New topic: Teaching Music Appreciation

So much more could be said on th issue of practicing...I am sure we will re-visit the subject at some point :) In the meantime, here are the poll results for this week's poll:

On Practicing:

Other answer: "I could be a lot better about addressing this issue with my students!"

We're moving on to a new subject...Teaching Music Appreciation. This may seem like a no-brainer; of course we all strive to teach our students to appreciate music. We'd like to talk about ways to go about this, and ideas for making it fun. In my mind this topic includes so many things - appreciation of classical music (that is a biggie for me, since I am classically-trained), music listening, piano literature, concert attendance, music history, etc. Can't wait to hear your input!


The Power of Parents

I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend! Just got back from a quick road trip with my family...twenty hours of driving in two days (with a toddler!)...and it's good to be home :) I've been thinking a lot about this week's topic of Practicing & Motivation, and about a wonderful comment that was left on my last post. The comment mentioned the importance of parental participation in practicing, especially when the student is young. I couldn't agree more!

I have found that students with super supportive parents who regularly attend lessons and help with daily practicing are much more likely to succeed in piano. If only all parents were like this! Well they can be - if you require it in your studio! I have never officially required parental attendance and help with practicing, but have always strongly recommended it. I actually may add it into my policy as a requirement for parents of younger students (ages 5-7 or so), because it really makes a world of difference. My mom always practiced with us when we were starting out with piano lessons, and I do believe it made a big difference. If nothing else, it helped me to feel that my parents supported me and expected me to work hard. I attribute much of my own success to my parents' wonderful support.

Some ways parents can be involved and show support:

  • Attending lessons of young students
  • Sitting down and practicing with young students
  • Helping students make (and stick to) a consistent practicing schedule
  • Sitting down and listening to children play their pieces (my Dad has always been amazing at this - he LOVES laying down on the couch at the end of the day and listening to his children play the piano - what a great message to send to your children, that you really do love hearing them play beautiful music!)
  • Giving compliments and words of encouragement
In what ways do you encourage parents to help support their children in their piano study? Do you require parents to help children practice? To attend lessons?


Check out our Helpful Resources!

Don't forget to visit our Helpful Resources page, located in one of the tabs at the top of the blog. Here you will find links to articles and blog posts which relate to each topic listed. Find helpful ideas and resources for topics such as Teaching Beginning Theory, Practicing & Motivation, Your Studio Space, and many more!

This is a section that is constantly updated as we find great articles and ideas - so check back often!


Do your students know HOW to practice?

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As teachers, we should not only expect our students to practice, but it is our job to teach them how to practice effectively. Practicing really is an art, and must be taught. It shouldn't just be left up to chance that our students will figure out how to practice well.

In some ways I feel that I really didn't learn how to really practice well until my last couple of years of college. I finally learned to really listen, to be harder on myself in not making little mistakes and demanding perfection, and to be more efficient in my practicing.

Young piano students especially need to constantly be taught the basics of practicing efficiently and effectively. Here are a few ideas:
  • Write out specific practice steps in their notebook. This is particularly important for very young students. Make sure the parents know the practice steps and help the student execute them! These steps could include things such as:
    • Practicing hands alone
    • Clapping and counting the rhythm
    • Saying letter names out loud
  • Section off the piece and have them learn it one line or section at a time. A challenging piece always feels much more do-able when learned one line at a time (and can be learned a lot more efficiently)
  • Teach your students to learn not only the notes at first, but to learn the dynamics and articulations right from the beginning. When a student puts the dynamics in right from the beginning, they will become habit much quicker!
  • Have your student practice slowly, with the metronome. As they become more confident in the piece, gradually increase the tempo.
  • Make sure they are watching the music, not their hands. A few weeks ago I had a student struggling with a piece - he had been working on it for a few weeks and was just not quite getting it. As I watched him play the piece during his lesson, I noticed he was hardly ever looking at the music, but at his hands. I suggested to him that he try to look just at the music. He tried it again, and voila! It was seriously like magic - the piece was perfect. His mom was amazed and he was so pleased with himself. It's amazing the results you can get with changing such a simple habit! 
  • Now this is an important one: teach your students to not stop when they make a mistake. The tendency of most people is to STOP when they make a mistake, and fix it. What happens, though,  is that the student unknowingly creates a habit of stopping in that particular place each time the piece is played. I have noticed in my students that they often stop before they even make a mistake, because they are anticipating the mistake they usually make! Also, if your students are instilled with the habit of not stopping, they will perform much better under pressure at recitals and other performances.
  • Now, having said all that about not stopping, it is also important that your students be aware of problem spots as they play. After they finish the piece or section they are playing, they can then go back and find the problem spot, figure out what went wrong and why, and fix it
  • Students must learn to LISTEN as they practice: listen for problem spots, listen for correct dynamics and musicality, listen for tempo, for note evenness, for articulations, etc. Sometimes it is very eye-opening (or, ear-opening?)  to record the student's performance (either video or audio) and play it back for them to really listen.
  • Have the student try to play each line or section three times in a row perfect. Make it into a game, use three candies or treats as a reward. Most often this results in the student doing a lot of repetitions - which is awesome! I think that sometimes young students don't realize the importance of playing short sections over and over again.
  • Sometimes my students will come to lessons unprepared; as much as I hate it when they are not prepared, I usually see it as an opportunity to practice with the student and show them how to practice more effectively. We work on a section of a piece, and usually get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. 
In what ways do to teach your students how to practice effectively?


