5 Reasons Why It’s a Good Idea to Have a Studio Policy

When I had lessons as a child, no teacher I encountered seemed to have any formal policy when it came to the lessons they offered. It was predominantly pay by cash or cheque on the day of the lesson. I can’t remember any teacher with a formal cancellation policy or suchlike.

Fast forward several decades, and an increasing number of teachers now have formal studio policies and sets of terms and conditions. I’ve had many incarnations of these over the past 18 years, some more successful than others. This move towards more formal policies, is, in my view a good thing, and a reflection of the increasing professionalism of private teachers.

If you’re a private music teacher, you might wonder what the point of having a policy is. Indeed, teachers often tell me they’ve never had any problems and work on a goodwill basis.

The problem is that in my experience, and in the experience of many teachers I know, eventually, the goodwill runs out and the problems begin to appear. It’s at that point that the lack of any formal, written policy becomes a huge barrier.

Scroll down for a free downloadable checklist to help you plan or revise your studio policy.

So, why might it be a good idea to have a studio policy?

1. As a teacher you’re clear what you’re offering

I’ve written previously about the need to, as a teacher, set clear boundaries. How many lessons are you offering? How long are they? What are you charging for these? How are you charging them? When will payments be due? How will you collect payments? If you’re not clear about what you’re offering, your students (and more often than not, their parents) aren’t clear what they’re getting. In these situations it’s easy for misunderstandings to occur.

2. Your students are clear what they’re getting

This is really a natural follow-on from the point above. As your students will be paying you for your services, I think it’s only fair that there is some clarity around what they are entitled to for those lesson fees in return. Technically, if payments are not made, you could withhold those entitlements, but without being clear what these are to begin with, it can all too easily become a grey area.

3. It avoids awkward conversations

OK, it probably doesn’t avoid every awkward conversation, but it helps lay down some ground rules. Possibly the most important policy is for cancellations. Do you require notice, if so, how long? Can missed lessons be made up at a later date? What happens if you, as their teacher, has to cancel? If a query does arise, it’s useful to have these clear policies in place. If you don’t, then you run this risk not only of losing students, but also losing money too.

4. It protects your income

As teachers, we’re all in slightly different financial positions. I know many teachers for whom the money they earn from teaching is supplementary to another income, or to the income of a partner or spouse. That said, there are others of us, like me, for whom teaching makes up the bulk of our entire household income. I have bills to pay, and if my students choose not to pay me, I may end up in a position where I’m not able to meet my financial obligations. It it is easy for a domino effect to ensue. If you have no studio policy and someone doesn’t pay you, there isn’t an awful lot you can do to recover that money.

5. Everyone knows where they stand

Perhaps the final point is a culmination of all the above. By having a studio policy it is clear what your students can expect from you, and it’s clear what you can expect from them. When things go wrong, you have a written policy to refer to. It might not solve every problem you encounter, but it can help. But, be warned, if you have a policy, you must be prepared to enforce it. Of course, hopefully, you won’t need to, but don’t use your studio policy as an empty threat.

When it comes to writing your studio policy, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. You need to consider your own situation carefully when writing your policy. Although someone else’s may look great, it might not suit you.

Downloadable checklist

If you haven’t yet got a studio policy, or you’re looking to revise yours, I have collected together some useful articles and blog posts on Pinterest. Additionally, I have created a checklist of ideas to help you plan or revise your policy. You can download this for free here.


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5 Reasons Why It’s a Good Idea to Have a Studio Policy

4 Ways for Instrumental Teachers to Avoid ‘Resource Overwhelm’

I don’t know about anyone else, but one of my jobs over the summer is to make some attempt to sort and reorganise music, organise resources and generally tidy up my teaching studio. I’d say there are now an overwhelming number of teaching books, resources, websites and methods available, not to mention sheet music targeted specifically at the educational market. It can be completely overwhelming to know where to begin.

What’s clear is that none of us have either the time or the funds to explore or acquire everything that’s out there. It’s just not possible, and in some ways, why would we want to? In this blog post, I want to share some practical actions you can take to help avoid feeling totally and utterly overwhelmed by the resources available.

