eBook release

After a long hiatus, I am happy to announce the release of our first eBook! Building Your Private Music Studio offers insight and suggestions in establishing, growing, and enhancing, your studio to increase impact and income. Numerous suggestions are strategies are offered for organization, scheduling, technology use, and avoiding the numerous financial pitfalls that can occur in this profession. For just $6.99, less than half the cost of one lesson, the eBook can be downloaded from amazon.com . Please click here to get your copy!

Reeds, Reeds, Everywhere..and all of them seem to squeak!

by Cindy Hallo

As my first official order of business, I’ve decided to alienate half of our readership. Woo hoo! I’ve really got the hang of this blogging thing already, don’t I?? It’s my goal to see how many times I can get Sean to regret his decision to ask me to write a few posts. I think we can all safely assume this will be the first, but definitely not the last…So brass players, take a load off. Go pick out a new mute, empty your spit valve onto some unsuspecting person’s toe… or whatever it is you guys do for fun.

What I wanted to talk about today is something that only affects some of us, but for those of us who have to deal with it, can cause a real problem in any studio or lesson setting. I’m talking epic, Biblical plague-like problems. Giant swarms of locusts would be easier to deal with than this.

I’m, of course, talking about single reeds.

Or as I like to call them: tiny, tiny pieces of the devil.

I’m not even going to touch on how much I hate picking out reeds for my own personal use. Rest assured choosing reeds is not one of my favorite activities.

What I’m here to discuss is kids and reeds. Two things that should probably never, ever be in the same room together. The old saying “like a bull in a china shop” comes to mind. One of my biggest pet peeves as a teacher is having a student with equipment that doesn’t work properly, whether it be a non-working key that a student has known about for weeks and is just ignoring, a ligature that won’t screw properly, or broken reeds. Broken reeds are the bane of my existence. I haven’t quite figured out how a sixth grader who seems to have a psychic ability to determine that the student next to them is one-seventyith of an inch too close to them in class can miss the giant, softball sized chunk absent from the tip of their reed. Or the thick coating of mold emanating from the very thing they’re sticking in their mouth every day. Ugh…I think I just made myself a little nauseous. It can be like pulling teeth to get a student to play on something that doesn’t look like they gave it to their pet guinea pig to gnaw on for a while. And I think we all know the terrible habits kids start to pick up when they’re deliberately changing their embouchure to make a horrible reed sound okay.

I feel like I’m digressing a little bit from my point, so let’s get back to it – this post is dedicated to sharing ideas on how to get students to use and take care of their reeds properly.

Sheet Music Plus Teacher

First and foremost is something I never did as a kid, but one of the band directors at my school teaches his beginning band students to do it, and I find it genius in its simplicity. As part of their required supply list, all students purchase a four slot reed guard at the beginning of the school year. Each slot is marked with a number or a different colored sticker – anything to differentiate the slots from each other. Throughout the week, the band director has his students cycle through the reeds, using one each day and basically ensuring that there are 4 broken-in reeds at any given time. When one reed breaks, the student immediately refills that spot with a new reed, working it back into rotation. Like I said…simple, but genius. Easy enough for kids to understand and implement and gets them started on thinking about having more than one working reed at a time. As an added bonus, the reed guards are MUCH easier for little fingers to use than those terrible plastic sleeves the reeds come in. Whoever came up with that little idea obviously never worked with 11-year-olds. Of course, these reed guards still require monitoring. Every few weeks, I peruse through the reed guard, immediately demolishing any reed that’s chipped or starting to mold. I’m probably costing the parents a little extra money, but I’m also saving their child from contracting some medieval form of black lung.

But what about those students who refuse (for whatever reason) to buy new reeds? Has anyone else had a kid try and use the same reed for…I don’t know…six months or so before physically taking the reed from them and crumpling it against a wall?

