Invoicing Feature Improved!

June 21st, 2014 by

We’re excited to announce that the invoicing feature has been improved and the new version is now available in your account. Here are the five changes:

1) Streamlined forms with fewer inputs/clicks
2) Convenient invoicing templates with pre-set settings
3) New Sidebar lets you preview the dates that will appear on the invoice.
4) Easier invoice scheduling – Only add a name to the invoice schedule now
5) Now schedule invoices right from the invoice form.

 Click Here to watch a 7 minute webinar on using the new invoicing system.

If you want to keep the old invoicing feature, you may revert back by clicking “Settings” in the top right corner of your dashboard and then “Studio Settings”. There you can choose to use the old feature. Make sure to click “Save Preferences” before navigating away.


Here is a step by step walk through, with screenshots, on how to generate invoices with the changes.

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Posted in New Features and Fixes

General bookkeeping tools that operate as one size fit all for any industry can sometimes fall short. Here are three reasons scheduling and billing softwares made specifically for private lesson music studios are advantageous over generic accounting tools and spreadsheets:

1) Specialization: 

The financial features within Music Teacher’s Helper have all the proper terminology for a music lesson studio. That decreases the learning curve. QuickBooks and FreshBooks can make you feel like you need an accountingshutterstock_63218473 degree in order use properly.

Music Teacher’s Helper also makes family-based billing and adding recital or book fees easy.

Student facing invoicing features provide a professional touch for your studio. Students or their parents can receive custom invoices, text message payment confirmations, all with your branding and music lesson terminology.

2) Simplified Reporting:

For a teaching studio with just one teacher, a full fledged suite of financial reporting is generally not necessary. For most, a music studio needs to track income and expenses, how much students owe, mileage, and student account summary.

3) Support From Knowledgable Peers:

With 24/7 email, chat and weekday phone support, Music Teacher’s Helper users have access to excellent support staff – many of them private music teachers and experienced users that understand a studio’s needs.

Industry specific softwares tend to understand the needs of their users better than generic financial tools. In addition, these softwares (like Music Teacher’s Helper) come with scheduling, website, and many others features.

Click Here For Main Website &  30-day Free Trial.

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Posted in Financial Business, Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper

‘How unmusical is Man?’*

If music is intrinsic to humans as a species, hounmusical blindw can some people be so apparently ‘unmusical’? And what (if anything) can we do to help ‘unmusical’ students when they present themselves in your choir or in the teaching studio?

In last month’s post, I talked about some of the differences between so-called ‘musical’ people and people who appear to be ‘unmusical’, and I described two (imperfect, but I hope still useful) categories of apparently ‘unmusical’ singers:

I. Students who sing out of tune; and

II. Students who cannot sing in tune.

In the first category, I put singers who usually sing in tune but sometimes sing out of tune, and I discussed a few of the many technical reasons why these tuning problems sometimes arise in an otherwise well-functioning voice in a generally musical person. Please see my May 2014 blog “Teaching ‘Unmusicality’ – Part I” for more discussion.


II. Students who cannot sing in tune

tune micThis month, I’m going to talk about the type of singers I would put in the second category – singers who are unable to sing in tune, and appear not to be able to ‘match pitches’ accurately or reliably when they turn up for lessons.

I should say here that, although there is a lot of science behind our understanding of so-called ‘tone deafness’ and ‘pitch matching’ (type those words into Google Scholar and be amazed), my comments here derive primarily from my own experience of addressing these issues with singers I meet in community choirs and through my teaching studio.

For a good introduction to the science behind tone-deafness, or ‘amusia’ / dysmusia’ as it is sometimes called, I would recommend this article by Julie Ayotte, Isabelle Peretz and Krista Hyde in the journal Brain.)  (Ref:


Tone-deafness: part of what it means to be human?

Students who appear to have no sense of pitch – those whom we might call ‘tone deaf’ – profoundly challenge our assumptions that human beings are ‘naturally’ musical. If music is an intrinsic part of what it means to be human, how do unmusical people come about, and what, if anything, can we teachers do with them?

Despite our belief that we are a naturally musical species, there are in fact many people who cannot sing in tune, and who demonstrate this perceptual difference in a number of typical ways. I’ll talk about three of the ones I have come across in my work in this post. Please add your own in the comments below!


1. The Generalist

generalist fallacThe most common type in the students I have worked with in community choir settings are those who sing entirely outside the desired key area.

When asked to repeat a melody or to sing along with me or with a group, these singers will have the words and usually the rhythms in the right place, but their pitch response will be unspecific, may be predominantly monotone, and may only demonstrate slight fluctuations in pitch when the true melody goes up or down.

