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Music Lab Programming as a Travelling Teacher

Over the last few years, I have noticed an increase in the number of teachers offering “music lab” time or “off the bench” time to their students.  And when looking at the numerous benefits of having dedicated time for students to practice concepts away from the keyboard, it was an easy choice to include music lab time programming.  What wasn’t so easy was the implementation of a lab.  The logistics took a few years to figure out, but these first 2 weeks have been wonderful!

The initial set up for lab time at student’s homes

There are a considerations to keep in mind when setting up lab time at a student’s home.

  • Space:  Is there enough room to spread out?
    • While you won’t get a dedicated lab room, is it possible to sit on the floor with the student in the same room?
    • If you are teaching 2 students at once, is there a table close by that you can see & hear both students at once?
  • Cost (time & money):
    •  Depending on how you set up lab time, you may reduce your available teaching hours.  (More below on how I got around this issue.)
    • Clients should pay more when they are getting your expertise for longer.  Lab time does NOT reduce prep time.  In fact, quite the opposite.
  • Supplies needed:
    • Program (yours or someone else’s):
      • Since this was my first year, I looked for something that was already set up in an organized fashion.  Music Educator Resources has a “Music Lab Task Cards” bundle available.  Jennifer has laid out everything beautifully & makes it so easy to show parents how they child(ren) are progressing & are analyzing their learning rather than mindlessly playing an app.
      • Parents need a reason to pay more.  A well designed program makes it a MUCH easier sell.  No mindlessly playing an app.  It’s all about the student learning.
    • iPad (1 or more):  An iPad has been part of my teaching for several years.  Everything from apps, videos, music, photos, & even my lesson plans have been at my fingertips.  I just bought my second iPad with the original iPad becoming a student iPad.  This has allowed me to get rid of the binder I carried around by including that information on the iPad.  How is each iPad divided?
      • Student iPad:  While it is locked down much like Fort Knox, it has all the apps my students will need.  As they need access to websites, I will enter them in the restrictions area.
        • Lock screen:  iPad rules  (Thanks, Jennifer!)
        • Main screen:  All apps are divided into folders that match the task card categories.
        • Second screen: All the things I don’t want my students to use, but am unable to remove.  Students have been informed the only screen they are allowed to access is the main screen.
        • Bottom of the screen: Calendar (only for the date), Clock, Notability, & Music (includes any songs I want students to listen to).  Notability is their go-to app to find out what to work on during lab time.
      • Teacher iPad:  I have different screens for different aspects of work. These allow me to have everything I need at the tip of my fingers quickly.
        • Initial screen:  All teaching apps, camera/photo, & settings (for those times when WiFi gets changed & no one remembered).
        • Second screen:  All business apps (Canva, WordPress, Square register, Wunderlist), photography & video apps, etc.
        • Bottom of the screen:  Safari, Mail, Videos, Music, Messages, & Google Drive
    • Manipulatives:  These can take up a lot of room in a travel bag, so we need to be judicious in our choices.  Or, really build up that shoulder/neck/upper back strength.
      • Task cards divided by category on a ring makes it easy to grab what I need quickly.  If I need to leave a card with a student, not a problem.
      • Think carefully about what your students can provide.  There are so many ideas I have wanted to implement, but the size of the objects made it a struggle to get out of my vehicle without feeling like I am wrangling my bags.  Not the professional image I want to project.  But, what if I can text my student before lesson to let them know we need a muffin pan or a pail & sponge or a big ball?  Parents don’t mind us borrowing something & are often curious as to what we will be doing.

Scheduling Lab Time

The logistics of scheduling lab time was the most difficult logistics problem to figure out.  Tim Topham recently had a series of podcasts on group lessons.  Each presenter had a different way of conducting group lessons.  By taking ideas from each presenter, I was able to create a situation that worked for me & my clients.

My students ALL have lab time this year.  But, the HOW is different for each family & depends on the age/level of the students.

  • Lab Time Programming: 30 minutes at piano, 30 minutes of lab time (60 minutes total)
    • Most common:  Teach 2 students at the same time.  Alternate who is with me at the 30 minute mark.
    • Special situation option:  I have one family that I teach the son for 30 minutes.  At the 30 minute mark, he switches to lab time while I teach his mom at the piano for 30 minutes.
  • 45 minute lessons:  30 minutes at the piano, 15 minutes of lab time
    • Students complete 1 activity within lesson time & are assigned the other during the week.
    • Parents were told ahead of time that they would be required to purchase apps each month.  I list the apps (with links) in the monthly newsletter.
  • 30 minute lessons:  Only for my littlest ones, 1st years or special circumstances
    • For beginners, we spend much of our lesson alternating between at the piano & off the bench.  They often ask parents to download apps we use in lesson since they enjoy them so much.  Don’t you love that enthusiasm?
    • Parents know ahead of time they will be purchasing apps monthly & they will be responsible for ensuring their little ones use the apps during the week.

