Music Teachers Helper Blog

No written music lesson policy? Here’s part of the phone conversation that motivated me to create mine:

“We’ll have to miss K’s lesson tonight. She has an extra dance rehearsal, and we can’t miss it, because we paid in advance. And there are no makeups.”

Last month I shared how I came to create a written lesson policy. In that post you’ll also find tuition concerns, payment options, registration fees, and what I offer in lessons.

Part II includes the remainder of my policies. These are things other teachers often ask me. I recommend reading several different teachers’ policies for ideas. Take the ones that seem right for you.

Cancellations and Make-ups

I dislike twiddling my thumbs waiting for a student who doesn’t show up. Fifteen minutes of waiting could be put to much better use. A written lesson policy may not guarantee that you’ll never have a no-show, but it can help.

My policy states that if they must cancel a lesson, parents should notify me by phone as soon as possible. Especially since someone else might be able to fill in that time slot.

If a student knows in advance that they must miss a lesson, they can use the Swap List (see below). Or they might use one of the master classes as a makeup. Here is where I place my disclaimer: “Please understand. Tuition remains the same no matter how many of the scheduled lessons the student uses. Unlike some professionals, I can’t take walk-ins or resell the lesson time, nor can I create extra teaching times in which to give make-up lessons. Tuition covers much more than the lesson time itself. Therefore, there are no refunds, reductions or credits for student-missed lessons, nor make-ups available (except in certain cases listed below).”

Master classes cannot be carried over to a new semester and won’t be rescheduled.

If students must miss lessons for an extended time and can’t swap, their slot is reserved if they pay by semester or continue their equal monthly payments. I’ve had students who get involved in a sport or other activity who appreciate not losing their lesson time. And I don’t lose income.

In case of true emergencies (e.g. emergency room visit or death in the family) or a real or contagious illness (not sniffles, tired, had a party or an orthodontist appointment), they can go on a three-week Cancellation List. If anyone else cancels in the three weeks following their missed lesson, they may opt to come then. I tell them there are no guarantees that a time will open.

I teach during bad weather unless it seems to me too dangerous for people to be on the road. Many teachers close whenever the public schools are closed. But I have several adults and home-educated students. So I often stay open. Others are welcome to use the Swap List, go on the three-week Cancellation List, or consider a master class as a makeup.

I offer a Facetime lesson when weather happens. This has worked beautifully. We’ve even had success playing learning games at a distance.

A no-show is not eligible for the Swap List or three-week Cancellation List.

If I’m the one to cancel, I’ll credit a future lesson or try to find time for a make-up. I will do everything possible to contact parents, the students themselves, or their schools ahead of time. If all else fails, I tell them I’ll tape a note to my front door. Therefore, they should always be certain the student is safely inside the house before they leave. And if someone else is driving them, please make sure they know this. No one wants a child sitting alone on the doorstep!

Swap List

The Swap List has been a much-loved resource among my families.

As soon as students know they must miss a lesson, they can request a current list of participating families. The list is in the form of a daily schedule. Parents’ names, phone numbers and emails are included.

My lesson policy includes Swap List guidelines:

  • Notify me if you must miss a lesson. I will email you the current Swap List with names, numbers, and times.
  • The parent who requests the swap is responsible to let me know so I can prepare for the correct student.
  • All swaps must be done PARENT to PARENT. Students are NEVER to arrange their own. I will not arrange swaps.
  • If there is confusion, and two students show up for the same lesson, I will teach the one whose lesson is normally at that time. I will not offer a make-up lesson.
  • Students have 30, 45 or 60 minute lessons. If there is a choice, please swap with someone who has the same length lesson. Otherwise, you’re stuck with that person’s amount of time.