I’ll call these singers ‘The Generalists’ since the sounds they produce seem to me to be part of an impulse to sing along, but to do so generally as part of a shared musical experience, rather than with the details of the melody in mind.

These singers are sometimes unaware that they are in the wrong place, and sometimes unsure if they are correct. There may be some residual awareness that something is wrong in their response in relation to the group, but they won’t be able to say exactly what, and they may not notice the discrepancy all of the time.

To my ear, it appears that The Generalists are probably doing either or both of one or two things: they are either (1) hearing melodies through a kind of mental filter that seems to condense the musical material as it comes in, or (2) if they are hearing discrete pitches, they are filtering and condensing as part of their vocal response as they reproduce these sounds through singing.

The Generalists also sometimes respond to ascending pitch patterns by singing more loudly, which to me is especially interesting; it suggests that they recognize that something is changing when a melody goes up, and they register this changes as a shift in intensity, but not in discrete pitches. They may also be hearing the increase in pitch but responding with an increase in physical intensity expressed through their breath (they ‘push harder’) which will make their singing louder.


2. The Skiers

lone skierA second type of singer, related to the Generalist but different in key ways, is the singer who can sing across a range of pitches, and whose voice correctly modulates up and down, but who nevertheless struggles to produce clearly differentiated notes with a scale area or melody.

When asked to repeat a scale played on the piano, for example, these singers will often respond with an undulating, sometimes siren-like, sound that may roughly correspond to the real range of the scale, but that will nevertheless lack the melodic ‘steps on the ladder’ – of the scale.

At other times, they start on a discrete single pitch, but when they move away it will not be by melodic step, but by sliding away from the first note, with equal volume both on and between the pitches.

I will call these singers ‘Skiers’, since they are crossing the right general pitch territory, but they habitually slide over, rather than pause on, the discrete notes in the scale or melody.


3. The Talkers

talking bubbleMy third category of singers who cannot sing in tune is those singers who sing quite well in certain parts of their range, but ‘ski’ or ‘generalize’ in the outer areas of their range. I will call these singers ‘The Talkers’, since the part of their range in which their singing is in tune is their speaking range. Their singing is like enhanced talking, and when they move out of this familiar part of their range, they lose the ability to match pitch.

If these singers sing only repertoire with a limited pitch range, and especially if they sing in styles that favour a speech-like sound (such as blue grass, blues, folk, rap, or some pop music), their inability to sing in tune in their upper register may go undetected.

These singers are interesting to me because it suggests that their ability to be precise with their voice functions very well when they are speaking. Singing out of this range requires a different laryngeal movement, however, and this change seems to be enough to make them feel disoriented and detached from their voice.


To tune in or to tune out? – That is the question

question markSo what, if anything, can music teachers do to help these singers?

Is the inability to sing in tune simply an inherited trait that cannot be changed, or is there something that can be done to help people who are considered to be tone-deaf, but who would like to improve as singers?

Preliminary diagnosis

I am certainly no expert in this area, and I would recommend that those interested read the literature on various forms of ‘amusia’ /’dysmusia’ and related conditions, to get a fuller picture of how professionals might deal with these conditions outside of the context of a music lesson.

But in my own work, I have seen some definite similarities between the Generalists, Skiers, and Talkers. I’ve also noticed a couple of key differences between the ‘unmusical’ and the ‘musical’ singers (see my May 2014 post for more of this different). In all cases, in my work, these singers seem to exhibit the following characteristics: 

1. the singers do not hear the details in music

2. the singers are not comfortable with the instrument of their voice.

3. the singers show a lack of coordination between their ear and their voice. Curiously, their speech is normal and they modulate correctly in the ‘tune’ of a normal sentence. But there is a separation between the two when it comes to their singing.

Have you met students like this in your teaching studio? Next month I will be offering some suggestions of techniques I have used to help people to learn to sing in tune. In the mean time, I’ll look forward to reading about your experiences with musically challenged students in the comments below!

* with apologies to John Blacking (‘How musical is Man?’ 1973)

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Following up on my post from last month, I’d like to pass along a few changes it has made in my teaching.  The last post was about the new study about learning published in May, called Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning.
In a nutshell, some of the changes I’ve noticed include:

1) Allowing both my students and myself to appreciate the process rather than following a procedure;

2) Finding ways to quiz students and to encourage them to quiz themselves;

3) Planning to move on before something is “mastered”, and then coming back to it when the student is fresh again;

4) Diverting attention from drilling a skill or musical passage to explore varied ways to approach it and think about it.

Here are a few thoughts on each:
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Posted in Teaching Tips

How often to do you evaluate the value of something verse the cost of something?

