September is here and that means it's time to get organized and ready to teach. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming because there is so much to do. In this blog post, I'd like to share with you four awesome organization ideas that can help you prepare for the fall. I've also included some free downloadable files.
#1 Using an iPad (or other device) for Scheduling
There are so many different devices available with built-in calendars. If you haven’t done so already, now may be the time to embrace some of that new technology. I can only comment on Apple products because that’s what I have been using. My iPad has really changed the way that I organize my teaching schedule. The calendar works so much better than my previous hand-written sheets. Here are some of the advantages of this amazing tool.
- You can set up your teaching schedule for the fall (lesson times and students). Once you have entered a student in the first week, you can have that event repeat throughout the year. Just make sure you go through the calendar and delete the lessons from the holiday weeks!
- You can colour-code the entries. I use different colours for regular lessons, missed lessons, part-time lessons etc. (You'll have to delete that week's repeating entry and re-enter it if you want to change colour). As with any app, there's always a learning curve as you try to adapt the program for your own needs. But I can tell you from experience, it's well worth the effort!
- At the beginning of each lesson, you can set an alarm to sound when the lesson is finished (with a 5-minute warning). This really helps you to stay on time.
- You can add comments to specific lessons using the notes at the bottom of each event (i.e. reasons for missed or changed lessons)
- Lessons can easily be moved around making re-scheduling a breeze.
- The search function is fantastic. In an instant, you can see all the lessons for one student for the entire year.
- The entire calendar is backed up in the cloud, so you won’t lose any information.
- The calendar on the iPad syncs through the cloud with any of your other Apple devices.
#2 Studio Events Calendar
Another great tool is my one-page Yearly Studio Calendar. You can use the same chart each year. Just change the dates and add all the important information that your students and parents need to know for the whole year (i.e. master classes, recitals, festivals, holidays, deadlines, exams, upcoming events, vacations, etc).
This Calendar can be e-mailed to your parents. I place a copy of the Calendar on the bulletin board in my waiting room. I also tape a copy in the back of each student’s Organizer so that we can refer to it at their lesson throughout the year.
This year, I have 3 PDF fillable versions of the Yearly Studio Calendar to share. All you have to do is download the file you want and then add the information for your own teaching year.
File #1 - Studio Calendar with all RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) dates and Canadian holidays.
File #2 - Studio Calendar with Canadian holidays only (for teachers who do not use the RCM system).
File #3 - Studio Calendar with US holidays only.
Note - PDF Fillable files that are sent by e-mail need to be opened with a program that reads the filled-in information such as Adobe Reader. Some e-mail programs will not show the filled-in information, however the information is still there.
#3 Yearly Student Performance Tracking Chart
I would also like to share my very handy ‘Student Performance Tracking Chart’ (Excel file) for organizing student performances throughout the year. You can add the student’s names plus all the dates for master classes, recitals and other performances. Then print this file and put it on a clipboard in your studio. This chart can then be used for performance planning throughout the year for your entire class.
You can add pieces (in pencil) to the chart as they are chosen throughout the teaching week. I find that it’s faster in the lesson to work with a paper copy. Every 2 weeks or so, you can update the chart on the computer and print it again. That way, you'll know exactly what is being worked on for performances at all times. There's a special column in the chart for keeping track of total playing time for some of the pieces. This is useful when it comes to timing recitals, competitions or master classes.
Here's the original file for my Student Performance Tracking Chart. You can download it and then add the names, dates and events from your own studio. I've also included 11 other worksheets for master class and recital program planning (see tabs at the bottom of the downloaded excel sheet).
#4 The Student Music Organizer - The Complete Dictation Book
Here are some of the benefits of using the The Student Music Organizer:
- Saves time in a lesson. The book is so easy to use….all you have to do is fill it in and it’s designed to last for the entire year.
- 8 1/2 x 11” format - there's lots of room for writing on each lesson page. Manuscript is also included at the bottom of each page.
- Some sections included: Goal Setting, Favourite Pieces, Exam and Practice Planning.
