I'm one of those teachers who a long time ago did have a studio on my own and worked at a music school. I've also had parents tell me that they would rather just take from a private teacher and not be at a music school. I've got feelings on both! However, before I continue, I do need to mention that all music schools are not created equal! And, all private teachers are not created equal. This is more of a generalization of both.
I will say that it is hard finding teachers who want to teach at a music school simply because they don't make as much money. However, on the plus side, they don't have to deal with the business side of things. They simply show up and teach! This can be amazing for teachers who simply love to teach and don't want to do billing, advertising, and organization. More than likely, teachers who work at a music school really LOVE to teach and are there because of that. Teachers also gain a sense of community within the school and have comradery with the other teachers that they would not have solo teaching at home. This is perfect when they need to have their student perform for another teacher! All they have to do is knock and ask! It is obviously wonderful for the students as well, because it's built in performance practice, and another teacher's ideas that they get to hear!
For parents, taking lessons at a music school can almost be "one stop shopping". If there is a teacher that is not a great fit for the student, makinging a shift to a different teacher is sometimes possible. Often at music schools, there is the possibility of multi-instrument instruction, so you don't have to go out and hunt for a different teacher. The other plus side is that if you trust the music school and its mission, you are comfortable with their teachers and know that they are all "safe" individuals.
Most individual teachers don't have a commercial space. Going to a "business" that is primarily for music lessons definitely has a different feel than going to your teacher's house. Now, I went to my teachers house for years and years, and a lot of my students have come to my house for lessons, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it! However, when I show up to teach at our studio, I'm focused and ready to teach. It's true that a lot of my students felt that my house was more of an "intimate" space- but it was also a little more noisy (my kids or husband or dogs). There seems to be a little more structure in my lessons at the studio vs. my house. It feels like a better learning environment- AND there's not a pantry full of food to raid or laundry you can voluntarily fold (LOL).
The best thing about a music school? It's the community- if it's the right community for you and your family. Hopefully, it's nice being able to keep the financial part separate- knowing there's a person to talk to about that and that oversees the instruction of the teachers (my students are not allowed to comment!) There are different teacher personalities and all kinds or opportunities to take part in. There's variation in classes and performances/recitals. There's a higher standard.
That in a nutshell is the difference! I love sharing this unique perspective and hope it was helpful. If you have thoughts, comments, or questions, don't hesitate to reach out!
A way to practice well and not feel like you’re dying from boredom (we’ve all been there!)
Serves: 1 student (and 1 teacher by default)
Total Time: 45 minutes
Prep Time: 5 minute warm-up, 10-minute break
1. Open teacher’s notes FIRST to see what will be due in the upcoming week(s).
2. Plan your practice session, set a goal for each piece, write down if you feel you might forget.
For example: “I want to play all the right rhythms in this piece” or “I want to memorize these four measures today”.
3. Warm-up: scales/arpeggios/five-finger patterns.
This is your opportunity to check hand position. Are fingers curved? Do you sound good?
Warm-up with three different tempos: slow-medium-fast
4. Practice your first piece/assignment. Star with pencil any place that are hard to do. Spend 5-10 minutes fixing these starred sessions.
5. With each piece, check the goal you set in step #2. Can your goal be accomplished today? If not, can your goal be accomplished tomorrow?
6. If you do not complete a goal, write a note down in your practice journal to complete tomorrow.
7. After finishing your first piece, take a five-minute break. Even if you don’t feel tired, you were probably focusing for 10-15 straight minutes. That’s a lot.
8. Now you are about 15-minutes into your practice. Start your second piece, repeat steps #2-6.
9. Take another 5-min break.
10. It has now been 35 minutes. At this point of time, go BACK and review pieces #1 and #2. See if your short-term memory has learned anything. Did your pieces improve today? If not, no worries, you will have to work on it again tomorrow (with a different strategy than today since today did not work). Spend 5 minutes reviewing anything you might have forgotten over your 5-min break to reinforce your memory.
11. Now you are at the 40-minute mark! And you only did two pieces so far! But it has been very productive and by writing down what you want to do tomorrow, you will remember better what you learned today. Spend the last five minutes for personal pleasure (we often forget we are doing piano for fun). Explore a new piece that your teacher has assigned, improvise, write your own composition, or perhaps you have saved the last five minutes to revisit a piece you played before. If this is the case, make sure to make improvements to this piece. How can you be more artistic and interesting?
