Professional Development

Are your studio policies where you want them? Do you have policies?

If you run a school of music, a studio, or teach in your home, then you are a professional. You are an independent music instructor. A business person. You offer a vital service to your community. Your policies should reflect a level of respect for yourself as such. As a result, others will respect you. They will appreciate that your policies protect their interests as well.

How I came to believe in policies

I taught out of my home studio successfully for fourteen years with no written policies in place. I took a five-year break while my sons were young. When I started up again, it was with a greater need to help our family’s finances. I was surprised to find the landscape had changed. After-school activities had mushroomed, making the competition fierce for time and commitment. Parents or sitters taxied children from one activity to the next, barely having time to grab a bite to eat.

With increasing frequency, I’d wait for students who never showed. Sometimes I’d get a call earlier in the day. If we couldn’t find time to schedule a makeup lesson, I lost the income. The rare times we did reschedule, it always cut into our family time. How frustrating. I sent out notes asserting the importance of consistency. It did not help. My income was cut nearly in half!

One day as I waited for a talented young lady to arrive, her mother called, flustered.

“She has an extra dance rehearsal tonight, to prepare for the recital.” Then the mother flipped the switch that lit my understanding for good. “We really have to be there. We paid for all the lessons in advance, and there are no makeups.”

Wow. Why should I sit here in an empty studio while these other organizations, earning money from a few hundred students compared to my thirty, tapped my source of income?

I turned to other teachers online for counsel. In the process, I learned about running a business in a professional manner. This changed how I pictured and valued myself. I hadn’t given myself a raise in years. I was nervous about launching policies and a pay-raise, fearing I’d lose clients. But my fellow teachers encouraged and bolstered me.

I took a few months to sift through and study others’ policies. I chose the ones that fit me best. When I finally sent them out to families, holding my breath, the response was tremendous. Parents called to congratulate and thank me. They sent their registration fees and first tuition checks promptly. Only one backed out, and honestly, I think the family would not have continued anyway.

Benefits of instituting policies

Immediately and increasingly, my families and the community viewed me as a local studio as opposed to someone “who taught music to a few students.” If a child took lessons with me, it was something they could add to their portfolios with pride. Parents referred others to me. Many paid the full semester in advance, but some gratefully paid the tuition in four equal monthy installments. No more counting and billing one, two or five lessons in the month, every family different. Within a few months my waiting list grew. Gradually other teachers came to me for counsel.

I grew more serious about myself as an educator as a result of my policies. I attended more continuing education courses. I found ways to offer students more. I reviewed my past experiences as a musician, and included them in what I offered.

Now I teach knowing that if a student doesn’t show up, I’m covered. I don’t get bent out of shape with the family. But truthfully, they seldom miss a lesson anymore.

What items should policies cover?

Each private music instructor’s policies are as individual as fingerprints. So I encourage you to do your homework. Read others’ policies. If you associate with teachers who don’t post theirs publicly, ask to see them. Private music teachers are, by and large, a giving bunch, willing to offer a hand up. If you worry that parents will feel your policies are too strict, this might help.

Here’s what I include 

What I offer in lessons

I place this near the front, because it illustrates what makes me unique among my local colleagues. I always start with a mention of the lifelong benefits of music instruction. Then I tell them what lessons with Steinweg Studio of Music will include.

Tuition concerns

I explain that students enroll in a course of study similar to a school, with a semester tuition as opposed to a per-hour rate. The tuition ensures that their lesson time is reserved for them each week.

In addition to regularly scheduled weekly lessons, they have opportunities to attend at least two Master Classes per semester, and to perform in one recital per semester. Other performing opportunities may arise but are also not mandatory.

There is no credit for missed lessons. However, I offer a swap list to make it easier to switch lesson times with other students if conflicts arise. I ask them to try to avoid scheduling other appointments during their lesson time. If a true emergency or contagious sickness arises, they can be put on a 3-week cancellation list. If someone cancels during those weeks, they will have opportunity to take that time.

