Here’s a story of a piano teacher who made a change–a DRAMATIC change–in her independently-owned piano studio. I can’t say enough about how I admire her determination, her grit, her perseverance and her passion. And to think…she never wanted to be a piano teacher! Read Marie’s story (interview) and be inspired.
Leila: Besides being a successful piano teacher in the Las Vegas area, please share a little about your life away from teaching so we can get to know you a little better.
Marie: Like all other piano teachers out there, I have too many hobbies and not enough time: a decked-out scrapbook room in my home that I’ve never once worked in since we moved 11 years ago, stacks of cookbooks to try, and a to-do list of books and magazines to read. I’m a total shoe and beauty product junkie—frequently seen at the mailbox eagerly awaiting the latest Birchbox or ShoeDazzle subscription. Addicted to Zumba, ABBA and boy bands. I’d happily live out of a suitcase if I could travel the world. Enjoy teaching Sunday School to the teenagers at church, but mostly love spending time with my husband and two young adult kids.
Leila: Please share a little background of your teaching career.
Marie: I never wanted to be a piano teacher!
My mom had me teach my siblings and I was mean (regret that). I loved to play the piano, but in college I was actually working toward a degree in dance education. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, though. As a teen, I was on the look-out for unique activities to bring to babysitting jobs and during summer I organized pre-school camps for the neighborhood kids. My husband’s first job out of college took us to Maryland and there I was able to teach dance at a local community center. Interestingly enough, my preschool dance classes morphed into creative movement classes, exploring rhythm and sound. I was fulfilling my dream job!
I never wanted to be a piano teacher!
Call it luck or divine intervention, but looking back on the past 20+ years, I can clearly see specific people and events that were placed in my life at the right time to lead me to where I am today:
- My mother-in-law, a piano teacher herself, told me, “Marie, you really should teach piano.” After showing me a Bastien Primer level book, I thought, “Sure, I can do this.” I signed on a few students from our church circles. Besides teaching from method books, I was always on the look-out for the latest pop song to teach my students because I knew that would get them motivated to practice and perform, but I was too embarrassed to share that fact with fellow traditional piano teachers. Deep inside, I wanted to be a creative piano teacher, but I didn’t feel like that approach was well accepted by my peers.
- My private students grew to 30+ and a piano parent mentioned to me that
her sister was teaching group piano classes with the Mayron Cole Group Piano Method and I should look into it. I did and immediately knew it was something I needed to try! But it was a big change. To get a feel for this new teaching style, I started by arranging my private students into monthly group classes in addition to their private lessons, and the students enjoyed the variety. We soon moved into a larger house, with room for a studio, and I announced that I was converting to group classes. Lost about 40% of my current students, which was tough, but word quickly spread about this fun way of “learning piano with your friends” and my student base started growing again. Mayron Cole does an excellent job providing training videos/webinars and teacher’s guides. I also heavily used theory games from the book Music Mind Games by Michiko Yurko, who also has a useful website.
- In 2012, Philip Johnston’s book The Dynamic Studio, gave me a huge push to re-evaluate my studio. I’d become stagnant and needed fresh ideas. I proceeded to overhaul my studio with oodles of his creative approaches. The response from my piano families was phenomenal! Now I was getting more referrals than ever before, teaching 80-90 students per year.
- NCKP 2015 was another life-changer. Attending classes in the “Creative Pianist Track” confirmed to me that I was a creative piano teacher and could boldly embrace that creativity in my curriculum without embarrassment or apology.
- Tracy Selle’s Piano Webinars continued my NCKP learning experience as I passionately listened to several presenters I idolized.
- Consultations with LeilaViss, Becki Laurent and Debra Perez each provided me with the business sense, net-working and knowledge to grow my studio in 2016.
I never wanted to be a piano teacher!
I’ll be forever grateful for the path I’ve been led down. Wouldn’t have ever imagined being the owner of a large piano studio and teaching 108 students. I’m fulfilling my dream job!
L: How do you encourage students to practice?
M: My students are required to record a minimum of five days, signed off by a parent. For most students, practicing usually gets done because of the positive peer pressure they feel in their classes–they want to come prepared because they know they’ll be playing in front of the others, either in solo or ensemble. I hold a practice prize raffle in the spring and offer several incentive programs throughout the year, mainly awards focused on memorization, scales, sight-reading, composing and performing that require students to reach above and beyond their weekly assignment.
L: What do you include in a typical class?
