Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Summer Music

What do you do for the summer? If you’re employed in a school system, how much summer vacation time do you take? If you teach privately, do many of your students continue through the summer, or do many of them cut down or take the summer off entirely?

From the post about Payment and Cancellation Policies (which has some new comments from teachers, by the way), it’s clear that some teachers set up annual tuition rates that include at least a portion of the summer for lessons. There is, however, always that pressure not to push students who want to take some summer time off. No one is at their best if they are always pushing and never taking a break.

As much as we’d like to regularize our income, we are also working with students as instructors and mentors, and can’t reduce this relationship entirely to financial transactions. We offer more than a commodity and expect students to respect us more than they respect a store or a salesman.

A number of my students continue through the summer, but maybe a third of them take a break or cut back. It’s a financial hit, but other events such as teaching at music camps or extra gigs tend to pick up the slack for me. What about you? I’m sure I’m not alone in being curious about the summer experiences of other teachers.

We all know that if someone wants to make progress in their playing, they need to continue through the year. It’s not especially helpful to think of music as if it were a school class. It can be quite disappointing when parents presume that their kids should take the summer off or cut back significantly–as if it’s such a grind to do music during the year that they can’t wait to have time off.

Of course, we hope that students find music rewarding, and that they enjoy not only the music they play, but also feel good about their progress. Mostly I find this to be the case, but I remember one particular mother who was quite adamant that she wasn’t going to be put out to cart her daughter to summer lessons. I don’t think even the daughter felt that way, but she wasn’t the one with the car!

When it comes to group classes, it’s often hard to sustain classes through the summer. People are used to committing to semester terms, even as adults, but the summer is a shorter time period with a kind of vacation mentality. There’s less time to get involved in an ongoing class.

But then sometimes the summer is exactly the time to try something special, something new, something fun and temporary. Do you offer special kinds of lessons or classes? One piano teacher I know offers repertoire and technique lessons focusing on something a little different from her usual teaching.

Camps are a big part of the summer; this summer I’m pleased to be teaching at 3 of them, each with a different focus. These take up a week each and pay better than a week of lessons. They offer a nice variety for me, and some time with committed and fun-seeking students for a short burst of intensive learning.

Much as music teachers would like to establish a steady income, there’s no denying that we don’t generally have jobs like the 9-5ers who work for a company. So how do you handle the summer–is it a time of opportunity or a time of doldrums? It would be great to hear from you; just add a comment below!

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]

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