“I refuse to be THAT old lady piano teacher.”
You know who I’m talking about. Maybe you were her student some decades ago.
As for me, I have been teaching piano since my boys were in diapers; I have uttered this statement from the very beginning.
So, instead, I’m seizing an opportunity for change and creativity. Therefore, I’m reinventing what it means to be a piano teacher in the modern age.
As a J-school/Music graduate, I ambled into a career in marketing as a young adult. I married and eventually had babies. Like many Boomer mothers, I strongly wanted to remain in the workforce; yet, breast-feeding and a week-long trip across the country didn’t bode well. Being laid off from my job at a small bookstore franchise in the late ‘90s, due to changes in the market, gave me the perfect opportunity to start my own small business.
One thing was certain; I could become a piano teacher. Private teaching would allow me flexible hours, a comparable hourly wage, and the ability to create my own work schedule that complimented my other jobs (namely chauffeur, cook, and chief bottle washer).
I would not, however, become, “THAT old lady piano teacher.” Sorry, Mrs. Sack. You were a fine teacher, but I do not want to be you.
Sink or Swim
Fast forward 22 years: In the course of one week in March of 2020, I pretty-much wiped the possibility of ever becoming THAT piano teacher clean off the slate. Schools closed and so did my studio. To have any hope of business when the pandemic is over, I realized I had to offer something of value to my families. That something was online piano lessons.
For ten nights straight, my head exploded from the tremendous learning curve of taking my business from in-person to online. The sheer amount of new information struck me like an atom bomb.
No school. No in-studio piano lessons. No problem. (Really?)
Sure, online piano lessons existed, but the number of teachers teaching them before Coronavirus was inconsequential. Today, tens of thousands of teachers have jumped aboard out of necessity, if nothing else. The choice was simple: To see this situation as a giant negative, or to see it as an opportunity for change and creativity. To me, this is a no brainer. I decided to change my focus; I have gained a new perspective while doing it.
Overnight, I entered the world of Facetime conversations and YouTube tutorials; the piano teacher became relevant. Yet, even when you’re relevant, you can feel incompetent.
I entered the world of screen sharing, noise-canceling headphones, and overhead piano camera set-up. Synchronous and Asynchronous teaching are new vocabulary words. Daily webinars greet me each morning so that I might feel more competent.
I’ll cling to this: Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. I’ve been pushed further than I ever expected to go. I’ve given a wide berth to perfection. I’ve learned, I’ve overcome the fear and discomfort of seeing my face and hearing my voice on camera, I’ve moved into a new normal.
Turning the Corner
As a Boomer, I had already moved into the world of the webpage business card and Google Your Business advertising. I use various and sundry music apps. As piano teachers go, I am pretty hip. My music lessons have elements of creativity and fun that a lot of teachers don’t broach. My studio was full and I had a robust waitlist.
There is one phenomenon that I cannot understand: Not one of my Boomer piano students has ventured into online lessons, despite the personal ask. Presumably, all of them have the time, yet none are game to learn via Zoom. I secretly wonder, “Perhaps they fear the awkwardness of seeing themselves on camera. Or, is it the fear of technology?”
Regardless of my Boomer students’ lack of interest, I have younger students who have forced me to re-engineer my studio, physically and figuratively. The dissonance of seeing someone on screen yet not feeling their physical presence is utterly exhausting. The state of constant learning is invigorating, yet time-consuming beyond measure.
Every new job has a learning curve. To help flatten this curve, I follow the high achievers in my industry. Their webinars, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube tutorials flood my inbox. I freely give and receive my experiences in professional Facebook groups. With their blessing, I use others’ successful music, materials, and muses.
Today I am in uncharted waters, treading and not yet swimming. Yet, after navigating this storm, I will have learned new strokes for my business that will keep me relevant for years to come. COVID-19 has forced me to keep pace with the changes in our youth.
Someday, I will have celebrated enough birthdays to be THAT teacher. But, I won’t be.
Navigating this shift in business has given me the confidence to simmer, distill, and process a new way of teaching so that I will be poised for future success. I have learned to create digital hammers and saws for my students so that we both can conquer these challenges together. I have learned to streamline. Most of all, I have looked myself in the eye, quite literally sometimes, and asked, “How do I stay true to my mission in these unprecedented times.”
Marylin studied at the Julliard School of Music, has a degree in Journalism and Music from the University of Kansas and a master’s from the Richards Institute. She is the mother of four and the owner of floydpianostudio.com. She also has a blog poopfromthecoop.wordpress.com.
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