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Revolutionize Your Studio: Using Smartphones in Lessons

June 30, 2016

There’s this widely repeated myth that you’re never more than three feet away from a spider at any given moment. While that causes my skin to crawl, it made me think that we could update the phrase in regards to cell phones. You’re never more than a foot away from a cell phone. And, you can bet that your students are even closer to theirs.

Instead of lamenting this fact, I choose to make use of it at every possible turn. Smartphones give us unparalleled access to technology in the voice studio. How can their ubiquitousness be to my advantage as a teacher and the advantage of my students?

Should I Allow Smartphones in Voice Lessons?

How to Use Smartphones in Voice Lessons

My phone is always out and on top of the piano, face down, because I use it as a timer for each lesson. During our Meet & Greet or first lesson, I always tell my students that I’m never checking my phone and it is always on silent during their lessons. Let me insert a reminder here that every studio should have a clear cell phone policy for both students and parents or guardians. Many teachers have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to those handy devices. Can we find a way, however, to word the policy without losing the benefits of the technology? I like something like this:

Students are encouraged to have their phones with them during lessons but they will remain in silent/airplane mode and out of sight unless being used in the lesson.

Smartphones as Recording Devices

The hands-down best functionality of the smartphone in the studio is the ability to record quickly. I always encourage my students to record their lessons so they can remember the technique exercises we worked on together and why I chose those exercises for their vocal development.

Sometimes students are shy about recording their lessons. I try to break this fear down by creating “practice tracks” with them for some of their technique exercises, scales, and repertoire, as needed. This gets them into the habit of recording in the studio and actually listening to their recordings during practice sessions at home. Once they start seeing/hearing results, they’re hooked.

We will also audio/video record when preparing for auditions so that students have a chance to truly get a sense of their performance and give themselves feedback before the big day.

Here are some other apps that I find useful in the studio and in my own practice.

  • Intonation & Aural Skills

    • Pitch Pipe – “Pitch Pipe Now is a “No Fuss” pitch referencing tool in the keys of C & F (chromatic scale). Just tap the icon and you are ready to set the pitch for your performance. Build chords by choosing any number of Note Buttons.”
    • Tunable – “Tunable is a chromatic tuner, tone/chord generator and metronome that helps you learn to play steadily, in tune, and on beat. Featuring a unique “tuning history” display for visualizing pitch over time, Tunable is the perfect toolkit for professional and beginning musicians.”
    • Cleartune – “Cleartune is a chromatic instrument tuner and pitch pipe that allows you to quickly and accurately tune your instrument using the built-in mic in your iPhone or using an external mic on your 2nd or 3rd generation iPod Touch.”
    • InTune – “InTune is an outgrowth of 25 years of intonation research by Daniel Kazez, cellist and professor of music at Wittenberg University. The concept began as a method to test pitch discrimination, the ability to differentiate pitches that are close together. But then in a research study, Dr. Kazez discovered that students’ listening improved the more often they played – at triple the rate of those who did not.”
  • Rhythm

    • Metronomics – “Meet Metronomics HD, the full-featured big brother of the popular iPhone metronome Metronomics — the perfect practice tool for everyone from beginners to seasoned professionals needing the most complex rhythmic options. The Metronomics apps are the only metronomes that give you complete control over how subdivisions are played — use custom subdivisions (such as 5/7), custom samples, preset patterns, random intervals, sequenced grooves, silent measures, or anything else you can think of to help drive your practice routine.”
    • Ludwig Metronome – “With the Ludwig/Musser Metronome, you can dial in the tempo of the piece you’re practicing or just tap along to let the app find it. Customize the time signature, visual indicator and sound options to your own preferences. You can even change the interface based on your personal
      taste or to match the wrap of your instrument. Best of all, it’s free! “
  • Listening

    • Spotify – “Spotify is the best way to listen to music on mobile or tablet. Search for any track, artist or album and listen for free. Make and share playlists. Build your biggest, best ever music collection.”
    • SoundCloud – “From major artists to upstart indies to your friend’s bedroom recordings, listen to your favorite music and discover new audio that you can’t find anywhere else.”
    • DownCloud Lite – “Search and play your favorite songs on your iPhone/iPod/iPad anytime and anywhere.”
  • Research

    • Composer of the Day – “Read concise, one-sentence biographies of classical composers, one per day, on the composer’s birthday. Learn why Igor Stravinsky was important, what inspired Robert Schumann, what major works Aaron Copland composed, and much more.”
  • Teacher-specific apps that make my life better…

