Recommended Reads

My 2017 Reading List

Although I am an avid reader, several years ago, amidst grad school and the early years of opening my piano studio, I found myself reading very little (except what was assigned in school, of course). A few years following, I still found myself continually saying how much I missed reading so I finally set my foot down for myself and said – no more.

Each year I now set a goal for how many books I want to read and increase it by 1-2 books per year. In 2017 the goal was 20 and I hit it spot on. Next year the goal will be 21. See? Baby steps are manageable. Before I know it, I’ll be reading 30 books a year.

After being inspired by the following quotes…

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ~Oscar Wilde

“It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” ~C.S. Lewis

…I vowed this year, to begin including re-reads in my list. The goal was to re-read 5 books (25%) but unfortunately, I only ended up re-reading one (Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert). That’s OK though, I just reminded myself that it’s about baby steps. So, my goal for 2018 my goal will be that 2 of the 21 books will be re-reads.

I hope you can find some inspiration for your own personal book list below. Let me know what you’re reading and some of your top recommendations from this past year in the comments!



Business / Professional

The Savvy Musician by David Cutler

Beware, this book is more of a manual than a pleasure read. 🙂 It is absolutely chock full of ideas for thinking outside the box as an independent music teacher. New teachers and those looking to build their business or explore new income streams will find this book extremely useful.

Continue reading

Tidy Teacher Tips

End-of-Semester Reset

As we roll into the end of a semester of teaching, students and teachers alike are itching for a much-needed break from the past months. It’s time to breathe and reset our mind, body, and spirit by walking away from our day to day tasks and celebrating the season with friends and family.

Part of my daily routine in our home is that every evening before we go to bed, the dishes are done, the dishwasher is running, coffee is made, and lunches are packed so the morning goes smoothly.

I prep and reset the house for a clean and easy start to the day.

After the morning gets moving and my husband is off to work, I clean up breakfast dishes, tidy up blankets and such from the night before, make the bed, and prep dinner so when we arrive home from work the evening goes smoothly.

I prep and reset the house for a clean and easy end to the day.

When we go on vacation we like to make sure the house is clean and picked up, trash is taken out, dishes are completely done and put away, the refrigerator is as empty as possible, and there’s something frozen in the freezer to eat if needed when we return.

We prep and reset the house for a welcome and relaxing return.

Before you close the door to your studio to reset the teacher in you, I would like to encourage you to take a little time to reset your workspace so when you return, you can hit the ground running in a fresh environment. It feels so good!

Here are a few areas to pay attention to before you hang up your teacher hat.


Tidy Up Your Teaching area

  • Put everything back in its place. You may even play around with rearranging items to see if you can find a better workflow.
  • Take inventory of and order stickers, post-its, refills of pens, pencils, erasers, etc.
  • Sharpen up any pencils you have, be sure all the pens are closed.
  • Close all piano lids and push in the benches.
  • Download new assignment sheets or update your old ones for the new semester. Have a fresh set printed and ready to go. (I find using new sheets each semester refreshing. There are plenty to pick from on Assignment Sheet Central!)



Continue reading

Christmas Gift Ideas for Your Music Students

Who Couldn’t Use Another Idea?

When it comes to this time of year, I usually whine a little. Not because I don’t love Christmas or giving gifts, but because I have to figure out something different to do for my students once again.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE giving gifts to my students. It’s just the process of making my brain think about what to do this year that makes me often procrastinate. After getting down to the wire a few years ago, I vowed never again and right after Christmas, I purchased my gifts for the following year (ornaments). Bye-bye stress.

Crafts are not my strong suit so my kiddos will most likely never get a hand-made craft from me. Since I love to cook, however, homemade goodies have made it into the mix frequently.

The gifts I do each year often have to do with where life is for me at the moment. Don’t you agree? Some years money may be tight so gifts may be bulk-homemade and lest costly, and some years I may be too busy to put the effort into making something so I just purchase an item – even if it’s a little more costly. I would say I have spent anywhere between $1.25 – $5 per student but my comfort zone is around the $3 mark. It adds up quickly with a full studio!



Symphony Extra Large Creamy Milk Chocolate Bar.



Music Notes and Treble Clef Ornaments

Decorate your studio Christmas Tree with student Christmas-gift ornaments. Let them choose their ornament off the tree at their last lesson before Christmas Break. I really like these black ones from Amazon. Hobby Lobby has some gold sparkly versions of this same ornament as well.


These Music Snowman Christmas Tree Ornaments are my choice for this particular year. Sara over at Sara’s Music Studio made a fun suggestion to add a ribbon around the neck like a scarf. I’m not crafty, but that I can handle. Won’t it be so cute!?

*Note: At the time of this post, the price on Amazon is $22.99 for a dozen. You can get these at Oriental Trading for $15.99 but with shipping at $6.99, it makes a total of $24.36 with tax. If you have Amazon Prime it’s actually cheaper to order from Amazon!

