Most teachers have a system of giving assignments to students. You might write in a notebook, on the music, have the student keep a notebook, etc. When you are teaching online, you have to adapt how you communicate assignments, especially with young students. Below are some ideas for adapting your communication with students and parents.
If you don’t have a lot of students a post-lesson email report is a great way to stay in touch with students and especially parents. You can send a synopsis of the lesson, assignments for the week and any attachments they might need.
Parents can also stay up to date with how the lessons are going and address anything they need to before the next lesson.
The key here is to email relatively soon after the lesson as the student will need the information quickly so they can begin their week of practice with little down time!
Shared Cloud Folder
This is my recommendation if you have a lot of students. Create a shared folder for each student in Google Drive, Drop Box (or other) and share it with the student and parent.
Each folder should contain the following:
Take a look below at a sample Google Drive setup.
Phone Call or Video Chat
In this day and age, a phone call or video meeting with a parent can be saved for times when you need more discussion. I recommend using this at the beginning each school year or session to set goals for the year and cover any policy updates.
You might also decide that the first lesson of the year will be a family meeting. This is a great time to go over policies and expectations as well as make sure all the families questions have been answered before online lessons begin.
A phone call or video chat is also the best way to handle an issue. Do you need to get the parents more involved in monitoring practice, or is there a behavior issue that needs to be covered?
Share some ways you have adapted your communication in your online lessons? I'd love to hear from you and I'm sure your fellow teachers would as well!
The first key to success in your online teaching is setting up your teaching space so you are comfortable and have everything you need close at hand. The first place to start with the the appropriate equipment. You can definitely go crazy with the equipment if you want, but this is general list for things you'll need to have a good experience.
Please note: this post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you choose to buy something, at no cost to you.
The equipment I personally use is marked with **
You can teach online lessons with a wide variety of devices. I’ll start with the best case scenario and we’ll work our way to others that will work just fine for you.
Computer: The most reliable device is going to be a computer hard wired into your router through an ethernet cable. This provides the most stable internet connection and is a game changer for video quality. If you can’t hardwire your computer, upgrade your wifi to the most powerful service you can.
I also HIGHLY recommend investing in a second monitor. This will give you the flexibility to conduct your lesson on one screen while having easy access to other documents and software on the second screen.
**Apple Macbook Pro**
Tablet: iPads also work really well as a streaming device. The camera and microphone are high quality and it still provides a sizable screen. It’s also easy to move to different angles. The downside is that it requires some workarounds to hardwire and you don’t have the same functionality for screen sharing as you do on a computer or laptop.
iPad 7th Gen
Chromebook: Don’t use one if at all possible. I know this may seem harsh and they are great for portability and excellent for the wallet, but they don’t function well for online lesson streaming. Zoom is not very functional and Google Hangouts, about the only other option on a Chromebook, is extremely limited.
This is one of the most common questions. Do I really need an external mic? The short answer is no, but I highly recommend it for two reasons.
**Blue Yeti** (fast becoming the industry standard!)
Amazon Basics Professional Condenser Mic
Speakers or Headphones
A good set of computer speakers or headphones will also allow you to get the best sound from your students. You can use a wide variety from ear pods to wired headphones to noise cancelling headphones (my personal choice).
Bluetooth Ear Pods
**Noise cancelling headphones**
Video Conferencing Software
Here you also have a number of choices. For years, teachers have used Skype to teach online lessons and it still works very well. There are now other options out there that give us a nice variety to choose from.
Skype - long time standard for video conferencing and has been used for online lessons for many years.
Google Hangouts or Meet - Works great if you have a Chromebook, but does not have customizable sound settings.
FaceTime - seems to have good sound and picture quality but can only be used if everyone has an Apple product
**Zoom** - fast becoming the industry standard for online lessons. Has the most functionality for sharing files and has customizable audio settings that work well for online lessons.
Well, there you have it. This should get you started with finding the right equipment to set up your online teaching studio. Next we’ll tackle setting up your teaching space!
