improving as a teacher, Professional Development, Studio Business

Determining Tuition Rates for Piano Teaching

Every once in a while, I receive emails from readers wondering if their tuition rates are appropriate.  Setting rates is a difficult topic to talk about, because for one thing, rate depend largely on the area where you live.  For that reason, I can’t advise exact numbers — but with this article I hope to offer some guidelines and suggestions regarding this topic nevertheless.

The Problem

I’m sure we’ve all experienced parents/students who are shopping for piano lessons by price.  Let’s face it: many parents today (especially in America) shop for piano teachers based on price, even though they really should be “shopping” based on the teacher’s experience, education, professionalism, dedication, etc..  Parents shop by price because in their logic, little 6-year-old Suzie doesn’t need an expensive teacher unless they discover that she has a talent for piano and long-term interest.  And they don’t know any better.  Continue reading “Determining Tuition Rates for Piano Teaching”

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Studio Business, Teaching Piano

Rethinking The Student’s First Lesson

Okay, so I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few weeks now, and today I’m spilling all!   Sorry about the length. =)

Don’t Make My Mistake!

When I first began teaching, I created a mental list of all the things I felt were essential for a new student should know.  I thought very carefully about what to say in order to cover all these topics with my student during the very first lesson.  “The List” included things like:

  • How to sit properly at the piano.
  • How to hold one’s wrists.
  • How to curve one’s fingers.
  • The finger numbers.
  • How to find the black key groups of 2’s and 3’s.
  • How to find Middle C.
  • How to find A-G on the piano.
  • What a steady beat is and is not like.
  • What a quarter note is.
  • etc.

These are all important things, of course.  But I hadn’t really stopped to consider what the student might be feeling at that very moment on my piano bench.  I jabbered away cheerily through my long, long list, anxious that my student would learn all the right things the right way from the very first day.

Do you remember what it was like at your very first piano lesson as a kid?  Usually, new students are anxious, curious, unsure, maybe nervous — and usually they are very excited to play the piano.  They might tell you they can play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for you which their mother taught them by rote.  Or they might show off that they figured out Mary Had a Little Lamb by ear.  Or they might not know how to play anything at all, but they are definitely sitting on your piano bench practically drooling, anxious to get their fingers on those beautiful, shiny keys!

So what do you do?  What do you do about all this crazy excitement, energy, and motivation that is radiating from this student?   Continue reading “Rethinking The Student’s First Lesson”

Forum Q&A's, improving as a teacher, Memorization, Performances

Forum Q&A | Memorization for Performances: Required or Optional?

Last week we discussed how to teach legato pedaling to students, and we got a few great responses – click here to check them out!  As always, feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion!

This week, we are considering the topic of memorization.  I’ve seen great discussions about this topic on many websites and forums, and thought we’d explore it here too (hopefully with a different twist)!  Here goes:

First, do you consider memorization to be an integral part of piano playing?  Meaning, would you say that a concert pianist should or must perform by memory?  And do you therefore also require your students to perform by memory, or are you more flexible with your students depending on their goals?  What kind of memorization policy have you found works best for your studio?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Photo Credit: hsingy | CC 2.0

Forum Q&A's, improving as a teacher, Practice

Forum Q&A | How do you teach legato pedaling?

Last week, we discussed standardized testing – the advantages and disadvantages, do you require it, and why, etc..  Click here to read the comments that were left!  As always, it’s never too late to add your thoughts so feel free to jump into the conversation.

This week, we are going to talk about pedaling.  Pedaling is such an important part of learning the piano, but arguably one of the most challenging things to learn for some students. The timing for pedaling must be just right: it can’t be too early, else you’ll have a break in the sound; but it can’t be too late otherwise the previous harmonies with intermingle with the current ones.

So, here’s the question:

How do YOU teach pedaling?  Do you have any tips, analogies, or exercises you use with your students in order to teach proper legato pedaling (also sometimes called syncopated pedaling)?  How did your piano teacher you how to pedal when you were a first learning?

