Music Teacher's Helper Blog

How to Prepare For Teaching in The Fall

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Summer is coming to and end and students will be going back to school. You’re just about through it! All the canceling, rescheduling, and vacations are just about over. You’re headed back to the normal weekly lessons with your students. This is a great time to consider how you’re doing both as a teacher and a business person. Is there anything you could be doing better that will help both your wallet and your students’ progress?

Look into New Teaching Methods

I’m a piano teacher, so there are quite a few method books out there. For just about any instrument there will be a few methods that just about everyone uses. For piano, the go-to method books are Bastien, Alfred, and Faber. Although those are probably the most used methods, they definitely aren’t the only ones.

For me, there seems to be something missing from these method books generally. I’ve never been overly excited about any of them, so I’ve started looking into alternatives. Right now I’ve been using Piano Safari with my daughter, and I’m impressed with how they incorporate learning by rote into the method.

I haven’t been using it long enough to give a great review about it, but the point of me bringing it up is it’s helped me think about teaching in a different way. Before the Fall begins, take this time to analyze how you teach. Could you be more effective? Would changing methods help?

Raise Your Prices

September, or January as well, are good months to raise your prices. You probably won’t be able to raise your prices significantly, but every little bit helps. A 5% increase usually doesn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers too much, but it can be really helpful for you and your family.

As an example, let’s say you’re charging $50/hour, and you’re teaching 20 hours a week of private lessons. With a 5% increase, you’ll be making an extra $50/week or $200/month. That’s a nice chunk of change!

If you’re worried about raising prices on your students, think about it this way. Inflation averages around 3% a year. If you’re not raising your prices at all, you’ll be losing 3% in spending power every year. That’s not a good way to run a business and make a living. You’re also becoming a better teacher every year. You deserve a pay raise. 5% helps you keep up with inflation, and then gives you a small raise as well.

It’s a good practice to write it into your policies, so students expect it every year.

Review and Adjust Your Studio Policies

Hopefully, you have some pretty amazing studio policies. It’s important to define how rescheduled and canceled lessons will work up front. Most parents and students don’t have much of a problem as long as they are told up front what your policies are. Take some time and look over what you have. Can you add some more policies that will make your life easier? Can you collect more payment up front? Maybe you decide to use Music Teacher’s Helper’s great new feature to collect payments automatically every month. Are you going to make that your only option?

With current students, sometimes a change in policies can come as a shock, but most people don’t have a problem for you sticking up for yourself.

Cut Off Problem Students

If you’ve been teaching for a while, you’ve definitely encountered one or two difficult students. Maybe the parents are always harping on you, or are hard to deal with, or maybe the student is just rude. Whatever the reason, your student is causing you stress. You may dread that half hour every week. Life is short. Don’t let people stress you out like that.

If you’re a new teacher, and you need to build your studio, you may have no other options. It may be best to stick it out. Hey, you’ll get some experience, you’ll get paid, and maybe you’ll learn something. But if you are more experienced, don’t let these problem students take over your life.

You teach because you love it. You aren’t making millions, and you don’t plan on it. So why let someone suck the joy out of teaching? Be professional, be kind, but let the parents know that you will no longer be able to teach them anymore.

Create New Marketing Campaigns

If you are still looking for new students to build your studio, spend some time and think about how you can market to them. Marketing can be difficult, but there are plenty of students out there that would love you as their teacher. It’s your job to find them and let them know.

For free advertising, try Craigslist or local Facebook buy and sell groups. Don’t stop advertising yourself just because the first or second ad didn’t net any results. With advertising, you’ll find that a small subset of a small subset of the people who see your ads will sign up for lessons. That’s OK. You don’t need hundreds of students to make a living. Just keep advertising and you’ll see results.

Practice!

If you’re a full-time teacher, perhaps you’re not practicing like you used to. You know, life gets in the way, and practice can sometimes take a back seat. But this Fall is a great time to recommit yourself to practice every day. Practicing will release stress and it will even make you a better teacher. The skill I teach to my students more than anything is how to practice.