- Lots of History Reference Material: Composer Chart, Summary Sheets for Musical Time Periods (Baroque, Classical etc).
- Also includes Music Dictionaries (with terms grouped according to style, speed, touch, etc), Basic Music Theory Reference Guides and a very handy Comparative Fingering Chart for keyboard scales.
Organization is the key to having a well-run studio. My students and parents especially appreciate it when they know exactly what is happening throughout the year. With a little planning ahead of time, you can sail into the fall knowing that everything is ready to go.
♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎
Piano Photo by Miki Yoshihito
Fall Photo by Darlene Irwin
"A goal is a dream with a deadline."
This is a quote from the early 20th century American author Napoleon Hill. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers on how to be successful in life. Another of his hallmark expressions was, "Anything the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."
The beginning of the piano year is an ideal time to talk to our students about musical goals. It’s important that the teacher knows what the student would like to accomplish in the year ahead. The student also needs to know what the teacher believes they can achieve.
Here are some simple goal-setting strategies that you can use with your students:
I always take a few minutes at the first lesson to discuss and record each student's goals. This gives me the opportunity to suggest an appropriate amount of practice time per week. Even beginners can have musical goals. For them, it can be something as simple as 'This year I’m going to love music!' On the Forbes website it states, "Creating clear and measurable goals and writing them down is the key to success."
- Communication between parents, students and teacher is very important. Make sure that the parents have the same expectations as the students. Problems can arise when the goals of the parents are too difficult for the student. You may need to speak to the parent alone to express these concerns and come to a compromise.
- Goals for more advanced students might include finishing a level or grade (practical or theory), doing an exam or taking part in a competition. If students don’t want to do exams, then their goals could be to improve their sight reading by completing a certain number of classical or popular pieces. It helps to be specific. For example, a good goal might be to learn a number of scales or pieces by a certain date.
- Musical goals will depend upon the students' abilities and also on how much time they can devote to practice. It’s important that their goals be achievable so they don’t get discouraged.
Having said that, sometimes I've had students set a goal that I thought was too difficult. I try to support them and so we discuss the practice time required to reach their goal. For example, last year I had a student who was working at a Grade 3 level. My goal for her was to do a grade 3 exam. However, she expressed a strong desire to complete Grade 4 by the end of the year. We adjusted her practice time and came up with strategies to accomplish this. She worked very hard and did complete her grade 4 with an excellent mark.
- Once we have set some attainable goals for the year, then we discuss how much time they will need to practice each week to attain those goals. Students are juggling many things—school, sports, their social life, family commitments and other activities. The list is endless!! I usually write 3 different daily scenarios on the practice page at the front of the Student Music Organizer....for example: good (30 minutes), better (35 minutes) and best (40 minutes). The length of time will depend on their grade and their goals. Once we have decided on their practice time, I require that they practice that amount 6 days a week...they can have one day off! We then break the time down even further. (i.e. 5 minutes for Sight Reading, 10 minutes for Technique and 15 minutes for pieces).
- Review the student's goals throughout the year. This helps to ensure that they are still on track. You may have to adjust the goals from time to time depending on the progress of the student.
- There is such a great feeling of accomplishment when students are able to reach their musical goals. A Musical Report card is a wonderfully positive way to finish the year. I always list goals that have been completed. I also recognize students at the year-end recital who have completed all of their practicing for the year. I call them my “Perfect Practicers” (see blog post entitled It's June - Musical Report Cards and a Fond Farewell).
'The Student Music Organizer' has a special spot on page 2 at the front of the book for listing musical goals. This makes it very easy to review these goals regularly throughout the year. This page also includes a place to keep track of favourite repertoire and a section for exam planning. On page 3, there is a very handy place for planning and organizing the student's practice time.
Teaching is like a triangle. The parent and the teacher are at the bottom supporting the student at the top. Working together as a team is the best way to ensure musical success for the student. Remember - The First Step to Reaching your Goals is Believing You Can Get There.
