How to Market Childhood Music Programs to Millennial Parents

The Millennial generation has often been hard to define for many marketers and business owners, but it is extremely clear that if you are marketing to the parents of young children, Millennials should not be ignored. The Pew Research Center defines the Millennial generation as those being born from 1981 to 1996, (or currently falling within the age of 22 to 37). In 2016, Millennials accounted for 82% of births in the U.S. In order to best market an early childhood music studio, owners need to know what makes the Millennial generation tick, and what to keep in mind when reaching out to these parents. Here are a few tips for marketing music lessons to Millennial parents:

Digital Natives are All Grown Up and Rely Heavily Online

 While it can be argued that the Internet had at least some influence on consumers before 1981, there is no doubt that Millennials were the first full generation to grow up with it from birth. They have been so engaged online, that many have never even heard of an encyclopedia. As would be expected, Millennial parents depend heavily on the Internet to find the parenting information they need. Online resources – parenting websites, online forums, parenting blogs and social networks – collectively gather 71% of first and second place rankings when it comes to top parental influencers.  The majority of this influence points towards social media, where 97% of Millennial moms and 93% of Millennial dads find social media helpful to their parenting for exchanging ideas, product reviews, and price checks. Music studio owners marketing out to Millennial parents cannot ignore this 22 million strong and growing group of heavy social media users!

Understand How to Talk to Millennials

 With children comes a new identity and responsibility for parents, and marketers need to understand that when creating a message that resonates with them. However, Millennials are very much about being genuine and not being “helicopter parents.” However, they do need recognition to make them feel good about themselves and the decisions they are making in regard to purchases for their child or children. Think about the “trophy for everyone” mentality that was so pervasive in their childhoods, and you can begin to understand Millennials need for acknowledgement and affirmation.

Millennial Dads are More Involved

 Millennial dads spend nearly triple the amount of time with their kids than that of previous generations. It’s important to note, however, that Millennial dads are not taking over the roles of moms, but rather looking to define a more involved role for them in the family. Early childhood music studios are increasingly catering to including dads in their curricula, inviting dads or both parents to participate in classes from the earliest stages of music appreciation and understanding. Marketing to not just the mom, but both parents of the millennial generation has become far more important than previous generations.

Millennial Parents Prefer Video to Reading

 Millennials use of online resources cannot be overemphasized, whether checking reviews, social media, or Googling about high fever in infants, they were the first fully connected generation. It is no surprise, then, that Millennials prefer Digital Video such as YouTube over traditional TV. With these parents depending on web based content for recommendations and reviews, the influential use of video becomes clear. When promoting childhood music programs to Millennial parents, short video testimonials can be a very effective way to inform and build trust. But be careful, Millennials understand what is marketing, and are suspicious of something that does not come across as genuine.

Music studio owners who understand where to find Millennial parents, what format is best suited to reach them, and how to craft a message that is meaningful to them will be able to reach millions of potential new early childhood music students each and every year.

Social Media Marketing to Attract Music Students

Social Media platforms have transformed the way our world communicates. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 70% of Americans have at least one social media profile. These platforms can be a highly effective means of reaching new music students and engaging them in a very meaningful way. And, when your followers engage with your form of social media, you have the opportunity to influence all of their connections as well. When considering if and which social media platforms to market your music studio, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Social Media Tips for Music Teachers

  • Understand your target market so that you select the social media platform that will reach the most of them with the least amount of effort. There are several social media platforms for families and mothers of young children such as Famster, Justmommies, Cafemom, and Disney Family Community, but keep in mind while these are highly targeted platforms, their population pales in comparison to the major platforms such as Facebook or Pinterest.
  • Rather than participating in all of the different major social media platforms, think about doing just a few of them really well. Social media can take a large amount of time, so you will want to budget your time wisely so that you can concentrate on other aspects of your music studio marketing.
  • Post often and with relevancy. If you do engage in social media for your studio, be prolific about posts, and make sure they will be interesting to your intended target audience of prospective young music students. Social Media authors can be very creative in what to post and how it links to their business or message. Don’t write all of your posts like an advertisement for childhood music program, so followers don’t get turned off.
  • When the platform allows for it, use pictures along with words. Color catches the eye, and eyes on faces also grab attention. Just be sure that if you do post a picture of a young music student on social media, that you have signed permission from their parent(s).  Also be sure that you do not provide the child’s name anywhere in the post.
  • Use links to references within your posts to add more relevance. Search engines like for social media content to have supporting evidence in the form of online articles, blog posts, and other data sources. These can be easily found by searching for industry leaders in childhood music theory, and placed as a link within the content itself.
  • Pay or not to pay. Often times you can build a group of followers from scratch with interesting, creative, and thoughtful social media posts. If this is the case, then you may not consider paying for ads or “boosts” in social media. However, these methods can be helpful to get a social media destination off the ground. Consider starting small and seeing what kind of results the buy gets you. Cost per new follower is a good way to gauge the effectiveness of an ad buy or boost.

