The new year always attracts new students to begin music lessons. What is working in your music studio? What can be improved, or let go altogether in order to have a bigger impact on your students and grow your business?
Here are some considerations and tips for starting new in Q1. The new year is the best time to implement new policies, procedures, and structures into your business. And for some, this is the time to begin a new music teaching business!
It is also my hope that some of my readership includes parents of children enrolled in music lessons, in order to understand the depth of planning and effort that goes into running this kind of business.
In this article, I will address four main categories to set up your music teaching studio for success in 2023: (1) Housekeeping Tasks (updating website, studio policy, rates, etc.); Communication (email list, communicating with students & parents, surveys, etc.); (3) Suggestions for Additions to the Studio (more offerings to increase income and give students what they need); (4) Growing Your Business (social media strategies and ideas to think about moving forward).
Each one of the topics below deserves its very own post, but for now, take this as a list full of ideas worth considering for a prosperous and musically fulfilling 2023. I do not recommend trying to implement every, single idea and task in one week.
Consider what feels right for your business, and most importantly, your students' goals.
Housekeeping Studio Tasks
✅ 1. Update Studio Policy.
Read over your Studio Policy and put yourself in the shoes of the person enrolling themselves, or their child. Revise any clunky writing for clarity. Your Studio Policy is a contract of mutual understanding. Consider having all parties sign it before beginning with a new student, and consider having all parties sign it once a year when you update the policy.
✅ 2. Scheduling.
Questions to ask yourself: Are you batching lessons same day and avoiding multi-tasking? Are back-to-back lessons the most efficient for YOUR workflow? Are you extremely fatigued by your last lesson of the day? Do you drive to your students' homes and are lessons efficiently scheduled by neighborhood?
If you have control over scheduling, this is the time to evaluate what is working and what is not. If you teach for a school then you may not have much control, but you should be communicating your needs. If you have a private studio, evaluate if any scheduling changes would be more efficient and easier on your well-being.
a. Some teachers add a 15-30 min "breather" after every 3-4 back-to-back lessons.
b. Some teachers do not teach full hours, rather, lessons are 50 min so that there is a 10-min "prep or breather" between students.
c. Some teachers schedule several months in advance, while others schedule month-to-month. No matter how you schedule, be sure to think about "off weeks," as well as when you might schedule a Play Week.
c. Your well-being effects lesson quality. To be an effective educator, create a schedule that is realistic to your energy levels so that you can avoid burnout, yourself.
✅ 3. Raising Rates.
Raising rates is extremely unpopular with those paying for lessons, but it IS inevitable and should be done at least every 2-3 years, especially if you add to your credentials. I don't suggest raising rates with a week or even 30-days notice. If you plan to raise rates, make sure you do this in writing and give 90 days+ notice.
If there are students that you want to keep at your current rate, make sure to note in their letter, that "based on (student name)'s dedication and performance in lessons, it is my honor to SCHOLARSHIP them at X amount so that your lesson rate does not change."
There may be cases where you do not want to raise your rates for students that have been with you since the beginning, or for years. But, it's important that you frame it as a "scholarship" rather than, "I'm giving you a discount."
✅ 4. Payment System.
Evaluate your current payment system, especially any scenarios that result in loss income. Do students pay monthly, quarterly, or by semester? Do you offer "drop in" lessons (pay weekly as schedule)? What is your cancellation policy? What is your illness policy, and do you allow make ups? What happens when lessons are paid for, but YOU are sick?
The exchange of money is your livelihood. With strong communication and policies in place, it doesn't have to feel uncomfortable for either party.
✅ 5. Update Your Website, LinkTree, Social Media Profiles.
Take some time to update your bio and update pictures. If you don't have any professional images, book a quick photo session or get some help executing DIY "professional lifestyle" pictures. Use these updates for your website, LinkTree, social media profiles, email profile, and any other communication application.
Good photos and video are crucial for growing your business. Consider having a friend snap some photos while you teach (with student's permission, of course!). You can also crop pictures of just hands, get close ups of you leaning in on sheet music, and other teaching moments that would be great to use on your website and social media.
✅ 6. Update Your C.V./Resumè.
Did you earn a new degree, credential, or certificate? Did you publish, give or participate in a performance, pedagogy workshop, or give a conference paper? Did you earn an award, were you a guest speaker, did you attend conferences? Reflect on your professional progress over the past year and add to your C.V. You may even consider reformatting your document for clarity and style.
✅ 7. Write or Update Your Teaching Philosophy
A "Teaching Philosophy" is a required document for most academic positions. This is a good time to update that document. Even if you are not interested in applying for academic teaching positions, you should consider writing this or something similar, because the exercise brings clarity to your values and approach to teaching.
