Shelly took a deep breath.
Her lesson wasn’t going the way she thought it would. A fun and simple song had turned into a struggle of multiple problems- technique, rhythm and simply playing the right sequence of notes. She had to catch herself as she was becoming visibly flustered.
“Did I do something wrong Ms Shelly?” Evan asked innocently from the piano bench.
Evan was only 5 years old and a beautiful boy with striking blue eyes set under a golden white head of closely cropped hair.
“No Evan, of course not. I’m just thinking of a better way to show you this song, that’s all.”
“Okay.” Evan went back to banging at the keys in the way that so irked her.
“Stop! Stop! Please just stop! It’s not music when you bang the instrument!”
Evan’s eyes welled up and he ran and hid his face in the sofa.
Evan’s mother appeared in the door of the piano studio.
“What’s going on? Why is Evan crying?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t think this is going to work out. Maybe when he’s a little older.”
“But he was so enthusiastic about music! What did you do?”
Shelly had no other lessons that day and decided that she needed to take the rest of the day off. It was Friday, and her husband wouldn’t be home for hours. The kids were still at her mother-in-law’s until Sunday.
The deep rich smells of freshly ground coffee soothed her senses as she entered the Green Dot Cafe, her favorite locally-owned coffee place.
How could that lesson have been so disastrous? Shelly mused over her steaming cup of joe.
I have a masters in music education from a top conservatory, over ten years of teaching experience, and I truly love teaching - why was this so difficult?
Lately she had experienced a downturn in business as less adults and teens seemed to be interested in learning the piano. She had tried to expand to other instruments like ukulele, guitar and even banjo, but still nothing. After nearly 11 years of a steady stream of clients, it seemed that no one was interested in learning to play a real instrument anymore - it was all turntables or electronic doo-hickeys or music video games that didn’t even teach you any music skills! She wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Her friend Becca had more schooling than her with over 20 years of experience and was now down to 5 students!
How could anyone survive on that?
Then, Shelly started receiving phone calls from preschool parents. In the past, she would usually turn them away if they weren’t at least 8 years old.
I mean, how is it possible to teach a child who couldn’t even read the words of the song yet?
But still, more and more young parents seemed to want piano lessons for their children. Most of these parents had never played an instrument during their lives! They had read some studies about how important music lessons were for brain development and decided this was it. It wasn’t about the music, it was about getting an edge for their child for when they eventually applied to Harvard!
That lesson was a terrible mess. Have I gone crazy and lost my teaching skills? Maybe I should look into that job at the Walmart.
That night, Shelly was reading through her emails and came across one from another piano teacher friend, Eloisa. Eloisa was both a friend and a competitor and there was a bit of rivalry at times, especially since she didn’t seem to be affected by this downturn in students.
“Hey Shel, I was thinking about you because you told me about you needing a few more students…”
A few? It seems I could use a whole studio! Is she rubbing face in her success again?
“…I came across this course that actually shows you how to teach preschoolers. I’ve been taking it for the last few months and I must say it’s amazing. It has helped tons. Andrew (the guy who teaches it) explains it well - he uses colors as direct labeling so it’s very simple to use. It opens up an entire market for kids to start playing, feeling good about it, and feeling like they "own" it as the music they play is represented on a page. They can immediately point to something they've learned, a big confidence booster for them.”
Wow. No wonder Eloisa is getting so many students lately!
“I would recommend the course because it is thoroughly set up with not only resources for The Musicolor Method, but it also includes educational and professional components ( mostly in video format) that have really challenged me as a teacher. It has allowed me to grow as an educator. I've been teaching early childhood music for over 30 years but I still love to grow. Andrew continues to add ongoing professional development each week.”
Shelly spent the next hour and a half diving into the Musicolor Method website. She particularly liked that the creator of the course, Andrew Ingkavet, came to this work because of personal need and his desire for his son to play the piano.. He built a successful studio for the last 10 years working with hundreds of students while using and refining these methods. The method was actually pretty simple. It developed from insights Andrew had due to a diverse career in design, advertising and communication - well outside the normal teaching path, though he also had that as well.
Shelly had a hard time sleeping that night. She kept dreaming of a full teaching studio, assistant teachers, and a grand recital in a large auditorium where the crowd was chanting her name.
She woke up later than usual to the smell of bacon and eggs. As she entered the kitchen, she saw her husband standing at the grill, coffee mug in hand, and a big grin on his face.
“Shel, I didn’t want to wake you - it seemed like you needed an extra few zzz’s.”
Shelly yawned and gave her husband peck on the lips.
“Honey, I was having a hard time sleeping until the wee hours.”
“Well good thing you have no lessons today.”
“Good thing? That’s just the point. It’s not a good thing Dan!” her tone had suddenly changed.
Dan stood frozen. The bacon was starting to burn and he quickly grabbed the tongs to place it on serving platter.
“I’m sorry honey. I have been feeling a little like a failure lately…no students and all.”
“I thought you had a new one yesterday?”
Shelly shook her head and buried her head in Dan’s shoulders.
“It didn’t work out.”
Dan ruffled her hair and stood silently as he held her.
“But I think I found a solution.”
