Staying On Time With 30-minute Lessons

picture of violin and fall leaves

My “New Year’s” Resolution

For many teachers, September feels more the like the “new year” than January 1st. I love all the school supply sales and the sense of new beginnings. This time of the year, I like to also take time to reflect on how I can improve and streamline my teaching. My goal this year is very simple: to stay on time. This seems like a no-brainer, just end each lesson on time. But on days where I have 8 students back-to-back with no break, it can be a bit more difficult to start and end everyone on time. Throw into the mix students who are slow to put instruments away or parents with all those important beginning-of-semester questions and you can see why staying on time can be a challenge.


Creating a Game Plan

To make sure I stay on schedule, I wanted to get a more clear idea of how I wanted to structure each lesson, especially those shorter 30 minute lessons. I sketched out a pie chart in my bullet journal of how an ideal 30 minute lesson would go, assuming the student is playing twinkles or above in Book 1. Just an aside: I normally ask my Book 2 students to move up to a 45-minute lesson to accommodate more note reading and technique work, so the chart below would look a bit different for a more advanced student with a too-short lesson time. Continue reading “Staying On Time With 30-minute Lessons”


Plan a (Almost) Stress Free Studio Recital

Is it recital season for you too? April and May are prime time for studio and other end-of-year recitals and I’m gearing up for my own studio recital in a few weeks. It seems like some great cosmic joke that studio recitals occur when my students are most bogged down with schoolwork and counting down the days until summer vacation. But while this time of the year is always busy, I have figured out a few ways to make the recital go smoother.

Stress Free Studio Recital

Continue reading “Plan a (Almost) Stress Free Studio Recital”

How to Avoid Burnout as a Private Teacher

Maintaining a large private teaching studio is not a normal 9-5 job. Some non-musician friends balk at my work schedule, but I love teaching children and I love music. So how does a studio teacher find balance? Here are some tips that have helped me stay happy and healthy as a studio teacher. And a fun infographic. Because who doesn’t like an infographic?


How to avoid burnout

Continue reading “How to Avoid Burnout as a Private Teacher”

Private Studio Parent Emails: One Trick that Saves Me Hours of Time

Private Studio Parent Emails_ One Trick that Saves Me Hours of Time

I, like most studio teachers I know, am in this job because enjoy teaching children beautiful music. When I’m not in the music studio teaching, I love planning lessons, reading teaching books and blogs, and hunting for resources for my students.  But several years ago, as my teaching studio grew, I found myself spending less time on improving my teaching and increasingly more time on emailing parents. Particularly when recital or re-enrollment time came around, I grew frustrated with how much time I spent keeping my studio families in the loop with important information. That’s when I heard about MailChimp.


Mailchimp: the best email wrangler. Continue reading “Private Studio Parent Emails: One Trick that Saves Me Hours of Time”

Viola Hero! Rockin’ at Regular Practice

Here in St. Louis, we are currently under an Ice Storm Warning and my regular Suzuki Saturday classes have been cancelled, so even though it is a Saturday, it feels like a Snow Day. Having moved here from upstate New York, I tend to laugh at the hysteria that takes hold of Missourians when there is more than a dusting of snow (Cancel school! Mob the grocery store! It’s the Apocalypse!), but the weather reports for this storm aren’t looking good, so I’m glad to be warm and cozy inside and working on getting ready for our new semester, which starts on Tuesday. One of the things I’m finishing up is my new practice challenge. I love a good theme, and this semester’s theme is “Viola Hero”, like Guitar Hero but for viola. I also have a few violin students, so they get to use the “Violin Hero” Chart. Both charts are available at my TpT store. Here’s a sneak peak of the Viola Chart:



Not Working:

The Weekly Lesson Chart

I have pretty much always used a weekly practice chart for lesson assignments which my older students read and check off as they practice throughout the week. As I have gotten to know my students better, I began to see patterns in practicing. Continue reading “Viola Hero! Rockin’ at Regular Practice”

How I Keep Track of Student Assignments in My Large Studio

When I was a new teacher, I experienced a particular dread that I can still recall quite vividly: that of not remembering which song one of my students was working on. The student would come in, perhaps after I had already been teaching for 5 hours straight, and my mind would suddenly go blank as I tried to recall what we had worked on in the previous week. “Are they on Allegro, or did we start Perpetual Motion?… Have we started learning shifting yet?…Have they played the C Major scale yet?” The whole time while these thoughts were swimming through my head, I was also trying to listen to my student playing their warm-up and think of something helpful to say. You can imagine that this was not the most productive scenario!

I would try to take notes on each students’ lesson, but as I am sure other teachers will appreciate, trying to write anything coherent while also managing the transitions between lessons, while a 4-year-old student may or may not be having a meltdown or an 8-year-old student may not understand the concept of hurrying, well… you get the idea. I needed something quick and easy that I could reference at each lesson to get a good overview of what I had covered with each student. Introducing: the student progress charts. Armed with a decent working knowledge of table tools, I created a progress chart for each Suzuki book, which could be used for the entire semester.


Here is a sample of what it looks like for a Book 1 viola student:

I have a key that I use to quickly fill out the chart every week. A check mark means we have played the entire piece. For new pieces, a “P” will mean preview, or I may be even more specific and write “1/2” meaning we have learned the first half. If there is a particular song or exercise I want to make sure we get to in the next week, I will mark that week’s square with a circle.

There have been several unanticipated benefits to using these charts, but the greatest has been peace of mind. I no longer have to wonder if I have been consistently teaching vibrato, or doing enough review, or progressing to new songs in a reasonable time frame because I can see the entire semester at a glance. Because I have this “bird’s eye view” of that student over a longer time period, I can also spot red flags. If a student has been on Minuet No. 1 for 10 weeks, I know we have a problem. Before it was difficult to spot those kinds of long-term trends.

A few months ago, in a discussion on the ISTEX Suzuki Facebook Group (if you’re not a member, join now because the discussion is awesome), I shared how I use my excel-like tool and was surprised to have a large number of teachers ask to see it. To make my progress charts readily available, I recently added them to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. For either viola or violin books 1 through 4, you can download a file for $3 and can print as many as you want for your whole studio. Here is the product listing for viola and for violin. The charts are not currently editable (that may take a while, because there are so many fields to fill out), but that is a long-term plan of mine and for now there are blank fields in each chart so you can add your own songs or exercises.

I very much hope this will be a help as you begin the New Year and new semester. Please let me know in a comment if you find this to be useful, or if you have any tips and tricks for keeping track of your own students’ progress.

Happy Practicing!