What to Bring to Lessons

  • An appropriate tote. I’ve had students show up with their materials in various states of ruination. Crammed into tiny totes, awkward boxes whose lids fly open or won’t open, paper sacks or plastic grocery bags. So I specify a sturdy tote larger than the largest book they have. Some teachers provide totes, with the cost absorbed into the registration fee. This can be an advertising opportunity, if you have your studio’s name and logo on the tote.
  • A binder with dividers and assignment sheets, which I provide. This should come to each lesson.
  • Instrument. If students take lessons other than piano or voice, they must bring their own instrument. It boggles the mind, but I can’t count the times students have shown up for lessons with no instrument. If they come without their instrument, they’ll spend their lesson listening to youtube performances or doing note reading activities.
  • All music and materials. When I say all, it’s because of how often things get left behind. If they come with no books, they’ll likely sightread for the lesson. I’ll sometimes show mercy if they are usually responsible. We might play music games.

Lesson Materials

Many teachers include materials in their registration fees. Some ask to be reimbursed. Others expect parents to go to the music store themselves. If you choose the latter, I suggest calling the store ahead to have them set aside the materials for that student. This avoids the problem of parents purchasing the wrong items, wasting weeks.

Some teachers keep a lending library of materials for students. If this is the case, be sure to keep good records. Music Teachers Helper has a feature for tracking such items and will notify you when they are due to be returned.

Practice Expectations

The longer I teach, the more I expect students to practice. Non-practice equals boredom and discouragement. Failure.

Almost yearly I revise my lesson policy concerning practice. My incentive programs can help motivate them. But parents must accept responsibility if they want lessons at my studio.

While raising our sons, the rule was simple. Like many things, practice was non-negotiable. You brush your teeth. You do your homework. You practice your instruments. Period.

The goal is to practice each week’s assignment until it is well prepared.

Calendar 

I like to send a calendar to families at the start of a semester. It’s tentative. But it’s better to have that than nothing. Rather than simply the dates, I send mini calendars. I have found that months-at-a-glance stick better than words alone.

One-Sheet 

I’ve create a one-sheet—a single page with the most-often needed studio policies in brief. You might’ve noticed my lesson policy is thorough (i.e. long!). When I get a new family, we go over the pages together. After that, they won’t need to read seven pages to remind themselves about makeups or cancellations. The one-sheet provides needed information in one spot.

I include the following:

  • Contact information
  • Fee and payment schedule
  • Who to write the check to
  • Cancellation and no makeups policy
  • Teacher cancellation
  • What to bring
  • Dates to remember

Registration Forms

It seems every year I tweak my Registration Forms to make them clearer and shorter. I research others’ forms for ideas. I head each page with my studio’s name and the current year.

Page One of Registration Form

  • Tuition
  • Registration fee
  • Payment options
    • Choose 30, 45 or 60 minutes
    • Pay by semester or in equal monthly payments
  • Whether they’d like to be included on the Swap List
  • Agree to involvement in practice (I specify what I hope for under “Practice Expectations”).

Page Two of Registration Forms

This is the Student Information form, parts of which must be filled out separately for each student. I include:

  • Student’s name
  • Student’s school and grade
  • Student’s birthday
  • Who the student lives with
  • Home mailing address
  • Information the teacher should know regarding custody, contact, sharing of information, and who is allowed to pick up the student from lessons
  • Who to contact in case of emergency
  • Best email address to reach them and whether they check email daily
  • Best phone number to reach them
  • Mother’s name, phone, work number
  • Father’s name, phone, work number
  • Allergies or other health concerns
  • Learning style or issue—to help the teacher
  • Behavioral, emotional or other issues the teacher should be aware of
  • Extra-curricular activities, including whether these might affect lessons
  • Hobbies, interests, likes
  • Instrument used for practice: acoustic piano or digital. If digital, how many keys it has and whether they’re weighted, and if there’s a damper pedal. If guitar, I need to know whether they practice on an acoustic or electric.
  • Possible times to meet if they play an instrument other than piano, for the purpose of checking out the student’s instrument prior to the first lesson

Page Three of Registration Forms

The form they’ll sign includes:

  • Name of student(s)
  • This statement “I have read and I understand the document titled Studio Policies for Steinweg Studio of Music 20_ _ Teaching Year in which the following studio policies were covered in greater detail.” I go on to list the main headings of my lesson policy
  • A box to check which will allow the teacher to post photos of student(s) on social media
  • The statement “I agree to abide by studio policies as stated in the above-mentioned document. I agree not to hold Robin Steinweg or Steinweg Studio of Music responsible for any injuries that may occur to students, family or friends at recitals, in the teacher’s studio or home, or while on the teacher’s property.”

