Best practices Blog Mindset Successful Teaching Business

4 Challenges Of Every Music School Owner, Actually All Small Businesses

So you know you can teach music…congratulations!

It’s only the first step.

Offering your services and successfully running a profitable business is a whole other problem. This is the problem most music teachers who want to grow a successful business face.

It feels like a massive tangle of problems:

How do I get clients? How do I maintain the ones I have? How do I manage running the business while teaching. How to make sure you have enough cash left at the end of the month so you can actually pay yourself something.And it costs energy, time and what little money you have. Not to mention sanity!

Does this sound familiar?

There’s actually a deeper reason behind it all. It’s the belief that you know what you’re doing.

That’s it.

Most teachers have never been trained to think like a business person. So they follow what the crowd is doing or saying. Unfortunately, they don’t know either. Sometimes, they get lucky and something works. But because there’s no understanding of the big picture, it runs its course and doesn’t work anymore.

It’s like dentists. There’s a bunch in my family and friends. Graduating with honors from a top dental school only enables you to work for someone else. It’s the same with music teachers.

Therefore , it requires a shift in belief. You have to stop thinking in small tactics and address core problems. It’s like putting tiny band-aids on gigantic wounds. You’re not going to stop the bleeding.

I suffered this mentality for years. I kept diving from one program to another thinking, this one trick should do it. From now on, I’ll be successful, mwah ha ha ha!

But it’s NOT about what your “click-through-rate on an ad” is. “Postcard marketing” is not the answer. It’s not about “Yelp vs Facebook vs Google.” It’s not even about your makeup and billing policy.

The real answer is that you need a framework for thinking about business and delivering results for your students.

I’ve been the President of a local business support group for the last two years. One thing I’ve seen over and over again is that every business has the same challenges. It doesn’t matter if you’re a dentist, a real estate agent, a life coach, a graphic designer or a yoga instructor.

Everyone who is in business, either solo-preneur or bigger, has the same challenges.

I wish I knew this years ago.  And now you will have it.

Here’s the four areas every business needs to master to become a success:

  1. A steady flow of new prospective clients (leads)
  2. Cashflow and pricing
  3. Time management
  4. Your process – curriculum – secret sauce

It’s actually simple.

But it’s also interesting how many music teachers are stuck on the 4th point. Curriculum is important but it’s much more than that if you want to make a real livable wage from your teaching.

Now that you know this, you can take stock of where you are and start to dive deeper into each area that needs improvement.

I’ve made it my life’s mission to help people learn life skills through music. But I can’t do it alone. I need energized, passionate and purpose-driven educators who are reaching as many students as possible to join me.

If you would like help growing your business, and are an awesome educator who believes in the power of music to change the world, then I invite you to book a Breakthrough Call with me.

NOTE:  Please DO NOT book a call if you are just looking to get 3 more students on your roster.  I’m looking for educators with vision who want to make a bigger impact and are coachable, open-minded and in integrity.

And note, It’s not just about my curriculum. I can help you with all of the 4 challenges.

Best practices Mindset Professional Development Successful Teaching Business

How To Run Your Teaching Biz Like A Badass Boss

I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too. – Steve Martin

Too often, I hear music teachers say they are struggling to pay bills and can’t seem to attract enough students.

And I get it.  Most of us teachers starting teaching out of a love of sharing our gifts.  We studied music, theory, composition, pedagogy, and history – but not business.

It’s similar to dentists.  They go to dental school and learn all about taking care of us, their patients.  It’s incredibly difficult and specialized. But as soon as they graduate, they are thrust into building a practice.  Or they go and try to work for someone else. No one ever told them about how to start a business.

I think entrepreneurship should be taught beginning in grade school.

Some kids get it.  They start lemonade stands and then move onto other products or services.  One of my neighbor’s kids knocked on the door one Sunday morning and asked if we would like to buy breakfast services for the next month.  She was only 8 years old! That’s cool.

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. –Benjamin Franklin

In this article, I want to share with you a roadmap to a successful teaching business that anyone can do, whether you are just starting out or have been teaching for years.  Along the way, we’ll discuss some limiting beliefs that can block your way to success as well as some empowering mental models that will accelerate your progress.


Over the last decade or so, I’ve built a successful teaching business.  It wasn’t always easy and not everything worked. I’ve also taught this process to other teachers as a one-on-one coach and also in online training programs.  

Here’s a visual overview of a successful teaching business.  

Think of it as the map of the territory. The thousand foot view.  This first part is what you need to set up.


