Printables Successful Teaching Business

How To Explode Your Music Teaching Business With Recitals

Why Hold Recitals?

If you don’t hold recitals, you’re missing a rare chance to separate yourself from the many other accomplished teachers out there. My studio ballooned after I held my first recital. So can yours.

No Recitals = Students that Don’t Practice

Here’s the problem I faced: years ago, I used to teach around 5 students from all over NYC. We had weekly lessons for years, but no recitals! Looking back, the lessons often became thin and poorly structured. There was no imperative to practice.

For weeks I’d see mediocre practice habits, if that, followed by lethargy. I’d express my disappointment, then they’d go back to mediocre practicing. The cycle continued, never really moving off that  plateau.

Does your student have a sense of continuity and a sense of why they take piano lessons at all? If this is not clear to them, they’re likely to lose interest. Practicing becomes meaningless.

I took a hard, critical look at myself and realized that my own life was also poorly structured. All the jobs I had were transient, I did not take my lessons seriously, and I was full of ambivalence.

How can I give to my students what I don’t even have myself? I realized that as frightened as kids may be to play at a recital, I was also afraid  to put one on! It was time for a change.

A Recital That Will Transform Your Studio

The key to life is to realize that all decisions are binary, either 0 or 1, regardless of your feelings. So I decided to just do it. I set up a recital at the library, embraced my own fears, and did my best to truly offer something to these students. Something concrete that would crystalize their work. Recitals always teach me a lot, so keep reading.

When you finish reading this piece, you’ll have tools to set up your own recitals, plus a deeper sense of why and how to do this properly, with confidence. You’ll see more students head your way very quickly.

I put on recitals every six months. Afterwards, parents are thrilled. I get new student requests constantly. And best of all, my students are sharper and more determined than ever before. I feel confident that my efforts have meaning, that we’re all building something together.

All this helps me build and improve my own business and life. After all, they’re counting on me!

How to Set Up the Recital

I choose a weekend afternoon or morning. I’ve booked libraries, dance studios, etc. It all depends on what you need. If you are paying for a studio, they will need a deposit plus the booking fees. I would book it 1-2 months in advance, at least.

It will take an hour, at most for 15 students to perform. . Give yourself 30 minutes before and after to wrap up and clean up. If you have a keyboard, bring that plus an amplifier. If the venue has a piano, check to make sure it’s in decent shape and in tune.

I’d always call or check up with the venue a week before the recital, just to confirm it all. Nothing worse than 30 families arriving to an event that has been double booked by mistake!

How to Host A Recital

I sometimes play piano while families arrive, which is fun. Sometimes I stand around and mingle, which is also fun. As people arrive, I offer the kids a chance to sit at the piano for a moment to get used to the keys. If you’re using the Musicolor Method, take the time to tape the keys!

I wait five minutes past the scheduled start time to accommodate families that come late. Then we begin. Once everyone is seated, I start by thanking everyone for coming, then speak for about a minute on why we do the recitals*. I keep this short.

I then call all students to the stage to receive a certificate, and to stand with me on stage. This is important because it gives them a chance to get comfortable on the stage before performing. It also allows us all to get a photo together which is great for marketing. When they all sit back down, we begin the show.

I introduce each student with, “our next student is…” then give them a round of applause as they approach. Once they’re sitting, I ask them what they’re playing (while I’m half facing the audience).

It’s funny — often they’ll quietly answer just me, or look at me with a confused “You KNOW what I’m playing, why are you asking?” face. I then repeat back, slowly to the audience, what they’ve chosen to play.

After our final, headlining student, I urge everyone to give all of the students one last round of applause, then thank them for helping me set up the recital and coming out.

As everyone leaves, we usually chat, take more photos, the kids get to hang and talk — all super fun. Once you’re packed up and everyone has left, head out to grab a beer or an awesome dinner – you deserve it!  

Important Tips to Keep In Mind

  • It’s all about the students and their comfort. If you get nervous, that’s normal, but remember that no one is really focused on you anyway. Simply keep the pace and make it as calming as possible for the students who are often super nervous.
  • Before calling up the next student to perform, wait for the previous student to sit back down in their chair. It gives some weight, pacing, and structure to the whole thing.
  • Keep your introductions short and to the point.
  • Students will be called to the stage to receive formal accolades many times in their lives. Call them up to the stage at the start, have them shake your hand, then hand them the certificate. It teaches them this structure.
  • Incorporate bowing when you call their name to perform (to acknowledge the audience).
  • Ask them, on stage, what they’re performing. They’ll often speak softly, so repeat what they say to the audience.
  • When they finish the piece, have them bow again, then exit. All this creates a sense of structure and helps pace it all.
  • I used to randomize the student order, but now I like to have the beginner students start. That way, they don’t feel too intimidated.