NOTE: the disclaimer about injuries may not hold up in a court of law. You should probably research what your home owner’s insurance covers, and whether you need further insurance.

What About You?

Do you have a written lesson policy? If you have different ideas or include items I don’t have, we’d like to hear from you. We grow by sharing with one another, and your input might be of real value to a reader.

A lesson policy can protect and provide relief to teachers, students and families.

Comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guitar classes for groups–do you have questions about how to conduct them? 

I have a first article about guitar classes at MTH dealing with details like age ranges, finding a location, group dynamics, materials to use, policies and how much to charge. Below you will find the nitty-gritty of actual class times, songs to choose, and more.

In a 2014 article, I gave week-by-week specifics of a class I was teaching at the time.

Here are things I wish I’d heard before starting my first classes.

 

First Things First

Do they have working guitars?

  • I prefer not to mess with amps, so I require a six-string acoustic—either nylon or steel will do.
  • I need to see their guitars ahead of time unless they tell me the manufacturer and that they recently purchased it from a store I know and trust. I’ve had students show up with guitars so warped they couldn’t be tuned, strings so far off the fingerboard it would take a bench vise to press them to the guitar, strings missing, and strings so old my fingers turned black touching them—and they appeared ready to break at first touch.
  • I want to know if the guitar will hold its tuning. I’d hate to be in class before I discover it must be re-tuned every three minutes! (If you’re thinking that sounds like a toy guitar and that I’ve been in this situation, you would be correct. Don’t ask. It was turquoise blue plastic, so it should have had a great tone, don’t you know.)
  • If I have time, I’ll put new strings on for them. If there’s more wrong with it than strings, I make recommendations to rent one, buy a new one, or get theirs repaired.
  • I keep a watch-out at garage sales for decent guitars, and sometimes rent them to students until they learn enough to go looking for one for themselves. I go through a policy sheet with renters, educating them about the care of the instrument.

While I’m checking out the instrument, I can get to know the student a little. Find out what music they’re interested in, and what they already know (or don’t know) about music in general and guitar in particular.

 

The actual teaching time

Planning is essential!!!!

What do you hope to cover over the course? Jot down ideas and put them in a logical sequence. You might consult a beginner guitar method for ideas.  You might try Alfred’s, FJH or Hal Leonard.

  • Basics: guitar parts, finger numbers, string numbers, fret numbers, how to read a chord chart.
  • Music reading basics: staff, lines and spaces, quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, the music alphabet…
    • I only get into notes on the staff if I have at least ten weeks or a semester.
    • I find out if anyone has had piano lessons. If so, that person can be of help.
  • Rhythm basics: if you have the luxury of time, you can get into reading rhythms. Otherwise, consider how you’ll “check their pulse.” Will you have them clap rhythms after you? Or perhaps strum across their open strings?

If you prefer a ready-made group guitar course, look at Mel Bay, Jerry Snyder or the adult group class book by Alfred’s.

How much time will it take to tune the instruments at the start of each class?

Will I hold one complete class to teach them to change strings?

In a group you might not spend as much time with students individually. You certainly can’t let the rest of the group sit doing nothing while you work with one person. If you have a strategy in place, you can get the class going on something while you spend a couple minutes with one student. Plan for that time.

Ideas for what to do with the group while helping an individual:

  1. Use a backing track you’ve pre-recorded. I use my digital music recorder to create mp3s for them. You could have tracks with a two-chord or three-chord progression. Spend enough time on each chord to allow for students who are changing chords very slowly. You could add a metronome click on the recording to help them keep the tempo. I send an mp3 of tuning notes, too.
    • Early beginners might do a downstroke on each beat.
    • Some might be able to manage a two-four or four-four strum.
    • If you have a more advanced student, he or she could practice a simple finger-picking pattern or even power chords.
    • Show them the bass note of the chords. Some could simply play the bass along with the progression.
    • This way you have an ensemble going. How exciting for the group!

