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Offering lessons from your home is a great way to share your musical expertise with others, and can provide a primary source of income, or offer supplemental income alongside another job. Having taught privately since the age of 12 and having built a private studio from scratch in at least six different regions over the years, I’d like to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve used to attract and retain students.


Noteful founder Becky Billock teaching a student in her home studio.  Learning theory and ear training helps with memorization and playing music expressively.
Teaching in my home studio

The advantages of a home music studio


There are many reasons that teaching from home can be attractive.


Be your own boss and set your own schedule. You have to walk your dog every day at 6pm? Great! Schedule a break for yourself at that time. You can’t miss your hip hop class on Thursday nights? Only take students earlier in the day on Thursdays. Long story short, you get to decide! Early on in my career I discovered that I experienced a lot of burnout if I taught on the weekend. Many students specifically request lessons on the weekend and if that’s your jam, you’ll attract even more students. But just keep in mind that if you want a particular schedule, teaching privately can afford you that flexibility.


Set your prices and decide how much you get paid. You have to take into consideration what people in your community are willing to pay, of course. However, to a large degree you can set your prices at a level that feels right to you. The sweet spot is finding a rate that is low enough that prospective students are willing to pay, but high enough that you feel compensated for your time and effort. At one point in my career I moved from Seattle to Pittsburgh. The move coincided with completing a music degree so I had been looking forward to raising my rates after graduation. As it turned out, in Pittsburgh I had to charge less than what I had been charging as a student in Seattle. The cost of living was also considerably less, so it all evened out, but it is worth talking with music professionals in your community to get a sense of what the going rate is.


Tax benefits. You can write off various expenses relating to your home business. Since tax laws change and also vary from state to state, check with your tax professional for details on how you can save on taxes. In Pennsylvania, I am able to claim portions of my utility bills, money spent on music books, fees for professional organizations, maintenance of my instruments, costs relating to performances (such as renting a space for a studio recital), and many other items.


Proximity. In our post-Covid world many have discovered the convenience of working from home. But we private music teachers have understood the convenience of commuting down the hall to get to work long before the pandemic.


How to attract students


Have a web presence. When I started teaching 35 years ago the internet was not on the radar for everyday use. But these days if your students don’t find you by doing a web search, they will likely look you up online before contacting you, simply to check whether you and your business seem reputable. It’s very easy to create a website for free using any number of free website hosting services, such as Wix, Ionos, or many others. I’ve had my studio page on Weebly for many years, but just moved part of my professional presence to Wix as it offers a few more options for being noticed by web searches. Most of the free sites offer special features for a fee, but as a studio teacher your website will serve primarily to provide professional information about yourself to your prospective clients–no shopping carts, or other special features needed. Building your website doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. I’ve taught several people how to use Weebly who claimed that they had “zero tech savvy” or “didn’t know how to use a computer.” In all cases, they were astonished to discover how easy it was to create a page simply by dragging and dropping elements onto the page, typing into the text boxes and hitting Publish. If you are more ambitious technologically, then I would highly recommend adding a few additional features to your website. Your street cred will take a huge leap forward if you are able to show your own skill at the craft you are trying to teach.

  • Stick up YouTube videos of you playing your instrument.

  • Take a short video inviting people to your studio so they can hear your voice and get a sense for your teaching style.

  • You have to be a bit more cautious with this one if you teach minors, but if you gain proper permission you can even include footage of your current students and or clips that show you interacting with a student.

Join your local music teacher association. This is an important one. You should not only join the organization (and yes, there will be a fee) but you should attend and participate in the meetings, get to know your colleagues, and even better, snap up a volunteer role within the organization to better position yourself to get to know the membership. Often established teachers have a completely full teaching schedule and waiting lists. If those teachers get calls from prospective students, they frequently like having someone to recommend. Every once in a while you can hit the jackpot. Earlier I mentioned that I moved from Seattle to Pittsburgh at one point in my career. A close friend of mine who was also a piano teacher moved to Seattle not long before I moved away. When I left, I referred my entire studio to him and he inherited a fantastic group of students without having to build slowly. This kind of scenario doesn’t happen every day, but it’s certainly true that teachers move away, or retire, and if you are in the community and able to accommodate students, you are a great candidate when such a situation arises.