Practicing Incentives

My hope, as a piano teacher, is to eventually teach my students to love music, to love it so much that their motivation for practicing is that they want to become better, that they love making music. I want them to practice so they can perfect that challenging piece, so that they can experience that great feeling when they have really accomplished something wonderful.

But sometimes students (especially the young'uns) need a little bit of extra motivation and incentive now and then. Now of course, you don't want them to solely practice just so they can get that prize - but what if they wouldn't even practice otherwise? Isn't it better for the student to practice consistently just so they can earn a prize, than to not practice at all? Rewards, prizes, and other incentives definitely have a place in early music study, and when used wisely can be a great help in training young musicians.

As a young piano student, my teacher gave us points each time we passed off a song. Each time our card of points was filled, we received a coupon for a free ice cream cone. How exciting it was to fill out those cards! Sometimes students need something like that to show them how much they have accomplished. And to be perfectly honest, for some reason my sisters and I hardly ever redeemed those ice cream cone coupons (I know, weird huh?) - we had this huge stack of them in our piano bench (why didn't we redeem those?? that is so ridiculous). Even if you use a card or chart and students receive stickers for passing off certain assignments, having that visual representation of their progress can be very motivating for some students!

As a teenage piano teacher, I challenged my students to practice a certain amount each day and to record their practice time. In the summer when they came prepared to their lessons and had done their practicing, I used to take them out to our big freezer after their lessons and give them an Otter Pop (mmmmm...I can taste it now...). Students love getting small rewards, and a cold treat on a hot day might just be the motivation they need! It can be something very inexpensive (stickers and Otter Pops are definitely affordable, especially if you buy a lot at a time!), and it adds a bit of fun to the whole practicing thing!

My parents are very wise, and they instituted a great incentive program for my siblings and I: if we didn't do our practicing, we were required to pay for our piano lesson that week! Holy cow, what a great incentive for a teenager with little income. Obviously this incentive would have to come through the parents, but it can't hurt to suggest it.

Often in my teaching I have done a similar thing to my first piano teacher, in that I have Piano Point Cards for each student. Students receive different amounts of points for different activities: passing off a piece, reaching their practice goal (more on that later), performing a piece for somebody, memorizing a piece, arriving on time to lessons, attending a recital, etc. The great thing about this kind of system is that you can come up with your own categories for things you want to stress in your own studio. If you prefer that students complete assignments rather than practice a certain amount, then give points for assignments completed.

Another incentive program: hold a practicing competition. A whole new element is added to practicing when the student knows that they are competing against their peers. Sometimes a little healthy competition is just what your studio needs! Be sure to pick some good rewards for the winners, and make it lots of fun!

When deciding on what rewards or prizes to award to students, why not use music-related prizes? For example, a fun piece of sheet music (such as a fun pop song or duet) or a small gift certificate to your local music store is double motivation - not only will the student practice hard to receive it, but once they receive the prize they will want to go home and practice the new piece! Awesome.

Another idea: give out studio awards at a year-end recital. Make sure students know you are watching and paying attention to who practices hard, who improves different aspects of their playing, who has a good attitude, etc. Give out fun certificates and perhaps some small prizes.

My favorite story about practice incentives is from my little sister (my three younger siblings also have taught piano lessons!). When she was a teenager, she once had a student who would not practice. Week after week she struggled to motivate this kid to practice, but to no avail. So one week she asked him what his favorite candy bar was. He told her what it was, and she said, "If you practice this week, at your next lesson I will give you your favorite candy bar. If you don't practice, I'll eat it in front of you."

Well, the next week the kid showed up and had not practiced again! So my sister proceeded to eat the candy bar. Way to follow through! hehe

What incentive programs have you used in the past? What has been the most helpful? What do you think motivates your students the most?


