Author Archives: mrskeys

Get Your Studio Ready For Fall

We’re in the middle of summer here in the US and yet we’re already seeing signs of fall.  Back to school sales are in full swing in every store everywhere. Now that I’ve had a little time to rest and work on a few projects, I’m starting to look ahead to the fall.  I have never been a natural organizer, but I know that being organized makes a huge difference in my mental state and helps me to run my business better.  Here is a massive list of tasks that will help you get ready for fall.  Choose the ones that you think will make your life easier this fall.  A little bit of preparation now will make your transition a thousand times easier!

  1. Go through your email and delete any saved emails from last semester and any students who are no longer in your studio. Archive any important ones.
  2. Clean out your teaching binder removing any notes or music from past students. File or delete unmarked sheet music.  Do the same with your files if you use a tablet instead of a binder.
  3. Go through your bookshelf.  Sort and organize all of your books, removing any books that you no longer use.
  4. Collect all receipts and statements from the current year and file them. (You will be happy you did this come tax time!)
  5. Do a deep clean of your computer and the cloud, deleting duplicate and old files. Do a full backup of your computer system to an external hard drive.
  6. Start files for new students and prepare materials that they might need.
  7. Check your current roster. Has everyone been assigned a lesson slot?  Are payments up to date?
  8. Check your fall schedule for any conflicts. Are there any holes in the schedule that you can fill?  Are any of your days too busy?  Do you have enough time off?
  9. Compare your fall calendar with your child’s school calendar and your family calendar.Are there any overlaps that you can correct now?
  10. Do an inventory of your music and supplies.Order books, copy manuscript paper, purchase hand sanitizer, straws and office supplies as needed.
  11. Get your piano tuned. (!!!!)
  12. Do a deep clean of the studio. Vacuum under the piano, clean your computer screen and keyboard, wash the windows, take everything off your bookshelves and dust under everything.
  13. Set your goals and intentions for the fall term.What did you learn from last semester? What goals do you have for you teaching, your business, your students and your own professional development.
  14. Make space in your calendar for exercise, breaks, family time and your own musical development. (Schedule it now before you get too busy!)
  15. Set some studio-wide goals for your students.More theory, stretching, practice journals, etc.
  16. Relax and enjoy the rest of the summer. You’re ready for fall!

How are YOU getting ready for the fall semester?

The Difference Between Knowing and Doing

When I was in high school, music teachers weren’t always sure what to do with me.  I knew a lot of theory and information, which meant that my teachers were constantly giving me new information about jazz theory and improvising techniques.  The only problem?  I couldn’t actually play any of it.

There is a mammoth difference between knowing how to do something and actually being able to do this.  In my many years of teaching, this is often the biggest challenge I face when working with students.

One summer when I was teaching at a summer music festival, there was this hotshot young jazz pianist that was wowing everybody. He would sit at the piano and play extremely complicated and virtuostic music, while everybody sat listening, completely impressed.  Knowing that he was going to be studying privately with me, a couple of students actually came up to me and said “What are you even going to be able to teach that guy?”  (Sigh.). At his first lesson, I had him play a Blues in F at a medium tempo.  He completely fell apart.  Turns out he had spent a lot of time learning the “hip” stuff, but hadn’t really learned the basics.

The most significant improvement I have made as a pianist has been when I take the time to fill in the gaps.   I sit down and made a list of all of the skills I lack– from voicings to scales, to working through difficult keys.  I once took a lesson with the saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, who asked me to arpeggiate the chords on All the Things You Are and I couldn’t do it.  At all.  I had played that song hundreds of times, but I was still unable to manage the very basic skills.  I was stuck on the “knowing” side and very far away from the “doing”.

I think one of the reasons my private students are so successful, is due to my experience of being a “knower” for so long.  I start everyone who walks through the door in the same place – at the very beginning.  Some of the more advanced students are taken aback that I would be working them at such a “low level”, until they discover that they are actually lacking in a great deal of these crucial foundations.  Most of them are quite shocked at how much they improve when they go back to the beginning and translate what they know to what they can do.

Nowadays when I’m practicing singing or piano (or both), I take my time to make sure that what is in my head is actually coming out of my fingers/voice and isn’t just stuck in my head.  It makes practicing really engaging and fun and helps me to stay grounded as I work.

Is there anything that you “know” but aren’t able to “do?’  What could you do to tackle that?

Take A Professional Development “Staycation”

Summer is here and your Facebook feed is full of photos of colleagues and friends singing and smiling at the many workshops, conferences and institutes that are being offered at colleges and retreat spaces all over the world.  And you’re quietly tucked at home, unable to attend due to no money (thanks a lot, student loans…or bathroom renovation) or no childcare.  (Or both, in my case…sigh).