When they can play along easily, you might play the same progressions with some sort of groove, or in different styles. The fun factor shoots higher.

  1. If you have one or two students who have mastered some chord changes, instruct them to lead a certain number of measures on each chord.
  2. Allow time for each student to work on their own piece while you work with individuals. This could take up fifteen minutes of class, or whatever you determine works for you. If the noise level is too distracting, have students mute their strings with a cloth or sponge under them.

 

Be on the Lookout for Songs to Teach

Look for lists of songs with two, three or four chords. Do a search for two-chord country, folk, kids’, or rock songs. Do the same for more chords. Try The Guitar Three-Chord Songbook by Hal Leonard, which includes fifty songs in the first volume. There are three volumes, another book of 3-chord worship songs, acoustic songs, etc.

How often do chords change? Choose songs that stay on each chord for awhile before switching, especially in the first few weeks. Gradually add songs that have quicker chord changes.

Make sure you give plenty of chord review by teaching more songs.

If the first two chords you use are the I and V in a key, let the next chord you add be the IV chord in the same key. After that, your next key could be related. Example: start in the key of G (G, D, C), and go to the key of D next, which adds only one new chord (D, G, A). Or instead of going to the key of D, you might simply add G’s vi chord (Em), for their first four-chord song.

There are dozens of two-chord songs. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of three-chord songs, and no end to four-chord songs!

 

Train up Future Worship/Praise Band Members

Many churches these days have worship bands. Who will train the next generation of musicians?

Perhaps the church would allow you to teach in their facility for free. Find out their present song list. Often these choruses have three to five chords. YouTube can be a super tool to help your students learn the songs. You could look into Spotify to create a playlist for them.

Inspirational music can be of great encouragement to others, too. Have your students share these songs at a park or other venue.

 

Find performance opportunities for your students

What motivates students to practice more than knowing they’ll be performing in public?

Christmas is a wonderful time to get your students playing. Set up a time for your studio to ring the bell for Salvation Army, and have them bring their guitars and fingerless gloves!

But don’t wait for Christmas. Set up mini-recitals at the local assisted living homes, memory-care units, or nursing homes. The residents not only enjoy it, but music gets brain cells firing like almost nothing else. And the benefits to students go far beyond the musical realm.

Libraries often welcome musical programs.

How about some easy listening at a coffee shop?

 

Wrapping it up

I like to invite guest guitarists to play for the class from time to time. Especially former students! I encourage them to mention how difficult it was at first, and what practice did for them. Also what guitar means to them now. Let them talk about what vocals and other instruments, listening to music, and playing with other musicians means to them.

Before the guest guitarist visits, teach your class a piece your guest will know. Tell the guest so (s)he can prepare something special on the song. Invite the class to play along with the guest on that piece.

Mini-recital to end each class. Spend the final five to ten minutes letting students volunteer to show the others some improvement, what they learned today, or a new song. I never qualify this suggestion by saying “if you’re comfortable” or mentioning nerves. I’ve found that if I’m matter-of-fact about it, most students simply do it. No big deal. I’ll show them what I’m working on currently, too.

A short recital could be your grand finale for the group session. Sometimes I’ve taught them a song they can share at a local church for special music. If it’s well-known, the whole congregation might be invited to join in singing, with your class accompanying.

If you happen to teach voice, recorder or ukulele as well, perhaps you could combine all of your groups for a few pieces!

Group classes can create buzz to promote your studio. And you can use Music Teachers Helper to do your bookkeeping and provide a website!

I hope you’ll give serious thought to teaching group guitar classes. You can reach and influence so many more people with your music!

Let us know some of your experiences in the comments. Music Teachers Helper readers would appreciate hearing your ideas.

 

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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!
    • Unlike so many activities which are geared for people of the same age, it is noteworthy that group lessons can bring 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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