There is a multitude social media resources for early childhood music teachers available online, if you do some digging. Start with a few platform(s) that best suit the target audience for your music studio, and learn as much as you can about effectively using those social media outlets.

 

Getting Free Press for your Early Childhood Music Studio

Last month, we began a children’s music studio marketing series that touched on several ways to attract parents through various low to no-cost marketing tactics, including the value of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM).

A very effective and no-cost vehicle to generate WOMM is the press release. Editorial publicity is often called “earned” media, and will strengthen a music studios credibility and identity.

However, there is no guarantee that a press release is going to be printed or aired. To increase the chance of being published, keep these things in mind when writing a press release for your early childhood music studio:

  • Make it “Newsworthy” – Most press releases that media outlets receive from businesses are extremely self-serving, and read like any other paid advertisement for that company. Relate your press release to a topic that would be interesting to anyone exposed to that media, so that it is newsworthy. For example, you may want to write about how your children’s music studio is helping to fill the void where public school music programs have had budgets slashed, or how scientific studies show exposure to music help with infants with positive cognitive development.
  • Write it Like an Article – Write the press release from the third person perspective, just as it would be published in the newspaper or online publication. Be sure to cover all of the facts about the topic, answering all of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questions. Editors will often take a well written press release and simply re- publish it verbatim, especially if they are up against a deadline. 
  • Become Your Own Topic Expert – Not only do you want your press release published, but you would also like to have an editor or reporter reach out to you for an interview to add more depth to the topic. Include an informed quote from you on early childhood music learning and be sure to make yourself the Contact person on the press release. Include another quote from a teacher at your music studio or parent of a child student, as “supporting evidence” for your topic.
  • Jazz Up Your Press Release with Visuals – Any advertising or marketing professional will tell you that photos or videos of kids are sure attention grabbers. Provide a good photo of some children having fun in your music studio while learning about music. Better yet, a video is often better for getting the point across, especially to attract broadcast or online media. Just be sure to get permission from each child’s parent with a media consent and release form for minors.
  • Submit your Press Release to the Right Person, and Follow Up – Media and Publication companies typically have several editors/reporters based on different departments, so be sure you are reaching out to the right human being, not just a department. Typically, early childhood music programs fall under the Arts, Education, Hometown News, or Community departments. Reach out to the contact person, and find out the best way to get the press release to them. The contact number on your press release should be one where you can be reached very easily, not to a voicemail box. Reporters have very short deadlines for publication, so it is important that you have quick availability. Finally, once you send the press release to the right person, make a friendly follow up call to see if they received it. That follow up call may just turn into a phone interview!

A well-placed press release can be a beneficial marketing tool of early childhood music studios for many reasons. With advertising, the audience is already skeptical of an articles claims, whereas the media provides third party validation. And while advertising unabashedly says “buy this product,” well placed media says “this is important.” If you write your press release with those things in mind, you may just get some free and valuable publicity for your children’s music studio.

 

Marketing Your Early Childhood Music Program

Lets Face it. Teachers of early childhood music are not necessarily marketers. Their focus is on inspiring young minds and their adults to love, experience, and learn how to make music. But making a living teaching early childhood music can be a daunting task. Studio owners must not only keep their current music students engaged in learning, they must also keep a steady stream of new students signing up for new classes. When thinking about marketing for early childhood music studios, focusing on parents and parent education is key. The introduction of early music education is almost always initiated by the parents, and in most cases, by the mother.  This conclusion is based on Musikgarten’s thirty plus years of experience in training teachers on how better to market their childhood music studios. Here are a few marketing ideas for early childhood music education programs:

  • Focus on Word of Mouth MarketingIt is often said that Word Of Mouth Marketing, or WOMM, is the most important social media. Mothers always talk to each other about what is going on with their child, and there is no better way to gain new music students than referrals from happy moms. Early childhood music curricula such as those offered at Musikgarten include participation from one or two parents, which creates a social circle within your studio.
  • Offer a Test Drive – For anyone who has ever bought a car, you remember how it felt when you actually sat behind the wheel and drove it. The same can be said for marketing early childhood music education. While a referral can be a powerful marketing tool for your studio, sometimes it takes a little something extra to bring the prospect in the door. Consumers are leery of signing up for a commitment without knowing how they (or their child) will like it, so a no obligation, free first class might be just what you need to nudge them in the door.
  • Combine Both Referral and Complimentary First Class – For music studio marketers, there is a low-cost way to create a program that provides incentive for both the referring parent as well as the new prospect. Simple, complimentary first class cards given to your current music studio parents, serves several purposes. First, by simply having them write their name on cards given out, they provide a means to accurately track which parents provides referrals. Second, they represent a tangible value that acts to remind both referral and parent alike of the complimentary lesson. Simple and low-cost business cards can be printed for this purpose.

Word of mouth is just one very powerful marketing tool for early childhood music studios, but it must be carefully nurtured. We’ve all heard the saying that a bad experience is shared ten times to every once a good experience is shared. It is important to make sure parents are comfortable and pleased with your music studio before asking them for a referral.

In this ongoing series of blog posts, Musikgarten will continue providing more marketing ideas for owners of early childhood music studios. If you would like to receive notification of a new blog post, please contact us by email here.

HELP! How to manage a class of VERY active Toddlers!

As Musikgarten teachers, we always have to be on our toes, and have lots of tips up our sleeve!!  “Educating” parents and setting up expectations from the beginning will help immensely!  Here are a few quick tips or reminders to help manage the classroom experience:

  • Use simple pictures to convey your expectations (i.e. ONLY run when you hold your grownups hand;  it is OK to sit or stand by your grownup or the teacher;  it is OK to stand in the middle of the circle!) This will especially help the toddler and preschool members of your classes.
  • Remember to rid your teaching space of any and all distractions, and look ahead to what you will need for the class like instruments, CD’s, paper, crayons, etc. Have them ready but out of reach!
  • Remind your parents: React or Intervene ONLY when the child is doing something that is dangerous to him/her or someone else in the room, the child is doing something destructive, or the child is carrying on at such a level that it is distracting or causing distress to others!! Otherwise, wandering or seeming to not be engaged is perfectly normal and acceptable behavior. Children are taking in everything in the environment!

Here are a few book resources on how children learn which have been huge influences and help in my teaching:

Here is one other resource I would like to mention: Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey. This book is written primarily for classroom educators, so I’ve done a little “editing” to these excerpts using some words/examples that might take place in a Musikgarten class.

Conscious Discipline Chapter 3: pages 91-97, entitled “The Power of Attention: What You Focus on, You Get More of.”

1) “In a given scenario where two children are ‘fighting’ over a scarf or a drum, how will you react?  Will you focus on what is wrong? “What are you two doing? What is the rule about pushing? No pushing! Do you want a time out?” Or will you focus on action needed to solve the problem. Calmly say, “Jane, you wanted that red scarf that John has. You didn’t know how to ask him so you pushed him. Say ‘May I have that scarf please?’ Say that now.” Of course, a 2-year-old may not have the language to say that yet, but you could ‘help’ them, with parent’s assistance.”

 2) “Often we carry on about the things we want children NOT to do, to stop doing, or what we will not allow. Think about these commands and questions: “Stop talking! Don’t push! Don’t run! Don’t hit the wall! Do you want to go to time out?”

What if you were told “Don’t think about a purple alligator”?  What would pop into your mind?  Of course, a purple alligator!  Watch a toddler if you say, “Don’t touch my CD Player!”  what does the child do?  He/she reaches out to touch the buttons!  Her brain heard “touch the CD Player”, so she looks at you proudly as she reaches out!  Imagine her confusion when you growl, “What did I tell you?”  and push her away.

Redirect the child, instead of focusing on what you don’t want. You could say, “You see all the things on my table! The CD player, the sticks, the scarves…. Let me pick you up so you can see them better! Now let’s go find an instrument to play”, OR “let’s rejoin the class OR sit by mommy!”

Children younger than 5 or 6 simply do not understand conjugated verbs such as “Don’t”. Your goal should be to create descriptive, mental images to help them be successful. The brains of young children are governed by mental pictures, not words”.  

