Do You Have to Be a Diverse Studio?

Do you need to be a diverse music studio?  Wow.  That’s a loaded question, right?  And, there are so many aspects of what this question could mean!


Sometimes the answer is going to be “yes … & no”.

In my studio, I prefer to teach beginners through early intermediate (maybe intermediate if it’s the right student).  And, while I love talking pedagogy with other teachers, I know teaching adult piano students isn’t my forte.  While I’ve prepared students for exams in the past, this is not my strength either.  In some ways, my studio is diverse (age-wise & teaching approach) & in other ways, it isn’t.

When a music teacher gets a request to teach a special needs student, they have the option of saying yes or no.  If you have a background in special needs or are willing to learn & work with the family, I hope you say yes!  We need teachers for these students.  But if you have a system that all students use & don’t want to deviate from that, please say you can’t take on the student.  Let them go to a teacher who can give them a more flexible approach.

There is nothing wrong with knowing your strengths & building a studio around them.

Just keep in mind that laws in many countries cover discriminating against someone based on a whole host of factors.  The reasons I listed above all relate to pedagogical reasons.  Anything other than pedagogy, an inability to pay or lack of access to a scholarship (you deserve to get paid) can get you into trouble with these laws.  Plus, why be that person?

Pedagogy in a diverse studio

Let’s focus on pedagogy instead of outside factors.

Do you need to:

  • Offer exams?
  • Offer performance opportunities?
  • Teach both written music & by ear?
  • Use a variety of musical notation? (staff, lead sheets, chord charts, etc.)
  • Play games?
  • Use manipulatives?
  • Use whole-body movement exercises?
  • Include technology?
  • Improvise music?
  • Compose music with students?
  • Include music from around the world?
  • Include music outside of our current musical cannon?
  • Cover music history from each musical era?
  • Include music by relatively unknown composers in your country or area?

There is so much more that can be included in this list, but it gives us a start.

For exams, I really think this is studio dependent.  Is there a pedagogical reason for exams outside of an external goal for the student to work towards?  No.  You can use the structure of an exam syllabi without having students in exams.  And, you can create different time-based goals if you don’t want to do exams.

For performance opportunities, most teachers have at least one recital a year.  Some studios include festivals, mini-concerts & community outreach events as well.  It could be argued this makes them a more diverse studio.  But, as with everything, so much depends on what you want & have time to do.

In terms of improvising & composing during lessons, I would highly encourage every teacher to include this at different points in the year.  Improvising is a great pedagogical tool that ensures students are applying what they learn in a practical way.  Composing proves to students that they are musicians & have something worthy to share with the world.  How much or how little to include is up to you.

Written music vs. by ear

When we look at using strictly written music, this is sometimes called a “classical approach”.  Ironically, this was not actually how classical composers were taught or how they taught.  But, it is the current term.  Then there is “chord-based” which tends to include lead sheets, chord charts & possibly playing by ear.  Suzuki approaches music with an “ear first” & rote teaching mindset.  While jazz/blues are known for improvising & exploring by ear almost exclusively.

Do you need to use all forms of notation at all times in your studio?  No.

Will your students become stronger musicians if you read from a variety of different notation types?  Yes.

Rote teaching gets students playing fun music faster.  Playing by ear builds strong active listeners who can react to the music in real-time.  A chord-based approach makes music theory real in a way worksheets never can.  Improvising & exploring creates new, stronger neuropathways to learning.  And, yes, written music shows our students what is possible when we put all these things together.

There are advantages to written music in all its forms & playing by ear.  As a musician, you become more diverse when you learn them with both approaches.

A diverse studio should have students play from a variety of notation types at different points in the year.

Off-the-bench vs. on-the-bench

Maybe you like getting off the bench & moving around with your students.  With old injuries, I know moving around is a must.  Otherwise, I’m in a lot of pain & find it hard to focus on my students.  And, that’s not good.

Maybe you prefer sitting in your teaching chair while your student is on the bench.  You want lesson time to be about the music, not “all that other faff”.  There is something to be said about making music lessons about … well, music.

But, here is the reality.

Not all students learn the sameAnd, the same activities are not going to work with the same student every lesson.  They change & grow over time. Which means our approach needs to as well.

