How to Build and Run a Successful Travelling Music Lab

By Rosemarie Penner | Parents

Jul 10

Today we welcome an extremely informative guest post from Rosemarie Penner. She has transformed her piano teaching business through technology and travel. 

By using iPads and other technology, Rosemarie has created a successful travelling music lab. Not sure what a travelling music lab is? I’ll let Rosemarie explain all that and more! 

Be sure to stick around till the end of the post, where you can find a free download of Rosemarie’s Top 10 Tips on Running a Travelling Music Lab. Enjoy! 

Travelling Music Lab

It has been amazing to see how the world of music education has changed and continues to change.

Sometimes though, it can be tricky figuring out how to apply those great ideas when you are a travelling music teacher. After all, there is no way to make dragging multiple bags out of a vehicle look professional. Especially in heels.

What Is a Music Lab?

A music lab is a way of teaching that encourages students to interact with technology in a positive way. I use an iPad and a range of apps to enhance my students’ learning.

I call this ‘lab time’. It differs from me physically sitting next to my student at the piano and helping them with pieces or technical work.

Lab time is a chance for my students to learn in an enjoyable and independent way, but with careful guidance from myself, of course. And, it works! Lab time is so beneficial and when combined with a more traditional piano lesson, my students have absolutely excelled.

Related: Podcast Episode 67 Building a Travelling Piano School with Abraham Levitan

Why a Travelling Music Lab?

How often have you assigned a theory assignment only to find out next lesson that it wasn’t completed because the student ‘didn’t know what to do?’ even after you did the first two or three examples together and walked them through the assignment.

You could get the student to complete the theory assignment for the first five or ten minutes of a lesson, or reassign it over and over in a vain attempt to get them to ‘learn’ the concept at home. But why?

Music lab time is beneficial on so many levels. Lab time, while you are at your student’s home, means real progress and real practice on those all-important skills we need to internalize to effectively play our music.

With thoughtful planning, it is a breeze to spiral concepts using videos, multiple apps and activities, all while you reinforce the same skills at the piano.

This past year, I have noticed a substantial improvement in my students that had lab time over those who were expected to do the assignments during the week. I think of it as super-charging my students’ practice time!

piano music lab

Have you thought of the benefits of being a travelling music teacher?

The Business Benefits

I don’t know if I fully realized all the business benefits to including a music lab when I first began. I was much more focused on the educational side and how it benefitted my clients so I could sell the idea to them. Thank goodness they are so open to new ideas!

When advertising, a music lab can help you stand out from the other teachers in your area.

When you can articulate your programming and how the music lab integrates with it, parents can immediately see the benefits. Especially once they realise how involved and excited their child is at the meet and greet (or initial interview).

We all know that travel time means less teaching time. It is one of the difficulties of making a good income as a travel teacher. Below are the two options that I have given my clients for this next year that ensures this is not a concern.

  1. 45-minute private lesson (includes 15-minutes as lab time): Perfect for students who need one-on-one, or a family with a single student enrolled.
  2. Lab time programming: If you are comfortable with multiple students, teach concurrent lessons. One student at the piano, while the other is doing lab time in the same room. At the 30-minute mark, get the students to switch locations. The kids get all the benefits of lab time and the parents love that it doesn’t take extra time from their weekly schedule.

As travel teachers, we can charge a premium because we travel to our students’ homes. But, did you know that you can charge a further premium because now you are adding additional value? Letting clients know that you are taking care of the cost of the apps and providing an iPad for the student to use in lessons, means they can easily see the increased tuition cost goes directly towards their child’s programming.

But Do the Students and Parents Like it?

In short, they LOVE it! Not a single family in my studio that has enrolled in lab time programming has been disappointed.

Parents love that:

  • They get to listen to music instead of help with more homework
  • There is no fighting with the kids, especially over whether they do or do not know what to get done
  • There is need to purchase theory books, apps, or other supplies
  • There is one less thing on their plate (honestly, this is one of the biggest sellers to new clients). “I will take care of everything during lesson time. Your only responsibilities are to help your child find time to practice regularly and praise them often.”

