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May 2006

Start Your Own Studio, Part II

By Barbara Ostroff

Here are a few more thoughts on the subject of starting your own studio:
  1. Do you want to teach at home, travel to students, or teach at a music school?

    I have done all of the above and now teach at home and at a nearby Catholic school. Public school teachers have different problems, but the real issue is time. Because more parents work, lots of parents will pay extra to have you come to their home. You get to see the family environment, amount of light and where they practice. It takes time away from the day to drive from one place to another and there is always weather and the lack of supplies. Wear and tear on you and your instrument and the car can be tax deductible, but I only do this now if my house is being renovated!

    Teaching in one room of your home has the advantage of using that space for a tax deduction, you have all your supplies and music handy, and you are there for your pets, children, and the delivery man. The disadvantage is the distractions of children, pets, phone, etc. Lack of privacy and the need to keep a neater living room are also drawbacks for some. If you have pets, it is hard for students and parents with allergies. I always make sure new students and their parents know I have cats. Teaching at home or part time in a studio can also isolate you from the sharing available to teachers who are in one building all day and all week.
  2. New teachers should decide if they want to start all students themselves or take students that have started with someone else or have started in the district schools. Check with the teachers at your neighborhood schools and get on the approved teacher list. Where I live all string players get one year of school lessons and then have to find a private teacher. That is a great way to always get new students. Volunteering to help the local teacher with her spring concert tuning or with a trip will get you known to that teacher and the students.
  3. Some schools will let you come into the building and work with students during their lunch period or after school. I brought a string quartet to the nearby Catholic school to demonstrate the instruments to the classes and next year was asked to teach there.
  4. Decide whether you want to teach 30 minute, 45 minute or hour lessons and when you want to teach. I have a letter informing parents of the policies in my home regarding entrance to my door, use of books, tables, bathrooms, toys, and pets. I am paid at each lesson, so if they forget to cancel, I expect payment. I do not want students to come if they are ill! I do not teach if I am contagious!
  5. Leave at least one evening free for your own musical interests - chamber group or local symphony. We all need to keep playing. Sign up for workshops during the summer or for a weekend to improve your own approaches to teaching. A week away from students gives you an opportunity to play, share ideas with other teachers, try different approaches, see other method books, and meet others with similar challenges.
  6. Join ASTA or get the Strings Magazine. The magazines review new books and materials. Visit your local music store for new materials.
  7. Plan a yearly recital or trip to play at a nursing home for the experience of performing. Students who don't want to solo can play a duet or all play a song together at a nursing home. I like to play fiddle tunes and pop music for the seniors or nursery schools. I play along with my students as the backup. Getting students ready for a recital or auditions also gives a goal to reviewing repertoire and polish pieces for performance.
  8. From my Suzuki experience, I now have learned to pick a month for focusing on bow technique, vibrato, or working on dynamics, or just for repertoire review.
  9. Stickers and rewards should be used very frugally - we don't practice for the money or the rewards but to play better.
  10. REMEMBER : EVERY PLAYER can improve a little with guidance from us. We are the music coaches. My goal is to be a mentor- example of caring, sharing human being. Not just a person who expects everyone to become a professional musician.
Barbara R. Ostroff has been a string teacher since graduating from Temple University, College of Music over 35 years ago. She has attended ASTA workshops, Suzuki training during the summers, and has a Masters degree in Elementary Education. She founded a Young Musician's Orchestra that she manages in conjunction with the Delaware County Youth Orchestra. It is for students who have completed book 4 and above Suzuki or similar levels. She also performs in the Delaware County Symphony on viola or violin. She is President of the orchestra and a member of the music group Sigma Alpha Iota. Her first love is teaching. Both of her children learned string instruments and one still plays his cello.