12. Come to next lesson…maybe you will sound so good that your teacher will actually make you a pie??? (Not Ms. Ellie. You don’t want her pies. They’re disgusting.)
MIDI for Kids is a program that puts kids right in the middle of music making. Students will learn about keyboard geography, notation, and other keyboarding skills, of course, but the real joy comes from playing with classmates and creating ensembles!
Students will learn about the different parts of an ensemble: the melody, bass line, percussion, and any additional parts. Everyone will learn how to play together to make a meaningful product. Before we play the parts ourselves, we will play along with a recorded sequence that we can isolate different parts and adjust tempo. Since we play on keyboards we can change the instrumentation to make a more authentic sounding ensemble.
Students learn to be critical listeners of their work as well as other recorded music. They will be able to discern if the melody is too loud, the percussion is behind the beat, or if the bass line is too overpowering.
The MIDI for Kids process is a multi-year journey to discovering the joy of making music. Using these skills prepares students to continue their study of piano as well as other instruments.
For more information, please contact Robin Coolidge.
Drumroll please...this week marks our 100th blog!! That’s A LOT of blogs!! Why do we take the time to write blogs? We feel it reflects our studio’s mission, allows you to get to know our teachers, and expresses our opinions about music teaching and relevant topics. We are proud to say that we write two new blogs every month (although we used to write them weekly our first two years as a studio!) To celebrate this accomplishment, we are going to recap about some of the different topics we’ve written about (and include links to read them!)
First off, we’ve written a few times about the benefits of music lessons- how it builds brain development, character and grit, and teaches arts appreciation. This is an ongoing topic as new research surfaces constantly. There are endless articles about how great music lessons are for both kids and adults!
One of the biggest questions we are asked from parents is how much and how long to practice. We’ve shared about how to practice efficiently and what parents can do to help their children practice at home. Keeping students motivated through the entire school year is another big category. Music Bucks, Honor Roll, 40 Piece Challenge, Student of the Week, and Music Ball (formerly Piano Ball) are just some of the fun things we do to keep students going that are unique to our studio!
As new teachers join our studio, we ask them to fill out a questionnaire for our blog and for their profile on the website. Currently, we have 7 teachers for private lessons (piano, voice, and guitar), and we are adding two new teachers this fall: Robin, who will be teaching group piano classes, and Giuseppe, who will be teaching private flute lessons. We’ve also shared about the importance of the relationship between the teacher and student, which is why we take the time to really make sure it is a good match between the two.
In addition to our growing number of private students, our early childhood music classes are steadily growing as well. You might be surprised that we believe music education should begin as infants, and continue through preschool to our Merry Musicians class.
Lastly, we’ve written many tips about recital etiquette and coping with performance anxiety. We really encourage all of our students, no matter how long they’ve been taking lessons, to perform at our twice per year recitals. Since all of our piano teachers are members of the Dallas Music Teachers Association, many of our students are involved in their performance opportunities. The three most common events our studio participates in are Sonatina Festival, Achievement Auditions, and the State Theory Exam. We explain the scoring system that DMTA judges use for these events.
It’s really neat to look back at all the blogs we’ve written- it reflects different stages of how our studio has evolved. We also hope that our blogs are helpful to parents and that they provide a deeper connection to our studio.
At the very beginning of my summer, the day after my son's eighth grade graduation, we got the horrible news that Paula had died. Even though she had suffered so much pain and trauma over the 9 months after her fall which resulted in a brain injury, we still held out hope that she would one day recover. But knowing she is in a place without suffering is an answered prayer.
So who is Paula? Well, the easiest explanation is that she was my piano teacher's wife. To the general person, that may not seem like much, but as I started thinking about what most people think, I have really begun realizing why I put so much effort into my students and why I think being with the "right" piano teacher is so important.
At the beginning of this huge loss, I was so confused as to why people were asking me who Paula was and why was my entire family at her funeral? To be honest, I was dumbfounded. Jerry, my piano teacher, and Paula were a huge part of my family. They became part of our life when I was 8 years old. Paula worked for the Dallas County Commissioner, and regularly ate at my parent's restaurant. She had told my parents that her husband was a piano teacher, and literally the rest is history. My parents instantly became friends. We had piano twice a week, with all 4 of our lessons back to back, which meant we were at their home for hours. Paula ended up spending evenings with my family while Jerry accompanied the Dallas Symphony Chorus every Monday night. She helped us with homework- in fact, she was an amazing tutor! Seriously, I have no idea how I would have gotten through 7th and 8th grade history or Ursuline without her help!