1. What’s your teaching philosophy?

  • What matters to you most in your teaching?
  • What is the knowledge and skills you’d like your students to develop?
  • Which things would you like your students to experience in their lessons?

These are important questions, yet many teachers feel unsure when it comes to their teaching philosophy. It’s easy to become enveloped in everyone else’s philosophies, and let’s be honest, it requires a certain amount of confidence to develop our own. With the teaching diploma candidates I mentor, this is something the think about a lot as it affects so many other areas.

‘Philosophy’ is a scary word, but start by thinking about what you want your students to get out of their lessons. You may find it helpful to reflect on your own learning – how might both the positive and negative teaching you experienced affect the way you teach now?

When it comes to choosing resources, having an idea of what’s important to you can help to sift the wheat from the chaff. If you believe that your students should be good sight-readers, you may choose a method book which develops note-reading in a pattern- or interval-based way. If you want you students to have good technical skills, you may choose a method book which develops technique from the very first lesson. If, like me, you’d like your students to develop the independent learning skills required to take ownership of their own learning, you may rightly be cautious to choose resources which do not rely too heavily on rote-learning.

Tip: think about what you want your students to get out of their lessons. What is your teaching philosophy? How do you think the resources you currently use facilitate that? Are there gaps to be filled or even resources to be retired?

2. Know your students.

As a teacher, you know your students pretty well. As time passes, you know what makes them ‘tick’, what interests them, and which skills they most want to develop. Inevitably, the books and resources you own, and those you seek to acquire will be in response to the needs of particular students.

There are many excellent resources out there, and hundreds I would recommend. I don’t own them all though. Fantastic as many are, they don’t suit my needs either as a teacher, or those of my students. Simply because I neither own nor use a resource, it is not necessarily a criticism of it. Rather, I have selected resources which best align with my teaching philosophy and with the needs of my own students.

Tip: if you’re looking to buy new books and resources, think about which of your students you will use them with. However wonderful the resource, if you’re struggling to decide which students you might use it with, maybe it’s not for you.

3. Set aside time to explore.

We are all busy, and time is inevitably limited. I suspect I’m not the only one who suddenly finds themselves hunting for a particular resource on the day of the lesson. It’s worth putting aside some time, maybe once a term, to evaluate the resources you already have and to see whether there are any gaps you might need to fill. Maybe you could get together with other teachers to share resources and ideas, either in person or online.

That said, you will never be able to own or use every book or resource which comes to the market, nor should you aspire too. Similarly, don’t discard books and resources because they are ‘old’. Some of the tried and tested approaches are still the most effective. When you evaluate your resources, think about whether those you use still meet the needs of you and your students. If they do, then that’s great, you shouldn’t feel obliged to replace them.

One word of caution though: if you’re using the same books and resources without considering alternatives, then I would encourage you to explore what else might be out there.

Tip: try and set aside time specifically to evaluate the resources you own, and to see whether, in consideration of your teaching philosophy and the needs of your students, whether there are any gaps to be filled. Also, consider whether you should be budgeting for new books and resources. Nicola Cantan has written a blog post here about budgeting in the teaching studio.

4. Do your research.

I’ve written previously about the need to do your own research and I feel quite strongly about this. When we become overwhelmed by the volume of resources out there, this often comes as a result of comparing ourselves to others. We see other teachers using things and we feel that we need to join them in order to keep up. It’s easy to feel that if we’re not using the latest method book or the latest app, we’re not keeping up.

What suits one teacher, and indeed, one student, won’t necessarily suit the next. There have been several instances over the past few years where certain resources have been pushed online as being the ‘must have’ in your teaching studio. They aren’t (or at least, they may not be). They’re just another resource in a long line of resources to hit the market. The temporary excitement will fade and the latest fad will pass. In 18 years as a private music teacher, I’ve seen this time and time again.

Once you’re clear about your teaching philosophy, you’ve considered the needs of your students and you’ve set aside time to explore, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do your research. The internet has made this easier than ever. Not only can you explore books and resources online, but you can ask about and discuss them with other teachers. You can read online reviews, of which there are many (although, you should be cautious here, as not all online reviews are independent). Ultimately though, you need to make the decision. Just because everyone else seems to use a particular resource and even if it has glowing online endorsements, you can still walk away in favour of something else.

