085 – Tonara Transitions: A Special Teacher Talk

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Episode Summary

In reaction to the Tonara shutdown announcement, this is a special teacher talk episode. After briefly covering a list of Tonara alternatives, Amy shares a step-by-step process for easing the pain in your Tonara transition. Interspersed with Amy’s advice, you’ll also hear short audio snippets from eight of her teacher friends sharing their own thought processes, feelings, and ideas for moving forward. Even non-Tonara users who are interested in different ideas on how to give assignments to students will benefit from this episode.

 

Items Mentioned in this Episode

Practice apps

Studio management software

Assignment Sheet Central

Tonara Expats Facebook Group

 

Transcript

Less than a week ago, the app that led many independent music teachers into the world of digital lesson assignments and, even more importantly, through times of COVID, suddenly announced it was closing down.

Today’s Teacher Talk episode was a last-minute brainstorm I had as a result of this shocking announcement and, while a reaction to those who need to transition out of Tonara, will also be useful to those who might just be looking for different ideas on how to give assignments to students.

If you’re new around here, welcome! I’m Amy Chaplin, an independent piano teacher who has been using Tonara since its early days in 2018. While this podcast is primarily a solo podcast, every five episodes, I have a casual chat with other teachers. Since today’s episode was pulled together last minute, you’ll get a unique combination of hearing from me directly as well as from other teachers.

I’ll start with a brief list of options out there, but I don’t want to spend too much time there as you are likely already seeing these pop up online. What I DO want you to glean from me is a step-by-step process you can use to make your transition out of Tonara in a way that feels manageable and not overwhelming.

Interspersed with my advice, you’ll also hear short audio snippets from eight of my teacher friends sharing their own thought processes, feelings, and ideas for moving forward. I also have an opportunity to share with you that I hope will give us all a big dose of solidarity in the work it will take to get this done.

By the end of this episode, I hope you’ll feel a little more calm against what might have thus far felt like a big mental and emotional storm.


Thanks to all those who joined last week’s first power hour session of the 2023-2024 season. My apologies to those who may have had trouble with a missing link in their signup email. That was my technological glitch, and it is now fixed.

Speaking of power hours, besides today’s podcast episode, the other way I decided I can step up to help you, my teacher friends in the whole Tonara tragedy is to help you get the work done without feeling alone. So, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be hosting a special power hour dedicated to giving you solidarity in your own Tonara Transition.

It’s not just a power hour though, I am going big here. Some of you have a lot of tedious work ahead of you so in order to accommodate as many people as possible in different time zones and work schedules, I’m setting up a 3-hour Zoom work session.

Join me on Tuesday, September 19 any time between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm Eastern Time. That’s one week from the day this episode drops, so you have time to take a beat, consider what you want to do, and get through a couple of the steps I mentioned today. Hopefully, by then, you can get to a place where you’re ready to start doing some busy work.

Again, you don’t have to come in at any certain time for any certain length. You can pop in for 30 minutes or two and a half hours. I will be there doing my own Tonara Transition work.

Visit the link in the show notes to sign up!


Hey teacher friends! I’m Daniel Light, a piano teacher in Louisville, Kentucky.

I started using Tonara in 2020. When I heard the news last Thursday that it would be closing down, I decided I wanted to get on board with something new as soon as possible. I have a new student starting this week, and I didn’t want to get her started on Tonara and then have to switch her to something else in November. Plus, I would really like to have as many as possible of this year’s assignments saved in one place.

I’ve used Tonara primarily for digital assignment delivery. I’ve never paid much attention to the practice tracking or other features, but I’ve loved not having to handwrite assignments and I value being able to attach recordings, accompaniment tracks, and even studio-licensed PDFs. So last Thursday I did several hours of research and product testing and I’ve decided to go with the new Vivid Practice app. I’m delighted it’s an app I feel comfortable using even with my adult students and I’m thrilled that I’m able to bulk upload assignments with CSV files.

