Teaching Anniversaries

A Time for Reflection

This is the third post in a series about ways we can mark time by acknowledging, reflecting on, and celebrating special teaching anniversaries/milestones.

In the first post, I shared how I’ve been using social media to celebrate special moments and students of the past.

The second post was a guest post by a teacher friend of mine who really inspired me with her incredible perspective on why celebrating can be incredibly hard yet at the same time really important.

In today’s post, I will be reflecting on seven ways my teaching and studio have evolved in the past decade including what I learned along the way.

One trend that has really stuck out is having the ability (and willingness) to change and try new things. Every year I would find myself implementing little (and even sometimes big) changes as my teaching style evolved and students came and went.

I believe that the ability to adapt was key to growing my new studio to 45 students in 30 months and maintaining a waiting list ever since.

As independent teachers, we work with people, and the world changes daily. The ability to adapt is integral to a thriving studio.

As I share my specific journey, take this time to reflect on how your studio and teaching have evolved over the past years, months, or even decades.

Can you pinpoint and see changes in yourself, your teaching, and your students? How have those changes impacted you and your studio?

 

#1 – My “Perfect” Method

The word “perfect” heading is in quotes because we all know there’s no such thing as a perfect method. However, when I started teaching piano full-time, I was in search of the teaching resources that best fit my philosophy.

At the time, I was big into Celebrate Piano and Piano Safari and did everything I could to learn everything about teaching those particular methods.

Once, I emailed Julie Knerr a question and let her know that I had read through all of their mini-essays twice (which are fabulous, by the way). LOL

TODAY:

While I still use both of those series at times, neither has remained exclusive to my teaching. As I have learned more about other methods and evolved in my understanding of progressive pedagogy, I have ventured into using a lot of supplementary materials sometimes even in place of actual method books entirely.

WHAT I LEARNED:

There is something to be said about learning how to use a method book series and using it well. Don’t let yourself get tied to just one, however, and when you try a new one, give it a really good effort.

 

#2 – Group Classes and Adult RMM

When I first opened my studio I was focused on teaching group piano classes including adult RMM (Recreational Music Making) classes.

Armed with a Yamaha Clavinova, four keyboards, and excitement for something new, I had a few great years with these classes.

Then suddenly, they faded away and I started getting inquiries for preschool piano students. I had never taught students younger than age 7 at that point but decided to follow the demand and dive into the world of preschool piano.

TODAY:

I no longer do group classes for adults. I found my community was just too small to support it. Read more on the specifics of how I run my adult lessons here.

WHAT I LEARNED:

It’s OK to let go. Just because you’re not doing more doesn’t mean it was a failure and it’s what you do now doesn’t mean it’s what you have to do forever. It’s OK for our studio offerings to go through phases and seasons.

 

#3 – Preschool Piano

Since the demand was moving away from adult group lessons (which were hard to schedule anyway) I started researching and trialing any curriculum for preschool students I could get my hands on.

A local elementary teacher conducted First Steps in Music classes by John Feierabend so I started taking my nephew (not only for his benefit but for my curiosity!). It was a match made in heaven and a special time for us.

My path toward learning how to teach these youngest students involved dabbling in a variety of materials/programs such as Piano Fun for the Young by Kevin Olson, Faber’s My First Piano Adventures, Wunderkeys for Piano by Trever and Andrea Down, and Music Moves for Piano’s “Keyboard Games” books by Marilyn Lowe.

Musikgarten was one I was also interested in but was always hesitant to have to obtain special training and certification for one specific program, especially since I had just gotten my Master’s degree!

For several years, I simply pieced together my own curriculum by combining my favorite parts from the resources mentioned above.

TODAY:

In 2016 I finally took training through the Gordon Institute for Music Learning and now mostly use Music Moves for Piano’s “Keyboard Games” books for preschool students.

If I have a 6 or 7 years old student beginner, I will start with Keyboard Games Book B and then move into Music Moves Book 1 alongside something like Tales of a Musical Journey Book 1.

WHAT I LEARNED:

Don’t feel like you have to choose one program or method and do it exclusively. Sometimes it’s nice to combine the best of several great resources into a program that works for you.

 

#4 – Music Learning Theory and Music Moves for Piano

As I mentioned above, 5 years ago, I went through a two-week course and obtained certification in the application of Music Learning Theory for piano.

This was about 5 years into my studio and was great timing as far as taking the next step in professional development.

Read more about the experience here.

It’s taken my mind and teaching skills a long time to process MLT and how I want to incorporate it into my studio, but it has been well worth it.

TODAY:

While I’ve never made the plunge into hard-core MLT-based piano teaching, I’ve slowly been integrating some of the philosophies into what I was already doing.

Nearly all of my students are gaining wonderful aural and transposition skills by working their way through the Music Moves for Piano books alongside their other repertoire materials.

WHAT I LEARNED:

Regular professional development is really important to staying abreast in the world of piano teaching and pedagogy. No matter how long you’ve been teaching, find ways to grow your knowledge and skills.