You only have to practice on the days that you eat.

…my former piano teacher had a sign with this saying taped to her studio door, a nice little reminder of what was expected of her students. As funny (or depressing) as this statement may be, it’s the truth! To become a good, proficient pianist, you’ve got to practice! And consistently.

Motivating our students to practice (and teaching them how to practice correctly and efficiently) is probably one of the most important things we do as music teachers. It can also be pretty frustrating at times.

In my mind, there are three basic types of students:

First, the student that we all wish and hope for: the one who always practices, and always comes to lessons prepared. These students are pretty self-motivated, and love music enough to make it a priority without needing extra motivation (or nagging) from a parent or teacher. Lucky you, you teachers who have these students!

Second, the student who usually enjoys piano lessons and makes an effort to practice, but isn’t the most consistent and may need some extra motivation at times. This type of student is pretty common.

And third, the kid who never practices. They are late to lessons, they never improve, they never pass off pieces. Teaching them gets more and more frustrating by the week.

How can we help all our students become like the first type? How can we motivate our students to really practice, to come to love music and to become good pianists?

There are so many answers to this question. There are so many ideas and incentives and rewards, so many ways to be successful at this. I hope that this week we can explore some of these ideas and help each other find ways to motivate our students better.

I believe that no matter what methods we use to motivate our students to practice, we should first consider the individual strengths, weaknesses and needs of each student. What motivates one will not motivate another. Sometimes the best way to motivate a student is to find that one piece that they just love and can’t get enough of; or to help build their confidence through successfully learning a difficult piece; or to discover a way to finally help a student understand a difficult concept  (and isn’t it wonderful to see that light bulb go on in their head when they finally “get” something?)

If our students are not good practicers, they will not be good pianists. Our job as teachers is to find out how to best motivate each student until they reach the point where they are self-motivated by the love of the music and the joy they feel when they play it.

New topic!

We hope you enjoyed the posts on summer teaching...and don't miss Bonnie Jack's great post on summer teaching ideas! Here are the results for our poll of the week:

How is your studio different during the summer months?

"Other" answer:
I don't teach during the summer months

I am excited about our next topic, because I believe it is one of the most important (and often one of the most frustrating!) elements of piano teaching and piano study...Practicing & Motivation. Such an important topic, and so many things we could cover - I'm looking forward to hear your ideas!


Summer Teaching Ideas

In my mind, summer is a time to breathe a little. Regroup, re-motivate, relax. Have fun. Do things you don't have time for during the rest of the year. Here are a few ideas:
  • Duets/ensembles: Piano is so often a solitary activity—get your students making music together. It's a little extra trouble, but so worth it. Your students will love it and ask to do it year after year.
  • Composition/arranging: Explore your students' creative side. Get them thinking in new ways. Have fun applying their theory in artistic ways. Some students will absolutely thrive on this.
  • Transposition: Start with simple folk songs, move on to hymns and other accompaniments. Challenge your students to learn this new crazy-hard skill.
  • Improvisation: Give students a familiar melody each week to play by ear and then add chords to. As they get better, work on embellishing and arranging.
  • Jazz: This requires the teacher to have some training in jazz, of course, but jazz can be a fun way to get students excited about their piano study.
  • Sight-reading: Assign students loads of music to sight-read. Have them read for 30 minutes a day or more, especially if this is an area that needs attention. Work on good sight-reading habits.
  • Theory emphasis: Really crack down on getting those often-neglected theory assignments done each week, and take extra time in the lesson to talk about each concept.
  • Composer research: Assign a composer each week for your students to research on the internet. Have them research composers whose music they have played, or want to play.
  • Popular music: Summer is a great time to allow students to play things like Wicked, Jon Schmidt, and Taylor Swift. Stuff that you don't want to take time for during the school year, because it's not serious enough for those big recitals.

Obviously you can't do every one of these things with every student, but I hope these ideas, along with others already shared in previous posts, will help get you thinking about how to make the most of your summer studio!

Piano Teaching Q&A: Fun Summer Programs

Each week we will be featuring questions about music teaching, and will do our best to answer them and to give some ideas :) We would also love lots of comments to see what you think!

What are some fun camps, programs, and incentives that you do in your studio during the summer months?

One thing that I would love to incorporate in my own studio during the summer is some sort of piano camp. Now I have never done this before, so these are just ideas (and I would love to hear from people who have actually done summer camps!) - but I would love to incorporate things into a camp such as fun theory games, music history, and fun duets (and other fun ensemble pieces, like quartets). Field trips and concerts would also be awesome! A summer camp would be an excellent way to supplement the students' music education, because you would be able to cover (in a fun way) so many concepts that there is just not enough time for in regular lessons. Summer camps also are a great way to build up your studio and find new students. What kind of things do you do for summer camps?

