028 – Flexible Studio Calendars

The Piano Pantry Podcast is available on these podcast streaming networks:

Apple PodcastsSpotifyAmazon Music, OvercastiHeart RadioCastboxPocket CastsRadio Public


Episode Summary

The benefit of having a flexible studio calendar and how rethinking what we’ve always done can often reap unexpected and positive results.


Items Mentioned


This past week I was feeling a bit frustrated because I found myself having to re-do my upcoming studio calendar that I had already completed and distributed to families back in May. As you are well aware, it takes a bit of time to nail down a yearly calendar when you have to juggle things like your own personal schedule, school breaks and holidays, a combination of group and private lessons if that’s something you do, and trying to hit a certain number of lessons for the year for pricing consistency. While the change was for a good reason which I’ll share in a moment, the task-oriented time-sensitive person in me was frustrated I had to waste time doing it all over again.

Now, you may be gasping for air wondering why I would possibly change the calendar after I’ve already given out dates but the truth is, families are so busy these days the only thing that matters is that I don’t change the start date. They’re not really going to care if I move group classes to a different week in December than I had planned to back in May. So, that portion is not nearly as big of a deal as you may think it is. If you have a large music school, this is a whole other story but for my independent teachers like me, we have a little more flexibility.

Once it was all said and done the process of forcing myself to redo the calendar made me rethink some of the regular studio calendar patterns. The solutions ended up making me go “oh, OK, yeah, hey that actually works!”

In todays episode, let’s chat further about the benefit of flexible studio calendars and how rethinking what we’ve always done can often reap unexpected and positive results.

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.

This coming August, my husband Drew and I will be celebrating our 20th anniversary and for a few years now, have been planning on celebrating with our first-ever trip to Europe. Initially the goal was to go during the Summer months but we were slow to plan and the more we talked about it, we realized we really didn’t want to miss the Summer season at home. On top of that, many people advised us to avoid touristy season in July and European vacation time in August.

Friends we are planning to visit in France and Germany confirmed October would work for them so my studio calendar was planned around taking 2 weeks in October with one week overlapping at the week of Fall break around here. Perfect! After finally connecting via Zoom with my friend in Germany though, she realized that they would be traveling for those particular weeks and in order to catch them, we would need to come three weeks sooner in late September.

In order to still take advantage of fall break around here, we decided a month in Europe might actually be a wonderful opportunity, thus the reason for having to redo my studio schedule. Yes, I could just say I was teaching three weeks less this year, but then that affects my income ultimately as well as the amount of lesson time students get in a school year. Being that the majority of my students do not take summer lessons, I hated to cut down on the number of school year lessons.

It was time to think again.

Let me ask…What are some norms you have settled on in your studio schedule that seem to work well year after year? Is it using the Monday of Thanksgiving week for Labor Day makeup? Is it always taking the entire month of August off and not starting until the week of Labor Day? If you do occasional group classes, perhaps it’s keeping the classes consistently only on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays giving you Thursdays and Fridays off on group class weeks.

I can attest that it feels really good to have consistency and know what works well in our studio calendars. That being said, it can be very easy to just lock into to doing the same thing year after year and perhaps miss out something that might work even better or simply be a refreshing change.

Let me give you a few examples of little calendar progressions I’ve gone through over the years. Just so you have context on where I’m coming from, many of these revelations are related to the fact that I hold group classes 6 weeks of the school year in lieu of the private lesson that week.

About 4 years ago, my friend Christina Whitlock shared with me that she only holds group classes the first two or three weeks of August to give families time nail down their other sports schedules and stuff before putting the student lesson time roster in cement. Oh my goodness, I had never thought of this but that totally makes sense! If you want to hear her talk about this idea more, listen in on episode #38 of the beyond measure podcast : Cheers to a less Conventional August which I’ll link to in the show notes.

I’ve taken her suggestion for a few years now and love it, but with having to take a month long gap in late September and the majority of October this upcoming year, I felt I should get individual lessons going right away. In order to avoid having to nail down lesson times by August 8, this year, I’m setting up online scheduling so families can visit my scheduling page to book individual appointment times for the first couple of weeks of the school term. So, groups in August work great but this year, I had to think again.

Last year I realized for the first time in 10 years the first week back to lessons in January after the holidays would be a great time to hold group classes. While I generally try to group kids according to age and level as much as possible, this particular week, I don’t worry about that. Since students are mostly getting new materials that first week back, I use it as a time to distribute new music and help them get started. It helps that I have 4 keyboards so students can work on headphones in that group class and I rotate between them.