Value your professional organizations and support them not just for your own current benefit but for the benefit of the future of the profession.

 

#5 – Ukulele Lessons

In the summer of 2017, my friend Joy and I were driving home from a conference in Chicago when one of my piano moms texted me and asked if I knew any Ukulele teachers. Her daughter just got one for her birthday and wanted to take some lessons. Here’s the photo I received. 🙂

The little entrepreneur in me was quick to suggest that I would be happy to teach her Ukulele as long as she didn’t mind that I was a beginner myself! She was thrilled I was willing to explore music further with her daughter and saved her a 45-minute drive to find another teacher.

Joy and I stopped at Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne on our return trip and had a look at Ukulele’s right then and there! LOL

Why teach just one though when I could increase my income and teach several at once? So, I went home and started up a Ukulele class.

TODAY:

Group teaching, I have learned, is not my MOST happy place. So while I still offer Ukulele, it’s been here and there and always one-on-one. Maybe someday I’ll do another class but for now, I’m content pulling out the Uke when a request for lessons comes through.

WHAT I LEARNED:

Don’t feel tied to one instrument. Maybe you offer beginner/introductory lessons only for a second instrument like voice or Ukulele. More often than not, parents and students are really just looking for a fun activity.

Sports seasons aren’t continuous all year long. Kids often do activities such as 6 weeks of summer softball, 8 weeks of dance, or 3 months of soccer, and then they’re done.

A second instrument like this can just be a fun dabbling experience for a student and doesn’t always have to be a lifetime commitment/expectation.

 

#6 – Private Simultaneous Lessons

In 2019, after hearing of some friends that had tried a style of group lessons that are more like “private simultaneous lessons”, I had to try it out. I mean, who of us isn’t open to ways we could increase our income without increasing our time?!

The idea is that students work independently and the teacher rotates between them every 5-7 minutes.

What my students and I liked about this setup:

  • More students in less time (a.k.a. income)
  • Flexibility in scheduling (you could have 4 keyboards but only fill 3 then allow students to jump to another class time if needed).
  • Students would get feedback and get to immediately practice.
  • If students had a hard practice week, it gave them some breathing space to practice a little before I came around to them.

What we didn’t like about this setup:

  • It’s not great for younger students or more advanced students. I found it was best for students who had been in lessons a couple of years, played at a mid-elementary to intermediate level, and were in grades 5 – 12. Anything more advanced became too hard to work with and students in 3rd grade or younger struggled to stay focused on their own.
  • Students didn’t get the experience of working on an acoustic piano and more specifically for me, my brand new grand piano.
  • As a solo teacher, 3 students for 60-75 minutes were OK, but 4 was a little bit of a struggle. Two teachers rotating would be quite nice for 4-5 students.
  • My head got tired of wearing headphones for 5 hours a day.
  • It’s much harder to work on technique, shaping, etc. on a keyboard while wearing headphones.

WHAT I LEARNED:

The year prior to Covid (2019-2020 school term), I had converted my entire studio to this format and while both my students and I were liking it, Covid for the most part put us back into solo lessons.

While I still do this with a small handful of students (like late elementary / middle school-age siblings), the majority of my students will likely remain in private lessons.

WHAT I LEARNED:

Don’t be afraid to try new things. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and that’s OK. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Be sure that when making big changes, however, you approach families in a way that highlights the benefits to them and their students. Don’t be afraid to be forthright as well that you know it may be a big change and that you will always be aware of and re-evaluating the setup.

 

#7 – Online Lessons

Need I say more?

We all did it and may even still be doing it.

If you weren’t comfortable embracing change in your studio in the past, then there’s a good chance that changed in March 2020.

TODAY:

As I mentioned in #6, my studio is back to one-on-one lessons but we have had no group classes this past year. While it was a nice change of pace, there was a lot to be missed. My students and I are looking forward to group classes again this coming year.

WHAT I LEARNED:

Sometimes we have to do things we don’t like to do in order to survive. In those kinds of situations, try to find the positive coming out of it rather than focusing on what has been taken from you or what you can no longer do.

 

Recap

While there are a lot of other things that I ventured into and tried in the past 10 years of my studio, I found these to be the major ones that really shaped my teaching style, business, and lesson format.

7 items in 10 years.

Does that mean I’m not successful with what I do because it doesn’t always continue for more than a few years?

No. It’s the opposite.

I believe it’s absolutely more about the continual evaluation of a business, being a visionary studio owner, and adapting to demand (or lack of).

I would venture to say if you’ve been doing your piano lessons the exact same way for the last 10 years perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate.

“But it’s always worked for me.”

Well…has it really? Are you always looking for students?

Maybe your students would enjoy a fresh change. 🙂

Maybe you would too but you just don’t realize it! 😉

 


What are some ways you’ve seen your own teaching evolve over the past year or even decade? Share in the comments!

 


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