We’re musicians. We understand how important tone is.
Each week we work on developing beautiful tone in our students’ playing. Shape a music phrase with subtle nuance and it will take on a beauty that can evoke tears in a listener. Or, play a forte passage with power and it can stir up resolve, create a call to action.
It shouldn’t be much of a leap, then, for every piano teacher to understand that there is an equal significance to the various meanings that the tone of your voice can add to the words you are saying.
Words on a screen lack expression.
That’s why we should frequently ask ourselves how best to package our communications to our studio parents.
Would our words best be carried by text, email, on the phone or in person?
1. Texting Do’s and Don’ts
Texting is the newest choice in business communication and more and more people are using it in business.
I give out my number to clients and say it is for “phone and text,” and there are several instances in which texting is the easiest way to communicate.
However, if used unwisely there’s room for misinterpretation. You’d be wise to set some boundaries around texting.
Don’t text payment reminders. Texting is the least expressive of all of the modes of communication, and you risk sounding rude asking for money that way. When you want to get paid, it is important to put forward your most professional side, and texting just doesn’t cut it.
Don’t text notification of a late payment. Ditto above. Texting is primarily a social medium of communication. I was taught that if a person owes you money and you meet them by chance on the street, that’s not the time or place to mention it. It’s too social, and it’s rather rude to mention money matters in a social setting. There’s a similar vibe with texting. You risk diminishing your reminder to the level of a social conversation instead of a businesslike notification (and therefore risk sounding rude, which may not be your intention).
If a client is so late with their payment that there seems to be a problem, handle it carefully with an email and then perhaps with a follow-up phone call, explained below under those sections.
Don’t text to move students around your schedule if the need arises. Texting doesn’t carry the same official weight as other modes of communication, like email. Your schedule is one of the top things you manage in your business. How you communicate about it speaks volumes about your professionalism.
As shown above in the texting screenshot, I make an exception to this rule in the summers when I teach ‘Vacation Lessons‘. By nature, these lessons are flexible so texting to work out a lesson time is quick and convenient.
Don’t text if you have concerns about a student’s effort, ability or progress. It is simply not the medium for a teacher to engage a parent on such serious topics.
The biggest don’t: Don’t use Facebook messenger for business-related communication. You may get inquiries asking for piano lessons on Facebook messenger– that’s fairly normal. But as soon as you can you’ll want to move the conversation to email, the most professional means of communication when “hiring” a piano family. I only allow texting once a family becomes part of my studio.
Do text if you discover one minute into a piano lesson that your student has forgotten their books. The sooner the parent knows, the better chance that they’ll return with the books in time for you to use them in the lesson.
Do encourage your studio parents to text if they’re stuck in traffic and will be late. If they’re actually driving, maybe they should call hands-free instead.
Do text same-day reminders of things you want your student or parent to remember, that you’d previously mentioned in their dictation books or notified them of by other means.
Do text on storm days, letting families know if you still plan to teach. Ask for a reply with a question like, “Do you want to try for in-person or online today?”
Do text reminders for parents to check email for important information. Our school has begun to do this and it does give the heads-up to busy parents who are on their phones. When email and texting open rates are compared, texting wins.
According to the website RedEye, “The average open rate of a text message sits at about 99%, with 97% of messages being read within 15 minutes of delivery.”
Knowing this pattern, when you have information to get out to parents that’s too important for a text, sending a text reminder to check email increases the likelihood of the email getting attention.
Do ask parents to text you a photo or video of their child practicing. You’ll see: bench, piano, position, posture, etc. This information is invaluable for helping you know how to teach.
Do text practice videos that you shoot during the piano lesson that might help your student remember pointers you’ve covered. You might video them playing, or ask them to take a video of you playing. These reminder videos help a lot with practicing and texting is the easiest way to deliver them into the home.
In short: Texting is amazing for for last-minute saves, for practice videos and for same-day reminders. It definitely has its place for communication in a piano studio for quick questions and checking in on light topics. Texting is not for serious messages pertaining to business administration, payment or student performance. Texting is not recommended for serious issues or conversations.
2. Email Do’s and Don’ts
Email has been a mainstay communication tool in the business world for over a quarter of a century. It’s a professional mode of communication.
In most offices its use has dwindled as of late, as employees are now being encouraged to find each other and talk face-to-face instead. But as piano teachers, we don’t have that option. We must still remotely communicate with our clients.
Do email your payment reminders. Phrase the reminder in a very gentle and professional way. Some teachers are now using My Music Staff or Tonara for this function. It’s the same deal — email is the professional medium for payment reminders.
