Music Teacher's Helper Blog

How has your New Year been now that we’ve wrapped up January 2018? Are your New Year’s resolutions still going strong?

  • Have you changed your eating?
  • Are you getting more exercise in?
  • Are you practicing your instrument more?

Or are you thinking, “Oh wait… I did have resolutions.  What are those again?”

So far, for me, one of the most helpful habits I’ve done is to do what’s called a 100 Day Gong. If you’re like me, you’re imagining someone banging a gong like crazy for 100 days.  Um, no…

Gong is a Chinese Taoist tradition — it’s a set amount of days one devotes to a particular task.  It is a promise to one’s self to stay focused and on path towards a designated goal. Here’s a good article on it.

So, for example, you could choose something simple like — practicing an instrument 20 minutes a day, taking a 30 minute walk, doing 20 minutes of writing for a book you’ve always wanted to write — and you do what you choose for those 100 days without fail.

Why 100 days?

Well, because science shows us that it takes about 90 days for any habit to get wired in your brain. You can read a great article on How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science)

You can start anytime, there’s no magic in starting on January 1st in the New Year. (Whew!)  But, the trick is, that if you miss even one day, you must start over from day one. So, if you get to day 92, and miss… start over. You’ll find out real quick how committed you are to taking some area of your life to the next level.

If you’re just starting, choose something relatively easy. Maybe 1 or 2 tasks that you can do without fail in about 20-30 minutes. I tried putting on 8 or so of the top things I had wanted to try.  Bad idea — I didn’t make it far.  Life happens, and you get busy, or sick sometimes.  It’s ok if it’s an easier list. Don’t worry, you can add one from the list to the next gong after you get through this one.

Oh, and the payoff is… you get results.

When I did this for exercise, I found myself in the best shape I’ve ever been in. Plus there’s a psychological boost of being committed to the process. Imagine what you’d like to finally make headway in, and go for it.

Good luck. I hope that helps.

Let me know if you’re going to try something for 100 days — reply in the comments below.

Take care,

Rock

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Want to multiply your time and your earnings? If so, you might enjoy teaching a group of several students—or a crowd of them—all at once. Instead of teaching one student at a time for eight hours a day, you could teach those eight students for one hour!

This article is part of a series for new teachers. Or for seasoned ones.

In addition to monetary benefits, group classes are a wonderful way to turn an otherwise solitary pastime into a team effort. If you’ve ever felt competition from activities such as dance, soccer or hockey, you realize the draw of groups. So let’s look into it further!

Details to consider

Ages

  • What age range will I teach?
  • Will I include children with adults, or keep specific ages grouped together?
  • How many am I willing or able to teach at one time?
  • If students are elementary age, can I handle the wiggles of a group of them? Real Simple offers eleven tips from teachers for managing groups of children, some of which can be adapted to a group guitar setting.
  • If students are teen-aged, will they feel more inhibited in a group?
    • I have found that a mix of ages is desirable—the students help one another, they don’t have as many age-related hang-ups, and appear to relax and have more fun.
    • I love to have adults in the group—especially seniors. It’s a fun dynamic!
    • It seems like most activities are geared for people of roughly the same age. It’s especially noteworthy that group lessons can bring the generations together.

Where to teach

  • How much space do I have?
  • Will I rent a room? How much will it cost? Is it comfortable? Furthermore, is it air-conditioned, ventilated or heated? Also sound-proofed enough? Is there convenient parking? And is there a waiting space for parents or drivers?
  • Can I do this at home? If I do, will it disrupt my family? Or my neighbors?
  • Do I need to be concerned about insurance? Here are one teacher’s thoughts.

Group dynamics

  • How much individual attention can I give in a group setting?
  • If potential and natural abilities vary widely, how can I keep faster-advancing players challenged while not discouraging struggling ones? (Join me next month for ideas on both of these.)

Materials

  • What materials accommodate a group?
    • Because it’s difficult for me to find a one-size-fits-all curriculum, I create my own courses. I give students binders and hand out each week’s lesson sheets, 3-hole punched. I include a variety of information, chords, rhythm, and a touch of note reading. Every week there will be new songs on which to practice chords and strums. To make it attractive, I use public-domain clip art and my own graphics so I don’t run into copyright issues.
    • I send each student mp3s of the songs so they can listen and learn them if they don’t already know them. These are good practice tools, too.
    • No matter the time of year, I like to teach them at least one Christmas song. Some have just three or four chords, and what a boost for a student to be able to pull off a beautiful piece come December!

How long and what to charge

  • How long will each class last?
    • I have found that 45-50 minutes is about right. It allows for questions after class, and for one group to leave while the next arrives. Tender fingertips don’t last much longer anyway, at first!
    • I’ve tried thirty minutes. We barely get tuned and play last week’s lesson. Not enough time.
  • Will this be a semester class, or a certain number of weeks?
    • I have tried four, eight and ten-week sessions as well as semesters. Four seems pointless. Even at eight weeks many youngsters are just getting their fingers toughened up enough to enjoy it, and switch chords quickly enough to keep the rhythm going. But ten weeks or a full semester proves successful.
  • What will I charge per student?
    • Since it’s not one-on-one, I don’t charge as much as for private. However, groups take a great deal of planning and energy. Don’t under-charge!
    • Charging too little may encourage less serious students.
    • Find out what other groups charge. Like dance or martial arts.

