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Winter Blues

As I am typing this, a massive cold front is sweeping the country.  Most of us are bracing for a second wave of freezing weather.  What better time than now to take about “the blues”.

I hope that you had a great winter break, I know that I did, and now have been back to teaching for a week or so.  If your students are anything like mine, the first lesson back after break is always a challenge.  Some of my students traveled, some got sick, some stayed home.  Practicing was not high on their priority list.  So, what to do?  How to get back in the swing of things?  Don’t scold, encourage! 

Needless to say, those first lessons back are a struggle for both student and teacher.  Spring brings beautiful weather, but as we all know, it also brings testing, competitions and recitals.  So many events in just a few months and now they are behind, or are they?  This is always the dilemma piano teachers face when returning from a long break.  Instead of feeling down, be uplifted in the knowledge that they too will bounce back.  Give them specific deadlines, but not all at once.  Use January as a re-energizing month.  Start with all of the technique and repertoire they were working on in December.  If they stumble, go back and review what they have already accomplished.  This will give them the confidence they need to go forward.  It will also warm your heart.

We can all use a little “that’s great” when things look bleak outside.  It’s our hot cocoa and a roaring fire.  Take the time to praise even the smallest accomplishment at this time.  The winter blues will be gone in the blink of an eye.

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Time Management

I do hope that you had a great Thanksgiving break and are now back to teaching refreshed.  December is the month of non-stop activities and piano is no exception.  The secret to getting through the month is of course, time management.  Pace yourself with all of your recitals, gigs and holiday parties.  Try not to schedule too many within a week and always allow at least a day or two between events.  This will ensure great performances without burning your candle at both ends.  Here’s hoping you have a great December!

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Taking Breaks

When I was a young teacher, I believed students should have lessons year-round (I still believe this).  I taught 50 weeks out of the year, only taking off the week of Spring Break and Christmas.  It didn’t take me long to discover parents forced their children to take all those weeks.  Students resented lessons, eventually ceasing lessons.  As I grew older, had a child of my own, I realized that it was healthier to take more breaks throughout the year.  Students were eager to come back to lessons, ready to tackle their music.  I also discovered that I was in a better place.  I missed their smiling faces, excited to see them come into the studio and have avoided burn-out.  Taking a week here and a week there to rejuvenate your soul is a good thing!  You will want to engage and so will your students.  Hoping you are taking off this Thanksgiving week, spending it with loved ones and getting you ready for the rest of the holiday season.

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Holiday Music

How soon is too soon to begin playing Christmas music?  As a consumer, it always rattles my cage when I see Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween and it seems to get earlier every year!  As a musician, I look at playing Christmas music a little differently.  I actually have my students begin practicing their pieces in late August.  Why you ask?  Well, they have several venues that they will be playing and in order for them to be ready with more than one or two pieces, it takes that long.  I add a piece or two to their regular repertoire, so it’s not overwhelming.  It’s also a great time to encourage duets.  By doing this, they will have at least 4 or 5 new pieces by December.  It’s a win-win.  

Bober, Melody-Grand Duets for Christmas Book 1

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Performances

I have a very dear friend and colleague  once say to me that the point of learning the piano is all about performance.  I was quite taken aback by this thought and I couldn’t disagree with it more.  Although I do think performance is very important, I don’t think that is why most students take lessons.  The pure joy of playing for yourself is reason enough.  As we approach the holiday season, teachers must be mindful of why their students are taking.  We want to encourage our students to have the confidence to play in public but work with them if they are not.  I only require one recital per year for all of my students, all others are optional.  If you have students who are timid about performing, think of alternative ways for them to share their music and progress.  Perhaps have them do a video or perform in small venues.  Get creative, ask their opinion.  They may never love to perform, but as many other things in life, it is a learning experience.

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Teaching the Very Young

I have discovered over the years there many teachers who are hesitant to teach children younger than 6 or 7.  While it can be a challenge if you are not very patient and think fast on your feet, the excitement you see on those little faces are well worth it.  The key of course is to have a solid plan and be able to include body movement along with keyboard activities.  I highly recommend as series called “Music for Little Mozarts” (Alfred Publishing).  It is designed for students aged 4-8.  It captures their imagination with Mozart Mouse and Beethoven Bear.  I have been using this series since it came out in the early 2000’s.  I will also say that all of my students who started with this series, stayed with lessons though high school.  That’s a win-win for everyone.  If you are considering teaching little ones and need some guidance, don’t hesitate to contact me.  I love working with teachers!

Music for Little Mozarts-Teacher’s Handbook for Books 1 & 2

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World Pianist Day~November 8

Today is World Pianist Day, how are you celebrating?  Me, I am giving piano lessons!  I have been blessed with so many piano students over the course of 44 years.  I cannot even count how many students have been through my studio.  I have had the honor of watching these students become fine pianists and the world is a better place.  Whether you are a concert pianist or just play for your own enjoyment, you have a gift and are to be celebrated today (and every day).

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5 MUSTS Regarding Tuition for Piano Lessons

 

1~You must charge/bill in advance of lessons

                ~Whether you are charging by-the-lesson, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually, this is necessary.  Do not expect a student to pay you after a lesson, as you will be disappointed. 

2~You must notify your students how many lessons they are receiving for this fee

                ~Always let your students know what they are getting for their tuition.  In your Policy Letter, make sure you have everything that is included or excluded.  Make the student (parent) sign a contract that you will keep in your files.  This is to protect you (and them).

3~You must not teach for free

                ~You are not giving lessons out of the kindness of your heart.  This is a business.  Although there are times where you might offer some sort of scholarship or reduced rate, teaching for free is not the way to go.  You will be taken advantage of and then become resentful.

4~You must raise your rates annually taking into consideration of Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA)

                ~This year, the COLA is 1.3%, so your fees should be raised accordingly.  

5~You must remember that you are a professional

                ~Think of doctors, before you see one, you are charged for an office visit.  This should be no different for you.  You have studied hard to get where you are and be paid for your expertise in this area.  Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement.

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Are Simplified or Adapted Classics Acceptable?

This is another touchy subject for most piano teachers!  I used to be in the “never allow them” camp, but as the years have passed, I am embracing them.  When I was young teachers, I wanted my students to only experience original compositions.  In taking this path, my beginning students, who may have wanted to learn the Minuet in G BWV 114  would now need to wait for several years until they had the technical background to play successfully.  I had no idea if that student would still be taking lessons before achieving their goal.  What a missed opportunity to introduce them to the classics!  They might be stuck in method books for a year or two and lose interest in a broader base of repertoire.  Although I do not adhere to a steady diet of arrangements, I do regularly assign them if a student REALLY wants to learn a specific piece.  It is a win-win in my book.

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