The best thing I’ve ever done for my piano studio was to up my game with my dictation books. I wanted to open up the lines of communication with my studio parents and students in several ways: I wanted all of my policies clearly outlined in one easily-accessible place, I wanted to communicate things like how to sit at the piano and what opportunities there are for performing throughout the year. I also wanted lesson sheets that could handle all of the little things I like to do in lessons, and could allow communication from home. And I wanted all of this and more between two covers.
Speaking of covers, I wanted my covers to act as a type of Yearbook for my studio. I print them in full colour, featuring photos of my students engaged in learning, in performances, in group lessons and spreading music throughout our community. I wanted my studio dictation book to be like a keepsake of my students’ time in piano.
As you will find out, there are two parts to my books. There are actually two front covers, so everything is easy to find. On one side is the Piano Handbook, and on the other, the Piano Playbook. I like that I was able to find a way to use the words ‘hand’ and ‘play’ on the covers.
I feel for all piano teachers that your dictation book is a defining feature of your piano studio and shows the quality of the lessons you offer. I hope you are inspired by what you see here!
Let’s begin with a video that shows how I’ve accomplished to have a book with two front covers:
Part I: Piano Handbook
The first front cover opens to the Piano Handbook. This side of my dictation book contains information that will help studio parents know how piano lessons work with me. This post is a brief introduction to how my book is constructed, so I’ll summarize the sections. If you’d like me to go into greater depth as to what my policies are, please let me know in your comments below.
Inside front cover. There are two columns. The first is a quick reference for all the ways parents can contact me. These include phone and text, email and my postage address. There follows an explanation of the times I’m available (and not available) to answer my studio parents’ questions. The second column is a write-up of my bio.
Page 1 – Contents. A simple table of contents helps parents quickly locate the information they’re looking for.
Page 2. The first column is called “Welcome” and outlines where parents can park, which entrance to use and how to store outdoor clothing in our porch. I explain the waiting area, piano lesson hygiene and that our house is scent-free. The second column is called “Scheduling.” This has several headings: Be Early, Group Lessons, Monday Lessons and Holidays, Teacher Absence/Illness, Storm Days, Missed Lessons and Cancellation of Lessons. Over the years I’ve shortened each section to a bare minimum that is effective and sufficient.
Page 3. The first column explains our “Switch List.” There’s a short introduction to the concept of switching lessons, should a student be unable to attend their regular lesson time, and suggests how parents can make and accept switches. The second column is titled “Tuition and Materials Fees.” This has several subheadings: Materials/Registration Fee, Early Registration and Method of Payment.
Page 4. This page is called “Triangle of Success: Teacher, Parent, Student,” and explains that we are a team that works together. I define what I promise to do as the teacher. Next, I outline the parent’s responsibilities, like: lesson attendance, switching, home practice, fingernails, and remembering lesson materials.
Page 5. Continuing with the triangle of success, this page begins with Student Responsibilities: home practice, practice quality and quantity, and concludes with materials and fingernails. Column two focuses on “Optimizing Practice,” with suggestions on how to create a home practice calendar, and the need for a metronome.
Finally, under another heading, I have “Musical gifts for birthdays and holidays,” with the suggestion that parents use the normal gift-giving moments in the calendar year to enhance their child’s piano experience with Piano Books, Metronome, Keyboard Pedal or a New Instrument.
Page 6. This gives the parent a chance to tell me about their practice instrument. If they have an acoustic piano they’ll fill in the first column, describing the age and tuning condition, then the bench, and I list the names and phone numbers of tuners in our area. If they have a keyboard, they’ll fill in the second column with the make, model, number of keys (I very strongly advocate for 88 weighted keys), then the bench, what kind of pedal (I advocate for the inclusion of pedal from the beginning), and what kind of stand they have.
Page 7. “How to sit at the piano.” This page offers guidelines on how to set up the piano and bench (or keyboard and bench) to encourage a good, comfortable playing position. There’s an enlarged photo of a student and pointers on bench height, the distance the bench should be from the piano, posture, and instructions for the feet, should they not touch the floor yet.
Pages 8-9. “Important Events and Opportunities Throughout the Lesson Year.” These pages give a comprehensive list of performances and contests with locations and entry deadlines. I have left space to the right of each opportunity and (when I remember), I put stickers there to keep track of the events the student has participated in.
Page 10. The final page of the Handbook is “What to Expect at Music Festival.” I begin by introducing what a music festival is, what a “class” is and what the parent and student can expect when they get there. I then list the various performance halls we visit in our local towns with addresses so parents can use google maps to find them.
In ten pages I have managed to outline lots of helpful information for parents. I use the Handbook in the initial interview with new parents and students to help me remember which topics to cover with them. I don’t refer to this as my policies, and actually, rarely say the word “policies” anymore. I feel the word “Handbook” covers it — this is how we work together.
Part II: Piano Playbook
The second front cover opens to the Piano Playbook. This side of my dictation book contains everything my students need for weekly piano lessons. The contents of this section can change each time I print the book, depending on what I plan to do in the forthcoming lesson year. Below I’ll describe what I printed in the 2018-2019 edition.