    • Google Drive – “Get started with Google Drive for free and have all your files within reach from any smartphone, tablet, or computer.”
    • Dropbox – “Dropbox is the place for your docs, photos, videos, and other files. Take Dropbox with you and stay on top of your work while you’re out and about. Share files with your team, get feedback on your work, and even make edits right from your iPhone or iPad.”
    • Genius Scan – “Genius Scan is a scanner in your pocket. Quickly scan your documents on the go and export them as JPEG or multi-page PDF files.”
    • Doodle – “Doodle is the world’s most popular group scheduling service. Find the best date for a business meeting, outdoor adventure or your next party with friends more than 2x faster. Stop email ping pong or WhatsApp waterfalls and experience the power of social scheduling for free.”
    • Invoice by Wave – “Free professional mobile invoicing. Create invoices, accept credit cards, and see when invoices are viewed, paid, or overdue, on the go. Made for small businesses, freelancers and contractors.”

What other ways do you use smartphones in lessons? Do you have any apps that you can recommend that make your teaching life better, your students progress, and the studio run smoother? Please share with me in the comments. Or, if you feel like you can squeeze your recommendations into 140 characters, hit me up over on Twitter – @mezzoihnen.


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Revolutionize Your Studio: Teaching Practice Strategies

June 29, 2016

You know I’m not above starting this post with all the corny practice axioms I can muster. However, efficiency is sometimes better than repetition.

When I hear parents tell me, “My child just hates to practice,” I will often assume that they don’t hate it as much as they say. Unfortunately, it is much easier to say, “I hate practicing” than it is to say, “I don’t know how to practice.” It’s more freeing to say, “I don’t want to do this” rather than, “Can you help me?”

How to Teach Your Students to Practice

How to Teach Your Students to Practice

I consider lack of practice to be the symptom of a void in teaching. What do you hear time and again in your Meet & Greets when you ask, “Why do you want to take private lessons?” They always respond, “Well, I really love singing.” Invariably, their parent always backs them up, “She sings all the time. She’s just constantly singing around the house.” If your student is already constantly doing the activity, practicing shouldn’t be a hindrance to her progress.

Practice “Small Wins”

I know what you’re thinking. Students who constantly sing around the house aren’t practicing. Practicing is hard work. We all have students who are incessantly vocalizing. But, they never crack open their repertoire books between lessons. Let’s challenge the notion that practicing has to be hard work. Let’s think of practicing as “small wins.” Collect as many “small wins” as possible and they lead up to “big wins” otherwise known as accomplishing your singing goals. When you ask your students about their goals for the year, it is important to break those down into a list of “small wins” with them so that they understand the work that it takes to accomplish those goals. That is true for every skill level present in your studio.

Show; Don’t Just Tell

Teaching practice strategies is different from simply telling your students different practice strategies. It is one thing for me to tell a student to practice with a metronome. It is very different to show them how it works, use it in the studio together, and teach them how to practice with it on their own. Once I take away any misunderstanding of how the practice strategy works, then the student is much more capable of trying it on their own. I know this seems simplistic, but it is incredible how many teachers “tell instead of show” when it comes to practice techniques. For maximum return on investment when teaching practice strategies, employ Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience.

I highly recommend making your own list of practice strategies. Then, write them out on popsicle sticks and keep them in a jar in your studio. Ask your students to randomly draw a practice strategy as often as possible. Here is a list of strategies to get us started:

Notes and Rhythm Learning

  • Read over the score silently before you begin. Look for patterns.
  • Lip buzz/tongue trill the vocal line for mapping the breath over the course of the phrase. Mark the breaths sooner rather than later.
  • Solfège – fixed or movable do, la-based minor, etc. Conduct the piece while you sing the vocal line. (Identify key signatures.)
  • Clap and count the rhythm out loud. (Identify time signatures.)
  • Countsing the vocal line. Sing the pitches of the vocal line and replace the words with counting.
  • Clap and count the rhythm with a metronome.
  • Countsing the vocal line with a metronome.
  • If any of these rhythms are difficult, use that practice stand-by of slowing down and incrementally speeding it back up to tempo.
  • One way to practice ornaments or particularly florid lines is to break it down and sing each pitch on its own number. Then, see if you can break the whole line into smaller groupings and string them together. This cuts down on losing steam or getting lost in the middle of the line.
  • Individual vowel – sing the vocal line on [du] or [to] in an effort to practice consistent resonance.
  • Sing the individual vowel with different articulations such as staccato or legato.
  • Vowels only. This one is tricky and takes time. But, it offers a huge payoff when added to regular practice. Only sing the vowel sounds of each word in the text. No consonants.
  • Sing on the text.
  • Conduct the piece while you sing the vocal line.
  • Make several audio recordings of yourself. Listen for different elements each time. Take notes.
  • Finally, listen to someone else’s recording.