What To Say At The Recital

I’ve created an easy to modify template for your opening speech.  You can download it below and also get a handy recital checklist and see a video of what another teacher, Andrew Ingkavet, says at his opening remarks.


Download Template and Checklist


Andrew Ingkavet’s opening remarks for Park Slope Music Lessons

Printables Professional Development

Mysterious Hidden Cues Lurking in Your Students

Social creatures, us humans.

But if you think words are enough, think again – body language and silence often tell you much more about a person.

So, what does this mean for us teachers? Well, if you can’t read the nonverbal signs, it makes it very hard to help the student. If you can’t help them, it’s only a matter of time before they leave your studio.

Years ago, I worked with a 7-year-old girl in Brooklyn for 6 months.

At one of our lessons, she raved about “Summertime Sadness” by Lana Del Ray.

I check it out and decide to write up my own sheet music. I tailored it to her skill level. After all, she’s just a beginner.

A week later, we sat down to work on each hand separately. We made progress for two weeks.

Then she stopped practicing.

For three weeks straight, nothing.

Uh oh. Maybe she’s lost interest? Two weeks later, her mother tells me she wants to stop lessons. Months later, I realize that I screwed up.

That written music I had tailored for her – even that was way too hard! She was too nervous to tell me. I missed the signs, lost a student, and my business declined.

Keep reading, mistakes like this will cost you your students (and of course income!).

Here are the nonverbal signs to watch for (and the remedy)


(a) They stop practicing.

A quote from piano pedagogue Abby Whiteside:

“If a child of average intelligence, average musical equipment, and an average coordination does not have, after studying for a while, a sense of accomplishment and an interest in music and the piano, it is ALWAYS the fault of the teacher and never the fault of the child.”

[Abby Whiteside on Piano Playing: Indispensables of Piano Playing and Mastering the Chopin Etudes and Other Essays]

If they stop practicing, they’re already associating piano with some kind of drudgery. You may have jumped to the wrong “Stepping Stone”, too far apart from the last. Reconnect with why you practice – it’s just fun to play music.

Keys to Remedy

  • Be prepared to change your entire approach. If you map 3 things to work on during the week, change it to 1 thing, and make it a tiny assignment.
  • Are you playing games? Play some games.
  • Are the songs dorky? Change it up. Film music is great (Star Wars, Disney). Ask them for their favorites. Don’t read the music, just show them a melody.
  • Use percussion. This often lights them up. It helps keep it simple, visceral.
  • Learn to stoke their enthusiasm. Whatever you do, know that their enthusiasm will take care of 90% of problems.

(b) They show you old pieces for no apparent reason.

We dive into a new piece, then the student stops, interrupts me, and starts playing easier, older pieces. It used to confuse and frustrate me. I lost focus. When this happens, think of this like a young child playing with his friends, then looking back at his mom to make sure she’s still there. Sometimes, he’ll even leave his friends for a moment, run up to mom, tag her on the leg, then run back to his friends.

Old pieces are like comfortable home bases. When a student does this, she may be communicating “I need to feel safe again”. New pieces can be uncertain and scary.

Keys to Remedy:

  • Have them write out a list of songs they’ve learned. They love it and it helps them feel accomplished. A visual list helps them see how far they’ve come.
  • When they start to play old pieces, let them finish. Use what they’ve played to glide into the new piece. Sometimes I’ll say “Hey it looks like the left hand part is easy for you now. Remember when it wasn’t? It’s like this new piece…”

(c) They REFUSE to listen.

A year ago, a four-year-old girl refused to do her first lesson, but has since blossomed into one of my best students. It went from hopeless to awesome. Here’s what happened:

When I showed up, she clung to her father, screaming. I was a stranger and she was uncomfortable. I pretended to not be fazed. I set up and started playing simple pieces. With her father a few steps away, she began to listen to me, slowly, cautiously, and angrily. She wanted to play music, she liked it. Within 30 minutes, I regained her interest only to lose it moments later. I’m writing now after reflection, but at the time I was annoyed. I’m human, moody, and my patience was tapped out after a frustrating morning. I lost her interest, so I switched to a music symbol card game. It’s dynamic and usually a hit. Not this time – several “No!” refusals later I was enraged. Nothing like the feeling of being powerless against a small child.