Not saying I have or anything…

I spent many years frustratingly asking “Is this an old reed?” or “How long have you had this reed?” before I decided that was dumb and I was wasting my breath. Currently, I buy a box of reeds at the beginning of each semester. If you spend too many weeks sounding like you’re trying to play a kazoo, you must destroy your reed and take one of my new ones. Once I run out of reeds for the semester, that’s it. No more. Luckily, I haven’t had anyone try and cheat the system by making me their free reed supplier, but I figure if that ever happens, a quick email to parents with my new reed policy (If your student spends too many weeks on a bad reed without replacing it, don’t worry – I have you covered! I’ll simply add $5 to your next bill for the reed your student purchased from me!) A little harsh? Maybe. But definitely to the point.

How about all you clarinet and saxophone teachers out there? Any great ideas to help your students learn about reed care?

First week of school Adjustments

The beginning of the school year always seems to bring a lot of drastic and unplanned changes to my teaching schedule. Although we frequently spend hours ( or at least I do) obsessing over the most efficient teaching schedule to maximize the number students, and minimize travel, something always seems to come up in the first week. Many times this week I have received the following emails:
“Our student has quit band, we forgot to tell you”
“Our student no longer wants lessons”
“We have moved to another school”
“We can no longer afford lessons for our student”
If this were to occur in the middle of the school year, it would definitely create a gap in my daily teaching schedule at least for some time, but, luckily the beginning of the year is a great time to re load when it comes to your studio.

Sheet Music Plus Teacher

I have found emailing the parents of beginner students is usually a successful strategy when it comes to filling in holes in your schedule. Usually beginners are quite excited about instruction and this can provide a smooth transition in your schedule, so you do not miss a week of work at that specific time slot. Additionally you may try coming into their band class and doing a short performance to drum up interest.

Also, in the beginning of the year I like to avoid telling a student I cannot fit them in the schedule until I have a concrete understanding of what my schedule looks like. For me, this usually takes about one or two weeks. Often times when students drop you can reexamine your schedule and find moving a few during the school day lessons around can often times erase any gaps that can pop up, and simultaneously allow you to create time for students you were not sure would previously fit.

Back to school

look inside
Rubank Elementary Method – Saxophone
Edited by N.W. Hovey. For Saxophone. Concert Band Method. Elementary Method. Instructional. Instructional book. Illustrations. 48 pages. Rubank Publications #RUBL41. Published by Rubank Publications (HL.4470030).

Music studio teacher is back from our summer vacation and ready to gear up for a new school year of private lesson teaching. Here are three things to consider when planning for the start of school:

Sheet Music Plus Teacher

Make sure to create your schedule and send proposed times out to all students with plenty of advanced notice. You need to allow enough time so that students could get back to you with potential conflicts, and alternate times could be provided, before school starts. Once the first day of school comes, if your schedule is not set you could be losing money.

The fall for my studio means students are working on their all region audition. Whatever the equivalent is in your studio, it is possible that your students may forget to bring the prescribed music to lessons, especially in the first lesson of the year. For this reason I scan all these excerpts and put them on my iPad, so that lessons can continue smoothly even if a student forgets his music.

The beginning of the year is a good time to revise your studio policy and send it out to all students as a friendly reminder about payment, etc. Also, you should take proactive steps to seek out and complete all paperwork required for background checks or school badges needed for the start of the school year.

look inside
Sonata No. 3
(Alto Sax and Piano). Composed by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Arranged by Sigurd Rascher. For Piano, Alto Saxophone (Alto Sax). Woodwind Solo. Baroque. Difficulty: medium. Set of performance parts (includes separate pull-out saxophone part). Solo part and piano accompaniment. 11 pages. Published by Warner/Chappell Music (HL.347808).

