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.


Maximizing Musician Tax Deductions

Because of the self-employment tax faced by many musicians, it is critical to deduct as large of a portion of your income as possible. This way you are paying taxes only on the portion of your income that cannot be written off. If you are new to self-employed taxation, please see my earlier post on the basics.

My primary piece of advice on beginning this process is to get a good certified public accountant. Your degrees are in music, not tax law. Your CPA can help ensure all your forms are filled correctly and you are paying the correct amount in taxes. A tax return signed by a CPA looks better to tax officers than one filled out by an individual trying to take numerous deductions.


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Your role as a musician is to communicate all the items you would like to deduct to your CPA. Propose as many as you can, and your CPA will tell you what will fly and what will not. Keep in mind he or she is not a musician and is most likely unaware of the numerous expenses you have.

So, what can the musician deduct? Things you have purchased in the last year to do your job can be deducted. Some of the common ones are:

Standard deduction- Everyone gets this! It was $6,200 in 2014. This is a nice start to lowering your taxable income.

Self-employment tax- Using the  Schedule SE form you can determine your grand total of self-employment tax and then use the formula to determine the large portion of self-employment tax that can be deducted, about half.

Health insurance-If you are over 26 and self-employed, there is a good chance you are buying your own health insurance. The grand total of your monthly premium payments can be written off.

Retirement- Regardless of your age, it is important to set up a retirement account. If you open a traditional IRA, you can deduct these contributions, up to the maximum allowed, for the year.

Educational credits-If you are still in school, either enrolled undergraduate or a graduate degree program, you can write off the tuition paid. Your university can provide you with the needed form.

Student loan interest-Speaking of school, you may have completed your degree but are still paying loans. You may be eligible to deduct all the interest you have paid for the year on this loan, which can add up, especially in the beginning of your repayment period. Note, you cannot do this if you are married and file separate tax returns.

Insurance- this can be insurance on your instruments, your car you drive to work, liability insurance, or renters/home insurance if you have a home office.

Depreciation- You can depreciate the value of your instruments needed for your job over time. You can choose to either write off the entire value if you buy it in the current tax year, or depreciate it partially over a period of years. Either way, you must get an appraisal to verify the declared value.

Repairs-any repairs or maintenance on your instruments can be deducted.

Legal and professional services-you can use this column to deduct anything you paid for you tax return preparation for the previous year.

Car-If you use your car for your job, the government offers a standard rate for each mile driven for work. For 2015 it will be 57.5 cents per mile. If you drive a lot this really adds up. You must keep track of exact miles driven. Additionally, tolls and car maintenance can be written off too.

Supplies- You can use line 22 of your Schedule C to account for all necessary musician supplies. This includes sheet music, mouthpieces, ligatures, reeds, necks, strings, bows, instrument/music stands, and any other gadgets like iPads, computers, recorders etc. This category has a lot of potential so look back through your purchases to make sure you are not missing anything.

Travel-if you traveled for a conference, audition, or performance you were playing you can write this off, along with the cost of food for these trips.

“Other expenses” -Line 48 of your Schedule C allows for any other expenses that are not covered earlier in the tax return. This is a key area for musicians, because we frequently have unique expenses. Some to consider here are:
Facility use fees paid to lesson teaching locations
Fees to collaborative artists such as piano accompanists
Any lessons you take from others as professional development
Domain names for personal websites
PayPal fees if you use this for your students to pay you
Conference registration fees

Home office-People are sometimes scared to take this deduction, but if you have a room in your house or apartment dedicated to your profession you should go for it. This cannot be your living room with a computer in the corner, but rather a single room, with a door, used for work only. Not sleeping, eating, or partying. For this deduction you must know the square footage of the room and house and you can deduct a portion of your rent/mortgage. Also, add up all your utility bills and a portion of this can also be deducted with the home office.

All these things add up and help reduce your income to a more manageable, level for taxation. You must keep receipts for these items in case the value needs to be verified for up to 5 years after the return. I use a filing cabinet to keep receipts during the year. Then on Jan 1 I total everything up in a document and send it to my CPA. Good luck and happy deducting.

*Disclaimer-Please seek professional assistance in filing your taxes.  takes no legal responsibility for results from this post.

Summoning the creative flow

Everyone knows that feeling when the creative juices are flowing.  Whether its the extra motivation to complete invoicing, a sudden extra burst of enthusiasm teaching, or an interpretative discovery in performance, this often seems to come out of no where . Over at the renowned I Care If You Listen Blog Astrid Baumgardener has pinpointed the process of discovery what gets your creativity working at optimum efficiency.  I suggest everyone check out this post,  and the super hip I Care if You Listen blog as a whole

Tax tips for the private lesson teacher Part 1-the basics


Tax time is here. This can be an inconvenience for everyone, especially self employed musicians. Wheather this is your first year filing taxes as a self employed musician, or you are a veteran of the process, below I will offer some explanation of the challenges self employed musicians face and how to get yourself in the best situation possible when it comes to limiting your payments. Below is part one of my posts on this topic. It outlines the basis concept of self employed taxation. Look for my upcoming part 2 post on maximizing your deductions next week.

If you are doing a lot of teaching or performing it is likely taxes are not being withheld from your pay checks. Besides the federal income tax all individuals pay, the self employed must also pay what is known as self employment tax. This goes toward things such as social security and Medicare. If you are employed on a payroll, your employer covers half this and the other half is deducted from your paycheck each month.

Self employed individuals must pay this tax along with federal tax, so it can often times be a much higher tax bill. There is a deduction on this that can be taken to help offset the cost, but it is good practice to know what you are paying as a musician and why.

To prevent you from oweing a huge tax bill on April 15, musicians should submit quarterly tax payments using from 1040ES. To make this a successful procedure estimate your total tax for the year and divide it in 4. On these days: 4/15, 6/15, 9/15, and 1/15 you must mail this form in with a check to the United States treasury and your SSN number on the memo line.

Tax years are not calendar years. They begin and end on April 15. So, if you are new to this procedure you can get a fresh start on the 15th for the 2015 tax year. Obviously, this circumstance requires planning a head and saving. If you are not sure how much to pay, just submit some type of payment and begin planning a savings strategy for June 15.

The ultimate kicker of this procedure is often times teaching or performing can be seasonal, with things winding down in May. The June payment is still looming and  a savings account is key to making these payments. It is very easy to be unaware that money you are receiving has yet to be taxed so save frequently, and over time you will develop an idea of how much you will need to save toward taxes.