Becky Billock, founder of Noteful note reading and music theory app, presenting at Pittsburgh Piano Teachers Association meeting.
Presenting at my local music teacher association meeting

Meet the music teachers in the local schools. The music teacher at the local elementary or high school can be one of the best sources for finding new students. The kids they see everyday in their classes frequently ask them for recommendations for private teachers. If they know you and the quality of your work, they will be more than happy to send prospective students your way. Another advantage is that once you have several students from a particular school community, you’re much more likely to get excellent word-of-mouth publicity, which is always the best kind.


Share what makes your studio special. Figure out what makes your studio a great place for music learners and don’t be shy about sharing that information with prospective clients, as well as with people who might recommend you (for example, that local school music teacher you’re already going to be meeting!). A “secret sauce” could include your particular approach to learning certain skills–perhaps you have a certificate in teaching Suzuki or Kodaly method. Or maybe you’re an expert at teaching chords so your students can learn the popular songs they hear on the radio. Whatever your strengths are, highlight them! I generally prepare my students for Guild auditions each year–a chance for them to be evaluated by someone other than their regular teacher. It’s an in-depth process that we begin early in the fall, and the preparation becomes a guiding force throughout the year. If you have a novel idea that you can incorporate into your curriculum, that can be a draw as well. I have a special program every several years in which I recruit a volunteer pop-up orchestra so that my students can play as soloists with a string group. It is a lot of work, but super rewarding both for the students and for me. And the event in and of itself is a great recruiting tool because the students invariably invite their friends and family, and others get to see you going above and beyond for your clients. There is probably nothing as powerful as that! In addition, I provide other perks such as offering multiple performance opportunities each year, periodic group performance classes, and regularly filming the student performances and sharing the footage with my client families. All these offerings provide value that contributes to the students’ motivation and progress.


Go where the students are. This might sound a bit too obvious, but it’s worth contemplating. If you live in a community where there is little interest in lessons, but you hear that there is more demand in the next town or neighborhood over, perhaps it’s worth it to find a way to teach in the place with more demand. When I first moved to Pittsburgh, I learned that there was a neighborhood about 15-20 minutes from my house that needed a piano teacher. An established teacher in that area had retired without any replacement and there were many students who couldn’t find any convenient solution. I decided to rent space in a church so that I could be a more attractive option for those students. I ended up teaching in that space for several years. After I had a more established clientele both there and in my home studio, I decided at some point to consolidate and teach exclusively from my home studio. I didn’t retain every single student from the remote location, but a good many of them decided it was worth the drive to my home studio to keep working with me.


At that point I had a large enough studio overall, that I was able to weather the loss of a few students and still be able to pay my bills while I worked to fill those spots. More recently I learned of a situation where a group of people had a piano at their workplace. There were a number of people at the office that wanted a convenient opportunity to take lessons. So I reached out and made a contract with the company to be able to come into their offices and offer lessons to the employees. It was a fantastic arrangement because it allowed me to fill some of my daytime teaching hours that are harder to fill with younger students, due to school schedules. Part of the “go where the students are” equation at this moment in history also means offering online lessons. While in-person lessons are extremely effective, offering remote lessons opens up the chance to work with a more diverse group of individuals. At the moment I am working remotely with a retired gentleman–he’s actually the grandfather of one of my local students who I teach in person. The grandpa spends time in various locations seasonally, and he can easily log into his lesson from wherever he happens to be. I’ve been working with him now for nearly 3 years and he is making great progress!