How To Run Your Teaching Biz Like A Badass Boss p1
The Setup Phase and Key Decisions


And once you have it started and running, here’s the next phase – operations.

How To Run Your Teaching Biz Like A Badass Boss p2


To be really useful, you should know where you are in the journey of your business.  

Are you just starting up?  

Have you already found a core ideal audience and now need to tweak the operations?  Are you looking to scale your success outside your geographic or client base area? This is a great article about stages of business.

Each one of these areas can be fully explored in a book, course, or months (years?) of coaching.  The problem arises when one goes to find help on starting a successful small business, and they are inundated with very specific help in a very specific area.  Usually, it’s one small part of this big picture. I wish I had a vision of this when I was just starting out. It’s my hope that this roadmap can be a guide for helping to know what you know and don’t know so you can  then seek further information.

I have helped many music teachers and school owners around the world with problems on this map.  Some needed help with the whole thing. Others just needed to tweak a small strategy within a small section.

Save Yourself Time, Energy and Frustration

Below are some recommended books that I think can eliminate much of the clutter.  It’s the 20% that will give you the 80% effectiveness. The signal from the noise. Mindset is a big part of it and shifting from a habitual state of lack to abundance is key.  But even as a self-directed learner, I believe if you are serious about your success, you need to invest in coaching.

By working with a coach you can greatly accelerate your progress and avoid the many pitfalls and dead-ends on your journey.  If you would like to discuss private or group coaching, please contact me here.

Some Recommended Books and Resources

Best practices Professional Development Successful Teaching Business

What Is The Best Type Of Music Teacher To Be?

In this short video, I explain a useful way to think about your teaching practice.  It helps both with being the best teacher you can be, as well as a more successful business owner.    And it may surprise you why…

Transcription below:

Hello, welcome.

This is three types of music teacher, which one are you. I’m Andrew Ingkavet that’s me on the right, down there and I wanted to introduce you to this idea of three different types of teachers.

These three teachers, I’m going to represent them just as basic shapes.

We got the circle, square and triangle. So we can also call them Type I, Type II, and Type III. What I’m meaning about these three types is that there’s a different focus for each one. 

The first one Type I, the circle is the foundation builder.

This is the first music teacher, the one that’s going to be introducing all the basic concepts, techniques, introducing styles and genres, and hopefully instilling the joy of music and a life long love of music.

Type II is the next level

As the talent is rising and we’re going to take that student to go to a higher level.

Then Type III is when you’re getting more specialized focus in a specific area.

So you can see that these three types are actually in a specific order, and you can also think of it as that Type I is working with beginners, Type II is intermediate, and Type III is advanced students. 

This is pretty basic stuff but there’s a lot of myths about being a great teacher, a great music teacher, and one of the most common myths is that you have to be all three types. That might have been the case back in the day where you had these small towns when you were the only music teacher in town and you had the one room school house and had to serve all different levels at all different times. This is actually quite difficult because you have to think about all the different needs for the different groups, the different levels, and maintaining lesson plans and curricular for all three types is quite a lot of work. Also, some of us are just better at one type than the other type. Some of us want to work with young beginners and other ones want to work with more advanced. 

If you think about it, there are teachers who teach specifically first grade. These teachers are different focus than those who teach high school English. There’s a huge difference in the type of focus and the curricular they have to learn to work with those groups of students. So the more specialized you are, the easier it will become because you will be actually getting better at serving that audience, and also you might prefer to work with that student subset. 

Now it’s the same thing as you were thinking about your teaching practice from a business standpoint. They always say to specialize to have a narrow focus a niche. You’ve heard there is a niche market, the narrow the niche it’s a smaller pond. You become the big fish in the small pond, you can stand out, you can be a more dominant force. It’s also much easier to communicate to one audience than many. 

So if you’re working just with say grade school kids, talking to parents who are the most likely client for that group, is much different than say talking to an adult audience who wants to come back to learning piano after many, many years away from it. Or they already had some training. So every audience has a different way of speaking to them, a different messaging and you can stand out much easier by just narrowing the focus. There’s less to worry about. Then you get to work with your ideal students. The ones who you really most want to serve and are best suited to serve.

Let’s go back to that graphic of the three teachers. Which I or II or III maybe, maybe you’re all of these.

So some of us actually are a multitude of these because say we play one instrument at a very high level. I know somebody who is a great cellist, who can take a child at the very, very beginning and can take them up to the next level and can even take them all the way to level III, the Type III teacher. But for piano, who wants to introduce the basic foundations of music through the piano is probably best suited to work with just in the beginner area as a Type I teacher.

