074 – What I’m Rethinking

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Episode Summary

Sometimes changes we make result from weeks – if not months – of ruminating and pondering, and sometimes they occur on the fly when something suddenly doesn’t feel right. Here are seven things that Amy is rethinking in her own studio.

Items Mentioned in this Episode

Amy’s speaking sessions

Coinhop App for collecting payments

Book: Think Again by Adam Grant


Welcome to episode 74 of the Piano Pantry Podcast. I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. Today you’ll get a first-hand peek at a good handful of things I’m rethinking regarding my own independent piano studio. After more than 20 years teaching piano – 13 years full-time – you would think I would have things nailed down.

The truth is, I don’t think a year has gone by that I’ve done things exactly the same way as the previous. Something changes a little every year, whether it’s policies, teaching philosophy, go-to materials, assignment formats, etc.

Your gears may have been churning a lot, too, here in the months of May and June as we start looking toward what our next school year will look like.

In this episode, you’ll hear about seven specific things I’m rethinking – some the result of weeks – if not months – of ruminating and pondering, and some that occurred on the fly when something suddenly just didn’t feel right or necessary.

Before we dive in, I wanted to share with you a special and highly popular session your local or state group may be interested in including in your programming for next year that is all about this whole mindset of rethinking in our teaching and business.

It can be easy for us as independent music teachers to get caught up for years in the comfort zone of how we run our businesses. However, if one wants to build a thriving and sustainable studio in today’s quickly changing world, more forward-thinking may be required. While you may hesitate to try new things, sometimes even small changes produce significant results. The good news is, ideas don’t always have to come from us.

One of my newest sessions: Evolutionary Entrepreneurialism: Grow Your Studio One “Yes” At a Time, encourages teachers to approach their business with an open mindset. It will demonstrate how paying attention to demand and societal evolutions can help unlock a studio that grows and thrives. This process benefits teachers who want to grow their studio and those who want a sustainable business model that can mold to support them through different seasons of life.

As testimony to this mindset, you’ll will get a glimpse into the evolution of my studio that altered focus more than five times over ten years by saying “yes” to client demand. Through various small (and sometimes significant) changes, the studio continued to develop and thrive in new ways.

Since business evolutions don’t happen overnight, the session will also cover important elements like how to tap into your community and (perhaps even more importantly) cultivate and foster effective cultural change with current clients. You’ll walk away feeling inspired and equipped to build a business model you love.

Here’s what Pamela, an attendee who attended the session with her local group had to say: “Amy’s presentation got me thinking about how I can make small changes in the way I run my studio to not only help my students but benefit myself and my lifestyle too!”

Visit pianopantry.com/speaking for more details or get the link in the show notes.

Here’s a little confession before we start. I definitely have a little bit of an addiction to change – it’s just part of who I am and how I thrive. I recognize that while the ability to embrace change comes very easily to me, it doesn’t to everyone. You may be someone who likes things in your comfort zone and that’s OK. The fact that you even recognize that is good. Just being willing to even consider new possibilities is the first step, whether you implement them or not.

This year, much of what I am rethinking has to do with continually simplifying. As you know, life seems to somehow get busier and busier and unless we are super intentional about trying to minimize and simplify and streamline, it will only continue to spiral.

Ok, so here goes my list. Four of my items were ones that I somewhat decided on the fly and three were determined after a period of rumination.

First off is one of those items that I decided on the fly, and that was to stop collecting student binders at the end of the school term. I used to gather up everyone’s binders and store them in plastic totes then I would break open a folding table, start cleaning them out one by one, removing the front covers and studio calendars from the school year, assessing the state of the binder and replacing some with new ones, and then replacing the covers with new calendars and such.

While it seemed smart to do this all at once, it hit me this year that there is no reason this has to be a project that takes an hour or more anymore. At my student’s last lesson of the year, we took one minute to flip through things quickly, pulled out what we could, and called it a day. No longer does the binder cleanup have to be a “thing.” I’m relieved.

The second item I changed spontaneously was giving out year-end parent and student questionnaires. I have always asked families to fill out a form before coming to their final evaluation meeting. In all honesty this year I actually just completely forgot but in the end, I realized that I just didn’t really even miss it that much.

I think it was something that was really important in the early days of my studio when building a business, but now that I have so many longer-term families, and I’m getting away from actually evaluating students as in giving them actual formal evaluations with scores for effort and such – it just didn’t seem necessary.

One funny thing that resulted from my forgetfulness though is that one family didn’t remember it was our final parent-student meeting week until the last minute. She said she was so used to filling out a questionnaire, that when one didn’t come she didn’t think we had the meeting.

I thought that was really funny as did she. I will say, no one complained about not having to fill out a questionnaire though!

The third item that I somewhat decided on the fly was to revisit the idea of having a second piano next to my main teaching piano. I know many teachers who love this and can’t see why anyone wouldn’t like it, but I tried it 6 or 7 years ago and it just wasn’t working for me.

During our recital week in May, I held rehearsals in the studio rather than at the location and so I rearranged my studio space to make it feel more like a recital setup. As I was starting to put things back, rather than putting all four keyboards I have back into formation, I decided to put one of them next to the grand piano and give it a try again. The verdict – I’m only two lessons in, but I’m already loving it! We’ll see if it sticks this time.

