Jazz for classically trained pianists

Below is my article from the Music Teacher magazine UK, November 2013. in 2016, Improv Exercises for Classically Trained Beginners book was published based on my experiences of teaching jazz and improvisation to the classically trained pupils. Buy book on:

This website >
Musicroom.com UK >
Musicroom.de Germany >
Musicroom.fr France >

Improv Exercises

Improv Exercises for Classically Trained Beginners is a 21st-century educational concept based on the belief that, in addition to the regular routine, classically piano lessons should also include elements of improvisation.

Watch 9 video tutorials

Over a hundred years ago musical pioneers created a phenomenally popular musical style – jazz! Exciting, rhythmic, harmonious, colourful, toe-tapping and ear-catching, jazz had it all – and people loved it! It was a massive shaking up of the musical world. And, as well, it had something new – it had a swing!
However, this new creation had come from the poor and disinherited in the world; people who had lost much in their lives and had little; people who understood loss, disinheritance, loneliness, isolation – and for many, the associations of these people who had nothing and had lost an enormous amount (even, in the case of slaves, their freedom) meant that the normal music-loving populace could not give the new musical invention its due. Improvisation was not willingly added to the classical music scene and it is not an element that exists in our current musical exams.  But – why not? Besides watching how excited pupils become playing jazz tunes and how fast they learn to play them, would it be a stretch too far to say they would also be happy to include improvisation in their musical learning?

Judging by the number of children entering the classical exams each year, it’s clear that children can be interested in whatever kind of music their teachers recommend. But, however malleable the pupils might be, teachers tend to believe that you need to be a specialist to teach jazz. They think that children who are eager to focus on it, need to learn sophisticated bass lines and intentional dissonances under the watchful eye of an expert and it isn’t considered to be something that an untutored teacher can offer – disappointing news for the average child.

Of course, classically trained teachers do have the advantage that they can tell pupils how to play each piece appropriately for the chosen composition style to make sure no marks are lost, and this works well for how current exams are structured, but what about the one, very important element of jazz which is different from the elements of classical music – improvisation?

Improvisation is believed to be a spontaneous moment of sudden inventiveness and, in reality, it has been around for as long as music exists. Great composers and performers of all classical styles were very good at improvising. But, somehow, it didn’t make it into the books we use today and it seems that only jazz musicians carry on the tradition.

Here is a quote by Snake Davis“I’m an improvising musician. Yes, I read, yes I learn parts by ear and repeat them, but I am most happy when I “shut my eyes and blow”. But improvising can be very frightening. Nowhere to hide, no safety net, very exposed, like going on stage naked. So it needs to be handled with care, taught with passion and sensitivity. I love teaching it, de-mystifying it, I call it “making stuff up” rather than “improvising”. Should classical students be encouraged to improvise? YES! because it will make them braver, more free, more confident players. Should classical teachers teach improvisation and jazz? Yes, but ONLY if they themselves are confident and proficient improvisers.”

Not wanting my pupils to miss out on such an important musical experience I felt that as a modern classically trained teacher, I should be able to cross boundaries to provide a balanced education to my pupils. So I wrote and published Higgledy Piggledy Jazz series for young pianists, (also for sax players and classical guitarists) which, unlike normal jazzy piano books (which don’t have improvisation sections), includes elements for young pianists who have plenty of enthusiasm for improvisation. And I hope that my recommendations will find their way into your lessons so the journey into the world of Jazz for you and your pupils can begin.

The main benefits I have found that jazz improvisation brings to classically trained children include:

–       an increase in confidence and self-esteem

–       a more positive attitude to home practice

–       improved sight reading and eye-hand coordination

–       improvements in the ability to maintain the beat and think on the go

–       greater creativity in the lesson with increased development in independent thinking

–       a sense of achievement for something that is considered difficult by others

–       and last (but not least) let’s not forget the ‘cool factor’ – with lots and lots of fun!

If you’re a classically trained teacher and you find yourself confused as to whether to introduce improvisation to your pupils or not, you could find the following improvisation exercises very useful as a start. There are both rhythm and notation exercises and you could practice them with your pupils from memory or by looking at the sheets associated with this magazine with this article.  Hopefully, you’ll find the exercises logical and easy to remember – and it will be fun for both you and your pupils.

1  Rhythm exercises Tip – Count aloud

Remembering that every crotchet consists of two quavers and we are getting ready to ‘swing’ them, tap the rhythm on your thighs and count aloud one and, two and, three and, four and.  Get your pupil to start slowly and repeat each exercise until they are ready to move on to playing. Note that the left hand always taps crotchets.

2  Notation exercises Tip – Know your notes and fingers

The blues scale is very special and if you play the notes from it you create a ‘blues sound’. The exercises below are based on the blues scale on C and for your pupils to play them effectively, make sure they find the notes on the keyboard first and then stick to the fingering for the right hand of:

– 1st finger for C

– 2nd finger for Eb

– 3rd finger for F

– 4th finger for F#

Transpose the exercises into any key and let your pupils use them for different pieces or just for enjoyable practice.

Putting it together using ‘Super Duck’ Tip – Count the bars

Take a look at the preview of the piece and you’ll see that there is colour in the bass clef notes. C is in the usual black ink, but F is green and G is red. Make sure your pupils memorise this colour usage and when they’re playing, make sure they count the bars (as below).

(4 x C) + (2 x F) + (2 x C) + (1 x F) + (1 x G) + (1 x C) + (1 x G) = 12 bar blues

‘Super Duck’, one of the tunes in the ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz’ book, is a twelve bar blues and we can use that tune to start off with. It would be most suitable for a pupil already working on Grade 1 (and above) classical piano. From bar 15 you’ll notice that your pupil has the chance to play what they’d like with their right hands – they can play it as it is or they can use that space to improvise and make it into a solo.

Get your pupil to start practising by playing the entire solo, repeating one bar from the notation exercise in the right hand. When they’re feeling confident, tell them to try mixing the notation exercises up. When they’re feeling very confident and ready to go – let them use their own ideas. Tell them to remember that they are improvising and what they thought was a mistake could well be a real gem of a find! And finally, like a pro, get them to create a fantastic ending by adding the pedal to the last chord and playing it on the tremolo.

Certainly, jazz improvisation can be a little tricky initially and not everything will come easily. But it will be invigorating and rewarding to watch your pupils turn dreams into reality.

All Material Is Copyright 2013

 And for even more enjoyable experience, please take a look at my play-along tracks here >

Safeguarding and the Private Piano Studio

It is extremely important as a private music educator that you take appropriate and sensible action to protect both yourself and the students.

Though the advantages of working from home are enormous, it is extremely important as a private music educator that you take appropriate and sensible action to protect both yourself and the students who enter your home to study with you. Safeguarding training and DBS checks are mandatory for every teacher who works in educational establishments.

Though this is not the case for private tutors, it cannot be emphasised too strongly that all teachers- whether they work privately or in institutions- need to be fully aware of safeguarding procedures for working and inter-relating with vulnerable adults and young people aged eighteen and under. They need to understand the differences between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Teachers need to be mindful of their actions and choice of words when interacting with minors.

Keeping up to date and revising the excellent advice given by the government in KCSIE (Keeping children safe in education – follow the link, would seem essential.

DBS Certificate

Obtaining a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) certificate is strongly recommended for private music teachers. Though this is essential for teachers in schools and tertiary educational establishments, it is extremely valuable for self-employed tutors working from home too. If you are a member of a teacher’s association or union, they will be able to help you obtain a certificate. In any case, it is straightforward to apply for a basic DBS online: You can apply directly to DBS for a basic check using this link

A basic check only costs £18 and is usually processed within 14 days. It will contain details of convictions and conditional cautions considered to be ‘unspent’ under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.


As responsible adults we have a duty of care to our students. We have a responsibility to alert authorities if we are concerned about a child’s welfare. This was made clear in the Children Act of 1989 (‘The child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration’).

Safeguarding is what teachers practise for all their pupils to ensure that their welfare is protected and promoted. It is important that we do not ignore changes in a student’s manner or appearance. If a pupil suddenly becomes aggressive or introverted, we should be concerned. Has their appearance changed? How is their personal hygiene?

Mental health concerns causing depression can see a previously buoyant young musician change into someone much more introverted and withdrawn. We need to be vigilant and aware that abuse is not only sexual, but can also be physical (injury) emotional, exploitative, or neglectful.

When a student confides

If you have a pupil who chooses to make a disclosure of abuse to you whilst in your home for a private lesson, it is vital that you do not guarantee to share this information. Listening carefully and showing empathy is important, but it is essential that you do not put words into the young person’s mouth. It is not your role to undertake any investigation into anything that is said- but it is vital that you take a precise and detailed record of the conversation, clearly labelling notes with the time and date of the conversation.

