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!
By Cindy Hallo
I was going to title this post “Time Management”…..and then I remembered I don’t know ANYTHING about that subject. Like at all.
I’m the girl that works two jobs, runs 40-50 miles a week, travels around the country for marathons, and sleeps no more than 5 hours a night. Free time is something I had back in 2005.
I think a better word for what I want to talk about is “Boundaries”. It’s very easy for people whose job doesn’t require them to be parked in a cubicle from 9 to 5 every day to extend the work day. This is especially true for lesson teachers – it’s like a game of Tetris sometimes to fit all your students in the allotted amount of time on the right days at the right school, during the right class period. Obviously the administration wasn’t thinking about our needs when they created the school day…rude!
Maybe other people learned this a little more quickly than I did, but I can’t tell you how many times my schedule come September would resemble a 12 hour shift on an assembly line. Student willing to start lessons at 7am? Sign me up. Stacking them four deep after school? Hellz yeah. Going to students houses in the evenings/on the weekends if I couldn’t fit them in during normal school hours? Of course! Before I knew it, I was working 10-12 hour days 6 days a week. An 8 hour day was like a vacation. When the drive-thru girl at Taco Bell knew my order by the sound of my voice, that’s when I realized how bad it had gotten.
This year, I’ve taken a step back and realized something.
I don’t have to take every student that crosses my door.
I know. I’m a freaking genius.
Turning down students does not make you a bad teacher, much like saying “No” doesn’t make you a bad person. This took me several years to understand. The first part anyway…I’m still trying to figure out the second part. It actually makes you a BETTER teacher when you realize how many students you can comfortably handle in your studio. Each student gets a little more of your brain power, a little more of your time. And you get to eat something besides Taco Bell for dinner during the week.
I’ve found myself spending more time thinking about the best plan of action for each student, following up on emails, making sure I bring the right music to school with me, etc. And I’m definitely taking better care of myself. I eat better, find more time to run, have more time to relax with friends and family, and sleep better. And I don’t think I need to tell any of you that a well rested teacher is a much better teacher.
Now I’m not saying drop all your kids and only accept a few each year. We’ve all gotta pay the rent. But I am suggesting instead of just blindly accepting any student that sends you an email, you take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Is there a lot of driving? Am I going out of my way at rush hour? Am I giving up something I enjoy to teach this lesson? How serious is this student? This might sound a little selfish, but teaching is a lot like being a parent (says the girl with no kids, so take it with a grain of salt)….taking care of yourself first makes you a better teacher.
And quit eating Taco Bell. That stuff will kill you.
Music studio teacher is excited to kickoff 2016 with a guest post from Dr. David Cutler. His new book, The Savvy Music Teacher is available here.
The Direct Link Between Income and Impact: Savvy Music Teachers
By David Cutler
On the surface, the suggestion that the best independent music teachers are those who earn the most money seems ludicrous. No obvious, mathematical correlation can be drawn between fiscal and pedagogical success. We have all encountered incredible educators who struggle to make ends meet, or financially comfortable ones who are mediocre instructors at best.
Yet I argue that there is indeed a parallel. When done right, impact and income are closely related bedfellows. Savvy Music Teachers (SMTs) find ways to make them both go up, in harmony.
How is this claim supported? It is difficult to devote 100% of attention to teaching excellence when tormented by problematic personal finance. Economic woes trigger a host of problems, inducing stress, strained relationships, and zapped enthusiasm. Individuals forced to take supplementary “day jobs” they despise just to get by, or those with unmanageable schedules and an unbalanced life, are unlikely to have time or energy to go the extra mile for students.
On the flip side, a sound financial model increases likelihood that teachers find the psychological space to offer their best. It provides a foundation for maintaining a studio, organizing meaningful activities, pursuing professional development, and tackling passion projects, in addition to fulfilling personal desires such as buying a house or raising a family.
Is there a more direct correlation? There is if you do things right. In order to increase impact, SMTs are known for employing teaching tools and strategies that expand beyond the average studio. As a result, their offerings are differentiated in innovative and meaningful ways, which translates to more students and higher fees. In addition, they offer a variety of products and services beyond lessons that enhance learning and revenue. Independent music teachers looking for a raise have an opportunity: imagine new, valuable musical experiences. Connect those initiatives to a sound economic model and, voila, both earnings and value rise.
When writing The Savvy Music Teacher, I had the good opportunity to interview more than 150 independent teachers from across the globe (many are profiled in the book). Typically, I would contact them with a particular angle in mind: curriculum, policies, tuition model, studio management, etc. During these talks, however, the conversation often strayed in wonderful ways, exploring peripheral issues that were also parts of the model. We discussed challenge, opportunities, frustrations, and solutions.
As a rule, instructors with inventive business models matched them with creative teaching approaches, and vice versa. For example, music teachers who generated substantial incomes were more likely to integrate improvisation, technology, and multiple musical genres than those who didn’t. That was a fascinating lesson. It seems that creativity is a transferrable skill. Those who master it benefit in a host of ways, creating simultaneous wins for themselves, students, and communities.
Income and impact; money and meaning. These terms may not be synonymous, but for SMTs, they are closely related.
DAVID CUTLER balances a varied profile as a jazz and classical composer, pianist, educator, arranger, author, speaker, and director of the world’s premier experiential arts entrepreneurship workshop The SAVVY Musician in Action. His books The Savvy Musician and The Savvy Music Teacher help musicians build a career, earn a living, and make a difference. Cutler serves as the University of South Carolina’s Director of Music Entrepreneurship.
So, what’s your real job?
This is a question I am asked all too often by both my parents, students, and sometimes fellow school staff/administration.