It’s been gratifying to see lots of friends on Facebook sharing CSV files so we can all get our assignments back online quickly. I hope all my teacher friends who have grown to depend on Tonara can quickly find a replacement that will suit their needs. Thanks to so many of you for your comments and suggestions in our Facebook music teacher groups. That’s how I discovered the Vivid Practice app. It’s really lovely to see our community helping and supporting each other. I look forward to hearing all of your success stories!


ALTERNATIVES TO CONSIDER

The first item I wanted to share with you today is a quick list of some of the options out there – many of which you have likely already heard of.

There are three different types of digital tools you could consider: a dedicated practice app – similar to Tonara, a student management app that allows you to manage your studio, calendar, payments, and give assignments as well, or a simple digital tool you already use in other capacities like Google Drive or Google Classroom.

A few dedicated practice apps out there include

…and the final two are the ones you may have heard about the most recently which is

Now, remember I will have everything linked for you today in the episode show notes. Don’t forget there is also a full transcript available as well.

Hi everyone, I’m Lizbeth Atkinson, and teach 35 students in Columbus, Ohio.

I love technology and have been waiting for the perfect app to transition my students over to after having used Excel spreadsheets for weekly assignments and printing them out. Last year, I came upon Practice Space and it is everything I have been wanting for about the last 8 years!

There is a dedicated teacher app and a dedicated student app that work seamlessly together. You can create and save assignments, save any number of documents, videos, audio, and type as much as you want. The app keeps track of students’ practice times, what they practice, and students can rate themselves and earn rewards. I added students and assignments gradually over time and then had one week in which students brought their iPads or phones to the lesson and demonstrated how to use it. This extra step really helped as some students needed a live demonstration.

The team at Practice Space gave me a free one-on-one consultation to get it set up and answer any questions. They are fantastic at answering emails and updating the app with teacher requests. It is also cost-effective! This app has helped me transition to a paperless studio and made my life, my students’ lives, and parents’ lives 100% better!


The second type of tool you could consider is that of a studio management software rather than an app that is only dedicated to practice. Four options I’ve seen so far include:

I’m most familiar with My Music Staff and Duet Partner but after doing some quick research – Blink Lesson and Practice Pal both on the front end look like they’re just for practice but it appears they also allow payment options as well, so you might look into them as well.

Maybe you realize the thing that matters to you most is that you can share sound files with students when needed. In this case, maybe less is more and utilizing a simple Google Drive folder will cover your needs.

Maybe you’ve realized that while you have a handful of students using the app, most don’t so you’re just going to go back to good old written assignments. If that’s the case, check out the more than 20 free assignment sheets I have available on the Piano Pantry website. Find the link in the show notes.


Hi, I’m Florence, a teacher from Pennsylvania.

This past year I was considering both Tonara and My Music Staff for my studio. I ended up picking My Music Staff mainly for their business features even though Tonara did seem like a better student-facing practice app. After introducing My Music Staff to my studio, I found that about half of my students have been logging their practice time on the student portal without me even asking them to switch over from their written assignment sheet.

I will now be looking deeper into My Music Staff’s practice and assignment-tracking features for all of my students.


DEAL WITH THE EMOTIONS, THEN LET IT GO.

Now that we’ve covered some of the options you might consider, the first thing I think that’s important in this process is acknowledging the emotions you’re feeling over the whole ordeal.

You may be breathing a sigh of relief that you now have an easy excuse to go back to written assignments and don’t have to look like the “bad guy” when telling students about the changes.

You may be feeling intense overwhelm or panic that you have hundreds of pieces of repertoire assignments and files loaded into your repertoire database that you can’t just export and that media files have to be downloaded one by one.

You may be feeling decision fatigue after finally taking the leap into a digital assignment app only to learn of its closure. Now, you have to go through the emotional and mental labor of deciding where to go next.

You might be feeling panic because you have already taken on an extra load this semester and will be gone for a couple of weeks in October for Fall Break, and you don’t know when you’ll have the time to make such a big transition.

These are all LEGITIMATE feelings that many are experiencing. Let’s give ourselves a few days or a week to pout and simmer a bit but work toward letting go. It could be very easy to let those emotions overwhelm you over the next two months as you do this work. For your own mental health, see if you can’t hold onto them for just a bit, but then release and let go. We can never know when these things will happen, and that’s just life.


