Taking Risks

risk-and-reward-787129This past spring, I decided to take a bit of a risk with my studio.

I’ve taught private piano lessons for about nine years.  Since having a child two-and-a-half years ago, I’ve kept my studio relatively small.  I only accept twelve private lesson students, since I like to be a mostly stay-at-home mom.  In March, all my private lesson spots filled up, and I began a waiting list.  I have always hated turning students down both because I love my job, and let’s be honest–no one likes turning down money.  But I know that being home with my little one is most important right now, and in order to make a substantial enough leap in income, I would have to take on quite a few more students which means quite a few more hours away from my little one.

So, I decided to branch out from private lessons.  Before moving from Wisconsin about two years ago, a public school there had approached me about teaching piano lessons in a group setting as part of their summer school program.  I was all set to begin a certification process, but ended up moving to Montana before I could see it through.  The idea of teaching group piano entered my head again this spring when I thought of the way it would work out really well in allowing me to teach substantially more students at my studio without taking away the amount of time from my daughter that it would require if I was to teach each of these students privately.

So I took the plunge.

I began by taking online classes and purchasing training videos from the piano method I decided to use (the Mayron Cole piano method, for teachers who might be interested).  Once I realized this was something I could see myself doing and felt equipped and comfortable to move forward with the idea, I purchased seven digital pianos, stands, and benches and set up a group piano lab in the basement of our home.  It gave me a lot of anxiety to purchase thousands of dollars worth of equipment before I had students enrolled in my studio.  But I knew that I needed to spend the summer setting up the lab, and also wanted to be able to show parnets and students the space if they wanted to interview me prior to signing up for lessons. Since I am definitely known in the community as a private lesson music teacher, I also spent a lot of money on getting my name out as a group piano teacher, and educating my community on the benefits of group piano classes (only one other teacher in town offers group piano).

I will admit that I panicked when, the week before lessons began, I only had five students enrolled in three group classes–meaning that I was basically giving one student a private lesson for the cost of a group lesson (I charge less for group lessons).  But the day my first class began, I had a few last minute registrations and enrollment grew to seven students.  A few weeks later, I am up to nine students in three classes and was recently approached by a local junior high to teach a group piano elective one afternoon a week (a perfect job as they will be bussing students to my studio during my daughter’s naptime!).  

How do you decide if your risk is one worth taking?

  • Is there an underserved area of the market in your community? 
  • Would the purchase of additional materials/resources distinguish you from other competitors?
  • Can you afford to fail?  If you lose your investment, will you still be solvent?
  • Has growth in your current studio become stagnant?
  • Are you a self-starter who is willing to stretch yourself in a different way?

This whole process has taught me the importance of taking risks as a studio and small business owner.  It was a scary thing to branch out of my comfort zone and take a chance that it may not be successful.  But I saw an opportunity and an unfilled niche in my community and decided to go for it.  It was especially nerve-wracking to invest money into the equipment and advertising necessary to launch my group piano lessons without knowing if I would have the students to pay back our savings account.  In the end, the risk ended up paying off.  With only two-and-a-half hours more per week of teaching time, I have been able to take on fifteen more students.  And the time that goes into preparing for these classes is something I can do while my daughter sleeps, so it doesn’t take away time from my most important fulltime job–being a mom!

  • Posted at 8:08 am, November 2, 2011

    This is a great story. I’m in a similar situation and have thought about group lessons.
    What training did you take to prepare you to teach groups?

    How do parents deal with a group lesson format, where their child may not get as much individual attention as a private one-on-one lesson? You said you charged less, but if it was my child, the price would need to be substantially less in a group setting.


    • Posted at 5:24 pm, November 2, 2011

      I took a class from a middle school in Wisconsin that they offered about teaching to groups. It was offered through the school and geared towards band teachers. It was actually necessary for me to get an education certification to teach at the public school there, but we moved and I never pursued the certification. Since I teach out of a home studio now, I took a number of webinars from the group method I use mostly for my own personal benefit and so that I would feel qualified. The method I use is Mayron Cole: http://www.mcpiano.com/ She provides a great DVD about opening your own group studio, and then a number of specific webinars you can purchase and watch on You Tube that were extremely helpful.

      The group classes aren’t for everyone–there are definitely students who do better in the one-on-one setting and even though there are resources to teach advanced students to learn through group classes, my personal belief is that late intermediate to advanced students should be in private lessons. My group students are all beginners and do very well with the group setting–they are motivated by working with their peers and have developed amazing rhythm skills (better than my private lesson students). When I feel like one student is having trouble with a piece and needs individual attention, I’ll have the other students work on theory worksheets for a few minutes while I help him. For the most part, though, I teach to the group.

      I charge $20 for a private half hour lesson and $15 for a 45 minute group lesson.

      Hope this helps. Good luck to you!

  • Nadine
    Posted at 2:36 pm, January 1, 2017

    How do you like the Mayron Cole method? I’m thinking her recordings are a little archaic, but if the kids enjoy the songs then it shouldn’t matter. Did you teach at the jr high with Mayron’s method? Thank you!

    • Posted at 12:32 pm, January 3, 2017

      Hi Nadine! I still use the Mayron Cole method because it’s really tailored well to group learning, and my kids enjoy the games that come with it. I like the progression of concepts, with emphasizing rhythm first, however – it is lacking in theory and technique. I supplement with different books of exercises and scales to make up for that.

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