Are you trying to figure out what your music teaching studio will look like this year? Whether you’ve decided to teach online or in-person, or have no idea what you’re going to do yet, I hope that these suggestions for safe and socially-distant piano studios will be helpful for you during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I’m going to be honest with you. I’m nervous about writing this post.
It feels like when I hit publish I’m going to be hit with 50 comments on one side or the other of every suggestion I make here.
In fact, whether or not I should write this article has been one of the thoughts circling in my brain for about a week.
As you can see, I’ve decided I should write it.
I decided to put this out there not because I have all the answers (there aren’t any right now, anyway!) and not because I have magical solutions or expert insight.
I’m writing it because if I can help one teacher to think through the possibilities for socially-distant piano studios and come up with a plan that works for them, that’s worth it to me.
I hope that you’ll take these suggestions as just that – suggestions of what you could do.
You need to take what works for you and leave what doesn’t. You need to weigh up the risk factors for you and your family as well as the government and expert guidelines in your local area. This article is just one teacher’s perspective on the simplest, most practical solutions that we, as music teachers, might consider.
Bonus Non-Negotiable: Communicate Clearly
Everything starts with effective communication. If you are going to be staying online for the foreseeable future, have you told the parents in your studio? If you’re waiting to see what schools do, have you told everyone what the hold-up is?
It’s easy to get trapped in our own heads at this time and think that everyone is on the same wave-length as us.
Remember that EVERYONE has a lot going on right now.
Every single person is going through one of the most stressful, confusing and/or bewildering times of their life. It’s not just music studios; it’s not just business owners.
We know this. But it’s hard to internalise it and clearly communicate what we’re thinking when our brains are simultaneously spinning rapidly and freezing up.
Our students and parents need us to be leaders in this one little facet of the chaos. They need us to make the decisions we can, and be clear and direct about the ones we can’t make yet.
5 Suggestions for Studios Staying Online
Depending on where you are, your level of personal risk and many other factors, you may decide that it’s best for your studio to stay online this year. If you’re planning for a full semester or year of online lessons, here are some considerations for you.
Suggestion 1: Invest in Some Tech
If you’re going back online in September, then this has become a medium- to long-term situation for you. It might be time to invest in an overhead camera, a microphone upgrade or any other equipment you’ve been craving.
Use the tools available to make your job easier and more effective.
Suggestion 2: Automate As Much As Possible
Are there any processes you’ve been doing manually like emailing assignment sheets, scheduling or taking payments? Now might be a great time to look at software which can do this for you.
Suggestion 3: Incorporate Screen Breaks
I always take breaks about every 2 hours in my teaching (2 and a half is the absolute maximum,) but some teachers have back-to-back lessons all day. That gets even tougher when you’re on a screen.
Find a way to build in breaks from the digital world. Make sure to use these to go outside if possible. At the very least, stare into the distance to give your eyes a break from focussing on a white light right in front of your face.
Suggestion 4: Grab Some Games
If the idea of figuring out how to use online games was too overwhelming for you back in March, I totally get it. We were all scrambling to learn so much new technology and just make sense of the world in general.
In many ways, we might still be doing that. But you might have just enough breathing room now to bring some games back into your online studio too. When you’re ready to do that, check out our online games here.
Not a member of Vibrant Music Teaching? The membership is more valuable than ever right now with loads of resources to make your online lessons smoother and more effective. Check it out today!
Suggestion 5: Get Excited!
If you’re in this for the long-haul, it’s time to find the joy in it. Brainstorm some new ideas for your online lessons and focus on the things you can do better in online lessons.
I promise you it’s not all doom and gloom. You can get excited about some aspects of teaching online, even if you’d prefer to click your heels and make everything go back to normal.
5 Suggestions for Resuming Studio Lessons
If you’ll be welcoming students back into your studio, now is the time to prepare. Much of the advice out there is for shops and schools – but what makes sense for a small home studio?
Suggestion 1: Follow Schools Closely
The first thing to look at is what your local schools are going to do.
This, like everything here, is different everywhere. Some schools have a clear plan in place while others still seem to be completely flummoxed.
If schools or local government representatives have given out guidelines or protocols, start there. In most cases, I would suggest going further than what schools are doing (since we have more control, no internal politics and less need for compromise) but their plans will give you a good baseline for your studio.
Suggestion 2: Separate Instruments
If you don’t already have a separate piano for demonstrating on in your studio, I believe now is the time to get one.
There’s just no way you can maintain any kind of reasonable distance if you’re sharing a piano with your student. Even if you don’t play duets, you’re likely going to have to demonstrate some things for them by swapping places and it’s not going to be practical to clean the keys every time.
If you can’t afford a second instrument right now, consider a super cheap second-hand keyboard.
As much as us teachers rail against the toys students sometimes practice on – now might be a good opportunity to put one to use! You won’t be able to demonstrate nuanced tone, sure. But as an experienced player, you can fill in a lot of the deficiencies of touch with your imagination and still demonstrate techniques accurately.