Hey there! This is Elizabeth Davis-Everhart and I’m a piano teacher in Savannah Georgia.

I was on the fence about using Tonara and even reached out to Amy to get her thoughts this summer but decided to stick with what I’ve been using because it has gone over so well with my students and parents. I have been using Google Classroom for the last several years and surprisingly it is very easy for me to use and easy for parents since students are very accustomed to using it in a classroom setting.

I love that I can very easily and quickly upload or write assignments for each student and that parents will receive an email as soon as I send it, which is really awesome. It’s very easy to upload videos or YouTube videos to the assignments as well as PDFs and I can reuse the assignments the next week by just editing. I can even create groups for my students. It’s completely free and I will still continue to use it for the foreseeable future because it is so easy to use.


SURVEY AND CONSIDER WHAT YOU WANT/NEED

After taking time to feel all the things you UNDERSTANDABLY need to feel – the next step is to start thinking hard about what it is you really want and need and do some research.

Maybe you need to make a pros and cons list or journal to help you sort out what you’re feeling and what direction you want to go. Perhaps you might want to take some time checking in with your studio families before making a decision, whether that be through a formal poll or just quietly feeling out a select handful of parents.

Maybe you need to release the pressure and go without an app until the end of the semester and give yourself time to make a comfortable and not a snap decision.

If you want to continue the route of an online assignment tool, I would encourage you to not just jump into the next app you hear the most about but try out at least two or three for comparison. The last thing you want is to make a snap decision and then have buyer’s remorse in 6 months when you realize there was an option that you might have liked better.

Make a list of what it is you really really want out of it. When we built our house, some of the best advice we received and the advice we pass on to others is to make your must-haves list and your flexible list. What are the items that you really really need, and what are features that might be nice but are a deal-breaker? Create accounts on two or three different platforms and try them out for a few days or even a few weeks before making a final decision. If you want to take it a step further, enlist a few reliable students to help you test the waters.


Hi, I’m Valerie, a piano teacher from Indiana.

I’ve been using Tonara since it came out and I will be looking for a replacement for it. I have some students who will send recordings via Tonara midweek or ask a question about a piece and I love that they don’t have to wait until their next lesson to have that question answered. I also love having a library of assignments that can have attachments such as recordings or videos for quick reminders on a tricky rhythm or a rote piece.

Most of my students don’t use Tonara at home and I’m going to use sticky notes this year to make sure they remember details for their assignments but I still found Tonara very valuable for keeping track of their assignments. I don’t do makeup lessons but I can use their regular lesson time they are missing that week to see in Tonara what they have been working on and then provide them with an add-on assignment to their original assignment. I would also use Tonara to provide them with this add-on assignment.

So I will be definitely looking for a replacement for Tonara but I’m taking my time with this decision – evaluating what aspects are most important to me. I really want to make sure that the investment of time as well as mental and emotional energy to get set up with a new app or software is the direction I want to go.


SET UP THE BASICS AND LEARN HOW TO USE IT

Once you’ve determined where you’re making your move to, the third step in this whole process is the beginning stages of setting things set up in the new program. Get your account going, start learning how to use it, and get your student information added. That’s all. Don’t get overloaded by trying to change everything over all at once, just get your basic information in and make sure you know how to use the program.

Let me also say here that one important step that we often skip or skim over any time we start utilizing a new tool is to take the time to learn how to use it thoroughly – not just learn as you go. The best way to do this is to begin by watching all of the tutorial videos that are available in that program FIRST – before you even really start exploring yourself.

I can’t tell you how many times I have spent, say, 5 minutes learning how to do something when, if I had just watched the tutorial video, it was explained in 30 seconds. So, save yourself some time by spending time – even if it feels tedious to sit and watch tutorial videos.

When I was looking into one of the app alternatives, the seven tutorial videos totaled around 16 minutes, so it’s not too long of a time for us to dedicate to learning how to use something new.

DETERMINE HOW YOU WANT TO TRANSITION

There are really two ways to go about the transition.

(1) Keep going about in Tonara until the last moment and get as much set up in your new program as you can before moving any students in then you stop Tonara with everyone at once and start-up the next week or not long after in the new program.