Think of what you “see” with these comments:

“Use your walking feet around the room so no one gets hurt!”

“Hold on tightly to your sticks!  No throwing!”

“Children listen so you will hear my story.”

Hopefully these ideas will give you some tools to use in keeping a happy and safe environment in your Musikgarten classes, but remember that some days, nothing works! It’s a “full moon”, or it’s “going to rain”….. Just smile, keep singing and making music! I’ve even been known to say “I think these children are done for the day!” and dismiss a few minutes early!

Lianne Brewer, Musikgarten Teacher since 1994, Springfield, IL, and now Southern California

Teaching Toddlers to Piano: When Seeds Start To Produce Flowers

If you imagine yourself to be a gardener, you will have to learn to wait and wait for the day when  those tiny seeds you planted last April will finally flower into their full glory. So goes the musical development of the children in our music classes. We welcome in the new family with infants in their arms and encourage music making through singing, rocking, dancing and playing sticks.  Of course the baby mouths that stick, eagerly working on that emerging molar. We let the parents know this is a first step in the music literacy development, exploration, and the child will soon find the sound, play with the sound, copying the beat, and keeping a steady beat. We sing and ask parents to sing along in whatever key they can find and feel a seed of joy in our hearts when the toddlers begin to sing along, first in snatches and then slowly joining us for the whole song.

We relish the moment when a child comes back with their first “bah” or “bam” and secretly jump up and down when their response is in tune, and, oh, the quality of that first voice. And when a child in your classroom NEVER responds with a bam or bah you find yourself nervously reminding your parents how this is a process based program. But you, the teacher, wonder when or if you will ever see that flower bloom. Patience is the key and making sure all those little things that happen are acknowledged and appreciated.

Let’s go back a few years to one of my Cycles classes. A mother arrives with twin girl and boy, Ayla and Acer, and a baby in tow. The twins hide behind mom and very rarely do I see their faces. Mom reassures me the boy is very musical, but I am not allowed even a glimpse of this in my classes. We go through the year and Mom brings the children weekly without fail.  I know she plays the music at home and participates fully in my classroom. The boy moves into Music Makers and the girl into ballet class at the same time as his music class. Sigh! Mom comes week after week with both, drops off the boy and DRAGS the young ballet dancer out of my studio. The boy is still very shy but shines his sweet eyes on me sometimes when I am looking. When Music Makers: Around the World begins, the girl joyfully rejoins the class, still very shy but I hear her beginning to sing with a sweet quiet voice as she joins all our musical activities.

Ayla Acer and Trekker - May blog

Fast forward to this year; Music Makers: Piano. Both children are now singing in tune, keeping awesome steady beats and playing their keyboards like there is no tomorrow. The “baby”, now a preschooler, is still hiding behind mom in his music class but I have heard him singing in the background when his siblings send me recordings of their music making at home.

Let’s hear a bit from the mother, Jennifer, about the experience:

As a homeschooling family, we find outside enrichment to be very valuable. I suppose our Musikgarten journey began even before our home school journey – when our oldest (twins) were 2 1/2. We went in search of some sort of musical training for our particularly eager son, who was obsessed with guitars. Through a local music store, we found Ellen. At first, I would say we found classes to be fun but did not see how this would foster our budding musician’s creativity or bring along his less-eager and very shy twin sister. In fact, both children (and especially now our third child) were pretty reluctant to take part in many of the activities. We continued on, only partially (if at all) understanding what was happening.

And then we moved into piano instruction. We were amazed!! Both children grew by leaps and bounds – our son was constantly at the piano creating, and our daughter even started to love playing and getting creative! And I was surprised at what I was learning too! Now all 3 children are in, and enjoying the program. I can only imagine what great surprises may be in store as we continue!

Jennifer did not give up on her children. Instead she kept music a big part of their home life.  She provided instruments for the children to explore at home and invested in a keyboard that has become a center for playing the piano all day long.

I bet in your piano classes you usually don’t have time to hear all the pieces the children have been exploring at home. It can get discouraging when it feels as if they only know two pieces – Listen for Bells, and Mouse Mousie. This year, I found it useful to have my parents send me home recordings of their  children’s playing. This has been an eye opening experience as a teacher. For the shy student, this is the ideal place to express their pieces from a place of comfort. Ayla never wanted to share her pieces during piano sharing time.  Yet when Mom sent videos of her playing at home I was surprised and pleased to hear how comfortable she felt playing the piano, heard her entire repertoire (which included every piece we did in class) and even got to hear her improvisations.