♥︎ Great Music Comes from the Heart ♥︎
Photo credit: mindfulwishes.com
A lighthouse stands as a symbol of security and safety. It helps sailors to navigate through rough waters and avoid the rocks along the shore. Having solid and effective studio policies in place will help you, as a teacher, avoid many unnecessary problems and conflicts. It’s important that everyone knows where you stand. You will find that your parents and students will have more respect for you as a teacher if you have a set of clear, concise rules and procedures in place. And, more importantly, they need to know that you will stick by those rules. That can sometimes be very difficult. Some of the policies that I have in place are because I had a difficult situation with a parent or student and I needed to address it. And, of course, there are always exceptions. These situations can be dealt with individually, at your discretion. But it is so important to have studio policies written down.
Here are some simple ideas that you can use to formulate your own studio policies.
For teachers who are running their own business, collecting money can be one of the biggest problems. The first thing that I explain in my policies is how I expect the fees for lessons to be paid. There are many different ways to do this. After trying various approaches, I have come up with a system that works perfectly for me.
I refer to the lesson fees for the year as tuition. After all, I am running a music school. I teach 35 weeks a year. I have divided those weeks into 5 terms with seven lessons for each term.
In May, I e-mail the registration form to the parents along with a copy of my studio policies. I ask that this form be returned by the end of the June along with 5 post-dated checks for next year’s tuition.
The date for the first check is always 2 weeks before I start teaching. That way, I know that all the funds will have cleared the bank before the first lessons in September.
I spread the dates for collecting the other 4 checks throughout the teaching year. One is cashed in early October, one in late November, one in late January and one mid-March. That way, all tuition is paid by mid-March.
It's not a good idea to have the 3rd check dated for mid-January. There are too many post-Christmas bills. It works much better to have it dated for the end of January or the beginning of February.
I always send a reminder to parents by e-mail the week before the check is cashed. I also write a reminder in the student’s Organizer. It’s easy for a parent to forget about a post-dated check.
I let parents know in the studio policies that all activities throughout the year are covered in the tuition. That includes Master Classes and Recitals. I include theory instruction in their lessons and I don’t charge extra to mark practice papers for theory exams. Parents appreciate knowing what they don’t have to pay for!
Once a check is cashed, I don’t give a refund. I also ask for one-months notice if they are stopping lessons. This will not always happen, but at least I have it written down.
I ask that attendance be regular and punctual. I let them know that if they arrive late, I will not make up the time.
For illness, I ask for 24 hours notice if they have to cancel a lesson. I do charge for a lesson if it is cancelled at the last minute. I do not make up lessons if students are away on holidays.
If parents know ahead of time that their child is going to miss a lesson for other reasons (sports games, school events, birthday parties etc), I will give them suggestions as to who they could switch with. It is their responsibility to arrange that switch and then let me know who they have switched with. Parents really appreciate this flexibility.
- I have included a copy of My Studio Policies with this post. These policies are a result of years of experience and they have worked very well for me in my teaching. However, it’s important to stress that what works for me may not work for others. Every teacher and every area is different. If you wish, use this as a starting point to come up with policies and procedures that work for you.
As private music teachers, we have the best job ever. I love what I do! I love working with my students and inspiring THEM to love music. It’s great to see the excitement in their eyes as they grow and progress. It’s music to MY ears when one of my students says to me “I LOVE that piece!” I consider it a privilege to nurture their love of music.
But it’s also important to remember that you are running a business. And in order for you to run your business effectively and professionally, it is imperative that you have written studio policies. May you have smooth waters as you sail into September this year.
♥︎ Remember, Great Music Comes from the Heart ♥︎
How do you motivate students to practice?
This is one of the biggest challenges for a piano teacher. We want our students to love music but they have to practice if they are going to progress. And practicing is work! How can we motivate our students to practice more effectively?
My goal for my students is for them to have what I call "no nag" practice.
I want them to enjoy their practice AND I want them to progress. Here are some of the strategies that I have used in my own teaching to help my students meet their musical potential and have fun doing it!
