After 26 years of teaching, I am very proud of the service I provide. Here are some of the 'extras' you get when signing up for lessons besides wonderful music instruction. I believe in being as organized as possible and communicate easily to honor families with their busy lives and to give families what I would want from an instructor. I also want families to always feel like they are getting excellent service and for students to feel excited about music. Here are some ways I work to achieve this goal:
A time and day reserved for you that does not change. I work very hard not to cancel lessons or ask students to reschedule. Your time will be there short of an extreme emergency which hopefully will not happen.
A schedule for the full semester upfront to make your life easy. I work hard to get at least 6 months of a calendar available with recital dates and group classes/parties known at the beginning of that semester. I believe this honors families busy lives to get you dates extremely early.
Your Thoughts Matter
Families are important to me, so when it comes to extra events like the Student Christmas Recital, the group lessons, and even the End of Year Recital, families are occasionally surveyed to get the best option for events outside weekly lessons. Though I know I cannot always get a time that works easily for everyone, surveys help me get the best time.
I work hard to give families a monthly newsletter that comes both digitally and physically as well. This gives reminders about tuition payments, dates, highlights students, games, and new additions to the studio, as well as gives information on music-related topics like practice tips. This also allows me to not flood emails with various emails and mostly just communicate through this once-a-month update. I believe this respects families' busy lives and keeps music lessons a peaceful and non-frustrating experience.
Detailed Progress Reports
I believe as parents you should see details of what you are paying for, so at the end of the school year each year, I create a detailed progress report giving you many details on what is covered and worked on throughout the year as well as any goals to strengthen areas and where the student has grown. The games and activities I do are always assessing students to provide this data. For students in level 1 or further, I assess up to 40 areas and for beginners, I give three paragraphs with assessments within and more updates on lessons.
Off the Bench Activities
I have found theory is greatly reinforced with off-the-bench activities. Game boards, ear training games, giant staffs with bean bags, magnetic spinners, buzzers, magnetic solfege signs, giant game boards, moving games, card games, and much more are used both to assess, to challenge, and to reinforce concepts that are taught. For younger students, the movement mid-lesson is a great way to make sure the rest of the lesson at the piano or standing singing is easily focused on. Even teens love the card game challenges and dice challenges to beat me.
Seasonal & Holiday Extras
For students in elementary and middle school, I work hard to bring in extra seasonal and holiday fun. From my valentines that students must read the note names to determine the message, to my father's day songwriting, snow-themed games, candy corn staff race, hot cocoa vocal warmup, summer special minute challenges, and much more. I make sure to bring in something each month that feels special. Young students are especially proud to write a new song for Mothers and Fathers day, or in the summer we work as a group to do patriotic cup percussion to help rhythm reading become even stronger.
Audio Files for Parents
In the studio, we occasionally are playing a duet, playing improvisation, or finishing a vocal piece. Often I will record a simple capture to email parents so that they can have these digital files both to enjoy and to share with any family they may want to. I also occasionally record the duet part for students to play along with at home and create a performance for their family. Piano students get a few during each semester depending on their lesson length, and for vocal students, I create a simple mix with effects added to their voice where they get to use a microphone in the studio, an 8 track recorder, and headphones. This gives them a great experience to work with a small recording setup. For vocal students, I record once a semester as it usually takes more time to create this, edit, mix, and send. I am thrilled to offer this as I believe the duets help students feel more advanced, the improvisation using a book with easy parameters helps develop their ear for music and helps bring pride to an area they don't often know they have talent in, and the vocal recording helps me point out where they have grown and what they did well when listening to themselves sing.
I believe in creating incentive programs and challenges to help students work toward goals within the studio. I hope that this not only helps parents as the student is more excited to practice and write down their time or work on theory goals but also helps students feel their accomplishment by a moment in the studio. Whether it's the once a month shopping in my studio 'store', the bonus scratch-offs they can earn, the clubs they can join once they've conquered challenges, the cards of accomplishments they can earn, or the incentive games I do at times with personal game boards and goals, there is always some incentives happening.
All students come home with a binder I provide after one of their first lessons. Within this binder, I include flashcards, resource pages for notes on the keyboard, notes on the staff, rhythm, terms, visual aids for various areas, assignment pages, practice log, and music more. This also always includes the newest calendar at the front and the latest newsletter to give parents the information they would need quickly. This is a great way to keep all papers together and to make sure the student is set for any questions and with extra resources like flashcards for home practice.
The lending library is composed of resources I add each year as well as books students have donated when finished. Part of the material fees each year goes toward adding a few items to this library. This is a wonderful resource I use in the studio for sight-reading as well as to loan out books on occasion for students to try a new style of music or a new arranger. It also is a great way for me to check out resources before recommending them to students or have a copy of many of the books when digital lessons are needed.
Varied Accompaniment for Vocal Students
Vocal students are challenged to sing along with live accompaniment, recorded simple accompaniment, as well as full band or orchestra accompaniment tracks. I believe this gives the broadest experience so that they are prepared for all life may bring them. My piano background allows me to give them live accompaniment at each lesson when needed.
Styles of Vocal Music
For vocal students, though we do use a vocal book that we go through or repertoire, I also add in various styles of music to make sure over time that each student has sung a variety of music. This helps them be well-rounded in their vocal abilities. I also always allow a student to pick between 2-3 options in those styles of extra music I bring in. Students also get to bring in their requests as well. I do make sure the songs are age-appropriate, clean language, a good message (when teens, tweens, and children), and good for their vocal level. If I cannot accommodate a particular song or artist, I work hard to find something similar to sing. I find this ownership of getting to choose some within their lessons works wonderfully.
Custom Digital Folders for Vocal Students
Each vocal student gets a folder in dropbox that I add to often. This will include access to various warmups, the melody line of a new song, simple accompaniment, full vocals and accompaniment, and accompaniment to sing along with. I also give each student a folder on Youtube that gives them access to published versions of the song as well as background tracks with full orchestration or band. These are great, easy tools to use each week in practice that keep updated files for students.