With home recordings you can :

  • Hear their entire repertoire
  • Make little suggestions in terms of sound production
  • Give positive feedback, which they love to hear
  • Observe their home bench height and distance from the keyboard
  • Remind the parents to get their pianos tuned

Listen to Acer and Ayla’s latest recordings.

Acer – Green Gravel in two keys

Ayla – Follow Me with improvisation

I hope you can hear how all the little things we do with the children in those early classes finally bloom in a myriad of ways when they are ready to place the music in their hearts onto the piano.  My garden is blooming!

Summer Offerings: Ideas from Musikgarten Teachers

Every teacher has a different idea of how they wish to teach through the summer months. Long gone are the days when music studios go quiet during the summer months. Parents are looking for music classes and camp programs to keep their children involved in music. I was curious how different teachers manage their summer months. Last month I spoke about my own way of creating a balance between downtime and offering classes.  Here are some other teachers’ responses.

Bobbi Morgan of Florida, who teaches in a studio called Music Compound in Sarasota, Florida tells us about her program:

During the summer I use a variety of Musikgarten programs:

  • Babies: Babies Musical World
  • Toddlers: Sing/Dance/Play or Clap With Me
  • 3s and 4s: Summer (part of the Cycle of Seasons Program)
  • 5s: Music Makers at the Seashore
  • 6s and 7s: Introduction to Keyboard.

For my Music Makers: at the Keyboard students I also offer a Music Makers Keyboard review class.

Although we have an outdoor space, we tend to not use it because it is simply too hot out there!

I offer my programs through late Spring and Summer. I work most weeks, but I take a break from over the July 4th holiday and most of August. Like many studios, I teach by myself and do my own administrative work, like marketing, registration, collecting tuition and material fees.

To attract families, I have a mailing list to which I email a schedule prior to each session and then I follow up by phone or individual emails. My schedule & Musikgarten information is on the studio web site. I teach a free class for the Hospital Mom/Baby groups.  I also put schedules in music stores, children’s clothing stores, church nurseries, doctor’s offices, libraries, coffee shops with bulletin boards, etc.

I teach in the summer because my parents request classes. Teachers in my area who are off in the summer request them too. Short summer classes attract new families, help retain families, and generate income for the studio during dry summer months.

The Toddler classes are most popular, although Baby classes are a close

Second. These classes enable children to participate in group experiences
before preschool years begin. It gives the moms something to do together
with their child and friends with kids. They believe in the power of music
to facilitate their child’s development. Everything is new & exciting
to this age group. To new teachers I just want to mention that attendance to summer classes in my area is generally sporadic, unlike during the rest  of the year.

Lianne Brewer founded The Music Factory in Springfield, IL in 1994, and currently has 7 teachers serving approximately 300+ children.  She now lives in southern CA and has started teaching Musikgarten there at a local music school.  This is how Lianne is shaping up her summer plans:

I use the Musikgarten curriculum because everything I need is there! I love teaching Musikgarten because the curriculum excels in providing developmentally appropriate activities, as well as fun activities, melodious songs, and lots of variety for the families and for me. The music school I presently teach at has no access to outdoor space, but many years ago I did have a grassy area outside that we used in the preschool classes!  Great fun!

Currently I teach a summer program by myself (looking for another teacher and helper!) for six weeks during the summer starting in early June when school is out.  In previous summers my teaching colleagues and I have presented a program called “A Taste of Music”. This ran for two weeks in August and was a music program filled with fun, low-key classes that geared up for Fall. We made a rule that current families could only attend if they brought a NEW family. These August classes were FREE!

To find families, I advertise on Facebook, and direct email. I primarily teach during summer to attract new families, so I make the session shorter to give families a taste of my regular programs.

In my present music school my most popular  class has been our Dancing, Drumming & Drawing Camps for preschool (ages 3-5 yrs) and music makers  (ages 6-8). Offered 1x a week, on two different days, from 9:30-11:45 AM, for 6 weeks. I am lucky because I can offer a Baby Class or a Toddler class at the same time in another room. Of all the summer toddler programs, Twist and Turn or Nimble and Quick have been the most popular.

I would encourage teachers to offer “perks” to get new families in! It works to offer discounts to current families if they bring a new family; I also have families pay for only classes they can attend (minimum of 4 out of 6 weeks) so those who say they can’t come at all because they’ll miss two classes due to vacation, swimming lesson, etc, will be more inclined to come!

