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How Open-Minded Are You as a Music Teacher?

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.” -Frank Zappa

How open-minded are you?

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t say they’re open-minded.  But in reality, it seems very few teachers are.

Look at the glacial pace of change in education across the world.  Every other field is experiencing massive disruption and great leaps forward due to the embrace of new ideas, new ways of doing things, and new technology.

This is costing our very livelihoods as educators.  In school systems, music and arts are being cut everywhere- it’s seen as non-essential.  For those lucky enough to keep a classroom music teaching job, they are now being asked to cover lunchroom duties or schoolyard monitoring- non-teaching administrative functions!

And in private lessons, it’s not much better.

Students are looking to learn to play music because they listen to it everywhere.  But when they go to their first lesson, they are given complicated, boring exercises only useful for prodigies.  It’s no wonder so many students walk right out to never return!

The problem is that many of these old guard teachers believe that there’s only one way to teach.  It’s a traditional model that has lasted for hundreds of years! Just think of it, these traditional methods are the same method books that were being used when we were wearing wigs!

It’s a big disconnect.

Everywhere we turn, there’s music.  Every hip new restaurant has a hip new playlist.  Every retail store has a designed music ambiance. Even political candidates have a playlist.  Did you see the recent NY Times article that details each Presidential hopeful and their playlists?  Fascinating.

And yet, so many teachers can’t seem to deliver lessons that connect with the continued love and enthusiasm for music.

So what’s the solution?

Give the people what they want.

And that begins with opening the minds of music teachers.

I’ve been interviewing teachers for my school.  One of the questions I always ask is,

“What are you listening to these days?”

It’s a simple question, but if you ask many music teachers, it seems their playlists got stuck on their old Victrola.

It’s fascinating how many say they are open-minded, but upon further digging, it’s like they could be living in 1819, not 2019.

A simple way to start cracking open the door of your mind is to start listening to other types of music.

I read on another music teacher forum recently a teacher saying, “I have no time to listen to music!”

How sad.

If music has lost its spark for you, how can you light the candle of your student?

I encourage you to reinvigorate your musical life.  Listen wide, deep, and often. Subscribe to streaming services.  Did you realize how much music is available in your pocket?

And if you need some inspiration, here’s some recent listening according to my playlist history:

  • Bomba Estereo – Ayo
  • Harry Belafonte – Angelina
  • Eric Whitacre  – Lux Arumque
  • U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • Jeff Beck – Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
  • Louis Vierne – Messe Solennelle – Kyrie
  • Steel Pulse – Earth Crisis
  • Louis Prima – I Wanna Be Like You
  • Johnny Cash – I’ve Been Everywhere
  • Sebastian Yatra – Un Año
  • MC5 – Kick Out The Jams
  • Santana – Soul Sacrifice from Woodstock
  • Pedro Capo & Farruko – Calma remix
  • Benjamin Britten – Peter Grimes

Listen to something different today.

I’ve been mentoring music teachers and business owners for years.  I have a few openings.  If you’d like to book a free breakthrough call with me, click here.

It’ll be the best 45 minutes you’ve ever spent on your business.  It’s free.

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My interview about the Musicolor Method on Tim Topham’s podcast

I was recently interviewed on the influential Creative Piano Teacher podcast with Tim Topham. Tim’s a wonderful educator who has a very active blog, podcast, and a membership site. If you’re a teacher and never heard of him, you’re in for a treat.

In the interview, I discuss

  • How and why I decided to create a method book
  • How color is used in the method
  • Why the Musicolor Method starts with vertical notation
  • How it avoids position or finger number based thinking
  • My 7 core principles of music teaching
  • Which type of student this method is particularly suited to

I also talk about a special offer on our newly updated Musicolor Masterclass

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Brett is Teaching Full Time After Doubling His Roster

While he started teaching music to make some extra cash, Brett quickly realized that he had a knack for connecting with students. The only problem? Getting enough students to pay him for regular lessons to quit his extra part-time jobs.

Within three months of going through The Musicolor Method Masterclass and being coached by Andrew, Brett doubled his student roster and became a full-time music teacher.

Brett Crudgington
Brooklyn, New York

First instrument: Saxophone
Age I started playing music: 9
Number of years teaching: 10
Number of students before The Musicolor Method: 12
Number of current students: 33 and counting, plus waiting list

Interviewer: Christy Goldfeder

Current listening to:

Glenn Gould to calm myself down. I have also been listening to and playing a lot of Brazilian music, classical dances and samba.