Payment Options

By giving families options, fewer feel excluded, even if my rates are higher than some in my town. They have seen that I offer more than many others.

I teach 30, 45 and 60-minute lessons. I reserve the final say as to whether students are ready for longer lessons. I wouldn’t want to end up babysitting a 5-year-old student with a 5-minute attention span for a full hour. Students can pay the full semester of x lessons per semester in advance, or make four equal monthly installments. Tuition is due no later than the s

econd scheduled lesson of the semester. Payment after that point will include a 10% per week late fee.

You can decide whether to accept cash or check. Alternatively, if you have an online bookkeeping service such as Music Teachers Helper, families can pay online. They can also be sent email reminders of scheduled lessons or recitals, birthday greetings, and so much more.

Using Music Teachers Helper means families can pay online.

Registration fee

I debated long about whether to charge an additional fee and how much. After I added up the amount I spent on extra items, I realized I wasn’t earning anywhere near what I hoped. I list some of these extras in my policies so families can  see how reasonable it is.

I have raised the fee a couple of times, and am considering raising it again this year. I make sure that if I do, I provide added value for the student in some way.

This fee is once per school year per student. This is the only time I give a discount for more than one student in a family, since it’s partly to cover bookkeeping, and I do that by family. The fee is due along with the first tuition payment. It remains the same whether or not they start lessons in September.

I explain that it is a nonrefundable fee to help defray the cost of such studio expenses as legal photocopies, Master Class materials, computer software, incentives, instrument maintenance, bookkeeping, recital programs, refreshments and supplies, travel and/or time spent searching for music and materials.

Next month’s policy article, Part II

Next month here on the Music Teacher’s Helper blog I’ll discuss such things as makeup lessons, practice expectations, swap lists, communication and creating registration forms.

If you have further questions or would like to share how you handle your teaching policies, I welcome your comments.

Our policies can provide protection and relief for all concerned.

Happy teaching!

 

 

 

Read More
  • 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.

Read More

1. Choices

When teaching music students, it is tempting to prescribe a piece of music that we feel that they will benefit from learning. However, if the student gets to choose the piece, they will be far more motivated to make the effort to learn it. I remember a student of mine from many years ago who could be extremely hard to get to practice when I selected the piece for him. One day I did an experiment! I showed him two pieces that I knew would have the same outcome and told him to take his pick. Suddenly he was taking ownership of the decision and it worked a treat. He enthusiastically made his decision and the progress he had made by the following week was outstanding. What a lesson for me! Letting our students take some ownership of their learning journey is a very powerful motivator indeed.

2. Less is More

How much work should you assign a student for the week? Sometimes I have made the mistake of how much they learn at home being open-ended, giving them a song and letting them “see how far they can go”! However, that approach never often reaps the desired effect. Much better to draw a line with a pencil to show the amount of work that you expect them to achieve during the week. With clear boundaries, the student knows what is expected and rises to the challenge. Not having too much material to cover often results in far higher standards of progress being met. Sometimes less is more!

3. Fun!

As humans, most of us want to happy so try and bring a little fun into each music lesson. Smiling and telling the odd cheesy joke can do much to relax the student and motivate them to work harder. Taking an appropriate interest in the student, their family and their other hobbies has always been an effective method for me to gain the respect of my pupils resulting in more progress. If you have a lesson formula, why not mix it up and even do something completely different from time to time. Bringing in a little technology can help the modern student have more fun. I had one boy that refused to practice his scales but as soon as I found him a scales app, he was away! I also find that keeping the lessons fast-paced and energetic really helps make the lesson time go quickly and enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Let’s call it music lesson “circuit training!”

4. End-goal

What’s a game of football without goals? A concert to prepare for, an exam, a competition, a family gathering, a studio get-together. Whatever the occasion, an event can provide much-needed focus to motivate the student to extra practice. Just well deserved commendation for their efforts each week is a must, spurring them on to try even harder the following week.

What is your secret to motivating students?

 

Read More