Program Development

At one of my recent teaching association meetings, we discussed how even studio owners and music teachers are feeling the affects of the bad economy.  As families tighten their belts a bit more and look for ways to lower their budget, some of their children’s extra curricular activities are seen as unnecessary luxuries.  Use some of the tips below to prevent your studio growth from becoming stagnant during lean times:

Educate your clients

Make sure your client base understands the importance of the service that you offer, and why it isn’t expendable.  I use quarterly newsletters to reiterate the importance of music lessons by linking studies and data that show the benefits of learning piano.  I also write occasional articles for our local parenting magazine about the benefits of music education.  Doing so helps my students and their families prioritize music lessons and hopefully look to cut other things out of their budget if they are faced with making difficult choices during financial hardships.

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.

In 2007, I took on my first piano student as a way to supplement the income I earned at my full-time school job as a music therapist. By 2008, I was traveling to students’ homes 5 days a week and had almost 20 students (while still working full-time at the school). In 2009, I opened a dedicated studio at my home and was able to teach 25 students in the evenings…all while still working long days.

After four years of juggling a crazy schedule, I resigned from my full-time school position and was officially 100% self-employed as a studio owner. Today marks one year since doing so, and I haven’t looked back once!

It’s been an eye-opening year, and I’ve learned countless lessons about business, teaching, and finding balance. I’ve talked with many fellow music educators and music therapists who are anxious to follow this same path in the future, so in case you are one of them, here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned.

parent conference Since I opened up my studio ten years ago, I have required all parents to attend a year-end parent/teacher conference. The conference is always scheduled the week after spring term ends. This year it will be the first week in June. Every parent is required to attend in order to register for lessons in the next year. Parents sign up for 30-minute time slots per child. Students that are age 15 or older may join their parents but it is not required.

I really enjoy meeting with the parents to discuss how the year went, goals for next year, and areas that are in need of improvement. Another item of business in the conference is scheduling lesson times for the following year. Usually parents are thinking ahead and know what their child’s school and activity schedule will include. Some are already asking for lesson time changes in preparation for next year. For advancing students, it may be time to discuss and recommend a longer lesson time. This really helps in jump starting my planning for the fall and eases my job in August when putting together my final schedule.