The parents were watching and this adds to the dynamic. I felt a subtle self-imposed expectation that I’m the one who needs to fix this. Frustration, hopelessness, obligation, etc. That’s a lot of feelings to wrestle with, and yet I had to keep a clear head and help the student. I was enraged, but at least I knew this. The only problem with being enraged is not knowing it. I settled in to it.

A Solution

Suddenly, I realized it was simple – she was just scared. Of course, she liked what we were doing, but maybe the way we were working was too…close? Private piano lessons can be an intimate sort of thing, so maybe she needs some space.

I rearranged our rhythm card game so that she’d have “her game” and I’d have “my game” two feet away from her. We kept playing, but it wasn’t full-on collaborative anymore. I simply narrated what I was doing like a distant, objective voice commenting.

She visibly relaxed.

She copied “my game” with “her game” two feet away. I’d gently ask questions and she’d cautiously answer. All of this went smoothly until the very end.

She was helped because she felt less pressure and obligation.

Closing Thoughts

These few scenarios above taught me a lot.

But this goes deep – if you found the above helpful, you’ll love the free worksheet even more. Once I learned to read the nonverbal signs with ease, my teaching has improved, students have stayed with me, and I have watched my studio grow to full capacity.


Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset Printables Resources

What Kind Of Smart Are Your Students?

Truly Scrumptious:  “Haven’t you noticed?  There aren’t any children. Not one.”

In the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on a novel by Ian Fleming (with a script co-written by Roald Dahl), there is a land where children are banished.  They are evil and are meant to be shut away and captured by the Child Catcher – the subject of many a nightmare for me!

The Child Catcher from the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”

It’s astounding to realize that developmental psychology and the modern practices of child-centered education are really only in their infancy.  It was only a little over 100 years ago that Dickens was writing of horrific conditions that faced children on an everyday basis.  There was little consciousness of the stages of human development and what was appropriate and possible for a child at each age.

Before educator/philosophers like John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and others, children were effectively seen as miniature adults and expected to understand and behave as adults!

Well times have certainly changed, thank goodness.  Today we have many new theories and studies that have proven effective for parents and educators.

As a music teacher, your mission is to transfer your knowledge with sensitivity and to invoke passion, curiosity, and enthusiasm for beauty in music and life.  We, as educators, can better accomplish this by embracing and studying areas outside of just “technique and repertoire.”

In this article I want to give some insights on teaching using the framework of multiple intelligences.

Harvard University developmental psychologist Dr. Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983 and theorized that everyone has a preferred mode of learning..  When his book was first published, he had identified seven modes of learning, but there are now eight or nine depending on which research you follow.

Here is a list of Dr.Gardner’s multiple intelligences from one of the leading proponents of the theory, Dr. Thomas Armstrong, whose website can be visited here.

The Multiple Intelligences

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

As a music teacher, you can start to see what kind of preferred mode of learning your student has. Ideally, we all have music smart students!  But then again, these are all aspects of all of us.  We are all smart in multiple ways with some areas stronger than others.  Someone who is considered hyperactive and really unfocused may just be “body smart.” Or someone who consistently talks during the lesson may not be trying to be rude or disrespectful, but rather is “word smart” and needs to process by speaking about the lesson.

Here’s a visual chart that can help you get an overview of the multiple intelligences.

Download a PDF here.

Think about your students as you look at this chart. You’ll quickly recognize some of your students and how they fit into one or more of these intelligences.  Keep in mind that we all use each of these in some respects, but we tend to lean more towards one or two in our everyday lives. Knowing the preferred intelligences of your students can really help with your mission to spark the joy of learning and to transfer the skills necessary for learning to your students.

To better understand this, you can take this free multiple intelligences quiz to assess what kind of smart you are.

Number Smart Students

Years ago, when I was sitting in my son’s preschool classroom, I noticed how much structure there was.  They had charts for attendance, the daily routine, and going to the bathroom, etc.  My son loved this!  He would also love to take all the books off the shelf and put them back in order from smallest to largest.  This was endlessly fascinating to him because he loved organizing and sorting.  It became obvious to me that he was number smart.  For kids who are number smart, I have found the use of a practice chart and daily stickers or check marks to be highly effective.

Body Smart Students

I’ve had several students over the years who are obviously more body smart and they struggle to sit long enough to focus.  I end up taking away the piano bench so they can play standing up and they love the kinesthetic learning games we play, such as using Curwen hand signs and moving magnetic notes on my Grand Staff magnet board.

Word Smart Students

I have some students who have been word smart and they are so funny! Everything is discussion and conversation, but if you really listen and ask them questions, they are synthesizing all the facts and you will be amazed by how much they know! They just need to tell it to you. This can be a little hard when you are asking them to just play the piece because they need to tell you everything they noticed or felt or heard first!