I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember

I have been playing instruments since I was 9 years old, I started on the saxophone. I was at the piano one day when I was really young, and I just started playing melodies. I was copying what I knew from playing the saxophone.

My parents thought that was a little brainy to be doing. So they asked me, “Do you want piano lessons?”. I started with 30 minute piano lessons with a teacher down the road, and I took them for 3 years.

Early lessons were somewhat disorganized

My teacher would give me books to work through, but she presented the lessons in the

method books, in a haphazard way. They were a little confusing, It was very disconnected.

There wasn’t a ton of structure early on, but I did survive with my sort of natural playing talent. I still learned a lot, but it could’ve been better. I also didn’t practice a whole lot.

When I started high school, I realized I needed to practice and needed structure. I went to college in New York, and I started playing classical music. I had four years of classical training after a bunch of Jazz training.

I went pro in Brooms

In my early to mid-twenties, I worked with a project called Brooms. It was a singer/songwriter duo, me and another guy. We were composing and producing albums.

We did a lot on Spotify. We produced four albums, and we got some traction. I got a couple songs featured in commercials, which was really cool.

These days, I’m focusing on running a business and keeping my skills up.  

I didn’t take my music business seriously at first

I saw music lessons as a way to make a living, but I didn’t like the business side of it. I loved playing.

I was juggling another job, and I had 12 private music students. I kept getting calls for students, and I thought “Okay, I gotta figure this out. I can’t do both.”

I had no business background, no corporate experience, no marketing or formal training. I didn’t take any classes. I was drowning in hours of teaching, and trying to manage it all. I needed to tighten up my communication and what I was offering.

The Musicolor Method came along at the right time. Andrew offered me coaching sessions along with the Masterclass, and I was like “Great! Sign me up.”

The Musicolor Method doubled my student roster

Since we started working together, I’ve been teaching full time. No more juggling another job. That’s it!

Before I started using the Musicolor Method Masterclass, I had 12 students. Within about 6-9 months, I doubled my student roster. I used his excellent product to help a lot of young kids who can’t read, to help them play these songs.

Andrew’s course gives teachers a way to translate the value of what his method gives, to the parents themselves.

It shows you exactly how to structure a lesson plan, writing lesson notes to families and communicating in a consistent way. It helps you run a professional business and show the value of what you’re providing.

He simplifies the process of running a music lesson business.

It saved me years of frustration and struggle

There are many resources out there, and they are all pretty great. But it’s different to work with somebody and get the right structure at the right time.

You could have 100 things to do as a business owner, and a consultant will come in and say “don’t do that, don’t do that and just focus on these 10 things”. It saves you like years.

It’s a genius way of approaching a 4-year-old mind in a very intuitive way.

The Musicolor Method lets young students go home and rehearse these songs on their own, without needing a parent there to help them out. They can figure it out on their own.

I didn’t know what to do with very young students before Andrew came along. Quite frankly I didn’t have the time.

Andrew spent some time in the library reading up on this, and he has tried a lot of the stuff out. So what he has done is created a great, intuitive way to reach these kids but do it in a structured way too.

It’s just unique because he has information design background too. So he was able to kind of go, immediately see the problems and address those problems.

Parents love seeing their kids succeed

I think the parents appreciate the approach. It’s intuitive and their kids have fun playing right away. They really love seeing their kids succeed. The kids are enjoying it, and the parents don’t feel lost either.

Parents are not worried about, “Are my kids retaining any of this?” As long as the teacher kind of addresses that consistently and says “Look, this is how we’re moving and what we expect over the next 3-6 months.”

It helps you, as the teacher, to be very clear about the pace and structure.

What I’d tell you about taking The Musicolor Method Masterclass

The Musicolor Method Masterclass will give you the structure you need to make your lessons.

Especially, if you’ve been teaching for a few years, but you still need help structuring your lessons. This can transform your business.

If you have a little success from teaching and you enjoy it, this can be the game changer.

It will give you the marketing skills you need to treat it like a business. You won’t feel like you’re getting swallowed up by your business. Instead, you’ll learn how to manage it in a way that suits you.

And because this method opens up a whole new market to me (4-6 year olds) I can suddenly take on all of them and it works amazingly for them. It’s saved me a lot of time figuring out what works.

