Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Expanding your studio? Finding the right balance.

This is an article that I wrote last spring, but it seems like perfect timing for those of you looking to grow your studio next Fall or even this Spring. It’s never too early to ask lots of questions and start planning ……or not! Since writing this, I went on to open a small music school in Brooklyn, NY: www.BrooklynMusicFactory.com

For the past three months I have been laying the groundwork for expanding my teaching studio in the fall. I currently don’t teach that many students (13) as I have a number of other professional commitments in music. I spend part of every week scoring for TV/Documentaries from my home studio and the other part practicing for gigs around New York. I have in the last year, though, become really excited about teaching like never before. Not exactly sure what has changed though I think watching my two daughters grow up and seeing how they learn has a lot to do with it. Something seems to have clicked and I’ve decided it’s time to ratchet it up a notch. But then I get a bit nervous….

When is it just the right balance between teaching, performing, and composing? Finding balance, this is my topic for today.

I’ll be honest. I’m still searching as I’m sure a number of you are as well. The challenge is that one moment one facet of my musical life is incredibly rewarding and the next another takes over the top spot. But all the while the students keep coming back for lessons and are looking for inspiration. Truthfully, the teaching has become that constant for me in otherwise economically turbulent times. So, in a way the answer to balance is as simple as dollars and cents. Sure, it’s great in the short term when I get paid a bunch of money to write the music for a 30 second TV commercial. But the chance of that coming around again right when I need it is slim to none. All the while, though, the students keep coming back for lessons. Or I get called to travel to some exotic locale for a really fun gig and I think this is all I ever want to do! But those calls only happen once a year for me…so reality again sets in. And all the while, the students keep coming back for lessons.

Teaching has become a truly grounding experience for me. I am humbled by the weekly challenge and the fact that it never let’s up. I enjoy creating my own curriculum that inspires performance and exploration. The adults present different hurdles in some regards, but the preparation required for a great lesson with a child versus an adult is no different. I like trying to anticipate a students needs. I feed off the students energy and I love to watch them succeed. Bottom line is I’m now hooked. So that leads me to my fall plans of expansion.

So the real question is how do I expand my teaching load without giving up one or both of my other musical commitments. Some of the ideas I’ve come up with are:

  • Hire a teaching assistant to handle paper work and studio prep
  • Hire one or two teachers to teach in my studio with me, allowing me to focus on curriculum, increase the number of students without increasing my actual teaching load
  • Do not increase the number of students but instead increase the offerings, ie. add a computer music lab and/or ensemble classes
  • Add only a few new students next semester and build slowly
  • Go for broke and open a school with a faculty and administrative help and hope for the best?!
  • Stay exactly as I am and just focus on refining/perfecting what I already offer

So, now I’m curious to see how others have succeeded or failed at expanding their studios. Is there a way to keep all the balls in the air? Is there a perfect number of students to teach? How do others juggle their different commitments? When is it time to leave behind a commitment? Can you really be a great teacher and still have time for other musical adventures? And is there anyone who has gone for broke and opened a school with a faculty and administrative staff? What happened?

Please let me know how you have coped with expanding. How have you found balance in your musical life?

About the Author

Nate Shaw
For 20 years keyboardist Nate Shaw has been performing around the globe. His touring groups have included Bebop Jazz sextet, Motion Poets, which released three CDs to wide critical acclaim, the explosive world music trio, New Power Trio, featuring Yo Yo Ma’s percussionist of choice, Mark Suter, and his current favorite, the Brooklyn based, Gowanus Reggae And Ska Society. Nate has released 9 CDs ... [Read more]

5 Comments

  1. Kalli VanderTop

    Thank you for your insight. I needed this encouragement as I just hired two new teachers/trying to expand . . yet balancing my own performance and composition as well.

    I would say my performance is off balance right now and most of my energy goes towards teaching. I would like to see it balance back . . .

    But as you said I love that I keep getting inspiration from new students and that it is very consistent.

  2. Amy

    Great article Nate. I have the same problem. It’s so hard NOT to take more students when they call and you see that extra hour you have open. The hardest thing is balancing teaching with having a normal life. You have to budget time for your household and your family as well as performance and other musical interests.

    I just went back to school to work on my DMA, and I’m so underwater even after dropping down the number of students I’m teaching. Can’t find that balance right now 🙂

  3. Stefano Ashbridge

    These are all great ideas Nate. Another one would be to teach group classes ( 2 or more students at a time) along with the other options.

  4. Nate Shaw

    Thanks for the comments. Yes, Stefano, group classes, I realize are going to be an even bigger part of our school in the future. Right now we offer a band program; A country band, soul band, and even all girl band (Girl Pop!!)…but that is probably the biggest growth area for us. LOTS of interest ingroup classes.
    Funny, how difficult it is to actually find and stick to the right balance….I’m feeling good about my family commitments and parenting side of things…but my performing side has dropped considerably…
    Hmmm? We will see as the year progresses.

  5. megan reilly

    Hello! I am new to this and am so far really enjoying all of these articles that make me realize…I am not alone! I especially connected to your article Nate, about finding the balance between performing and teaching. I am currently a freelance collaborative pianist and piano teacher in Lake Charles, LA. The difficulty right now is that I just moved here to join my fiance which meant that I had to start all over again building a studio and trying to find work as a collaborative pianist. My dream is do both equally. So far, I have been lucky and have gotten several students and several gigs. My balance is almost equal.

    I say ALMOST because where I am lacking is in the organization of things. Because I drive to Baton Rouge from Lake Charles twice a week (a 2 hour drive), I have found it very difficult to attend to the administrative part of piano teaching. I am also terrible when it comes to keeping track of my freelance income mostly due to lack of time and organization. While it hasn’t hurt me too much yet I fear that it will very soon. I am very diligent about practicing but I am not so diligent about sitting down at the computer and working on paperwork type stuff. I want to also be able to start planning some group classes for my students and have some motivational friendly competition in my studio (i.e. a scale contest, a practicing contest etc.) But I just can’t find the time to organize it. Not to mention keeping track of curriculum for my students.

    So, what am I doing about it? I am taking this holiday to reevaluate and see where I can carve out time and how to make life a little easier and in the process hopefully be a better piano teacher. I stumbled across Music Teacher’s Helper last week and am in the process of setting up my website. I have high hopes that through all that Music Teacher’s Helper offers I will be able to get more organized and offer more to my piano students. I have also dropped one of my Baton Rouge days which I think will help me feel a little less crazed. Doing that has enabled me to have one morning completely free and I’m able to add more students. I hope that I don’t find I’m performing less as a result. We’ll see!

    It’s all about finding the right balance for you and even when you think you have it, constantly maintaining and reevaluating! Good Luck Nate!

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