Monday, January 27, 2014

Competitions and Performances

At this time of year as I prepare my students for performances and judging at music festivals, I find myself wondering about the need for competitions.  It adds stress to what should be a relaxing enjoyment of music.  In addition to my own students, I accompany band and choir students so it is a very busy time for me and the students.  I find that it takes a great deal of time away from their lesson materials and gets us “off track” with theory and other concepts relating to music instruction. 

Our society is full of competition and I see the advantages for some students.  The truth is that I give my students the option of competing or not.  Most of them choose to participate in the judging.  It is very certainly an opportunity for me to push them to achieve the most possible out of their pieces and if it weren't for the "Specter of the judge”, I doubt whether they would work as hard.  It also is the only time of the year that they perform for someone who really knows music, unlike the warm and fuzzy audiences at concerts and recitals. 

Truthfully, many of my students make larger strides during this time as opposed to the rest of the year.  They are striving for an immediate goal and it appears to drive them to work harder and care more.   Without a deadline, songs seem to take longer to learn and are often not learned as musically.  I tend to not hold them to such high standards of performance for their regular lesson assignments. 

I also find that having performances and competitions keep the students working toward something instead of getting bored with lessons and practice.  The students gain confidence as well as advancing skills after having a successful performance for competitions.  It likely prepares them well for future challenges.

Having said all of that, I still am very ready for the competitions to be finished.  I write this as I am sitting in my home office during yet another day of school being canceled due to extreme cold. Our wind chill is around -30 degrees and it is supposed to be colder tomorrow.  Since my studio is in a public school, my lessons are canceled automatically!  Today I would have had 22 students and another 15  tomorrow.  Now I have another week before they will be judged so the stress continues!  I’m sure they are all at home practicing……………………….and will be even more prepared next week?  There is no way that I could make up that many lessons.  It takes a toll on my income but since I teach during the day at school, lessons are subject to the school schedule.

Our high school competition is in February and once that is finished, we move on to planning recitals!  It never gets boring!

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Memorable Lesson

Amusing things that happen at lessons and recitals

Sometimes our students do or say things that are just too funny or memorable not to share!   Often they will tell us things about their parents or families that I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be a topic of conversation -- if only they knew!

One of my students (a 6 year old girl) came to her piano lesson very distraught.  I asked her what was wrong and if she needed my help with anything.  She immediately began to cry very hard and told me that her mother left them!   She said that now she had to live with her older brother.   I replied that I was sure their mother didn’t really leave for very long but the little girl insisted that she was “gone forever and went very far away.”   Generally she had wonderful lessons and was a very happy child. 

Since my studio is in a school, after trying to reassure her, I walked her to the guidance counselor.  After talking with both of them for awhile; I went to my next student.   The counselor worked on getting her more settled down and then took her back to her classroom.  After trying but failing to reach her parents, they set in motion an investigation of the situation.  

A couple of days later, we found out that her mother went to another son’s graduation from basic training in the Army.   It was in another state and she was staying for the weekend, hence the “far away and for a long time” comment from the little girl.  We were so relieved when we found out the truth.  This poor little one felt like she was deserted!  If only we had known the whole story right away, we could have been much more helpful to her.   She had me, the counselor, and her teacher feeling so bad for her and really coddling her for a couple of days! 

This little girl is now an adult with children of her own, and we have a good laugh about it now.  Some of what we hear from our little students is preciously exaggerated but also very real to them!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Stopping the Summer Slide

....from Sally's Studio

One Week Down!

I am at the end of the first week of fall piano and guitar lessons.  With the exception of one student who came to tell me that she isn't going to continue with lessons (5 minutes after it should have started), all is going well.  After the challenge of the scheduling process, things went quite smoothly.  Due to changes in their school schedules, I have had to adjust lessons several times but it has now stayed constant for almost two days!  Hallelujah!

Ready for Action

Many of my students took summer lessons and after taking a few weeks off at the end of the summer, are ready to jump right in again.  It is so rewarding to see my more advanced students eager to get started on their challenging pieces for competitions.  

Summer Slide

Other students though, obviously haven't touched the piano since school let out last spring. I even had one 6th grader who, even though she has been playing "pops" during the summer,  couldn't remember many basics!  She was crushed at how much she had forgotten.  It will take some intensive reviewing to bring these students back up to speed.  I will use games (our Whirligig games of course!) among other things to make the review process more fun, but it still takes precious time.  

Mandatory Camp?

I am considering a mandatory end-of-summer camp for those who don't take summer lessons.  The band director and I have been holding music camps for the last few years and they have been very successful.  It would definitely make the first few lessons in the fall much more enjoyable for both me and my students.  