The fourth and final item I decided on somewhat spontaneously, was to be more intentional about making recommendations for what students should do for summer lessons.

I have always made summer lessons optional in my studio because I have always wanted a lighter summer. Those that don’t take summer lessons pay a holding fee though – basically the equivalent of the cost of one lesson – as a non-refundable holding fee for keeping their spot for fall lessons. Because I was not worried about how many students I had in the summer, I just let everyone make their own decision.

This summer though, I was hoping to have a few more students for financial reasons. Not only that but I realized that there were some students who I really felt needed summer lessons either because they had only been in lessons for a year or two or because I felt they could really benefit from the extra progress through the summer.

So, I determined to be a little more creative and proactive.

The first thing I did was create options for summer. I have always offered 6 lessons over the course of 7 or 8 weeks. Students have a set time and they have 1-2 weeks they can miss to give them flexibility. This year, not only did I create two package options, but I went to an open booking calendar where families would just book their times so they could come on different days whenever it was convenient for them. I called the 7-lesson option the progress package and the 4-lesson option the maintenance package. They can reschedule as they need as long as they do it 24 hours ahead of time.

Not only did I create two packages and make the calendar more flexible, but I proactively wrote individual emails to those I felt would benefit from summer lessons. It worked! I had several normally opt out of lessons that finally opted in. Some for 4 lessons and some for 7. I was tickled pink. I had never made much effort to reach out to those I felt really needed the lessons besides making a general comment to everyone how summer lessons can help avoid a backslide.

The life lesson here? Individual one-on-one communication is so important and so is thinking outside the box.

The next three items were ones that I pondered and ruminated over and threw around in my head quite a bit for landing on. They include:

  1. What time of year to do parent-student meetings
  2. What my studio calendar year looks like which in effect will also change
  3. How I handle payments for tuition

Again, this is all about streamlining and simplifying how I run my business. I’ve been very happy with how I’ve run things until now and it suddenly just felt like it was time for a shakeup for the next phase of life.

So, my school year is usually around 34 lessons and the optional summer 6. Families could cover the school term in an annual payment or in 9 monthly payments. Everyone had an additional annual registration and materials fee due on June 1, and, as I mentioned earlier, those not taking summer lessons had a holding fee.

I am ready to move to a full annual schedule. This will all begin on June 1 of 2024 and I already gave my studio families a heads up.

My calendar year will run from June 1 – May 31. Students will get 4 summer lessons in June and July and 33 or 34 August – May. I haven’t settled on the exact number yet. The annual fee will be 100% all-inclusive so I will no longer have a separate registration and materials or holding fee. Payments will be divided into 12 monthly payments and will be setup on automatic withdrawal through Coinhop – I site I use and love that only charges a 1% fee plus 30 cents per transaction (a fee which is charged to me and not the student).

By the way, I do have an affiliate link to Coinhop. If you’re interested in trying it out, please consider supporting the work I do here by using my affiliate link you’ll find in the show notes.

No longer will I need to send invoices for annual payments or calculate fees for summer lessons, registration, and holding fees. Once they are setup, it will be continuous until they decide to stop lessons.

Lastly, as I mentioned a little earlier, I am starting to do my evaluations a little differently. I love my parent-student meeting times at the end of the year but I realize that we often talk about accomplishments and goals and improvements we could make in the future, but then we go into summer lessons and much of that can be easily forgotten.

While I will still probably continue having a meeting at the end of the year, I’m considering having one mid fall Fall perhaps sometime in October. It seems like that might be a better time to check in and talk about progress and movement and check in on how families are handling practice at home.

I’m not 100% sure what this might look like – I have to marinate on it some more – but I know it’s something I want to tweak and rethink.

What are you rethinking in your studio? I would love for you to jump onto social media and share a look into your ponderings and changes.

While we’re on the topic, I have to recommend a book to you called “Think Again” by Adam Grant The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. While his book focuses more on thoughts and opinions, there is so much crossover into our own mindsets in how we run our businesses. Grab the link in the show notes.

Today’s tiny tip is to embrace greenery. Make your studio space feel a little warmer by adding a plant – whether real or fake. It could be a larger fake tree in the corner or a small little succulent in the window. It’s amazing how much warmth a little greenery adds to a room – making it cozy and inviting.

Before we go today would you take a moment to rate and review the show? If you’re in Apple Podcasts, all you have to do is scroll down the page a bit where the episodes are, and at the bottom, you’ll see the section for Ratings & Reviews.

This is one really easy way you can support the work I do here so that more teachers can find it in the future. Thank you so much for all those five-star reviews including this one from Music Kitchen –

Music Kitchen says: Addicted to this podcast – This podcast is 100% wonderful! Amy is creative, optimistic, humorous, and well-spoken – about music and about life. In addition to being a thoroughly engaging storyteller, she presents a myriad of practical, sensible, and realistic suggestions for inspired teaching and effective studio management. Thank you, Amy, for helping independent music teachers be our best for our students!

By the way – Music Kitchen – whoever you are – I love your name!