If you’re a Type I teacher working with a beginner student, there’s a lot of benefits that you may not even realize that can come from working with this group. There’s the possibility to start very, very young and keep them much longer than most other teachers can, because this group is usually less busy, there’s less competition for their time. I start teaching kids at 3 1/2 to 4 years old and I can tell you a little bit about how I do that a little bit later, but this way I can keep these students with me until they’re 10, 11, 12, even 16 years old. This is over a decade with me.

This group of students also is glad to have structured lessons. You can have much more structure curriculum and lesson planned than when you get to working with the other groups where you may be working on the fly a lot more. This is the group that you are really looking to spark the joy of music. As early as possible in a multitude of ways through listening, playing, performing and all kinds of fun activities to show that music can actually teach life skills that are vital to success in life. Things like focus, grit, goal setting, public performance. All the things that parents want from their children. 

So the Type 1 teachers, many of them have tried using traditional music method, so they need to start around 7 or 8 years old when children can actually read. But, I have created something that’s called the Musicolor Method® and this is very suitable for pre literate kids, even special needs kids, kids on the autism spectrum, and Asperger. They all respond very well to it because we are using color as educational scaffolding. Meaning, we don’t have to read to play, we can get kids playing right away. 

I encourage you to check out some of our other videos, subscribe to this channel, and also check out our website. We also have a full comprehensive training program for professional music educators and school and studio owners called the Musicolor Masterclass. Take a look at that and I’ll see you in the next video. 

Best practices Video

How To Quickly and Easily Motivate Your Kids To Practice


You can also check out my 5-star-rated book, the Game of Practice, with 53 tips to make practice fun. 


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How to get concepts to stick for music students

What cognitive disfluency teaches us?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

We are drowning in information these days. There’s so much information that our eyes glaze over.

The boards of education of every school district in America are touting the importance of having information about student attendance, test scores, reading ability, curriculum, assignments, and so on. And everywhere, we see charts, graphs, and tables. How can we keep up?

It’s so easy to put all this information into a pretty chart, but do we really understand it?

The Educational Benefits of Ugly Fonts

A few years ago, I read an interesting article in Wired called The Educational Benefits of Ugly Fonts. They discussed a research study where student volunteers were told to read some information. In one group, the information was easily scanned and read with a clear and legible typeface. In the other group, the same information was presented in an ugly, hard to read font. The students had to really work at making out what was being said.

The results?

The students faced with the ugly fonts actually remembered and retained the information better than those with the easy-to-read fonts. This is called cognitive disfluency.

“People process new information along a continuum, from very fluently (with great ease) to very disfluently (with great difficulty). Researchers have long recognized that people prefer fluently processed stimuli across a broad range of dimensions. A more recent stream of research suggests that disfluency sometimes produces superior outcomes.” – Adam Alter, a professor at NYU. See an interview here.

I was once given an assignment to copy the music for a Beethoven string quartet by hand. This was for a composition class at Juilliard School of Music. By the time I had written a few measures, I began to really get into the structure of the piece. It also helped me to retain some of the phrasing ideas that Beethoven was using.

I’ve done this kind of exercise before with creative fiction writing. I copied by hand the opening chapters of some of my favorite novels and short stories. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a favorite. After a few pages, my mind started to flow with the longer, mellifluous and magical phrasing he is known for.

In advertising classes, copywriters are given sample sales letters and told to write them out by hand for at least 30 minutes a day. After a few weeks, they are ready to start writing their own sales copy.

These are all examples of cognitive disfluency in action.

Smarter, Faster, Better

In Charles Duhigg’s book Smarter, Faster, Better, he describes how a Cincinnati public school turned itself around using cognitive disfluency.

“In 2008, the Elementary Initiative was launched. As part of that reform, Johnson’s principal mandated that all teachers had to spend at least two afternoons per month in the school’s new data room. Around a conference table, teachers were forced to participate in exercises that made data collection and statistical tabulation even more time consuming.”

Teachers were required to make handwritten index cards with each student’s data and then transfer the information to long rolls of butcher paper lining the walls of the data room.

“It was intensely boring. And frankly, it seemed redundant because all this information was already available on the students’ online dashboards… ‘The rule was that everyone had to actually handle the cards, physically move them around.’… “Handling the cards, she found, gave her a more granular sense of each student’s strengths and weaknesses..”

This made me think of my process for music lesson planning and notes.

I have been writing lesson notes by hand after each lesson for the last six years or so. I then transfer them into my Music Teacher’s Helper to send to the parent and keep a running record for myself.

