Professional Development

 

Love ’em or hate ’em, computers are here to stay and are rapidly permeating most areas of our lives. Music is no exception.

There’s music software ranging from humble metronome and tuning duties, right through to sophisticated composition and recording, and everything in-between! In preparing the next generation of musicians, integrating music technology into our lessons is therefore an important aspect of our student’s development.

But where to start? What software should students use? Will it be expensive? What skills need to be taught?

Over the next few months I will looking at some of the basic concepts of music technology that I teach in my music lessons as well as sharing some advanced techniques learnt from my experiences as a freelance composer and producer.

So why incorporate music technology in lessons?

  • It brings exciting variety into the lessons for both us as teachers and for our students
  • Particularly good for engaging teenage boys but I’m equally pleased to see the enthusiasm of my female students too
  • Helps give us a “USP (unique selling point)” when students are looking for a new teacher
  • Playing back to students what they written or recorded and allowing them to “see” their music is a very powerful method of learning
  • Helps us stay relevant as teachers
  • Gives students skills that they will be need in the future

What software is available?

For simplicity, I would divide music software into three basic roles:

  1. Software for notating sheet music
  2. Software for recording
  3. Utility software for tuning, metronome duties, guitar pedal software, drum machines, soft synths, etc.

How much?!

The good news is you don’t have to spend a penny! There is much legitimate, free software out there and some of it is exceptional. Beware that there is a lot of illegal, cracked software that may be very tempting. As teachers, we need to set a good moral/ethical example to our students and their parents. Software developers rely on sales to fund future releases and cracked software often contains bugs that can cause serious problems.

Notation software

NoteFlight is a fantastic free web based product and has provided a very good starting point for lots of my students. As their skills develop, some students have upgraded to Sibelius First, which can later be upgraded to the industry standard Sibelius. It is worth mentioning Finale which is another highly respected notation package in the music industry.

Recording software

There are many great products available for recording. You many hear of them referred to as DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations).

Apple provide their free entry level product GarageBand on their iPhones, iPads and MacBooks which is simple to use and can later be updated to their flagship product Logic (available on Macs but not the iPhones or iPads). With the Apple Camera Kit and a USB cable (same as a USB printer cable), you can connect a midi keyboard to record music. Bluetooth keyboards are now available so that you don’t need to use cables anymore! Guitars and microphones can also be connected for use. IK Multimedia provide some great products for singers, guitarists and keyboard players to interface with their mobile devices for recording.

Cubase is a long respected DAW which has the benefit of being cross-platform (I run it on both my PCs and Macs) and has been my weapon of choice since I was 14! It comes in three flavours, Elements (entry-level), Artist and then the full version.

Finally, I would like to mention a website called MusicRadar which is a fantastic resource for learning about software products and learning about how to use music technology.

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No written music lesson policy? Here’s part of the phone conversation that motivated me to create mine:

“We’ll have to miss K’s lesson tonight. She has an extra dance rehearsal, and we can’t miss it, because we paid in advance. And there are no makeups.”

Last month I shared how I came to create a written lesson policy. In that post you’ll also find tuition concerns, payment options, registration fees, and what I offer in lessons.

Part II includes the remainder of my policies. These are things other teachers often ask me. I recommend reading several different teachers’ policies for ideas. Take the ones that seem right for you.

Cancellations and Make-ups

I dislike twiddling my thumbs waiting for a student who doesn’t show up. Fifteen minutes of waiting could be put to much better use. A written lesson policy may not guarantee that you’ll never have a no-show, but it can help.

My policy states that if they must cancel a lesson, parents should notify me by phone as soon as possible. Especially since someone else might be able to fill in that time slot.

If a student knows in advance that they must miss a lesson, they can use the Swap List (see below). Or they might use one of the master classes as a makeup. Here is where I place my disclaimer: “Please understand. Tuition remains the same no matter how many of the scheduled lessons the student uses. Unlike some professionals, I can’t take walk-ins or resell the lesson time, nor can I create extra teaching times in which to give make-up lessons. Tuition covers much more than the lesson time itself. Therefore, there are no refunds, reductions or credits for student-missed lessons, nor make-ups available (except in certain cases listed below).”

Master classes cannot be carried over to a new semester and won’t be rescheduled.

If students must miss lessons for an extended time and can’t swap, their slot is reserved if they pay by semester or continue their equal monthly payments. I’ve had students who get involved in a sport or other activity who appreciate not losing their lesson time. And I don’t lose income.

