Teaching Tips

Tips for teaching music

Below are several situations I’m sure you’ve had to face–about ways to collect lesson payments, including for missed or cancelled lessons–I look forward to your ideas and hope you find these thoughts of interest.

Six or 7 years ago, someone introduced me to the expression, “it’s all about the Benjamins.” I suppose it wasn’t obvious to me because I almost never have an occasion to notice whose face is on the hundred-dollar bill, but yes, it’s Ben(jamin) Franklin.

Business people are sometimes stereotyped as cold-cash-minded, but really, any way you make a living is a business. As in any business, music teachers have to attract and keep students (“customers”), collect money, and pay the bills.

Of course, most musicians don’t go into music thinking “it’s all about the Benjamins.” In fact, popular wisdom says that there’s only one way for a musician to end up with a million dollars: start with 2 million!

But we have to learn about collecting money consistently and with respect, and setting up policies that are reasonable but make for good relations. How would you handle some of these situations?

A student called me today to say her son is sick. Policies say she should pay for his lesson because she gave less than a day’s notice. It did create a hole in my schedule but this parent is ostentatious about her poverty and yet considers lessons important enough to pay for them. Would you charge her for the lesson?


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Do you play along with your students during lessons?  Clearly, much of the time it’s important for students to get used to playing on their own, and for you to be able to focus, listen, and watch them without trying to play yourself.  For piano teachers, of course, playing along requires a second piano or a high or low part on the same piano.

But sometimes it’s very useful to play along.  The benefits of doing this stood out this week with one of my students in particular, so I thought I’d throw it out for discussion.

As a student is learning a tune, or piece of music, playing with them can model for them what you find important.  At times, it may be your priority that the student play through a section for the sake of continuity.  By playing along and not stopping for mistakes, you communicate your priority without a word.

Another time, you may want to stop when a note is out of tune or a wrong note is hit, modeling a certain kind of awareness you want the student to think about.

When you play along,  [···]

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1. In learning music, as with many other skills, good habits lead to good results. All music teachers seek to build good habits.

2. Good habits come from discipline. The dictionary lists a dozen definitions of “discipline” but I suspect the most important types of discipline are only two: external and internal.

3. Musicianship, though it requires discipline, is more than a skill. It draws upon something deeper than habit. Some teachers consider musicianship fundamental; others feel technical skill must be established first.

4. Being aware of differences between external and internal discipline can help us lead students to good habits, good results, and good musicianship. Sometimes teachers and parents, or adult students, seem to have very different presumptions about what discipline is. Some uses of external discipline confuse management with teaching (school systems often carry this to an extreme).

5. “Internal” discipline is shaped by inspiration, pride, determination. It can be built [···]

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