What I’ve noticed is that I am incredibly cognizant of where each and every student is on their path and what the right next step for them is. I’ve been training a few teachers in this method, and they too are getting wonderful results. The fact that I’m handling the data gives me that deeper understanding.

So the counter-intuitive act of making it harder to input data to a system (and my brain!) has enabled me to retain it in a more readily available form.

When To Use Cognitive Disfluency

Cognitive disfluency is an advanced technique.  It is best used for understanding big conceptual or structural knowledge like in the understanding of how Beethoven composed a string quartet or Picasso created a cubist portrait.

For basic concepts, you want to be very intuitive and easy to understand.

Once your brain understands the basic building blocks of any activity –  it chunks the information together.  This is how you can drive a car and listen to the radio without getting into an accident.  The small blocks have been made into habit routines that are chunked together.

However, this is exactly when many people miss information.  They back the car over the tricycle because they are not as carefully monitoring the environment the way they did in the first month of driving.  The same is true when viewing the fancy charts of data or understanding a finished piece of music.  You can easily gloss over the real details without internalizing any of them.  And…forget about retaining the information as it was never stored in the first place.

What do you use for your lesson planning?

You may want to try the harder, less convenient way for greater results.

Feel free to forward this to your friends, music teachers, clients.

A version of this article first appeared at the Music Teachers Helper Blog.

Best practices Successful Teaching Business

What Is The Best Music Teacher Marketing? Hint: It’s Easy

So what is the best music teacher marketing?

Many independent music teachers are always asking me how do I get more students?  There are many avenues for music teacher marketing, but let’s first start with your current clients.  If you are doing a great job with teaching, your current clients will naturally tell their friends, family and neighbors.  Your best clients are always your current clients.  Treat them like VIP’s!  They will naturally send you more business.  And one way to celebrate their success with you is through public recitals.

(Above photo credit:  ElizaC3, Flickr.)

Recitals are unique

Recitals allow you to gather all of your fans in one place.  It’s a unique moment that many other types of businesses do not have.  Can you imagine a dentist having a kid’s picnic for her clients?  (Hmm.  Actually, that could be a great idea!)  If you are not currently holding at least one recital per year (I recommend two at minimum) then you are missing out on a wonderful and easy way to meet more prospective students.   The recital will give you massive exposure and the opportunity to take lots of photos and videos.

Get The Word Out

If you have a local newspaper that lists events, what better music teacher marketing than a listing in the newspaper?  I’ve also seen home-made laminated posters pinned to the fence of my local playground.  Other ideas are to make postcards to place at local shops and bulletin boards.  It’s just like promoting your band.

What about space?

This coming Saturday is my spring recital.  I will be using my local public library which has a public auditorium that anyone can sign up for free.  I do have to bring all my gear, instruments and set up the room which is a bit of pain.  I know other teachers rent out churches, dance studios, coffee shops or event spaces, but I prefer supporting my library and it is a central location in my neighborhood.

Nerves and photo-Ops

I anticipated from my very first recital that kids were going to be nervous.  Nervous enough that  they wouldn’t be able to perform well.  One thing that has helped is to create a reason for everyone to get on stage at the very beginning of the event.  This helps relax their nerves as we are all standing on stage together, and gives me a wonderful photo opportunity for marketing!  To have photos of students who are happy, performing well and smiling is great for your message:  you are a teacher that can make this happen!

Awards and recognition

I create an individual personalized award certificate, suitable for framing, for each and every student.  They are beautiful and my son (my first student!) has a wall full of them.   Plus it has my name and the name of my studio clearly printed on it.  I call out each child’s name and they walk down the aisle (to thunderous applause) to receive their certificate.  Then, they stay onstage until all performers are standing together.   

I tell them, “Look, you’re already up here.   This is a safe space.   I’m here, and your family and friends are here – we’re all here to support YOU.  You’re going to do great!”  

And then we start the show!

best music teacher marketing
Handing out award certificates before the recital.

Invite new and prospective students

Recitals are an excellent way to introduce yourself to more people.  As more and more friends come to the recital, they get to see you, meet some of your other students and get a sense of how learning from you will be.  It’s the same reason big companies offer free trials and samples at the supermarket.  They want you to experience their product in advance.  After all, the best marketing is having the experience of your product or service!  And recitals are just that.  They see you in action and see your great results!  


For years, I have been video-recording all my students and posting them to my YouTube channel for Park Slope Music Lessons.  I only list the child’s first name out of privacy concerns.  At first, I thought many parents would object to this.  But it is actually a wonderful service that they appreciate.  Not everyone is technically savvy enough to shoot a quality video, post it online and then share it with everyone.  By doing this, it is easier for them to just forward a link to grandma or Aunt Sarah.   I don’t charge for this service because I don’t want to guarantee a video that may or may not come out well.  Plus, I post them on my website which gives me more social proof that I am transforming the lives of my students and their families.  It’s right there in the video.  Now if you don’t have the skills or equipment to shoot video, you can easily find an event videographer on Craigslist who would do a great job for a reasonable fee.  

Conclusion: What is the best music teacher marketing?

To conclude, recitals are an essential (and I think the best!) part of your music teacher marketing.  You need to be holding one, two or more events every year.  And you need to capture images and video from these events to place on your website, social media and newsletter.  Be sure and get permission from your clients first.

I hope you found this helpful.  I look forward to your comments and if you have other suggestions on how to make recitals even more effective.


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How to sing and perform better with spirit

“I almost never listen to music for my own enjoyment…”

This is a quote from a music teacher posting in a forum for music teachers.  There was a consensus among the hundreds of posters that they were just too burnt out from playing, singing and teaching all day, more music was just too much after a long day.  

This is one of the saddest things I’ve heard.  To me, music is life, spirit and emotion –  all one and the same.  When the very people who are passing on this gift   are burnt out and cannot even enjoy it, it is a problem.  But I think it may be solvable.

Music is unlike other jobs like, accounting or working on a factory line.  It’s something that most of us would do even if we weren’t paid to.  

My student

I have a student who is still very young, but who has been studying with me for about 6 years now.  She started with me learning to play piano using my Musicolor Method™ before I even had a name for it.   Within about a year, we moved to singing and playing pop and Broadway show songs.  About two years ago, she added guitar.  What impresses me so much about her is her pure love of music which then leads to an absolute focus and commitment to the music.  

A few years ago, at a recital, she performed two songs.   She used a lyric sheet for the first song, even though I said no sheet music on stage.  Somehow she snuck it up there and before I noticed it, she was performing.  With the lyric sheet in front of her, and her nerves going, she held back and played it “safe.”  You could hear it was “good” but something was missing.  After that song, I rushed up and pulled her music away despite  her protests.   I told her, “You don’t need it!”  

For a few seconds, she looked quite upset and angry at me, but then she smiled and composed herself.  She started the second song,  and although it was a little rocky at first soon she deepened her connection with the song and there was a moment of pure spirit.  She forgot about the audience, the lights and her nerves and the song just poured out.  It was pure magic and you could feel it.  The audience was on their feet applauding like mad.  

The Magical Connection

This connection  to spirit and emotion is a very difficult thing to teach and I’ve rarely heard it discussed in education programs.  Even on the popular talent shows like American Idol and The Voice, you only hear whispers of it.  The coaches and judges all know it when they hear it, as do we, the audience, but how do we get it?  That magical connection?  

To me, this connection is pure unbridled passion and joy.  It happens when there is a complete commitment to the performance.  You can see and feel it in all kinds of human endeavors from sports to music to theater to public speaking.  

How To Connect To Spirit

I want to share a few ideas I’ve used to help teach this connection to spirit.  

Focus outward – Connection happens by losing all self-consciousness and focusing only on the content

Choose wisely – The music that you choose must move you –  then you can explore why it does.  The music needs to resonate deeply with the performer.

Make the piece your own – play it faster, slower, all staccato, all legato, in a different style  – reggae, rock, jazz, etc.  Then bring it back to the way you now think it should sound.  It will have changed and deepened into your own.

Use the power of story – even if the music has no programmed story or lyrics, you can use the power of visualization to create a storyline that you can then set and tell through your performance.  This has been a wonderful way to bring instrumental pieces to life for my young students.

The Run On Sentence – If the music has lyrics, try writing out the lyrics over and over as one long run-on sentence without punctuation.  This is an old actor’s trick that I used quite a lot in my days in off-Broadway theater.  When you do this,  you start to break the habitual patterns and phrasings of what you heard before.  It becomes fluid and molds itself to your emotional state in that moment.  When you return to singing and playing the song, it will be a very different experience.  It’s like running water over the stones of your emotional states.

Repetition exercise – I learned this in the acting classes taught by  Phil Gushee, who was a student of Sanford Meisner.  He taught a simple basic technique called the repetition exercise.  The basic premise is two actors sit  across from each other and one of them says something. The other actor must then repeat the phrase, colored only by their own emotion. They go back and forth until they feel the impulse to say something else.