Text-Specific

  • Write in the IPA.
  • Write in a word-for-word translation.
  • Speak the text poetically.
  • Speak the text in rhythm.
  • Sprechstimme the text. Or, “sing-song” text. Speak the text in a sing-song voice that is close to the actual pitch of the vocal line. Listen for consistent resonance throughout the phrase. Think of this as the link between speaking the text and singing the text.
  • “Text Three Ways”
    • Write out the text word-for-word while looking at the text in the music.
    • Practice writing the full text from memory.
    • Just write the very first word of each phrase (textual or musical) from memory.
      • Now, practice singing the whole piece from these handwritten pages.
    • “Text Three Ways” is one of my favorite memorization techniques as well.

Intonation

  • Practice playing your pitches at the piano.
  • Practice with a tuning fork only.
  • Practice singing the intervals between pitches. For example, sing the words “minor sixth” as you vacillate between the two troublesome pitches.
  • Practice against a drone pitch. Have a consistent “home pitch” for a section of the piece? Set your tuner app to play a drone (or sustain) on that pitch and sing the section while tuning each interval to the drone.

Body Technique – AKA facial expression, eye contact, and body language

  • Speak the text with different body language to emphasis the character of the text and the musical line.
  • Write in different emotion cues to the score.
  • Sing a memorized vocal line while practicing keeping your eye contact steady or looking at different fixed points. Or, practice starting over every time you look at the floor.
  • Take a video while practicing. As you watch it, take notes of what happened and what didn’t happen. Give yourself feedback for the next run-through.
  • Practice playing off-type with your body technique. If the text/music is happy, can you practice giving an opposite emotion with your body? How does that help or hinder the performance? Can you practice layers of meaning?

Troubleshooting Tough Sections

  • Chaining – this is our “play a part and add little by little” practice suggestion. Start with the few notes that you can sing confidently. One by one, add another note to the phrase until you feel confident singing the whole phrase.
    • One way to practice chaining for singers to use the forwards/backwards devise on solfège. Let’s say that the phrase is Do, Mi, Sol, La, Re. You would then sing: Do, Do-Mi-Do, Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do, Do-Mi-Sol-La-Sol-Mi-Do, Do-Mi-Sol-La-Re-La-Sol-Mi-Do.
  • Isolation is pretty self-explanatory. When you know that there is a section of the music that gives your trouble every time, that is the section that deserves the most practice attention. Use some (or as many as possible) of the other practice strategies listed above to conquer that trouble spot.
  • Ask for help in making a practice track.

It is my goal for this list to simply be a jumping off point. I would love for you to add to this list. What other practice strategies are a go-to in your studio or in your own practice sessions? Got a practice suggestion that fits into 140 characters? Tweet it to me over at @mezzoihnen.


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  • Asking for feedback.
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Revolutionize Your Studio: Teach Your Singers to Sightread

June 6, 2016

I am lucky to teach in an area where music education is highly valued and most of the area schools have robust music, and even more specifically choral, programs. The students in these programs are often required to take private voice lessons to be in the top choirs at their schools. Rhythm-clapping, tonal memory, solfege sightreading, a cappella major/minor/chromatic scales, and one repertoire selection are standard audition expectations for these top curricular choirs. This is an excellent musical environment for my voice students, but it also means that it can get quite competitive come audition time. That also means there is a thirst and desire for these skills in particular.

Revolutionize Your Studio: Sightreading

Why It’s Important to Teach Voice Students to Sightread

To get better at sightreading you actually have to do it regularly. I always joke with other singer friends that the best aural skills class I ever took were my church jobs. And, I got paid to be there! But truthfully, sightreading through solfege was a skill that I learned much earlier and served me well by helping me land many gigs simply because I could pick music up quickly. Excellent sightreading skills mean that you do not have to be taught the music by someone else. You are able to be an independent learner.