As a private music studio, the "Teaching Philosophy" can function as a Mission Statement and should be added to your Studio Policy and "About Me" page.
✅ 8. Take Inventory of Sheet Music, Instruments, Technology, and Gear.
PHYSICAL Assets - take stock of all books, instruments, gear, rentals, etc.
DIGITAL Assets - take stock of all music software, apps, and other programs that you use for your business.
Create a rough estimate of the value of your physical and digital assets. Make a Wish List of 2023 gear that you want to add to your studio.
You might consider subscribing to mymusicstaff.com (this post is not sponsored) which is a very helpful cloud management system that schedules, communicates by text and email, saves notes, sends invoices, and more. Look for my upcoming review on mymusicstaff in 2023!
📲 Communication is Key
✅ 9. Email List.
If you are offering products and services to the general public, you must begin or continue to build your email list. Use an email service like MailChimp or use the email service from your website provider. Otherwise, prepare a monthly or bi-weekly email newsletter sent directly to parents, guardians, and students. The email newsletter will promote student wins, announce and remind parents/students about events, make studio announcements, welcome new students, offer your recommendations (music-related content), and help establish your music studio culture.
If you have both a public-facing business with products and services, AND a private music studio, you can segment your audiences when necessary.
✅ 10. How to Communicate Effectively with Parents & Students.
Student success is a group effort. It is crucial that for young students, parents/guardians are involved in the music learning process. I don't recommend general communication by text. Use text for alerting about tardiness for same-day lessons, or, for emergencies.
I recommend using Slack, email, or private Facebook groups for communication. If you have more than 3 students, Slack is the most efficient form of communication as it works like a combination of gmail and texting.
What I like best about Slack and private Facebook groups, is their ability to cultivate and nurture community. No matter what platform you use, consider the importance of fostering community in your studio. This provides more student support, transparency, engagement, and building community will result in a more positive learning experience for your students.
✅ 11. Student Survey.
Consider writing a "Student Survey" for the new year. What do students want to accomplish this year? What new music are they interested in learning? What events would they enjoy attending and participating in? What was their proudest achievement this past year, and what needs the most improvement? Consider using a Practice Planner for intermediate and advanced students, which includes sections to create a "musical profile" of monthly, weekly, and daily goals, repertoire, and music likes.
Get feedback from your students to help shape their learning process and personal goals. A Student Survey benefits all parties in moving forward with lessons in the new year.
✅ 12. Student Learning Recommendations.
Consider writing a "Student Learning Recommendation" for each student. This would function much like an evaluation of the past year or months, but framing it as a "learning recommendation" makes this less about their past performance, and more about how they see their future musical selves.
A Student Learning Recommendation should include techniques that will help students reach their goals. For example, if a student wants to learn Dorian Marko's piano arrangement of Cornfield Chase (Interstellar, Hans Zimmer), they will need to work on arpeggios and other technique. Instead of an "evaluation" that reminds the student that they don't practice enough (most know they don't practice enough!), give them the specific steps needed to reach their personal goals. The Student Learning Recommendation functions more like a prescription from a doctor.
👩🏻💻 Possible New Additions to Your Studio
Consider adding extra events in your studio to bring in more income and to give your students bonus opportunities to experience music in multiple ways, which is the goal of a holistic musical training. Bonus events also break up the monotony of weekly lessons. You may even consider substituting a workshop or masterclass for a weeks worth of lessons.
✅ 13. Add Workshops, Masterclasses, & Field Trips
Are students prepping for competition or certification? You may consider adding theory workshops and masterclasses to support them. Bonuses like this can bring in extra income (or these might be part of the "package" when studying with you), group work fosters community, and these events can have a significant impact on student learning.
Do not underestimate the value of your students building friendships within your studio, and give them opportunities to cultivate those relationships. Additionally, give your students as many opportunities to perform in a safe, encouraging space.
Field Trips: there are lots of FREE and low cost events for students. Consider researching some events and organizing a studio field trip. You can likely get some help organizing from some of the parents. Expose your students to music making in different forms: symphonic concerts, choral concerts, musical theater, etc. If you live in a college town, check out the free student recitals from their music program.
✅ 14. Add a Combined-Studio Event
Especially for smaller studios, consider organizing a combined-studio event. When I had less than five students, I combined with a violin teacher's small studio for our biannual recital. A combined event fosters community and supports other music teachers in your area. It could also be an opportunity for students to collaborate.
✅ 15. Add More Gamified Learning
ALL ages benefit from gamified learning (don't leave out your adult learners!). Quick, in-lesson games release tension from intense concentration for both student and teacher. A 3-5 min break shifts attention resulting in greater focus afterwards. Plus, it's just fun!