Setting up your home studio


Your space. It’s important to have a space where you can teach that is welcoming and inviting. It should probably go without saying, but make sure your space is sanitary. Having a place for a parent or guardian to sit during the lesson is a plus. I personally prioritize having a situation where there is an easily accessible bathroom that doesn’t involve your client families needing to go into the more private portions of your residence. It can be tricky setting boundaries so that you don’t feel as though your home is being invaded. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but if you have the ability to create a separate space you won’t regret it. If you’re teaching piano, make sure you tune and maintain your instrument regularly. It is disconcerting to come to a lesson and play on an out-of-tune instrument, or an instrument that has other glaring mechanical issues. It’s worth checking that your students also have a decent instrument to practice on at home. Try to allow as much space as possible around the student. Ideally you want to be able to easily sit or stand on either side of the student to help with technical issues. In addition to one-on-one time with the instrument, some teachers like to have a computer in their studio space so students can work on theory assignments, notate compositional ideas, or listen to musical examples.


Your teaching resources. Although the best teachers customize learning to a great extent for each individual student, it’s good to have a framework in place, particularly for teaching beginners. For most instruments there are multiple teaching methods to choose from and it’s worth taking the time to check out the options and find the one that resonates the most with your teaching style and that you feel will best serve your students. I don’t always use the same method for each student and an analysis of the various available methods would be a topic for a different post.


Your policy. When you start a home studio, you’ll want to decide how you handle issues that may come up. What do you do when your student is sick? What do you do when you are sick? How do you want to handle late payments? What happens if a student needs to be absent for an extended period? What are your expectations for practicing? You have to decide for yourself what your expectations are and what your personal boundaries are. Avoid putting things on your policy that you don’t plan to enforce. If your clients think you never enforce certain parts of your policy, they may not understand if you attempt to enforce other issues. At the bottom of this post I've included my personal teaching policy. I’m providing it here as a template which you can use verbatim, adapt for your own purposes, or use as a launching pad for brainstorming your own lesson policy.


In summary


Of course, the real magic of your teaching studio will be the way in which you interact with and inspire your students to grow as musicians. More about that on a different day. As you contemplate setting up your own teaching business, keep in mind the benefits such as control over your own schedule and pay, plus the convenience of working from home.

Remember to utilize these 5 ways to attract students:

  • Create a web presence

  • Join local music teacher groups

  • Meet the local music school teachers

  • Sport your special talents

  • Go where the students are

And finally, when setting up your studio, keep in mind your space, your resources, and your policy.


If you have set up your own studio, what challenges did you face? I would love to hear your perspective in the comments.


Learn note reading and music theory with the Noteful app:  gain skills to read sheet music, play by ear better, and understand how music works.
Ed the Zebra, playing with the Noteful note reading and music theory app.

____________________________________


Lesson Policy for 20XX-20XX

Piano Studio of [TEACHER NAME]

[Teacher contact info]

[Teacher website]

YEARLY SCHEDULE AND PAYMENT PLAN


All students are expected to study throughout the entire school year for optimal progress. Tuition is due the first lesson of each session. Music books are not included in the lesson tuition.


Tuition:

$[Tuition amount]/session


Weekly 60 minute lessons (8 lessons per session)

  • Tuition raises will only occur at the beginning of Session I in the Fall.

  • There will be a $10 fee for late tuition checks.

  • There will be a $25 fee for all returned checks.

  • Online payments preferred

-[options/instructions for online payments]


PRACTICING


Daily practice is essential to the progress of the student, and is one of the most important commitments of taking piano lessons. The amount of practice per day varies with each student, depending on his or her level. Parents of children under ten should plan on practicing along with the student EACH DAY. Sometimes older students benefit from this as well.


Each student must have a METRONOME. Metronomes are an essential part of practicing and can be found at any music store, online, or as a phone app.




