Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Progress Reports Create Value for Your Studio

Recently, I invited a non-musical friend to look at my studio’s web site. She pointed to this statement: “My students benefit from a comprehensive approach to piano study, incorporating theory, ear-training, sight-reading, and technique.” “That’s good,” she said. I laughed and said, “Oh, you don’t even know what that means!” She replied, “No, but it sounds really impressive.”

Many of my piano parents don’t know what an interval is, and most of them certainly don’t know the difference between a major, minor, perfect, augmented, or diminished one. But, when they read on a year-end progress report that their child can “aurally identify major and perfect intervals,” they’re impressed. And when they see a long list of impressive skills, all checked to show that their child is achieving them on schedule, it goes a long way toward communicating the value of piano study. When they are considering whether to enroll in piano for another year or drop it for a different activity, I want them to know that little Susie has been acquiring real, measurable skills that she can put to use both now and later as an adult who can play independently and in collaboration with other musicians. That means, I have to teach the parents what skills are necessary to be able to be an independent musician one day – theory knowledge, sight-reading ability, a competent ear, technical skills, and the ability to devise a practice plan and learn music on her own.

We teachers hope that parents appreciate the worth of music study as much as we do. But the truth is that many don’t. It’s sometimes daunting to try to bridge the gap between our own understanding of the value of music education and the lack of understanding our clients and potential clients may have. Unfortunately, we sometimes deepen the gap by deferring to the parents’ lack of understanding. For instance, we might not want to use progress reports or list specific expectations of achievement because we believe, “All the parents really want is to hear their little girl play a nice piece on the piano. I don’t want to scare them off.” But, if we fail to educate them about what else they should expect their child to reap from piano study (like sight-reading ability, theory knowledge, etc.), then the gap will never close. Nobody else is going to create public appreciation for what we do if we don’t do it ourselves. As business owners and advocates for music education, we need to engage in practices that will educate parents and others about the worth of our teaching and assure that there’s a continued market for it, especially in this economy.

So, while I give progress reports first and foremost to recognize and encourage my students’ hard work, they also serve as tools for parent education and advertising the value of my studio. The parents may not yet understand why it’s important to know how to play “a I-V7-I cadence,” but it sounds really impressive, and it’s a conversation starter that may lead to deeper understanding.

(You can see two levels of Piano Progress Reports that I made by clicking here. They are available for download or you can use them as ideas for creating your own.)

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