A Quick Story

Back in 2006, I paid $100 for a pair of Johnston & Murphy black leather dress shoes. Johnston & Murphy has a reputation for excellent craftsmanship and durability. This was one of the most expensive pairs for sale at Macy’s that day. Being in college at the time, I normally would grab the least expensive pair priced at $60 (I forget what brand). But I took a step back and thought about all the upcoming times I would be needing nice dress shoes – my brother’s wedding, my graduation, and future work. I wondered if that $60 pair was going to be the right shoe to wear for years to come. The Johnston & Murphy’s were more comfortable and felt higher-quality.

I asked an employee in the shoe department how many years each pair would last if worn consistently. He said the less expensive pair would last three years max and the Johnston & Murphy’s are known to be worn 10+ years by their owners.  That made my decision easy. Why would I choose to spend almost twice the amount of money, plus two additional shopping trips for a less comfortable shoe over a 10 year period?

Fast forward to 2014. I wear that same pair of shoes several times a week. They are starting to show their age after eight years but I consider them to still be in good condition. That fostered a new mindset for me about always considering the value of something on top of the cost.
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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper

It is that time again – studio recitals, last lessons of the semester, and the beginning of summer!

If you have not already done so, now is the perfect time to update your studio policy. (I sure hope if you are reading this, that you already have a studio policy!)

This year, I have been ultra efficient in this matter, and have already updated mine! I took a lot of time to consider/reconsider the following:

image1. Registration fee – I have been charging a registration fee for the last five years.

2. Tuition – I increase my tuition every year.

3. Sibling discount – I know many teachers frown upon this, but I do offer a small sibling discount.

4. Studio Scholarship – I offer a small award (in the form of reduced monthly tuition) for students that work hard and score highly in festivals and competitions.

imageI also finally decided to put my foot down about the following:

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Posted in Studio Management

X-RatingHave you noticed that almost every product online has a rating? It’s an easy way to help you decide whether you should buy something based on the number of stars awarded by other consumers.

Let’s move this discussion to the world of music teaching. Take scales for example. Often an exam syllabus will require a number of exercises to be learnt. Here are some of the problems I was finding as a teacher:

X Which scales was the pupil supposed to be learning through the week?

X Which exercises were weaker than others therefore requiring extra practice at home and attention in lessons?

X How could I get students to give as much attention to the exercises in the back of their scale books as the ones in the front?

X How could I, and indeed the student, get an overview as to how close they were to reaching the requirements of the particular grade (or standard) they were studying for?

X How could I motivate them to do more scale practice?

Enter the X-Rating system!!! After some deliberation, I came up with the idea of Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

A is for Appdecide_now

My most recent favorite app is called Decide Now–only 99 cents!  Although it’s not a music-related app it is so easy to customize that you won’t be able to stop using it. A game of Piano Charades is just one example of how I implement this versatile app to reinforce music terminology by students acting out Italian terms at the keys. Here are the steps:

1) Call out words such as: piano, forte, fermata, ritardando, presto, largo, etc. and nudge students to act them out physically. This means YOU need to do it, too. For example: piano could be walking on tip toes while ritardando could be jogging in place and gradually slowing down the pace–like a train approaching a station.

decidenow-22) After all terms are physically re-enacted, have the students jot down each term to review the spelling and the definition. If they are youngsters, have them draw a picture instead of writing out the definition. Ex: ritardando could be represented with a train engine.

3) Ask a volunteer to play one phrase of a well-prepared piece as the composer intended.

4) The performer must spin the wheel featuring all the terms just reviewed without letting the others see where the Wheel-of-Fortune-like spinner stops. Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music Theory, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

For many private lesson music teachers, summer is a slower time of year. That’s why it’s a perfect time to be productive about managing your studio for the upcoming busy season. If you aren’t a current user of Music Teacher’s Helper (or haven’t heard of us!), let’s examine why right now is a perfect time to take advantage of our free trial.shutterstock_92215372

Gradual adoption

It’s easy to add a student, schedule a lesson, then automatically invoice using our software. But that’s just the “tip of the iceberg” with what you can do. You may want to learn about the lending library, repriotore tracker, mileage input, and any number of other features that enhance the studio experience for you and your students. And there’s lots of great training support to do just that. With written articles, video tutorials, live webinars, and even personal setup support, you can go at your own pace to familiarize yourself with the features that you will be using for your studio. If summer is indeed a slower time, now is your chance to set up your studio administration for a smooth busy season.

Add content to your free studio website

Music Teacher’s Helper provides professional website themes for you to choose from that you customize with a logo and content. Build exposure and credibility with a website just for your studio.

Doing this over the summer will give you time to focus on what content you’ll want to include.  You can add links, videos, and pictures easily. No website experience needed.