Inside front cover. I leave this space blank, but tape in a printed sheet from Joy Morin’s free printables, found on her “Color In My Piano” blog. She has a wonderful resource for students who are learning the RCM levels of technique (We use the RCM 2015 syllabus requirements). I tape each student’s level inside the front cover of their book for quick reference as we work through the requirements. We use this in every lesson.
Pages 1-2. Chord Sheet. I blogged about this sheet (6 steps to Improvising and Composing left hand piano), and it’s available in my FREE printables section, here. It covers several things I’d like my students to learn: the major and minor chords built on the degrees of the scale, chord technique and chord patterns. Learning these patterns prepares students for composing, improvising and patterns they’ll find in pieces, like Alberti bass. We use the sheet for a unit (not usually for the whole year). We begin with C Major but students can transpose it into other keys.
Pages 3-5. Fantastic Fingers. This offers students three pages of finger patterns of progressing difficulty. We cover steps, skips, steps-plus-skips in several patterns, preparation for triads/chords, similar motion, contrary motion, and selected reprinted patterns from Schmitt and Hanon.
Pages 6-38. Lesson sheets. I print and bind enough pages for 32-33 lessons each lesson year, from September to early June. At the beginning of the year I decide (based on my other commitments) how many weeks I am able to teach, and figure out tuition and the number of pages to print in the book. I use one page per lesson. For more on the design of my lesson pages, please see the next section.
Pages 39-40. Blank staff. This gives my students blank music paper for composition, learning music by rote or ear (with written prompts), writing out doodles my students play on the fly; these pages are multi-purpose and unlimited in scope. For example, I normally teach scales completely by rote but sometimes I feel it is valuable for my students to write them out by hand. Here is staff paper at the ready.
Because my studio dictation book has two front covers, the two sections are upside-down from each other. The blank staff paper in the middle bridges the gap between and looks right-side-up from both sides of the book.
In the past I printed five full pages of blank music paper in the middle but found that most students didn’t need that many. As each double-sided page adds to the cost of printing, I reduced it to two pages this year but found for some students it wasn’t enough. I’m still trying to figure out this section.
Lesson Sheets: 5 Features
There are five distinct features of the lesson sheets in my dictation books. If you like the design, feel free to print if from my page of FREE printables.
Feature 1: Lesson Week. Because my tuition is based on a set number of weeks, I count the lesson year by the week, not by the lesson. There is a subtle difference.
If I counted my year by the lesson, there would be question as to how to handle a missed lesson. If a student came for their fifth lesson, missed the next lesson, then came again the following week, would you call that lesson six or lesson seven? It could go either way.
When I count my year by Lesson Weeks, there is no question about a missed week. If a student comes in Week 5, misses Week 6 then returns the following week, it is Week 7. The missed week is a miss. In other words, my lesson weeks keep going regardless of the student’s attendance. I count by my schedule. My parents don’t complain because there are several ways I handle make-ups.
Feature 2: Rewards. The top right of each page features a long rectangular box with five circles inside. This is part of a fun little incentive I’ve been doing with students for years (and they wouldn’t hear of stopping). It helps with rewarding my students for good lesson preparation.
Feature 3: Practice Record. Part of my reward system is tied in with the student practicing and keeping track. This appears on the bottom right with boxes. Some students keep track with minutes, others simply with a star or checkmark.
Feature 4: Blank Staff. On the bottom left of each page is a small blank staff. Over the years I’ve found this to be a perfect size. I can choose to write a scale, triads, little exercises or warm-ups, or new notes with strategies for remembering them. It is invaluable. I don’t always need it, but when I do, it’s there.
Feature 5: Lots of Writing Space. I like writing detailed practice notes and suggestions. My notes look a little different each week, so I’ve found I like the flexibility of having just simple lines, almost like looseleaf, so I can write however I want to each week.
I’d like to put a plug in for a fellow blogger, Amy at Piano Pantry, who has a large selection of free lesson sheet printables. She has so many different designs with different emphases and features that her page is called Assignment Sheet Central. If my lesson sheet design doesn’t seem quite right for your needs, I encourage you to check out her comprehensive selection.
My Handbook-Playbook DIY dictation book allows me to keep a professional line of communication open with my studio parents and students throughout the lesson year. Should parents have any questions regarding details of the daily running of my studio (aka policies), all they have to do is flip through the easy-to-navigate Handbook. Parents and students alike can easily find practice instructions on the Playbook side.
In Canada, it costs just over $13 to print each one (remember that’s CND). It is covered by the materials fee parents pay at the beginning of each lesson year. No one minds paying, partly because the covers make the kids feel so special, with photos of them making all kinds of music. If someone registers late and misses the print run, they’re actually quite disappointed to lose out on the real dictation book and to have to use a notebook.
Besides my piano, this book is my single most useful business feature. And more than anything else (besides my piano) this book unites my studio with a special, personal touch with the cover photomontages as we all watch the children grow with music.
Do you have a special dictation book design of your own you’d like to share? I’m always looking for fresh ideas!
Video of the Week
To learn more and hear samples of the music in Rock the Boat, click here.
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