In case of true emergencies (e.g. emergency room visit or death in the family) or a real or contagious illness (not sniffles, tired, had a party or an orthodontist appointment), they can go on a three-week Cancellation List. If anyone else cancels in the three weeks following their missed lesson, they may opt to come then. I tell them there are no guarantees that a time will open.

I teach during bad weather unless it seems to me too dangerous for people to be on the road. Many teachers close whenever the public schools are closed. But I have several adults and home-educated students. So I often stay open. Others are welcome to use the Swap List, go on the three-week Cancellation List, or consider a master class as a makeup.

I offer a Facetime lesson when weather happens. This has worked beautifully. We’ve even had success playing learning games at a distance.

A no-show is not eligible for the Swap List or three-week Cancellation List.

If I’m the one to cancel, I’ll credit a future lesson or try to find time for a make-up. I will do everything possible to contact parents, the students themselves, or their schools ahead of time. If all else fails, I tell them I’ll tape a note to my front door. Therefore, they should always be certain the student is safely inside the house before they leave. And if someone else is driving them, please make sure they know this. No one wants a child sitting alone on the doorstep!

Swap List

The Swap List has been a much-loved resource among my families.

As soon as students know they must miss a lesson, they can request a current list of participating families. The list is in the form of a daily schedule. Parents’ names, phone numbers and emails are included.

My lesson policy includes Swap List guidelines:

  • Notify me if you must miss a lesson. I will email you the current Swap List with names, numbers, and times.
  • The parent who requests the swap is responsible to let me know so I can prepare for the correct student.
  • All swaps must be done PARENT to PARENT. Students are NEVER to arrange their own. I will not arrange swaps.
  • If there is confusion, and two students show up for the same lesson, I will teach the one whose lesson is normally at that time. I will not offer a make-up lesson.
  • Students have 30, 45 or 60 minute lessons. If there is a choice, please swap with someone who has the same length lesson. Otherwise, you’re stuck with that person’s amount of time.

What to Bring to Lessons

  • An appropriate tote. I’ve had students show up with their materials in various states of ruination. Crammed into tiny totes, awkward boxes whose lids fly open or won’t open, paper sacks or plastic grocery bags. So I specify a sturdy tote larger than the largest book they have. Some teachers provide totes, with the cost absorbed into the registration fee. This can be an advertising opportunity, if you have your studio’s name and logo on the tote.
  • A binder with dividers and assignment sheets, which I provide. This should come to each lesson.
  • Instrument. If students take lessons other than piano or voice, they must bring their own instrument. It boggles the mind, but I can’t count the times students have shown up for lessons with no instrument. If they come without their instrument, they’ll spend their lesson listening to youtube performances or doing note reading activities.
  • All music and materials. When I say all, it’s because of how often things get left behind. If they come with no books, they’ll likely sightread for the lesson. I’ll sometimes show mercy if they are usually responsible. We might play music games.

Lesson Materials

Many teachers include materials in their registration fees. Some ask to be reimbursed. Others expect parents to go to the music store themselves. If you choose the latter, I suggest calling the store ahead to have them set aside the materials for that student. This avoids the problem of parents purchasing the wrong items, wasting weeks.

Some teachers keep a lending library of materials for students. If this is the case, be sure to keep good records. Music Teachers Helper has a feature for tracking such items and will notify you when they are due to be returned.

Practice Expectations

The longer I teach, the more I expect students to practice. Non-practice equals boredom and discouragement. Failure.

Almost yearly I revise my lesson policy concerning practice. My incentive programs can help motivate them. But parents must accept responsibility if they want lessons at my studio.

While raising our sons, the rule was simple. Like many things, practice was non-negotiable. You brush your teeth. You do your homework. You practice your instruments. Period.

The goal is to practice each week’s assignment until it is well prepared.

Calendar 

I like to send a calendar to families at the start of a semester. It’s tentative. But it’s better to have that than nothing. Rather than simply the dates, I send mini calendars. I have found that months-at-a-glance stick better than words alone.

One-Sheet 

I’ve create a one-sheet—a single page with the most-often needed studio policies in brief. You might’ve noticed my lesson policy is thorough (i.e. long!). When I get a new family, we go over the pages together. After that, they won’t need to read seven pages to remind themselves about makeups or cancellations. The one-sheet provides needed information in one spot.