Students love that:

  • They can see their progress not only in the apps, but in their musical abilities as well
  • There are no more theory worksheets
  • They are having fun playing as they learn, while getting to beat their high scores, of course
piano iPad apps

My students love learning piano with the help of my iPads

Top 10 Tips for Starting and Running a Travelling Music Lab

  1. Be VERY specific about what you want to accomplish. Know how to articulate this to your clients. It’s new for both of you, but you are the expert they are looking to for answers.
  2. Use someone else’s program to get you started. I chose Music Educator Resources “Music Lab Task Cards” bundle because it was really well laid out and I loved that my students had specific goals and reflection questions for each activity they did. This made it so much easier to sell to my clients since they knew their child(ren) would be learning, not just playing games.
  3. Embrace technology. I have an entire bookshelf of music games and other tools on my iPads to help my students however they need in lessons. Trying to carry all those physical resources with me in the past looked pretty comical.
  4. Purchase an iPad. There are music apps on Android. But, the majority of the music apps are on iTunes and I can assure you it will be worth the investment. Plus, it is quite easy to lock down an iPad like Fort Knox so your students are ONLY doing what they are assigned. Best iPad Apps for Piano Teachers
  5. Choose two areas of focus per month. Rotate apps/activities to get students approaching concepts in multiple ways. This ensures that your programming comes across as well thought out and timely.
  6. Assign no more than two-three new apps a month. Students need time to get used to a new app before they really feel comfortable. This also allows you to spread out the purchase of apps over the course of the year.
  7. Do a quick (one or two minute) overview of any new apps at the start of the lesson. This helps students have success right from the get-go and reduces the need for questions once they get started.
  8. When planning your lab activities, divide your studio into groups by ability/age level. Create monthly lab plans for each group. This will save you SO much time, but doesn’t impact individual student growth.
  9. Spend the first few weeks training students. This includes training them in how to access their lab assignments and where to find each section of apps. The extra time at the beginning helps students become independent quickly, allowing you to focus in on the student at the piano.
  10. Choose a program that you can upload the lab assignments directly onto the iPad. The goal is to have students do lab time independently as much as possible. I use Notability with folders for each of my students that they access on their own. At the beginning of the lesson, I can hand off the student iPad to one student and begin teaching my other student right away.

Download these tips for your personal use

Enter your details for a free download of my top 10 tips for running a successful travelling music lab business.

Why Move Away from Regular 30-minute Lessons?

As a travelling teacher, there are very few circumstances where a 30-minute private lesson is worth it. Driving from home to home every half hour reduces available teaching time by almost half.

Plus, when trying to fit lab time in a 30-minute private lesson:

  • When parents were to purchase apps: After the first month, it was a bust. More than often didn’t happen. Students felt bad and knew they were losing out on points that others were getting. It just wasn’t fair to them.
  • Adding lab time into lesson time: I felt like I arrived, rushed through the lesson to get in five minutes of lab time and rushed to leave. It wasn’t conducive to creating a positive learning environment when the student and parent felt like I was just rushing through the lesson to get somewhere else.

Some of those special circumstances for 30-minute private lessons are:

  • When a parent is taking lessons so they can help their child. In this case, we leave out lab time.
  • A very young student where we are doing an integrated approach. However, I have done 45-60 minute lessons in the past with no issues, so this may not be as big of a hurdle as you may think.
  • Or, a student with learning difficulties that would be unable to handle the full time. This can be determined in an initial interview with the student.

Students in lab time, even when it was only 15 minutes per lesson, progressed so much further than my students in private 30-minute lessons. That extra time meant we could really focus on concepts and explore them in a way that students just weren’t able to do independently at home. And, we didn’t need to sacrifice time on repertoire to do it!

I’m sold! How do I set this up?

The top tips above will give you a good basis on what to focus on when setting up your travelling music lab. If you want more details, you can check out:

Conclusion

I would love to hear your thoughts on being owning a travelling music lab! Feel free to comment below with any questions you may have.

About the Author

Rosemarie Penner is an educator, boutique piano studio owner & writer. She has a Bachelor of Education (with a focus on special needs education) & has been teaching for over a decade. One of the main things Rosemarie has learnt is that, as educators, we never really stop learning. When Rosemarie isn’t teaching, writing or researching, she loves to spend time with her family, reading copious amounts of novels, enjoying a cup of tea, or baking vegan goodies! The Unfinished Lesson is her guide to all the skills that take teaching & running a business from overwhelming to fulfilling. She provides creative strategies & smart tech ideas to solve the challenges of running your business while keeping students coming back for more!

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