Listen-recognise-refer-record. This is the way to ensure that subsequent investigations by social services or the police are not compromised. It also prevents the pupil from having to endure the process of repeatedly giving evidence to others. Follow the TED (tell, explain, describe) approach as you support your pupil. ‘What?’ ‘When?’ ‘Who?’ ‘How?’ ‘Where?’ are all excellent starting words that help to crystalise and clarify the facts.

Though it can be challenging to remain calm, it is essential that you give as serene and professional a demure as possible. You can never offer false confidentiality. Never promise to keep secrets. As a responsible adult, you have a duty to report what you hear to the authorities.

Stay calm. Give the child your full attention and time. If you offer discussion or question anything that is said this could corrupt evidence- is it is vital that the pupil is allowed to give a spontaneous account. Though you will not investigate anything said, it is important to offer reassurance to your pupil, telling them that they have done nothing wrong in sharing the information with you. You then need to make an immediate referral either to Children’s social care and/or the Police link. It is important not to engage in direct communication with any persons under suspicion as a result of your pupils’ statements. Leave this to the relevant authority. 

A safer, more effective teaching environment

It is important not to ‘crowd’ the personal space of students in their lessons. They need space to expand with freedom into healthy postures. Sitting further back from pupils as they play to us allows for an overview of posture. Though this may not be possible if your studio is small, it is advisable to have your own instrument to hand to play rather than to share an instrument with a student. In the 21st century with electronic keyboards, this is most certainly an option for piano tutors too.

You do not need to have anything more than a £300 keyboard on a stand to hand in order to make lessons much more comfortable for yourself as well as your students. If you can sit at your own instrument during a lesson, you will not have to risk back or neck strain by leaning over a pupil to play or demonstrate a new fingering. It also saves time as you do not have to engage in a perpetual game of standing up and sitting down as you alternate between demonstrating a point and listening to playing.

An open class and parental involvement

The long journey of development that children make as they learn about music can function well when the teacher and parents support practising and development in partnership as part of a team. The degree of parental involvement will vary from child to child and there are numerous factors involved. Having said that, for very young children (and often for those that are not so young) it can be extremely beneficial for a parent to be present in the room to take notes.

Though there are some teachers who worry about what may become ‘interference’ from a parent, it is definitely healthy and empowering for all concerned if issues relating to progress are discussed. It is a huge help if parents can see and hear help what is being built up each week in the lessons.

Of course, busy lifestyles and practicalities can make it impossible for parents to sit in on lessons. From a safeguarding point of view, it is advisable not to be left alone in your house without another adult on the premises. For many years most music institutions have had windows on teaching room doors so that there is less of a feeling of exclusion when lessons take place.

It is certainly helpful to have close proximity to others whilst you teach. If at all possible, have the waiting area for pupils and parents next to your teaching room. It may not be possible to have a window on the door of your music room, but it is certainly workable to come out between lessons and to make others feel welcome to watch your teaching. It can be invaluable from an educational perspective for observers. It can also be helpful for pupils themselves: By playing in a lesson with listeners present they can develop more confidence and assurance.

Pedagogy and Touch

Though there are many teachers, perhaps particularly from Eastern Europe, who regularly take the hands of their students in order to demonstrate points relating to posture, relaxation, and co-ordination, we should be aware that it is not appropriate to touch a student without first receiving permission to do so. Many teachers feel that touch is an essential part of their pedagogical approach, and it is possible to get parents and guardians to fill in the consent form for touch to take place in the lessons for specific technical reasons.

Of course, students should never feel uncomfortable with this. In my own teaching, I have found that it is best for students to ‘teach themselves’ via touch: They can test for stiffness/tension in their right wrist by massaging it with their left hand, and vice versa. Finger tapping in one hand via the use of the other is also an effective way in which pupils can literally apply their own self-massage in order to find effective co-ordination at the instrument.

Though I would never tell a tutor not to use touch in a lesson, for myself I do feel that refraining from lifting a student’s hands or fingers is a way for the student to think more deeply about technique: When they have to do the touching themselves, they need to think about what they are doing, becoming the teacher for a moment. I would argue that this makes it more likely for them to remember what a loose, relaxed wrist feels like. Is it simply too easy to lose the will to think for yourself when your teacher lifts your wrist and puts it into the correct position?


One of the positive benefits of the pandemic has been the way it has revolutionised our approach to recording music lessons for future study. I confess to never even having heard of ‘Zoom’ before March 2020- but today it is a vital part of my life as a teacher, with the recording facility it offers proving invaluable for students and their parents as they review lessons as part of their practising and preparation for future sessions.

Do not retain recorded films of your under eighteen-year-old students. It seems much safer to have a parent in the room to do the zoom link recording, manage the angle of the camera, and the safekeeping their child’s playing themselves.

Concerts and Publicity

When it comes to recording and filming class concerts, we do have to ensure that full parental consent has been given. Because it is so easy for anyone to record anything via a phone today, care should be taken to ensure at regular intervals during a public performance that there are no illicit recordings taking place without permission having been given.

The same applies to photography. We cannot take pictures of children on impulse or without permission. In regard to posters and programmes, these are best presented for safeguarding reasons without the surnames of children included. This latter is something which can easily be missed by teachers, so is worth stressing strongly.

Setting up a Limited Company

This blog is for you if you are ever considering whether to register your private music studio as a limited company.

Limit your liability

There are many practical good reasons for setting up your own private limited company if you are a music teacher working from home. Though many worry unnecessarily about extra administrative strains, the advantages of separating your work from your individual life are considerable.

By registering and incorporating your business at companies house (www.gov.uk) you are protecting yourself by separating your teaching from your personal life. This literally means limited liability- in other words you will no longer be totally responsible on a personal level for any debts your teaching business may incur. You will be liable only for debts up to the value of what you have invested. You will be structuring your teaching practice in a way that sets up a valuable ‘distance’ between yourself as an individual and your professional work, making you far less vulnerable if anything goes wrong.

Getting started

Though musicians often find it hard to separate their work from their life as a whole, there is certainly a strong case for doing so when it comes to budgets, accounts, and finances. Of course, registration with HMRC is essential for everyone who runs a teaching practice- we all have to declare our earnings and pay tax! But the separation of your private budget from your company’s accounts, it may be.


If you have a branded name for your company, it instantly signals to the world that you are a business. Of course, having ‘Ltd’ after the name of your teaching practice unquestionably sends strong, professional, well-organised signals to the world at large. It is not going too far to say that it gives a sense of prestige and shows potential new customers that you are confident in your abilities as a teacher too. Because the name of your company is registered, it is protected and will not be used by anyone else.

This will be advantageous when it comes to websites, social media pages, advertisements, and business cards. Though obviously you remain a freelance musician, (with the advantages of being able to decide when you go on holiday, how much you teach etc), having a company name may make it easier for you to advertise and market your skills as a teacher without feeling self-conscious in the process: You have created a potentially useful distance between yourself as an individual and your teaching practice and created a ‘brand’ in the process.

Administration and expenses

Having established a separate bank account for your company, employed the services of a reliable accountant, and registered at companies house, it is important to maintain and monitor expenses and receipts, taking records for future reference- especially for when tax has to be paid. This need not be onerous: Records and paperwork can easily be stored electronically in a cloud-based secure storage system such as Dropbox or google drive. The important thing is to avoid last minute cramming. Set aside a regular period of time each week to put papers in order and take stock of where your finances lie. This will make things much easier for when you have to do your annual bookkeeping submission to companies house via your account.

Tax deductible items

Working as Director for your company may make it easier for you to monitor expenses. It forces you to account for everything you buy as you must justify all purchases set as expenses against the company. If it has direct relevance to your professional life, then it counts as an expense. If you work from home them your accountant will advise you on what percentage of heating and electricity bills you can justifiably claim as business use. The room you teach in and the room you use as a waiting area counts as working space for a home office tax deduction. It is important to know the square footage in terms of space so that you can take advantage of the benefit.

Section 179 of the tax code enables you to deduct, in the year of purchase, the full cost of certain items that have a useful life of more than one year. In other words, items that once had to be depreciated over several years can now be deducted all at once. Qualifying items must be personal property such as musical instruments, business vehicles and equipment, or software. Ask your tax accountant if Section 179 is best for you.

If you travel to teach them it is important to keep a record the mileage you tally up as your drive to lessons. Expenses in the home can be surprising: Though most teachers are aware that they can claim for basic teaching essentials such as sheet music, textbooks, CDs, computer cartridges and so on, there may well be other items that are overlooked. Though most members of society would considered attending concerts to be part of their leisure time, there is no question that for musicians concert tickets are legitimate expenses. If you suffer from a back condition, for instance, then it could be legitimate to claim for the expensive orthopaedic cushion that you bought in order to sit through all your lessons on the chair beside the piano.

Professional Creativity unlimited!

