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!