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13 minutes reading time (2634 words)

Yes, technology can simplify your hectic teaching life!

It's true! Check out the solutions from your colleagues that follow. There is no one approach that is the best one for all teachers. If you read on, I know you'll be impressed with how creative good teachers can be with the business side of their teaching lives!

Automating the paperwork and focusing on teaching

by Anna Fagan

Casey bounces into my studio on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, lugging a bag of music that's bigger than she is and chattering a mile a minute about how much fun she's had this week with her new piece of music. She gets settled on the bench, and we dig in for another session of exploring sound at the piano. 

THIS is what teaching is about. It is not about paperwork, tracking income and expenses, assessing late fees, or chasing down slips of paper that detail what books I've loaned. Teaching is my profession, and that's where I want to place my focus! 

For many years, I printed invoices from Quicken personal fi nance software ( com). I would enter monthly tuition, track information on music given to students, pull paperwork with details on festivals/contests/ etc., and then print/fold/stuff envelopes, lick stamps, and mail. I hated the process but loved the feeling of being organized. 

All of this changed last August when I signed on with Music Teacher's Helper (, a.k.a. "MTH." Invoicing is SO fast now! Monthly tuition fees get entered once, when I add a new student. Fees for books, festivals, and other items are entered right away, using a netbook computer that sits on the side of my piano. I send invoices via e-mail with a couple of quick clicks, and parents can then click a link in the e-mail and pay straight into my PayPal account. MTH automatically tracks those payments, and even keeps track of the fees charged by PayPal! Of course, parents are still welcome to pay by check or cash. 

I have set up recurring monthly expenses— taxes, subscriptions, etc.—and then add other purchases as they occur. I even track my mileage in MTH! Many of these functions are accessible through their mobile app, which is installed on my iPhone & iPad.

Music Teacher’s Helper offers many features, including billing and expense tracking.

Reports for all of these categories are already set up in their system, so again, I just clickview- print. It's almost ridiculously easy! Billing, done. Now to get back to Casey and having some FUN being a teacher!

Assembling an array of digital assistants

by Adrienne Fero McKinney

For several years, I used Music Teacher's Helper to host our studio website, send lesson notes, and handle scheduling. What I realized was that one of the biggest MTH features, billing and invoicing, was something I didn't need, since I handle all my tuition through a third-party billing company. In order to save money and have more control over the look of my website, I searched for alternatives. is a user-friendly web host that offers over 100 templates that you can use for creating your own website.

Last January I found an intuitive web building/hosting service called Weebly ( Building my site using Weebly's "drag-and-drop" features was pretty simple. Weebly allows practically unlimited designs, styles, and color schemes. I appreciate the ability to do things like customize each page's layout and images, create forms with custom fields, password protect pages, and reorder pages in the menu by simply dragging the page titles to where I'd like them to be. Images, slide shows, sound files, and videos are easy to embed on the page. 

To replace the MTH calendar feature, I use a free service called YouCanBook.Me ( It is especially useful for summer scheduling, since my summer schedule rarely lines up exactly with my students' various trips and camps. I don't want to shortchange my personal vacations or reduce the number of lessons, so I came up with a flexible compromise. I give my families the option to book their lessons online at times when their schedule matches mine. If a conflict comes up, they're responsible for rebooking right away, using the available slots in my calendar. Consider this my lesson learned from past years! This way, my students receive all seven summer lessons, and I receive tuition for a full summer session. YouCanBook.Me is also helpful for rescheduling lessons during the year. I don't offer makeup lessons, but I do allow students to reschedule in advance with notice. Students who booked their lessons themselves can open the e-mail that previously confirmed their lesson and click the "cancel this booking" button. I have my account set up so that a student cannot book a time less than forty-eight hours ahead (or more than a month out), and can only book times that I have specifically set aside for teaching.

An organizational tool that improves student preparation

by Jennifer Foxx

After several years of researching the options, I decided to go ahead and try Music Teacher's Helper in my studio. I've been using Music Teacher's Helper for two years now and have been very happy with all that it provides for the teacher; it truly is my online secretary.

