Performance


Time management is an essential component of managing a studio. In addition to managing and planning the details on the business end, many studio owners take an active role in the lesson and class planning. In this month’s blog, I will summarize points from Marienne Uszler’s book, Time Flies…How to Make the Best Use of Teaching Time.

Like last month’s blog on the use of repetition in practice (Self-help Pedagogy: Part 1), the first step is to determine how you use lesson time by video or audio recording yourself teaching a variety of different lessons. Then, review the recordings and make a timeline noting how much time was spent on each activity.

In order to plan an effective music lesson for the Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced leves, Uszler suggests that the following six elements must be present:


Summer is such a great time to rest and read. For the next three months I will devote my blog to reviewing three small wonderful “self-help pedagogy” books written by Marienne Uszler that have really influenced my teaching.

There are three books in the series: Play it again, Sam…What, Why, and When to Repeat, Time Flies…How to Make the Best Use of Teaching Time and That’s a Good Question…How to Teach by Asking Questions. All three books are very practical and give specific teaching techniques, helpful hints and references for further research. They are short on words and length, but long on ideas and concepts.

Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, when repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex. – Norman Vincent Peale

Play it Again, Sam… is particularly appropriate for right now in my studio as students are learning new repetoire for the summer. Learning a new piece requires so much repetition. How many times do you have a student repeat a new idea in your studio? What types of repetition do you espouse? At first glance of Uszler’s book, I thought it might contain suggestions to make repetitions more fun using games and so forth. Well, not quite. This is not a quick fix – Uszler’s approach is holistic. It is about teaching concepts that will stick and developing independent learners capable of transferring skills.

When most people think of performance anxiety, they may imagine someone about to go on stage to perform in a recital, or play, or to speak in front of an audience. They have spent hours, weeks, and most likely months getting ready to show the world what they have to offer with all their hard work, and expectations of themselves are high. I’m sure we’re all aware of the possible symptoms of performance anxiety, and have likely experienced some of them to a small or large degree ourselves – dry mouth, pounding heart, shaking hands, cold sweats, and upset stomachs. But what do we do when a student experiences this anxiety each and every week? And not through having a busy performing schedule, but in their lesson? Originally, I was just going to answer that question in this blog, but I’ve decided to make this a little more personal and share why this topic is so important to me.

I would like to discuss with you my own experiences with performance anxiety as a student through my early adult years (not that long ago – maybe 8-10 years ago) and share a few thoughts that would go through my mind each lesson. It’s quite a personal journey, but I have had a few adult students lately with the same sort of thought patterns and having been there, I know what they are going through. Most people don’t suffer anxiety to such a high level, so I thought I would give an insight into how much it can disrupt thought patterns and emotions tied into performing, and different ways of empathising and helping students to overcome it. I have managed to help shift my students’ (with performance anxiety) focus and their understanding of what their lesson is actually for, and I would also like to share that shift with you.

Art of PossibilityIn March, I traveled to New York City for the Music Teachers National Conference. Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, gave the keynote address on themes from the book that he and his wife wrote entitled, “The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life.” A colleague and I arrived early for the session and were greeted warmly with a friendly smile and handshake by Zander himself! He inquired where we were from and took a sincere interest in us. I knew at that moment that this would be a special session. And it was – it was truly transformational.

Zander began his talk unconventionally by walking from the front to the back of the room. He mentioned why people choose to sit in the back or the front row. Often, people won’t choose to be in the front row because they think it is saved for V.I.P. “Back rowers” like to be able to make a quick exit, sleep or text. Those who choose to be in the front row are open to receive (we had hesitantly chosen to sit in the front row!). Since the front row seats were not full, he invited folks to move up into them.

We all have the choice to be in the front row of our lives. According to Zander, our choices can be boiled down to either an upward or downward spiral (winning or losing, succes or failure), or the “radiating circle of possibility.” He said, “The world will show up entirely in the way you create it.” In other words, the secret of life is that, “It is all invented.”

category119One of my goals as a piano teacher–and probably one of the goals of many teachers and studio owners out there–is to avoid student turnover.  I understand that many students who quit piano at a young age will go on to have regrets as adults for not sticking with music lessons longer, which I find heartbreaking.  I enjoy transitioning students from elementary level music to intermediate and advanced repertoire, and if a student quits music lessons too soon, I don’t get to experience this with them.   I also truly believe having happy students (and experiencing little student turnover as a result) is the best marketing strategy out there.  If students are happy, they are less likely to quit and leave me to quickly find a replacement before it causes too much of a financial strain.  And, if students are happy, they will provide excellent word-of-mouth references in my community–free advertising!

So far, I have managed to avoid much student turnover and my returning student rate each fall has been between 90 and 95%.  I have found the following strategies to be successful in helping me to achieve this rate: