It’s that time of year again! Amidst all of the craziness I find it monumentally important to carve out time to reflect and reevaluate what worked well this year and what can be changed or adjusted for 2023. I always find this process interesting. Undoubtedly there are things that worked better than expected and others that failed to meet my expectations. Taking time to reflect is where I find clarity and allow myself to move forward.
Below you’ll find 4 of my favorite ideas and purchases that marked this year in its own way. I share these as a type of “thinking out loud” as I do my own reflection, but I hope this gives you ideas and spurs your mind on to plan and create new ideas to implement in your studio in the coming year 🙂
1 – Comb Binding Machine: I purchased this leading into 2022, and immediately found that it is a game changer in my studio! I print a decent amount of studio licensed books throughout the year, and #4’s project made the comb binding machine a lifesaver! This piece of equipment is something I have had my eye on for years now, and am glad I took the jump. Once you own it, cost is pretty low to get supplies throughout the year.
I purchased the MAKEASY Machine, and at the time of this posting it’s 29% off!
I then grabbed page protectors (because let’s be honest, piano books get a lot of love!), paper that lasted me much longer than my original project, and two different sizes of the combs themselves (225 sheet capacity and 75 sheet capacity). This has been a purchase that will continue to give and give and give to my studio!
2 – My Approach to the Metronome: This is not rocket science nor is it earth shattering. Some of you may already do this effectively and think me slow for just catching on. But as I said at the beginning, my goal is to evaluate and always be tweaking things to the point of making the music learning experience more enjoyable AND more effective for my students. And one thing that was constantly bothering me was my student’s aversion to the metronome. If I pulled it out, they would either shrink back in horror or continue to play without paying the slightest bit of attention to the clicking beat beside them. This was neither helpful nor effective. Students viewed the little black box as a punishment that had little effect on their playing anyway!
So I determined that starting the first lesson of 2022, every student would use the metronome at least once during their lesson. And on top of that, each student would have one assignment that included the metronome for home practice each week. This typically reveals itself in their warm-up (some form of scales practice and/or exercises in their book).
I then took my youngest students and began doing “Metronome Workouts” with them each week. We would take turns doing simple exercises (i.e. twisting side to side, lifting our hands up and down, nodding our heads, reaching towards each other, etc), in time with the metronome at slow, middle, and fast speeds. This is a big hit as it gets them moving their whole bodies to the clicks, and turns the metronome, who we call Dr. Beat, into a friend 🙂
The results? Because students use the metronome effectively every day, they no longer see it as a punishment. Whether or not they like to use it, it has become a helpful tool that fixes those pesky problems. And from the teacher’s perspective, everyone’s rhythm has gotten better! Students who diligently practice their scales fluidly moving to different rhythms at the same beat have fixed most rhythm issues that pop up in their songs on their own. This is a win Win WIN and will be something I continue on forevermore 🙂
3 – Story Orchestra Book Series: If I sound excited about the metronome, it is because I am 😉 But I realize that is not the most exciting thing on this list overall. The Story Orchestra Series is a gem of a discovery that you will want to add to your studio library and encourage parents to purchase for bedtime reading. Stunning artwork, intriguing stories, and good sound quality all make these musical books a series to treasure! If you’re interested in helping your studio families create musical home environments, this is the perfect place to start 🙂 And if you’re interested in more book recommendations, check out the Book Nook page at the top of the blog! This page is updated often and worth scouring through to find the perfect book for any occasion or student.
4 – Practice Journals: This has been the BIG project for the year and I have overall been pleased with the outcome in my studio. It was a big adjustment to go from students having to look at my lesson notes to students having to write their own practice notes. The most interesting part of this experiment was the diversity of benefits. I was looking for a resource that could cover the entire year and encourage a better understanding of HOW to practice, not simply an understanding of the list or how many minutes should be put in each day.
*Disclaimer: practice journals are only effective for the students who put the effort into it.
Likely no surprise, but it must be said. What it did accomplish was accountability for students who were convinced they were practicing more than the reality. And students who better understood HOW to practice, as they had to start spelling it out. And students who actually looked at their lesson notes because they were on hand and opened at every practice. And students who could remember the spots they struggled in from day to day, and then at the lesson if they still had not figured it out. And both parents and students who began to better understand the long game of what practicing looks like.
Did I have students who found them useless? Yes. Again, practice journals are only as effective as the amount of work put into them by the student. I did take a poll (knowing my own opinions, but wanting to hear directly from the parents in their own words), and have used their feedback and my own experience to make some changes and tweak some layouts for the coming year. But all in all, the practice journals are here to stay!
When it comes to studio evaluation, how do we keep our ideas and decisions from becoming the piano-teacher-equivalent to my new year’s gym resolution? My favorite way is to announce them! I begin by taking an honest look at what I can feasibly take on with my knowledge of how life runs right now. And then I let my studio families know in their end of the year newsletter/evaluation. Quick, easy, and enough of a motivation for me to keep up with my plan.
What has worked well for your studio this year? Are there any big changes you plan to make in the upcoming year? For me, I am planning my first maternity leave and working on how to best keep things flowing once I do come back and have less planning time than I have now. But that’s the fun in all of this 🙂 Life changes and we need to change with it … while still striving to be the best piano teachers our students need right now!