Incentive programs are also a great idea - one that I have done before is a practicing contest. Because each of my students have different practice goals (more on that next week), students received points in the contest if they reached their individual practice goals for the week. A competition is sometimes just what students need for a little extra motivation!

Sometimes summertime is an excellent time for a fun recital! You can pick a theme and a venue, and make it special and different than your usual studio recitals. In the past I have loved doing duet recitals - students team up and learn some great duets together (which can be a fun way to motivate students and help them get to know each other). Janina and I once did a duet recital with both of our studios combined, and we held it at a local rest home and performed for the great people who lived there.

Summer is a wonderful time to be creative and have a lot of fun with your teaching. What are some ways you have spiced up your studio during the summer months? Also, take a minute and take our poll!

If you have a question you'd like to ask us, leave it in a comment or submit it here.


Finding New Students in the Summer

While in college, I would come home for the summer. I needed a job, and wanted to teach, but wondered how I could find students just for the summer! Anyone ever have a similar predicament?

I advertised a lot (in ways such as these) and was happy to end up with about twelve students - not too shabby! 

I think that with a little creativity and with a good attitude, the summer months really can be ideal for building up your studio & recruiting new students. Even though a lot of people like to start up lessons in the fall with the beginning of school, and summer can be a really busy time for some families, I do think that it is possible to be successful in finding new students during these months. Here's what I did...

I made flyers advertising "SUMMER PIANO LESSONS" (because in my case, I would only be there for the summer months...I wasn't sure how many students I could actually get, and was pleasantly surprised with the response!). Here is what my flyer said:

any age, any level, everyone welcome! (does this scream desperate or qualified? hmmm...not sure. hehe. and no, this part in parentheses was not on my flyer.)
Have you ever wanted to take piano lessons, but never had the time?
Have you had lessons in the past, and would like a refresher course?
Is your child too busy during the school year, but would like to start piano?
Has your child been asking for piano lessons, and you'd like to give it a try?

By being a bit creative in the way I advertised and in the target audience I was advertising to (people who otherwise might not sign up for long-term lessons), I was able to get a pretty good-sized studio for the two summers I was home from college. I had a wonderful mix of ages and levels, including young beginners, older beginners, adults, teenagers, and transfer students of various ages. Sadly, I had to leave my students at the end of the summer to go back to school, but they knew that would happen all along, because that is how I advertised it! (Luckily I also have younger siblings who also teach, so I was able to pass on a few of my students to them!) We had an end-of-summer recital, and I think the students/parents were all pleased with the progress made in those short few months. Here is one of my cute little beginners who started lessons that summer - definitely one of the students I was sorry to leave!

So my point - you can see either see summer as a tough time to get new students (which it can be), OR you can work hard, use a little creativity in your advertising, and have a great summer teaching your new students.


Those Lazy Summer Days

When I was a teenager, during the summer months my piano teacher challenged us to practice three hours per day (a big jump from my usual one hour per day of practicing).

Admittedly, my younger sister and I would often spend at least an hour of those three hours practicing duets together (three hours is a long time when you've never practiced that long before!). I can still hear in my mind this Mozart duet we played for hours and for some reason we thought it was hilarious, and never took the piece too seriously. (It sort of reminded us of the ballroom scene in Roger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella where everyone is wearing purple.) Serious or not, it makes a good memory and we did have fun.

We also had this great duet we played (The All-American Hometown Band by Walter and Carol Noona - one of my absolute favorites duets - my husband and I play it all the time) where we would switch places on the piano bench in the middle of the song. To mix things up a bit, we decided to play it on two different pianos, and then switch pianos halfway through. Problem was, the pianos were in two separate rooms of the house. We would play the first half of the piece, then it was a mad dash through the house to switch pianos. We not only got in our required practicing time, but some good exercise :)

Boy am I glad my teacher had us practice more during the summer. Even though I didn't always get the three hours in (and I often would goof off with my sister for the last hour), it really taught me how to practice and prepared me for college. It helped me to be a much better, dedicated pianist. Thankfully I have great memories from it, and it was a wonderfully positive experience.

Summer can be an interesting time as a piano teacher. Because many students have much more time in the summer, piano study can feel a lot more relaxed (which can be good or bad...), and with this extra time the teacher can add in some fun, supplementary activities (or at least more practice time! bwah haha). There are also obstacles, such as students going out of town and missing more lessons than usual.