PERFORMANCE OPPORTUNITIES

Periodic performance classes will be held for the entire studio to help prepare the students for the following opportunities:

  • Studio Recitals*

  • Honors Recitals

  • Performance Festivals

  • Piano Guild*

  • Various competitions

*All students should plan to prepare for the studio recitals and for Piano Guild (adjudications take place in the spring). There are generally two or three student recitals per year. Students will be apprised of additional opportunities for which they are eligible.


MISSED LESSONS

  • Lessons missed without 24 hours notice will not be rescheduled.

  • Lessons missed due to vacation will not be rescheduled.

  • Lessons missed by the teacher due to illness or schedule conflict will always be rescheduled.

  • Lessons missed for any other circumstances may be rescheduled only if time permits.

  • If the student misses a rescheduled lesson for any reason, it will not be rescheduled again.

  • In the case of a long-term absence or illness your time slot can be reserved with a retainer fee equal to 50% of tuition for duration of the absence.

  • Thirty (30) days notice is required for termination of lessons. If lessons are terminated by the student before the end of the session, there will be no tuition refunds.

____________________________________________________ __________________

Student’s Signature Dated

____________________________________________________ __________________

Parent’s Signature Dated

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  • Writer's pictureBecky Billock

Last spring my daughter was slated to perform her very first ballet Variation in the spring show (a variation is a classical ballet solo). She is a very hard worker and this was a big milestone in her dance career. Sewing the dance costume fell to yours truly, so I set myself to piecing together the fabric, hand stitching the skirt onto the tutu, as well as attaching the sequined decorations by hand onto the leotard. It was a labor of love that took many hours–still a small thing compared to the work Evelyn put into the dance itself, but I was proud of my work, and more importantly, Evelyn loved it.





Then the day of the show arrived… and it was POURING RAIN! How were we going to get the costume up to the performance venue without it getting drenched? Not only did Evelyn need the costume to be dry for the performance, but the rain would ruin the fabric. I managed to–gently–wrangle the tutu into a giant garbage bag–no small feat. Then I had a new worry. Now we had a trash bag sitting around the house looking like, well, a trash bag! Except that this trash bag had a veritable treasure in it. I did what any reasonable person would do: I took a giant red marker and wrote all over the side of the bag: EVELYN’S DANCE COSTUME. DO NOT THROW AWAY!!!! This morning I had a revelation while listening to Benedict Carey’s book How We Learn, specifically the chapter entitled You snooze, you win! Benedict Carey was describing sleep science discoveries about how the brain processes the information it has taken in during the last waking period. The brain discards an enormous number of neural connections every time we sleep, but how does the brain know which neural connections to discard and which ones to keep? How does it separate the signal from the noise? Our brain recognizes and processes an astonishing amount of information every day. I live on a busy street and as I write this, I can hear traffic going by in front of our house. My brain recognizes the sound of passing cars and files it somewhere in my head: hopefully the recycle bin. But is that sound always unimportant? If I were down at the street trying to cross to the other side, those same sounds would become necessary tools for my brain’s task. And if I were stranded in the desert, waiting to hear the sound of a nearby vehicle might be a matter of life and death. But the cool thing is that when we are doing everyday tasks that don’t affect our immediate survival, we have agency to decide for ourselves what is important, and what is not. By concentrating on something, spending time letting our brains “wallow” in it, so to speak–by literally caring about it as we do it–we create a virtual earmark on a particular action. To use a musical example of playing middle C on the piano, it’s not just saying, “I care about playing middle C”, but it’s caring about the name of the note, caring about the way it looks on the piano, caring about the way it sounds, caring about how far my hand traveled to get there, caring about which finger I used, caring about the speed and weight in my hand as I depress the key. All that caring lets our brain know that this is not something to toss in the dumpster. It’s our red marker on the trash bag: DO NOT THROW AWAY! Whether you’re practicing a Beethoven sonata, exploring a new technique for a heart procedure, honing a tennis serve, learning dance choreography, finding a more ergonomic way to swing a heavy trash can up into the back of a trash truck, or–like me at the moment: trying to learn how to sit properly and comfortably at a computer desk–you create neural connections when you do physical actions intentionally. And the best part of all: when you sleep afterwards, your brain gets rid of all the clutter, but keeps the neural connections that you decided were important–the ones that you took ownership of. The ones you cared about. Mind blown. My “tutu trash bag” story would doubtless be a lot more exciting if someone had accidentally tossed the bag in the dumpster, but I’m happy to say everything came off without a hitch and Evelyn danced beautifully. Nearly a year later, the costume is still housed (safely) in a trash bag with very clear red lettering on the outside. And I believe Evelyn still remembers the choreography of that dance as well–it was marked in her brain as: IMPORTANT: DO NOT THROW AWAY! ~BB:-) This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin How We Learn by Benedict Carey Inspired in part by “Pierre” by Maurice Sendak (poem)