Now I have a different class of problems. I am managing 33 students, and now I have to figure out how to scale and manage a full roster of students.

Learn more about the Musicolor Masterclass here

Visit Brett’s studio website here.

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Pictogram: How to get more music students?

I was inspired by a conversation I had last week with a music teacher I’m coaching.  We discussed ideas for marketing and I began spouting ideas off the top of my head.  As an E, for extroverted thinker  (Myers Briggs scale)  this happens a lot.  I don’t even know what I’m thinking until it’s coming out of my mouth!

Take a look at the ideas on this pictogram/mind map and see what comes up in you.  The best part of a mind map is that often, ideas on the map will lead to new better ideas.  I like to call these stepping stone ideas.  You get a few of these stepping stones that are not really great, but then they lead you to something that’s a whopper!

I first discovered mind maps from a book Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico  She called them clusters and I instantly fell in love with the process.   It’s a way to access the hidden greater ideas from your brain in the most natural way – non-linearly.

Lists are linear.  But a mind map or cluster is an organic jumping off.  It’s how I imagine the brilliant actor Robin Williams’ brain worked.  His free association skills were astonishing.

The thing about mind maps is they mimic how the brain works.  You don’t always think in ordered lists.  You jump around.  And it’s great for coming up with ideas for anything.

I’ve taught this to teams at advertising agencies, in coaching sessions, at not-for-profit board meetings and even in composing music.  For my film scoring, I would gather ideas for the sound and the palette on a mind map before composing an aural sketch for the director.  I’ve taught mind-mapping to my wife and son and we have even used mind maps for grocery shopping!

Later, I discovered books by Edward deBono and Tony Buzan who further explore lateral and radiant thinking through mindmapping.  These guys are both great resources!  But I do love Gabriele Rico’s simple clustering exercise.  She made writing so fun and easy.

So take a look at my mind map/pictogram and see if it sparks some ideas for you to get more students for your teaching practice.  I haven’t actually tried all of these, so would love to know your feedback and results.  Please share with your friends.


A pictogram of ideas for marketing for music teachers
Where’s waldo?

Hey, where’s Waldo?  (only kidding)


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How To Know If Your Child’s Music Lessons Are Backwards?

The Joy of Music

One of the best parts of my job as a music teacher is witnessing the pure joy that music can bring. 

Here’s one of my young students who started her first lesson with me at the end of June.  We had a few lessons over the summer and then a break.  But she loves to practice.  This song was in our 3rd lesson and is her favorite.

Walking Before Talking?

As we ended the lesson, a student’s father said to me, “I took lessons in 2nd grade, but they started me with having to learn to read the notes and I just gave up.  I wish I had you as a teacher back then.”

Me too!

Back then, the only way to teach was reading notes first.  And, unless you were a childhood prodigy like Bach or Mozart, then, sorry!  Forget about any preschooler taking piano lessons!  You had to wait until you were at least 8 years old.

It’s like asking a child to walk before they can even talk!  It’s backwards!

Somehow, the child-centered approach to early childhood education never seemed to make it to the music education departments of Universities and conservatories.   

There is a natural growth cycle of human development.  And reading cannot come before speaking, ever.  So why expect it in a music lesson? Reading music notation cannot come before playing the instrument.

Everything In It’s Place

In the Musicolor Method™ curriculum, we have a strategically designed sequence of songs that build technique while disguised as fun sing-along songs.  There is a right time for everything.  We use several phases of Musicolor notation that is instantly readable and yet guides the student towards reading traditional music notation.  And we use a concept called direct-labelling, that comes from information design, to facilitate the entire process.

If your child is struggling with reading notes,  it’s probably not their fault.  It just may be out of sequence.

I Wanna Rock!

Recently, I met a father of a former student.  He was very complimentary about my students abilities.  He told me how his other daughter went to a big franchise music school that promised to teach kids to play in a rock band.  And yet when she came home each week, the father would ask her to play a song.

“Well I can’t remember.  And I only play one note in the whole song.”

That sounds more like playing a video game like Guitar Hero where you don’t actually learn the skills to play anything on your own.  You just play along with backing tracks or the teacher plays the real song while the kids get to play one note.  That doesn’t sound all that fun to me.  And judging from the father’s disappointment, not what he was expecting.  There was no organized method or curriculum.

As a teacher and a parent, I’ve never been a fan of this kind of teaching.  It’s more of an after-school activity to kill a few hours until dinner time.  Where’s the growth?  Where’s the mastery of skills?