While we can do these personalizations in a private lesson, a classroom situation is very different. The challenge of teaching multiple intelligences in the classroom is huge especially given the typical structure of a classroom. Children are grouped, not according to these preferred modes of learning, but by age. A single teacher needs to teach everyone in the same way without losing their minds!  For some teachers, they just give up on those “problem students” and send them to detention or expel them from their class,but those kids could be highly musical as well.

With some creativity (and energy), I’m hoping some of these teachers could see it in a new way.  A simple walk outside with the class to observe the sounds of nature or industrial sounds, perhaps having them use a handheld recorder or smartphone, could be a fascinating and educational activity that would satisfy some of the more body smart and nature smart students in the class.

Schools and Multiple Intelligence

Schools face the challenge of meeting the needs of as many students as possible, but this creates a situation where some students might fall through the cracks.  One of the most articulate and eloquent speakers on the subject of education and its challenges is Sir Ken Robinson. He has written several books on education and his TED Talk is one of the most viewed ever.

I discovered this excellent animation of one of his talks that discusses the problem of our school system, which generally only rewards students who are word smart or number smart.  Additionally, there has been an “epidemic” of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) diagnoses in the United States.  Here’s a clip that starts at the section about ADHD. I would highly recommend watching the video by Sir Ken Robinson in its entirety if you have time.

I hope this discussion of multiple intelligences has piqued your interest in approaching your music students in a fresh new way.  I welcome your comments below.

We discuss learning styles in the Musicolor Method™ training course – Learn more.

Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset Printables

Seinfeld’s Simple Technique Is How To Practice Music

“My child loves the lessons but just doesn’t want to practice.”  

It’s probably the number one challenge of every music teacher, parent, and music student:  how to make practice part of a daily routine.

Child tired of learning the piano.

For young preschoolers, this is something that has to be taught and externally monitored by the parent.  It’s highly unusual for a preschooler to consciously sit down and practice everyday.  

A Mindset Shift

So in this article, I want to give you a mindset – an overall framework for how to teach practice skills.  By understanding the psychological aspects, and some high leverage points, with a few adjustments you can make dramatic shifts in your student’s practice routines and life.

How Do I Know?

I know this is true because, I have successfully taught hundreds of music students in my private teaching studio and because of my wide angle career path, have brought in some ideas from rather far-flung places.  Over the last decade, my students, including my own son, all learned how to practice.  It’s definitely a skill that needs to be taught.

Routines Lead To Habits

The first thing I tell every parent is to find a time of day, everyday, that can become practice time even if it’s only 10 minutes.  By setting this time for music practice, within a few weeks it no longer requires effort, but it becomes a habit the same way that brushing your teeth is a habit.  You can always practice longer or at another time in addition, but this is a sacred time that should be honored as much as possible.  Usually this works well for a while until the first school holiday comes along!  Then it’s back to effort and focus to make a routine which then leads again to habit.

Keep the Instrument In The Center Of Your Space

One thing surprised me when I began teaching young children.  I discovered that many parents would place the piano or guitar or whatever instrument in an isolated corner of the house like a playroom or bedroom.  Then, when it came time to practice, they would say,

“Go and practice!”  

The Practice Dungeon

This makes practice time feel more like a punishment than a shared activity.  It’s solitary confinement!  It also says to the child,

“This is not a priority for my parent and they are not interested in me.”

So keep your instrument in your living room or near to wherever you spend the most amount of time.  It signals its importance in the family.  Unsurprisingly, the students who had this “practice dungeon” arrangement never lasted more than a year.

But It Sounds Bad

Some parents will say,

“But it sounds bad!  And I am tired or my spouse is exhausted from work and doesn’t want to hear it.”  

Well, what kind of signal does that send to your child?  

“I am not worthy of your attention and love while I do this activity that you really don’t want to be a part of.  Hmm.  Maybe I should play soccer instead.”

Grit Leads To Success

Grit is a term popularized by Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth which is basically the courage and strength to keep trying, persevere and the resiliency to pick oneself up and try again.  In her studies on children, grit was the determining factor on how successful a child would be on test scores and in later life.   Link to Angela Duckworth Ted Talk.

Music Lessons As Grit Exercise

Music lessons and practice is an incredible grit-building exercise.  But to build a child’s grit, you need to praise the effort and not just the intrinsic being.  What I mean by that is don’t just say a vague, “Great!  You’re wonderful!”  Find something specific to praise based on their effort, focus, resolve, resiliency and even their so called failures.  

