My posts have not been as frequent as I would have liked, however I am also not a fan of content for the sake of content. I will try to make these updates happen on a more regular basis with the goal of having a new post on education each month.
As this summer comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the state of the program I have been tasked with building. In music education, there are varying levels on how you can track your progress year by year. For myself, I choose to observe it through various "-ing" descriptors.
1. Year One - Surviving
Yes, in your first year at any new institution, you are most likely going to be in a state of surviving. You are watched closely, observed often, students are making judgments on your abilities, colleagues are evaluating you. In my first year ever in higher education I felt like I was dropped in the middle of the ocean without a life preserver and told, "swim that direction." It was possibly the biggest challenge I faced as a professional at the time. What came from this was a new-found respect for the music education field and I was able to find my own personal style of teaching. Having this past experience and after successfully building a private lessons studio, I felt up to the task of program building on a full departmental scale at Coffeyville. My first year presented all new types of challenges, particularly with regard to various areas outside of the classroom. When you inherit a small program but are still expected to perform on the level of a full music department, a certain degree of innovation and improvisation need to be put in place.
To survive my first year, I needed three things: a good athletic band, a concert group of ANY kind, and a solid first year of enrollment. I accomplished each through enacting an open participation policy. ANYONE regardless of grade level or experience was allowed to participate in our public events. A number of high school students began playing with the basketball band on a regular basis, and I even had a few track and field athletes learn to bang on a drum for football season. The open participation policy also led to a very interesting discovery. One student happened to be a very talented guitar player, leading to a switch in the direction of the pep band. Rather than writing music traditionally, I began arranging the music with a more unison style (all instruments play the same line) with the rhythm section playing as a quasi rock ensemble. This would become the birth of the CCC Sound Machine, and would also help me to expand our music list even further. Finally, the pep band's new direction led to the creation of the jazz program, and a stand alone spring concert that to this day is still one of the best programs I have ever had the privilege of being a part of. The word was out, a new direction at the college was in place. Student interest increased, and I was now ready to move forward to the next phase.
2. Year Two - Building
Having already established the jazz program as a focal point of the concert hall, and creating a pep band the students all enjoy being a part of, the next step was to start building through aggressive recruitment and enrollment. My second year at CCC was one of the most satisfying and rewarding years I have ever had in my entire professional life. The most rewarding were the relationships built with the high school students. A colleague of mine approached me after the high school's spring concert where I was recognized and said (in jest), "must be nice to feel appreciated!" You couldn't force the smile off of my face that week.
However, the year was not without its challenges. Program building is two-fold: you have to recruit, and you must retain those students you do. Retention can be a a tricky area. To make it easy to understand, think of it on a much smaller scale: If you were to ask a group of band members, "why did you join band," the answers might be very similar to one another. However, if you were to ask those same students, "why are you still in it?" you might be amazed at the various answers you get. The point is there is no specific solution to retention, and is one of the most common areas of concern for every institution of higher learning. While taking losses from year to year may at times not be avoidable, ensuring those losses are not falling on you as the educator is. I started to do more outside of the regular schedule my second year to ensure student satisfaction with the program. This included a trip to the state music convention at no cost to the students. Regardless of the small number of losses I had, enrollment in the program going out of my second year was up over 200% from when I first arrived. This means year three is...
3. Year Three - Growing
By your third year at an institution, you have established yourself among your peers and colleagues, and students have come to know you. While the year has not officially begun, part of me feels like the old adage "if it isn't broken..." should apply here. Course materials are already created and written, the pep bands are established, concert bands now have complete instrumentation, and new prospective student lists are already piling up. Changes and audibles will of course happen, but I am going into this year with a newly found confidence in the fine arts program's direction with each student in the program being brought in by me personally. Year three may prove to be an emotional roller coaster as well. Community colleges are teaching institutions for the community, intended on giving people a jump start on their higher education without the stress of how they will afford it. For programs requiring student participation such as band, you are in a never ending state of rebuilding because of it being a two year institution. To put it bluntly, I may have a hard time in the next years seeing students graduate. This must be how parents feel when their kids leave the nest...