I personally was never involved in any special summer music camps or classes or activities (other than the increased practice time mentioned above). However, I do love to come up with fun summer ideas to use in my own studio, and hope to implement them in coming years.

What things do you do in your studio during the summer? Any special piano or theory "camps"? Fun classes? Practicing contests, fun recitals? Field trips? How do you handle lesson scheduling and missed lessons during the summer? Did your teachers ever do anything fun or exciting during the summer? How were your lessons different during the summer months? Did you ever attend any camps or festivals? We'd love to hear your experiences and ideas!

We'd even love to hear any fun summer piano memories (why not, I'm in a random mood). This one time, my sisters and I went to piano lessons on a summer morning, and somehow ended up downstairs watching a parade on tv with my teacher's cute, grandfatherly husband, eating bowls of Cheerios. Good times.


Summer is coming...

Well folks, it's on to a new topic! We so enjoyed exploring ways to balance teaching and family, and hope you got something out of it too! Here are the poll results:

Do you ever struggle with how to balance teaching and family?

This week we'd like to talk about Ideas for Summer Teaching. As a piano teacher, summer can be an interesting time. With people traveling more often, it can be harder to schedule regular piano lessons. However, with most students out of school for the summer it can also be an ideal time to fit in some extra, supplementary activities in your studio (and maybe even more practicing than usual!) With the summer months approaching, we thought this would be an excellent topic to explore. We'd love to hear what you do in your studio for the summer months - how do you make scheduling work, what extra things do you do (group classes, camps, field trips, etc.), do you require more practicing time, etc. Can't wait to hear from you!

Also, if you haven't already, please take our reader survey so we can learn a little more about you and what you want us to write about on the blog. You can also become a follower or subscribe to our email feed to get all the updates on The Teaching Studio. Thanks for reading!


Maintaining Your Skills

If there ever comes a time in your family (such as when you have young children) when you are just spread too thin and must take a little break from teaching, I believe there are many ways to remain competent and to maintain your professional skills.

  • Remain active in professional associations
  • Attend conferences and workshops
  • Take piano lessons
  • Practice!
  • Visit the music store and peruse new methods
  • Teach a student or two
  • Read lots of pedagogy books!
  • Subscribe to as many music journals as possible - and read them!
  • Listen to piano literature
  • Be an adjudicator for festivals
  • Take a music class
  • Teaching swap with the children of another piano teacher - you teach their kids, they teach yours
  • Help your child with his/her practicing
  • Teach your children
  • Perform!
What other ideas do you have?


Creative Scheduling Ideas

I previously mentioned my decision to not teach in the afternoons while my children are in school (of course that won't be for a few years, but some of these ideas are great if you're wanting more scheduling flexibility at any time!). Although a bit seemingly crazy, this actually is quite doable. Here are some of my ideas.

Ways to teach music lessons NOT in the afternoons:

  • Teach in the evening. Of course this may not be ideal if you like to spend time with your spouse (so important!) in the evenings. But, what if they are in school and are studying at that time? You can make it work. My toddler is in bed by 7 or 8 each night. There have got to be teenage or adult students who would go for this.
  • Teach adults in the morning/daytime. I find teaching adults a great joy. I once taught a wonderful young mother lessons in the late morning. She and a friend who was also a young mother would watch each others' children for one hour per week while the other had time to do something for themselves - I think it's a great idea!
  • Teach home-school students. They have more flexible schedules! You could teach while your children are at school.
  • Teach in the early morning. (I only put this on this list because it works for some. It would never work for me. I am definitely not an early riser.)
  • Teach adult group lessons during the day, or group lessons of any age in the evening. While I have never personally taught group lessons, it seems like a wonderful experience, as well as a great way to utilize your precious time more efficiently.
  • Teach adults with shared lesson times. An idea I have toyed with, where two adults share one time slot. Each would get two private lessons per month, as well as a monthly group performance/theory class.
  • Teach on Saturdays.
  • Teach preschool music classes. Something I'd love to look into!
What other ideas do you have?


Teaching when you have little kids

Balancing teaching and family is something that I have dealt with a lot in the past few years. My teaching studio really started to get going right after my first child was born. Now she is three and a half and I have another daughter who is almost one. My husband has been in medical school for these past four years and for the first two he was able to be available while I taught. This was so great because my teaching time was his special daddy-daughter time with Kate. They went to the zoo at least once a week and I was so glad that they had so much designated together time.