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  • Writer's pictureBecky Billock

I'm doing a thing. WE'RE doing a thing--I'm not doing the thing alone! The thing started as a little idea, but has turned into something of an obsession (anyone who knows me is not at all surprised by this!) Largely in response to a computer programming course I took during 2020, and as a way to motivate my students with their theory homework, I got the inspiration to create a digital learning platform for music theory and note reading. I've spent the last 10 months brainstorming, doing market research, interviewing, designing, reiterating, and mostly learning, learning, learning. At long last, things are starting to turn from phantom ideas into what will soon become a real app. I have an absolutely fantastic team helping me--I've been working with Jamie Quishenberry on the programming side since March or April. I'm so happy that my brother, Paul Billock, is building our database because he absolutely rocks. And the newest development that I'm over the moon about is that CMU has offered the one and only Jonathan Aldrich a one-semester supported leave so that he can work full time on the project! And we are currently working on adding another co-founder who will manage the marketing side of things. I feel like the luckiest person alive to have this rock-star team of experts helping me with this idea. I've been sharing the prototype with musicians, teachers, parents, and students, and have been getting overwhelmingly enthusiastic responses.


It has been, and continues to be, a total whirlwind. If you had told me a few years ago that very soon I would be leading a tech startup I probably would have fallen over laughing at the idea. I still mostly can't believe it. Some days I'm riding high and other days it feels like an absolute slog. Most days are a mix of utter excitement and complete exhaustion.

Which brings us to the mountaintop photo that I included in this post. I keep this picture on my desk at all times. It's a 2002 picture of me at the top of Mt. Adams (elev. 12,280). Mt. Adams is not a technical mountain--you don't need ropes or fancy gear (besides an ice axe) to climb it. It's mostly just a REALLY long and VERY steep hike in which you simply have to keep your head down and put one foot in front of the other, over and over again, for what seems like an endless eternity. You can't see the top of the mountain for most of the traverse--or more accurately, you often *think* you can see the top of the mountain, but when you reach that spot, it's not the top. So you can't really think about the top of the mountain. You just have to think about that one next step. Can I take one more step? Yep, I can do that! Can I take one more step? I think so. And on and on. And if you keep taking that one next step, then eventually--well, eventually this picture was taken from the top of the mountain! My Mt. Adams photo is a constant reminder to keep taking the next step, even if I can't see the top. I was realizing this past week that when I did this climb I was with both Paul and Jonathan, who are now an integral part of the team on this new entrepreneurial endeavor. I couldn't ask for better companions--people who also know the value of just taking the next step. I'm grateful for this every day.


If you are at all curious about the Noteful project, please reach out! There are lots of ways to get involved if you're interested, the most basic being to follow the Noteful pages on social media. You can also explore here on our website and meet Ed (our trusty Noteful mascot), get a demo of the prototype (send us an email), sign up to be an early beta tester, and tell your friends. We may even be looking for angel investors sooner rather than later. Either way, see ya up on the mountain somewhere. The top is not visible from here, but I have a feeling the view is going to be pretty incredible up there!


​ ~ BB:-)


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