The Varsity Musician’s Playbook 

Part 3: Community Presence

This post is the third and final installment of The Varsity Musician’s Playbook written by my good friend and colleague, Christina Whitlock, NCTM. I asked her to write this series for you since, of all the conference sessions I attended last year,  it was the one that impacted me the most.

If you missed the first two posts in this series, I would recommend reading them first.

Part 1 – Studio Interdependence
Part 2 – Studio “Locker Room”



Be “The Piano Teacher.”

Consider this:  If a young man introduces himself and says he plays football, the next question is almost guaranteed to be, “for what team?”.

When I mention the fact that my daughter takes gymnastics, I can almost always count on the next question to be, “at which gym?”.

Why should our studios be any different?  Our communities should know us by name!

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The Varsity Musician’s Playbook 

Part 2: Studio “Locker Room”

This post second in a three-part series written by my good friend and colleague, Christina Whitlock, NCTM. I asked her to write this series for you since, of all the conference sessions I attended last year,  it was the one that impacted me the most.

If you missed the first posts in this series, I would recommend reading it first.

Part 1 – Studio Interdependence


In Post #1, we looked at a few ways to incorporate a sense of interdependence in your studio.  Today’s post is going to focus on your studio environment, or, in keeping with the theme of this series, your Studio “Locker Room!”

I realize we all have varying degrees of control over the physical space we teach in, but I hope this post will inspire you to seek out similar applications that work for you.


Creating Studio Legacy – Tradition

Let’s consider this picture of the Hofstra Ladies’ Lacrosse Team locker room.

The first thing I notice is the statement, “Tradition Never Graduates.”  Friends, we all know, sports are ALL about legacy!  Why should your studio be any different?

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The Varsity Musician’s Playbook 

Part 1: Studio Interdependence

Once my piano students hit middle school, I often lose them to sports.

If this is a statement you’ve either said at least once in your career or heard a colleague say, raise your hand.

Me, me, me!

Yes, you over there, with your hand up – this post is for you!

At every conference I attend, while there are many excellent sessions, there are always one or two whose message sticks with me for good. At this past MTNA Conference (2016 San Antonio), my “sticky” session was by far:

The Varsity Musician’s Playbook: Commitment Building Strategies from Team Sports to the Studio.

Bam! Wow, the title hooked me. As someone who enjoys the business side of running my piano studio – this was my type of session.

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File Fever 

Organizing Student Files

I have a fever, a fever that never breaks.

It’s a sickness really.

It’s called organizational fever; more specifically to this post – file fever – and I don’t know how to stop! Being organized is fuel to my body. It gives me clarity and peace of mind.

My studio gets organized and reorganized every few months and rearranged to some degree once to twice a year. I’m getting to the point where I’ve nearly perfected the arrangement, but rearranging and organizing to me are like a breath of fresh air. I’m a better teacher when everything is in its place. I have my moments – we all do – but I strive to keep my studio and workspace continually tidy for mine and my student’s sake!

File Fever Organizing Student Files

In this post I’m going to share how I organize my (physical) student files.

To see how I organize student information using Evernote, see the post Evernote: An Independent Music Teacher’s Handbook.

First, a quick note on what inspired me to improve my organization even more.


Getting Things Done

Ever since reading the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David AllenEver since I have been working hard to streamline the way I work. Some of the topics he covers include cleaning up the space you work in, setting up the right tools, corralling your “stuff”, and keeping things fresh and functional.

One of the first things I did was purchase a label maker. After several months of using it, I wondered how I’ve gotten by as a supposedly “organized” person without a label maker my whole life. I’ve been label-making like crazy!


Student Files

My file drawer is one place where my label maker has been put to work. I love 4-drawer lateral files. All my student files are kept in one drawer. Every student gets a hanging folder. Monday students names are labeled, and the label situated in the slot clear to the left. Tuesday students are in the second space, Wednesday students in the third space and well, I think you get the idea. I love seeing the files laid out this way.


(In case you’re wondering, I used the app “Blur it” to blur out the last names in this photo.) 
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New Studio Website

It’s finally finished – my studio has a website!

One of my biggest goals and projects for this summer was to develop my studio website. I am proud to say I designed and did all the work myself on WordPress.

I have a lot I want to share with you today about my site including why I waited until 5 years into my business to do it.

This post is NOT a tutorial on what your site needs because, good grief, there are already plenty of wonderful posts out there for piano teachers on what elements are needed for a good studio site. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel!

What I am going to give you are the best resources I’ve found and used for inspiration to guide me through the planning and design of the site.

