Monthly Archives: February 2015

So What Makes a Piano Teacher “Business-Savvy”?

Setting up a business that will thrive in today’s unique arts environment and with today’s extraordinarily diversified students takes strategy and insight. Given the recent advancements in the education of today’s music pedagogues,  it can be frustrating for new graduates to feel that they lack some of the most vital skills and resources to implement what they have learned in a independent studio business in a profitable and business-savvy way.

When it came to setting up my own teaching studio, most of the knowledge that lead to my success in the industry didn’t come from a pedagogy program or from my many great artist-teachers in academia. It came in the form of straightforward matter-of-fact guidance during a brief period of mentorship with a brilliant business-minded piano teacher. It was this teacher’s way of running his studio, setting rates, writing policies, advertising, managing the day-to-day interactions with his clients, establishing expectations and boundaries, and cultivating respect from his students and their families that changed my perspective on independent teaching as a potentially profitable and prestigious profession. Even more extraordinary, my mentor had no formal business training and only minimal music education, yet he boasted a series of thriving piano teaching businesses, first in New Orleans and then again in Boulder, when he was displaced by Katrina.

Inspired by his “tricks-of-the-trade” approach, I launched my own teaching business from zero to 40-students, and went from making a couple hundred to $1,000 a week, in less than three months time. Over the next several years, I would learn to cultivate the skills needed to sustain my growing business, begin to consciously crafting my image and reputation, and start to incorporate greater efficiency into my business operations. The following years taught me how to sustain and grow my studio, how to communicate with and ensure the satisfaction of students and their families, and how to achieve greater efficiency and organization, and begin to strategize about the future of my business.

It is this combination of business-smarts and practical guidance that we want to share with the readers of this blog. One of our primary goals is to demonstrate how entrepreneurial skills can be integrated in an industry-specific way to the piano teaching business. The language and tools of the business world can seem overwhelming or unrelated to what we piano teachers do every day. We want to make the methods for applying business strategy and an entrepreneurial mindset accessible and show you when and where this content is relevant to the day-to-day operations of running your teaching studio.

But they don’t teach you that in music school. That’s where this blog come in. We hope you can use what you learn here to set up a business that will thrive in today’s unique arts environment and with today’s extraordinarily diversified students, and do so with confidence that you are employing the most useful strategies and practical insight we can dig up.

~Pamela

What do you make?

What do you make?

A simple question. Probably not one you want to go around asking people on a regular basis if you want to maintain healthy friendships and relationships. But still, a simple question.

That question can be a loaded one, and difficult to define when you are self employed, as independent piano teachers are. On this blog, we will provide resources to aid piano teachers in managing personal finances and gaining a deeper understanding of how to be successful financially, while maintaining a studio that you are proud of.

As a former piano teacher & soon-to-be-MBA, I look back on my training in music school and am struck by one thing in particular: the omission of any real career planning for music school graduates.  There were certainly hours upon hours of practicing, rehearsing, studying, writing papers, performing, attending studio class, teaching, observing, accompanying, performing some more… And I feel I earned a solid education.  I completed my masters with an in-depth understanding of piano repertoire, teaching techniques for all levels of piano study, ability to teach class piano, ability to provide an in-depth 12-tone analysis of Schoenberg (debatable how useful this was), solid sight-reading ability, accompanying skills, technical skills gained from mastering etudes upon etudes, and lots of experience figuring out how to successfully deal with performance anxiety.  My professors were wonderful.

However, I had virtually no plan on how to support myself.  As a TA, I had been fortunate to get my school tuition and expenses subsidized. I knew I wanted to teach and perform once I finished.  But, I had not developed an understanding of how to make that a feasible career path.  The program was so demanding that I did not have this figured out by the time I graduated.  I lived with 2 roommates in a small house. I did not have an adequate space to teach out of.  I taught at a local music school, but did not have nearly enough students to cover living expenses.  That summer after I completed that hard-won Masters of Music, I found myself learning yet another new skill: latte-making. I worked as a barista my first summer after completing my masters degree to pay the bills.

I eventually was able to support myself solely from my musical pursuits. I taught close to 40 students.  I played weekly at a Unitarian Universalist church. I played for choirs at public schools. I accompanied student recitals. I played for weddings and funerals and office Christmas parties.  I played for high school productions of Chicago.  I played at retirement homes. I played on the broken upright piano on the Pearl St. mall sometimes during the summer just for fun.

After a few years, I decided to return to school to learn some fundamental business skills and open up more doors in my career. Hence, my pursuit of an MBA.  I now enjoy truly rewarding work in Market Development at a medical device company.

So, “why would this person want to spend time on a blog about piano teaching?” you may ask.

I am convinced that piano teachers are better today than at any other time.  Thanks to countless pedagogues and academics, there is an unrivaled wealth of resources that are available to modern piano teachers.  So many have worked tirelessly to develop teaching repertoire, techniques, and curriculums to further the field of piano pedagogy.

And yet, piano teachers consistently accept a rate of pay that is at or near the poverty line.  Why that disconnect?

We recognize that the most important thing as a piano teacher is developing your craft and continuing to grow as a musician.  First and foremost, it is important to become a high-quality pianist and teacher.  We just want to provide some modern frameworks and tips that can help you communicate the value of what you are offering and help you to become successful both in your teaching, as well as in your financial goals. We hope you find something useful here!

~Kirsten