Creating a Studio Community

From an article I wrote for the Seattle Music Teacher’s Staccato Notes, November 2015

Keeping It Light (Leggiero)

by Laura Dean, NCTM

Building a Studio Community

After the recital, a group of students, ages 5 through 18, lingered at the piano. They took turns singing and playing while parents visited and remarked how delighted they are the kids are having such a wonderful time with their music lessons. Other students munched on refreshments, wrote on the black light wall, and joked together as our recital reception came to a close. This is the scene at my last studio recital held in an interesting venue which lends itself to a festive event. Many of these students and families have been with me for over a decade. This leads to the question: How can you build a strong studio community that keeps students coming back year after year?   

Here are a few ideas that have stood the test of time from my studio.

  1. The Photo Door. Every fall, I create a new photo display on the door of the studio featuring each student and a particular theme. This year, I purchased a bag of photo booth disguises, and students chose which disguise to use as they posed for their photo.  Currently, the door is filled with adorable photos of students sporting cardboard crowns, beards, mustaches, bow ties, and top hats. The students look forward to the new picture wall every year, the door reminds them they are not alone, that all of these other students are also taking lessons.
  1. The Birthday Song. When a birthday rolls around, students receive a piece of sheet music of their choosing. I use http://www.musicnotes.com. They usually select a pop favorite, rock classic, movie theme, or something from a video game.  The website allows us to print a one page sample which helps us determine if the student can technically handle the piece.  We make the final decision and with a click of the mouse, we download the song and instantly start to work on it. FUN!
  1. The Sing-Along.  If you’ve ever listened to A Prairie Home Companion, you know the joy and power of the group sing-along. Garrison Keillor (my hero), is a master at leading the sing-along.  All of our recitals either begin or end with a group sing-along.  I print the lyrics on the back of the program and everyone joins in. We’ve sung a variety of songs from Amazing Grace, to Moon River, to We Will Rock You. Parents and students know this is part of the show and everyone looks forward to it. (Think of guests on the Ellen Degeneres Show who know they are going to dance as part of the gig.)
  1. The Theme Recital.  Each December, we play a recital featuring traditional solo piano repertoire from the major time periods. In the Spring, we produce a recital with a different theme each year.  Examples of past themes include: Jazz Standards, Movie Themes, The Beatles, Rock Classics, and Broadway Musicals. This is a real hit and lends itself to creative programming that delights both the performers and the audience.
  1. Mini music camps: In the summer and during vacations, I often offer mini camps (with a maximum of 6 students),  with emphasis on learning something outside of the usual curriculum such as Beginning Guitar for Piano Players, Finding Your Singing Voice, and Composition. This offers students a chance to get to know each other and to explore a new way of making music.

A little thought, planning, and creativity goes a long way to building a strong studio community.  This strong community means students and parents are likely to be committed to their music lessons for the long run. Now, how about a quick trip to Display and Costume to pick up some student disguises?

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