First of all, let’s take a peek!


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Icing Your Studio

This past week I had 13 students from Taylor University observe my studio over the course of three days. These students were taking a beginning piano pedagogy course as undergraduate students as the university offers a minor in Piano Pedagogy. How lucky are they?!

One of my students loves to create at the piano. The pedagogy students were amazed at our improv activity using Forrest Kinney’s Pattern Play – a series which they were not yet familiar. After revealing one of their fellow students in the room as a talented jazz improviser, my student got the privilege to hear him do a quick lick on the keys.  Thank you to that university student for inspiring my budding musician!



Over the course of their time with me and after reading follow-up emails from several of the students, a couple of things occurred to me.

  1. While I always try to give my best to my students, having someone right there observing me certainly made me button-up even more! Although it wasn’t obvious to them, I was more energized, focused, and was working to show them what’s possible in a lesson. Let’s always try to teach as if someone were watching.
  2. A lot of the comments and feedback they gave me had nothing to do with pedagogical materials or tactics but with how I related to my students and the environment I created for them. This second point is what this post will focus on.

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The Compliment Any Teacher Would Love to Receive

Right on the tail of my lost-a-student-out-of-the-blue email, the very next day, I received possibly one of the best compliments you could hope to hear from a parent that was completely off-cuff.


This mom almost always sits in on lessons and is very engaged with her children’s practice and learning. As I took a step back from the piano to my bookshelf next to her chair to switch out sightreading cards, she said (and I paraphrase):

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The Email No Teacher Likes to See




A few weeks ago, in preparation for my first national conference presentation, I traveled to Butler University in Indianapolis to give a trial run of my session to their MTNA Collegiate Chapter.

Local teachers were invited and several attended. It went really well and at the end, as usual, I offered time for questions. Although the session was 100% about marketing, the questions that emerged had nothing to do with marketing but with studio policies.

How do I handle students who quit out of the blue?
Do I make families sign a contract?
How do I word my policy and enforce it?

I was happy to answer the questions of course, but they took me by surprise at first since I had just gotten done talking about marketing for 60 minutes. Later that afternoon it dawned on me that it really wasn’t surprising at all. Why? Studio policy will forever be an issue with independent teachers and when we talk to someone or see someone who has been successful, we want to pick their brains on the toughest issues we face.

That is why I am opening my dirty laundry wide open today and sharing with you a complete email exchanged that happened just a couple days go. I know teachers often struggle with what to say, how to word emails, how to handle difficult situations.

I hope reading this, not as a generic exchange but as a word-for-word actual exchange, will help you see one example of how to handle the email we never like seeing. It’s not outrageous, it’s not nasty, it was quite cordial and well-handled in my opinion. It just happened, it’s just a little dose of reality.

More than anything, I want this blog to be real. I don’t want to just show you the perfect sides of my job, but the hard parts as well.

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FaceTime Lesson

Around 11:45 today, I received a call from the mother of my 1:00 student. She wanted to check with me as “M” had been complaining of a sore throat and said she was feeling a little achy. Although she didn’t have a temperature or seem sick otherwise, the mother wanted to see what I wanted to do. Thank you! I was grateful to her for being considerate of my health. She knew I would be traveling for the next week and wanted to be especially cautious.

At first, I suggested I would do a video lesson for her; I have been trying this for the first time this year and have had good feedback from parents. (I still need to figure out a better way to record videos other than with my iPhone but that’s another conversation). It then dawned on me that I had not yet replenished my Piano Adventures 3A studio copy. It makes it hard to do a video lesson without the music they are working on!

Then I remembered I updated my policy this year to read:

Students who are ill should not come to piano lessons. I reserve the right to send a student home if they arrive sick. If students are only mildly ill, please contact me and we can do a FaceTime lesson or I can record a short video assignment for them during their regularly schedule lesson time.

I had yet to try FaceTime with a student so we decided to go for it and I’m so glad we did – we all agreed it was a great success! The mom held the phone and was able to maneuver around as I needed. We were able to cover all the material we normally do during her 45-minute lesson. Mom dropped by the studio about 30 minutes later on her way to Walmart to pick up new sight-reading cards, a fresh assignment sheet and a few other things.

Yea for technology keeping me healthy!


Welcome to my Studio!

Meet Studio 88.



My baby, my life, my dream, my passion, oh yeah, it’s also my place of work!

I GET to come here every day. I remember my undergrad professors telling us over and over that being in this profession  is amazing because we don’t just get to do a job, we get to “do” our art which just happens to be our profession.

How did I come to where I am today?

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