This can be something like:

“It’s late.”

“It’s late?”

“It’s LATE!”

“It’s late! Yeah you should have been home hours ago!” and then we’re off with a completely connected improvised scene.

You can apply this to music by having the performer play  a phrase or the whole piece over and over while the teacher/coach   randomly calls out  different emotions:  happy, jaunty, silly, depressed, shy, etc.   I did this with a young boy playing a ragtime piece on piano and we turned it into the funniest circus music. It got to the point where we were just laughing so hard.  This definitely lightened the mood when the recital came and we had this inner secret of the circus clown version to help calm our nerves!

Emotion Cards

You can make yourself some index cards listing  emotional states that you can pick at random.  Send them home with the student to have his or her family pick out the cards.  Talk about a fun practice session!

Get Back In The Game

Here’s a quick playlist of the human spirit.  All of these “performances” contain the key ingredients of complete focus, full commitment, passionate ownership and abandonment of any sense of self-consciousness.  So when you need a jolt of spirit or you’re feeling like you need some rejuvenation, try this playlist of committed passion and connectedness.

A brief Spirit-giving playlist

I’d love to hear your comments and any other ideas you may have on teaching this very subtle skill.  By the way, I go deep into seven key “soft skills” in the Musicolor Method™ online training which is opening for another class in July.  You can register for the wait-list here. 

I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it. I circle around God, around the primordial tower. I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song? – Rainier Maria Rilke



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How to make music practice effective – it can change your life

Men Wearing Makeup Playing Loud Guitars

When I was 12, I discovered something so fantastic, larger-than-life, and electrifying!

It was the rock band KISS.

It was colorful, loud, and crazy. But maybe even more, my parents hated it! All of a sudden, everything else faded away and I wanted to be one of these super-hero-like rock stars, slinging a guitar down at my knees with long hair blowing in the wind.

But I was an awkward, geeky, and lonely kid with thick glasses. And it was too late, wasn’t it? Didn’t anyone who became famous start when they were four years old?

So, I just consumed the music, learning the history of rock from the library books, magazines, and the radio. New York radio station WPLJ used to have a documentary series on the history of rock and I recorded every episode I could. It was pure gold!

The Itch To Play Guitar

I was itching to play guitar!

At 13, I discovered the Rolling Stones! I started digging the sounds of Cream, Led Zeppelin, and then learned about their influencers, people like John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, and Robert Johnson.  

[By the way, this has emerged as a major success pattern in my life. New interest? Do a deep historical dive and overview of the major influencers. Get the “meta knowledge” first. The big picture.]

Stairway To Heaven

One day, a kid in my neighborhood, Steve Watson, played a school concert with his band. They played “Stairway To Heaven.” I couldn’t believe it! It was like a bolt of lightning went through my whole body.

“If he could do it, then surely I can!

He hasn’t even been playing guitar for more than a year!”

Teaching Myself

I went home and picked up my Mom’s old nylon string folk guitar and began to teach myself. Since I was already playing alto sax since the fourth grade in the school band, I had some musical training. Plus, I had some guitar lessons at five, but that didn’t last.

The Lennon McCartney Guitar Course

I bought the Lennon & McCartney guitar course and started at page one. I was motivated and I started to practice for hours every day. I went through the book page by page and practiced getting each and every exercise and song smooth.

Rolling Over The Bumps

Along the way, I realized that I could get better faster if I didn’t just play the whole thing from start to finish. I could “roll over” those bumpy spots to make them smoother by just doing that isolated part again and again. By practicing the difficult bits, I progressed rapidly.

Catching Up

Within a few months I bought myself a $30 used and battered Hondo Les Paul style electric guitar (with a Tobacco Sunburst) and a cheap amp.  I started practicing up to 9 hours a day!  I was desperately trying to catch up to “everyone else who started at 5!”

Scales, Arpeggios and Exercises

While most kids learn by playing songs, I practiced scales, arpeggios, and exercises. I actually could not play a song from memory until years later!

A Music Practice Virtuoso

I wanted to get good fast and I did left-hand-only exercises, followed by right-hand-muted-picking exercises while watching television. It drove the family crazy. I became a practice virtuoso!

Practice and Life Skills

I never became that rock star. I was close, in that I was a television host for MTV as one of the first 3 VJs to launch their channel in Asia. I got a publishing deal and toured with my band, and I have had many other adventures in my career.


For a while, I felt like the character Zelig in Woody Allen’s film of the same name. It seems I was always on the edge of a new discovery: desktop publishing, television, MTV, film composing, the Internet, advertising and education.