#1: Set Goals
I always take a few minutes in their first lesson and talk to them about what they want to accomplish in the upcoming year. It's also a good idea to speak with a parent so that you know what they are expecting from their child's music lessons. I write these goals on a special page at the front of the Student Music Organizer. For a first-year student, their goal might be something as simple as becoming a better note reader, to learn lots of new pieces and, of course, to love music! For an older student, maybe they want to do an exam or finish a grade. Some students may have upcoming auditions or competitions. Each student is unique. Setting goals helps to ensure that the teacher, parent and student are all on the same musical page!
#2: Set Daily Practice Time
Once we have set some attainable goals for the year, then we discuss how much time they will need to practice each week to attain those goals. Students are juggling many things—school, sports, their social life, family commitments and other activities. The list is endless!! I usually write 3 different daily scenarios on the practice page at the front of the Student Music Organizer....good (30 minutes), better (35 minutes) and best (40 minutes). The length of time will depend on their grade and their goals. Once we have decided on their practice time, I require that they practice that amount 6 days a week...they can have one day off! We then break the time down even further. (i.e. 5 minutes for Sight Reading, 10 minutes for Technique and 15 minutes for pieces).
#3: Have Students Record Their Practice Time Each Day
There is a great chart on each assignment page of the Student Music Organizer where they can keep track of their practice times. If they do extra time, I write this below the chart. We call this a "Musical Bank". Then, if they have a crazy week and can't complete all of their time, they can 'borrow' some time from their bank! Students love this idea. I've had students competing to see who can get the biggest bank....it's a very sneaky way to motivate them to do more practicing!! For younger students, I usually have the parent fill in the practice time or have them initial it.
I have found that all students love stickers, not just the younger ones! I always have a special "Sticker of the Week". If they have completed their practice time for the week, then, at their lesson, I will put this sticker on their Assignment page. If they have a 'musical bank', they know that they can borrow from that bank and still receive their sticker.
#5: Studio Practice Chart
In September, I make a large chart on a piece of Bristol board and place it on the wall in the studio. If the student has completed all of their practice time, then they can put a special sticker on the chart for that week. Just knowing that they will be able to put their sticker on the wall really helps motivate them to complete all of their practice time! I also encourage them to try to spread their practicing out over the week. Consistent daily practice is much more effective than a marathon just before the lesson!
#6: Treat Week
If students have completed all of their practicing for the last 5 weeks, then they receive a treat. You wouldn't believe how motivating a Rice Krispie Square can be! My teaching year consists of 35 weeks, so that means that there are seven treat weeks in the year. I use a different sticker on the studio practice chart after each treat week. At the recital, I honour those students who have completed all of their practicing for the entire year with a special certificate. I call them my 'Perfect Practicers'. Most of my students will receive this honour.
Both of my recipes for these delicious and simple Rice Krispie Squares are shared with this post - 2 separate files. (Chocolate-Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Squares and Regular Rice Krispie Squares).
Have fun helping your students to achieve their goals. Please feel free to share any motivational ideas that you have used in your studio.
♫ A SPECIAL NOTE ♫…The Student Music Organizer Website is having a fantastic 15/15 sale! For the entire month of August, teachers will receive 15% off of their entire order if they order 15 organizers or more. Use the discount code AUGUST at checkout to take advantage of this terrific deal.
♥︎ Remember, Great Music Comes from the Heart ♥︎
Summer is a great time to relax and enjoy the nice weather. But for music teachers, summer is also the time to prepare for the fall. There is always so much to do before regular lessons resume. Organization is the key to having a well-run business. With a little planning ahead of time, you can sail into September knowing that everything is ready to go! That way you will spend less time worrying about all the things that you have to do and more time enjoying the time off. I would like to share with you a few great organizational ideas that have worked for me.
