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April 2006

Start Your Own Studio, Part I

by Julie Tebbs

Teaching is a joy. There are pro's and con's however in beginning your own studio. The pro's include: you decide how much and when to teach, you watch kids grow and learn, you're continually learning yourself. The con's include: payment issues are sometimes hard, parents are sometimes difficult, expectations between parents and teachers are not always clear.

There are a few articles that have been written specifically for the teacher on our site:
Here are some suggestions for starting your own studio. Most of these ideas apply to the mechanics of starting the studio rather than the process of teaching.

I've found that one of the most frustrating parts of teaching is the substandard instruments that students bring to their lessons. So when someone is starting to play, I tell them which violin shop to go to. The shop is a "real" violin shop (not a general music store). The sales people are knowledgable and can give the student the right size instrument, the rent is the same as the general music stores, and the instruments are MUCH better, especially the small sized instruments which already have pretty bad sound usually. Most violin shops are also willing to give out your business card to potential students, so the relationship can be very beneficial to both of you.

It is also hard to get parents (who are very busy) to replace strings, buy a shoulder rest, buy a book, etc. I keep a small stock of violin strings, one or two shoulder rests (they can buy them or just try them on to see if they fit), and some books. Books are used when kids forget to bring theirs, or the parents can buy from me instead of an extra trip to a store. This is especially helpful if you have intermediate to advanced students, as these books are very hard to find in music stores.

I buy all my supplies from Shar Music. You get Suzuki books (I use the books but don't teach the method) for about $5, and they retail for about $7. You can get strings with free shipping if you buy $40 (prices subject to change). Shoulder rests are about $25 online, $40 in the store. I usually charge them my cost, maybe marked up a little bit to cover shipping.

I have also had a really hard time finding a scale book that made sense to me. So I wrote out scales for my students. I finally put these online for others to use, and you're welcome to use them if they would help you: Violin Scales

When beginning a new student, you will want to be clear about expectations before lessons begin. I usually either offer a first lesson for free, or have parent and child come talk for a half hour before lessons are set up. During this time you and they can talk about expectations. Lots of teachers have a written contract that includes practice expectations and payment info. I have had marginal success with this, but it does lay it all down clearly up front which is good for both you and the parents. Do they pay per lesson, or per month? Do they pay for missed lessons? Are make up lessons offered? When is payment due? What about arriving late? What about arriving early, where do they wait? How much practice do you expect? Should parents come to lessons (this should be required for very small children)? What do they need to bring to lessons (working instrument, books, notebook to write assignments, practice log, etc.). Do you offer group lessons? Is group lesson attendance required? How many recitals, when/where? How will you encourage them, stickers, recitals, rewards for practice?

Connie Sunday has her lesson policies posted here: Connie's lesson policy. When I cut my studio down to a much smaller size, I stopped handing out a written contract, because fewer students are easy to keep track of.

How do you get students? First I would make up basic business cards that you can distribute. You can make them yourself at the copy store, or go online to Vista Print for very inexpensive but good looking cards. Then take them to violin shops and music stores in your area. You can also contact music teachers at the schools and ask if you can get on their list of teachers that they pass out to their students. Also ask if they need any volunteer help, such as helping with sectionals or helping tune small violins before a concert. Leave the teacher with some of your business cards. These online resources also look interesting Music Teaching Info,

I encourage new teachers to take lessons themselves. I've done this on and off, and it is always helpful. A lot of teachers will let adults do fewer lessons such as once a month or every other week. This helps with time and money as lessons for your level are pretty expensive. But your teacher is a great person for you to ask "how-to-teach" questions.

I just have one more suggestion: Talk to other teachers often! If you don't know other teachers, get online and read up. Subscribe to ASTA. There are a few forums too, Maestronet, and All Things Strings Community. We also recommend the Yahoo Group String_Teacher_Support. And if you want to teach the Suzuki method, get certified: Suzuki Association. You don't have to agree with everything you read, pick and choose what will work for you.