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Business Acumen

December 23, 2015

As I have said more than once, it is difficult to describe the graduate piano pedagogy programs that were offered at The New School for Music Study because the curriculum was comprehensive in scope. At the end of my last blog, I pointed out that nothing was left unexamined, including the business of managing a successful piano studio.  Even if you have been teaching for years, you may want to read this post to learn about what was emphasized and then compare your own approach to handling business dealings.



Opening a private studio was discussed in “Studio Management Practicum,” a course often scheduled during the spring semester. Valerie Cuppens Bates, The Director of Admissions for the school’s piano department, taught the class during my first observation of teaching at The New School. The textbook for the course, Business Manual for Independent Studio Teachers by Linda Clary and Larry Harms, was used as a workbook.  Exercises and projects at the end of every chapter were assigned to summarize text readings.


For the first project, graduate students created their own newspaper advertisements, business cards, brochures, and fliers. Announcing the opening of a new studio or recruiting pupils at any time when enrollment declines can also be advertised with a workshop, recital, or lecture-teaching demonstration. To become familiar with marketing strategies, the class planned a mock promotional event.


Making a good first impression is important in any business. A list of questions for telephone inquiries can make the first contact with parents productive: e.g. “How old is the child?” “Has he or she studied before?” “If yes, for how long?”  When did the lessons end?” “What method books were completed?”  This information should be written down and filed for future perusal.


Studio policies need to be discussed before lessons begin. Some information can be given during the first telephone conversation, but to avoid miscommunication, policies have to be put in writing.  Graduate students drafted their own studio policy sheets that explained fees, payment methods, attendance requirements, etc. Often, an accountant was invited to class for advice concerning bookkeeping procedures. Expenses need to be considered in setting fees.  When the accountant detailed how to estimate taxes, the cost of piano upkeep and music supplies were named in a list of tax deductions.


The class was urged to schedule an interview to discuss policies and other matters of parental concern. An interview allows the parents and teacher to become well acquainted with one another before making a commitment.  Having met with the student, the teacher can better assess the student’s abilities, and the parents can see for themselves how the teacher plans to proceed. As Director of Admissions, Valerie Bates had experience in conducting interviews.  Mrs. Bates demonstrated how to conduct interviews for beginners, transfer students, and adults. She stressed that a young beginner may not be ready to study because of a small hand size or short attention span. A transfer student’s training must be appraised carefully in order to prepare a suitable program. For reference, Mrs. Bates distributed copies of evaluation forms that were completed when she interviewed students for the school’s piano department.


The class also exchanged ideas on how to maintain open communication with the parents and discussed why it is necessary to plan group activities months in advance. First of all, parents need to be kept informed of their child’s progress.  In addition to frequent telephone conversations, short meetings with the parents may be arranged.  Newsletters can be mailed for special announcements.  A calendar of important dates should be distributed at the beginning of the school year.  Activities that involve all students and parents have to be scheduled ahead of time so that they are able to set aside these dates before other obligations.  In particular, recitals must be scheduled well in advance of the proposed date to guarantee good attendance.  Selecting a time and location is only the first step in planning a successful recital.  Later, camera equipment must be procured for taped recitals, catering may be needed, etc.  These arrangements that can become time consuming have to be settled weeks prior to the recital.


Becoming acquainted with other teachers is considered to be important since teachers can learn a great deal from each other. As a final project, graduate students interviewed a teacher who resided in the Princeton area.  The teacher answered a questionnaire, and students wrote a report of their findings to share in class.  Pedagogy students were also encouraged to join local and national music organizations such as the state Music Teachers Association, The Music Teachers National Association, and The National Guild of Piano Teachers.  In anticipation of future endeavors, students prepared a professional resume.  They also received a list of class piano instruction books that were published at the time as many college graduates find themselves teaching class piano at some point during their career.  The course often concluded with a discussion of career opportunities for piano teachers who want to work in the school system or other related fields.


Now that I am one step closer to finishing my blogs on the pedagogy programs at The New School, I can begin to focus on what else needs to be said. Once I have summarized content for the class, History and Evaluation of Piano Study Materials, I will list other degree requirements and then update the timeline I have outlined that highlights the accomplishments of Frances Clark and Louise Goss, our school’s co-founders. Miss Clark and Miss Goss did so much to elevate our profession over the span of decades that a timeline is required in order to give a concise review of their notable achievements. Keep reading. I know you will be impressed.

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This site is created by the faculty of the New School for Music Study, a division of the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

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