A perfect example of this is math strategies.  When students are first introduced to numbers, they need a visual representation of those numbers & how they relate to each other.  Enter in the number line!  When numbers start to get too big, we get the dot-filled circles & other strategies.  But, is it appropriate for students to do these activities in late elementary or later?  Once algebra, operations with decimals, graphing & other concepts become part of the curriculum, I would argue that those early approaches are a waste of time.  My husband & I have seen this over & over with our kids as textbooks or worksheets haven’t necessarily changed their approach … even though our kids are past those earlier strategies.

Whole-body movement helps students internally sense how a concept feels in their body.  Manipulatives provide a tangible, visual representation of what might otherwise be an abstract concept.  Playing games, once again, creates those stronger neuropathways that lead to long term memory.  And, getting students at their instrument ensures they can practice all the previous learning.

A diverse studio uses both off AND on-the-bench activities to meet the changing needs of their students!

To tech or not to tech

I’ll admit that I love to use technology in my studio.  The teaching apps & business apps I use on a daily basis make my life so much easier!

Not every teacher wants to use technology in their studio.  One of the teachers I know explained that her students used technology in so many other areas of their life that she wanted a space away from cell phones & other tech.  That’s a wonderful, well-thought-out reason to not include technology!  Instead, she makes use of plenty of off-the-bench & other activities to bring excitement & interest to her music lessons.

But if you try to tell me that you are too old or unable to learn even some tech tools, I will say you are wrong. 

I look at my parents & how they handle technology.  They are “more mature in years” than almost every teacher who has said they can’t learn tech. (Mom, I promise not to say your age online).  They’ve never had formal training with computers & wouldn’t consider themselves to be “techy”.  They originally said “No way!” to going on Zoom.  Fast forward 5 months & they joined an online bible study group with their church.  After the first bible study, they went out to purchase an inexpensive microphone.  Turns out hearing can be an issue when you reach a “more mature” age & the others couldn’t always hear my dad.  Now, they’re having Zoom get-togethers with other “more mature” friends in the congregation.  And, none of this happened with help from their tech-loving daughter.

Using technology is not what makes a diverse studio.  But, that decision should be based on what makes sense pedagogically & the approach you use for teaching.

Types of Music

Would you believe this was actually the topic that inspired this entire article?  In the last few years, I’ve been on a mission to have my students listen to &, when possible, play music that they might not have otherwise listened to.  The rule is, “You don’t have to like everything you listen to.  But, you have to give it a real chance & give a real reason why you don’t like it.”

At one point, I taught junior high world history.  History had never been an exciting subject to me so I had to figure out what to do differently.  Otherwise, my students were going to have glazed over eyes just like when I was in school.  Thankfully, I had one teacher that made history interesting.  He told stories.  He connected what happened in the past to what was going on currently.  Those stories & connections kept my interest … & the interest of my students once I was teaching.

We can look at the history behind some of classical music’s biggest hits & make connections to what is going on now.  Give your students a reason to care about Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. (“Switched on Pop” has a fantastic series of podcasts on this!)  Talk about why Clara Schumann is so impressive when there are so many female composers & performers today.

With our world so much smaller being online, we can include music from around the world AND our local area/country.  We can introduce our students to relatively unknown (to us) composers & musicians.  We can look at what makes our music the same.  And different.  We can look at what musical theory concepts are more important than others depending on the region of the world or musical era you are in.

We can make social change through the music we choose to have our students listen to, play & explore during lessons & the week.

When we are a diverse studio that shares many types of music, we give our students important life skills.  Thinking critically & making choices about the different viewpoints they see & hear each day.  Understanding (hopefully) that different does not equal bad.  And, there are multiple ways of expressing their emotions when life is good … & when things are a struggle.

Out of any of the areas we could discuss, this is the area where I believe music teachers need to include diversity.  Yes, we teach instruments.  But, we do this through music.  Regardless of your pedagogical approach, diversity in the repertoire we share with our students is the one that has the biggest & longest impact on their lives.

Are you a diverse studio?

We all have different approaches.  Would you consider your studio diverse?  What makes it diverse?

Let me know in the comments below!

One way to add diversity in our studios is through the activities in our studios.  If you are looking to add in more music from female composers throughout the eras, click below.

Travel Through Time-Women in Music


  1. Good article Rosemarie! I think every teacher has the potential to build a diverse studio. Knowing your strengths and teaching to the individual, not to an exam board or method book will contribute to diversity in the student population.

    1. Hi Lisa! It’s uplifting to realize we all have that potential, isn’t it? I agree that it’s about using our strengths & teaching to the individual student. That’s when our teaching genius really shines!

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