I am looking forward to this year. A colleague of mine once told me that you really don't see the fruits of your labor until year four or five. I am happy to say that while there is still a lot of room to grow, I feel a step ahead in that department. This means that by year four, after surviving, building, and growing, you should at that point be thriving.
I will be updating the website soon with new information on this year's projects and more concert dates added to the calendar. As always, if you have any questions or comments you can always email me. If you are a prospective student and want to introduce yourself to me and get more information about the music and fine arts programs here, please let me know. Here's to a fun and exciting year!
There have been a number of blog posts, articles, and even some books and manuals on this topic. In this post, I would like to provide my own insights on how you can successfully build your own private studio. To begin, I need to make the following disclaimer: this is not the answer key for every mystery surrounding successfully building a private studio. There are many avenues, methods, and approaches you can take. I have found this, however, to be the most successful for myself.
First, you should consider an important possibility that this very likely may not happen over night. Immediate success is rare, and is almost guaranteed to not occur unless you are in a major metropolitan area with numerous school districts. Building a private studio takes time and patience. Chances are your first students might be handed to you from another teacher who no longer has studio space, or you were referred by a professional colleague. Posting flyers in public schools and other areas where young students of music might see them is a good start, but you should not rely solely on this for your success. You will encounter advantages and disadvantages which all depend on the area you are going teach, the distance you are willing/able to travel, and the time/facilities you are allowed.
The following advice focuses on practical solutions, and avoids the rhetorical - yes, we all know you need "passion" or "motivation" but this kind of advice will not point you in the direction you need to get started. However, bear in mind that personal qualities are important, as your own attitude and commitment reflects on your students. That said, here are some tips to get started.
1. Know the area where you are teaching
You cannot expect to start a private studio without knowing the schools and music teachers. This is how bringing in flyers to each school can get your foot in the door to open some options. Before visiting any school, call ahead or email the directors to know the best times to visit. The directors will appreciate you asking for the visit, and you will not be a distraction the same way an unannounced walk-in would be. Additionally, offer your services during the day to help with their classes by doing sectionals. A good way to do this is by simply asking if there is any way you can help, but keep this general. You do not want to make it seem like you are asking a teacher to come in and run their class for them. Further, ask questions about their program. How many students do you have?, When are your concerts?, and be genuinely interested in their programs by showing up to their concerts. If you show a genuine interest in their program, then the directors and students will eventually show interest in your's. The best advice I ever received when starting my own program was, "You can fake letters and emails. You CANNOT fake showing up."
2. Understand the economics of the area
Scale is important. Scale in pricing of lessons ensures a balance and fairness among education professionals, and it also ensures fair lesson rates for future teachers. But keep in mind that not every school district has budgets to pay private teachers, and not every school district has parents who can afford high lesson costs. This is where you need to carefully consider your rates BEFORE you announce your studio to the directors and parents. If you place your rates too high in a low income area, you risk the possibility of losing potential students. If your rates are too low, you will have undervalued your time, and it will be very difficult to raise you rates in the future. A solution is to try using hour-long and half hour options, but keep the scale aimed at the hour rate being a better value for their time. This is advantageous for both you and the student. You may start with more half-hour lesson students, but chances are if a student starts there they will eventually switch to full hour sessions.
3. Schedule ahead
There are many scenarios regarding where you will teach. Some may teach in the classrooms, others in private facilities provided by local music stores, and others may teach at home. If you have your own studio space, then chances are this post isn't for you. However, if your studio requires multiple commutes in the day, you will need to have that time figured between sessions. Be able to gain as many students as possible by planning your schedule grid ahead of time. When you do begin getting phone calls from parents and students, avoid unnecessary commutes by scheduling students who go to the same school on the same day. For example, if you get one student from School A who asked for a lesson time on Mondays, you will want to schedule the student from School B on another day regardless of how many spaces are remaining on that Monday. Sometimes this can't be avoided, so be flexible. Also, do not count on being able to teach your lessons during the school day. Music teachers hold a high value on the limited time they have with their students. Concerts, contests, and festivals are always just around the corner. This is something you will want to discuss with the directors when meeting them.