However, the third and fourth years of medical school were a whole different story, as Scott's schedule became very erratic and he was rarely available to watch the girls while I taught piano. I realized that since I didn't want to quit teaching, and I didn't have parents or in-laws close by to help watch my kids, I would have to start hiring babysitters to come over while I taught. At first it was hard for me to accept how paying a babysitter would cut into my hourly rate. I ended up raising my rates a little ($5 more per month) to help compensate for this. The main issue, however, was scheduling. The babysitters that I know are quite busy, especially during those after school hours when I teach, and it was hard to find a "regular" for each day of the week. Piano lessons can be a hassle to schedule in the first place, especially with cancellations and make-up lessons, but when you throw a babysitter into the mix, upholding your lesson cancellation policy becomes even more important! It is so important to stick to your guns about no-shows, for example, when you have a babysitter that you are paying to be at your house for a student's lesson and then that student doesn't show up!

Also, apart from making myself, my home, and my children presentable, clean, fed, and rested (or resting) before the lessons started, I would often have to pick up the babysitter (which usually cut someone's nap short) and be back in plenty of time in case my first student arrived early. If it sounds like a logistical nightmare, that's because it was! Some of my babysitters had sympathetic parents that would drop them off for me, which was a lifesaver. However, I soon found that the best method was to have my students themselves be the babysitters. If someone already had a lesson that day, they could either come early or stay late and do the rest of that day's babysitting. A couple of families who had multiple children taking from me worked out a deal - for a modest monthly discount, their children took turns babysitting during their siblings' lessons so I wouldn't have to hire anyone during their lesson times. I also felt like I could hire younger babysitters (like 10- and 11-year-olds) because I wasn't actually leaving the house and would be available if an emergency occurred. There were still plenty of scheduling disasters, but once I started using my students as babysitters I usually made it to the end of each day with my sanity intact. :)

Apart from the logistical issues, I think balancing teaching and family has been really healthy for our whole family. Both of my girls are pretty clingy with me and it has helped them to become more independent (and alleviated their stranger anxiety) as they've learned to be cared for by other people on a regular basis. I really think they've developed better social skills from having several different babysitters each week. Also, I think it's really important for my children to see that Mom is not just a mom, but a person too, with her own interests and responsibilities outside of motherhood. Most of the time, I am available when my girls want me, but I think it's good for kids not to expect that their mother should be at their beck and call 24/7. Teaching piano has been a great illustration of this principle, and at times it has been hard (for my girls AND for me) to have to say, "I can't hold you/play with you/read to you until lessons are over," but I truly feel like it has benefitted all of us. I've also enjoyed having a couple of hours of break each day where I am a piano teacher instead of a mom, and usually by the end I am thrilled to see my girls again! (Especially when I hear little giggles coming from the back room while I'm teaching and feel a little sad that I'm missing the fun.)

Another reason I've loved teaching lessons (apart from the joy of teaching itself) is that it gives structure to my day. I have to plan my time so that the house is clean (or at least tidy), I am showered and presentable, and dinner is prepped (or at least planned) before I start teaching. Other stay-at-home moms are probably naturally good at this, but for me it really helps to be forced sometimes! Also, it helps my sense of self to have a job/talent of my own apart from being a mom; although motherhood is my main focus, I like to be learning and developing my own talents too. Especially when I see my husband going to medical school and envy him for getting smarter every day, I feel the need to have my own independent pursuits. This is also why I perform at all of my students' recitals - but that is a post for another day.

Right now I'm in limbo because we're about to move to Texas, so I've had to say goodbye to my students here and will be starting the studio-building process all over when we arrive at our new home. I'm not sure how much I'll teach as our family continues to grow or how I will handle the challenge of having school-age children who have their own activities to go to during teaching hours. I'm still interested to hear how any of you have dealt with this situation. But after tackling the challenges of teaching with newborns and clingy toddlers, I have a little more confidence in my ability to find a solution that works for me and my family.

How Teaching Blesses My Family

This morning my sweet little two-year-old climbed up on the piano bench and said to me, "Teach me piano...teach me piano..."

It happened yesterday as well, after a student left. James turned to me and said, "That's mine piano!" He then climbed on up and we had a little lesson. He was SO excited. Both times the "lesson" lasted about five minutes and then he was done. It was just priceless though. We played quiet and loud and high and low and short and long. He really loved played short. What a joy. I think it may have been my most favorite "lesson" ever.


The Two Best Jobs

There is something so wonderful about music and music teaching that goes way beyond being just another "job," don't you agree? Once you're in, and you experience the joy of performing and teaching and using your talents in so many ways to bless your life and the lives of others, you are in it for life. That really is how I feel about music. I am a musician, I am a teacher, and I always will be. I hope to one day be one of those amazing women still going strong and teaching piano and changing lives into their 80's. Think of all the students you could teach in that amount of time, think of the joy of really seeing them progress, grow, move on and in turn teach and inspire others. I think what I'm trying to get at, is that being a music teacher is wonderful, and it is something that will always be a part of my life.