Policy making

  • What policies will I create?
    • First of all, will I offer makeups?
    • What will I do if the weather is bad and class can’t be held? And what if I must cancel for some reason?
    • Will I teach more than one group class per week and invite students to attend any or all of them? And will that be in lieu of makeups?
    • How will I handle purchase of materials or students needing new strings?
    • Will I allow electric guitars in class, or just acoustic?
      • I only allow acoustics. Dealing with amps or with volume is a headache I can do without in a group setting.
    • Will students be required to pay in advance?
      • In my studio, yes. I hate chasing payments. Also, I don’t want to spend precious class time dealing with money. So they pay the full amount ahead of time.
    • How much time will I expect students to practice?

Questionable lyrics

  • Finally, what if students request songs with inappropriate lyrics?
    • This is a big deal to me. I’m very concerned about the words my students see or sing. Yes, I know they probably hear a lot worse on the radio or in the halls at school. But that does not mean it’s acceptable! In addition to specific words, age-appropriate subjects are important to me, too.
    • Because of my convictions about lyrics, I either use white-out, swap in acceptable words, or say “Sorry, I don’t teach that one. Let’s find another you like.” After all, both my reputation and my conscience are involved.

In next month’s post, I’ll share about the lessons themselves. Planning for how to make the group work. And equally important, what information to cover. Ideas that have worked for me. Join me then!

A group of enthused musicians creates buzz for your studio. Are you ready to give it a try?

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I was 15 when I started my professional music career. We had just moved our crazy, Italian family from New Jersey — the land of big hair, sarcasm, and amazing cannoli — to Connecticut where my dad (a former singer/songwriter turned “responsible” business professional) was being promoted to VP of a stock brokerage firm.

I asked my parents, “Can I work at G.Fox at the Danbury Mall with my girlfriends? I will learn how to work a cash register and make $3.03 an hour!” I was excited.

My parents looked at me like I had a squirrel on my head.

They shook their heads… no.

“Stacey, you have a gift in music. If you want to work before college, you’re going to have to do something in music for your job.”

Totally NOT the answer most kids get, right?

I had been taking piano lessons since I was 10, writing songs since before then, and knew all the words to Karen Carpenter, Rush, Barbra Streisand, and much to the chagrin of everybody, Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”.

(“Mom, what is this song about? I don’t get it!”)

I performed in any talent show at school, and sat most nights at the piano practicing the songs, from classical to pop, that inspired or were assigned to me. I had just spent my summer at the illustrious “Center for Creative Youth” at Wesleyan University in Connecticut with some of the best professors and professionals in the music field, honing my craft in the arts.

They were right: I did have a gift.

My mind dreamed up places I could play: Our church, as an accompanist — my community theatre for the musicals — as a teacher of young, interested students.

I can’t remember if my dad brought it up or I did but the question came, “What about our country club?”

Before you think I was raised with a silver spoon in my mouth, let me assure you with clear images of a gold Riviera in my head, that I wasn’t. I watched my dad climb the corporate ladder, and my mom run the house and hold part time jobs in the office at our school. I remember the tense arguments behind closed doors and when we lost the house when the market, and my dad’s job, had crashed in the late 70’s.

What I had was a sense of “I can do anything.” Despite all the whacky stuff that I was raised in that I won’t go into because I spent enough years in therapy for all that — I was also sent this message: “Anything is possible and you can do anything, Stacey.”

So, I got dressed up and my dad drove me to the country club where I talked to Tom, the manager, and found out that the pianist had quit two weeks ago. Tom needed a new pianist starting this weekend. He would pay me $50 for 2 ½ hours of playing so, I basically was making $20 an hour in 1985, doing what I loved in a beautiful setting with really rich people who drank expensive drinks.

It was awesome.

Tipsy people talk to you at the piano and don’t really think, “Hey. Maybe she’s busy reading music right now so, I’ll wait.” Nope. They just lean on your piano with their really expensive whiskey and start telling you stories and asking you questions.

So, I learned how to listen to people and talk while I played. They asked for songs I didn’t know, but I was a great sight-reader and would pull out these compilation books to play new/old songs, on the spot. Totally honed skills I had no idea would benefit me for my entire career.

I was able to, with my money, go to one of the most esteemed vocal teachers in Connecticut, Lucibelle Anderson, and study Bel Canto method with her since my dad, who always paid for my piano lessons, absolutely refused to pay for my vocal lessons so they were on me.

He told me, “You’ll never make money as a singer. You’ll always make money as a pianist.”

He was wrong by the way – and he was right: I made money as a singer – a lot of it, for sure.  But most the time, I got the gig over the singer because I could accompany myself on the piano. I was a built-in, two-for-one special. I could run rehearsals, warm up other vocalists, and pinch-hit for the uber-talented pianist who was a no-show.

I became invaluable.

Those following years were spent as a short stint as a music comp and theory major until I just had so much work that I left school. Performing live and in the studio, recording songs that I had written or with different artists and, after I married at the tender age of 20 to my sax-playing/singer husband, Rocky Robbins, (PERFECT name for a sax player, right?)

I ended up traveling all over the US performing music at spiritual conferences, being hired by companies for their amazing corporate events, and working with major artists on their projects, in addition to teaching, leading workshops, special choirs, and CD projects for kids.

People were booking their wedding dates around our availability and I had 40 students on my wait list after teaching 60 students a week.

It was crazy.

I had no time to cash the checks that would sit in a pile on my desk in the living room.

I definitely wasn’t the most amazing musician in the world — I was just one of those who was good at what I did and had the business mind and savvy to carry it all out.

I was one of those on-time, on-task, get the job done really well, no matter how much chaos was in my life — and trust me, there was a lot — kind of people. I did it with a lot of heart and my life was balls-to-the wall music for 80 hours a week.

At some point? I resented it.

Hated it, even.

Dreaded it.

I fell out of love with music.

And everything changed…

 

(Stacey’s story continues here in part 2)

 

Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

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