Maximizing the efficiency of your teaching schedule

This school year may not quite yet be over, but I am already considering my teaching schedule for the coming school year.  I am extremely obsessed with creating the most efficient schedule possible to both maximize income, and reduce travel.  Here are my top three considerations when coming up with my teaching schedule

  1. Directional planning: I like to go as far south as possible first, and then continually work my way back north to my house through as many stops at schools as necessary.  Obviously, you will need to tailor this to your location.  The idea being if you are leaving early for before school lessons you can get there with minimal traffic, and then end your day as close to your home as possible-to cut down on afternoon rush hour delays.  I avoid doing the following at all costs: Driving south to School A, diving North to school B, then driving back south again to School C.  This creates a longer commute home at the end of the day, wasted time that could be allocated to teaching more lessons during these drives back and forth, and increased consumption of gas
  2. Prioritize with Rate: Not all my schools have the same set rate per lesson. Also, some charge a monthly fee for facility use.  I put the schools with the highest rates on Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday.  School is rarely closed on these days.  The most common day school is closed is Monday.  There is one Monday each month in the school year where the building is closed.  Friday comes in second place with at least one Friday closure or early release every other month.  If my school charges a facility use fee, or has a lower rate I put these students on Mondays and Fridays.  This way if I am going to be losing potential earnings due to school holiday, I minimize my losses
  3. Scheduling of Fridays after school: It is difficult to maximize the number of students when Friday after school Is consumed by marching band performances. To counteract this I either teach at a middle school or a private school, which has no marching band, on Fridays.  It is difficult to maximize your studio potential when Fridays after school hours are being lost to football games.  This strategy has given me the best result for weekly Friday after school teaching.

Paperless Music Teacher

A few years ago I ditched the bag I was bringing to all my lessons, and went paperless.  This has been a revolution for my teaching,, and I thought I would share some of the benefits.  I bought at 32 gig iPad with  cellular data capability  for this occasion.  My school wifi accounts were so restricted it was impossible to use the internet for the purposes of teaching music.  So, some type of mobile device is obviously required for this.  Preferably something with a screen large enough for you or your students to read music from.  The good news is this purchase can be one of your many tax write offs for the year.

Communication increased significantly for me once I went paperless.   I could respond to emails in between lessons during the day, rather than dealing with fifteen to twenty unread messages later that evening.

My amount of paperwork decreased dramatically.  I was able to do all my scholarship paperwork using a type on PDF app.  I was acquired the necessary student signatures via the pen function of this app, and then emailed completed paperwork to the band directors.  This has become a major timesaver at the end of each month.

I used google documents to upload my weekly teaching schedule, as well as to edit the document with who has and has not paid for their lessons that month.

Google drive also became a valuable asset for me.  I uploaded pdfs of the material I work with my students on to my google drive.  Then, when a student forgets his or her music, its right there on the iPad.  With the cellular data working on my iPad I was always able to call up these files when necessary.

Additionally I was able to play recordings for my students via the iPad from my own music collection or YouTube.  This also works well for play along backing tracks for jazz studies, or playing a drone for tuning.

Lastly, I used this device to record students performing, with their permission.  Students could listen back and determine how they are playing a passage.

With the iPad I was able to eliminate bringing my hard copy schedule, notes on who had/hadn’t paid, solos, etudes, and monthly paperwork.  Additionally my drive home was enhanced by using the Waze app for real time traffic info and better driving routes to avoid rush hour congestion. Now, all I need is my horn, iPad, and a pencil when teaching lessons.


The Private Lesson Teacher’s Guide to Surviving the Summer

The summer can frequently be a season of less work for the private music teacher. Students are not attending school daily, and traveling to these buildings during their band classes to conduct lessons is no longer an option. This issue, combined with family vacations, sporting events, and other summer activities can make life difficult for the private lesson teacher in the summer months. With a few proactive measures, however, you can survive the summer without going broke.

1) Plan to save-You know that summer comes each year, and will present a predictable financial issue. So, during the school year do your best to put some money aside each month towards your summer living expenses.

2) Sell the importance of summer lessons-You cannot reasonably expect your entire studio to take summer lessons. Personally, I retain about 35% of my studio in the summer. Toward the end of the year I send out a mass message asking who would like summer lessons, and highlighting the importance of reinforcement of what we have learned this year, and the upcoming competition they will be practicing for in the form of all region  bands at the middle and high school level. This works better than just saying:  so, you want summer lessons?