Learning any new skills requires structure and organization.  Even with a million instructional videos on YouTube, how do you know what to watch next?  How do you have an organized path to mastery?

How Do You Know If Your Child’s Music Teacher is Effective?

Do you have your child in music lessons?  Do you see consistent growth every week?  Is your child able to play music alone without the backing tracks or duets and still sound like music?  Are they learning the life skills of focus, perseverance and practice?  If not, you may be experiencing the old-school, traditional method.  I call it walking before talking.

Send Your Teacher To This Unique Training

We can help.  Send your teacher to our training, you can learn more or sign up here.  We have a full curriculum to teach piano, guitar, ukulele, dulcimer, strumstick along with general music theory to children as young as 3!

Here’s a video of a 4 year old who worked with me for 9 months from the age of 3 1/2.

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How To Teach Music in The New Attention Economy

The Information Economy?

People sometimes say that we are living in the “information economy.”  I think that is only partially true.  Instead, I believe we are living in the attention economy.  Think about it.  There is nothing more precious than our attention — not time, money, or material possessions –and everyone wants a piece of it!


There has recently been a lot of talk about mindfulness in the media,and I believe it’s exactly because of information overload.  We as a society need to stop and learn to filter out the signal from all the noise.

Fully Present

I specialize in teaching music to children.  One thing that I have done from the beginning is made it a point to be truly present while teaching or interacting with my students and their families.  At recitals, I give my unwavering focus to each child on the stage, to the point where I feel both emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of the performance.  It is as if I am willing their success through my 100% attention.

I didn’t realize that I was doing this until my wife mentioned it to me.  She said,

“I love to watch you at your recitals because you are completely there for your students.”

I believe that this total focus on each student in front of me is a big part of why I have such a strong rapport with them.

It is unfortunately so rare for a child to have that complete and total attention from any adult these days. Many parents are so distracted.  Not only is there the normal work/life balance, but now there is also the ubiquitous smartphone constantly beeping in the background.  Many children seem to never have full attention, and “act out,”  because negative attention is better than no attention at all.

An Audience of One

Each lesson is also a performance.  You have an audience of one, and you are fully engaged in listening, responding, and leading the student to new heights of understanding and ability.

What happens when you give a child your complete presence is remarkable.  You have complete trust;  you have a safe space where you can encourage, coax, or even cajole your student to move far beyond their previous internally-constructed obstacles.  When the student says, “I can’t do it”  you can say, “…yet!”  and they believe you.

I was so humbled to receive this comment from a parent:

“You have a unique capability to communicate, share and nurture enthusiasm for music…  you teach to the individual child.  You find a way to access each student where he/she is, and to find the music that touches him/her.  I have noticed with Mary* that (while she never wants to disappoint you) she does not fear judgment from you…you have created a safe place for the journey of learning.  While you gently push your kids, you are an incredibly patient and kind teacher.

Be Present

So the lesson is this: Stop trying to multi-task.  Be completely present, and it will enable you to move mountains and maybe even change the world.

*Student’s name has been changed

[box] This article originally appeared at the Music Teachers Helper blog.[/box]

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What Miss Shelly Discovered In A Nightmare Piano Lesson

Shelly took a deep breath.  

Her lesson wasn’t going the way she thought it would.  A fun and simple song had turned into a struggle of multiple problems- technique, rhythm and simply playing the right sequence of notes.  She had to catch herself as she was becoming visibly flustered.


“Did I do something wrong Ms Shelly?”  Evan asked innocently from the piano bench.

Evan was only 5 years old and a beautiful boy with striking blue eyes set under a golden white head of closely cropped hair.


“No Evan, of course not.  I’m just thinking of a better way to show you this song, that’s all.”


“Okay.”   Evan went back to banging at the keys in the way that so irked her.  

“Stop!  Stop!  Please just stop!  It’s not music when you bang the instrument!”

Evan’s eyes welled up and he ran and hid his face in the sofa.


Oh dear.


“Ms Shelly?”  

Evan’s mother appeared in the door of the piano studio.  


“What’s going on?  Why is Evan crying?”


“I’m sorry, I don’t think this is going to work out.  Maybe when he’s a little older.”


“But he was so enthusiastic about music!   What did you do?”




Shelly had no other lessons that day and decided that she needed to take the rest of the day off.  It was Friday, and her husband wouldn’t be home for hours. The kids were still at her mother-in-law’s until Sunday.  


