Today begins a new program year for fall 2020 piano lessons. Every year there is some type of turnover. I expect that some families will move away; such is life in the Walmart vendor community of NW Arkansas. I also expect that some older students will want to narrow their focus to just one or two extra-curricular activities. I benefit when they cut other things to focus on piano, and lament when piano is cut. Even really good players approaching the mid-teen years will quit simply because they get involved in academics, a sport, or even a part-time job. These are all good reasons to give up piano, if keeping piano in the mix would push them over the edge.
Occasionally students leave to study with other teachers closer to their home, or maybe to find a better fit. No one likes to lose students for these reasons, but I cannot control traffic, nor can I be everyone’s best teacher. The difference I’ve found is this: Several piano parents who were valuable studio members have put piano on hold. Even new parents who at first seemed very enthusiastic and close to committing have instead climbed the fence. I’ve offered either online or in-person lessons, but that doesn’t seem to be enough.
In mid-March, when schools converted to virtual teaching virtually overnight, I did too! I don’t offer the fanciest online lessons; mine are through FaceTime, although I can also do Zoom. Some teachers use multiple cameras and are explore all of the possibilities of screen sharing. Some even continue teaching buddy or group lessons as if the students were in the studio. However, no matter how fancy the technology, it turns out that online lessons are great for some. They are not so great for others. I’ve found online lessons to be an adequate and sometimes even good substitute for students who are 8 or older. However, they don’t work great for the 5- and 6-year-old set, unless I have an extremely willing parent who in effect becomes my teaching paraprofessional.
In June, I offered the possibility for in-person lessons, but most all of my families stayed online. Two families transitioned back to in-person lessons in July. There is an advantage to in-person lessons – seeing and hearing is more difficult even over the best Internet connection and WebCam. I also appreciate the set up at Central Methodist, the home location of Shepherd Music School. We have two grand pianos side by side, with enough space between to provide six feet of distance. We do all of the things you would expect. Sanitize the keys between families. Require masks. Make temperature checks. Ask for sign-ins to detail everyone present, kids and adults alike. It’s not risk-free, but of all the places I go in the public, it’s one in which I feel pretty safe.
How to Keep Families Engaged
For families that don’t want to do either of those choices, I’m trying to find an option C. For younger children, there are games and other fun activities that can promote learning. I’m in the process of putting these together. For the older students, there would need to be a separate curriculum of age-appropriate independent learning materials. It’s a shame to stop lessons for an extended period with anyone who has started and showed interest. However, I’m more concerned for the older students, aged 8 to 12. For them, this is a narrow window in which to hook them and keep them engaged. Piano is one of those pursuits that becomes infinitely more enjoyable as more and more repertoire becomes playable.
What are your thoughts about fall 2020 piano lessons? How can we as teachers keep open to students who aren’t currently engaged, while finding a way to find new students who do want to study now. From a personal standpoint, it’s my goal to stay in business as a teacher. I want to be around to teach both those families who have remained in the studio and those who just can’t seem to budge off the fence?