✅ 16. Upgrade instruments and teaching materials
Consider what investments you can make now and in the future, to upgrade instruments and teaching materials. If you use the same method books for most of your students, be sure they are part of your personal music library in case students forget books in their lessons, or, for lesson planning. Many music stores give teacher discounts, just ask!
You may also consider visiting TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) or Etsy for supplemental teaching materials (links to Music Theory Shop pages). Some institutions (school, church, extra-curricular program) offer support, like a once-a-year or biannual stipend, to update learning materials.
✅ 17. Add Grading System
Some students benefit from a weekly graded evaluation. Sometimes, parents like to see this data, too, and it can be helpful to see the progress made across multiple months. You might consider using an LMS (Learning Management System) in your studio, just like a school. An LMS can create this data for you. I recommend CANVAS for teachers, which is free. There is a little bit of a learning curve, but this platform is well worth the few hours of learning to get it up and running.
✅ 18. Add More Rewards & Acknowledgement
Acknowledgement comes in many different packages, from a high-5 🖐 to a certificate. Acknowledgements go a long way to keep students motivated and to know that they are on the right track and progressing.
✅ 19. Add Music Technology
What programs, apps, and gear would be impactful investments into your business? Are there applications that will help gamify learning, or that students can use to practice at home?
I recommend that students start playing around with at least two kinds of music technology: a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), and a music notation program. Although many DAWs have a sheet music generator, they are often full of notation errors. It's best to learn one of the industry standards, Sibelius or Finale, but to get started, MuseScore is fine to begin.
Music notation programs are compositional tools and a crucial part of a holistic music education. Composition helps with a full integration of skills because it is about CREATING, which is the highest pedagogical goal in the Bloom Taxonomy Chart.
Encourage your students to compose. This exercise involves improvisation as the first step. Improvising with learned materials and then organizing them into a work of art (a finished composition), is one of the most meaningful and high-impact goals in musical training.
👨👩👧👦 Growing Your Business
✅ 20. Marketing Your Business
The best way to market your music studio business, products, and services, is to create an environment where potential students can feel like they would enjoy participating. This could be using images and videos that highlight teaching/learning moments, events, and student wins. It is important to communicate your values and approach.
The best marketing I've seen by music educators, is to lead by example and to give others value. Share your musical journey, your wins, creations, and your process for getting there. Share your tips and values to help aspiring musicians.
✅ 21. Add More Tools to Your Tool Belt
Musicians are lifelong learners. What music skills need a refresher? Are there any new skills, or do you want to deepen existing skills? Is there new music technology that would benefit you and your students?
Do a little bit of research to see if there are conventions, conferences, masterclasses, and workshops that would inspire you pedagogically. Networking with other music professionals is a sure way to promote your music studio.
✅ 22. Take Stock of Your Personal Projects & Goals
Whether you teach full time or on the side, the act of teaching is time and energy consuming. One-on-one teaching can be especially emotionally taxing for those of us that are highly empathetic.
This is probably easier said than done, but don't lose sight of your personal musical ambitions, because as music teachers, we're modeling what a fulfilling music career can look like. Our students NEED to see us as professional musicians, and our success is their success.
Our successes can be even more impactful if we involve our students in some way. My students LOVE when I play piano for them, or I show them drafts of my latest chapter. Sometimes I ask them for feedback!
So, take the time to finish that track, write that song, learn that piece, write the book, etc. With each personal accomplishment, you become more of an authority, which results in becoming an in-demand educator.
✅ 23. Recitals & Community Outreach
Student recitals and concerts are milestones for musicians. These performances are high stakes benchmarks for both students and teachers and many studios host around two recitals per year.
No matter how much our students freak out about recitals, in my experience, they feel SO GOOD afterwards! I've asked them about these events and they always say that it was well worth it (the practicing, preparation, and nerves).
I see the recital as the space to honor our students' accomplishments. If you are a parent reading, know that organizing a recital is a huge and stressful job. But this is a tradition, and we do it for the students. The formality of actively listening to one performing music is an honor for all parties.
I invite teachers to think about hosting one of their recitals to benefit the community, which also teaches our students the lesson of giving back. Of course, the arrangement is mutually beneficial because community outreach also advertises your music studio.
Research retirement homes, Boys & Girls Clubs, schools, and community centers to see if a community outreach event is right for your studio. And don't hesitate to reach out to your local press to cover the event, because the press is always looking for "good news" content.
Please SHARE this blog post with your favorite music teacher.
Have you implemented any of these tips already? What would YOU add to this 23 Tip Checklist? Let's discuss. 👇