The financial elements of being a freelance music teacher and performer often present a unique lifestyle that most non musicians really have no concept of. Frequently I am even asked (as a saxophonist) when I am planning on joining an orchestra full time…
My response (much to the shock of the onlooker) : Never.
This is just one of many examples when the career path of a freelance musician can not be confined to a neatly wrapped package.
Being freelance is hard to explain. Are you a school teacher? Well Kind of: I teach just saxophone though, to one person at a a time, without an assigned classroom…… Also I am not on the payroll, and I receive no benefits…… But I do have a parking pass and a badge!
We private teachers straddle the line where we may be issued a badge by a school district, yet must identify ourselves at the front desk each time we enter the building!!! (This is one of life’s greatest mysteries!)
Your students are your employer and Its best for you if they know that.
Music is a noble art; we are trying to reach an abstract goal that really has no mountain top or concrete ending point. Often times in our creative ways, I think its easy to assume that everyone we associate with knows about our quest for great art!
Unfortunately students and or parents sometimes do not understand the years of schooling at a university or conservatory, the thousands of hours of practice, the hundreds of performances, hours of our own private study, immeasurable costs of instruments, music, supplies, music, other miscellaneous musician costs, and the continual development of our craft just to reach the point where we can have financial security in our chosen field of employment. They more likely assume you are someone who played in high school band and now teach a few kids as a hobby. Sigh,….
So, at the start of this year when I sent out my billing policy I simply informed my employers (parents) that this is what I do. I nicely and professionally explained that this is my sole form of employment and my daily job.
Since then I have been paid on time by my students much more frequently than before! Perhaps parents now simply feel bad for me assuming their child is my sole source of income, or perhaps they have gained a deep appreciation for my life long quest of art. But either way, I’ve been sending a lot less emails asking for money! Anyone else out there have any tricks for explaining your occupation?
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.
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?
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.
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.
This week I would like to continue with a brief review of another app I find quite helpful in teaching lessons. It is called Tunable and is just 2.99 in the App Store. With the multitude of tuner apps available, I like this program for a few important reasons.
The interface of the app gives the user an engaging experience. The tuner line runs the length of the screen vertically. If the tone is sustained,the line will remain straight.If there is unintentional variation, there will be waves and bends within the straight line. If vibrato is added the waves in the line will oscialite at the rate of vibrato.
The actual pitch tuning exists in both left and right quadrants of the screen. These will expand outward to the edge of the screen when the pitch is most in tune. This is a more engaging visual representation of pitch accuracy for many of my students.
The format of this app creates a video game like experience with goals and animations beyond the traditional tuner. Additionally, it includes a metronome and drone feature. For only three dollars, this product is definitely worth considering to add to your musical app arsenal
As we enter summer lesson mode I sometimes depart from the traditional repertoire and allow my younger students to play something “fun”, which to them is a pop song or a work from a movie soundtrack. Usually, this takes some planning ahead and often times transcribing skills. Also, you have to have a working knowledge of popular music which I do not always possess.
Recently I discovered the chromatik app, and this has revolutionized my access to music of this nature. This app is free to download and requires a free account to utilize. Once you do this you are allowed access to sheet music ranging from pop, rock ,country, movies, etc. Most of this is in concert pitch, but this is not a big problem in a private lesson setting.
Additionally, the app has a classical library where you can search solo pieces in the public domain by instrument. This is ideal for the occasional student who forget his or her music.
Also, the app offers a real book function that simultaneously plays chord changes. This is a great feature for a student who does not have access to Aebersold play alongs.
I am thrilled to have discovered this app and it has made summer lessons more enjoyable for all my students. I highly,recommend it!
This week I have mixed things up and sent the weekly blog post on studio organization out via the music studio teacher newsletter. To read this weeks post, please subscribe to our newsletter via the subscription bar at the very top of the web page and receive this week’s post directly to your inbox. Don’t worry, your email address will be used only for our newsletter. This week’s topic covers an extremely valuable web based tool on studio organization. For more info, subscribe above!
The end of the school year is upon us. If you are like me, you have a few students who don’t pay on time. They always do pay you eventually, but frequently it occurs one or two weeks into the next month, rather than in the month lessons actually occurred. My normal motto for this type of situation is to kill them with kindness, and persistence. Each Friday I send a Bcc email to all my students still owing for the current month, asking kindly if they could please bring a check the following week. Most of the time I am fine with this strategy and my number of outstanding accounts drops each month until everyone is current.
However, at the end of the year if you are not paid by the last day of school, it becomes much harder to track down payments. You are no longer seeing the student each week, school is out of session, and you are unable to roll the money over in to the next month’s bill. In this case I try several strategies until I am able to collect the check.
First, I use a direct email, rather than my Bcc technique above, explaining school is over and everyone needs to get their accounts current. I then ask for a response in the message verifying funds will be brought the coming week. If I do not hear back this way, I try a phone call. This is a bit more direct, but sometimes works better. If no one answers the phone I try a text. If this doesn’t work I speak directly to the student about it, and will even text the student a reminder the day before to bring payment.
Your last card to play is band director intervention. Frequently band directors wield larger influence than the private lesson teacher. So, you can try telling your student if they cannot bring funds you will be forced to tell band director. This may scare them into paying you, or you may actually ask if the band director will contact student’s parent/guardian. If all else fails school band budgets will sometimes compensate you for one month of unpaid lessons on a school by school basis.
Persistence will pay off in this matter. There have been times where I wasn’t able to collect a check by then end of school and could not get in touch with parent suddenly. I just kept emailing weekly, daily, until suddenly a check appeared in my mailbox.