As Director of your own company, you can of course use it for much more than just one to one tuition. Many musicians are muti-talented individuals with a portfolio of contrasted activities that may include lots of performing as well as possibly presenting work, masterclasses, composing and writing. All of these (and more) could fit comfortably under the umbrella of a private limited company. As you expand your activities you could appoint additional directors, some of whom could be family members. But that is beyond the scope of this introductory article. As mentioned earlier, it is important to speak to your accountant. By allowing a formal separation between your activities as a musician and your personal life, greater organisational clarity may well allow for new perspectives on creativity, possibly in collaboration with others.

An alternative to ZOOM

Minions to Mountains or ‘How a minion built Global software to rival Zoom’

By Anita Macdonald, founder of the MeteorTutors.com


It came during a snowstorm, after the tenth student cancelled, and long before the pandemic. ‘Let’s give them no way of missing a lesson‘. Plus of course, shortly after that, ‘let’s make it freely available in every corner of the globe‘.

I looked at loads of other sites, but everything was added on. Zoom itself had no way to monetise it, you still had to write your own invoices. The Musicteachershelper.com provided invoices but had no video conferencing facilities.

And so, here in London, with my 30 odd years classroom and school management, experience, I began to plan. It was a simple ‘begin with the end in mind’ sort of a plan.


A one-stop shop where all you do is teach 

This was my first thought. What do I want the software to do? 

  • It teaches live online with minimum lag, one to one, or (with poorer parts of the world in mind), classrooms of hundreds of students
  • It has multiple cameras for close up lab work, piano work, cad/cam work etc at the touch of a button
  • Lessons open and close automatically at the allotted time, with no waiting rooms or ‘bombing’
  • It screenshares homework, theory, graphs, charts, keyboards online.
  • It has a click and book calendar, skipping holidays as required by individual tutors. Calendars can be viewed by all, negating messaging  the tutors to ‘check’
  • The calendar changes global clocks automatically to local time at either end of the meeting, or for all members of a group meeting
  • The software notifies and send automated receipts to parents/schools/companies the instant they pay
  • The subscription software reminds students automatically of their lessons 24 hours before
  • It has a button touch reschedule feature for tutors 
  • It contains thousands of resources, with 100% of the proceeds going to the writers and publishers
  • It has a live video support function
  • It has livechat, to talk to an operator about meetings
  • It has its own secure instant messenger , so that teachers and students can chat, and chat history is recorded for safeguarding purposes. This protects both parties.

So after thousands of hours of testing and teaching, trying out every possible glitch in the Matrix, the site is not only running, but performing so much better than anything else on the market. 

Meteortutors.com is available as a web based format, or an app version (available on Appstore and Google Play). If you’d like to try the site free you are most welcome.

We now have our own servers, so if we can offer this free in poor parts of the world, then we will. Until then, we take a tiny percentage to cover our service, including live video support, so you have your own VA! You can charge what you like, depending on the country you live in, and to a certain extent how popular you are!

If you’d like to use just the video conferencing software, Meteorfireball.com does just that, as I know not everyone wants to be on a teaching site if they’d like it just for meetings/conferences and more.

If you are an author/composer and would like your work featured, just email us and we will add you to the resources page, free of charge, with a link to your site or publisher.

EVC Music and TopMusicSheets

EVC Music and TopMusicSheets

EVC Music and TopMusicSheets presented a brand new book EVC Music at the Royal Albert Hall released by TopMusic.co and TopMusicPro.com for the TopMusic community – one of the leading educational resources available on the internet for music teachers founded by the Australian music educator Tim Topham.

Live stream presentation and launch included EVC Music composers Nancy Litten, Heather Hammond, Victoria Proudler, Sam Wedgwood, Nikki Iles and Elena Cobb.

The collection features ten tunes (with audio) from the upcoming Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival at the Royal Albert Hall Concert with the Band programme where young pianists will be performing jazz and pop music with a professional 5-piece band.

  1. Super Duck, by Elena Cobb
  2. Good Mood Boogie, by Heather Hammond
  3. Robots Go Clubbing, Nancy Litten
  4. Caterpillar Blue, by Nikki Iles
  5. Country Waltz, by Paul Birchall
  6. Grumps, by Sam Wedgwood
  7. Alone for a While, by Heather Hammond
  8. Stakeout, by Victoria Proudler
  9. Shark Soup, by Sam Wedgwood
  10. Lavender Haze, by Elena Cobb

Please watch the recording and make sure to sign up for the TopMusic.co to become a member of the community that offers:

  • Courses for music teachers
  • Free music teacher training webinars
  • Video tips and tutorials
  • The TopCast


Tim Topham:

What a pleasure it has been working with Elena and EVC Music to put this collection together! The feedback from our members has already been positive as they start exploring these wonderful pieces with their students.