The deep rich smells of freshly ground coffee soothed her senses as she entered the Green Dot Cafe, her favorite locally-owned coffee place.

How could that lesson have been so disastrous?  Shelly mused over her steaming cup of joe.

I have a masters in music education from a top conservatory, over ten years of teaching experience, and I truly love teaching – why was this so difficult?


Lately she had experienced a downturn in business as less adults and teens seemed to be interested in learning the piano.  She had tried to expand to other instruments like ukulele, guitar and even banjo, but still nothing.  After nearly 11 years of a steady stream of clients, it seemed that no one was interested in learning to play a real instrument anymore – it was all turntables or electronic doo-hickeys or music video games that didn’t even teach you any music skills!    She wasn’t alone in feeling this way.  Her friend Becca had more schooling than her with over 20 years of experience  and was now down to 5 students!  

How could anyone survive on that?


Then, Shelly started receiving phone calls from preschool parents.  In the past, she would usually turn them away if they weren’t at least 8 years old.  

I mean, how is it possible to teach a child who couldn’t even read the words of the song yet?


But still, more and more young parents seemed to want piano lessons for their children.  Most of these parents had never played an instrument during their lives!  They had read some studies about how important music lessons were for brain development and decided this was it.  It wasn’t about the music, it was about getting an edge for their child for when they eventually applied to Harvard!


That lesson was a terrible mess.  Have I gone crazy and lost my teaching skills?  Maybe I should look into that job at the Walmart.


That night, Shelly was reading through her emails and came across one from another piano teacher friend, Eloisa.  Eloisa was both a friend and a competitor and there was a bit of rivalry at times, especially since she didn’t seem to be affected by this downturn in students.  


“Hey Shel, I was thinking about you because you told me about you needing a few more students…”

A few?  It seems I could use a whole studio!  Is she rubbing face in her success again?


“…I came across this course that actually shows you how to teach preschoolers.  I’ve been taking it for the last few months and I must say it’s amazing.  It has helped tons. Andrew (the guy who teaches it) explains it well – he uses colors as direct labeling so it’s very simple to use. It opens up an entire market for kids to start playing, feeling good about it, and feeling like they “own” it as the music they play is represented on a page. They can immediately point to something they’ve learned, a big confidence booster for them.”


Wow.  No wonder Eloisa is getting so many students lately!


I would recommend the course because it is thoroughly set up with not only resources for The Musicolor Method, but it also includes educational and professional components ( mostly in video format) that have really challenged me as a teacher. It has allowed me to grow as an educator. I’ve been teaching early childhood music for over 30 years but I still love to grow. Andrew continues to add ongoing professional development each week.”


Shelly spent the next hour and a half diving into the Musicolor Method website.  She particularly liked that the creator of the course, Andrew Ingkavet, came to this work because of personal need and his desire for his son to play the piano..  He built a successful studio for the last 10 years working with hundreds of students while using and refining these methods.  The method was actually pretty simple.  It developed from insights Andrew had due to a diverse career in design, advertising and communication – well outside the normal teaching path, though he also had that as well.  


Shelly had a hard time sleeping that night.  She kept dreaming of a full teaching studio,  assistant teachers, and a grand recital in a large auditorium where the crowd was chanting her name.  


She woke up later than usual to the smell of bacon and eggs.  As she entered the kitchen, she saw her husband standing at the grill, coffee mug in hand, and a big grin on his face.

“Shel, I didn’t want to wake you – it seemed like you needed an extra few zzz’s.”

Shelly yawned and gave her husband peck on the lips.

“Honey, I was having a hard time sleeping until the wee hours.”

“Well good thing you have no lessons today.”

“Good thing?  That’s just the point.  It’s not a good thing Dan!”  her tone had suddenly changed.

Dan stood frozen.  The bacon was starting to burn and he quickly grabbed the tongs to place it on serving platter.

“I’m sorry honey.  I have been feeling a little like a failure lately…no students and all.”

“I thought you had a new one yesterday?”

Shelly shook her head and buried her head in Dan’s shoulders.

“It didn’t work out.”


Dan ruffled her hair and stood silently as he held her.


“But I think I found a solution.”

Dan smiled expectantly.

“What is it?”

“It’s a course that Eloisa sent me last night.  It’s all about teaching preschoolers and it shows you these 3 things:

1) core principles of teaching this method

2) a step by step curriculum to follow

3) games and activities to teach them.  