Continue reading

An Exciting Announcement

Almost one month ago exactly, I mentioned in my post on conducting year-end student evaluations meetings with students, that I had a BIG announcement I was making to my studio families during our one-on-one meetings this year.

Of course, many families wanted to take a guess. Most came up with: I was either pregnant, moving, or hiring an assistant.

Do you want to take a guess too before I let you in on the secret?

Continue reading

Year-End Parent/Student Questionnaires

A few weeks ago, I shared a detailed post on how I use Evernote to conduct my end-of-year student evaluations. The other part of my final meeting with families includes them filling out a questionnaire.

The benefit is two-sided. One one hand, the questionnaires are about me receiving feedback to improve not only my teaching but my business.

On the other side of that, however, is that I think having parents and students both ponder through these questions, helps them evaluate their own efforts/interactions over the past year.

In reflecting, they will feel either a good sense of accomplishment and realization of the quality studio in which they are invested (good I hope!) or awareness that maybe some things need to change. This is a good point for further discussions on practice habits, etc.

I’ve always simply sent a pdf to parents or linked to a pdf in Dropbox so they can download and print the form. This year, I finally got around to doing an online form on my website. My site is built on WordPress and the plugin I use is just a basic form builder – Visual Form Builder.

I wanted to share the form with you today in Word format so you can download and make any modifications you need.

Student Questionnaire

View my online form I used with Visual Form Builder on WordPress

Parent Questionnaire

View my online form I used with Visual Form Builder on WordPress



Every year I tweak the forms just a bit depending on what I want to know. I will often include questions at the end of the form regarding special classes I’m thinking about offering to gauge general interest or ask for feedback regarding a specific event I hosted that year.


Digital Photo Organization

What’s the one digital item you find trickiest to keep organized?

For me, it’s photos.

A lot of readers have asked about this and when a friend asked the same question just the other day, that was my clue it was time to share.

I have a confession though – I wouldn’t call my way anything special, it’s just what I do for now. I love seeing ideas of how others organize, even if I don’t end up doing it that way, so hopefully, you can find some inspiration to clean up your photo files and share any great tips you have with me! Continue reading

Using Evernote for Student Evaluations

Change. I need thrive on it. I love the seasons, re-arranging my studio annually, and re-doing my student schedule each summer and fall. The latter of course takes time but for me, the idea of never changing my lesson schedule is suffocating! LOL.

Clear start and endpoints to me, give a sense of relief and rest and in a way, a mental break. When I used to be a choral director I would frequently get sick the week following school being out as my body was letting go of the stress!

The end of the school year for many independent studios is the time take a step back and celebrate the culmination of student’s work and progress through recitals. Not only that, but it’s the perfect time to turn our heads and reflect on the last 30 to 40 lessons and 4,000 plus hours of practice. Did we use our time wisely? Did the student make progress? Did they participate in studio events? Does the student feel they put in their best effort? There are so many questions that can be pondered and progress assessed, that conducting student evaluations has become a part of my annual schedule.

My recital is always the Sunday before Memorial Day. It does get a little crazy having it that time of year, but I love the feeling of having that culminating event where the whole studio comes together to celebrate and make music. The week following the recital, students and parents come to the student’s normal lesson time, but there is no formal lesson. We sit down and hash out the past and the future of the student’s piano studies together. (The last week of May my studio is closed for a semester break then we return for summer lessons the first week of June).

My part of that meeting time is giving the student a formal evaluation and the parent and student’s part is filling out questionnaires I give to them ahead of time. Today we’re focusing on the former. In another post, I will share my parent and student questionnaires.

Many teachers, after seeing my extensive tutorial on how Evernote can help you organize your studio, got a peek at my evaluation form and have been asking if I would be willing to share. Not only am I going to share the form, but I’m going to explain in detail how I use Evernote to organize and track evaluations from year to year.

Seeing how far we’ve come is only possible if we remember where we started!

Continue reading

Recital Preparation Timeline and Checklist

Today, as I was looking over my Recital Preparation Timeline and Checklist, I thought “hey, my readers might find this useful!” So, today I have a free download for you!

It’s that time of year when preparations for my year-end spring recital are in full-force. Here’s what I have accomplished thus far:

1. Found, booked and confirmed location
2. Presented students with several piece options
3. Confirmed the student’s choice piece
4. Determined plans for the second half of the recital

(Each year the first half is everyone playing their solo then following a 10-minute intermission we do something different. Two years ago everyone did a jazzy style piece, last year we did collaborative pieces, and this year we’re doing a studio collaboration on The Musical Forest: A Narrative Suite for Piano by Nancy Lau. I’ll share details after the recital!)

5. Announced recital location and details in my newsletter
6. Organized and assigned roles for the narrative suite

Next, I have to get all my awards figured out so I can order what I need! Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading