Today I have a fabulous interview for you, from a husband & wife team who runs a 350-student music school in Canada! Meet Andrea & Trevor Dow.
- Andrea & Trevor run a blog at teachpianotoday.com
- The website for their music school, Wildflower Music Studio, can be viewed here.
- Their latest project has been to write a series of piano music intended for boys. The series of “episodes” is accompanied by comic book illustrations that tell the adventures of Fearless Fortissimo.
And now for the interview!
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Andrea: I was heavily involved in piano and singing lessons from the age of 4. I started teaching piano lessons when I was 18. I had a rusty old Toyota Corolla packed with supplies and I drove to my students’ homes in between my university classes and on weekends. This quickly morphed into a full-time job when I graduated with my B.Mus and within three years I had a studio of 350 students and a teaching staff of 14. My husband, Trevor, and I created the Piano Pals Early Learning Program (a preschool piano program for students ages 3-5 that teaches both beginning piano skills as well as kindergarten math concepts), which has been extremely successful at our own studio and is currently in development to be available to other teachers online. Right now I teach upper-level piano and singing lessons while managing our studio, and together with my husband we create online materials for piano teachers with the goal of bringing them the same amount of success we have created with our own studio. We co-authored the teaching e-book “Piano Hands Shouldn’t Flip Burgers” last year, are active bloggers, and most recently launched our newest venture with www.pianomusicforboys.com.
What is the most unique thing about your studio/music school?
We have created a unique program at our studio with the main goal of creating relevancy in the lives of our students no matter what their age. We have a strong focus on student-led composing (each of our students creates at least one original composition per month). We also ensure that our students learn “real-world” applications of the piano (along with regular repertoire and technique) that includes improvisation, chording method and learning to play as a member of a group. Our unique approach has become well known in our community and has meant that many students who would not have normally even considered taking piano lessons are thriving.
The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo (Piano Books for Boys) is a series of comic-based piano books for boys ages six through twelve. Each episode contains a full colour comic following the adventures of a young hero, Fearless Fortissimo, with accompanying piano pieces that serve as a soundtrack to the comic. From my own years spent teaching male students it was glaringly obvious that mainstream method books were geared towards female students. My young male students would turn the page, see a picture of a princess and cringe at the thought of even touching the piece. I searched and searched for boy-specific materials to supplement these books that would keep them motivated and interested and came up short. Creating the materials ourselves was very gratifying. We knew exactly what would captivate our boy students and seeing it come to fruition, and then seeing the results in our own studio was really exciting.
So much research is being done with findings that show that boys DO in fact learn differently than girls and that our traditional methods of treating all students the same are failing the male population. Graphic novels are making a huge impact on the educational world and there are promising gains being made in literacy rates in male students as a result. Our graphic piano book follows the same trend ensuring that boy piano students feel connected to what they are playing, are excited about the material and are engaged in their lessons. Not only do the books look exciting (an illustrator who draws for Marvel Comics worked with us to create the comic), but also the pieces have been composed with the aural and physical appeal of the boy student in mind. We’ve had fantastic feedback from teachers who are using the material in their studios and truly believe that this resource has the ability to “save the boys on your bench”.
The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo are available as an e-book, meaning you can download it immediately online at www.pianomusicforboys.com. For the one payment of $19.95 you have access to all three levels of music (Early Elementary, Elementary and Intermediate), the full-colour comic, and the license to print as many copies as you wish for use within your own studio. The e-book is yours to keep on your computer, meaning you can print it for as many students as you may need … forever.
How do you stay inspired as a piano teacher?
I stay inspired as a piano teacher and as an author of piano-lesson based materials by striving to modernize the piano world. Most other industries have adjusted and changed rapidly as our world transforms at an amazing pace. I truly believe that for piano lessons to continue to be relevant to children of today, we as piano teachers need to think like entrepreneurs, continue to update our approach and methods, and strive to constantly meet the needs of children who are growing up in a time that is different than it was even just 10 years ago. We need to be on the cutting edge just as much as any other small business. Trevor and I are passionate about this and it shows in both our own studio and in the materials we create.
Tell us about a rewarding or humorous moment in your piano teaching career.
I feel so fortunate to experience both rewarding and humorous moments frequently in my job! Obviously having taught for as many years as I have now, it’s wonderful to sit back and watch my advanced students, who were once squirmy 5-year-olds on my bench, really shine in performances now that they are accomplished teenage pianists. Trevor and I feel a huge sense of accomplishment every time a teacher who has read our e-book goes out of their way to email us to tell us what a difference it has made to their studio. We recently had a teacher who was just starting out write to tell us that he used our business practices and acquired 30 students in just three weeks! Things like that really make us feel as though we are really making a difference. I truly believe that piano teachers have every opportunity to turn teaching into a rewarding career, and every time I hear of someone doing so it is really satisfying. Humorous moments are a part of my daily life, as they are for anyone who works with children and who truly loves doing so. Their uncensored enthusiasm is something that I treasure and feel grateful to be a part of. Lastly I feel so lucky to have a career that allows Trevor and I to pursue our other passion – travel. Being self-employed means that we have the freedom to do so and we have taken full advantage of many opportunities to see the world.
What are your goals for improving as a piano teacher in the future?
We definitely have plans for future episodes of The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo to be released in the coming year. Our Piano Pals Early Learning Program will be launched online by the fall and we have several other projects waiting in the wings. As I continue to learn from my own students that I teach, from mentoring young teachers, and from my own experiences as a successful business owner, I hope to continually advance not only my own teaching and business practices but to continue to create innovative informational products. Our own studio is set to expand yet again this coming year (we are now over 350 students and counting) and, on a personal note, Trevor and I are expecting our second child in October! Life is busy and wonderful :)
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If anyone has further questions for Andrea & Trevor, you can post them below…….or save them for tomorrow, when a new giveaway will be announced! (Hooray for giveaways!!) Stay tuned.