Around the world, as we all adjust to the restrictions necessary to fight the spread of the coronavirus, musicians are finding creative ways to keep performing. We’ve all seen the Acapella videos of musicians performing together in isolation, as well as the heartwarming videos of people singing and playing together from their balconies throughout Italy and Spain.
Italian Balcony Opera
Keith Urban from home
These uplifting videos serve as a reminder that music is central to the human condition. It’s an outlet for people to cope in trying times, and we are all grateful for the entertainment these people are providing in the midst of a global crisis. What you aren’t seeing, is the high price musicians are paying for social distancing and bans on large gatherings.
We only see the surface of the damage when major touring artists cancel their tours. Alicia Keys, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Tool, and Taylor Swift have all announced tour cancelations. This is what makes the headlines. People rush to get their tickets refunded and we all go home and do our best to stay away from each other.
What you don’t see is the massive economic cost to the people in the background, the people who are paid “per service” as they say in the music industry. I’m talking about the horn section, the guitar tech, the sound guy/gal, the roadies. And this is just the beginning. No one is thinking about the small regional orchestras, the community musical theater companies, and the freelance guys who play with a different act every week.
I sat down with three such musicians and asked them how COVID-19 has affected their careers, what their concerns are and what they think the future holds.
How have the large gathering bans and shelter in place orders affected your work in the music business?
Alicia: It's all but halted both performing and contracting projects. Without any visibility on when the gathering bans will be lifted, we're essentially at a standstill.
Marvin: Since I’m a full-time musician, with no students, my income has come to a screeching halt. In April alone, I was scheduled to make about $15K. Because I’m an independent contractor, there is no sick leave or vacation pay. The venues that I would normally play in are closed, so my income has been reduced to zero.
Chris: It has completely wiped it out. Within 48 hours I had 47 gigs canceled. 10’s of thousands of dollars lost without pay. Being self-employed I can’t file for unemployment, good times (yup, that’s sarcasm)
What's your feeling on how long it will take the music industry to recover?
Alicia: I would estimate a year. Even if governmental restrictions are lifted, public behavior may take time to catch up and that may have an impact on hiring behavior.
Marvin: The industry will recover as quickly as people become confident to go to performances. I, on the other hand, will never recoup my losses.
Chris: That is the big question. I feel like it could be at least 6 months to a year or more. How many promoters will want to take that risk of putting on a show? How many people will have the money to go and see a show? Even if we get the all-clear, how many people will even want to go out out of fear? I think it’s going to be a long time. I’m not optimistic about it.
What is your greatest worry for your industry during this time?
Alicia: That society will become numb to the effects the current social distancing has on musicians and gig workers, and will not do their part to restore support.
Marvin: I do not worry about the industry. When it gets back up and running, I believe people will be hungry for live performances. I, myself, being cooped up is driving me crazy. I want to get out. Once we’re able to go back to normal, my industry will be fine. My only concern is that this Shelter in Place will last a long time. The President says that he wants everyone back to work by Easter. Our Governor says it will be closer to 8-12 weeks. The latter would cripple me economically. They say it’s better to be safe than sorry, but for me, the “Safe” route is far more dangerous. I can’t lose 1/3 of my income (100% of my income for four months) and still eat, own a car, live in a house, etc.
Chris: As terrible as it is for me I have some students that I switched to online lessons. I do have some money coming in and I do own a home. I was basically working 2 full-time jobs before this happened. I can live off one job. A lot of my musician friends that didn’t have a side hustle were living paycheck to paycheck and can’t file for unemployment, I fear will be in a very tough spot financially.
What has you feeling confident about the music business right now?
Alicia: That musicians are infinitely resourceful and creative and will create ways to ensure livelihoods are sustained.