In addition to the main features that MTH provides (billing, invoicing, calendar, mileage, and expenses, etc.), Music Teacher's Helper offers an option to "reconcile" individual lessons. Reconciling enables the teacher to mark attendance and write notes to the parents as well as private notes about the lesson. In the past when I reconciled, I typically used just the attendance feature and rarely sent notes to parents unless there was something out of the ordinary that I wanted to communicate to them. 

This year, however, I made it a goal to reconcile each lesson every week. In particular, I inform the parents how the lesson went, and I offer practice tips for the week and other helpful information. Once I started doing this, I found the parents to be more responsive to their child's practicing. In turn the kids have been more prepared for their lessons. I am really excited about the feedback I have received and plan to stay consistent with my reconciling!

Organizing repertoire and promoting effective practice

by Ellen Johansen

I use technology to stay on top of each student's progress, keep parents in the loop, and ensure that my student's music benches are fully stocked with the music I want them to learn. To make assignments userfriendly, I employ a combination of Google Docs (drive., Music Teacher's Helper, and YouTube ( In addition to the hard copy of the assignment that I distribute at the lesson, I provide a "shared" copy that is sent to the parent's e-mail. I also record a "parent tutorial" with my Zoom QHD video camera that gets posted to my studio's "channel" on YouTube. These tutorials are kept in a playlist so that a parent can review any tutorial from the semester. Parents and students can e-mail me questions, and I usually answer with a video response that I also upload to YouTube that very day.

Ellen Johansen has her own channel on YouTube that enables her to post video tutorials for parents and follow-up information from each lesson.

This constant, interactive communication has made a measureable difference in accountability, student progress, and overall family satisfaction. 

I record student progress using MTH's repertoire tracker. I track the date a student starts a piece, the date when I consider the piece "finished," and I maintain a list of planned repertoire for the future. 

At any time I can go to a student's lesson history and get an overview of their progress, and I can look at the student's purchase history to see what books are languishing in their music bench at home. I purchase all of the music for my students online through Burt and Company (www. Once I log in, I add to an ongoing basket of music I wish to purchase, and every Friday I place my order. This way I am assured my students will have the music they need by the following week.

Keeping your professional and personal life in sync

by Patti Robertson

I love technology! From my mid-1980s Atari 1040ST computer to my current combination of Macbook Pro laptop/iPhone/iPad, I have found technology to be a real time-saver for my studio. 

Perhaps the most useful bit of technology that I currently employ is the Apple iCloud service —which is free with Apple's products. iCloud gives me the ability to change calendar and contact information on one device and instantly see the information synchronized across all my devices. When I enter the date of a competition in the calendar on my phone, computer, or tablet, the event appears almost immediately on all the other devices. I share my calendars with my husband. If he wants to check whether we are free for a social event, all he has to do is look at his phone. 

The same process works for synchronizing contact information for students, parents, and other musicians among my devices. It doesn't matter which device I happen to have on hand, I have access to the information that I need. 

iCloud enhances the instant messaging experience as well. When a student texts me, the message shows up on the screen of whichever device I'm using at the time. And we all know that if you have teenage students, you will be receiving texts from them! 

Isn't technology great?

Time-saving and organizational tools that keep you in business

by Leila Viss

Seven years ago, I hired an office assistant. As my piecemeal system of scheduling and bookkeeping was depriving me of much needed sleep, I desired something streamlined and tech-savvy. In walked Music Teacher's Helper, three components of which I cannot live without. 

Square Register is a small plastic device that can be connected to the headphone jack of an iOS or Android phone or tablet. This plastic device works in conjunction with a free app and makes it possible to swipe credit cards and quickly initiate a direct deposit into your banking account.

Marketing: My monthly subscription provides a customizable website that handles studio registration, policies, and more. 

Communications: An online calendar keeps mix-ups to a minimum, sends e-mail reminders, and even provides feedback and assignments to students and parents. 

Accounting: A process for generating invoices easily trumps my archaic method of the past, and parents are pleased with options to pay via PayPal or credit card. I use the Music Teacher's Helper mobile app (iOS/Android) frequently, as well as these two crucial mobile apps: 

Square Register: (iOS/Android: https:// No worries if a parent forgets the checkbook. You can use Square to swipe a credit card with your smart phone! 