As will my role of being a mother. And even more so than teaching music, being a mother will always be an important and integral part of my life, and one that brings me so much joy and fulfillment. Think through the years of all the wonderful things you can do to bless your own family; think of all the things you can teach your children. Think of the joy you will experience as your children grow, learn, become potty-trained, develop talents, become wonderful people, and in turn have children of their own and raise and nurture them.

The roles of parent and music teacher are both important, far-reaching and so fulfilling. For many of us, they will most likely be integral parts of our lives for years and years to come. I do feel like this is the case for me; I also feel that at certain times in my life, one will be more important than the other (and vice versa) and will take the spotlight.

I currently have just a few students. My husband's schedule is such that he is able to be with my little boy while I teach. (I love this!) I would rather my son play with his daddy during that time than hire a babysitter. So, as of now, it works wonderfully. Still, there are those days when my little buddy just wants to play with me, and when I tell him I have to teach a piano lesson he gets a little disappointed look on his face that just tugs at my heartstrings (anyone relate to this?).

Of course it is wonderful (and so needed) to have a little time off from being a mommy, and to pursue those things that you love. I know we all need and appreciate this time. I always feel so energized after teaching a lesson, it's always a great reminder to me of why I chose this profession. But as I think about taking on more and more students in the future, I have to stop and think - when is it going to be too much? How much can I handle?

Each teacher and parent is different. Each of us has our own situations, priorities, needs, beliefs. What works for one teacher will not work for another.

I wanted to share my own personal feelings on the matter of balancing these two roles. Maybe some of my ideas will help give you some ideas of your own. Hopefully others will also share their experiences and their plans.

I have always decided and known that I would be a mother and a wife first, and a piano teacher second. It is just a no-brainer to me that that is what I want to do. Of course I love teaching and will continue to be a teacher for my entire life (picturing my 80-year-old self in a great piano studio, teaching lots of students, having lots of energy, maybe a Steinway or two...). But when it comes to choosing between the two, my family comes first.

I have decided that, no matter what, I will not teach in the afternoons when my children come home from school. It is so important for me to be there, to be available to hear about their day, to help with homework. I know that may sound crazy from a piano teacher's perspective, because that is the traditional time when piano lessons usually happen! One thing that I'd like to address this week (probably in a later post) is ideas on when/how to teach at times OTHER than after school. I think that with a little creativity and ingenuity, there are really so many possibilites to make it work!

As a teacher with a husband who probably has a few years of grad school ahead of him, I am so excited that I have such a wonderful way to help support our family during that time. I plan to come up with a teaching schedule that minimizes the time spent away from my child, and allows me to teach enough to help support the family.

I have decided that, once my husband is done with school (who knows when that will exactly be :)) and as our children grow, I will probably take a hiatus from teaching for awhile. (I know, gasp!) That may mean no teaching at all, it may mean only occasionally taking on a student or two, it may be teaching a fellow-teacher's children while they teach my children, who knows. I am not completely sure yet. BUT, just because I take a teaching hiatus does not mean I take a music hiatus. I will not let my piano skills go or leave the "piano world;" I will maintain my skills, continue learning and seeking higher education, remain a competent pianist and teacher (after all, being a mother is being a teacher). I will practice. I will perform for my children. I will help them in their piano/music study.

My goal and hope is that even though I may take a little teaching break (for a cause that, in my book, is the most important thing there is), I will be able to continue my education and training, maintain and improve my piano skills and be ready to continue teaching piano lessons for the rest of my life.

Now, we'd love to hear from you! How do you find a balance? What are your ideas and plans about how to be a parent and a piano teacher? What are some ideas for child care during lessons? For those of you who do have older children, how has teaching worked during these years?


Balancing Teaching & Family

I love being a piano teacher. Among many reasons why, I love it because: I am able to do something I love and inspire/bless the lives of others (and get paid for it!); I get to choose my hours; I can earn a good living, if I choose; I am my own boss; and I get to do it in my home! Who else is so happy about this? We really are blessed in our profession in many ways! These reasons why I love being a piano teacher are so important to me, because of another love...

I love being a mom. I have wanted to be a piano teacher for a long time (and I have taught piano for quite a long time!) but I have wanted to be a mom for even longer - for as long as I can remember, in fact. I am a stay-at-home mom and wouldn't have it any other way.