As our lessons continued and our relationship became stronger, Jerry and Paula went on family vacations with us. They never had their own children and it's not really a secret that they adopted us. They even came to Greece with us! In college, I had a trip to New York that had me a little freaked out, and Paula took off from work to come with me. Paula, especially, was like a second mom to me and my 3 siblings. Even just writing this brings tears to my eyes.
It wasn't just my family. To explain how many students Jerry and Paula affected is not even possible. Together they attended countless student weddings, college graduations, and music productions. They supported every single student. I can't count how many of his students reached out to Jerry with Paula's death or were at her funeral.
I can't possibly give enough of a tribute to Paula's life. I can smile when I see my wedding certificate, and know that Paula's signature is on it (this is where working at the Dallas county comes in handy! I remember her so giddy with excitement taking care of this for me and Brian). I think of all of the ways my "piano teacher" affected my life, and it's not all at the piano! When I say that relationships are important, this is where it stems from. I'm not saying that you will have the same sort of relationship with your piano teacher, but there will be a lot of influence both at and away from the instrument.
Even just today, one of my students was dropping off her brother for a guitar camp and she wanted to stay and "help me work". I love being invited to my old student's weddings! I still stay in touch with them, even if it's just through holiday cards each year. This one bit of family and kindness is what our world is. And it's important. Life is short and relationships are important. I know we all stay so busy, but Paula has made me realize that we all need to slow down and enjoy each other and life just a little more.
-James Brett Landrum
You see that look in your child’s face as she watches the neighbor’s family play with their new guitar. They take it on walks, to family gatherings, and sometimes let it stay in the bed at night.
You love the idea of musical family charm, but you worry that your child will not care for it like they swear they will. You don’t want the constant noise late at night, the mess of music all over the floor and in the carpet, or even finding picks in the laundry!
When you choose to adopt an instrument, you are picking up more than just a fun hobby, it is a responsibility to care for a fragile tool that does need maintenance, but thankfully not walks.
I’m primarily the guitar teacher here at Music SO Simple, and guitars require lots of maintenance, but most of it is simple and achievable. Here’s some things that apply to both guitars AND pianos that we should all be aware of:
Guitar specifically requires a few things pianos don’t:
Instruments today are all masterful pieces of skilled craftsmanship, their own pieces of art even without the sounds they make. If you want them to provide years of beautiful music, treat them just as good as you would Rover.
One of the things I look forward to in the summer is starting a new round of Creative Keys group piano class! This class is for students going into kindergarten or 1st grade in the fall who are brand new to the piano. Our summer class is only 8 weeks, but boy, do we learn a lot in those 8 classes!
We like to keep the class small (limited to 5 students) so each student also gets individual attention. The goal being to continue the class through the school year and “graduate” to private lessons next summer. There are some real advantages to starting piano in a group setting at this age versus going right into private study. In this blog, I am going to walk you through what our Creative Keys class is like!
The first few lessons are jam-packed with important stuff! The very first thing we talk about is how all music has a steady beat, and how the beat can be different speeds. In our first class, we practice playing along with the beat of songs with different tempos with rhythm sticks. We start learning about basic rhythm by drawing quarter notes and rests on the dry erase board, and later adding half and whole notes/rests as our lesson book progresses. We also look at different rhythm patterns and practice clapping or playing them on the drum. Since understanding rhythm and steady beat is super important to playing any instrument, we always do some sort of rhythm activity at the beginning of class!
Our first class also introduces finger numbers. We trace our hands in our workbook and label the fingers, which parents can refer to at home when practicing. As our session continues, we review finger numbers each week by playing what I like to call the “fast finger quiz”, where I call out a number and have the students wiggle the correct finger. Knowing finger numbers well is essential for piano success!
Early on, we discover where the high and low notes are on the piano and the groups of black keys (2 key groups and 3 key groups), which is where our first songs begin. We also start ear training with various listening games- whether a note is high or low, if a notes move up or down, and listening for rhythm patterns. Ear training is really important to start right away because it takes a while to develop, and it’s important for students to be able to listen to themselves as they play.
So why start with a group piano class instead of going right into private lessons? I think the main reason is that learning in a group can be way more fun! The social aspect of a group class keeps kids engaged and perhaps provides a less intimidating learning environment. Group class also offers more opportunity for learning with different activities, versus only sitting at the piano like in a private lesson. Having the chance to move around during the lesson is important for very young students- they will not stay focused or be as engaged if they are just sitting on a piano bench for 30 minutes, and chances are, they won’t want to come back for lessons! What’s nice about group class also is that students learn some valuable lessons right off the bat- when they should be listening quietly to another student play and how it feels to play for other people (like in a recital), and how to play as an ensemble (when we all play the same song together).