3. Set your curriculum
Every teacher has their own style. You should find your's as well. Having a set curriculum will keep you organized, and gives you something to show the directors, parents, and students. Generally, students and parents will mainly be interested in taking lessons to make the next honor band, or get the highest solo rating at contests. Be prepared to speak about this by knowing the repertoire in advance, and having a solid plan how to effectively teach it along with other areas you want to cover. How to set a full curriculum is a topic best reserved for a separate post, which will come at a later date, or you can email me directly.
4. Set your rates monthly, and learn accounting software
Some musicians teach lessons as a way of gaining experience. For many others teaching lessons is their livelihood. Make yourself a serious choice in either case by having your schedule grid set, your curriculum ready, and being a good manager on the business end. This begins with setting monthly rates. By doing so, your students will not need to remember to bring payments on a weekly basis, and no-shows would have already paid for your time. You will also want to have time set aside for make ups. Be fair. Not all no-shows are negligent. Things come up unexpectedly all the time. As an independent professional, you should also be good with your own accounting. Start learning (on a basic level) how to use accounting software. I personally recommend Quickbooks. This will further legitimize you as an independent contractor, help keep you organized come tax seasons, and could lead to more referrals.
5. Stay in the public eye
Many of your students will be gained by referrals from your current students. Others will be referred to you by their teachers. Parents are cautious as to who they let their kids spend any length of time with, and band directors are very protective of their students as well. You will need to maintain an active public presence. Create a website for yourself. Launch a YouTube and Soundcloud channel with clips of your performances. Show up to your student's concerts. Stay in the public eye of your community, and build relationships. By building those relationships, you will gain much more interest and trust from the students and parents.
I hope this was helpful. A bit wordy, yes. I will try to make the next one less so. Also, I have noticed most of these blogs in the academic area tend to lean toward list making, which is fair because it keeps the post organized and are fun to read and write. However, I will try to keep my content here as original as possible. Thank you again for visiting my site. Until the next post....
I make no promises this time, but I hope to be able to continuously update this blog throughout the next academic year. In the meantime I am making a quick post here to let my visitors know that I am redoing the entire site and it will (hopefully) be completed near the end of this month. A few things you can look forward to are:
I also intend to give more news updates here as to events or new performance dates. Yes, you can see those on the calendar, but you will be able to get a lot more information about the events here. Finally, I have a number of blog posts saved, but not shared, that I intend to publish soon that deal with education and pedagogy. If you find my insight on approaching education, performance, or program building helpful, you may share with your students. However, should you choose to do so, please email me and inform me.
I hope all the educators and students out there have a wonderful summer break! See you all in the classroom in the fall!
The editing process is slow while I try to update my site. However, I have uploaded a new section detailing the music education programs I am building at Coffeyville Community College. This section gives details about the programs, how we are establishing and developing them, and ways we are remaining active within our community.
As I continue making more content, I will include overall education initiatives including program building, establishing a private studio, building a successful chamber ensemble, and more.
The next post will provide advice and strategies for building your first private lessons studio. This will give you information that will prove helpful when starting your studio from scratch. There are many people in the music community who have built their private studios into their own businesses. This has been a major push in the saxophone community especially, entrepreneurship. I will tackle some of the more challenging aspects of getting started. I look forward to sharing it with you all.
Hello to all who visit my site. Thank you for being here.
First, I want to say that as I continue building the page content, I am going to begin this blog section as a means to post my thoughts and observations in the field of music education and performance, particularly those that have helped me throughout my own career. I hope you will find these posts valuable to your own continued music education and careers.
I appreciate any any all comments or thoughts you have regarding any topic.
Thank you, and enjoy the new site.