Identifying Patterns & Intervals

Solfege is a system that helps us identify musical patterns particularly through familiarity with intervalic singing. By attaching labels to each tone in the scale (i.e. do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do and the variations for chromatics) singers are able to gain some of the same connection to pitches that instrumentalists gain by attaching fingerings to their figures. Instead of feeling lost in a sea of unrelated pitches, singers can use this knowledge to understand common phrase shapes. I often tell my singers to look for goal posts, such as “do, mi, sol, mi, do,” to aid them through a section. I also find that this has the added benefit of helping my students do better during vocal jazz improvisation. Because they are more familiar with common motifs, they are able to call on them during an improv solo.

Theory During Voice Lessons

Sightreading is my voice teacher equivalent to “hiding vegetables in their food.” When teaching sightreading, my students and I always follow a pattern because I want them to internalize this method before they start singing a piece of music. We begin with, “what key are we in?” Since we sightread each week, this means they are practicing key signatures and recalling the key signature rules each week. The books I use work through key signatures systematically starting with C major then going on to G major and F major and so on and so forth.

The second question, “Do we start on Do?”, gives us a chance to identify letter names on the staff and talk about tonic and dominant relationships. I teach my students moveable do solfege first. Then, we work on la-based minor which is what they tend to use in the area schools. Once my students are comfortable with the various chromatic solfege labels, we’ll use those for minor keys. Finally, I teach them fixed do to work on thorny atonal works or just for another way to think through a phrase.

The third point before we begin singing is to “look for steps and skips.” The entire first book we work through in the studio is simply step-wise motion but this embeds the idea of quickly looking through the musical phrase before singing it.

Finally, I ask them, “What is the time signature?” and after they answer they are required to explain what that time signature means. So, in the span of a few short minutes during voice lessons we cover: key signatures, identifying letter names on the staff, tonic and dominant relationships, conjunct and disjunct motion, and time signatures.

Default Vocal Tone

We jump into solfege sightreading right after technique exercises as a way to drive home technical concepts. In my studio, we talk a lot about letting our ‘default vocal tone’ be our best tone quality. It is important to me that my students demonstrate their best vocal tone throughout an audition experience and not develop a ‘sightreading sound’ versus a ‘real sound’ or other nonsense. It is also my intention that they retain some of the sensations and feelings of our technical exercises while I’m challenging their thought process during solfege. This provides measurable improvements to all areas of solo vocal singing.

Resources

In my studio, we begin by working our way through the Samuel W. Cole and Leo R. Lewis Melodia – A Course in Sight-Singing Solfeggio. The First Series in Book I works through “One-part diatonic exercises in step-wise melody – G and F clefs – All major keys to B and to D-flat inclusive. All representations of notes and rests of whole-beat length and multiples thereof – Elementary presentations of the divided beat.” Even if I have more skilled singers, this is a great place for us to start because of the common initial trepidation to sigthreading.

After that, it’s, “Hello Ottman!” You thought you got away from these books once you left school, but now it’s time to put these crazy expensive sight singing books back to good use — on your students! When we’re ready to start practice larger interval jumps during sightreading, I use the Robert W. Ottman and Nancy Rogers Music for Sight Singing.

Skill Building is Confidence Building

Sightreading is such a beneficial skill that is often overlooked in voice lessons in this manner. I truly believe that building confidence is all about building skill. Part of my pedagogy for young singers is to pack as much skill building into a lesson as possible while still making it fun and positive. The students notice a difference, their parents notice a difference, and their school teachers notice a difference. That just makes my day.


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in performance: Kettle Corn New Music featuring Cantata Profana

June 1, 2016

In a program that spans the course of 110 years, Kettle Corn New Music and Cantata Profana also spanned the gamut from grief to reverie and humor to playfulness in their May 27th performance at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York. Featuring a roster of stand-out performers, their Alice in Wunderbar program was clearly devoted to exquisite music-making.