Tip: when choosing a new resource, consider, (a) how does it align with my teaching philosophy; (b) how does it meet the needs of my students; and (c) have I researched it independently. Not only will you build a library of books and resources which suit you and your students, but you will probably save money in the process.

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Pinterest graphic: 4 Ways for Instrumental Teachers to Avoid Resource Overwhelm

10 Things I’ve Learnt in 18 Years as a Private Music Teacher

I’ve recently celebrated 18 years as a private music teacher. In that time, there have been many ‘ups and downs’, and after 18 years, I’ve definitely learnt a few things and I’d like to share some of them with you here. If you’re just starting out as a private music teacher, I hope they might offer some reassurance and some food for thought.

1. You need to set boundaries (and stick to them).

When I started teaching in 2001, I taught whenever people wanted a lesson. I was completely at the beck and call of the students/parents themselves, seemingly available 24/7 whenever it suited them. It took a long time for me to realise that actually, they respected me far more for having clear boundaries. Admittedly, you’ll never please everyone, but boundaries do help. Everyone’s boundaries will be different, but here are a few of mine:

  • I have set days and times when I’m available to teach. I don’t accommodate teaching outside of those times;
  • I teach one-to-one for no more than 5.5 hours a day, and for no more than 2.5 hours without a 30-minute break in between blocks of lessons;
  • Breaks and mealtimes are built into my teaching timetable;
  • I don’t teach at the weekend.

2. Some people always pay late.

Dress it up however you like, but no matter how many policies you have, no matter how clearly you think they’re worded, there will always be one or two who think these don’t apply to them. There will always be the ones who pay late, even when the invoice clearly states when payment is due. There will always be one or two who attempt to find a loophole in your cancellation policy. I’ll be honest, these people are few and far between, but, they are incredibly frustrating. That said, by accepting that these people will always exist, it can be just that little bit less stressful when they do rear their heads.

3. Some students won’t practise.

I used to worry about students who didn’t practise. I used to worry a lot. The reality is that progress is inevitably linked to practice, so in some ways, these worries are justified. One thing I’ve come to accept over the past 18 years is that as a teacher, I do not have a monopoly on why students come for lessons. I know that for many of them, the experience and enjoyment of he lesson is the most important thing, and therefore, practice is not a priority. Yes, there are times when a lack of practice becomes problematic, but I don’t think that practising at home is the ultimate pre-requisite of having lessons. Let’s be honest, I don’t know about you, but I did very little practice when I was having lessons as a child!

4. You cannot specialise in everything.

I’ve already alluded to this above because this also comes down to setting boundaries. You cannot be everything to everyone, and that is a fact of life. I’ve written previously on this topic, but it’s OK, and in fact, I think should be encouraged, to be honest about where your skills and interests lie. Over the years, I’ve set some fairly clear boundaries in terms of what I do and don’t teach; for example:

  • I teach singing, but I only specialise in classical and music theatre;
  • I set a minimum age for the subjects/instruments I teach, and I stick to these.

There is a general myth that the self-employed and freelancers are always short of work, and therefore, should take on everything offered to them. Ultimately, this never works.

5. Don’t forget to nurture your own creativity.

This is hugely important, and it’s still something I struggle sometimes to balance. I think it’s easy when you’re teaching to become consumed by the work itself. I think this is especially true when many of us started teaching as a result of music being our hobby. But, if we want to nurture the creativity of others, then we have to nurture our own on music-making and enjoyment too. There have been times for me when the act of teaching has taken away the enjoyment of music itself. Striking a balance is so important. Never lose sight of the reason you learnt an instrument right in the beginning. I often talk about this as well as offering some inspiration in my monthly newsletter Creative Notes which you can sign up for here.