Selling Lab Time to Parents

We know the benefits of lab time, but trying to explain to parents might not be so easy. While we absolutely deserve to be paid for our time, clients also deserve to understand the added benefits we are bringing to the table with new programming.

Feel free to use my wording from below.  This is the wording I used with clients that had 2 children taking lessons from me.

“Music Lab Time ensures consistent extra practice on all those concepts that are in the background, but make a HUGE difference in how a student learns music & how well they progress through their program.  Regular review means your children will learn songs in less time because they will see & understand all the little things that come together to create the whole.  A 30 minute lesson does not allow for us to have a comprehensive program beyond the 1st year.  The songs are longer & the concepts need more review.  I have a great program in place that ensures your children have an individualized, comprehensive, progressive plan that guides them to success at the piano while still having fun.

By having Music Lab Time, we ensure your children are getting regular review of ALL of those concepts.  The two options I recommend are:

  • Music Lab Time programming [include your own description of the set up here].  Because I am teaching both of your children at the same time, you get a discount.  I will take care of ALL the extras (theory, ear training, special projects, etc.) during lesson time.  This frees up your family time to enjoying hearing your children play their songs during the week.
  • 45 minute lesson [include your own description of the set up here].  Your children will do SOME lab time, but they will be required to finish up the rest of the review during the week.  This will also require you to purchase apps BEFORE the start of lessons & ensure that your children are practicing concepts using the apps during the week.  However, this is a good option if your children do better with one-on-one attention rather than working independently for part of the lesson time.

The cost of both Music Lab Time programming & the 45 minute lessons are the same when I am teaching 2 students at the same time.  The value of the Music Lab Time programming is greater because you get me for an extra 30 minutes per week between the kids, yet the overall scheduled time (1 hour) from last year still stays the same.  This means your family can still keep the same extra curricular activities schedule going.  It also means that you, as a parent, can leave everything to me during lesson. I will keep both of your children fully engaged during the hour.  There will be no extra projects or tasks to help with during the week.  Your job is solely to set up practice time routines & encourage your children as they play during the week.”

For those of you who love numbers, here are my statistics … By explaining to parents the benefits of lab time & how it benefited them as a family, I had 42% of my students enrolled in Music Lab Time Programming.  Another 25% chose the 45-minute lessons with the partial lab time.  All in all, I felt a 67% initial enrollment in full or partial lab time programming made it a success.  For next year, it looks like this will increase to at least 83% enrollment (between full & partial lab time).

Before & After … My Teaching Bag(s)

Last year, I carried anywhere from one very full teaching bag to three very full teaching bags.  Between my regular teaching supplies, prizes, & bringing supplementary repertoire for students … let’s just say that the struggle to leave my vehicle was probably quite comical at times.

Travelling Teacher (too many bags)
Travelling Teacher: Teaching bag, supplementary repertoire,and prizes … Oh, my!

This year, the change is substantial.  I have edited down everything possible in my teaching bag.  Students are earning e-gift cards to ensure I no longer need to bring prizes.  My teaching binder has been replaced with a white ‘folder’ that seals.  Everything else is easily found on my teaching iPad.  Even with 2 iPads in my bag, there is less to carry overall from last.  The rest of the bag has the music lab task cards I need, little bag (my points stamp, plus extra pencil/lead/pen), mileage book, wallet, hand sanitizer (not shown), & few other non-teaching related stuff (i.e. lotion & lip balm).  This is first year of teaching that my bag will EASILY zip shut.  Success!

My teaching bag
My teaching bag this year

What does Music Lab Time look like in your studio?

Every teacher has different needs & challenges to setting up music lab time.

For teachers that have a music lab, I would love to hear how you have set up lab time in your studio & how you addressed challenges along the way.

For teachers who are interested in adding lab time but have not taken the plunge, what is holding you back from incorporating lab time into your programming?  I’ll do my best to help you find solutions that allow you to move forward with your plans!  And, hopefully, you will be able to get ideas from the above teachers.

Next week, I’ll be sharing the good, the ‘bad’, & the solutions I’ve used to solve the ‘bad’ of implementing a travelling music lab.

Have a great weekend!



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