New York: Kettle Corn New Music presents: Cantata Profana

New York: Kettle Corn New Music presents: Cantata Profana

Alice in Wunderbar

Three Epitaphs and Három Weöres-dal

A highlight of the evening was the world première of Alex Weiser’s Three Epitaphs. Weiser commented to the audience that, “each of the songs is a lyrical oasis in the middle of a larger work.” The players were scattered around the room: flute, oboe, and clarinet to the right; voice, piano, and percussion at the front; and strings in the back of the hall. Oscillating bird call sounds in the winds commingled with the rising string lines providing a compelling realm of sound on which the voice could provide moments of warmth, glow, and nostalgia. Kate Maroney‘s round, complex voice suited these texts and the composition elegantly. Maroney, joined by pianist Lee Dionne, also gave a fully expressive performance of György Ligeti’s Három Weöres-dal (Three Weöres Songs). Each of the three pieces had unique character whether it was from managing the flux between bright and darker sounds or matching the percussive quality between voice and piano excellently.

Akrostichen-Wortspiel

The final piece of the evening, Unsuk Chin’s Akrostichen-Wortspiel (Acrostic Wordplay), was a pleasantly surprising vehicle for sensitive ensemble work. Jessica Petrus’s vocal work in this performance was impressive. She demonstrated a gorgeous sotto voce sound, at times, that she used to effortlessly float and hang a tone on the air before diving headlong into a crush of syllables. She continued to use that effortless tone to match stratospheric pitches timbre to timbre with her ensemble colleagues.

Schoenberg Chamber Symphony, Op. 9

The first piece of the program also deserves special mention here. Arnold Schoenberg’s Kammersymphonie No. 1, Op. 9 arranged by Anton Webern was a dream in legato playing offered by Jesse Han (flute), Bixby Kennedy (clarinet), Jacob Ashworth (violin), Hannah Collins (cello), and Lee Dionne (piano). There was an understated maturity inherent in the opening accented lines of the Chamber Symphony without being heavy-handed. This attention to musical detail is a welcomed indication of graceful playing and ultimate care for the repertoire that they have programmed as an ensemble. However, nothing gives an auditory signal that “you’ve lost my attention” like a room full of crinkly, cellophane popcorn bags which unfortunately coincided with some beautiful musical moments. The gesture of the popcorn is wonderful and audience experience-driven, but it would be ideal if it didn’t also detract from the performance.

The devotion of the musicians to the honest and nuanced performance of the repertoire, well-chosen by the leadership, makes the partnership between Cantata Profana and Kettle Corn New Music a vital addition to one’s concert calendar. It seems that both will be announcing upcoming season information soon. For more, click through to CantataProfana.com or KettleCornNewMusic.com.

Revolutionize Your Studio: How to Release a Student

May 17, 2016

Did you know that there is Sybaritic Singer content that is exclusive to the email list I affectionately call, “The Sybaritic Faithful”? Well, there is. If you are on the list, then you would have already received today’s post in your inbox. If not, you may want to take a moment to sign up or update your settings now! Click on the image below to go to the sign-up form. After you enter your information, make sure to select “Sybaritic Singer” under the “Pick Your News!” heading.

How to Release a Student from Your Studio

Revolutionize Your Studio: Ritualizing Your Lessons

May 16, 2016

Twyla Tharp has an excellent section of her book, The Creative Habit, in which she describes her morning ritual and how important rituals can be to living one’s most creative life. The famous choreographer and creator writes that she originally thought that her morning ritual was going to the gym and the workout that she completed there. Then, she gave it another thought. It wasn’t so much the gym and what she finished there but the simple act of her getting in the cab each morning. Once she did that, she was ready to take on the world.  That simple ritual of getting in the cab to go to the gym signified that she was starting her day. We can take something from this concept and begin to ritualize lessons for our students to maximize their musical knowledge retention and application.

“It wasn’t the gym itself; it was simply getting in the cab.”Tweet:

Creating Lesson Rituals | Sybaritic Singer

Creating Music Lesson Rituals

I have a few lesson rituals that I want to outline as a catalyst for thinking about the best rituals for your particular studio. Just like the anchor statements in the Free Fifteen Minute Meet & Greet, practicing these rituals in every lesson, with every student, helps to solidify some key points without having to explicitly explain them each time.

Rituals solidify key points without explicitly explaining them each time.Tweet:

Ask About Them

This is an overly simplistic point but I have to include it here. I start every single lesson by asking my student, “Miss Violet, how the heck are ya? What is new in your life?” They usually look at me and respond, “Good. Nothing.” To which I say, “Ah, well, I don’t believe that. Who did you talk to today? What did you read? Anything fun happen today?” Then, they usually laugh and provide incredible responses about science fairs or gossiping friends and even first jobs. Because our lesson times are short, I try to keep this section brief but it is important for me to make my students understand that I care about them as whole people and that I don’t assume this is the only thing going on in their lives. I am an adult that they can trust and who listens to them. This quick confab helps open my students to the next ritual — setting intentions.