6. You’ll invest in resources you never use.

New books, methods and resources appear on the market at an alarming rate. I’ve blogged about this previously. The advent of the internet has only increased their availability. We’ve all been guilty, at one time or another, of jumping on a bandwagon, buying the latest ‘thing’ which inevitably we use once and which then sits on our shelves gathering dust. I think it’s worth taking a moment to accept we’ll all acquire books and resources in a moment of enthusiasm which ultimately, we won’t use in the longer-term.

7. Music isn’t everyone’s number one priority in life.

As teachers, music is inevitably a huge part of our lives. For many of us, it was a hobby before we made a job out of it. We are passionate about music, and it’s as much an escape as it is a business for us. The same however, does not apply to everyone else, including some of our students. I often come across teachers who are frustrated to the point of exhaustion because they cannot fathom why music isn’t their students’ number one priority. Sometimes, we have to take a step back. Just because music isn’t always our students’ number one priority, it doesn’t mean they are any the less enthusiastic, committed or interested. As I said above, we don’t have a monopoly on why they come for lessons and we should be happy to meet them where they’re at.

8. We are not creating clones of ourselves.

One of the things I love about my job is being able to inspire others in their own music making. That said, I think there’s a fine line here, and I’ve always been absolutely clear that my job isn’t to teach in a way which means my students simply copy what I do. I love being able to share my passion and enthusiasm for music with my students, but I’m also aware that I need to facilitate an environment which supports them to develop their own passions. I am always cautious of terms such as ‘passing on’ musical skills and knowledge. It’s true, passing these on is inevitably part of teaching, but it’s not the same as creating an environment in which students can construct their own knowledge and develop their own skills.

9. There will be times when you wonder why you’re teaching.

I know this might come as a shock to some people I know, but there have been plenty of times over the past 18 years where I’ve considered throwing in the towel and stopping teaching. I think it’s a fact of life that whatever we do, there’ll be times when we feel like that. I think this is often the time when we need to nurture our own enjoyment of music even more. Sometimes, it’s a good thing to go back to where it all started.

10. Cake.

Cake possesses a magical power to make so many things in life OK. It’s also a great way to bring people together and create a sense of community. I shouldn’t say this, but it can often be a good bribe too! Anyone who’s worked with me will know that cake, more often than not, baked by me, features prominently.

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10 Things I've Learnt in 18 Years as a Private Music Teacher

Putting the ‘social’ into ‘social media’

I’ve just been having a clear-out of people I was following on Twitter. Don’t worry, it’s not anyone whose tweets I read and interact with, it’s people who’ve obviously stopped using the platform. Some accounts hadn’t been used for several years and I couldn’t even remember some of the people.

It reminded me that at the very heart of social media is the notion of being ‘social’. I think it’s quite easy to forget that sometimes. I frequently see people and businesses who are new to social media simply using it as a loudspeaker. In this ‘digital age’ it’s easy to get online, and I can see why people are drawn to using social media as a means to promote themselves and/or their business.

Now, let’s be clear, I’m no social media expert and I’ve had no training in social media. I do use it though…a lot! For all its faults, it offers so much. I often joke that I wouldn’t have any friends if it wasn’t for Twitter, and maybe, this isn’t that far from the truth. Perhaps one of greatest joys in life (for me anyway) is meeting people in person whom you know online. I’ve met so many wonderful people over the years, and I count many of them to be my closest friends.

But, if you’re new to social media, it can be daunting. It’s hard to know where to start (and where to stop), so I thought it might be useful for me to share, from my own experience, some tips and ideas to help you navigate social media if you’re just starting out and would like to use it for promoting yourself and/or your business:

ONE

Setting up your account is the easy bit, it’s then the hard work starts. Setting up is easy, but now you have to manage, grow and run your account, and that’s a whole new challenge. Try and do a bit of planning before you make your accounts live;

TWO

Whatever platform you’re going to use, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, use it regularly. Particularly if you’re going to use it for promoting yourself and/or your business, I personally think you need to be doing something most days. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break from it occasionally, and it doesn’t mean you have to be on there 24/7, but I think that a regular presence is necessary;