One of the first things that I do when preparing for the upcoming season is to work on my Yearly Studio Calendar. I have an Excel chart that I use to generate a one-page Calendar for parents and students. I can use the same chart each year. I just change the dates and add all the important information that I feel my students and parents need to know for the whole year (i.e. master classes, recitals, festivals, holidays, deadlines, exams, upcoming events, vacations, etc). In late August, I e-mail this to all of my parents along with a reminder of their first lesson date and time. I place a copy of the Calendar on the bulletin board in my waiting room. I also tape a copy in the back of each student’s Organizer so that I can refer to it at their lesson throughout the year and highlight any upcoming dates. I've included a link to my original file for the Yearly Studio Calendar in this post. That way, you can download it and change the information to suit your own teaching year.
- The iPad is an amazing tool. For me, it was definitely worth the investment. (See previous Blog Post called 'The iPad and the Music Teacher'). The Calendar App is one of the best studio organization tools on the iPad. I love how it backs up automatically to the cloud so that I don’t have to worry about losing my information. Entries can be colour coded to keep track of lessons that have been changed or missed. You can also write notes pertaining to a lesson directly on the individual entires. The search function is fantastic. In an instant, I can see all of the lessons for one particular student for the entire year. I also find the Contacts App very useful for keeping track of all student information. My iPad has revolutionized the way that I organize my business. Here's a link to help you get started. This article will help you with the basics of using the calendar App.
- I have a very handy ‘Performance Tracking Chart’ (Excel File) that I use to organize all student performances throughout the year. Once I’ve completed my yearly calendar, I set up this chart with student's names and dates of all master classes, recitals and other performances. Then I print it and put it on a clip board that I keep beside me in the studio. I can use this chart for performance planning throughout the year. In September, the first thing we do is pick a Master Class piece (for the end of October) and a Christmas recital piece. I will also use this to help plan performances for exam preparation. I can keep track of all performance pieces for all students throughout the year on these sheets. I find it easier to work with a paper copy in the studio. I can fill it in as I’m teaching. Every two weeks or so, I will update the chart on the computer with any changes or additions and print it again. This gives me a running list of all performance pieces being worked on by my students at all times. I also list the students' pieces in their own Organizer. There is a column in the chart for keeping track of the total playing time for pieces which is useful for timing recitals and Master Classes. Here is the original file of my ‘Performance Tracking Chart’. This will allow you to input the names, dates and events to suit your own studio.
The Student Music Organizer is another great time-saving teaching tool. Each September, my students start a brand new book. The book is written on 8 1/2 x 11” paper so there is lots of room for writing notes. It is is designed to last for an entire year of lessons so you don't have to buy 2 or 3 smaller notebooks. At the end of the year, you will have a complete record of what has been done for the entire year. Parents love it as well. If they have a question, I can tell them to check the Organizer! Here are some of the sections included in this great resource:
Goal Setting Section — I do this on the first lesson so that we know how to plan for the year.
Favourite Piece Section — This is very helpful when planning recitals, festivals or exams.
Exam Planning — for students doing an exam in the upcoming year, we start planning right away.
Practice Planning — after we have set goals for the year, we then decide together how much time they will need to practice each week to attain these goals. This time can then be broken down into smaller sections so they know how long to spend on each aspect i.e. pieces, technique, sight reading
The Organizer contains 35 Assignment Pages. These sheets can be filled out during the lesson. Each page contains a chart for recording weekly practice. There is also manuscript across the bottom and the pages are numbered so you can refer back to a scale or exercise assigned earlier in the year.
The back of the book contains lots and lots of valuable reference material. You will find extra manuscript paper, a composer chart, summary sheets for musical time periods (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionism and Modern), music dictionaries, basic music theory reference guides and a wonderful comparative fingering chart for keyboard instruments.
- ♫ A SPECIAL NOTE ♫…The Student Music Organizer Website is having a fantastic 15/15 sale! For the entire month of August, teachers will receive 15% off of their entire order if they order 15 organizers or more. Use the discount code AUGUST at checkout to take advantage of this terrific deal.
Have a great rest-of-the summer AND have fun getting organized for September.
♥︎ Remember, Great Music Comes from the Heart ♥︎
♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎
Photo credit: "Over the River and Through the Woods" by garlandcannon