I’m kind of excited.”


“So when are you leaving” Dan said with a wink.  

“Oh it’s not in a place, it’s all online.  They’re actually pre-recorded videos and downloadable sheets and templates and stuff.  I can even start today.”

“Well, hold on a second honey.  I mean, weren’t we going to celebrate our anniversary today?”

Shelly smiled.  She had forgotten that the whole reason the kids were away was because of their “special celebration” tonight.  

“I didn’t mean I was going to start it right now!  It’s all self-paced, so I can do a little every day or every week, whatever.”


After breakfast, while Dan was out running a few errands, Shelly called Becca to tell her of her new discoveries.  She reached her voicemail.


“Hey Becca, it’s me Shel.  Eloisa, you know, “Ms-Never-Can-Fail-Eloisa”, actually told me about something great that I want to share with you too.  Call me back.”


A few minutes later Becca called back.  Shelly was excited as she shared her findings with Becca.  However, after a few minutes, it had turned to disappointment.

“I already know everything about teaching!  After all, we went to the conservatory together!  We’ve been teaching for a combined total of 31 years!  And don’t you know that colors are just a crutch?  These kids are not learning real music!  I wouldn’t go near that with a ten foot pole!”

“But, Becca,” Shelly stammered, taken aback by her friends negative reaction. “How could you be so sure when you only have 5 students?”


Becca had hung up on her!

Why was she so threatened by this?  It seemed ludicrous to be so threatened by the mere idea of teaching with a different approach.


“Hon, is everything alright?”  Dan stroked her cheek.  Shelly looked up at her husband.  

“The dinner was divine, the restaurant perfect and this wine is as fantastic you are.”

They kissed.

“I’m sorry but I was a little distracted thinking about a conversation I had with Becca today.”

Dan rolled his eyes.  “Oh Becca, you mean something wasn’t perfect in her world?”

“Well that’s just it.  I was telling her about the course I found and she was so negative.  It was like she was physically threatened by the mere idea of it.”


“Well, speaking as a professional now,” Dan sat up straighter with a look of pompous arrogance playfully on his face. “I would say that Becca IS feeling threatened as she is feeling obsolete in her old world mindset.  Times are changing.  It’s somewhat like  how technology has disrupted the old worlds of business.  Remember the video stores?  They’re all gone, and it’s not because no one wants to watch movies anymore, it’s just how they do it.  I would hypothesize that it’s the same in every industry today,especially teaching.  From the outside looking in, it seems to me that the world is teaching pretty much in the same way since the 1800’s with classrooms, lectures and some of the same books.  Am I making sense?”

Shelly loved it when Dan went on one of his “expert lectures.”  As a global marketing consultant he did have a larger perspective than most of her friends and neighbors.

“Well that makes a lot of sense.  I saw some of the books on Becca’s piano and they were straight out of the 1800’s!  I don’t think I could ever show any students that stuff – they’d be bored out of their minds!  And there’s no way could I get a preschooler to even understand how to read that.”

“I think that music is at an all time high in both access and interest.”

“What?  Can you speak like a normal person honey?”

Dan chuckled.  He sometimes forgot when he was going into business lingo.

“Sure.  I mean that the music business has changed how they get their music to the masses.  It’s the same with the video stores.  Now you don’t have to buy a physical album or CD or tape, you actually don’t even buy it – you rent it like Netflix is for movies.  You pay for a music subscription from services like Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon’s Prime Music.  You get to listen to even more music than ever before.  I don’t think people aren’t interested in music or learning music, it’s just that maybe the teaching is not connecting with the interests of the consumers, I mean, students.”


It was a bright spring morning and Shelly was clearing away the breakfast dishes.  Dan and the kids were out the door and she had a few hours left before her first student would arrive.  She was thinking about how different her life had become in the last 4 months since she started i the course.  It was as if  she had completely shifted her mindset.  What was once so hard and even unfathomable now seemed like an obvious and basic foundation.  Her studio was now close to maxing out her weekday hours and she was considering taking on another teacher for weekend lessons so she could still have an income while spending time with the family.


I should check in with Becca.


It had been almost 4 months to the day since Becca hung up on her.  Even though she had tried to reconnect by sending text messages and emails , Becca seemed to have dropped Shelly from her circle completely.  Shelly had heard from a mutual friend that Becca was now considering a part-time position at a local department store- “for the benefits of course.”  Her studio had dried up and she was still not willing to talk about other “professional development.”