Dan smiled expectantly.
“What is it?”
“It’s a course that Eloisa sent me last night. It’s all about teaching preschoolers and it shows you these 3 things:
1) core principles of teaching this method
2) a step by step curriculum to follow
3) games and activities to teach them.
I’m kind of excited.”
“So when are you leaving” Dan said with a wink.
“Oh it’s not in a place, it’s all online. They’re actually pre-recorded videos and downloadable sheets and templates and stuff. I can even start today.”
“Well, hold on a second honey. I mean, weren’t we going to celebrate our anniversary today?”
Shelly smiled. She had forgotten that the whole reason the kids were away was because of their “special celebration” tonight.
“I didn’t mean I was going to start it right now! It’s all self-paced, so I can do a little every day or every week, whatever.”
After breakfast, while Dan was out running a few errands, Shelly called Becca to tell her of her new discoveries. She reached her voicemail.
“Hey Becca, it’s me Shel. Eloisa, you know, “Ms-Never-Can-Fail-Eloisa”, actually told me about something great that I want to share with you too. Call me back.”
A few minutes later Becca called back. Shelly was excited as she shared her findings with Becca. However, after a few minutes, it had turned to disappointment.
“I already know everything about teaching! After all, we went to the conservatory together! We’ve been teaching for a combined total of 31 years! And don’t you know that colors are just a crutch? These kids are not learning real music! I wouldn’t go near that with a ten foot pole!”
“But, Becca,” Shelly stammered, taken aback by her friends negative reaction. “How could you be so sure when you only have 5 students?”
Becca had hung up on her!
Why was she so threatened by this? It seemed ludicrous to be so threatened by the mere idea of teaching with a different approach.
“Hon, is everything alright?” Dan stroked her cheek. Shelly looked up at her husband.
“The dinner was divine, the restaurant perfect and this wine is as fantastic you are.”
“I’m sorry but I was a little distracted thinking about a conversation I had with Becca today.”
Dan rolled his eyes. “Oh Becca, you mean something wasn’t perfect in her world?”
“Well that’s just it. I was telling her about the course I found and she was so negative. It was like she was physically threatened by the mere idea of it.”
“Well, speaking as a professional now,” Dan sat up straighter with a look of pompous arrogance playfully on his face. “I would say that Becca IS feeling threatened as she is feeling obsolete in her old world mindset. Times are changing. It’s somewhat like how technology has disrupted the old worlds of business. Remember the video stores? They’re all gone, and it’s not because no one wants to watch movies anymore, it’s just how they do it. I would hypothesize that it’s the same in every industry today,especially teaching. From the outside looking in, it seems to me that the world is teaching pretty much in the same way since the 1800’s with classrooms, lectures and some of the same books. Am I making sense?”
Shelly loved it when Dan went on one of his “expert lectures.” As a global marketing consultant he did have a larger perspective than most of her friends and neighbors.
“Well that makes a lot of sense. I saw some of the books on Becca’s piano and they were straight out of the 1800’s! I don’t think I could ever show any students that stuff - they’d be bored out of their minds! And there’s no way could I get a preschooler to even understand how to read that.”
“I think that music is at an all time high in both access and interest.”
“What? Can you speak like a normal person honey?”
Dan chuckled. He sometimes forgot when he was going into business lingo.
“Sure. I mean that the music business has changed how they get their music to the masses. It’s the same with the video stores. Now you don’t have to buy a physical album or CD or tape, you actually don’t even buy it - you rent it like Netflix is for movies. You pay for a music subscription from services like Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon’s Prime Music. You get to listen to even more music than ever before. I don’t think people aren’t interested in music or learning music, it’s just that maybe the teaching is not connecting with the interests of the consumers, I mean, students.”
It was a bright spring morning and Shelly was clearing away the breakfast dishes. Dan and the kids were out the door and she had a few hours left before her first student would arrive. She was thinking about how different her life had become in the last 4 months since she started i the course. It was as if she had completely shifted her mindset. What was once so hard and even unfathomable now seemed like an obvious and basic foundation. Her studio was now close to maxing out her weekday hours and she was considering taking on another teacher for weekend lessons so she could still have an income while spending time with the family.
I should check in with Becca.
It had been almost 4 months to the day since Becca hung up on her. Even though she had tried to reconnect by sending text messages and emails , Becca seemed to have dropped Shelly from her circle completely. Shelly had heard from a mutual friend that Becca was now considering a part-time position at a local department store- “for the benefits of course.” Her studio had dried up and she was still not willing to talk about other “professional development.”
Well, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink.
Shelly typed up a brief email.
Becca, I care a lot about you and want to send you this gift. It’s a 7 day trial of the course. You can always cancel if you don’t find it to be useful. But I, as many others, have found this to be a great kickstart to my own teaching practice, business and life. My studio, as you know, was down to 1 student, and then none, and I now am seeing 25 students every week. I’ve been keeping some others on a waiting list until I am able to hire and train another teacher on the weekends. It would be so great if we could work together! Anyway, hope we can get a coffee sometime soon.
This is a work of fiction based on the experiences of our teaching fellows in the Musicolor Method™ Online Course. Learn more.