So many people spend the summer running from one sporting event or practice to another.  Several of them had tournaments every weekend as well!  It always frustrates me that they can find the time to do that but not a few minutes to get their children to music lessons.  I understand the value of being involved in team sports and physical activity -- I just wish it was not at the expense of their cultural arts training.  

It would sure be nice if we could find a way for them to coexist!  

blog sponsored by Whirligig, LLP

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Why Didn't I Think of That?

......from Sharon

I know, I know, you are a music teacher, not a marketer! You love teaching. You love seeing the light in a student's eye as a difficult concept is finally understood.  You love hearing the progress that your students are making as they practice and learn and grow. Marketing isn't something that comes so naturally. Unfortunately though, waiting for word-of-mouth references can make for a slow build-up to a studio.

Marketing is an important part of every business, and it can be difficult to get going in a good direction. Here are at least a few things that can be done to help get the ball rolling.

Talk to the local schools (especially the music teachers)

As a parent (Sally is the music teacher in Whirligig, LLP), I find that I rely heavily on my children's music teachers (band directors) to help with finding private instruction.  I hope that they will be able to give me some guidance as I don't even know where to begin to look.  My children's band director puts together a list of suggested private instructors, and he appreciates any feedback he gets from parents as to the quality of the teacher.

Invite a local music teacher out for coffee and a muffin and discuss your experience and expertise.  Leave some business cards and flyers that will link to a facebook page, website or blog so that the students can find more information about you.

Accompany for competitions

(Back to the local school's teachers again.)  In my children's band programs, solo/ensemble competition is encouraged.  With the exception of percussion, most of the instrument pieces require a piano accompanist.  If the band teacher knows you are available and willing to work with the band students on polishing their pieces, that becomes a great reference for you.  It is another way to get your name out there, and to potentially increase the number of students coming from word of mouth referrals.

Senior Center

Are you interested in some more mature students?  Perhaps someone who has always wanted lessons, but for some reason was unable to have them as a child or young adult.  Now the retirees have some free time, disposable income, and a willingness to practice.  Pinning a flyer on the notice board, leaving business cards, and maybe even volunteering to perform or having a recital at the Senior Center would be ways to let this group know of your interest and availability.

Social Media/Website/Internet Marketing

The internet has become a source of everything these days.  Our young parents have grown up with computers and don't think twice about looking online to find anything.  Setting up a Facebook and/or Google+ page might be one free way to get an online presence.  You can have your own personal page and from that account you can set up a business page.

Blogs are another way to go.  Free blogs can be set up through a Google or Word Press account.  There are templates that can be used so that you can enter your own content and go.  You could keep that as kind of a message-board or "Note from the Teacher" that is directed toward your parents.  Parents of potential students can then see what your studio is up to and perhaps see links to some of your policies and practices.

You can set up your own website.  This will of course require a fee, and maybe even some design savvy.  It is important that the site look professional and appealing. An unprofessional website can discourage people from investigating your services.  Perhaps a parent of one of your students would be willing to help you set up a website.

If your community has a web page that features businesses, you might see if you can be included.  You can see about becoming a part of a piano teacher web resource page like this one

Don't Give Up!

None of these methods are a "magic bullet" that will guarantee students in your studio.  No matter what  you do, expect it to take time, persistence and patience.  The key is to hang in there and not give up!

Hope these thoughts help!  Good luck with the new year!

Looking for tools to help reinforce theory concepts? Check our our theory games at Whirligig, LLP!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Supplies for a New Start

.....musings from Sharon

The summer days are slipping away s-o-o-o-o quickly. In spite of the heat this year it has been a wonderful few months.  The sun, green trees, singing birds, chirping crickets, and beautiful flowers, are rejuvenating!  Walking outdoors into a vibrantly colored landscape is something worth savoring.

While the shortening days, changing leaves, and back-to-school sales bring some sadness, there is also an excitement for the new school year and a fresh start.  My kids are getting new supplies, shoes, clothes, teachers, and activities.  Teachers and students alike are looking forward to the new school year with anticipation.  It's time for new possibilities, to do a little better than last year, and to move upward and onward with a clean slate.  

Music Teacher Marketing

It only seems fair that those who are teaching are able to get some new, fun supplies too.  With that in mind I have hunted and scoured the print-on-demand store, Zazzle, in search of a few marketing tools for piano teachers.

NOTE - Zazzle always has something on sale.  If you aren't in a hurry, frequently check the Zazzle website for the current deal.  You might save yourself a lot of money and get your marketing off to a good start!

There's a Piano Teacher on my Street?  Really?