Sometimes I feel like I learn more from teaching than my students learn from me. Since I emphasize practicing so much, I apply what I learn by teaching my students how to practice while I practice at home. My personal practice solidifies what I teach and helps me explain myself better.

Start Preparing Recitals

Performing is one the most important part of music education. I’m sure you already have a recital once or twice a year. Start preparing for them now. But even better, what if you had more this year? I know I know, it sounds like a lot of work. Recitals are hard.

You can make it worth your while, though, by charging a small recital fee for each student. If you already charge one, raise it if you can. Most teachers use the recital fee just to pay for the cost of the recital. It’s not wrong to make a little profit as well! Don’t forget you are spending time getting it all setup. Get paid for that time.

See if it’s possible to hold a quarterly recital this year. Yup, that’s one every three months. Soccer players have games pretty much every week, yet somehow musicians only perform once or twice a year. Parents will appreciate it, students will learn how to overcome performance anxiety, and you may actually make a little extra income.

Conclusion

Don’t let this school year be the same as last year. Happiness in anything is all about progression. If you’re being stagnant in your profession, you’ll be more stressed and less happy. What do you think? Is there anything else you’ll be focusing on before school starts in the Fall? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author

4 Comments

  1. Ashley Fort

    What is it about the Alfred, Bastien, or Faber methods that keeps you unexcited? I’m curious because I feel the same way. But, for lack of a more universal method, I’ve stuck with Faber. I never even considered Alfred or Bastien because I grew tired of them as a young piano student decades ago. I’m interested in why Piano Safari gets you excited. I’d love to change my piano method but I have parents who are insistent on one over the other and we’ve all grown too used to Faber. And, what’s the best way to accommodate or transition a student who’s coming from another teacher (who stopped teaching) and a different method to your method? I found this article to be particularly applicable to me (most of them are actually). Thank you for contributing!

  2. Brian

    Hi Ashley, I too normally teach with Faber. For me there are a few major problems with the mainstream method books.

    I’m not a huge fan of teaching children with five-finger positions how to read music. What ends up happening is the students associate their first finger with C, their 2nd finger with D etc etc. Then they add G major and they get confused. Then eventually as we all know we don’t teach with these positions at all eventually. It seems confusing and just not the right way to go.

    If they aren’t teaching by positions, it’s teaching by intervals. The first few pieces are always very simple using simple intervals. Teaching the child to read always seems to be an issue.

    To be completely honest I haven’t come up with a better solution. I just feel like there is much to be desired. The music is also completely boring. I know it’s hard to make super fun music at such a beginning level, but students just aren’t excited to play the music in them.

    The reason Piano Safari interests me is mainly because of the pieces that are supposed to be taught by rote. Because the student doesn’t have to read the music, they can play harder pieces that are actually fun, and that they want to play. Beyond that, by learning a piece by rote, I can focus more on aspects of playing that sometime don’t get as much attention because the attention has been drawn too much to reading the notes.

    I’m not sure the way they teach reading music is necessarily any better than the mainstream books, but honestly I haven’t really dug deep enough into it to make a good judgement.

    As far as working with the transition from one method to another, I typically just stick with whatever they were using. Once they get beyond the basics in any book it seems like they are all pretty alike. I feel like switching them to my preferred method does really net any better results.

    Personally as soon as the student feels comfortable reading music fairly well, I try to switch them out of method books altogether and just teach real music. It just seems like to get to that point it takes way too long.

  3. Sharon

    For younger beginning students, I mix three books for intervals, note reading, finger memory, and grand staff reading: Music Tree Time to Begin, PiAnimals, and Alfred Premier 1A . Starting in the middle of the book or so, Time to Begin teaches intervalic reading. Intervals help the students play all over the piano now and helps them recognize intervals as they progress through all levels of music. PiAnimals makes learning the letter notes fun and memorable. Alfred Premier 1A has finger number songs, landmark note songs, and generally ties many concepts together.

  4. Brian

    Hi Sharon, thanks for those recommendations. Will definitely be looking into them.

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