Stephanie Rivera, Coordinator of Children’s Music at First Presbyterian Church Orlando, has big plans for the summer:

We use the following programs during the summer.

Summer Curriculum plans for 2017:

  • Babies (birth-13 months) – My Musical World
  • Walkers (14-23 months) – My Day
  • Toddlers (2-3 yrs) – On a Trip
  • Big Kids (3-4 yrs) – Cycles Summer
  • Family Class (mixed ages) – Nature’s Music
  • Explorers (4-5 yrs) – My Neighborhood Community
  • World Travelers (5-6 yrs) – Seashore
  • Nature Trail for 6-8 yrs, possibly

We solely use Musikgarten as our curriculum because of it’s quality, flexibility, and how many curriculum options we have for our large program.

Our location is a church in a downtown area. It has 3 buildings and a parking garage, which can be intimidating to some families.

Our summer schedule usually consists of morning classes Tuesday-Thursday, adding Friday as necessary. Very rarely add Mondays, but it has happened. We also offer a lunch-time class, but that has a tendency to be cancelled because it is such an odd time. We take off the week of July 4th, and this summer will also take off the week our church has Vacation Bible School due to lack of rooms available.

I have a team of 4-6  teachers that teach during the year, and a small set of 2 teachers that teach during the summer. This summer, I’ll teach on my own due to one teacher being on maternity leave and the other traveling more this summer than usual.

We use Facebook for our advertising through our own Facebook page and my own personal page. Our teachers share my posts about upcoming classes. Current families also tag their friends in the comments. The rest is word-of-mouth. In May, I will give a free demo to a local moms group in hopes that they will join us for Summer.

Our most popular classes during the summer are Walkers and Toddlers. There are many activities available for 3 years-old and older in our area, and some people think their baby is “too young” to attend classes so they wait until they are walking to pursue any structured activities.

When offering summer activities, consider that many people are traveling during the summer, so try to keep your classes in the middle of the week rather than Monday or Friday. As always, nap time is a major factor when families are scheduling activities, so ask around about what ages are napping and what time of day. Mixed ages classes work well during the summer due to older siblings being out of school, so that might be a good starting point of your curriculum offerings.

I hope these three teachers give you some great ideas!  What are you planning to do this summer?

Summer – Create a Year Round Teaching Schedule That Fits You!

You have worked hard to enroll your classes for the winter and spring and are happily on your way to sharing music with children and their families in your community. But … are you ready to enroll for your summer session? Parents are already looking for summer activities for their children. Now is the time to contact your families and offer your summer program even as the snow falls.

Summer photo

Your summer schedule is as unique as you are. For me, I used to take the entire summer off because I had three children and I wanted to devote my summer days to them; July and August was about long beach stays, playing games with my children, and riding bicycles. It was also a time for me to rejuvenate my energy for the upcoming Fall schedule. But now I am an empty nester and the Musikgarten summer curriculum is too good to pass up. So this summer I plan to teach three days a week for eight weeks and still give myself a few weeks off to rejuvenate.

Why should you consider teaching Musikgarten during the summer?

  • Current Students: inviting your students to continue with your classes over the summer rather than other classes down the road is important. Why leave the door open?
  • Marketing: With the right marketing you can entice the families who are unsure to join you for a shorter period before they commit to your Fall and Winter Sessions
  • Summer Students: some families who cannot join your Fall, Winter, and Spring classes, due to location and/or work commitments can fit you in during their summer months (which is the case for many of in my resort community families who live 90 miles away during the school year)

The Musikgarten curriculum has many different programs you can use over the summer. Each are flexible and can be molded to fit your needs. This coming summer I want to offer weekly classes and I ask my families to choose at least four classes throughout my July and August Schedule.  They are welcome to choose more than four classes, but I don’t want people dropping in. I offer a choice to come weekly or twice per week. This works for the families who rent houses here for one or two months. My local families often rent and leave the area for anywhere from two weeks or one month to the entire summer. So I meet my family’s needs by offering the flexibility to choose a variety of days and class times, unlike during the regular season when I insist in weekly attendance. The downside is some classes will be less full than others. The summer programs are not sequential so I can do this. NOTE: The only exception is my Intro to piano session which is only four weeks long and the families must register for the entire program.Shoot3and4_Robert_IMG_6082

Musikgarten also offers one week camps. If you have the space for a week long summer camp I highly recommend this option.