For starters, I've found some yard signs to advertise your studio.  How many people know that you give lessons in your house?  How many people drive by on a daily basis who just might want to bring their children to a more convenient location....if only they knew that there was a teacher closer to home or school?

NOTE- These yard signs do not come with stands included.  The stand is an additional $1.95.  It is found at the bottom of the right-hand column of the product page where it says "Add Yard Sign Frame"

Custom Piano Lessons Yard Sign Ad
Custom Piano Lessons Yard Sign Ad by CustomSigns
Browse another yard sign at Zazzle

Business Cards

Along with yard signs, of course you will be wanting some business cards!  Not only good for dropping in restaurants for a chance to win a free meal (and who wouldn't want that?), they are perfect to leave on bulletin boards of local schools and community centers.

It is possible to coordinate the look so that you can have matching yard signs and business cards for a consistent look.

Piano Keys Music business card
Piano Keys Music business card by BluePlanet
Browse Piano Business Cards

Looking for something specific?

If you find a business card that you like, but can't find other matching pieces (yard sign, stickers, postage, etc), I have found that most of the designers at Zazzle are willing to go the extra mile and create a product at a customer's request.

That's one of the amazing and cool things about Zazzle -- you can have something that is customized to your needs!  If you click any of the above products and then scroll down the page a bit, you will see the heading "Information from the Designer" along with the designer's Zazzle store name, store link, and contact information.  Click on "Contact" and you can send an email to the designer whose style you like - and you can possibly get a design that is a little more customized to your needs.

No promises, not all designers are able or willing to do this.  I do know though, as one of those designers, and as one who participates in the Zazzle forums, there are many, many designers who will be happy to work with you.

Looking for tools to help reinforce theory concepts? Check our our theory games at Whirligig, LLP!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Putting Together a Recital - Part 2

.....from Emma's Studio

Uncertainty does not sit well with me. Because I had never put together a recital at this location before (or anywhere else, for that matter), I spent a good portion of the recital day thinking along these lines: “…..I hope the parents like it….I hope my students come prepared….I hope they come in the first place…..I hope I don’t make a fool of myself…. I hope we have enough chairs… etc, etc, etc. However, when I showed up at the recital venue half an hour early, the music store employees had everything ready to go just as I had requested it. There were extra chairs out, a table to hold my refreshments, and a sink to fill up the water pitcher. The piano was set up and ready to go, and the students who showed up early had the opportunity to test it out beforehand. (See, all that worrying really paid off!)

During the recital, we hit one snag, but I was able to use my improvisational skills to recover. Two of my students could not make the recital on time, and the other students finished playing before these two arrived. I filled the time by inviting any willing students to perform another piece. Surprise, surprise; it worked!

 I am very proud of all of my students for showing up and participating, and some of them really surprised me with the attention to detail they put into their pieces. Only one of my students remembered the time we spent practicing how to finish the performance with a bow, but that leaves something to work on for next time. However, the best part for me was the appreciation shown by the parents after the recital. I am blessed to have such a supportive group of parents and students! 

Looking for tools to help reinforce theory concepts? Check our our theory games at Whirligig, LLP!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Putting Together a Recital: Part 1

. . . . . . . . . from Emma's studio

At the beginning of May, I had the opportunity to participate in my first piano recital as a piano teacher. One of my colleagues was generous enough to allow a few of my students to participate in her piano recital. After that experience, I decided to put together my own recital for the rest of my students. Little did I anticipate the challenges I would face…

Challenge number 1: Scheduling. I suppose most teachers just pick a day and tell their students “This is the recital day. If you can make it, that’s great; if not, too bad, maybe next year.” However, I wanted to do my best to make sure that all of my students could participate (since I only had six), so I wound up changing the date twice, after several frantic emails and phone calls.

Challenge number 2: Location. My studio is, as my mom so succinctly put it, “Mom’s living room.” Unfortunately, Mom’s living room is not set up to host four families of students without squishing people together. Fortunately, my local music store offers the use of its facility free to piano teachers for their recitals. Great! Right? Well, we all know what assuming does… I thought I would be free to pick whatever time I wanted. Instead, my choices were 6pm or 6:30pm, and as I was planning an early afternoon recital, these choices left my rather flustered. Oh well, I choose 6pm and made it work. 

The other challenge involved putting together a program for the recital. However, since my time in the education department at Wisconsin Lutheran College made me very adept at Microsoft Office Word and I had several previous programs of my own to use for reference, I skated through that challenge without much difficulty.

Stay tuned for information on the recital itself….

Looking for tools to help reinforce theory concepts? Check our our theory games at Whirligig, LLP!