If you want to hear more Group Class Scheduling Ideas listen in on episode #3 of this podcast.

Another interesting change I played around with for this years schedule is that while I normally like doing the Labor Day Makeup on Monday of Thanksgiving week, and take the rest of that week off, I realized if I did group classes in the first two days of the week, I could squeeze another week into that semester in the schedule. Then rather than making the week of Labor Day a private lesson week and having to find an additional Monday in the lesson calendar, I made Labor Day week a group class week.

The flexibility of making this happen came from the revelation that I didn’t necessarily have to schedule my group classes on the exact same day of the week every time they came around. I used to say “OK, groups are on M-T-W” and this is your time and every time it’s group week, that’s when you come.

Last year I started booking students into their group class time the week or two leading up to the class which allowed for families to have more current availability rather than trying to commit to one time in August for these occasional classes.

Part of my studio calendar re-do last week included setting groups on Tuesday-Wednesday the week of Labor Day and Monday-Tuesday the week of Thanksgiving and the week prior to Christmas.

The first week of January when we return to lessons, we will do groups on Tuesday-Wednesday as schools then start on Thursday. This also makes for a “soft return” after the holidays. In February I have two speaking sessions booked back to back on a Monday and Tuesday so I will do group classes that week on a Wednesday and Thursday.

You might think this sounds like a nightmare and while yes, it certainly has its potential pitfalls, you’re not going to know if it works unless you try! Guess what?! You don’t have to do it the exact same way next year! This is such a relief to me personally and one of the many reasons I’ve held onto this profession. It’s actually quite a wonderful way to create a work life “blend” when you can edit your studio from year to year as needed.

Now you might be worried about trying things because what if it doesn’t work well or your studio families don’t like it or you’re giving them something a little different than normal. Well, guess what, there’s a chance the change might actually be welcomed by your studio families. The thing is, we don’t know what we don’t know and if we only always do what we know. You may be missing out on something that would be a better fit for life where it is today and your students of today.

Let me catch you on the next thing I know you’re worried about – your studio policies statement. You’re wondering how you can do something different when your policies might state specifics. My solution is to avoid too many specifics to allow for flexibility. Rather than stating something like “students will get 34 lessons and 6 group classes during the year. Lessons begin the 3rd week of August and end the 3rd week of May,”

Just give the overall gist of how things will roughly be laid out.

“Students come for a weekly 30 minute lesson and 6-8 weeks of the school year students will come to a 60 minute group class in lieu of their private lesson. The studio calendar generally begins in August and ends in May but may vary slightly from year to year. Tuition is based on the full school calendar year of lessons, not a certain number of lessons per monthly. Monthly payments are available.”

Boom. It’s simple and flexible.

Teachers friends, we are sooo lucky to be in a profession where we can set our own schedules both daily and for the entire year. Let me challenge you today to re-think one thing about your studio calendar. Maybe you need to take the plunge and finally start taking the entire week of Thanksgiving off, maybe it’s putting a gap week between the last lesson of the school term and summer lessons, maybe it’s moving to a year-round schedule where you teach 40 weeks and have 12 flex weeks you can take that change from year to year, maybe it’s holding group classes for the first time the week before Christmas and the last week of the lessons in May before your Spring Recital just to try them out. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit. We have a job that CAN have flexibility so let’s utilize it, enjoy it along the way, and maybe even use it as a point of gratitude when we need a bit of a mood boost.

Just as I was finishing writing this episode, I caught an article on Facebook by one of my favorite bloggers, Rebekah Maxner. Her most recent post shares 3 brilliant and fresh ideas for thinking outside the box when it comes to start of the school year lessons. I don’t want to share them here but want to strongly encourage you to go read that article which I will link to in the show notes.

I’ll look forward to hearing what ways you choose to refresh your studio calendar for this upcoming school year! Share them with me on social media. Tag me on Instagram at amy chaplin piano or on facebook at piano pantry.

Today’s fun fact is that I love to mow the yard. I’m not much of an outside person naturally although I wish I was, but the lawnmower is my territory. It’s my time to get a little Vitamin D and catch up on podcasts. Drew is totally fine with that because he hates to mow but in the Spring time I make him mow the first few weeks when it’s still cold outside.

See you next week!