Turbo Scan: (iOS: https://itunes. multipage/id342548956?mt=8): Track books by turbo-scanning them with your iOS device. Type in the name and price of the book to be purchased or loaned. Delete the scan once the fee is entered into your Music Teacher's Helper account or the book is returned.

Technique for bringing in new students

by Megan Hughes

Every business needs to advertise. In my area, Portland, Oregon, it used to be easy to generate phone calls by putting up flyers in the local grade schools. Unfortunately, a few years ago the school district ruled that only established organizations, like the Boy Scouts, could post advertising in schools, leaving the local piano teachers in the lurch. 

When this happened, I had to get smarter about advertising. My main objective with advertising is to screen out people who are not ideal students. I hired my younger brother to make a website for me, put all the answers to the usual questions about lessons on my website, and then came up with a variety of techniques for driving potential students to the site. I wanted my name to come up on Google's first page if you entered Piano teacher, Portland, OR. 

For about a year, I used Google Ads. It was fun to craft an ad that was distinctive and compelling using the limited number of characters allowed. It's like writing haiku. You can set a budget for the ads, and I used the lowest possible option, which was less than $50 a month. I'm not sure whether these ads ever produced more than one student, but I believe that they increased my rankings in the elusive Google search sweepstakes.

Prospective piano students can look for piano teachers in their area by answering some questions on the Thumbtack website.

Another thing I did was post an ad on Craig's list (, rewriting the text every couple of months. This was an effective way to drive people to my website. I got tons of contacts and lots of new students. I also got scam responses by e-mail that were easy to identify and delete. 

One more resource was Thumbtack (, which is a national website that enables you to find teachers, plumbers, dog walkers, etc., in your area. After I posted my information on their site, prospective students began to contact Thumbtack looking for a piano teacher. Thumbtack, in turn, offered me the opportunity to bid on these "jobs." If I bid, I paid Thumbtack $4 after which the prospective student had full access to my profile and contact information. I got two terrific students this way but rejected many others without having to pay a fee. In total I have probably spent about $75 over the last year this way. 

Lastly, I enhanced my advertising efforts by offering a referral fee to anyone who sends a new student to me. When I cash the first check from a new student, I also send off a $30 Amazon gift card to the person who made the referral. I love doing this. 

All these efforts have paid off well. My studio is full, probably too full, and I've scaled back to just Thumbtack and, of course, the referral fees. I think it is important to keep the pot stirred because who knows what tomorrow will bring?

This issue's contributors: 

Anna Fagan holds a bachelor's degree in piano performance from the University of Central Florida. She has a private studio in Clermont, teaches senior residents at Winter Park Towers, and serves as organist and pianist at the Presbyterian Church of the Lakes in Orlando. 

Adrienne Fero McKinney ( runs a private music studio in Lexington, Kentucky, where she teaches piano and horn. She is active in MTNA and the National Guild of Piano Teachers, currently serving as the local NGPT Chairperson. 

Jennifer Foxx has taught for twenty-five years and is active in her local MTNA chapter in AZ, currently serving as President for the Phoenix Chapter. She enjoys sharing helpful teaching resources and tips on her piano teacher resource blog ( 

Ellen Johansen ( is a classically trained pianist and independent piano teacher living and teaching in East Hampton, New York. She is a trained Musikgarten teacher and has taught early childhood music classes in her community for twenty years. 

Patti Robertson, NCTM, started piano lessons at the age of five after begging for a piano for the previous three Christmases. She lives in Kennewick, WA, where she has taught piano for more than thirty years. An avid collaborative pianist, she is active as an accompanist and is treasurer of the Washington State Music Teachers Association. 

Leila Viss, M.A., owns a piano studio with lab-assisted instruction and holds a full-time organist position. She blogs at and, and her book The iPad Revolution: Plug into the Power of Apps for your Music Studio is scheduled for release in 2013. 

Megan Hughes has been teaching children and adults of all ages for thirty years. Her teaching philosophy includes providing instruction to everyone who is interested in lessons, regardless of learning disabilities, dementia, or the distractions of harried lives. In her spare time she keeps up her piano practice and tends to her garden.

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