Marvin: When people are denied something, it makes them want it that much more. I have just recently let my memberships to the SF Museum of Modern Art, and the DeYoung/Legion of Honor museums expire. When I know that I can visit them, again, I will renew my memberships. I’m confident that when the coast is clear, people will want to come out and hear live music
Chris: The only thing I am confident about is seeing so many artists helping other artists. I am in several Facebook groups where people are helping out in so many ways to each other from tech support, places to get grants, a virtual tip jar for live online shows, moral support, places to get jobs, people that are hiring non-musician jobs. As far as when my next gig is that is the big question. I’m not feeling confident of it bouncing back quickly at all. I think it’s going to be a long and hard road to recovery, unfortunately. I’ve been through several tough times trying to be a full-time musician living in the bay area. This is the worst I have ever seen it for my business. I’ve had several dark days in the last couple weeks of really thinking long and hard about calling it quits and selling off everything I own immediately. I decided to give it 6 months. If after 6 months things haven’t started to shift, come the first of the year I might walk away from what I have been for over 30 years. So….yeah, not confident at all :)
How are you occupying your time in the meantime?
Alicia: Work Work Work Work Work. :)
Marvin: I’m practicing between 6-8 hours every day. When I’m working a lot, I only get in about 2 hours a day.
Chris: Getting the hang of teaching lessons online (not my favorite). I’m about to start some projects around the house. I’m also doing a fair amount of stress eating.
About the Musicians
Chris Barnes is a trumpet player living in the San Francisco Bay Area and is in high demand as an extremely versatile freelance musician. Chris has performed with a wide variety of musical acts including Johnny Mathis, Seth Macfarlane, Huey Lewis and The News, Kevin Spacey, Tim McGraw, Kenny Loggins, Diana Krall, Carlos Santana, George Clinton, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Billy Preston, Michael Feinstein, Temptations, Bonnie Raitt, Randy Newman, Bobby Caldwell, Smash Mouth, San Francisco Symphony, Oakland Symphony, California Symphony, Beach Blanket Babylon. National Broadway tour credits include Beautiful, Wicked, Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots, Cats, South Pacific, Young Frankenstein, Mary Poppins, Anything Goes, Drowsy Chaperone. Please visit Chris at www.chrisbarnestrumpet.com
Marvin McFadden, trumpet, was born on January 31 and raised in Vallejo, CA. Marvin has been playing music since elementary school. His musical capabilities have enabled him to be a successful freelance musician in the greatly varied genres of today’s music industry.
Marvin’s many credits include working with such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, George Shearing, Rosemary Clooney, Santana, The Doobie Brothers, Wayne Newton, Hammer, Natalie Cole, Maureen McGovern, Barry Manilow, Diana Krall, Bob Hope, Vic Damone, Ray Charles, Lou Rawls, David Benoit, Cab Calloway, San Francisco Symphony, Tony Toni Tone, The Temptations, and Doc Kupka’s Strokeland Superband. Marvin is a long time member and continues to record and tour with Huey Lewis and the News.
Alicia Jeffrey, Executive Artistic Director at Broadway by the Bay, has also served as the Production Manager for BBBay since 2014. Productions include Evita, In the Heights (Winner: TBA Award, Best Production of a Musical, Tier II), Dreamgirls, Anything Goes, and Les Miserables. She has served as Production Manager, Associate Director, Musical Director, Stage Manager and orchestra member for various other theatre companies throughout the Bay Area including Contra Costa Musical Theatre, OMG! I Love That Show Productions, Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre, Contra Costa Civic Theater, and Diablo Theater Company. She has served on the board of CCMT and is currently on the Advisory Board for OMG. Alicia is also the President of the Board of Directors for the Lenaea High School Theatre Festival, one of the largest and longest-running educational theatre festivals in the United States.
First off, let me start by making it clear that I don't pretend to be an expert in people management. I have however learned a few skills over the years that I find really useful. I hope they will be of use to you as well.
As a musician you will likely find yourself dealing with a wide range of people in your career: students, parents, contractors, event managers, fellow musicians, conductors, brides, just to name a few. Your interactions with these people and how you handle yourself can make or break relationships.
Notice I said "how you handle YOURSELF?"
That's right, good people management skills start with YOUR behavior, not theirs. You will never have total control over how someone else reacts, but you can absolutely have control over how YOU react.
Here are three rules I try to follow in my interactions with others.
Getting upset while someone else is upset does not solve any problems. Calmly listen to what the person has to say and then calmly state your position. If you feel yourself getting too upset, it ok to say "I need to step away from this for awhile to gather my thoughts and respond to you thoughtfully. Can we set up an appointment to discuss this further?" Chances are you will both have calmed down and the discussion can be productive.
