Friday, August 23, 2013

Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

A long time ago I posted about the journey each student takes when learning piano. I had a road on the wall of my studio and each student was represented by a car that would travel up and down the road. This year I was feeling creative and decided to paint a tree on the wall of my studio, just in time for back-to-school. This year my students will be owls, birds, and squirrels. The branch represents the journey. With lots of twists and turns.Here is the link to that post (Apr 2012)I love it when parents see the road (or tree) and the visual suddenly makes sense. Students often gripe and want to quit piano whenever they are on the uphill climb. The closer they are to the top, the more they begin to notice that the music is harder, it takes longer to master, and piano just isn't as much fun as it used to be.  This is a great opportunity to explain to their parents that the pianist isn't just suffering needlessly, and no, piano doesn't stink. They are actually on the brink of something wonderful! Professionals go through this as well. All artists do. Once day we are doing just fine, the next day the piece is awful in our estimation. We are on the top of that hill working toward our own advancement to the next "level" of performance. Here's the good news- right after that push to get over the hump we usually get to glide on the downhill for a while and really enjoy the fruits of our labor! Until the next hill that is...When parents tell me they don't want their kids to be "concert pianists" but just want their kids to learn piano and nothing more I often wonder if they don't really understand that piano playing is cyclical. (...and where they think I'd be if my parents felt the same way.) We will always come back at the same pieces, but each time, we get better and better at it-- producing more and more beautiful music no matter what level we are in our studies. Each hill we master adds to our skill and ability to get our musical point across to an audience. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lesson Binders

 I can remember when I took piano lessons my teacher gave me a small spiral notebook. Each week she would jot down the songs I needed to practice. But that was about it. She didn't use worksheets or give out certificates. She had no listening program, awards or goals for me.

Today, I have all sorts of things to put in my students lesson binders. Starting a 3-ring binder is easy and its a great way to contain all of my student's papers for the year.

My students also have a 1/2" black performance binder- dedicated solely to recitals. Each performance piece is copied into the binder and put into page savers. When the students come to [studio] recitals, they only have to bring the performance binder.

For the lesson binder I begin with a nice cover that includes my student's name and the date they began lessons.

In the front of the notebook I insert the assignment pages. When the student opens the binder the current week's assignment is always on top so they don't have to shuffle through pages or go hunting for the assignment.

Then I choose what topics are important in my regular lessons and insert subject dividers. This year I have highlighted the following 8 topics:

  1. Lesson
  2. Theory
  3. Practice
  4. PIANOlympics
  5. Sight Reading
  6. Listening
  7. Performance
  8. Goals

Here is how I use them- 

This is for individual pieces that I want the student to work on that are not found in their regular lesson books. Sometimes I find a song in one of my supplemental books that I know the student would love. Rather than making the parent buy the book I already own, I will copy the piece and place it in the lesson section. 

This section is for theoretical concepts that I want to further explain to the student that go above and beyond what their theory workbook explains. Sometimes I'll insert supplemental worksheets or rhythmic exercises in this section. 

The practice section is new this fall. Here, I am inserting a worksheet that lists all the practice strategies found on our Piano Key Chain. The student will choose one strategy each week and use it in their weekly practice. The following week they will explain and demonstrate the strategy and write it down on the practice page in their binder.

The PIANOlympics section contains the book I use for their piano technical challenges. I also have scale, triad, and interval quizzes they must pass in order to earn PIANOlympic points and charts to keep track of  the points.

Sight Reading
The sight reading section is for the chart that records what books they sight read and the date of completion. This is where I keep track of books completed for the Sight Reading Trophy.

This section holds the pages for my listening program. Students borrow and listen to CD's each week and complete a listening challenge worksheet for each. They accumulate points for each CD listened to or each concert they attend.

The performance section will hold the new performance cards I am making the year. Students will have a fun memento of each performance and I get to save tons on card stock and ink. 

This section holds the page that lists the goals students have set for themselves for the academic  year. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What's in my Studio Policy?

This year I was careful not to have a policy that was too long or one that included suggestions. If parents don't follow my suggestions, it sure can be trying, but its not a cardinal offense. My policy contains those items that are more like "deal breakers".