The Practice Mindset

Each time I reinvented myself, it was with a “practice mindset.”

I asked myself questions like:

  • How can I master this material in the shortest amount of time?
  • Who are the role models I need to model?
  • What is the history of this discipline?

Where Mastery Happens

Today as a private music teacher, I work every day with young students from age 3 to 15. Each lesson is really a lesson in learning how to practice. The actual skill-building does not happen in the lesson. Mastery happens at home in the daily practice. The lesson is where we refine “how to practice.”

The Game Of Practice

I’ve just written a book on ways to encourage practicing a musical instrument.  It’s available right now on Amazon and is free as a launch promotion for the next four days.  In the book, you’ll learn more mindsets for practicing as well 53 tips to make practice fun.

Here’s some of the fun, unique and innovative things you will learn:

  • Why learning a song is like eating a pie
  • Why every music teacher should buy stock in 3M, the maker of Post-It notes.
  • How to use beans to motivate (or coins or candies)
  • How to help your child memorize a piece of music non-liinearly
  • Why there is a right way and a wrong way to praise
  • How to make practicing a repertoire like a game
  • Using practice stickers and much more…

You can download the book at Amazon.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.

And thank you to all the great music teachers I’ve had along the way including:  Andy Blackett, Pete Brasch, Seth Shapiro, Dan Converse, Mark Elf, Conrad Cummings, Ron Sadoff, Jim Petrungaro, Pat Castle, Gene Bertoncini, Joe Lovano, and so many more.

Best practices Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset Teaching Methods

Improvement Science and 5 Percent Better Everyday

As a music teacher, you are training the next generation of leaders in a vital skill: the art of practicing.

Practicing is the art of improving a specific skill. It leads to the path of mastery. What you focus on will improve. This applies to teachers as well. What are you doing as a teacher to improve the practice of your teaching?

A Designed Morning Routine

For me, improvement begins with a morning routine. My morning routine includes a time of reflection. By setting aside time for gratitude and reflection, I am able to digest and celebrate every small win and every step forward. Reflecting also allows me to learn from my mistakes and mentally prepare myself for what’s next to come.

After I reflect, I then decide what I will focus on for the remainder of the day. Without reflecting, I end up reacting to life and putting out fires instead of designing my life.

Cheaper By The Dozen

I remember reading the funny and poignant novel, “Cheaper By The Dozen”, when I was a teen. I resonated with the father who always ensured all of his children were improving themselves daily, down to the minute! Even listening to language recordings in the shower! (If you haven’t read it, it’s quite moving as to why the father was in such a rush.)

I had a family like that. My parents were pushing for constant and never-ending improvement.

I recently came across this idea of daily improvement.

Just make a 5% daily improvement.

Most people don’t understand that a daily 5% improvement is exponential! It’s not a straight line, but a rapid hockey stick curve upward! And it is just a small improvement per day.

Improvement Science

The Carnegie Foundation recently created a process known as Improvement ScienceThis process addresses how organizations can improve and get better.

In other words – practicing.

The six core principles of Improvement Science can also be applied to our everyday day lives. Improvement Science can be boiled down to:

1) What is the problem we are trying to solve?

Be specific.

2) Variation in performance is the core problem

How do we get consistency?

3) See the system that produces the current outcomes

Can you visualize a way to make it all work? Discuss it, test it, try out parts of it.

4) You can’t improve what you can’t measure

Measurement is a big part of practice. How do you know you are getting better? It’s the same with goal-setting. Can you put a specific measurable amount to your goal?

5) Iterations of plan, do, study, act. 

Or what I like to call “Fail forward fast!”

The greatest achievers in any field are not great because they never fail. Instead they fail, and get on with it. They get back up really quickly and move to the next level. The more you aim for greatness, the more you will fail, but just keep going, no matter what. Just do it, and do it again, and again.

6) Use community support

You can’t do it alone.

There are so many groups that can provide you support in any endeavor you choose. Seeking support is important because in this journey, you will need all of the outside feedback, mentoring, and camaraderie that you can get.

With this in mind, I have launched a membership site.

Musicolor Members Circle 

Musicolor Members Circle is a forum for discussion and sharing my teaching ideas in my course and future courses. It contains an ever-expanding library of teaching ideas, demos, guest lectures, question and answer office hours, mastermind group and fellowship.

Musicolor Members Circle is perfect for music teachers who share my vision for embracing new ideas and applying them to music education while spreading the joy of music to as many people as possible.

I invite you to join me here.