Every studio website also has a blog feature. Have you created a Facebook or Twitter account to promote your studio but struggle with what to post? Blogging helps market your studio because they show up in search engines like Google and can be spread across multiple social media networks. Good content gets shared and drives visitors to your studio website, where they’ll learn more about your services.

No long-term commitments

Our monthly pricing plans allow you to move up or down based on how many students you currently have in your studio. There is even a forever free plan available for up to five students. And waiting list or former students do not count towards that total.

Do you know which students are coming back at the end of the summer? Add them into the software now as a former student and convert them to active with a click of a button. Since you already added their information, lesson rate, etc., just schedule them on the calendar. They can then receive email lesson reminders (we have different profiles for child and adult students), a custom invoice with option to pay with a credit card, and after the lesson, you can type notes about how they did for yourself, or allow the student/parent to see the notes as well.

Summer vacation is a time for you to recharge and refocus as you prepare for another group of students. If you set up Music Teacher’s Helper now, you will be able to concentrate more on teaching your students in the fall.

Click Here For Main Website & Signup.


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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Using Music Teacher's Helper least that’s what I used to say when a parent asked me.

When I began teaching over 20 years ago, my first students were teen-aged or older.  Their hands were fully developed and able to make all the beginning chord shapes.  It was no problem keeping them engaged for a 30 minute lesson.  Then one day, a mom asked me if I’d teach their 3rd grader how to play guitar.  I froze.  The mom is standing there waiting for me as I searched my brain for an answer.  I wanted to say yes, but the thought of teaching a little kid stopped me dead in my tracks.  I had no experience in teaching someone younger than 15.  How hard could it be?  After a long pause…I said yes.  Gulp!

They were guinea pigs to be sure – those first few kids – lab experiments.  Put your little finger here.  Put your ring finger on that fret.  “What’s a ring finger?”, they’d say.  “How come you keep looking at the clock?”, I’d say.

Lately, I’ve been meeting every couple of weeks with two other church music directors.  We get together to share music ideas, support one another, and otherwise commiserate about our work as ministers of music.  Good times.  One of these fellows has started up a music school in his church.  Now that’s a cool idea!  When I asked him how it was going, he got kind of a bewildered look on his face. “There are too many little kids that want to learn guitar.”, he said.  “It takes them half an hour just to make a G chord!”  (He grimaces while grappling with his imaginary guitar.)  The three of us laughed because we’d all been there and done that.

For a young kid, the enthusiasm about playing the guitar flies out the window at about the same time he/she discovers how difficult it is to form the basic chords.  The once gung-ho guitar student transforms into…a clock watcher!  With a reassuring voice, I say, “Put this finger here, and this one here, and this one on the same fret, here.”  Thoroughly convinced to the contrary, the student observes, “My fingers don’t do that, Mr. Shelby.” or, “That hurts my fingers!”  As Dr. Smith from the classic TV series, Lost In Space, used to say… “Oh the pain, oh the pain!”

I wished for a way to teach guitar to young kids engaging enough that they’d forget to look at that darn clock.  The first few weeks of learning how to make basic chord shapes and building up calluses can be tough so the learning needs to be fun!  I needed a fun and engaging way to teach guitar to young kids!

I was prowling around one of my favorite music stores one day, when I came across Alfred’s Kid’s Guitar Course 1.  Hallelujah, my prayers have been answered!!!  I bought a sack full of them and have been using this course for my young guitar students ever since.  Alfred’s has a Course 2 and just recently, they’ve come out with a combined Course 1 & 2 book that even has activity pages!  Would you believe they’ve even got a matching Course 1 & 2 Flash Card setMusic Writing Book, and Note Speller Book as the perfect complements to the method books?!  (Many of their method books come with enhanced CD and/or DVD options, too.)

“I don’t teach guitar to kids!” is something you’ll never have to say thanks to the folks at Alfred’s.  With their help, clock watching has become a thing of the past in my studio.  If you’re looking for a guitar resource for young students that will more than motivate, inspire, and make learning the guitar fun, be sure to check out these resources from Alfred’s Music. (You’ll find sample pages in all the links above.)

I look forward to reading about the methods or resources that you’ve found successful at your studio (whether guitar or any other instrument).  Please share your ideas in a reply below.  That’s one of the things I love about Music Teacher’s Helper – all the great ideas that are shared on this blog.  There are many posts I’ve read here that have helped me be a better teacher.  In my next post, I’ll share a story about two challenging young students (siblings) that I thought teaching would be completely hopeless.  See you next month!

Check out last month’s post:  Why I Use Music Teacher’s Helper

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Posted in Teaching Tips