3) Cater to your better students-Your best students are already planning on taking summer lessons. The ones that are serious about music would probably be interested in hour long lessons. This is a win-win for student and teacher. In the summer there is much more flexibility, so you can schedule an hour with less of an issue, you enjoy teaching this student, you can cover more material, the student improves more, and you are paid more. I send a targeted email to my better students proposing an hour.

4) Get in touch with beginners-Many times parents like for their student to get lessons before school starts so their child does not feel overwhelmed or fall behind during the beginning of band classes. This is another way to grow the summer studio. Hopefully, these beginners turn into your regular students, but even if some are just interested I a few start up lessons, this will help you survive the summer

5) School sponsored band camps- The schools you teach at may host summer band camps, and often look to hire private teachers as staff.

6) Marching camp staff-During marching band camps directors are often looking for extra part time staff to help with marching and learning music. Private lesson teachers are usually ideal candidates for this.

7) Start your own summer camp-Many musicians have had great success starting their own instrument specific camp or series of camps. The biggest hurdle is finding a location, but once this is established you can set the duration, length of sessions, cost, and material covered. This is a good time to introduce chamber music or instrument specific choirs to your students. It can be a lot of work to organize, but will help you survive the summer and possibly grow your studio going forward if you offer it school or district wide.

Retaining your students

The school year is winding down, and students must make a crucial decision. They must decide if they will continue in band, or quit band – and as a result, private lessons. Often times the private lesson teacher is the last person to know if a student is quitting band. This is frequently because the student may be uneasy to bring this up in conversation to you, the private teacher, directly. Also, band directors frequently know who is quitting but assume the student has already communicated this to their private teavher. Taking steps now can ensure you have a more accurate picture of who you will be teaching going forward.

Communication is key when it comes to retaining your students. Common reasons to loose students are preference for sports over band, general disinterest in band, desire to take numerous advanced placement courses over band, moving, and obviously graduation.

I send an email to my entire studio at this point of the year, it reads:

I have very much enjoyed teaching your student this year. Going forward if you would like to continue lessons no further action is needed. I will keep your student on my studio roster. If your student is no longer continuing band please let me know.

I know this may seem like you are inviting your students to quit. You are not. Most likely your students have decided this well before you send this email. It is far better to know who you will be losing now and plan accordingly, rather than schedule a time for next year only to find out they have quit band.

When doing this exercise there are always surprises. You are clearly aware your senior students won’t be returning, but some students respond they are quitting that you either feel are talented, or that you enjoy working with a lot.

Once you find this out, there is usually enough time left in the school year to switch their class schedules if you can persuade them to stay in band. Try talking to them in their lesson about the cause for their quitting. If it is a scheduling issue regarding sports or academia many times a solution can be reached. Often times students will just quit band and choose the other activity because they assume there is no solution. Frequently this can be resolved with good communication amongst the parties (students, parents, band directors, and other teacher/coach) and enough lead time to enact a resolution. When bringing this up with your students, do it in a causal way. If they interpret the conversation as aggressive, you may not achieve the desired result.

Once you have a final count of which students will be back, and who will be leaving I make a list of every student by school, and then band class if applicable. From here you can see where you have a lot of students, and where you can expand. You can also see what classes you have more time slots to teach and then can begin looking for new students to fill these slots. It is by far easier to communicate to new students about next year during the school year versus the summer because people check their email much more frequently during school.

I also try to use this time year to get information on who my new beginning students will be. Again, the band directors will be easier to get in touch with now rather than July. Usually, beginner parents are very enthusiastic about band in general, especially lessons. I like to send a mass email out to all incoming sixth grade saxophonists before school is over to see who wants lessons. This way you have a handle on both incoming and outgoing students.

Once you have acquired this information all that is left is to schedule your students. With the headache that is student scheduling you can rest easy knowing your previous work will ensure all your students scheduled are indeed still enrolled in band.