Well, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink.


Shelly typed up a brief email.  


Becca, I care a lot about you and want to send you this gift.  It’s a 7 day trial of the course.  You can always cancel if you don’t find it to be useful.  But I, as many others, have found this to be a great kickstart to my own teaching practice, business and life.  My studio, as you know,  was down to 1 student, and then none, and I now am seeing 25 students every week.  I’ve been keeping some others on a waiting list until I am able to hire and train another teacher on the weekends.  It would be so great if we could work together!  Anyway, hope we can get a coffee sometime soon.





This is a work of fiction based on the experiences of our teaching fellows in the Musicolor Method™ Online Course.  Learn more.


About The Method Lesson Plan Ideas Professional Development Teaching Methods

Infographic: How To Teach Music Effectively, Simply & With More Fun!

So, it’s summer and you are probably taking a much needed break from your busy teaching schedule.  It’s actually the perfect time to upgrade your skills, thinking and mindset.  So with that in mind, here’s a handy infographic:  How to teach music effectively, simply and with more fun!  Or is it mo’ fun?

I actually had a dream that told me to do this.  Yep.  I awoke with a start and it was like a voice saying, “You should make a visual diagram that shows your teaching methods.”
Okay, voice obeyed.

These 7 core principles are a guided framework for effective teaching. They are:

  1. The Growth Spiral – We use this as a guiding metaphor to assess our teaching, lesson plans, activities – everything!
  2. The Importance of Rapport – without it you cannot effect change.  We discuss ways on building rapport and some specific examples for a preschool aged student.
  3. Stepping Stones – A simple effective way to know if you are giving the right lesson at the right time
  4. Structure – being organized in your teaching, your lesson plans, your scheduling and your business are all linked together.  Without structure, you will not be effective.  We discuss the many ways to build structure into your teaching practice, your studio and your students.
  5. Notation – the visual representation of sound is a way to capture the ideas of music.  Traditional music notation is wonderful, but requires a long steep learning curve. Our Musicolor Notation™ is a 6 stage process of learning how to read music that builds in the necessary micro-steps that children and even adults can use.
  6. Story – effective teaching always uses the power of stories.  By empowering you to employ story, I have given some simple frameworks and tips to make your stories stick in the minds of your students.
  7. Life Skills Through Music – modern parents are now realizing the incredible transformative powers of music education and the positive effects on their children’s growth and development.  They are seeking teachers who fully understand this and are willing to commit to music lessons as an essential activity.

You can enroll in our online training here.  Click on the image to zoom in and download.

Infographic: How To Teach Music Effectively, Simply & With More Fun!
Share this with your teacher friends.  Mo’ better!  Mo’ fun!
About The Method Announcements Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset Teaching Methods Video

How to Combat Imposter Syndrome For Crazy Good Recitals

Beware Of The Fraud Police 

Did you ever have the feeling that even though you are achieving your goals, perhaps you have gone further than you should have?  That at some moment in the very near future you are going to be found out?  That the “fraud police” would come knocking and expose you for the phony that you are?

As a music teacher, did you ever feel that you weren’t qualified for the student in front of you?   Maybe you didn’t quite know where to take them next and you would be found out?

This feeling is more common than you think.  I have experienced it several times in my life.  When I was chosen to be a VJ for MTV, I thought for sure, they’re going to figure out that they made a horrid mistake and send me packing.  It had all happened so fast, surely a mistake had been made.  All kinds of self-doubt crept in and it took me months of doing the job before I actually got pretty good and built up some sense of confidence.

Beware the Fraud Police - imposter syndrome

Who do you think you are?  Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome?



In her new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges,  Harvard professor Dr. Amy Cuddy examines the ideas behind her now super popular Ted Talk about “Power Poses.”  She discusses more than just a simple presentation trick about gaining confidence before an important meeting, event or performance.  She delves deep into the concept of presence, which she defines as inhabiting your full authentic self and being fully present.  It’s part zen, part charisma, part deep listening and being mindful and grounded in your body.  

Imposter Syndrome

But it’s also so much more.  Her fellow researchers  Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes , published a seminal work where they studied high achieving women and discovered something they called “Imposter Syndrome” in 1978.  Since then, it has become an influential body of work and recognized as not an illness or sickness or malady, but a feeling most of us experience at some time in our life.  By the way, it is a universal phenomenon that affects both men and women.