Janina is also a mother, and many of our readers are currently raising families, have raised families, or hope to raise families in the future! Therefore, we feel that it is only fitting to talk about ways to balance these two important parts of our lives. We hope that you will share with us your experiences and ideas this week on this important topic.

Things to Consider

When you are a parent, setting up your music studio is a bit different than if you did not have a family to consider. There are so many things to think about, to schedule, to plan, to decide. Here are a few questions to ask yourself, to get yourself thinking and planning:

  • WHY do you want to teach?
    • This question is so basic to any music teacher. Sometimes we lose touch of our motivations, and this is an important question to think about as you are planning your studio and figuring out how you are going to balance your teaching time with your family time.
      • Why do you want to teach?
      • Do you need the income? Or just want it?
      • Are you doing it for the love of teaching?
      • Is it a job? Or a hobby? A chore or a joy? Is it a much-needed mommy break? :)
  • How much do you want to teach?
  • How much do you need to charge to make it worth your time?
    • I have learned that, as a mother, your time is incredibly precious!
  • What time of day will you teach?
  • What will your children be doing and where will they be while you teach?
  • What will your spouse be doing while you teach?
  • Will you need to find child care? If so, who will watch your kids?
  • What are the ages of your children, what are their needs and schedules like? Will you be teaching when your children get home from school?
  • What will you if (when) something comes up? What if your child needs homework help? What if your young baby needs a lot of your attention? What if your child is sick?
  • How much time will you need during the week to prepare for lessons? To answer phone calls/emails related to your studio? To do any other preparations/planning for your studio?
  • Will you have specific times set aside to do these things?

Requirements & Challenges

My #1 challenge in being a piano teacher is arranging my teaching schedule in such a way as to not interfere with my time with my husband and son. This is incredibly important to me. You may have different challenges. Here is a list I have come up with of requirements of being a music teacher who is also a parent, as well as some challenges that you may have to face:


  • Organizational skills
  • Time management skills
  • Efficient lesson planning
  • Good meal planning skills (especially if you teach in the afternoons/early evenings!)
  • Professionalism
  • Creativity and ingenuity


  • Teaching at a time when other family members will not be present (I assume this would just get harder as your children get older)
  • As a parent, there is never complete, total control over your schedule - things come up! How will you handle it if your child needs you?
  • Switching between "mommy mode" and "teacher mode" - this includes looking professional and presentable (what? no spit-up-covered shirts and greasy ponytail hairdos?), cleaning your house (sometimes a mad dash to get the house looking presentable before the first student of the day arrives!), changing your mindset (which is often a very welcome and refreshing change :))
  • Learning to be picky about students you accept and who are worth your precious time - personally, I would rather it be a joy than a chore that I absolutely dread!
  • The ability to stand up for your missed lesson policies - as a parent it is much harder to work in extra make-up lessons

What are some challenges you have encountered in being a piano teacher and a parent? What do you think is important to consider?


The Teaching Studio was featured in the May 2010 Music Education Blog Carnival! Click here to check it out, and to read a lot of great articles on the topic of Music Education.

Visit the Carnival's homepage for links to past Music Education Blog Carnival editions.

Theory Poll Results, plus: how do you balance teaching & family?

We hope you have found our theory posts and links helpful! Remember, we keep a list (which we update often) of helpful resources for each topic we cover on this blog. Check back often for new great links!

Now for our poll results! Looks like about half of the voters use lots of creative games and activities to teach theory, and about half go the more traditional (boring?) route of going through the theory book together and assigning pages.

The "other" response was:
"I teach theory through their songs, every week!"

I don't know about you, but I feel motivated to try more fun theory games and activities in my studio.

I am very excited about our next topic, which is Balancing Teaching & Family.

We, as music teachers, are so lucky in our career. Not only do we get to do something as wonderful as teaching music, but most of us have the option of doing this right from the comfort of our own homes (and even those who teach outside of their homes usually have a lot of flexibility). This has so many wonderful advantages, but also brings up a lot of challenges that face many of us as music teachers - how do you balance teaching and family?

I feel that this is a very important (and very personal) issue and decision, and is one that is constantly debated over and over again in my mind. The way you decide to balance this not only affects your spouse and children, but can affect your teaching and your studio in many ways. As many of our readers have families and have expressed interest in this topic, we are excited to focus on it this week, and are excited to read what our readers have to say. We hope to explore some challenges, things to consider, ideas, options, and insights into this important subject.

And we hope to get a lot of comments and input from our readers, for we know that many of you are in the midst of raising your own families, have already raised a family, or hope to someday raise a family. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter!
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