Here is a checklist to get ready for your summer program:

  • Go to your personal schedule and decide what weeks you wish to work and what weeks you want to vacation and not work. I call this your ideal schedule. Take a good amount of time to create this ideal summer schedule because once it is set you will thank yourself later.
  • Now consider what programs you want to teach. Consider you space limitations. I am excited to offer the brand new summer toddler program for 8 weeks on Wednesdays and Fridays. For my mixed aged families I want to add Twist and Turn to the schedule. Note: If you wish to make your schedule 10 weeks, the program gives you that flexibility or offer less weeks to fit you! For my threes and fours I have added afternoon classes since all my pre-schoolers now attend morning camp (daycare). I love teaching Summer from the Cycle of Seasons Program. My older 4s and 5s will enjoy Music Makers: Seashore, or what I call Going to the Beach, which is a nice set of lessons specifically designed for weekly one hour classes that fit perfectly in my community and in my studio.  Finally I plan to add an Introduction to the Piano for six year olds which will meet either twice a week for two weeks or four weeks (but you can also offer it over one week). All these classes must take place on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, no exceptions. This gives me four days off per week.  Heaven!!
  • Once you create that ideal schedule it is NOW time to put it onto your website. Really think through this. I have a Summer page that delineates all the programs I am offering and the dates of the classes. I add pictures from the Musikgarten teachers source. I want it to be easy for them to register for the weeks they want.
  • When that schedule is set it is time to advertise it. My favorite avenues are:
    • My present families – Send them a link to the website and ask them to consider joining my summer programs. I also add a coupon incentive giving them a sizeable discount. These are the families that will make my groups sing and dance because they already know my program and will carry the newbie’s along with their enthusiasm. It’s worth the investment.
    • My Summer families – I have a list of families who live in NYC and only partake in my programs in the summer. I will send them a link to my website by March 1. I will also send them a coupon encouraging them to refer me to their friends. I also ask them to include me in any email or Facebook pages they are active on.
    • My New families – Families are calling me for spots in Fall classes. Why not introduce them to my programs during the summer? I send them a link to my website and suggest they register now. I send them a coupon where if they join in the Fall, the summer program is discounted.

You can also check out this previous blog post for more marketing ideas!

Preparing for the summer means imagining what you want to teach, creating the ideal schedule, establishing the classes, and then getting the word out on your website and in your community. Just cross your fingers and you are on your way.

Question:  What summer program would you like to have?  Or what has worked in the past for you when scheduling your summer?

How to become more comfortable teaching improvisation.

Improvisation is a skill we piano teachers need to develop.   When we teach our students to improvise, we know they gain a greater understanding of the language of music.  Sylvia Rabinof, my improvisation instructor at the Juilliard School wrote, “It is a tool to building effective musicianship.  Together with ensemble training, the study of improvisation is perhaps the most undervalued and misunderstood phase of music education today.  We tend to forget that improvisation is a basic element of music making and that one who can improvise successfully uses all of the various idioms and skills of that language as naturally as if speaking in his native tongue.  The entire musical literature, which its tremendous diversity of expressive styles, has evolved from improvisatory traditions; all of this predated systems of notation.  Improvised music, then, no matter how primitive or limit, carries on a unique artistic heritage.”

But for the majority of piano teachers, the art of improvisation was not included in their own weekly piano lesson. As a result, many teachers feel awkward when it is their turn to create an improvisatory phrase in front of their students.  Can we, the teacher, still develop our improvisational skills?

I believe the best answer is to teach The Musikgarten curriculum, Music Makers at the Keyboard, a three year sequential program for group piano.  This method has the best improvisation sequence I have found.  It teaches improvisation step by step and I recommend you, the teacher, follow this program to develop their own improvisational skills. If you work alongside (or a bit ahead of) your students and master each step of the process you will find this process of creating music gradually becoming easier for you.  If you haven’t yet started a class I still think you can go through the program and work on the steps bit by bit.

Let’s take a quick look at how improvisation is introduced in Book 1 of Music Makers at the Keyboard:

  1. In Book 1 the children and teacher are echoing fundamental tonal and rhythmical patterns that are found in the pieces they are singing and dancing to. The patterns we practice are commonly found in the songs such as See the Pony, Who’s That? and Hot Cross Buns. These are pieces we are singing and dancing to and eventually learning to play by ear on the piano.

Video 1 – See the Pony, Who’s That?, and Hot Cross Buns with Tonal patterns.

  1. As the children become more familiar with the songs, such as the song we sing and play within the video, we play a game whereby they find these patterns in the piece they are singing.  There is such a sense of satisfaction and “AHA’ in the children when they are successful in finding a pattern in a song.  These patterns become their friends at the piano as they work out how to play the patterns in different keys and how they work them into the familiar tunes.  This takes time. Almost the entire Book 1 is devoted to becoming comfortable with these patterns.  I hope you as a teacher also become comfortable with these patterns in your voice and at the piano.
  1. By the tenth lesson, the children begin to create their own tonal patterns. We do this exercise on the floor. First, they echo the same pattern I chant and then they are asked to create new patterns on their own. Here is your opportunity as a teacher learning to improvise to start to create your own patterns. Try thinking of different ways you can make a tonal pattern using Do, Sol and   Then go to a piano and find those patterns.  When you are comfortable, try two tonal patterns in a row. This will be good preparation for what will occur in Book 2.

Video 2 – children singing rhythmic patterns and then improvising on the patterns.

Video 3 – children singing tonal patterns and then improvising on the patterns.

In Book 1 we play with duple and triple rhythm patterns and major tonal patterns based on the Tonic I Chord.  In Book 2 the children are led through a carefully planned sequence of activities which lead the students to improvise patterns on the piano within a duple or triple rhythm context.

You should feel comfortable making up patterns on the piano, but if this is difficult for you I suggest:

  1. Learn the patterns as the children are learning them, using the practice CD to learn the songs by ear on the piano.
  2. Create a tonic pattern on the piano and then figure out it’s name. Then sing a tonic pattern and find it on the piano.  Go back and forth until you can do this easily.
  3. When you are comfortable, move to longer patterns.
  4. Add a Tonic chord under your improvisations and play with this.

Creating a few patterns each day will slowly increase your confidence at learning to improvise.  You may be a few steps ahead of your students or perhaps at the same level.  Just keep going to the piano and play, play, play.

What have you found works for you to become more comfortable with your own improvisational attempts?  Let me know by responding to this essay in the comment section below.

Interested in taking training for Group Piano? Click here to find out more!

Benefits of Early Childhood Music for Your Studio

Teachers and parents are starting to understand that if you give children the gift of music at an early age, the benefits last a lifetime. It is not just listening to music, but engaging in music in an active way with in a group.  The parents see the benefits instilled in their children and the teachers see these and the benefits for their studios.

For children the benefits can be:

  • Their toddler learning to relax and be calm, control impulses, or move with rhythm and grace
  • Their preschooler learning to share, take turns, sit still and listen, or get ready to read
  • Their school age child falling in love with music, learning to compose and improvise

Teachers see the same great benefits for the child through their classes, but also understand that having or adding early childhood music to their instrumental studio makes business sense. Here are just a few benefits for the teacher:

  • Extra income – you make more money with group classes then just teaching one student
  • Making the most of your day – you can schedule early childhood classes at different times, like a morning time, than private lessons
  • Laying the ground work for good musicianship and building your instrumental studio from the ground up

Long time Musikgarten teacher Ellen Johansen recently spoke about this in a podcast with nationally recognized piano teacher, Tim Tophan, and specifically using the Musikgarten material to attain these goals, especially laying the ground work for good musicianship. Here is a quote from the session when discussing why she uses Musikgarten:

“That’s why I do it. I love it, I love the flow of it. I love that it covers all the bases and it answered the most important question for me when I was looking for it 20 years ago. And I was frustrated as a traditional piano teacher. I kept getting students who are following all those method books and they were following everything I was saying and yet they weren’t creating music, and they weren’t reading very well. And the question kept popping up, “How do I get these kids to read music?” And I mean it became a major issue for me and that when I found this program (Musikgarten) it answered the question and more. I had no idea and I’ve never gone back to that traditional mode since then.”

Click below to listen to the complete podcast:

Teaching Music using Musikgarten

Tim also focused on this topic in a recent blog post, referencing some of Ellen’s thoughts.

How to Build an Early Childhood Program

Maybe you are a piano teacher, singer or other instrumentalist who wants to make extra income or just want you students to be more musical. Musikgarten is the answer!

Come take a look by attending one of these free events:

Meet Musikgarten webinar

Introduction to Piano Partners