I split the policy into basic sections:
  1. Required Equipment
  2. Home Practice
  3. Expectations
  4. Financial
  5. Cancellation & Termination
  6. Communication
These are the things that are most important to me and that I feel I would want to stand firm on or enforce in my studio if any of these were violated. Parents are asked to read the policy in full and they are provided with a signature form that includes a place to initial each of the 6 items and sign at the end of the policy.

The Parent Handbook and my Studio Policies are sent out electronically the first week of August to allow plenty of time for them to read it and sign it and get the signature page back to me by their first lesson on Aug 26.
All parents are informed that a 4% cost of living increase in tuition was applied this year and I will do so again in 2 years. This way they are informed before it happens.

1. Required Equipment:
All students are required to have a tuned, acoustic piano, in good repair, for daily practice. All students are also required to have a quality, working metronome.

Effective participation in any sport cannot take place without the correct and properly functioning equipment. An electric keyboard or digital piano with 88 weighted and “touch sensitive” keys plus proper foot pedals is acceptable for 1st or 2nd year beginners or until the student begins classical music study when an acoustic piano will be required for classical study. “Toy” keyboards, broken, out of tune, or neglected acoustic pianos are not acceptable for anyone studying music. Intermediate and advanced students are required to have a quality acoustic piano regularly tuned and good repair (all pedals and keys should be working condition, etc).

2. Home Practice:
Students are expected to be prepared for each lesson and to have completed their entire assignment. Parental support of a daily home practice regime is required for consistent progress.

This requires a commitment to learning to play piano by practicing the piano at home each day for approximately the same number of minutes as the lesson. Consistency is the key to success at the piano. (see the Parent Handbook) Guided Practice Sessions are offered once a year in your home. (Please review the Guided Practice Sessions handout for more information.) New piano parents are strongly urged to take advantage of this to ensure their child is practicing in a manner that promotes progress at the piano.

3. Expectations:

Students are expected to arrive on time each week with all of their materials. Students should also arrive healthy, with clean hands and clipped fingernails. Hands can be washed in the waiting area powder room. Young visitors and siblings should be supervised at all times.

If your child is sick and/or contagious, please refrain from bringing them to piano- this can quickly escalate into an epidemic of 30 other sick children and families. This can also result in getting the teacher sick, which in turn affect everyone. Clean hands will help to minimize the spreading of illness as everyone is touching the same piano during lessons. 

Nail tips that protrude from the fingertip, even slightly, will not facilitate correct hand positioning at the piano. 

The waiting room is not a childproofed area and young siblings should be supervised at all times. Waiting for siblings who take lessons should be considered “quiet” activity time and lessons in progress should not be disturbed. Practice chains are the property of the students only and should not be handled by visitors or younger siblings. Damage to materials in the waiting room should be reported to me at once.


All students are expected to participate in studio activities, parties, and recitals. Absences from these events are the exception, not the rule. Students are also expected to dress appropriately at studio events and recitals and to arrive to recitals and events on time.

Most events are free to students and their families. Studio events are a crucial part of my student’s curriculum. They not only provide the opportunity to advance performance skills, but they foster acquaintances/friendships between students, parents, and families. Students who parents do not feel this is an important component and consistently skip events or are “no-shows” miss out on performance-building opportunities and are not encouraged to continue study with me.

4. Financial:
Piano instruction is year-round and based on 37 weeks of academic-year instruction and 8 weeks of summer instruction. Tuition should be remitted by the first Friday of the month and past due accounts (7+ days after the due date) are charged a $15 late fee.

“Academic Year” instruction begins August 26, 2013 through June 13, 2014
“Make-up Week” runs June 16, 2014 through June 20, 2014.
“Summer Instruction” runs June 23, 2013 through August 10, 2014.
Academic Year Instruction-
Tuition is paid in 10 equal installments by cash, check, or credit card (PayPal). 

[This is where I include specific tuition fees and payments for both 45 and 60-minute lessons]

Summer Instruction-
Students should plan to continue weekly lessons to facilitate maximum progress. However, a minimum of 5 out of 8 summer lessons are required during the summer to maintain a slot in my studio. There is a risk that minimal lessons over the course of only two summers can put your child a full YEAR behind their peers. This is especially true for 1st and 2nd year students.