Celebrate The Small Wins

So during practice sessions, praise “how smooth that section was”, or “I like how you lifted your hands during the staccato parts,” or “that rhythm was so fun and bouncy!”  By celebrating the small wins, you are watering the seeds of psychological growth and letting them see the glass half full as opposed to half empty.

Navy Seals in Training

Psychological Strength & Navy Seals

One of the secrets to making it through an elite program such as the Navy Seals, where 94% drop out in the first few weeks, is to either have or adopt a mindset of grit.  The key seems to be “celebrating the small wins.”  By sharing a half-second smile or a short meal break with fellow soldiers, the ones that made it through lifted each other’s spirits, giving them just enough psychological strength to continue.  

During the last few weeks leading up to my biannual recitals, I can see the pattern of emotional highs and lows clearly.  The recital is such a motivating factor, if handled well, can be a positive growth experience.  

Looking At the Horizon

One of the hardest things for anyone is to set a challenging goal and then continually make forward progress towards it.  Many people see their goals out on the horizon and no matter how much progress they have made, they never seem to be getting closer.  


The trick is to turn around and look where you came from.  When your student is banging their head against the wall and just about to give up saying, “I can’t do it.”  You can remind them to first add the word “yet” to that sentence and then show them how much progress was made.  

Turn them around and see where they came from.  You can do this by looking at previous lesson notes and pieces.  Notice the dates of when they last played something that is now considered “so easy.”  Also, if you have video recordings of previous recitals, you can show them where they were just a little while ago.

Seinfeld Knows How To Practice

Years ago, Jerry Seinfeld was asked how to get better as a comic.  His reply (link) was to write better jokes and do it everyday.  To do that, he uses a wall calendar and large red marker.  For each day you write, you put an X on the calendar.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.  Don’t break the chain!”

Jerry Seinfeld knows how to practice

You can see a video interview with Jerry by the NY Times where he details his writing process in his usually funny way.  

Jerry is doing what a lot of preschool teachers do in their classroom.  There are charts for attendance, the daily routine, and going to the bathroom, etc.

My son is one of these kids who loves puzzles, patterns, and organizing.  When he was 3 we would go to the Barnes and Noble bookstore; and he would take out all the books from the shelf and put them back in size order!  This was endlessly fascinating to him.  So we instituted a star chart for him to reward the behaviors we wanted.  

Beatrice shows off her practice chart full of stickers!
Beatrice shows off her practice chart full of stickers!

Mindset Is The Key

In learning anything in life, having the right mindset enables you to see the options ahead.  Without adopting the correct mindset, you cannot even see avenues right in front of you.

I’d love to know your mindset regarding practice.  Does this resonate with you?  Do you have any other high leverage ideas to make practice better?  Please share below in the comments.

Also, if you enjoyed the cross-pollination of ideas in this article, please share it with your friends.

Articles referenced in this post



Piano Sheet Music For Beginners Printables

Ode To Joy, easy piano notes with colors

This is a good piece for early beginning pianists and will most likely be featured in my upcoming Volume 3 of Play Piano For Kids.

The sheet music uses my color system which is basically a rainbow starting from C.  You should download Play Piano For Kids, Volume 1 as a PDF to see the color scheme and how it works.

Beethoven portrait

Most kids have heard of Beethoven and may have even been introduced to some of his music in their music class at school.  Ode To Joy is the famous melody that was part of his 9th Symphony and there have been many versions of English lyrics put to this music over the last two hundred years.

Ode To Joy Free piano sheet music

Download PDF here

And when you start teaching it to your child, you can have them listen to this version by a Philharmonic Chorus.

Piano Lesson Piano Sheet Music For Beginners Printables

Let It Be, easy piano sheet music for intermediate players

Let it be for piano - intermediate musicolor method

The Beatles changed the world with their catchy pop melodies, excellent song structures and beautiful harmonies.  This song is long a favorite for pianists, but playing it in the original key of C is quite difficult for most young singers who have the heart of their range from middle C (C4) to the one above (C5).

Here’s a quick and easy version that you can use to remedy that situation in the Key of F major.  You can easily find the lyrics anywhere on the internet.

For educational purposes only. Download PDF.

Piano Sheet Music For Beginners Printables

Happy Birthday, easy piano sheet music

How to play Happy Birthday on the piano. This is a popular perennial request and I’m posting here for educational purposes only.  Recently, the courts in the USA have declared this as public domain!  Woo hoo!


Download the Happy Birthday song in PDF here.