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The End of Piano Lessons? How to Survive Covid-19

Piano lessons during a time of Coronavirus. Piano lessons when everyone is supposed to shelter-in-place. Piano lessons when people are losing their jobs right and left.

I'm writing this blog right now feeling the same fear and concern you are. Not only are you concerned about the general health and wellness of your own family, you might be suddenly trying to figure out how to educate your own kids at home. Or you're trying to figure out how to juggle your parents' many doctors appointments that keep getting postponed. Or maybe you're trying to balance just the general upheaval or no more karate and no more church.

And then, over it all, is this general haze of anxiety about your piano lessons. What if your students quit? How do you figure out how to do this online? Can you justify charging for piano lessons when some of your clients are losing their jobs?

My dear piano lesson friend, I totally get it. Believe me, I get it.

When I first heard of schools considering shutting down in our area, I became concerned. Then when they did shut down, I felt like it was inevitable -- I was going to have to make some changes. Shortly after that, our governor issued a shelter-in-place order and it was clear, piano lessons as I had been doing them were now over.

When we feel great amounts of anxiety, psychologists tell us that we generally do one of three things: fight, flee, or freeze. I will admit, I froze. Yep. Frozen. Paralyzed. Overwhelmed.

But, fortunately, I didn't stay there, and I know you aren't going to either. After a couple of days of stalking social media posts and drinking copious amounts of Diet Dr. Pepper, I decided it was time to take action (oh, and drink water again!).

Here is the action plan that has worked for me and that I know will work for you. You ready for it?

Step One: Breathe and do nothing (but pray).

That's right. Just breathe sweet friend. Pray for your family, pray for your students, pray for our country. And pray for yourself. Bring yourself to a place of calm and trust that we will get through this.

Step Two: Email your piano families.

Send out an email TODAY to your piano families. Express care for them. Let them know you recognize these are crazy times. And let them know you have a plan to move piano lessons online, effectively immediately.

Now, you don't necessarily have the plan fully worked out yet (that's coming), but you want to let them know that you're on it. Trust me, your piano families probably aren't stressed about piano lessons -- they have other things to work on -- but your confidence in communicating with them that there is a plan, will actually help ease their stress over all. The piano teacher has a plan. That's good.

Be sure to tell them you will be emailing them soon with detailed instructions, but for now, lessons will proceed as normal, just online, and you are there to serve them in every way you can.

Step Three: Sign Up for a Free Zoom Account

Check out www.zoom.com and get a free Zoom account. This is a great, user-friendly platform that is ideal for music lessons. Your piano students only have to follow a simple link that you will send them and voila, you're good to go.

A free Zoom account let's you run "meetings" up to 45 minutes. Plenty of time for the traditional 30 minute lesson, but if you have longer lessons, just plan on shortening them to 45 minutes and adding value to your students in other ways.

On Zoom, you and your student (or even group class) end up in the same digital classroom. You can see and hear each other. You can share your screen, to show your student music or use the digital whiteboard. It is super simple to use and is free. Did I mention it is free?

Step Four: Pick your device

Now, I see a lot of well meaning advice online right now, where teachers are showing elaborate set ups -- dual cameras, a laptop, digital writing tools, tripods, and other gadgets. Those are awesome, but not necessary right now. Let me repeat, they are not necessary right now.

You don't need to be spending a lot of money at this juncture, especially when things are so volatile, so let's stay with free, ok? Choose what you are going to use -- your laptop, an ipad, your smart phone. I personally like my laptop because I think it is easier to use the Zoom functions on it, but you could even use your phone in a pinch.

Someday, if you decide to do online lessons as a significant part of your studio or go completely online, you will probably want to figure out camera angles and sound proofing, and more. But for now, piano teacher, let's just get online. Pick your device and we can make it work.

Step Five: Pick your space The same principle applies here too. Ideally, you'd like to be at your piano, but if, for some reason, that doesn't work (maybe because teenagers are home, and doing online school in the same room? Ahem), then pick a different spot. Believe me, it is far more crucial that your student can see your smiling face than that they have a great angle on your piano keys.

Step Six: Gather Supplies

Again, let's separate ideal from reality. Ideally, you would want one copy of each of your student's piano books for your own reference during the lesson. But reality? This is definitely NOT the time to be dropping $100 for music. Gather what music books you have, and be fine with that.

Also, gather one or two other things that you could use in the lesson for fun. For younger students, maybe a stuffed animal or a puppet. Rhythm sticks to clap out quarter notes or recorder for pitch practice.

For your teens and adults, definitely music flashcards and other resources that you can utilize during the lesson. Anything to help make the lesson feel fun and engaging, a bit beyond the two of us just staring at our computers and pianos.

Step Seven: Add value

The reality is, piano lessons ARE expendable for most of your clients. When it comes right down to it, if they are going to choose between paying their mortgage or paying for piano lessons, trust me, we lose.

So, now is the time to show you get that. Add value to these online lessons with something else -- mail your students packets of additional work they can do, make a video of a theory lesson you do for them, something. Come up with something that you can do on top of the online lessons that show you get this is a tricky time and you want to serve them.

For my students, I did three different videos last week. One for my littles, one for my elementary students, and one for my teens/ adults. I posted them in our Facebook group and I emailed the YouTube link to them as well.

Truth: online lessons require more work. They just do. Its going to take you longer to prepare for them. But, this isn't the time for rethinking your work load. It's the time for strategic flexibility and coming up with ways to serve your clients.

Step Eight: Communicate more thoroughy

Now is the time for the nice long email. Or even a live Facebook video outlining what the plan is. Be sure to communicate these things:

A. It is my heart to continue to serve you during this time, so piano lessons are now moving online. My hope is that, by continuing with piano lessons during this crazy time, you can continue to make progress in your music studies and find some routine in your schedule by keeping up with music lessons.

B. Every week, we will do your lesson at the same time as usual. I will send you out a Zoom link the night before. All you have to do is follow the link and show up. :)

C. During your lesson, you will be playing for me those things you've worked on. I will listen and give you valuable feedback for moving forward. Plus, we will do some theory instruction and even an activity or two to help deepen your learning. Let's use this forced time at home to make great strides in your music studies!

D. I will also be sending out a [video, worksheet packet, link to special online activities, email, etc] each week to give your more musical fun during this time. It is truly my heart to serve you and I am grateful to be your piano teacher.

Finally, I recommend something along these lines:

I recognize that some of you may be facing significant economic hardship during this time. If you have lost your job or are dealing with something of that nature, please don't hesitate to talk to me. I'm sure that we can work it out. As we are all experiencing so many changes, the last thing I would want you to give up is your piano lesson. So, please keep in touch with me about this.

Step Nine: Then Do the Lessons

Piano teacher, this is going to feel uncomfortable for a while. You might be very nervous the first couple times doing online lessons.

But remember, your families aren't just paying for the music instruction. Truly, they can get that anywhere. They are paying for YOU.

The way your encourage your students. The way you laugh when they make that joke. The way you genuinely ask them how their day. The way that you celebrate when they succeed and motivate them when they are discouraged.

So, show up for them. Show up for them in the way you communicate in your emails. Show up for them in your online lessons. Show up for them in the extra things you do for them during this time.

It's not going to be easy. Not every student will stay. Not every student can.

But most will. As you communicate confidence and clarity, as you still show up for them week after week. They will stick with you and you and your studio will get through this.

You can do this, piano teacher. I promise.

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