Summer Retention Strategies to Keep Your Studio Thriving!

If you teach lessons in the summer, you already know how valuable they are for both you and your students.   For students, even just a few summer lessons can be the difference between those who retain what they have learned and those who seem to have to start over in the fall.  For teachers – well, we can still have some income that we can count on (yay!).  Also, summer can be the time for focusing on aspects of music that may have been difficult to fit in during  the school year (jazz, blues, pop, etc).  Summer is also a fabulous time to focus some extra time on theory!    

TCW Resources for ThePianoMag blog

If this is your first year of teaching over the summer, kudos!  You are going to discover how rewarding it can be. However, you will also discover that it can be challenging to convince students (parents) that summer lessons are important. Here are some student retention strategies that have worked for me during the lean summer months:


  • Require all students to take a specified number of lessons to maintain their Fall placement

I’ve learned that unless I require a specified number of lessons to maintain fall placement, families are less likely to take summer lessons.  I offer 9 weeks of lessons of which students choose 7 to attend.  My last summer week is mid July. I resume lessons the last week of August, giving my students (and me) over a month vacation. 

Since I require payment for the entire summer term (7 lessons) up front; my income is secured for June and July.  August begins the fall term, allowing for no missed income.  Summer is usually the only time I take new students.  If a family opts to not take over the summer, they no longer have placement.


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The Grand Scale Project

I am a “project person.”  I like to do discrete projects so I can ultimately be done with them.  (Yes, yes.  It’s the process... No it’s not!  I want the finished product and the sooner the better.)  Grand projects are very appealing.  The thought of something like a long life of working at the same job is profoundly depressing to me.  So, in my mind, I have to break something like learning to play the piano, one of those practice-every-day-for-the-rest-of-your-life kinds of things, into do-able projects.  For example, each one of my pieces is a discrete project separate from the rest.  Sight-reading is a bit different as it is hard to conceive of it in project terms so I just do a little bit every day.  Learning and playing scales, on the other hand, has inspired the Grand Scale Project.  The learning of it will go in the following steps.


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Confessions from the Practice Room

The article “Making practice records work” in the May/June 2013 issue of Clavier Companion discusses the hotly debated issue of practice incentives. We thought we'd ask our editors to confess their practicing habits when they were growing up, and here's what they had to say...

On practice logs

When I was young I loved to play the piano but I can’t say it was really practicing. I do recall that sometimes my mother would have to ask me to stop though! So, I guess the “time” was spent if not the “mind”. On the other hand, I also played the clarinet and never practiced it. I confess to filling in the practice records and forging my mother’s signature. Maybe this has something to do with my lingering doubts about practice records. –Craig Sale

My teachers never gave me any strategies for practicing.  I just kept hammering away at the wrong stuff until it was or wasn't fixed! My undergrad. professor always wrote down my number of hours per week, but that's the closest thing to a journal I kept.  Pretty amazing I survived, huh! –Rebecca Johnson


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Swimming With Sharps

When I last left you, I had embarked upon my journey across the Wide Piano Sea and had found it full of...sharps!  Eeeek!  It’s a good thing that I knew when I set out what the payoff is for the kind of effort I had to put in.  It was a long and arduous path to merely learn the notes and I am only now, about fifteen weeks later, able to play through and make some music.  I remember feeling tremendously thick headed (a sure sign of neuronal growth) and repeatedly had to dial down my intellectual standards and expectations (e.g. Learning five measures of Bach in a two week period became a victory).  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. 

A lesson learned when I was teaching myself to paint proved helpful.  (I cut my teeth on portraits because everyone assured me they were the hardest things to do—something I would disagree with now but that is another subject.)  I asked an artist friend, the husband of my cello teacher, how I should enlarge and transfer my preparatory drawing onto the canvas.  His response: “Any way you can.”  He meant that quite literally—anything from gridding it out to projecting it or making an enlarged photocopy and tracing it.  I thought these methods were somehow cheating—that the only way was to draw it again or else risk being a fraud.  “So,” he said, “You have already made the drawing once, why waste your time doing it again?  The point is you are making a painting, not a drawing.”  This was revolutionary to me at the time and I decided, in the midst of all those sharps, to apply it to the piano.  See that E#?  If it helps to initially call it an F natural, even to write F natural on the page and completely misspell the chord, do it!  The point is, I was not spelling chords—I already know the scale of C# doesn’t have an F natural—I was learning notes and I had to do it any way I could.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  I look at my music now and the fossilized remnants of my learning process in the form of marks on the page strike me as both hilarious and profound.


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Wellness and the Intermediate Student: What is the Music Teacher’s Job?

Lesley McAllister's book The Balanced Musician: Integrating Mind and Body for Peak Performance is featured in the Closer Look section of our May/June 2014 issue, and we are thrilled that Lesley agreed to write a post for ThePianoMag blog on the topic of wellness and the intermediate student. Enjoy!


Your sixteen-year-old student, Emily, muddles through the Beethoven Sonata that has been memorized for a month, struggling to focus and make the corrections that you request. Eventually you are forced to ask why she is having so much trouble. As Emily explains that she was up all night studying for an exam, you find yourself taking time out of the lesson to discuss the importance of sleep, only to find that your anxious student is packing way too many activities into each day.

At the next lesson, a fourteen-year-old student slumps at the piano, pounding away at his Tcherepnin Bagatelle with his shoulders tensed and high in the air. As you gently place your hands on his shoulders to help him relax and get a better sound, he argues, “but I don’t feel tense!”

What do these two situations have in common? These are both typical situations with the intermediate student: the teenager struggling to find an identity, often lacking in kinesthetic awareness of his changing body, and just beginning to develop the maturity for such life skills as goal setting and time management. Even college students struggle with these skills as they pursue study away from their parents’ watchful eyes. Note that none of these issues are essentially what music teachers have been trained to teach, or what they are paid to teach; yet, we repeatedly find ourselves having to address them if we want to do our jobs well. This “extra work”—the kind that is muddy and uncertain and needs a different approach with every student—is the kind that separates the good teachers from the best ones.

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