M: Typical 45 min schedule (I don’t do everything each week):
- Sight Reading (Faber Piano Adventures)
- Piano Maestro song or two
- Review last week’s songs with teacher duets
- Jackie Sharp Technique Trainer (Piano Safari for younger ones)
- Supplementary music (pop, holiday, Jr Festival, Daniel McFarlane’s SupersonicsPiano.com is a favorite)
- Theory game (mainly TeachPianoToday.com games)
- Method book piece
- Scale work: play w/ backing track or improvise melody out of scale notes
- Rote learning of familiar melodies
- Arranging/Chording: LH accompanying patterns with a familiar RH melody or lead sheet.
L. What are your studio goals?
- Confidence in performing–offer plenty of opportunities such as our
Halloween street recital, Christmas class recital, Junior Festival and Spring Recital Showcase
- Retention — continue to study the piano well beyond when teens usually drop-out
- Keep boys interested – last year 60% of my students were boys
- Ensemble skills so students can play with a band or accompany singers
- Friendship and camaraderie with fellow piano students–a piano team!
L: Wow, you sound like you have everything put together already. But, you contacted me for a personal consultation with some goals in mind. What were they and why these particular goals?
M: First, I needed some confidence. You’re a pro and have already hit most of the areas I was new to. I was minimally looking for a sanity check. You offered that and more, helping me expand my vision, address some of my weaknesses, and leverage many of my strengths. In particularly, your advice in these areas was meaningful to me:
- Connections to other piano professionals running their own schools
- Expand to other areas here in Las Vegas, hiring additional teachers
- Integrating technology, mainly a piano lab
- Method books vs. supplementary materials
- Consideration of a website or business Facebook page (I currently have a closed group Piano Page for my studio families)
L. Have you succeeded at meeting any of these goals since our consultation in October? If so, which ones?
M: Besides helping me with the sheer logistics and tips for moving a studio, and maintaining the energy levels needed for my current 16 group piano classes, you connected me with several tools and professionals to manage it all. While yes, you helped specifically with several goals, your mentoring guidance validated my view that creative piano teachers are desperately needed and bolstered my courage to put myself out there.
L: Congratulations on finding a new home for your studio. How did that come about?
With 100+ students, my driveway and home was being overrun by students and parents coming and going. I knew it was time to make a change. I also knew my studio had growth potential if I had more space. In the latter part of 2015, I made a goal to be in a new location by January 2016. As I looked at leasing space, I realized it was going to be a lot of work and expense to prep space, and I’d have to delay my moving date until summer. My husband suggested calling a few music stores/schools to see if they had space and were interested in combining efforts. Two stores responded, we interviewed, and I decided to go with Southern Nevada Music, our premier area Steinway dealer.
L: Are you still using the Mayron Cole method or have you found others to suit your needs?
M: Still using Mayron Cole in many of my classes, but exploring Piano Pronto, Debra Perez’s Way Cool Keyboarding and Faber Piano Adventures. Ready to integrate Bradley Sowash’s Creative Chords with my intermediate and adult students. Leila made a comment in our discussion that really got me thinking, “I teach a human being not a method.” Now I’m feeling greater freedom to spend more time in motivating students with supplementary music rather than being tied to a method book. I’ve really enjoyed having “permission” to take a small step away from method books.
L: What do you hope to accomplish in your new studio in 2016?
- Train and hire new teachers (Sick days are not allowed when you’re the
only teacher! And right now I don’t have any extra time to work on marketing or expansion. I need more teachers.)
- Implement a piano lab
- Attend MTNA 2016 conference – RMM track
- Expand RMM program for adult class use during the day
- Take interested teen students to 88 Creative Keys piano improvisation workshop in Denver this summer
- Update my resume. Here it is! MarieLee_Resume
L: What advice can you give to other teachers who are interested in stepping out and reaching for their dreams as you have done?
M: Attend conferences, webinars, read, and follow teaching blogs and Facebook groups. If you’re always learning, then you’re exposing yourself to new ideas, and in turn, you’ll know if those ideas are worth trying in your studio. If you get specific insight then you need to go for it! There’s a lot to be said for creating your own “niche.” What is it that sets you apart from other teachers? Figure out what that is and then expand upon it—never apologize for not teaching the way everyone else teaches – there are enough “traditional” teachers in the world. Parents frequently tell me that their childhood experience with piano was much different from what I’m giving their children, that they would have never quit lessons if they’d had the positive and joyful experiences their children are getting with me. Embrace your strengths and put them to work!
What’s a personal consultation?
- A 60-minute session where you and I discuss your studio, your ambitions, your tech-savvy needs…you drive it…on Facetime or in person if you live close by.
- It includes access to a 60-minute video on how to create Off Bench time along with lesson time in your studio.
- After our meeting, extensive follow up notes are emailed to you that include plenty of suggestions, links, and ideas and notes taken during our discussion.
Contact me (Leila) to schedule yours at firstname.lastname@example.org.