I include the following:

  • Contact information
  • Fee and payment schedule
  • Who to write the check to
  • Cancellation and no makeups policy
  • Teacher cancellation
  • What to bring
  • Dates to remember

Registration Forms

It seems every year I tweak my Registration Forms to make them clearer and shorter. I research others’ forms for ideas. I head each page with my studio’s name and the current year.

Page One of Registration Form

  • Tuition
  • Registration fee
  • Payment options
    • Choose 30, 45 or 60 minutes
    • Pay by semester or in equal monthly payments
  • Whether they’d like to be included on the Swap List
  • Agree to involvement in practice (I specify what I hope for under “Practice Expectations”).

Page Two of Registration Forms

This is the Student Information form, parts of which must be filled out separately for each student. I include:

  • Student’s name
  • Student’s school and grade
  • Student’s birthday
  • Who the student lives with
  • Home mailing address
  • Information the teacher should know regarding custody, contact, sharing of information, and who is allowed to pick up the student from lessons
  • Who to contact in case of emergency
  • Best email address to reach them and whether they check email daily
  • Best phone number to reach them
  • Mother’s name, phone, work number
  • Father’s name, phone, work number
  • Allergies or other health concerns
  • Learning style or issue—to help the teacher
  • Behavioral, emotional or other issues the teacher should be aware of
  • Extra-curricular activities, including whether these might affect lessons
  • Hobbies, interests, likes
  • Instrument used for practice: acoustic piano or digital. If digital, how many keys it has and whether they’re weighted, and if there’s a damper pedal. If guitar, I need to know whether they practice on an acoustic or electric.
  • Possible times to meet if they play an instrument other than piano, for the purpose of checking out the student’s instrument prior to the first lesson

Page Three of Registration Forms

The form they’ll sign includes:

  • Name of student(s)
  • This statement “I have read and I understand the document titled Studio Policies for Steinweg Studio of Music 20_ _ Teaching Year in which the following studio policies were covered in greater detail.” I go on to list the main headings of my lesson policy
  • A box to check which will allow the teacher to post photos of student(s) on social media
  • The statement “I agree to abide by studio policies as stated in the above-mentioned document. I agree not to hold Robin Steinweg or Steinweg Studio of Music responsible for any injuries that may occur to students, family or friends at recitals, in the teacher’s studio or home, or while on the teacher’s property.”

NOTE: the disclaimer about injuries may not hold up in a court of law. You should probably research what your home owner’s insurance covers, and whether you need further insurance.

What About You?

Do you have a written lesson policy? If you have different ideas or include items I don’t have, we’d like to hear from you. We grow by sharing with one another, and your input might be of real value to a reader.

A lesson policy can protect and provide relief to teachers, students and families.

Comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So you want to explain a music theory concept simply and then give your student an exercise to help reenforce the point. Enter the website musictheory.net. This is a fabulous resource for teachers and students alike. Best of all it’s free!

Lessons

Here are a series of diagrams laid out logically with little animations to explain various topics of music theory. Although there is accompanying text for self-study, these resources are flexible enough for a music teacher to give their own customised commentary. Using the forward and back arrows, it is easy to navigate through the presentations.

Exercises

This has definitely been a very useful area of the website for my students over the years. There are a great many exercises to test theory concepts. What I’ve appreciated about the design of these tests is that there is no time pressure, which is helpful for allowing some thinking time to the student grappling with a new concept. The best thing about this area is, right towards the bottom of the list, under the heading “FOR TEACHERS” is a page called “Exercise Customizer.” Here you can go to town very easily perfecting the test for the individual needs of your student and then you can copy and paste the unique link to share with them via email or another messaging service. Some of the tests are generic to all instruments and others are specific to keyboards and guitars.

Tools

There are some handy utilities under this section like “Tempo Tapper” which very quickly analyses the speed of your tapping and generates a metronome figure in beats per minute. This is useful for discreetly working out how fast or slow a student is playing their piece compared with what tempo it should be. “Staff Paper Generator” quickly produces manuscript paper you can print for free. “Pop-up Piano” is useful to play or mark notes on a virtual piano keyboard.

Products

The man who has provided this wonderful website for free, helps fund the project from the sales of his two apps for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. One is called “Theory Lessons” and the other “Tenuto” which are basically enhanced and offline versions of his website materials. The quality of these two apps is outstanding and make a nice progression if you wish to support his work.

This website is a gem of a find and infinitely useful. If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly recommend you take a look at musictheory.net

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