-Meredith Manley, Director of Music So Simple
This week’s blog is all about how Music So Simple was born. Before we get into the details of how it formed, let’s back up a bit to see how Stathia and I began on this adventure.
We initially met working together at a music school right after I moved back to Dallas; she had been there for about 15 years when I was hired. Before I moved, I previously owned a voice/piano studio as well as a music therapy practice in Chicago. I knew that I wanted to work at the school for a year or two and then open my own studio again when the time was right, as there are many perks to being self-employed.
Stathia and I initially hit it off as we discovered that we had very similar teaching philosophies. We are both traditional teachers, love teaching baby/toddler/preschool music classes, and value building strong relationships with our students. She was a great mentor when it came to finding piano repertoire, introducing me to the Dallas Music Teachers Association (DMTA), and giving advice whenever I needed it. It’s safe to say that Stathia really helped me get on my feet and was a great support system for me there (not to mention, a super fun co-worker!) As we continued to build lesson plans for our classes, we discovered that we not only worked well together, but that we were building a great friendship.
Around the time Stathia left the school in March, I really started thinking about what I wanted to do after the semester ended as I felt ready to go out on my own. After I left the school in May, I decided to call her to see how things were going. I knew that she was preparing to open a studio over the summer in Richardson, which was a great location for me as well, so I presented the idea of having a joint studio. The idea of being partners was ideal because we would split the administrative tasks, and it would prevent burnout/loneliness as a sole business owner (these are things I did NOT like previously in Chicago!) Plus, we share the same work ethic and studio mission. She agreed, and the rest is history; Music So Simple officially launched in June of 2016. We are so excited for our future plans, and we appreciate the support thus far from our students and families!
Some people wonder what a day is like as a piano teacher/business owner. Well, I tell you, it is quite possibly the best job ever! I’ve always told people that being a music teacher is awesome. Why? Because I can work as much or as little as I want, I can manage a family and work, and I get to see the best in my students and impact their lives every single week! Most teachers get to have their students for a year, and then pass them to the next teacher, but as a private music and piano teacher, I see my students for many years. The relationships that we build often last a lifetime! Here’s a little sneak peak into what a typical day looks like for me.
After getting my own kids off to school, I usually start my day by answering emails from parents, checking into daily “business”, and looking at music for my private students. Then, it’s off to teach a baby/toddler music class. Moms/Dads//Nannies bring their sweet little ones to enjoy a 30 minute music class. We play with maracas, sticks, bells, and woodblocks to music. The kids love playing instruments and sometimes even show me their dance moves! Caregivers enjoy a little relaxed time with the kids and even learn new songs to take home with them. These classes typically happen in the mornings before nap time. It’s a great way for me to begin my day- seeing their little faces always make me smile!
Private lessons happen after school. My students come for a 30 or 45 minute lesson, depending on their age. They sometimes come grumpy after a hard day of school or they’re stressed out with so much homework to do! But most of the time, they come happy to see me and are eager to unwind at the piano. We usually start with a little small talk: how was your day/week? What’s going on at home? How much practice did you get in? We talk about their last week’s assignment- what did they have a hard time with, or did they breeze through their assignment? We start with some warm-ups, play review pieces, and then look at new pieces. Some students prefer to learn new pieces on their own, while others like to be taught. This usually depends on their age and level, but I almost always like to at least get an introduction of the new repertoire in before they leave. At the end of the lesson, we do a theory/workbook page (or its given for homework if time is up!) Theory work always helps us dive a little deeper, giving us a better understanding of what we are currently mastering at the piano. It’s also a great way to take a break from the piano at the end of each lesson.
Typically, I can fit in 4 to 6 students each afternoon, depending on whether they are coming to me or if I am travelling. Of course, traveling takes up more time, so I schedule in less students on those days. I usually try to finish up my teaching around 7:00, just so that I have a little dinner and family time before it’s time for my own kids to go to bed.
After lessons are done for the day, I write down notes about each lesson and plans for the next week’s lesson. I do see most parents on a weekly basis, but if I don’t see them that week, I send an email or text just to let them know what happened that day.
Being a piano/music teacher requires a lot of communication, preparation, and patience! Sometimes when I get home, I like to just be quiet because I have been making music and talking most of the day! I love the fact that each day is different with new beginnings and new endings. Week after week, it is almost never the same; this keeps me energized and always thinking.
My job is both rewarding and challenging, but most of all incredibly personal. The friendships and relationships I make with parents and students are long-lasting. I want my students, no matter what age, to always remember me and have fond memories of their time with me. What could be more rewarding?
One of the most common questions that we are asked is, “Can we try a few lessons and see how it goes?”. This question might seem perfectly reasonable for someone looking into a new hobby, but to a music teacher, it tells us that perhaps these students (and parents) are not mentally prepared to learn an instrument.
Do you know why your child wants to take lessons or why you want them to take lessons? Is it because you know music is good for them to learn? Or is it because their friends are doing it? Or have they expressed an interest on their own? Either way, make sure you are honest with yourself. Knowing that your child will benefit greatly from music lessons will help keep you strong when your child begins to feel discouraged.
Learning an instrument is a true lifelong skill; there is always something to improve, and always more challenging pieces to tackle. One must be aware that hard work is ahead, and remember that learning it proficiently takes time. I’m fairly certain that Rachmaninoff didn’t master the piano in a year or two. Even as a teacher myself, I am constantly trying to improve my skills, be more sensitive to dynamics, put more expression into my work, become a better sight-reader, etc. With that said, nothing gives me more pride than when my efforts come to fruition and I finally master a new skill.
This brings me to my next point; learning an instrument builds character. If we let our children quit an instrument after a few months, what values are we teaching them? Is is really okay to give up if we aren’t good at something right away or because it gets tough? Should we only do things we are naturally good at? Think about this idea as an adult; should we switch jobs if we aren’t at the top right away? Or should we work hard to be better at what we do? As I observe children of this day and age jumping around to different activities and looking for instant gratification, I can’t help but wonder how they will be as adults. No one ever said that parenting is easy, and this is a perfect example of how being the “parent” versus being a friend is even more important. Our children depend on you for guidance, and if you agree that music lessons are important for the development of your child, then help them stick with it.
My advice to students (and parents!) who are considering starting an instrument is be prepared to work hard, be challenged, and feeling frustrated at times is a given. Personally, I wouldn’t have the work ethic I have today if it wasn’t in part for learning an instrument. It has taught me persistence, patience, resilience, and self-discipline. These are all necessary traits for a successful student and adult, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to to build these traits from learning an instrument.
This week’s blog is about how we offer our piano and voice lessons. In my years of teaching, I have always found it fascinating how different students learn in different environments. At Music SO Simple, we offer lessons in the convenience of your home as well as in our home studios. Deciding on which route to take depends on what’s best for your family and how the student learns! There are pros and cons to consider in each learning situation.
Back in the day when I started teaching, I was hired to primarily be a travelling teacher. Now that my daughter's piano teacher (Ms. Meredith!!) comes to my house, I am now seeing the amazing benefits of being able to cut one more activity out that I have to drive to, and I can get things done at home while she gets her lesson! As wonderful as this sounds, there are also quite a few potential drawbacks to having lessons at home:
For some people, having lessons at a studio might be a better “fit”. For other, the opposite is true- either way, there are pros and cons. Make the best decision for your family and for your student’s learning style. If keeping the siblings entertained while your student is having their lesson at home, then maybe it’s best to drop your student off for the 45 minutes while you run errands with the other kiddos! Make it worth your time, your money, and your sanity...just my two cents as both a mom and teacher!!