Do email notification of a late payment. An email carries more weight and has more authority than a text. I’d begin with a simple, “My records show that the current payment hasn’t yet been received. Let me know your plans for making the payment. If you’d like to speak further about this on the phone, just let me know.” Most of the time the client will apologize, make arrangements and the phone call won’t be necessary.
Notice with the wording above that I didn’t accuse the client of not paying. I simply stated that my records showed that the payment hadn’t yet been received. That leaves just some wiggle room that my records may be wrong and allows the client to save face and come to the rescue with the payment in hand. In business you always want to be gracious with your clients.
Do email general helpful hints. If I notice a trend mid-year of several students arriving late, I’ll send out a general studio-wide email with the message, “We can do this! Let’s make a habit of arriving early so we can get the most out of lessons!” It usually makes a difference.
Do email major scheduling changes or requests. If I have an appointment and can’t attend my regular lesson schedule, I’ll send a blind-copied group email to the students affected. (It’s courteous to blind-copy a group email because it prevents any recipient from “replying all”.)
Do email on teacher sick days. A simple group email suffices with a request for a reply “message received.” If I don’t hear back, I’ll call. My last-ditch-attempt is a notice on my door that will prevent someone from walking in and catching me in my pyjamas. Most years I don’t have any sick days, but this is my protocol in case I do.
Don’t email concerns of student behaviour. Email is professional for some administrative topics, but not for concerns of a sensitive nature involving a child.
Don’t email concerns of student progress. This is perhaps the most sensitive topic of all. Piano teachers are part of a child’s life on a long term basis and may notice student struggles before school teachers or busy parents do. Email isn’t the place to discuss such matters.
In short: The best thing about email is that it gives you the luxury to reply when you can. You can take several hours or a day to answer properly and the longer timeframe is still acceptable. With time to think, your response has a better chance of reflecting your best, most professional self.
3. Phone Do’s and Don’ts
Because of texting and email, lately the phone has fallen out of favour as a convenient mode of communication.
Phone use has certainly changed in the past decade. No only is it possible to voice call, but there are also times when FaceTime (or the equivalent) is appropriate.
That’s why the phone is likely saved for more personal topics these days. This article opened with the idea that tone of voice is important. So for topics of a sensitive nature, the phone is still the best medium of professional communication.
Don’t answer the phone while teaching, unless you feel it is an emergency. (For that matter, don’t text or message, either, unless it’s to respond to last minute same-day student emergencies.)
Do phone if you have a last-minute cancellation and you’re trying to fill in the lesson spot with a student who is waiting for a fill-in make-up. The phone is the quickest way to know who is available. No waiting for a reply to a text or an email. You just might find someone! You wouldn’t go through this process during another student’s lesson, but before lessons began for the day or during the open lesson time itself.
Do FaceTime or Zoom in the place of an in-person meeting with a new client, should lessons be online. This is an exciting and effective way of meeting face-to-face.
Do phone about concerns of student behaviour. You may wish to email first and say that there’s a matter you’d like to speak about on the phone, then use email to set up a time for the call. This prepares the parent that there’s something serious that needs to be addressed.
Notice that the email didn’t go into much detail. Save particulars for the phone call when your tone of voice can show your compassion, empathy and care for the wellbeing of the child. On the phone you’ll want to give the parent the information they need and let them know your willingness to find solutions.
Do phone if your client has suggested a mode of payment that is not acceptable to you. Any dispute should be handled over the phone when you feel calm and businesslike.
Do host an initial face-to-face meeting. Prior to accepting any student (and their parents) into your studio, meet with them face-to-face to discuss your policies and their expectations to see if there is a match. If not, you can both move on with well-wishes.
It’s important to explain your policies in person so you can put a friendly face on some difficult topics — like missed or cancelled lessons, or when you do or don’t give make-up lessons.
Do invite parents to sit in on piano lessons. Perhaps you want a parent to witness special learning moments, or perhaps you need the parent to observe a child’s behaviour in the lessons. Allowing the parent to see for themselves is a very effective way to communicate.
Piano teachers traditionally have years of professional training in music — we know our composers, musical styles and eras. We can name a perfect cadence by ear and can teach that a minuet is a graceful dance of French origin in three-quarter time.
Then we open our first piano studio and find ourselves running a business. I suspect most piano teachers (like me) have had much more professional training in music than business, finance or communication.
When you choose your mode of communication, consider the timeframe in which you want the information to be received and the weight of the situation. When you have something to communicate to your clients, consider carefully how you will put your message across.
Like music, the device you use will amplify, enhance or distort your message, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Choose wisely.
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Video of the Week
Joy in the Morning (Late Intermediate, Level 6). “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. … There was however, a night to endure before the morning dawned.” Develop the sense of the long melodic line and shaping of phrases. Available as the studio-licensed Joy in the Morning eSheet!