THREE

Don’t expect people to follow you back just because you follow them. These days, I’m quite picky. I tend to follow people back only if I’m interested in their posts, or they’re clearly interacting (or are going to interact). Trust me, it’s by being social, by chatting to other people and getting to know them, and by interacting with what they post that you’ll acquire followers (and hopefully friends too);

FOUR

Don’t just use social media as a loudspeaker to promote you and/or your business. Some people say that you should apply an 80/20 rule, that is to say only 20% of your content is advertising. On busy platforms such as Twitter, even 20% can be a lot. Take the time to be social first because from experience, I know that will reap rewards further down the line if you want to use social media for promotional purposes;

FIVE

It’s a slow process. It’s a very slow process. I believe that if you really want your social media content and interaction to be high quality, it might take years. I’ve been on Twitter for just over eight years, but it was probably four years before it really took off for me. But again, make the most of the social interaction, because I truly believe this will be the thing which grows your following;

SIX

I’m a firm believer that you and your content should be authentic. Some people choose to use their account just for business, others use it for a mix. I guess that I don’t have that clear divide between work and leisure (I like to think I just have ‘life’) so you get a bit of everything from me. I personally think that’s a good thing because it shows I’m human, and let’s face it, most of us would rather interact with other humans than faceless machines;

SEVEN

Take your time. Think before you post. Remember that even if you go back and delete something you’ve posted, it’s probably already been archived somewhere, and it’s dead easy to screenshot these days. Maybe sticking to the mantra that you shouldn’t post anything online which you wouldn’t say to someone’s face isn’t a bad idea;

EIGHT

Remember that what you post reflects you and/or your business. That includes things you share/retweet/repost. Again, think before you post;

NINE

Don’t correct other people’s spelling and grammar. I try my best to check the spelling and grammar of my posts, but even then, mistakes happen (we’re all at the mercy of autocorrect too!). When the odd mistake creeps through, I really don’t need this pointing out to me (either publicly or via private message). You won’t make friends online by trying to score points;

TEN

Enjoy it! Sometimes, the best way to approach social media is to just enjoy the journey. Don’t expect too much from it, and again, don’t expect too much, too soon. Tread carefully, be yourself and above all, be social.

The Exam-Life Balance

I’m aware that a number of students across the UK are now fast-approaching their GCSE, AS and A-Level summer exams. I know how important these exams are and how stressful they can be. The pressure to succeed in them is immense. As I wrote in a blog post last year, I am, however, a firm believer that music can be a fantastic way to relieve some of that stress and provide a welcome break from both exams and revision.

Each music teacher will approach this differently, but with the above in mind, here are some guidelines  which I’ve offered my own students affected by these exams this summer:

  1. Personally, and I’m sure this will apply to other teachers, my 48-hour cancellation policy still applies: lessons cancelled with less than 48 hours’ notice will be charged for;
  2. We understand that with the stress of the school exams, practice will inevitably be limited (or non-existent). Please don’t let this put you off coming to your lessons though because there’s still lots we can do and enjoy;
  3. If you feel you have an especially busy week of exams coming up, or a heavy revision period, you might want to cancel the lesson that week. Remember though, it’s much better if you can shift the lesson to a different day or time, or maybe double the lesson length the following or previous week rather than missing the lesson entirely. The lesson could be that welcome break and breather you need;
  4. If you’re not in school during the normal school day, why not change your lesson time to a free daytime slot? There are always a variety of free slots available each week. My pupils can see these, book and switch easily just by logging on to MyMusicStaff;
  5. Above all, don’t let school exams eclipse everything you enjoy doing, especially music. There’s so much research extolling the benefits of music in terms of health and wellbeing. This is all the more important in times of stress;
  6. In the past, pupils have asked if they can take a complete break from lessons during the school exam period. I know that other teachers have been approached with similar requests, and sometimes, this ‘break’ can last up to eight weeks. Whilst we understand the pressure to do this, I don’t encourage it as I believe that there are always ways to work around the exams to keep music part of your life. Personally, with quite a long waiting list, I am not able to keep lesson slots open for pupils who wish to take such an extended break over this period.

I wish you all good luck with your exams, and I, like other music teachers, look forward to working with you to achieve a good exam-life balance in such stressful times.