One of our members, Erich said: “I can most certainly use this collection! It is a fresh set of music that will trigger the student to study piano and to practise more. In doing so, they’ll learn chords, intervals, improvising in a super fun way. On behalf of my students: Thank you very much!!!

Thanks so much to all the amazing EVC composers for happily sharing their beautiful and funky pieces with our members. This will be a collection that is treasured for years to come.”

Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival at the Royal Albert Hall is a unique event with performance opportunities for young pianists from around the world. It was first introduced in 2014 when Elena Cobb began working with the UK and overseas music festivals. Today, many of them cherish the opportunity to perform at the annual Elena Cobb Star Prize at the Royal Albert Hall Elgar Room on the red piano that used to belong to Sir Elton John himself! 

Navigating Technology

Leila Viss generates imaginative, tech-savvy instruction and resources for her studio and website, LeilaViss.com. She is the past coordinator for the University of Denver’s Piano Preparatory Program, hosts the Key Ideas Podcast and offers Composiums where she inspires pianists to nurture their creative voice through composition.

The lockdown forced us to make a decision–shutter our studios or move them online. 

If you were not friends with WiFi and Zoom before March of 2020, most likely you are now. I’m guessing that your relationship was a little rocky at first especially since you were forced to pivot. It definitely was for me even though I befriended and embedded tech tools in my studio when I first opened my doors in the early 90s. 

Think about why you chose to move lessons online. You wanted to continue lessons, connect with students, and maintain your business with a steady income. In the process you witnessed how the right tech tools can work wonders on your behalf. 

Perhaps you’re ready to implement technology beyond Zoom and a webcam? The best place to begin is the end. In other words, think about how you hope technology can meet your needs in the future.

  • Are you looking to launch or update a studio website?
  • Do you want to automate your billing?
  • Are you interested in providing learning opportunities beyond your lesson time with students?
  • Are you desperate to find tools that drill concepts beyond flash cards and theory books?
  • Do you see others use technology to their advantage and want to do the same?
  • Are you overwhelmed with what tools to use first?

Atomic Habits

James Clear, author of the best-selling book Atomic Habits, claims that

“you do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”


If you want to enhance your studio with platforms and apps then you must embrace a system and use it regularly. Remember how quickly you learned the ins and outs of Zoom or platforms because you used them for online lessons every day?

After a couple of mornings of powering up our new espresso machine, I got the hang of it and now enjoy a custom cup of brew exactly to my liking. To reach and maintain our goals it takes time and repetition. Technology will only serve you well if you make a habit of integrating it with consistency.

Once you’re committed to making space to develop a system, then it’s time to decide which tech tool will serve you the best. Do this by determining the biggest obstacle you face in your current setup. For example, do you need help with


  • Organization of digital files?
  • Administration of billing and scheduling?
  • Communication with studio families?
  • Reinforcement of music concepts?
  • Sharing assignments?


When a priority is set, then it’s essential to develop a filter similar to mine. Because of the overwhelming number of options available, I use three criteria when considering tech tools of any kind.

  • Is it easy to use?
  • Does it add value to precious lesson time or save me time?
  • Is it customizable to suit my needs?

Below is an abbreviated list of the apps or sites that have passed through my filter and ones that I highly recommend as you bypass obstacles and develop tech-savvy systems.

Keep in mind that

  • I access most of these tools on my desktop computer
  • The tools are usually (not always!) web-based which means they require Wi-Fi
  • They can also be accessed on smartphones and tablets, I favor the iPhone and iPad
  • Most offer a free level or free trial with in-app purchases.

Studio Administration

My Music Staff is a studio management software that helps you manage your schedule, website, billing, online payments, communication with parents and much more. Three of my favorite features of My Music Staff?

  • Students receive a reminder about their upcoming lesson the day before which avoids any confusion about lesson day and time.
  • During the summer months, I create a drop-in lesson option on my calendar. Students see when I’m available and sign up for lessons when it works around their busy summer schedule.
  • Student families pay online.

File Organization

​​Google Drive/Docs is a cloud-based storage solution that includes options to generate and save files on the web and access them across your devices. Within Drive you can create documents, spreadsheets and forms and easily share them with others with a link.

I use Google Docs to track incentive programs with digital badge boards, create digital escape room games, generate sign ups and evaluation forms for online festivals, store photos and videos and much more.

Assignments and Lesson Notes

Tonara is a platform for creating and sharing multimedia assignments. It also tracks student practice and includes a chat feature to message students between lessons. I wasn’t convinced that I needed this “deluxe” assignment and practice tracker but the pandemic changed my mind. Learn why I now use Tonara here.