Why I always ask, “how the heck are ya? What is new in your life?”Tweet: Why I always ask,

Set Intentions

To be honest, there are quite a few “practice” concepts and conventions that I’ve openly stolen from yoga and used in my own studio. Setting intentions is by far my favorite. Promptly after our catch-up, I ask for two intentions. Setting two intentions is quite deliberate. Students usually know exactly what the first one is. Then, they stretch themselves a bit to figure out what the second thing is that they really want out of lessons that day.

I always explain to my students, “Now, these can be anything from working on specific technical issues to personal things like ‘feeling happy’ to repertoire requests. These are your intentions for our time together today. I know what I want to work on with you. This is your chance to tell me what you want to accomplish.” After too many lessons in which students drop an I-have-an-audition-on-Thursday bomb five minutes from the end of the lesson, you make sure you specifically ask at the beginning.

Setting intentions allows you to build loops into your lessons.Tweet: Setting intentions allows you to build loops into your lessons. | #SybariticSinger | http://ctt.ec/0uof0+

Also, this gives me a chance to provide loops during the lesson. “You told me that ‘building confidence’ was one of your intentions,” I say, “This technical exercise is specifically designed to make your vocal tone sound more confident.” It reinforces that you are helping them work toward their specific goals, while building on your overall pedagogical goals.

Ritualizing Technique Exercises

Finally, I always start voice lessons with technical exercises and I always start with the same technical exercise. I ritualize our descending, five pitch hum so that students are able to jump into the frame of mind of voice lessons right away. We do the exact same thing so that we let it become our chance to take an inventory of what’s going on that day. Students get used to checking in with their breathing and resonance from the get-go.

I encourage them during this exercise to think back on the ideas that they remember from our last few lessons. Furthermore, I prompt them to turn their attention inward and really focus on the sensations. Especially for younger or beginning voice students, building an awareness of singing sensations is an important principle and often brand new to them.

Demonstrating Habits of Success

Which rituals help streamline your objectives in the studio?Tweet: Which rituals help streamline your objectives in the studio? | #SybariticSinger | http://ctt.ec/Z06ef+

My students may not realize that I am building rituals with them or teaching them how to set their own goals for lessons. But, it is a habit that I would like to pass on to them even if it is totally subconscious. Before you begin anything, you will accomplish more if you give yourself one or two objectives. What types of rituals do you enjoy passing on to your students? Which rituals help streamline your objectives in the studio? Which rituals do you have for teaching that go beyond the actual in-studio time? I would love to know your thoughts. Please comment below or share on your favorite social media platform. You can always tag me @mezzoihnen. Or, use #SybariticSinger.

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guest post: How to Hire a Music Teacher…Like a Pro

May 14, 2016

My best friend Jessica writes a new blog called “It’s Jess Right” which is specifically geared toward the Military Spouse and Homeschooling communities but basically just covers everything that Jess finds interesting in the world. Want to know which gray paint color is the best? It’s Jess Right. Want to know why textile art is a fantastic representation of feminist art? It’s Jess Right. So when she turned her savvy to writing about how to hire a music teacher, I thought it would be a great opportunity to feature her writing here on the Sybaritic Singer. Reading about the process from the other side can help tremendously as we seek to Revolutionize Our Studios.


On Hiring a Music Teacher

Even in a homeschooling family, the education of your child still takes a village. But when it’s time to call in the cavalry, you can’t rely on a school board or rating agency to vet those tutors for you – and since there’s really no one to complain to if you choose poorly, it’s important to get it right!

It's Jess Right | Hiring a Music Teacher... Like a Pro

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK

Word of mouth is the best way to find a lead on outside help. It can be tough to find someone if you’re new to an area or looking for a difficult instrument, but you shouldn’t be shy when asking around. Nobody will ever be offended that you valued their opinion.

If your neighbor’s kid is taking trumpet lessons, don’t be afraid ask the trumpet teacher for an oboe recommendation. Most musicians have worked with a lot of other musicians and they know who has a good reputation.  

DON’T BE AFRAID TO JUDGE SOCIAL MEDIA

Once you get a lead the first thing you should do is the obvious – Google them. You’re bringing a stranger into your children’s lives – and it’s very, very important you surround your kids with adults that show good judgment. Learning an instrument is difficult! I expect a music teacher to teach my children discipline and how to deal with frustration. So judgment matters.