Have confidence in your expectations and state them clearly. If you are not sure of yourself, people notice, and things definitely won't go your way. It's also perfectly appropriate to step away in this case as well. "I hear what you are saying and I need some time to think about it. Let's talk tomorrow after I've been able to put my thoughts together."
Even when you disagree with someone you can do it with kindness. Forcing someone around to your way of thinking is never the answer. Educating them in a kind and meaningful way will go much further and is much more likely to encourage a change in behavior in the future.
Makeups! Every private lesson teacher’s favorite subject. For as many different studios that are out there, there are equal variations of makeup policies. Some teachers are extremely strict, giving no makeups for any reason. Others are very lenient, allowing students to come and go as they please and working with anyone’s schedule.
Clearly, makeup policies are not a one size fits all commodity, so I will not attempt to pretend that one philosophy is better than another. Instead I will share with you some policies that are proven to work and some that don’t. Hopefully you will find the information useful in developing a policy that works for you!
What doesn’t work?
Examples of effective policies
3 Keys to a successful makeup policy.
What works for you? Please share in the comments below.
In my position at Music School Director at CSMA I work with an amazing faculty with a wide range of experience, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Given the schools motto of “Arts 4 All” we also need a wide variety of teachers; from just out of college to very experienced; from the “I can work with anyone” type to the “I only take the most serious students with the most committed families”. We do it all and have it all.
A common thread for everyone, including myself, is the lack of formal experience with business etiquette and customer service. Now, working for a school, our teachers do not have to do a lot of the work they have to do in their home studios (collect payment, scheduling, etc.), but they still have to organize and communicate regularly with their students and families. It can be difficult as a musician who has been trained to have the greatest respect and deference for teachers to work with a student or parent that may not hold music teachers in the same high regard. Because of this you almost have to adopt a “manager” type role when working with your students (clients!). Below are some of the skills I apply to my own studio and that we encourage our teachers at CSMA to use. Hopefully you will find some of it useful!
Remember You’re the professional!
I say this a lot! This means that you are trained professionally and have professional level tools to impart musical knowledge to your students and you deserve the kind of respect that comes with that type of education. This also means that you have to act in a professional manner at all times!!! Be on time, be prepared, communicate in a timely manner and stay calm in all situations. These things mean something!! Never mind the fact that this sets a great example to your students, it’s expected in any job. If you are not reliable, how can you expect your students/families to be reliable?
Set Expectations and Stick to Them
Faculty often come to me for help when there is a difficult student. It could be everything from a student who doesn’t practice to one who has more profound behavioral issues. The best way to handle it is to set expectations and stick to them. This way you can easily expect the same from others (i.e. student, parents). Classroom teachers understand this very well and many classroom teachers have a standard “3 strikes and you're out” policy. This also works for the private lesson studio.
Makeups: This also falls under the “Set Expectations and Stick to Them Category”. You’ll need to decide a make up policy that works for you and stick to it. If at all possible do not make exceptions to your policy. If you do, make sure the student/parent understands that this is an exception and you are granting it because of "xyz" extenuating circumstance. Businesses are strict with their policies in order to create a culture where they treat every client the same. The private lesson teacher should do the same.
In Person: This is always best! You can read someone’s body language and make sure you get an affirmative that they understand what you are saying. We all know this is not always possible so we rely more and more heavily on written communication.
Written: Written communication is great for quick questions, confirmations, etc. It is NOT GREAT for solving problems!! It can very very difficult to discern someone’s tone of voice through written communication. And if that person’s native language is NOT english, then it’s even more difficult. If there is a problem, it is always better to meet and discuss in person. You can then follow up in an email detailing what was discussed.
Don’t ever write an email when you are angry. If you need to get something of your chest write it, put it away, and read it again after you have calmed down. Chances are you will find you wrote something unprofessional!!
NOTE: I am a habitual conflict avoider, and this is one of the most difficult things for me personally. Consequently, I have learned this lesson more than once the hard way. No matter how hard you find it, it is always better to deal with issues in person!! And remember, You’re the professional!