by Kristin Yost

What does it mean to be modern anyway? Immediately what comes to my mind are concrete floors, white walls and uncomfortable chairs. I suppose this is directly related to museums (of modern art) but on a practical piano-teacher level, to me it means someone who isnʼt old-fashioned. The modern teacher doesnʼt negate standard classical repertoire of course, but the modern teacher does embrace music coming from neighborhood basement bands to traditional African melodies, to that crazy new “indie”stuff you hear around coffeehouses.

For a piano teacher to be considered “modern” in a musical sense, I use the following criteria:

  1. Multi-culturalism – the teacher embraces many backgrounds and musical tastes in lessons. Teaching music from other countries in order to develop an appreciation for good music in ALL forms. Recently I had the privilege of writing pedagogical commentary for a new series, Piano Accents, and am thoroughly convinced it is our responsibility as piano teachers, to make music from all over the globe come alive, not just music from western Europe.
  2. Popular Music. Teach current music heard on the radio AND recognized by 7-10 year olds. Sorry everyone, the Beatles are not considered ʻpopular musicʼ anymore. “The Rose”? Itʼs beautiful, but the kids have no idea what it is or which movie it is from. I have had to come to terms recently with The Lion King being labeled as “old.” I absolutely LOVE Mona Rejinoʼs arrangements for intermediate students that appear in ʻCurrent Hitsʼ, and , and Wendy Stevenʼs new book, ‘Contemporary Pop Hits.’ Oftentimes I go on and print music from there – then simplify and arrange at home.
  3. Apple Phenomenon. There is a small “i” in front of all of my favorite things, or so it seems. The teacher must be able to identify and know what an iPod is, and know some great music teaching apps! The teacher is definitely modern if he/she actually uses an iPod, iPad or other fun gadgets during the lessons. No, a metronome is not a gadget. Fact of the matter is, CDʼs are basically out-of-date now. iTunes has transformed our lives into a digital music world with endless possibilities. You need to be able to at the very least, meet your student half way with their technology capabilities. Itunes and Apple continue to enhance my life.

Modern in the financial sense of being a piano teacher is where the second part of the title, entrepreneurship comes into play. To be a modern piano teacher, you need to have the mindset that your job title is “CEO of My Own Company.” According to Wikipedia, “Entrepreneurship is the act of being an entrepreneur, which can be defined as ʻone who undertakes innovations, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform innovations into economic goods.ʼ This may result in new organizations or may be part of revitalizing mature organizations in response to a perceived opportunity.The most obvious form of entrepreneurship is that of starting new businesses (referred as Startup Company); however, in recent years, the term has been extended to include social and political forms of entrepreneurial activity.” Basically, we are revitalizing a mature organization (being a piano teacher has been around for a while), we are creating a business model that makes us money, and we can choose to either sink or swim, though swimming requires an enormous amount of knowledge and work.
So how do we reconcile “modern”, “piano teacher” and “entrepreneur” in the same sentence? As a private piano teacher, you wear several different hats and therefore have a significant amount of accountability to a lot of people. Strictly speaking though,you are a person who is taking on a risk of financially supporting yourself and possibly your family by teaching piano lessons for your income. You are building your brand (your name). As an entrepreneur you have planned your business, you have calculated the risk, done some demographic assessment, purchased the necessary equipment, earned your education, credentials and even have a fabulous website.

As an entrepreneur you have a marketing hat, a branding hat, an IT department hat, customer service hat, an accounting hat and even a teacher hat! So many hats, so little time. As a teacher, you have so much knowledge ranging from pedagogical literature to philosophy and beyond, but you also need to have the knowledge about how to run a business, and hopefully you will run a successful one. One of my favorite websites for practical information regarding a wide range of business topics is Harvard Business Review.

In order to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to brush up on leadership skills, marketing and advertising, and certainly on your accounting. For accounting, I am under the assumption you are using QuickBooks, as it is hands down the most popular accounting software out on the market. You will need to have a business plan, a budget and ultimately a short term plan that leads to a long-term plan. How in the world can you divide all of these hats up into something meaningful in your life? You can start by creating a budget. List all of your expenses and your income by month from the previous year. Where are you, and where do you want to be financially? Have a plan! Once your budget is together, work on your financial goals and create a plan to make those goals a reality.

The Modern Piano Teacher is an Entrepreneur by definition, regardless of my opinions.Young doesnʼt mean modern and old doesnʼt mean traditional…what we as piano teachers need to do is unite and raise the level of playing in popular music, we need to raise the level of tuition awareness and we need to bring music from non-western cultures into the core of our classical curriculums. When you learn a recital program you take it one movement, one piece at a time and envision what the end product will be like for the performance. You probably plan what you are going to wear ahead of time, arrange all of the non-musical details, and then hopefully celebrate once you have achieved your goal. Your life is a performance. You are the piano teacher and you are the entrepreneur – one project at a time.

by Kristin Yost

Next week: “How to get 12 Months of Revenue as an Independent Music Teacher”
Be sure to read Kristin’s other posts in the Dollars and Sense category.   Read more about Kristin and the music school she helped found at Centre for Musical Minds.