And while we’re talking about instruments, there is another instrument you’ll want to re-think if resuming lessons in your studio: Voices. Much of the current evidence is shows that singing is a no-no, as it can spread germs more than talking – even if you’re wearing a face covering. So it’s time to flex those humming muscles instead!
Suggestion 3: Room Restructuring
Most of us spend a lot of time sitting at the side of the piano (left or right is a debate for another day!) but it’s probably time to mix things up.
Where you move your teaching chair to is going to depend on your setup. I believe changing its location will be important, though, rather than telling yourself to stand or sit in another spot.
We’re creatures of habit and we might just default to old behaviours if we leave the interior architecture the way it used to be. Take this as an opportunity to try a new perspective. 🙂
Suggestion 4: Put Away the Stuff
I’m a teacher who uses a lot of manipulatives and little gadgets in my lessons. There are little erasers and boxes of crayons and toys organised neatly and dotted all around my studio space.
If you’re like me, it’s probably best to put them in storage for a while. There may be some things you can use and clean regularly or avoid sharing between students, but we’ll need to prioritise and minimise to make this possible.
If you want to play games in the studio, why not use the online games and activities from the VMT library? Just because your lessons are in-person doesn’t mean you can’t get out your iPad or set up your laptop to play the games digitally instead of with print outs. Socially-distant doesn’t have to mean boring.
Suggestion 5: Ins and Outs
Regardless of the other details of your setup, you’ll need to think closely about how students arrive and leave your studio. If you’re teaching in-studio lessons, you’ll need to build some new routines and communicate these effectively with parents and students.
If you normally provide a waiting space for parents or siblings, consider eliminating this. Alternatively, limit it to 1 parent with just 1 designated chair for them to use (so you can clean it between lessons,) and clear away any magazines or thingamajigs that you might normally provide.
Here are a few suggestions of how this might look:
- All students wash hands on arrival (with a stack of paper hand towels nearby for drying)
- If a student coughs, sneezes or – let’s be real – picks their nose, they’re asked to go wash their hands again
- You go to wash your hands 5 minutes before the end of the lesson while your student writes down their practice notes
- Finish all lessons 3 minutes early to clean the space
- Parents must wait in the car if early and only let kids walk up to the door at the exact lesson time
These are just ideas. I do not know the risk level in your area, so please do your research before deciding on your protocols.
5 Suggestions for Resuming At-Home Lessons
If you’ve decided to go back to teaching in-person and you normally teach in students’ homes, what can you do to protect yourself and your students? What might look different right now?
Suggestion 1: Wear a Face Covering
These are all suggestions, but I am going to put a bit of a stake in the ground on this one. I think that in almost all areas, if you’re teaching in students’ homes, you should be wearing a face covering to teach.
In many parts of the world, this is a given and pretty “duh” advice. But if you’re somewhere where it is debatable, I still want you to strongly consider wearing a face covering right now.
The thing about teaching in students’ homes is that you have very little control of the environment.
- You may or may not be able to maintain social distancing.
- You might be in a poorly ventilated room.
- Your student’s toddler sibling might come running into the room and jump on you before their mum can catch him.
There are just so many variables out of your control in at-home lessons, and I think wearing a face covering is going to be advisable and is worth the lack of expression trade-offs.
Note: Face shields might be tempting as an alternative, but the evidence just isn’t there to support their efficacy. Again, I am not a virologist so please do your own research when considering any PPE or homemade face covering.
Suggestion 2: Hand Washing
I also suggest that you wash your hands when you arrive at a student’s house and before you leave.
Hand sanitiser is a handy (pun intended) option to keep in your bag and use when you need it, but hand washing is king. Just be sure to throw some paper towels in your bag so you don’t have to use the family hand towel hanging by the sink.
This is going to take some lesson time, but I would be very surprised if any parent objected to the few minutes of extra precaution. You can even set your student a specific challenge while you wash your hands so that the time is not wasted. How about seeing how many times they can play a certain passage or scale before you’re finished washing your hands?
Suggestion 3: Open a Window
If the climate where you are allows for it, make it a habit of opening the window in the teaching room as soon as you walk in.
We know by now that transmission of the virus is much rarer outdoors than inside. While an open window should not be considered any kind of magic elixir, it definitely can’t hurt to get more air circulating.
Suggestion 4: Thermometers
If you can get your hands on one, a no-contact thermometer might be a good idea. This would enable you to take your student’s temperature easily and quickly at the start of the lesson.
Another good general practice is to be taking your own temperature daily. This way you can take precautions and switch to online lessons and avoid putting your students and their families in danger.
Suggestion 5: Be Prepared to Leave
We all need to be extra cautious right now, even in areas with fewer cases. Inform your families that if they’ve been in contact with anyone who is experiencing potential covid symptoms, they should tell you immediately and switch to online lessons until the person has been tested or the recommended quarantine period for your area has elapsed.
If you notice any symptoms in your students or anyone in their house I recommend you leave that house. It’s just not worth it, and parents need to respect your policies in this regard.
What will you be doing in your studio this September?
This is such an uncertain time for us all. Let’s have a supportive and productive chat in the comments below.