5 Suggestions for Safe and Socially-Distant Piano Studios

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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. πŸ™‚

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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

30 thoughts on “5 Suggestions for Safe and Socially-Distant Piano Studios”

  1. All great advice and it covers most of what I have been planning for. I teach in my music room in my own home and was thinking of also getting a protective screen for inbetween the student and I. Do you feel this is too much or a wise move? Thanks! Edwina

    Reply
    • Hi Edwina, I’m glad to hear you’re thinking through these things as you plan for the new year. A protective screen is an interesting idea. Since circumstances are different all over the world, we can’t say for sure whether it would be too much or a wise move. Have you looked into what the schools are doing in your area? You might find some answers there. If not, perhaps you could ask your family doctor or send an email to your local health officials to see what they think. Hope that helps! –Sarah (Content Manager for Colourful Keys and VMT)

      Reply
  2. Thanks for clarifying some ideas I’ve been working on to have a ‘safe studio. I have been face to face for 4 weeks. My biggest problem is ‘old habits’. I have to constantly remind myself- don’t sing, stay away 2m, don’t touch their piano or book. With all that going on in my head I lose my teaching place. I have to make ‘new’ habits now! All the best to everyone.

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  3. Thank you for such a carefully-worded blog, Nicola. I shared it on the Alberta Piano Teachers Association Facebook page as it has a lot of great ideas for teachers around the globe. I even tweaked my fall re-entry plan today as a result. We at APTA are looking forward so much to having you as our conference headliner in 2021. There will be a lot of stories to share about how we’ve grown personally and professionally through this very challenging time.

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  4. Great suggestions. Just what I needed. I had decided to stay online for now until speaking to one new student’s mum (child age 7) who wants to start in person so I had been considering all this for just one person. Sheesh! Might say no for just one person! Really helpful.

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  5. Really good article, thank you Nicola. The schools here have very few restrictions (finally decided on masking but no social distancing or sneeze guards, etc), even though our province (Alberta, Canada) is on an uptick. I’m incorporating 6 ft distancing where possible, a sneeze guard where not, separate pianos, masking, only one student and one parent in my house at a time, and finishing 5 min early to clean. After long debate I’ve also limited bathroom use, as I don’t have time to clean it between each student.

    Does VMT have online games now? How do they work?
    Money is tight right now but I might resubscribe if their are online games to play with my students.
    Thx!
    Kara

    Reply
  6. According to CDC children (under 25) are at very low risk for getting or transmitting this virus. We are less exposed with one student at a time than going to the supermarket where people have touched everything. This is not the Black Death. In the US the average age of deaths is 82 who sadly would have died this year because of many health problems. Think how you handle every fall’s flu season. In Maine I have been teaching in person since June. I am 70. I wipe down the piano after every student. Students use hand sanitizer before and after their lessons. I do not require students wear masks; I wear a face shield if they request it (I have copd and can not breath in a mask).. God gave us an immune system with T cells and white blood cells; we don’t come down with the thousands of viruses and bacteria we are exposed to daily.

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  7. Right now it’s all about developing new habits as teachers. I do not use an assignment book anymore. I have a spiral notebook for each student that I keep in-studio. I make notes as we go through the lesson. Those notations are then emailed to the parent that evening. I do my best to not touch anything of the students: This is a hard one as they are used to me getting their books out of their bag & sorting through them. They turn to their own pages in the books, etc. Keyboard, hands, bench, door handle, etc are cleaned before & after each student. I bought a shield as I was having difficulty breathing in a mask. Students must wear a mask also, unless they have a condition preventing it. It is definitely a lot of extra work, but to me it is to worth it to have live lessons, at least for awhile. Schools here have not started yet, but they’re expected to go virtual within 2 weeks of opening.

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  8. Thanks Nicola for these suggestions! I agree that our decisions are based on what is comfortable to us. I live in Toronto and have decided to stay online awhile longer. For those who intend on coming back when I return to in-person lessons, a 50% deposit of 1st term is required to hold their spot. This amount is credited. This ensures I still have some money to sustain the business and the scheduling is smoother. I know who’s on board and which spots I have left for new students! I am currently advertising for NEW online students and have had 2 already! I’m much more confident with the technology thanks largely in part to wonderful teachers like Nicola. Never in my WILDEST dreams did I think I would have a hybrid studio lol!Good luck to everyone as we continue this journey!

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  9. Thank you Nicola for putting this together. It’s so nice to see it all down on paper rather than it buzzing around my brain, lol.
    As I am typing up my safe studio plan, I think I am going to have some sort of small basket or container for each student. They will be responsible to collect the basket before their lesson and set it on the piano. They will also be responsible for wiping down the outside of their basket/container at the end of their lesson and returning it to it’s spot. In the basket I will have a pencil, eraser, perhaps crayons, highlighter, stickers, stickies etc…things that only THEY can touch. All of these things will sit for a week, so I don’t think each little item needs to be wiped down…? Every couple of weeks, with carefully sanitized hands, I will switch a few things up…I think I can even have a little rhythm instrument in here…sticks, shaker, bells, etc.

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  10. I’m curious about how everyone is cleaning their pianos between lessons. What products are being used that sanitize but don’t hurt the piano? Disinfecting wipes? Slightly dampened towel with soap? Thanks!

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  11. Hi Nicola for some reason I can’t open the Yamaha site .could you recommend the best way to clean piano between students. Thanks in advance Patsy

    Reply
  12. I have two pianos in my studio with a generous two meter gap between them. Has anyone worked out a way for student/ teacher to see each other’s fingers for scales etc. ? I have my iMac on a desk which is visible from the second piano so is there some way I could use a webcam? Or somehow rig up a mirror?

    Reply

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