(2) Do a cold stop using Tonara and tell your families you are working on setting up a new platform that you will begin on a set date like October 1 or November 1. The main reason you might consider this is if it feels overwhelming to you to be working inside two different programs at once. This might be more true for those who JUST started using Tonara rather than seasoned users.


Hello! I’m Marissa, a teacher in Ohio.

Agh! I was devastated when I heard the news! I’ve been using Tonara since 2019 with a studio of around 20-25 students. I loved that Tonara created a new way for me to communicate with students, share assignments, and track practice. All of my families use it regularly, and its features have helped me implement a no make-up policy.

While finding a new platform feels very overwhelming, I’ve greatly benefitted from asking colleagues and following Facebook posts. I am going to take my time researching what will be my new platform and wait to announce the change to my studio families until I have my new plan in place and ready to sell it!


DO THE BUSY WORK – BUT FILTER AND SAVE PROPERLY!

If you’re someone who has a LOT of stuff built up in Tonara whether that’s a database of assignments or lots of self-created videos or audio recordings, here’s the place that it could be easy to start getting overwhelmed.

If the new tool you choose to use has a database option for assignments, don’t feel like you have to every single assignment re-created in the new app before making the transition. Get yourself started by considering consider the bare bones of what you need set up in your new program to start making the transition. Maybe half of your students use the Piano Safari Method, so you want to get a database of assignments from Book 1 into your new program because 25% of your students are using that book right now.

Scroll through all of the assignments you’ve created in the repertoire section of Tonara and consider those you’ve used a lot and maybe those you could let go of – at least for now. Again, what’s the bare minimum you want ready to go before making the switch?

From what I can see, you cannot download your repertoire assignment files as they’re not a transferrable format. What you CAN download and save if your media files.

After you’ve determined what assignments are most important for you to recreate, look through your media files and download any videos you’ve created that you want to take with you into the future. This is an important key phrase. Just because you created a video about something for a student – is that a video you really need to hold onto?

From what I can see, you can’t download media folders, just the individual files so yes, this is Tedius. The next REALLY important part of this is when you start downloading things, make sure that you are saving them to your computer files in an organized way. Don’t just download them into your downloads folder. That is not a place for things to live. Immediately save them in a clearly labeled folder and make sure the file itself is named in as descriptive way as possible so you know exactly what it is.

Let this be a reminder for all of us that we do not own programs like these which is why it’s important in the future that when you create things like this you save them in an organized way in your own files rather than directly in the program.

So, ONLY download media files that you really really need to take with you into the future and save them immediately in an organized way.


Hi, I’m Anna Fagan, a piano teacher originally from Florida and I have been using Tonara since January of 2020.

I have said many times over the last three and a half years that I don’t know how I would teach online if I didn’t have Tonara. But now, I guess we’re all going to find out exactly how we’re going to do that. Since I’m exclusively online, I’m in need of a one-stop shop location to coordinate all of my communication with families. Not only their assignments but also when they send me questions between lessons. Oftentimes times they will send me audio recordings between lessons.

I know that I have other options I could piece together myself but I’m all about trying to put it all in one place. I’m checking out several options at the moment and we’ll see what happens!


Once you have gotten a good start to getting your new setup, make the transition with your students. Let the rest of the work come as it comes, and don’t feel like you have to have every single item created in your new program before making the switch.

Maybe you need to schedule 30 minutes per day on your calendar for a couple of weeks to work on this transition little by little.

As Daniel shared with us at the opening of this episode, as we did in times of COVID, teachers are rallying and pulling together to help each other out. Consider joining the Tonara Expats Facebook group where teachers are sharing tips, CSV files, and all kinds of good stuff to help each other out.

One way you can help others out easily right now is by sharing this podcast episode directly with some friends or on social media.

If you found this episode helpful, I would be grateful if you would rate and review the podcast and hit that subscribe or follow button so new episodes will download automatically.

Don’t forget to join me for next week’s power hour open office time. Come as you can and stay as long as you need!

I’m Amy Chaplin and this is The Piano Pantry Podcast.