Our next enrollment period for our group piano class will be in August, and we are in the works of some exciting changes to our group piano program for the fall. Stay tuned!
It’s that time of year when our spring semester is wrapping up and we as teachers reflect on our students’ accomplishments from the past school year. One of the pros to being in our studio is that all of our teachers complete bi-annual evaluations for each and every one of their students. Evaluations are done in May and October: the October evaluation focuses on what goals and objectives are set for each student for the coming year, and the May evaluation assesses whether or not these were achieved.
Evaluations gauge students in four main categories. The first is musicianship, which is subdivided into rhythm, reading skills, creativity, theory, and interpretation/expression. The second category is practicing where we assess consistency, progress, following directions, and thoroughness. Our technical development category has some variations based on the instrument. For piano/guitar students, we evaluate posture, hand position, touch, fingering, articulation, and dexterity, with balance of hands and pedaling added for piano students. Evaluations for voice include posture, breathing technique, vocal articulation, and projection. The last category is performance skills, which is divided into memorization, stage presence, and final polish. We also feature a general comments paragraph at the bottom so that each skill can be explained further if necessary.
Not only are evaluations great for parents and students, but also for teachers: it really allows us to see what is going well and what might need a different approach. Each student is unique with their own set of strengths and weaknesses, so these aid us in making sure we are doing the best job we can to help our students reach their goals. It’s also a great opportunity to look back at previous evaluations and see how far they’ve come!
If there are any concerns about your child’s evaluation, talk with your teacher. We always strive for good communication with our families throughout the year, but sometimes busy schedules can get in the way. This allows us to have a checkpoint and just make sure everyone is on the same page!
At the start of each new school year, we give our students a chance to learn at least 40 pieces. That's a lot of music! In a school year with 33 weeks, that at least one and a quarter pieces each week!! Congratulations to those who have achieved this award by our recital date!
A lot has changed since we originally wrote our blog, “What Makes Us Different From Other Studios” back in November 2016, so I decided that we needed to write an updated version! Besides our Music Buck system and our very own Early Childhood curriculum which we wrote about in the first blog, we’ve got a lot of new things that makes us different than any other studio out there!
Student of the Week is something that we really love about our studio. Each teacher can choose a student who stood out that week in their lesson- or not choose anyone if there was nothing to write home about! Students’ pictures are displayed on our Student of the Week board at the studio. They also get 10 music bucks and a printed certificate, and the best part- our Student of the Week yard sign, which they can sign their name on the back and keep at home for the week!
Our Adult Performance Opportunity called the Champagne Serenade is also new this year. We wanted our adult students to have a casual and fun performance experience to showcase what they’ve been working on, and meet our other adult students! We are really excited to host our first Serenade this Saturday, May 4th.
We get a lot of compliments and positive feedback from our parents about our sense of community, which has always been super important to us: we really strive to make our studio feel like a family. We’ve created an inviting studio space for our students who have lessons there, but we also want our students who have in-home lessons to feel just as much a part of the studio. Each Sunday we send out a weekly email newsletter that includes Students of the Week, upcoming student birthdays and events, our Merry Musicians preschool class, and our latest blog.
Recital Prep/Theory Group Classes are something we’ve added since we opened our studio space. We offer 2-3 group classes before each recital and DMTA festival, so that students can perform their prepared pieces in front of a small group and get feedback from the teacher. As of now, we have a group theory class every February for those students who are taking the Texas State Theory Exam.
We know that there are amazing teachers all over the metroplex, but something that helps us stand out from the rest is the time and care we put into matching students with the right teacher based on personality and learning goals. Before we enroll any new student, we conduct a phone interview with potential families so that we can pair them with a teacher that we think they will mesh well with. The right fit between student and teacher is extremely important for happiness and longevity in lessons!
Last but not least, we are very proud to say that all of our teachers at Music So Simple are Dallas Music Teachers Association (DMTA) members, with three of our teachers serving on the board. We think that being involved in our local association is essential for continuing education, personal growth, and extra opportunities for our students.
We are really proud of the studio we’ve built in the last 3 years, and we will continue to make improvements where needed. We value feedback from all of our families and most importantly we always put people first!