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The #1 Secret To Teaching Young Children Music

Teaching Young Children Music

As a private music teacher, you want to teach music to children.  You know they love it and there seems to be a plentiful supply of them asking for your help.  Besides, lately all your adult students seem to be canceling at the last minute while your teens are more interested in their social media feeds than practicing.  Maybe you should teach younger kids?

But Teaching Young Kids Is Hard

It does seem hard, doesn’t it?  Young children have limited attention spans, some lack fine motor skills, and some can’t even spell their names, let alone read a simple word.  How do you present the many complexities of music, technique, reading, and playing songs they like  in a way that’s simple, fun and won’t  drive you crazy?

What About A New Age Group?

But what if you could take a 4 year old as a student?  What if you could successfully take on a whole bunch of them and keep them for years?  Your studio would be instantly full and overflowing for a long time with this group.  You might even have a waiting list.  But this would only happen, if you were effective, and fun!

So, what is the #1 secret to teaching young children music?


The secret is a term that we usually associate with construction.  Here in New York City, I see it every single day.  It’s “scaffolding.”  Scaffolding is the temporary structure that assists the workers in building the building.  In the western world, most of it is metal, but in Hong Kong, where I lived for years, it’s still made of bamboo!

Metal scaffolding
Metal scaffolding
Bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong
Bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong



But the term scaffolding has been appropriated by educators to mean a similar thing.  In education, you offer support while the student learns a new concept or skill.  


The Balance Bike

This reminds me of the time I was teaching my son to ride a bicycle.

balance bike


When my son was a toddler, I began seeing beautiful handmade two-wheeled, push bikes without pedals.  The concept was that the child could focus on balance before learning to use pedals.  

It was a phased learning process.  


But why not training wheels?


Well, these have been proven to be more of a crutch than a scaffolding.


So, I bought a $30 kid’s bike and adjusted the seat as low as possible without adding the pedals.  As soon as my son began to develop balance, which he demonstrated by lifting his feet while rolling along, I knew he was ready.  So, one day, when he was 4 years old, I pushed him down the slope of our Brooklyn sidewalk with the pedals turning.  He grabbed my hand saying,

“Papa, do NOT let go of me!”  

I began to push and run alongside him, holding on as I had promised.   Before we had travelled  twenty feet, he began yelling, “Let go!  Let go!  I can do this!”

And sure enough, he pedaled down the block with the most triumphant smile on his face.

Applying Phased Learning & Scaffolding to Music

In teaching music to preschoolers, I realized that there needed to be something similar.  I needed a phased-learning process, some kind of thoughtful scaffolding so  the student does not  get hit with a multitude of new abstract concepts at the same time.

A Limited Data Set

I started kids with a limited data-set, just five  notes on the keyboard that match their  five  fingers.  For the guitar, I taped off three of the strings and just used the three  higher strings,  using  one for melody and the others as drones.

Use of Color

I began to use color as a temporary scaffolding.  By directly labelling the keys, the fingering and the notation, I could work on playing songs which they loved while gently correcting their technique over time.  Then I could start sneaking in some music theory through games.  Eventually, we would start tackling learning to read music on the staff.    

Parallel Paths

My teaching started to break down into these separate but parallel tracks.

1) Playing comes first – but with a limited set of notes that match the middle of the human voice frequency range.  This allows the student to engage their voice in the process.

2) Technical facility is gradually developed over time in service of a song

3) Reading of music notation is taught in a 6 stage process from simplest to traditional music notation.

4) Conceptual and abstract music theory is gradually delivered in small gradual steps, usually through games.

Here’s a video of one of my students at a holiday music party after only a few weeks of lessons.

In my ten years of specializing in teaching children, I have consistently had a full roster with a waiting list and the results have been amazing.   Last Fall, I began teaching a few other music teachers this method and they too have been experiencing great results.  In a few weeks, I will be launching the online course for the Musicolor Method™.  If you want to be on the early bird list for notification when it’s ready, you can click here.  

Growth Mindset of Children “I Can Do Anything”

One of the greatest joys of teaching kids music is that young children have  complete self-confidence and belief that they can do anything.  They truly embody the growth mindset.  Unfortunately, it seems they begin to lose this the older they get, so starting music lessons at this age dovetails perfectly with their confidence.  

Music Is For Everyone

I believe that music should be for everyone.  It is in our very core – we are all vibrating at frequencies.  Let’s share the joy of music with as many people as possible.  

I would love to know your thoughts on scaffolding and if you have any similar techniques?  Please share in the comments below and thanks for reading!