Share your thoughts below!  I am anxious to learn some new tips for better ways to teach pedaling!

Photo Credit: House of Sims | CC 2.0

improving as a teacher, Resources, Reviews

Announcing the Launch of the “Reading List” Page

Hello readers!

Today marks the official launch of the new “Reading List” page!  I’m very excited about this new part of Color In My Piano.

The Book List contains links to TONS of great books and resources on a variety of topics.  When you’ve got a great book to recommend, visit the Reading List page and leave a comment to share your thoughts with the world!

Here’s the book categories I’ve created:

  • Piano Pedagogy
  • Teaching Resources
  • Early Childhood Music
  • Piano Technique
  • For Parents/Students
  • Music History/Theory
  • Biographies
  • Practice and Performance
  • Keyboard Literature
  • The Piano
  • The Orchestra
  • Just For Kids
  • Inspiration, Fiction, and More

I’m also tossing around the idea of allowing readers to write and submit reviews of books for publication on Color In My Piano.  If interested, please contact me at admin[at]colorinmypiano.com.  There’s no way I’d be able to review all of these books anytime soon, so I’d love to have some help!

CLICK HERE to view the new Book List page now!

improving as a teacher, Motivation

Teaching With the Student’s Goals in Mind

This week I gave a few first lessons to some new students.  One of the things I always ask during the first lesson/interview is:

What are some of your goals in taking piano lessons?

Here are some examples of answers I’ve received from students:

  • I want to be able to play classical pieces that everyone knows (i.e., Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata, Bach’s Minuet in G, etc.)
  • I want to be able to play hymns and hymn arrangements for church services.
  • I want to be able to play from chord charts to play with my church’s worship band.
  • I want to record a Christmas CD for my family.  (This was a fun project! We worked on Christmas pieces over the whole summer.)
  • I like to play by ear but but I want to learn how to read music too.
  • I just want to get better at piano just because I enjoy playing for my own enjoyment.

I’m always surprised at the variety of answers I receive when I ask this question.  Not all students have specific goals in taking lessons, but it’s always worth asking because you may be surprised at what you learn.  Knowing the student’s goals can help the teacher make the piano lessons more relavent to them.   Continue reading “Teaching With the Student’s Goals in Mind”

improving as a teacher, Studio Business

Thoughts on the Teaching Philosophy

Many college education (both music and otherwise) classes require students to write teaching philosophies.  How many of you keep a teaching philosophy posted on your studio website or printed in studio materials?  Have you updated it at all since your college days?  And those of you who didn’t write one for college – have you considered writing one yourself?

Let me give you some reasons why you if you don’t have a written teaching philosophy, you should write one — and if you are using the one you wrote in college, you should consider updating it regularly.   Continue reading “Thoughts on the Teaching Philosophy”

Forum Q&A's, improving as a teacher, Studio Business

The January Forum: What are your teaching goals for 2011?

Last month’s discussion forum brought out some great comments from you all! Most of you agreed that the teacher should play something on student recitals when possible, as long as the piece is not overly showy.

The dicussion topic for the January Forum:

Do you have any teaching goals for 2011? What changes or improvements would you like to make in your studio this year?  What other goals do you have for yourself or your students?

The beginning of a new year is a great time to reassess and set attainable goals.  Here are a few quick ideas just to get you brainstorming…

  • Improve the studio business end-0f-things.
  • Focus more on technique.
  • Focus more on functional skills.
  • Gain 5 more students.
  • Incorporate more interactive games/activities in the lesson.
  • Better communication with parents/students.
  • Tailor lessons to individual students more.
  • Get organized.

Good luck!

Photo Credit: somethingmarissa | CC 2.0

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Teaching Piano

Teaching Tip: Engaging the Emotions

I read something this week that mentioned in passing the benefit of engaging the emotions for learning.  This idea really stuck with me, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.  It makes perfect sense, but I just never thought about it much before.  I think this idea is worth some consideration.