Summer lessons are scheduled online by the parent to allow for vacations and a flexible schedule. Cancellations of summer lessons with under 24 hour notice are still billed. All scheduling and cancellations should be completed online by the parent.

Books, lesson materials, and awards are not included in tuition and are billed separately.
Piano lessons books and the assignment notebook are billed to your accounts as necessary. Registration fees are billed to your account for county and state events, special studio events, and testing. Awards, ribbons, and trophies are billed to your account in June. All fees are reviewed and discussed prior to billing.

Refunds or adjustments in fees are not offered for missed lessons or late arrivals.
Refunds are not offered for registration fees or awards. Refunds are only provided
for any unused books in returnable condition or over payment of tuition upon
calculation of final bill.

**Tuition refunds are not issued when a student is dismissed or has quit lessons without one-month (4-weeks) notification.** Any remaining credit for tuition fees beyond 30 days will be promptly returned. See Termination policy below.

5. Cancellations & Terminations:
Lessons are NOT cancelled when school is cancelled or closed for ANY reason. Any lessons cancelled by me are made up during “Make-up Week” in June only. I am not able to offer make-up lessons for student cancellations for any reason during the school year.

Families are offered an opportunity to swap lesson times with another family to avoid missing a future lesson. All students are given a current studio roster containing all contact info. Swaps are not handled or facilitated by me in anyway. Lesson swaps work when EVERYONE participates and helps out a fellow student in need. 

Please use your own judgment and call or text if you feel very uncomfortable with road-conditions. I will make-up 2 lesson cancellations per academic year due to inclement weather only. Please use judgment when driving in snow or ice.

I reserve the right to dismiss a student from my studio based upon
· Lack of interest in taking piano lessons or poor attitude in lessons
· Non-communicative or uncooperative behaviors during lessons
· 4 or more missed lessons
· 4 or more unprepared lessons
· Repeated late tuition payments
· Repeated “no shows” or absences from events 

I reserve the right to dismiss a student immediately if the student has acted out inappropriately toward me or other students, or with respect to the studio or my home.

Quitting without notice just before I expect to be paid is inappropriate and causes my family financial hardship. Quitting without permitting closure for the student can be damaging to future teacher/student relationships. If a situation arises in which a family must discontinue lessons mid-year, I require one month (4 weeks) of paid notification.

The decision to quit piano lessons should be made thoughtfully, OPENLY, and honestly with plenty of discussion between parents, student and myself so we can complete the year with a positive sense of closure. Interviewing with another teacher prior to terminating lessons with me will result in immediate termination from my studio.

6. Communication: 
The best way to contact me is by email or text message at xxx-xxx-xxxx, in which case I will promptly reply, if needed. If you wish to discuss your child’s progress please feel free to call me anytime before 2:00pm.

Please do not attempt to discuss your child’s progress at the lesson while another student is waiting. I do not take calls while I am teaching. The studio website and email are used to send out information that you need about the studio. I email Piano Studio Announcements regularly, so please be sure that I have a current email address and telephone numbers for you.

It is the responsibility of the parent to read all emails and announcements in their entirety when sent. The studio website is meant to provide you with information concerning recitals, studio closures, billing, and other events.

A Final Note:
When you register for lessons, you are making a commitment from August through June, as learning to play a musical takes at least this long before a determination can be made if it’s right for the student. Parents and students alike are expected to take piano lessons seriously. Students are expected to progress in their studies by means of daily home practice. Students are also expected to follow the rules set forth by me in my studio.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

New for Fall- Performance Cards

 The cost of card stock, ink and full page certificates is always rising. In the past, I took lots of time designing full page participation certificates for every event my students took part in. I thought the student might want to hang them on their wall at home, but in reality, I can't count how many full page certificates I found sitting in the back of binders, all but forgotten.

Well, this summer I finally finished this project that I've only been talking about since last year. Here is the original post.

I am adding a "Performance" section to my student's binders and placing a baseball card insert page. Each time my student participates in a performance whether its a studio recital, charitable event, or public performance, I will place a "Performance Card" with the event, date and a photo on a baseball card and insert into the baseball card sleeve. This will take the place of  8.5x11" participation certificates and save not only space, but lots of money on card stock and ink!