Before you get a terminal case of FOMO, I have come up with a solution to the Professional Development Blues.  I call it the Professional Development “Staycation.”  Just because you can’t hop on a play and spend three weeks studying with some master teacher doesn’t mean that you can’t grow your skills in a meaningful way this summer.

Here is a list of ideas I put together to make sure that you stay on top of your professional development, on a budget.

  1. Take private lessons with an expert in your area…or via Skype.

You may not have thousands of dollars to fly off somewhere, but what if you invested a few hundred dollars taking private lessons with a great teacher.  If there isn’t anyone in your area, there are loads of amazing teachers who teach via Skype.

  1. Swap lessons with a colleague.

Sometimes the best professional development comes from watching others teach and learning what works for them. Reach out to another voice teacher in your area and see if they’d be into a swap, or even let you observe them teach.

  1. Catch up on your reading/watching/listening

We all know you have a stack of Journal of Singing’s that have been gathering dust while you have been teaching all year.  Now would be a great idea to read them and get current.  This is also a good time to listen to the soundtracks to all of the Tony nominees, and check out the albums that got Grammy nominations this year.  This would also be a great chance to go back and binge-listen some Naked Vocalist podcasts too!

  1. Look back

If you tend to stay current with the new musicals and albums coming out, you might consider having a look back.  Binge watch some old movie musicals, watch some PBS Great Performances or even go on YouTube and see how many versions you can find of Ella Fitzgerald singing “A Tisket A Tasket.”

  1. Take an online course

There are tons of online resources for instruction nowadays, many of which are extremely comprehensive and effective.  Berklee College in Boston has tons of offerings, and if you’re looking to gain some piano skills, check out my online course Piano Skills for Singers.  

  1. Work on your business

Now would be a great time to update your website, switch to an online billing system, learn Excel, learn how to shoot and edit videos or study marketing.  Many community colleges offer courses on business topics inexpensively, or you can hit YouTube to see what is available.  You may also order a stack of books from your public library to do a deep dive into a business-related skill.

These are just a few ideas that can help you grow your skill set this summer, while you preserve your pocketbook and still get your kids (or dogs) to the park every day.  What are YOUR summer PD plans?

Big Announcement – On Changing Direction

You may have read my recent posts on both my artist Facebook page and the Facebook page for my course Piano Skills for Singers.  If  you missed it, here it is…

As I’m sure you’re all aware, I have been extremely active as a private studio teacher here in NYC. I have been very privileged to have taught over 15 years, and have served hundreds of students one-on-one. It has been an absolute joy and has consumed most of my time.

Effective immediately I have decided to take a mini sabbatical from private teaching. (If you are a current private student, this doesn’t affect you!). I will still be maintaining a small number of private students, but I am reducing the number by about 70%.

Continue reading

What is Micropracticing?

Chances are, every time you sit down to play piano you are making mistakes at some point. Have you ever taken a moment to identify what those things are?

Try this: the next time you are teaching a voice lesson, running a choral rehearsal or just practicing, keep a pen and paper handy and jot down where you are making mistakes. Continue reading

On Confronting Hairy Monsters

Everybody has hairy monsters in the life. You know them. The list of difficult tasks that you’ve been meaning to get to and have been avoiding for months or maybe even years. You know you need to do them. You know they are high value. But they are just complicated and frustrating enough that you have just stuffed them under the bed and hoped that they won’t come out again. Perhaps you prioritize other tasks or get busy with other chores, but the monsters keep lurking until you one day take them on.

Tasks that pull at us often do so because they are actually really important and may even hold the key to massive growth in your personal or professional life. These are high value and high impact Continue reading

How to get the most out of your private lessons

As a longtime teacher of music, and even longer student of music, I have had the opportunity to learn via trial and error many methods that have served me and my students. Since we’re getting ready for back to school, and I’m getting ready to welcome a bunch of new students into my studio, I thought I’d share a list of tips on how to get the most out of your private lessons.  Continue reading

How to get ready for your fall piano/voice lessons

Now that summer is winding down and our minds are on the back to school crunch, I have been getting several questions on how to prepare to start up piano/voice lessons again after summer holidays, or really any holidays when you’ve been away from your music routine for longer than a few days.

Around here (NYC), most children of school age attend camp – either sleep away or day camp, Continue reading

How I confronted my limiting beliefs (and how you can too!)

I have been thinking and reading a lot about limiting beliefs and how our brains can be programmed to think something is impossible even if it isn’t.  These limiting beliefs hold us back from moving forward in our lives, our relationships and our businesses and keep us “stuck”.

Back in May, I listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Happier by Gretchen Rubin, which addressed exactly this topic.  (Here is the episode to check out!). It got me thinking about what was holding me back. Continue reading