Robin Steinweg

Are your studio policies where you want them? Do you have policies?

If you run a school of music, a studio, or teach in your home, then you are a professional. You are an independent music instructor. A business person. You offer a vital service to your community. Your policies should reflect a level of respect for yourself as such. As a result, others will respect you. They will appreciate that your policies protect their interests as well.

How I came to believe in policies

I taught out of my home studio successfully for fourteen years with no written policies in place. I took a five-year break while my sons were young. When I started up again, it was with a greater need to help our family’s finances. I was surprised to find the landscape had changed. After-school activities had mushroomed, making the competition fierce for time and commitment. Parents or sitters taxied children from one activity to the next, barely having time to grab a bite to eat.

With increasing frequency, I’d wait for students who never showed. Sometimes I’d get a call earlier in the day. If we couldn’t find time to schedule a makeup lesson, I lost the income. The rare times we did reschedule, it always cut into our family time. How frustrating. I sent out notes asserting the importance of consistency. It did not help. My income was cut nearly in half!

One day as I waited for a talented young lady to arrive, her mother called, flustered.

“She has an extra dance rehearsal tonight, to prepare for the recital.” Then the mother flipped the switch that lit my understanding for good. “We really have to be there. We paid for all the lessons in advance, and there are no makeups.”

Wow. Why should I sit here in an empty studio while these other organizations, earning money from a few hundred students compared to my thirty, tapped my source of income?

I turned to other teachers online for counsel. In the process, I learned about running a business in a professional manner. This changed how I pictured and valued myself. I hadn’t given myself a raise in years. I was nervous about launching policies and a pay-raise, fearing I’d lose clients. But my fellow teachers encouraged and bolstered me.

I took a few months to sift through and study others’ policies. I chose the ones that fit me best. When I finally sent them out to families, holding my breath, the response was tremendous. Parents called to congratulate and thank me. They sent their registration fees and first tuition checks promptly. Only one backed out, and honestly, I think the family would not have continued anyway.

Benefits of instituting policies

Immediately and increasingly, my families and the community viewed me as a local studio as opposed to someone “who taught music to a few students.” If a child took lessons with me, it was something they could add to their portfolios with pride. Parents referred others to me. Many paid the full semester in advance, but some gratefully paid the tuition in four equal monthy installments. No more counting and billing one, two or five lessons in the month, every family different. Within a few months my waiting list grew. Gradually other teachers came to me for counsel.

I grew more serious about myself as an educator as a result of my policies. I attended more continuing education courses. I found ways to offer students more. I reviewed my past experiences as a musician, and included them in what I offered.

Now I teach knowing that if a student doesn’t show up, I’m covered. I don’t get bent out of shape with the family. But truthfully, they seldom miss a lesson anymore.

What items should policies cover?

Each private music instructor’s policies are as individual as fingerprints. So I encourage you to do your homework. Read others’ policies. If you associate with teachers who don’t post theirs publicly, ask to see them. Private music teachers are, by and large, a giving bunch, willing to offer a hand up. If you worry that parents will feel your policies are too strict, this might help.

Here’s what I include 

What I offer in lessons

I place this near the front, because it illustrates what makes me unique among my local colleagues. I always start with a mention of the lifelong benefits of music instruction. Then I tell them what lessons with Steinweg Studio of Music will include.

Tuition concerns

I explain that students enroll in a course of study similar to a school, with a semester tuition as opposed to a per-hour rate. The tuition ensures that their lesson time is reserved for them each week.

In addition to regularly scheduled weekly lessons, they have opportunities to attend at least two Master Classes per semester, and to perform in one recital per semester. Other performing opportunities may arise but are also not mandatory.

There is no credit for missed lessons. However, I offer a swap list to make it easier to switch lesson times with other students if conflicts arise. I ask them to try to avoid scheduling other appointments during their lesson time. If a true emergency or contagious sickness arises, they can be put on a 3-week cancellation list. If someone cancels during those weeks, they will have opportunity to take that time.

Payment Options

By giving families options, fewer feel excluded, even if my rates are higher than some in my town. They have seen that I offer more than many others.

I teach 30, 45 and 60-minute lessons. I reserve the final say as to whether students are ready for longer lessons. I wouldn’t want to end up babysitting a 5-year-old student with a 5-minute attention span for a full hour. Students can pay the full semester of x lessons per semester in advance, or make four equal monthly installments. Tuition is due no later than the s

econd scheduled lesson of the semester. Payment after that point will include a 10% per week late fee.

You can decide whether to accept cash or check. Alternatively, if you have an online bookkeeping service such as Music Teachers Helper, families can pay online. They can also be sent email reminders of scheduled lessons or recitals, birthday greetings, and so much more.

Using Music Teachers Helper means families can pay online.

Registration fee

I debated long about whether to charge an additional fee and how much. After I added up the amount I spent on extra items, I realized I wasn’t earning anywhere near what I hoped. I list some of these extras in my policies so families can  see how reasonable it is.

I have raised the fee a couple of times, and am considering raising it again this year. I make sure that if I do, I provide added value for the student in some way.

This fee is once per school year per student. This is the only time I give a discount for more than one student in a family, since it’s partly to cover bookkeeping, and I do that by family. The fee is due along with the first tuition payment. It remains the same whether or not they start lessons in September.

I explain that it is a nonrefundable fee to help defray the cost of such studio expenses as legal photocopies, Master Class materials, computer software, incentives, instrument maintenance, bookkeeping, recital programs, refreshments and supplies, travel and/or time spent searching for music and materials.

Next month’s policy article, Part II

Next month here on the Music Teacher’s Helper blog I’ll discuss such things as makeup lessons, practice expectations, swap lists, communication and creating registration forms.

If you have further questions or would like to share how you handle your teaching policies, I welcome your comments.

Our policies can provide protection and relief for all concerned.

Happy teaching!

 

 

 

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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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