Neurologically, humans learn best when their emotions are engaged.  Various research has been done that suggests the benefit of learning when the emotions are engaged (see “For Further Reading” below).  An effective speaker will appeal to the listeners’ emotions in order to affect and influence them to agree with the points made, support the viewpoint, and maybe even motivate them to do something about it.  Similarly, an effective teacher will connect with the students’ emotions to make the student interested in the topic and motivated to learn.  When the emotions are engaged, the learning moment becomes both meaningful and memorable.

The art of music is very close to the heart and the emotions.  We music teachers are very fortunate!  And yet, how often do we encounter students who seldom practice?  How about unmotivated students who quit after just a few years?  And how often do we hear completely unemotional performances?  These things do happen, unfortunately.  We can help prevent this from happening.  Perhaps through engaging the emotions we can help students connect with the music and be interested/motivated. Continue reading “Teaching Tip: Engaging the Emotions”

Conferences, improving as a teacher

2011 MTNA Nat’l Conference: March 26-30

Fellow U.S. piano teachers – in case you haven’t seen it yet, registration is now open for the 2011 Music Teachers National Association’s National Conference which is taking place March 26-30 in Milwaukee!  Sign up before February 16 to receive the early bird rates.  Check out the conference website to view the schedule of sessions and to get more information.

If you aren’t already an MTNA member, you will need to become a member before registering for the conference.  There are many benefits to becoming an MTNA member — click here to learn more about MTNA on their website, and check out the video below.  This video was made by Robyn Pfeifer of the musicteachingsuccess.com blog.  It is an interview with the current president of MTNA, Gary Ingle, discussing the benefits of being a member of MTNA.  Check it out!

Here’s another interview, again by Robyn, talking to a couple presenters from last year’s national conference.  If you want an idea about what the sessions at the conference are like, take a look!

I’ve never had the opportunity to attend a national conference before – only state ones, so I am really looking forward to this! I hope some of you can make it too!

improving as a teacher, Practice, Rhythm

Teaching Tip: Count Like a Musician!

At the 2010 Michigan Music Teachers Assocation conference this weekend, our conference clinician Martha Hilley had some wise words for us that I thought I’d share here:

Always be a musician, even when you are counting aloud!

As she led us through some various exercises during one of the sessions, Martha Hilley encouraged us to use vocal inflection to show musical direction — even when it’s just simple rhythms or melodic lines.  And, of course, this tip applies to our students: encourage them to be musical counters too!

Here’s to trying to use more vocal inflection when I count aloud with my students this week, and hoping that my musical counting will rub off on their playing!  =)

Stay tuned – more summaries of the conference are on the way!

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography | CC 2.0

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Studio Business

9 Ideas for Motivating Piano Students

I’m sure we have all had students who are low on motivation at one point or another.  It’s not always easy to keep students practicing week after week.  To make matters complicated, every student is different: something that motivates one student might not work for the next.

Here are some ideas for increasing motivation among your piano students:

  1. Take lessons yourself. Put yourself in their shoes.  Remember what it’s like to have a busy week and have a hard time finding time for practice?  Remember what it’s like to when your pieces don’t play as well in the lesson as they did at home?  You can be more genuinely understanding and make better suggestions for solutions if you are taking lessons yourself and going through the same situations that they are.  Think you don’t have time for lessons?  Try to find someone who’s willing to take you on every other week or even once a month.  Continuing your own piano lessons will probably benefit you in more ways that you think!
  2. Be sure to give them a good variety of repertoire. Make sure there is plenty of variety in the music they are working on.  Find out what types of music they like.  Supplement their method book(s) with new age piano (think Jim Brickman), hymn arrangements, jazz/blues, pop music, soundtrack/music theater music (think Disney, High School Musical, or Twilight – whatever is currently popular!).  No matter the student, however, I always make sure they are working on something classical too.  There are so many different types of great music within classical music – I truly believe there is something for everyone!
  3. Start an incentive program. Let’s face it: some students can be bribed.  =)  In all seriousness, though, some students truly thrive on being motivated through incentive programs.  Incentive programs can help to not only give your students a goal to work towards, but also to reward your students’ hard work and good behavior.
  4. Try playing more music games in the lesson. Obviously, not every student’s goal is to be a concert pianist.  For some students, it may more than enough for them to become functional pianists who have a strong, life-long appreciation for music.  With these students, try giving an extra emphasis on theory and ear training games.  This may help revive their interest in practicing their repertoire.
  5. Try doing more creative activities involving improvisation and composition. Sometimes we piano teachers fall into the trap of making piano lessons turn into learning how to follow directions on the page (check out this post about getting the focus back on the sound).  Composition and improvisation activities help communicate to the student, “creativity is important!”  Then when working on repertoire, try to capture the student’s imagination and get them thinking about what the composers’ creative processes might have been for their pieces.  Get them excited about creating a mood or story!
  6. Find ways to increase studio camaraderie. Some students thrive on social interactions.  Help them make “piano friends” by providing occasions when your students can meet and interact with each other.  Assign duets between students who have their lessons back-to-back.  And if you don’t already, hold monthly group lessons.  Plan games and activities that involve having the students work together in pairs or small groups of 3 or 4.  Building student friendships within your studio may help them look forward to studio events, lessons, and even practicing at home!
  7. Provide regular performance opportunities. I once had a student who loved playing in soccer games, but disliked soccer practice.  In much the same way, she thrived on piano performances but disliked daily practicing.  Having a recital to prepare for helped tremendously!  Some students need regular performances to keep them motivated.  In addition to your regular annual/semi-annual recitals, try adding other low-stress performance opportunities, such as a Halloween/Christmas Party or a recital at a local senior center.  In addition, try holding studio performance times during monthly group lessons.  You can even call them “Repertoire Parties” instead of calling them by the more traditional “Performance Class” name.  Set the tone by remarking how fun and imaginative each student’s piece sounds, and asking students which piece was their favorite.  Hearing other students play may motivate them to improve their own playing or to someday work on some of the same repertoire they hear from other students.
  8. Have a talk with Mom or Dad. Maybe the problem is simply that the student just needs to practice more.  Have a chat with Mom or Dad and ask if they would be willing to give the student a gentle reminder each day to get on the piano.  For some students, it’s not that they don’t enjoy practicing; it’s just that they need a reminder or a little prompting to get on the bench each day.  Suggest that they make a routine and designate a specific block of time for practice each day.  Ask the parents or older siblings to sit at the bench with the student occasionally and ask them about their pieces and what they enjoy about them.  Suggest that they walk through or sit and read a book/magazine when the student is practicing and occasionally give praise and compliments to encourage them.  These things show the student that practice time is both a priority and something worthwhile and even enjoyable.
  9. Have them sign a practice contract. Are they still not practicing?  If the positive approach in #8 above doesn’t work, it may be time to get a little more aggressive.  Have a talk with Mom or Dad again and tell them that a practice agreement is necessary for the student to continue to be a part of your studio.  Although you may not enjoy resorting to practice contracts (I know I don’t – click here to view my thoughts on practice requirements), students (and teachers too) generally find lessons are much more enjoyable when the student is prepared each week for lessons and is making progress week after week.  Making an agreement may be just what some students need to stay dedicated to piano lessons.

I find that positive reinforcements are best for creating students who want to be there and learn at lessons, but sometimes one must resort to more desparate means.  If you’ve tried everything you can think of and things are still not working, it may be time to say goodbye.  If you’ve been able to keep communication open with the parent, it should not come as a huge surprise when you let them know that it may be time for lessons to end.  Make it clear that they are welcome to find another teacher if they so desire and encourage the student to play piano on their own for fun even though you won’t be giving them lessons anymore.  Do your best to make the parting smooth and consensual whenever possible.

Anything to add?  How do you keep students motivated?

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks | CC 2.0