If you’re interested in giving Tonara a try, use this affiliate link and use coupon code viss20 for 20% discount for 12 months. 

Tutorial or Reminder Videos 

Loom records a video and instantly generates a link that can be shared via email, text, Tonara, etc. Typically, you record a video on a device and then the file is too big to share so you must either upload the video to Google Drive or YouTube and then share that link.

Loom takes out the “middleman” and any video you record in the app can be easily shared with a link. I turn to Loom daily to quickly create reminder videos for students that they can watch between lessons. Loom saves me oodles of time and it definitely improves my students’ preparation between lessons.

Sheet Music Reader 

ForScore provides a library for digital sheet music and much more. After I scan sheet music with an app called TurboScan, or purchase a digital download, I organize the PDFs in the app on my iPad Pro. ForScore is available for desktop but I have not used it yet.

ForScore is a paper-free way to organize sheet music and it works with a bluetooth page-turning pedal. After pairing the pedal with the iPad, a tap of my toe will turn the page for me. I use ForScore, my iPad Pro and my Page Flip Dragonfly Bluetooth pedal every week at my church gig. 

Sheet Music Player

PlayScore 2 is one of those apps that you hoped would become a reality. Now it’s here. After taking a photo of sheet music with a smartphone or tablet, PlayScore 2 immediately plays back the score with stunning accuracy.

This scan and playback can be shared with others who download the app for free. With a professional subscription, the app can export the scan as an XML file to score editors like Finale. With a couple of swipes, you can transpose and even orchestrate the playback with 19 different MIDI voices.

I’ve sampled Play Score 2 with several students and one in particular really liked the ability to watch the score scroll by as he listened. It’s definitely a step above just an audio file. There are many possibilities for this app and I look forward to exploring them! 

Educational Apps

As much as I value technology that assists my business, apps that teach and drill concepts are my favorite to curate because they are essential to my curriculum. In my studio, students spend 30 minutes of time on the bench with me and then another off the bench reviewing theory concepts, music history, terms, etc. Learn more about my Off Bench Time here.

These apps, too, must pass through a filter that I call “stages of learning.” To learn about these stages and to see what educational apps made the cut, follow this link: Must-Have Apps.


Feeling overwhelmed by this list?

I can see why. There’s even a few more I didn’t include like Noteflight, YouTube and Canva! Seeing how valuable each one of these apps is to me, it may leave you feeling bewildered.

So, remember to…

  • Begin with the end.
  • Ask yourself what’s the most important aspect of your studio that needs a tech-savvy upgrade.
  • Borrow my app filter to select one or use one of the tools I recommend above.
  • Start with one app at a time.
  • Develop and dedicate time to a system that keeps you using the app every day so it becomes a habit.
  • Equip yourself with an updated computer, smartphone and iPad. You don’t need all of them immediately, but all three will level up your systems.

Looking for guidance along the way?

Visit my website for some free key ideas or consider setting up a consultation with me. 


Insurance for the music studio

Private Music Teacher Support is a new series of articles to help the private music teacher.
Finances, insurance, child protection and connections.

Working as a self-employed musician from your own home has many obvious advantages but can be lonely. Though it is wonderful not to have to travel to work and terrific to use your own equipment and facilities, welcoming pupils into your music room, it is important that financial safe-guarding and administrative precautions and procedures are set-up securely in advance of lessons so that music making can proceed calmly, enjoyably, and efficiently.

This new series of articles is designed to offer supportive suggestions and ideas which could be helpful to private teachers who may feel that the isolation and lack of daily face to face contact with like-minded colleagues can at times make them vulnerable.

Public Liability Insurance

Many teachers may well wonder why they need public liability insurance at all. After all, the chances of accidents happen are limited, aren’t they? I have found that students in particular can be rather blasé about the whole thing- especially if they only teach one or two students. But the truth is that accidents can and do happen.

What if you spill hot coffee on a child’s hand and cause a burn? What if a student trips over a computer cable at your desk next to the piano? Children in particular can be less aware of domestic furniture in settings away from their family homes, and we need to be prepared for the unexpected…

We live in a constantly changing world with all kinds of potential hazards, and though it would be wrong to assume the worst will happen, music teachers owe it to themselves to set up effective protection that ensures financial security if accidents with pupil (Heaven forbid) happen in your home. Well-known piano teacher Susan Bettaney is very clear about how important this is:


Susan Bettaney

‘From past experience,  I strongly recommend taking out Public Liability
Insurance. It gives vital protection against any accidents to visitors while
on your property which could prove very stressful and costly. We need peace
of mind these days!’