From Wikipedia:

Imes and Clance found several behaviors of high-achieving women with impostor syndrome:[2]

  • Diligence: Gifted people often work hard in order to prevent people from discovering that they are “impostors.” This hard work often leads to more praise and success, which perpetuates the impostor feelings and fears of being “found out.” The “impostor” person may feel they need to work two or three times as hard, so over-prepare, tinker and obsess over details, says Young. This can lead to burn-out and sleep deprivation.
  • Feeling of being phony: Those with impostor feelings often attempt to give supervisors and professors the answers that they believe they want, which often leads to an increase in feeling like they are “being a fake.”
  • Use of charm: Connected to this, gifted women often use their intuitive perceptiveness and charm[2] to gain approval and praise from supervisors and seek out relationships with supervisors in order to help her increase her abilities intellectually and creatively. However, when the supervisor gives her praise or recognition, she feels that this praise is based on her charm and not on ability.
  • Avoiding display of confidence: Another way that a person can perpetuate their impostor feelings is to avoid showing any confidence in their abilities. A person dealing with impostor feelings may believe that if they actually believe in their intelligence and abilities they may be rejected by others. Therefore, they may convince themselves that they are not intelligent or do not deserve success to avoid this.

While studies have primarily focused on women, one recent study has suggested that men may also be prone to impostor syndrome on similar levels.[4]

See full article at Wikipedia

Life Skills Through Music

Last week, my students performed at our Spring Music Recital.  It was a resounding success and possibly my best recital ever.  What made the difference?  I recently re-addressed my mission statement.  My mission as a teacher at Park Slope Music Lessons is to teach successful life skills through music.   With this newfound clarity, I realized that recitals are a huge part of this experience of music education.  But, to not only focus on the content and the technique of the performance, but to also address the mental demands of performing.  In short, to focus on the mindset psychology of successful performance – to quash the “imposter syndrome!”

Core Principles of the Musicolor Method™
Core Principles of the Musicolor Method™

Fake It Until You Make It

Four weeks prior to the recital, most of my students had a pretty good comfort level with the notes, memorization, and lyrics (for those who were singing.)  They could probably get through a recital as in the past and we would clap and cheer no matter what.  But as I noticed in the past, there was always some level of tentativeness and in some cases, crippling stage fright  present in many of my students.   The vast majority of them were at a 50 to 70% performance level.  So what would it take to get them to percentages of  80, 90 and above?  We would rehearse the body language of confidence.


I spent the last 4 lessons working on mindset.  We stopped working on the content, but rather focused on the psychology.  We practiced visualization of themselves performing well – seeing themselves on stage, feeling the clothes they would be wearing, seeing their families and friends in the audience.  I brought out the digital piano we use for recitals, the microphone and we rehearsed how they would be called up from the audience, walk to the stage.  We practiced bowing and curtsying – something I still need to work on with them as so many ran away as soon as they finished!  They would practice the performance and keep going if they made a mistake.  

Cheat Sheets and Crib Notes

And there was some pushback.  A few of my students begged for using some kind of sheet music or lyric cheat sheet or chord charts.  I relented in a few cases, but in watching the recital, most of those students hardly referred to the printed page.  It was just a comfort thing, a security blanket there to keep them warm.

We talked about connecting with the audience (see my previous article on How to sing and perform better by connecting with spirit) and practiced making eye contact when singing.   

As Dr. Cuddy says,

“It’s not about having a memorized script;  It’s about having easier cognitive access to this content which frees you to focus not on what you fear will happen but on what’s actually happening…

Preparation is obviously important, but at some point, you must stop preparing content and start preparing mindset.  You have to shift from what you’ll say to how you’ll say it.

The results were fantastic!   Here’s a video from the show.

You can see the whole YouTube playlist of our Spring 2016 Recital videos here.

You Can Learn This

The emphasis on Life Skills through Music is one of 7 core principles I train other music teachers in.  The new mindsets and techniques are available in an online course for the Musicolor Method™.   We’re opening our course for new students in about a week, so join our waiting list here.

imposter syndrome - Who's behind the mask? Are you an imposter?
Who’s behind the mask? Are you an imposter?

Are You An Imposter?

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome?  Or have you helped others overcome it?  Please share in the comments below.


Best practices Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset Teaching Methods

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