Working Brass Hero
Mark Houghton

by Mark Houghton

Private Teaching Studio Policies & Guidelines

When I was growing up, both of my parents maintained private studios for teaching French horn. I can scarcely remember a week passing without students visiting our house for regular lessons. Over the years I observed that the instruction time was generally focused on musical technique and progression, but some lessons served as an extended pep talk, a mini therapy session, or an intense mock performance.

Quality private instruction plays a crucial role in the development of young musicians, and provides a special avenue to share the heritage of our craft. As we’ve seen since last spring, teaching also happens to be a fairly secure way for musicians to pay the bills, as the demand for education persists even when live events and concerts are on hold. Below I outline a framework for the development of a healthy private teaching studio environment.

Establish the Ground Rules. This part is not glamorous, but it is absolutely necessary!

  • Schedule: Lay out a clear schedule with dates of operation and individual lessons, including vacation times and attendance expectations.
  • Payment: Determine a payment policy (per lesson or weekly/monthly) and provide different options (cash/check/Venmo/PayPal, etc.). It might be helpful to offer a bulk discount for an entire semester of lessons, or multiple lesson purchases paid in advance (ie: 4-pack, etc.)
  • Make-ups: Define how missed lessons are made up (or not!), clarify cancellation policy and possible predetermined makeup days/times.
  • Termination: Develop an exit strategy, such as requiring one month or two-weeks notice. A refundable deposit may be helpful to protect against unpaid services. 

Health & Safety Protocols. Although there are hopeful signs that we are through the worst of a global pandemic, it’s always prudent to remain proactive about safety.

  • Offer remote lesson options via Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc. 
  • When offering in-person lessons, gauge your comfort level and that of students and parents on a case-by-case basis.
  • Reference CDC, NIH, and state guidelines.
  • Determine mask, social distance and instrument or bell cover policies. 
  • Invest in a HEPA filter for your teaching space or at least be sure to have adequate ventilation.
  • Limit student capacity in lessons and waiting areas.
  • Allow breaks between student lesson times for any disinfecting, cleaning, or air circulation that may be required.

Background Checks and Clearances. Especially when working with children or adolescents, transparency is very important.

  • Check your state and local requirements for background checks and clearances. Some states are more stringent than others!
  • Obtaining a criminal background check is usually a straightforward process. Sometimes these services are provided or facilitated by companies like IdentoGO. Your local police department is another good resource.
  • Whether you’re required to or not, being forthright in providing this type of documentation can bring peace-of-mind and clarity to your entire teaching operation.

General Notes & Tips. After the groundwork is laid, remember these helpful hints.

  • Provide a clean, well-lit space where the lesson activities can be productive and easily viewed. This is important for student and teacher, but also for parents/guardians, and other students who might observe a lesson. 
  • Tailor your approach to the individual student, and use flexible teaching methods.
  • Incorporate instructional technology such as videos, audio recordings and other interactive approaches.
  • Demonstrate by playing passages on your instrument for the student whenever possible.
  • Play duets with your students on a regular basis.
  • Have fun and enjoy the work!

I hope that you’ve found this article to be helpful. Please share and comment below!

Mark Houghton authors the Working Brass Hero Blog. He has played French horn professionally for twenty years. Mr. Houghton has been a member of the world-renowned, Grammy-award-winning Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 2014. Additionally, he is a founding member and part owner of Houghton Horns, and Adjunct Professor of Horn at Duquesne University. Mark lives in the South Hills of Pittsburgh with his loving and supportive wife, Katie, and their three amazing children: Camille, Charlotte, and Maxwell. Mark is not a writer, but he’s trying real hard. He is constantly taking on new projects, despite the fact that he has no time for them. Mark will never turn down espresso before 4pm on most days, and has a penchant for tequila and grass-fed steak. He is obsessed with the game of soccer. 

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