By John Gardner
In preparation for a Skype interview by Andrew Ingkavet, a music teacher in the Greater New York area, I asked if he had any questions he wanted to share in advance — so that I could be especially prepared for those.
“I have lots of questions, but these are the main three.”
1. Why do you feel you have been successful in your market? (Strengths)
My market includes 1-1 music coaching in person and remotely, teaching in public high school and private university settings, and working as a Virtual Assistant for teachers, parents, students and small business owners — virtually anywhere.
My combination of training in 1) music performance, 2) teaching music and 3) sales give me some unique skill sets to draw on. One other reason I am successful in working with teens is that I “love, admire and respect” them — and I tell them so.
Proficient musician make better teachers. I studied for four years each with two clarinet teachers using opposite techniques. One taught me like a father to an adopted son. The other used bullying and intimidation tactics. I did learn much from them both. There was one problem I try to avoid in my teaching, however. I never heard either of them play or perform. My private lesson teacher through high school was reportedly one of the best in that part of the state at the time. He was also a high school band director. But I never saw him with a clarinet in his hand. I never heard him demonstrate what he was describing. At the university, I occasionally heard my professor warming up before I went into my lesson, but he very rarely demonstrated what he was talking about. I never heard him in a faculty recital either.
As a teacher, I make sure I demonstrate what I’m talking about. The education world calls it modeling.
The reason I want you to keep your fingers close to the keys and to use chromatic fingerings is so you can play fast…..like THIS!
Having a good read, a solid embouchure and control of the airstream give you a better opportunity to play the high notes…..like THIS!
Because my degree is in Music Education, I have studied the psychology of learning, of recognizing different types of learners and understanding how to match my approach to the learner’s strengths and weaknesses.
A few years ago, I lost three students when the university negotiated a teaching arrangement with the principle clarinetist in a professional orchestra. They had promised a recruit that she would study with this guy, but he refused to travel for one student — so they asked me for some of mine. He was an amazing performer (better than me) … but he was a terrible teacher. He knew what he was doing musically, but couldn’t explain that to students. In one semester, one of the three students sold her clarinets and the second changed her major.
I got my job back….but there were two fewer clarinet majors. The third returned to me.
Most music educators are good musicians — and if they teach in the public school system, they are also trained in education.
I left education for twenty-five years — to go into the small business and sales worlds. I find myself using some of my sales training in my teaching.
Salespeople learn how to ask qualifying questions to gather information to get a clear picture of the situation. Students (and even their parents) are not always good at explaining themselves well. So many times, by asking questions and gathering information, I find that the real issue is nothing like the first comment made. My sales skills also kick in when a student is telling me what he/she “can’t” do, i.e. memorize music, march, continue in band, play a solo, etc.
2. Do you use any technology or software in your day to day running of your business? If so what and how?
Google Docs for collaboration. In our music office at school, all three music teachers can be in the same room, working on the same document at the same time — and seeing what each other is doing.
By creating a Google Form, which itemizes responses.
Finale is my music notation program of choice, partly because it integrates with Smartmusic. With Finale, I write, edit, arrange or transpose parts. I can also create special exercises or rhythms for a certain individual or to help with a particular piece of music. Smartmusic is great for making exercises interesting with accompaniments — but it also includes an assessment component that students can use for private practice at home.
In the band room, I use the Blue Tooth feature on my phone to play a recording through the sound system — or to make my metronome loud enough to be heard.
I use YouTube to post video or audio of rehearsals for student assessment.
The high school where I teach has a 1:1 program (1 iPad per student), and I’ve put, as an example, our basketball pep band book into digital format for download into iBooks. Students have used iPads vs 3-ring binder notebooks at games and other performances. Students can also snap pictures of their music folders at school so they can practice at home without taking their folder home.
In working with remote students, usually from a rural area with little access to expertise on some instruments, I use Skype or Facetime. At one school, students are set up in the band director’s office and he is in the vicinity. I usually have the student point the camera so I can see (depending on what we’re focusing on) fingers or embouchure. A couple times, early on, I’ve observed minor discomfort when a teenage girl is pointing a camera where I can see her fingers, but also her torso…but that discomfort fades as they get to know me — or when I react to it by asking them to change the camera angle.
I use Google Voice for my VirtualMusicOffice.com business — because it rings to my cell without my giving out that number. It has voice mail where I can have separate greetings. And I get the messages via email and text, with the option to read or listen to the message.
Especially when making calls to students or their parents, I use an app on my phone to record the conversation. Similarly to the idea of the airplane’s black box, if all goes well, I delete the recording as soon as I’m sure there is nothing on there I would need. It can also come in handy for getting a name or number I didn’t quite hear — or for clarifying something when either student or parent tries to tell me what I said.
3. What trends do you see happening in the private music school space? (Opportunities?, Threats?)
As public schools continue to tighten budgets, often resulting in reductions or elimination of music programs, parental interest in providing music for their children increases through private music studios and even schools of performing arts.
Because of the increased hesitancy to send children and teens to teachers’ homes, teachers are opening private lesson studios in music stores. This is good for the music stores because of the increased traffic. And the setting satisfies most parental safety concerns.
Another growing trend are Private Schools of Performing Arts. Several large churches have created Schools of Performing Arts as an outreach to their communities.
Bellevue School of Performing Arts, Memphis, Tennessee
Stevens Street School of Performing Arts, Cookeville, Tennessee
For the past ten years, my son has been the administrator for the Stevens Street SPA. Not the largest, but they have dozens of teachers (college town) and approaching two hundred students. They have to spread their end of semester recitals over two to three evenings to get them all in.
At first, the schools thought we were competing with them and wouldn’t support us or encourage students to come. But over time, they have seen that our students are well trained and it even helps their programs — so I now go to several schools to speak to students and parents.
The biggest threat to private teaching studios is the legitimate concerns have about Safety, Transparency and Reputation of the teachers.
Another concern is economic. As a teacher in a public high school, I try to help students who have been playing on their 6th-grade student instruments for 5+years without proper maintenance. I have students who struggle to pay the $35 we require for marching band shoes — and we keep a box of used shoes (donated by graduates). Over the years I have secured far too few scholarships and grants to help provide lessons for deserving students.
The interviewer, Andrew Ingkavet, operates ParkSlopeMusicLessons.com.