When I Google a tutor, the search tells me that the teacher cares enough about their professional reputation to take down their Cabo photos off Facebook and keep cussing at politicians out of their Twitter feeds. I want to see a reasonable social media presence, a professional website and I want to see a LinkedIn page. These things might not scream “free-thinking artist” but I’m not hiring for extras in my beatnik play and I’m not looking for drinking buddies.

FIRST CONTACT

First contact sets the tone for the relationship. A teacher’s email address should be appropriate – not 420bongripper69@yahoo.com. A teacher should respond to your emails promptly, and ask questions about your aims and schedule. They should describe their rates and studio policies, including cancellation deadlines and rescheduling system. The more thorough they are, the more you know they have experience working with difficult situations which is important – because eventually a difficult will situation happen.

DISCUSS RATES & DISCOUNTS EARLY

A lot of homeschooling families don’t consider that their scheduling flexibility can be a bargaining chip. If you can schedule lessons during off-peak hours (weekday mornings and afternoons), you might reasonably be able to receive a 5-15% discount.

This is not something I insist on, but there is no harm in politely asking – if I am politely declined, then I accept that and move on.

KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES

Families have different priorities aside from quality of teaching and it’s important to know what yours are and express them clearly. One of the disadvantages to homeschooling is that outsiders know we don’t have a hard-and-fast schedule, and some homeschooling families are laissez-faire when it comes to scheduling. We are not.

I let teachers know right away that in our family, punctuality is a priority. I don’t cancel appointments last-minute or ask favors that inconvenience teachers. I also expect that teachers respect my time. If teachers show up late, especially in the first few lessons, I can expect that we will have more problems as time goes on and the relationship becomes more comfortable. Lateness also sets a bad example for children as they learn to associate creativity with sloppiness.

UNDERSTAND THEIR PHILOSOPHY

Find out their teacher’s general teaching philosophy. For example, our recent guitar teacher explained his focus was on classical technique but with an emphasis on learning songs. He asked what music genres the boys liked, and used those suggestions as the basis for lessons.

The boys didn’t even realize that their love of Greenday was being used to teach them how to shift the same three chords over and over again. But man, can they play G, C, and D!

OUTSOURCE YOUR CURRICULUM

I’m not a music professional, but I have access to one and I want them to design my curriculum to meet the goals they set. We asked our guitar teacher to spend the last 5 minutes of every lesson creating a daily practice schedule. Since music is a 45-minute subject at our house, the schedule he left was usually 10 minutes scales, 20 minutes new or favorite songs, and 15 minutes composition and notation. Not only did it ensure the boys were ready for the lessons, there was no arguing about it later.

“Can’t help you kiddo. Teacher said so…” I would say sadly as I hid in my bedroom, watching Kimmie Schmidt.

YOUR TEACHER’S CONNECTIONS ARE IMPORTANT

Playing an instrument is a lot like playing tennis. You can practice your technique by yourself, but it’s in performance with others that you develop your skills. Always ask what studios, organizations, and youth bands your teachers are involved in. It’s possible that your child could eventually act as a sub in at a church performance, or play “4th guitar” at an open mic night. Your teacher should be tuned into the local music community and be able to turn those relationships into an advantage for your student.  

PROFESSIONAL USUALLY MEANS WORKING

Finally, securing the best possible teacher often also means willing to be flexible. The best music teachers are usually working musicians as well: respect that! Ask your music teacher what their set engagements are – do they have religious services on Sundays? A regular jazz night on Mondays? Do they record on Saturday mornings? Is there a summer touring schedule you need to be aware of? Let your teacher know that you expect them to notify you as soon as possible and then try and be flexible yourself.

Part of teaching your kids to respect the life of music is to respect that most musicians are freelance entrepreneurs. Missing an opportunity can affect their career far more than it inconveniences you to delay your schedule.

Educating a child takes a village, so make sure you fill your village with the right villagers. And then, be nice to them.


It's Jess RightJessica Atkins worked in the fashion industry for over a decade before devoting her life to homeschooling. She now writes a homeschooling and lifestyle blog, It’s Jess Right, where she blogs about education issues, family life, cooking and travel.

Follow her blog at www.ItsJessRight.com or on Facebook.

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