032 – What Your Refrigerator and Stacks of Music Have in Common

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Episode Summary

A “use what you have” approach to intentional meal planning and sheet music mania.


Items Mentioned


Welcome to episode #32 of the piano pantry podcast. We are over 60% of the way into this first year and it dawned on me that only once have I managed to squeeze in some food talk. In the trailer of this podcast, I mention that while not a star-struck type of person, if I had to compare what my goal for this podcast was to famous people, it would be the piano teacher version of a cross between Ina Garten, Marie Condo, and The Lazy Genius.

Ina Garten – the woman who’s cooking shows were my first real cooking education; Marie Condo who, inspires us to organize with intention and joy, and the Lazy Genius who says that in a nutshell that while yes we want to work hard and do our best in many areas of life, it’s also important to know where to draw the line and say it’s OK to not have to do everything to perfection.

By the way, last weeks’ topic hit this last one spot on when we discussed easing into the school year and not feeling like we have to have every item lined up and ready to go on lesson #1. As far as food talk goes, if you’re a late comer to this podcast, you may want to jump back to episode #4 “Dinner Hour Meets Teaching Hour.”

This past Friday, I was doing my weekly food-prep when I realized that the process I go through for meal planning each week was something I really wanted to share with you – specifically, one important step. The more I thought about it, I the concept I used to plan meals was also a good mindset for how we should approach the oodles of music we own as indepenent teachers. Check it out.

Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast where together we live life as independent music teachers. I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. In this space we talk about all things teacher-life related from organizing our studios to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.

It’s a well-known trait in our field that piano teachers are the proud owners of stacks and stack of music. So many stacks in fact that it’s the reason behind the wildly popular Facebook group Piano Teachers Buy-Sell trade. Unless you teach online, I would bet that most of us have music coming out of our ears. New music books are very tempting! On top of that, if you go to conferences, you get oodles of free sheet music.

Let me ask you a question though: How many times do you rifle through those drawers or stacks of sheet music only to pull out the exact same items you always do. Those go-to favorites. Don’t get me wrong – it feels really good to have trusty pieces of repertoire that seem to nail it on the head every time.

I myself keep lists of favorites, recently compiling them onto a public list on Sheet Music Plus. I’ll pop a link to in the show notes if you’re interested. The question is: what about those books that you brush past every. single. time.

Sometimes I think our stacks of music that go unused isn’t just about the fact that we go to our favorites, but that it might be a brand new piece of music with which we’re unfamiliar. It’s easier to grab what we know is a winner and shoo the rest away because we just don’t quite know what to do with it or how it fits into our own mix. It could also be that we don’t love the book but think that it could potentially be the right thing for some student 3 years down the road. The result is it may sit in our music library for years and years, completley unused – if ever.

Now for the part where we compare stacks of music to our refrigerator.

I am someone who likes to make lots of different things. I’m always trying new recipes. Whether you’re an adventurous cook or someone that has their go-to favorites doesn’t really matter in the context we about to discuss. Here’s the kicker: If you’re constantly determining meals simply based on what you want to cook – whether it be something new or a make over and over meal – your refrigerator will continue to build up lots of little bits that get overlooked whether it be a half log of cream cheese, the last 1/4 cup of heavy cream, or the other half of the red cabbage from yesterday’s coleslaw. If we don’t start our meal planning with what needs used up – items that might perish – then a lot of food may be lost and go bad.

What if, instead of approaching our meal planning entirely by what we want to make, or are comfortable making, we start with what needs used. This is a meal-planning principle I have been working really hard to be consistent with for awhile now and it works really well. Start by writing down 5-10 items that need used up.

Next, determine what items you can make in the next few days to use those up. Since I use Paprika, a digital recipe app, searching for items with specific ingredients is a breeze. Bonus points if you can use more than just one item in a meal! Here’s an example: A few nights ago, I made a taco salad with 1/2 lb. leftover chorizo in my freezer, 1/2 a leftover onion in my veggie drawer, a jar of salsa we didn’t like to just eat with chips because I accidentally bought unsalted, and the last scrapings of the container of sour cream.

Let’s circle back around to our sheet music agin.

Last year I hit a big psychological milestone and had finally had enough. My music file drawers are always fairly organized so when I say I had “had enough,” I’m not talking so much about the mass amounts of music, but more that I was sick of rifling through and seeing the same books over and over that I never ever selected. They sat dormant, looking me in the face, wanting to be chosen, but never making the cut.

It was time for drastic measures. You probably think I’m going to say that I finally started cleaning out the drawers and selling music and yes, while I was doing some of that, I was determined to force myself to buy very little new music for the entire school year. Yes, the entire year. My charge to myself was to use what I had first.

It wasn’t that I didn’t buy anything new, it was just that going to my drawers as much as possitble was priority. I wish I could say that I had some kind of new awakening or discovery of this amazing music book that sat dusty and turned out to be a gem but I really didn’t. There were a couple of times I gave a book to a student and it just wasn’t good so I took it back and put them in something else. At that point, the book definitely went in the to sell pile. But you know what – at least I had actually given it a shot and gotten it out of my stockpile.

I do have to tell you about a series that I have had in my file drawers for years but always overlooked. It was Melody Bober’s Piano for Busy Teens series. I honestly can’t 100% recall WHY I continued to overlook it. The only thing I can think of is that I can be super sensitive to the design of book covers. Something about that cover just turned me off – hopefully someone from the publisher is listening in on this!

Anyway, I finally pulled it this summer and put it in my to sell pile but then… last week I was on the search for a book for an 8th grade student who plays at a solid intermediate level. She really needed some solid good classical repertoire but also just some fun, laid-back repertoire. She loves jazzy music and also learning hymns to play at her church. I was struggling. Every book I pulled and played through when I was trying to pick out something for her just feel right. My last resort was to look through my stack of books to sell and low and behold. This one came shining through.

As I’m telling you this story I’m realizing this isn’t exactly helping the case for getting rid of music, but it IS helping my case that we really need to give those books that we keep skimming over a second thought. Just like those little leftover bits of food in the refrigerator can be used up, purposed, and valued if planned for, so can those books.

Give it a shot. See how much you can use with what you have already.

In fact, my alternate title of this episode was “use what you have” – a principle for our music drawers AND our refrigerator (and for that matter, freezer and pantry too). Really – it’s a good principle for life.

Alright, start digging through your refrigerator AND your sheet music. Tag me on social and let me know what you “used up” this week. Speaking of social, you can find me on Facebook at piano pantry, or on instagam at amychaplinpiano.

If you enjoyed this episode, please take a minute to head over to apple podcastst to rate and review the show. If you’re not sure how, if you visit pianopantry.com/podcast I share quick screenshots and steps on how to do so. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this so it helps this podcast get into the hands of other teachers from all over the world.

Since this episode was food-related I thought I would share a fact that you might find surprising – I love to cook but I actually just enjoy following and tweaking recipes. Yes, over my years of cooking I know and understand how to make something on the spot of my own creation and sometimes I do, but my happy place is with the recipes. I like the visual. Plus, my personal is less free-spirited and more structured and intentional. It feels good to know I understand the foundation and CAN create my own things – that is very freeing, I have to say but this trait of mine is one reason I think the Piano Pantry website never turned into a cooking blog. Who knows where life will take me some day though. We shall see.