10 Steps for Building and Maintaining a Successful Private Teaching Studio

I have been a private horn teacher for over forty-five years. In fact, my husband Dennis was my first pupil! He was a sophomore and I was a junior at Los Alamitos High school in Orange County, California. Of course, at this point I didn’t know much, and since he was a beginner, I was basically just teaching him what I had been taught the previous couple of years. 

I began to build a small private studio while studying horn performance at California State University, Long Beach from 1975-78. My orchestra and band directors encouraged a few promising area students to contact me for private lessons and my studio grew to nearly ten pupils. Between school, freelancing and teaching, my days were long and very busy. But I began to realize how much I enjoyed working with students individually and being a part of their musical growth and enrichment.

Since moving to Texas in 1983, I have slowly built and maintained a successful horn studio. I taught fewer students (15-20) while my own children were small. Later, my numbers grew to 50-60 students per week. For me, that was the maximum amount I could teach and still retain my sanity (I was also a wife, mother, soccer mom and active freelance player at this time).

For those interested in cultivating a thriving private studio, I would like to share some insights and things I have learned over the past forty-five years:

  1. Contact area band directors. When first getting started, it is important to “network” and talk to as many local teachers as possible. Also, find out who the area private teachers are; they may know of programs that are looking for instructors.

2. Set up an interview with the fine arts administrators in your area. Each school district will have that information on their website. Be willing and prepared to play a short audition, maybe 3-5 minutes, demonstrating your abilities on your instrument.

3. Don’t over-commit. Private teaching requires time and energy. If you are still in music school, be very careful to not overextend yourself and commit to more students than you can handle. I would recommend limiting the number to 20-30, depending on your degree plan and time availability.

4. Be present every week. I cannot emphasize this enough! I have known many private teachers who have failed in this area. They not only lost their jobs and tarnished their reputation, but they also disappointed and discouraged many young students. Consistency is so important; students depend on us to be “present”, both mentally and physically. If you are sick or need to cancel lessons, show your students the same courtesy as you expect from them and do your best to notify them 24 hours prior.

5. Choose a curriculum. Have students purchase a book of your choice to supplement their band method book. 

6. Write weekly lesson plans. I find it very helpful to have a basic outline/lesson plan every week. I certainly adapt this plan for the individual student, if needed. But having a plan helps assure that I cover the desired material each lesson.

7. Balance the lesson. If you are able to teach in a studio or your home, you have the option to regulate lesson times as you like. However, in most schools, a private lesson ends up being anywhere between 20-30 minutes, depending on the bell schedule. Consequently, a good private teacher must present a balanced curriculum in a short amount of time. Part of the responsibility of being a private teacher is to teach students how to practice effectively and efficiently on their own. By presenting a well-balanced assignment, you are modeling the correct approach for your students’ daily practice routine.

8. Communicate with parents. I recommend sending an introductory email to parents at the beginning of the school year, or whenever a new student is added to the studio. If you are teaching in school during the school day, many of these parents will not have the opportunity to meet you. However, it is important to introduce yourself and encourage an open line of communication, should questions or problems arise. You should also detail payment options, studio policy regarding missed lessons, etc.

9. Communicate with the band director. Most educators are happy to hear how their students are doing and what is being presented in lessons. A monthly “check-in” email with the band director can help solidify the alliance between you and the director. Ask if there might be something that they would like you to do in order to help the student be more successful in band class. This makes you part of the “team” and will foster a positive relationship between student, private teacher, and band director.

10. Attend functions whenever possible. While it is prohibitive to attend every band concert of every private student, look for opportunities to attend large contests or events where several students may be involved. Students love to see their private teacher in the audience and educators certainly appreciate the support.

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