Program Development

Festival, exam and competition season is upon us. How do you prepare your students for these events? I take this part of my teaching very seriously, mostly because I had a negative experience at a music exam as a student myself. My first piano teacher registered me for a piano exam and I had absolutely no idea what to expect, was not coached on any of the components of the exam, and left feeling like a failure. Luckily, I did not lose my drive for music and instead found a much more competent teacher who took the time to make sure I was prepared. What I learned from her was invaluable to me as both a performer and teacher. Most of this is common sense, but I would like to share some of my ideas.

I believe that in order for my students to be successful, and in order for them to become long-term students, the most important thing I can do is have a strong and broad base of parents. The parents must be willing to invest a great deal of time into getting them to lessons and practicing with them at home. Lessons of any sort are a commitment not just on the part of the child, but on the part of a parent, too. The happier your parents are, the more likely you are to develop a long-lasting relationship with the student. Parents are integral to the success of your studio.

Recently I was at a doctor’s appointment and was asked what I do for a living. I told my doctor I taught piano. He was very interested and asked many questions, which is typically the response I get whenever I share about my profession. However, as I later reflected on the conversation, I thought that perhaps I could have been more savvy. I often get too wordy and perhaps go into details that are unnecessary and time-consuming.

The experience prompted me to brush up on my “elevator conversation.” An elevator talk is a powerful, compelling, but concise explanation of what you do (or if you are looking for a job, what you want to be doing). Additionally, it can be crafted for different audiences or events, such as interviews or conferences. Its title refers to the length of an elevator ride, meaning that it lasts for about 20 – 30 seconds. Within that time, one should be be able to give the “big picture” about their business that is memorable and clear, sparking curiosity. The goal is for the person with whom you’re speaking to say, “tell me more!”

Recently, I was browsing through a book called “Making Music for the Joy of It,” by Stephanie Judy. I was looking through the chapter on practicing, because I was looking for a little inspiration to get my personal practice to the next level. In this chapter, I found a really great tool to help me create better and more focused practice sessions: The Musical Logbook. After I read the chapter, I went to Staples and bought all the supplies to make one, and I have been using it daily for the past 2 weeks. I have to say, my type A personality loves this kind of structure. I thought it would make a fun activity for group workshops with students. There are many opportunities for creativity, and I think making your own individualized logbook inspires you to actually use it and can possibly get you excited to practice. Here is what’s inside:

I love the holidays and the opportunities it presents for me as a studio owner. Last month, I shared some of the ways that I use Halloween in all its glory to generate some performance and marketing opportunities at my studio. With Christmas fast approaching, I’ve switched out my pumpkin and witch practicing stickers for the likes of Santa and his elves.


Pretty much any piano method book has a supplementary book for the holidays, making a holiday recital a pretty easy thing to throw together. But rather than a typical performance at a typical recital venue, I like to use the holidays to teach my students that they can use their musical gifts to serve others. Each year, we select a local nursing home and have students perform their holiday pieces for a get-together there. The residents love it, and often students will go beyond just playing a piece and bake cookies or color cards for the residents and interact with them after the performance. Students also enjoy the casual, laid-back atmosphere as opposed to a more formal venue — it’s not unusal for a student to perform in a Santa hat or even sing along to others’ playing. Since I also teach 2-3 year old music classes, they will accompany my piano playing on bells or another percussion instrument to a Christmas carol.