Photo: Susan Bettaney

Paying annually for insurance is one of the first things we should do as private tutors working in our own home. Having done quite a bit of research into costs, it has been gratifying to discover Insure4Music, a company that offers direct support to private music teachers for as little as £21.60 per annum. This is for professional indemnity cover of £1 Million (you can pay a little more for cover up to £4 or even £5 Million).

I phoned up the customer service team on 08000 469 859 and was told that the cover had covered me wherever I may travel within the UK. For the payment of an additional 66p per annum the cover would be extended to cover me anywhere in the world. Service was friendly, efficient, and within five minutes of the call I received a detailed quote via email.

Though many colleagues already have public liability insurance via other means and companies, I cannot recommend www.insure4music.co.uk too highly. The whole procedure lasted less than six minutes on the phone- a small amount of time for reassurance and security that no private teacher can surely afford to set up.

Of course, there are other insurance policies that have to be considered by music teachers too. Insure4Music offers good deals, but, as with anything else, individuals are advised to do research, shop around and come to their own conclusions. When arranging a home insurance, mention that you are working from home as a piano teacher. Ask if the insurance is more expensive and what is the amount. Claim premium amount of the home insurance if working from home

Teachers working alone should look into professional indemnity insurance as well as business interruption, contents, portable equipment, buildings, employers liability (if you are running a tutoring business or employ others) and personal accident insurance. Space forbids more than a brief summary of each:

Professional indemnity insurance

Though we may consider it paranoid to imagine a parent dis-satisfied with the exam mark their child achieves after private lessons with you, there is no doubt that professional work nowadays is far more heavily scrutinised than ever before. Perhaps the fashion for blaming teachers when expectations are not met has stemmed from across the Atlantic, where a tradition for suing individuals has long been in place?

Certainly, it is all too easy for busy self-employed private teachers to forget to check changes to scale requirements for grade exams, or even to present the wrong repertoire for a competition. Having a professional at the ready to support you in these circumstances- i.e., a solicitor – could well prove beneficial.

Maybe all teachers should estimate what the very worst scenario could be in these circumstances, then take out insurance accordingly. Even though we may scoff at the apparent trivial nature of forgetting to check an update exam syllabus, there is no question that it only takes one individual parent to threaten legal action for trouble to ensue.

Of course, claims of this nature will almost certainly prove to be totally unjustified, but that is beside the point: the accusations made against you will need to be fought, and it is simply much cheaper and less time consuming to have an insurance policy in place than to have to work though lawyers.

Business interruption insurance

It only takes a burst pipe or a failed boiler for your home studio to be temporarily out of action. This could mean having to find and pay for alternative facilities in order to avoid cancelling lessons- something with potentially serious financial implications. It may be beneficial for you to have insurance cover in place to make up for loss of revenue that could ensue whilst you are trying to find somewhere else to teach.

Contents insurance

Of course, this is far more generic cover that will be familiar to the general public as well as music teachers, but for the latter it has to include not only lost and stolen goods but also repairs to our instruments, recording equipment and computers. A word of warning though in advance- colleagues have found it quite challenging at times to get this for working at home. Worth being patient and taking time to survey the market widely for suitable options. 

Portable equipment insurance 

This is especially important for private teachers who travel into students’ homes and of course includes not only any instruments that may be carried but also mobiles, laptops, iPad and so on.

Buildings insurance

As mentioned under business interruption above, we never know when damage to the room we teach in may occur. One of my colleagues was horrified a few years back to enter his music room first thing in the morning and find that the ceiling had collapsed onto his precious model A Steinway, not only completely destroying it in the process but also making it impossible for the room to be used for that day (and indeed that month’s) heavy schedule of teaching. Buildings insurance pays the repair and rebuilding costs if the place you teach in is damaged by accident, flood, or fire.

Employers liability insurance

If you are employ others or run a tutoring business this cover is required by law. It is also invaluable if an employee says working for you made them ill or caused them injury. Enough said.

Personal accident insurance

Though there are obviously many benefits to being self-employed and working from home, one of the major disadvantages is vulnerability when illness or injury strikes. It is important to have cover in place so that compensation and even medial bills can help you survive when times become challenging.

Next time…

Prolific writer, music teacher and composer Leila Viss (USA) will share her vast experience about Navigating Technology in your piano studio.

One not to be missed!

Photo: Leila Viss

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.