book in January called Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

He has found that compassion, gratitude and genuine pride (as opposed to hubris or arrogance) actually act to lower the heart rate, blood pressure, and to decrease anxiety and depression, while increasing people’s motivation to take on and persevere in difficult tasks.

Why? Because these emotions involve relationships with people. People go out of their way to help others, to do for others, to fulfill promises. Studies have actually measured that people who feel these emotions are willing to persevere 30% longer at tasks than people who make themselves do the work out of self-control.

Relationships are rewarding; self-control is in itself lonely and can actually be harmful over the long term. There seems to be an epidemic of loneliness these days, and its health effects are becoming better known.

How does this tie into teaching music? It makes us think about our priorities.

Here are a few ideas:

Generosity — consider giving students some materials free or at cost. Giving a few extra minutes at a lesson or outside of lessons if students have questions. Help them look at a new instrument even though you may not be paid for that time. Give an annual certificate or gift! Lending a hand in these ways will make many students grateful to you for your help. All teachers have run into students who may take advantage of their time, but you can draw lines, and to really motivate your students, it may be best to err on the side of generosity.

Friendly relationships with students are huge motivators for students, and we have choices all the time on how to build these relationships. Music Teachers Helper is a great aid by providing transparency for billing and payments, reminders of upcoming lessons, and emailed lesson notes, for example. When simply teaching a skill, it’s worth being aware of your language and whether you are building a relationship or forcing compliance.

This is not about treating students with kid gloves but about genuine connections. It is important for students to feel challenged and to see that they can rise to those challenges, but how the challenges are delivered can make or break your relationships. There are teachers who feel the need to use threats, demands, and even practicing contracts, but these types of interactions are likely to increase stress and reduce long-term success. The same can be said about the focus of some music teachers on teaching a fear of mistakes rather than a desire to play musically.

Social elements in learning — creating a community feeling can have a huge impact on student loyalty, sense of compassion and gratitude. Including group classes, recitals or playalongs, hosting a music party, and having one student help another can all help build relationships that motivate learning far better than enforcing old-style concepts of self-discipline.

I like to think that there are two kinds of discipline — external and internal. The external kind is the kind you often see exercised by school administrators, through rules and punishments, in the hopes of building good habits through tough love, and yes, fear. The internal kind you see instilled by good teachers who model enjoyment and quality, and develop curiosity, desire, and yes, fulfilling relationships with the teacher and other students.

As a music teacher, you certainly have thoughts on this far-reaching subject!

I hope you will share your comments.

 

Photo by Angello Lopez on Unsplash

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