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The Story of a Piano Room, Volume 2

If you had told us about a year ago that, not only would we need to get another piano, but that we would be able to get a Schimmel for our students, we probaby would have looked at you funny. But today, it's happily not a laughing matter. Read on for the wonderful story of this new addition to ToMA

This has been an amazing year for us. We've been growing so fast that we've managed to fill our schedule on the two pianos we have already. So what's a school to do? Get another one! We didn't compromise on the quality of the instrument, because we don't compromise on our lessons either! The best part is watching it come home, which happened this morning.

The truck arrived just after 9 a.m. this morning. Two gentlement were taking off all the layers of blankets and wrapping protecting the piano in their truck. (Please, if you're moving, hire specific piano movers. Yes, it's more money, but a destroyed piano costs a lot more than a specialized move!)

Then it was a simple matter of setting up ramps and a bit of serious heavy lifting. One of them remarked that he loved moving pianos because it was cheaper than a gym membership!

After that, it was a simple matter of wheeling it into the room, and voila! A perfect addition to our school!

We hope you'll come by and hear our amazing new piano, as well as the other ones we already have. We're thrilled to be able to share the best quality instruments with you, hopefully elevating your musical experience that much more.

Back to School: How Do I Register Online?

Around this time of year, many people want to take care of school-year activities as quickly and painlessly as possible. That's why Toronto Music Alliance has a simple tool for you to take care of almost all the administrative work, wherever you are, with our Online Registration tool! Read on for an illustrated step-by-step guide to register online with us.

At the top of each page is a navigation bar. From wherever you are on the site, just click the Register button, then Register Online:

Click the Register button!

You'll come to our Online Registration area. Just fill in all the forms with your information, simple as that! Note that any box with a red asterisk is a mandatory field.

Registration Page 1

When you're done, click the Next Page button.

Next Page Button

The second page is all about your musical background. You can leave all this blank if you want, but the more information you provide, the better we can assess your musical needs before your first class with us. When you're done, click Next Page. If you think you made a mistake, you can always click on Previous Page to go back and correct what you wrote.

Registration Page 2

Finally, you'll come to a very important page: our attendance policy and billing information. Please take some time to read all this information. Once you have finished reading, you can check the box indicating you read the policies and agree with them, and click the Finish button.

Registration Page 3

And you're done! We'll have a hard copy ready for your lesson, and be in contact regarding payment either over the phone or in person at your first lesson.

We hope this guide will help you with your registration questions. If you have any other questions or need more help, please don't hesitate to contact us anytime!


Welcome Joanna Chapman-Smith!

You asked for it, you got it! Toronto Music Alliance is pleased to welcome Joanna Chapman-Smith, singer/songwriter to our faculty. You can read her bio here, and read on for more about this talented musician.

Joanna has been touring around the globe for many years, singing, writing and teaching. She recently returned from a long European tour (the Highlands of Scotland being a particular highlight!), and has been interested in the holistic study of being a musician. She believes in being attuned to all parts of the musician, including using yoga to help keep a singer's physique in top condition. Joanna's arts background goes back a very long way (she and director David Stone were both students at Claude Watson School for the Arts twenty years ago!), and is looking forward to being a part of our vibrant community. Welcome, Joanna!

Back to School: How Long Should My Lesson Be?

People generally think of a music lesson as being a 30-minute chunk of time in which to accomplish a whole lot of work. We have to review what you've done, give you some new information, workshop your scales, warm-ups, studies, pieces and other repertoire and give some new material to work on. All in a pizza delivery-guarantee window.

When considering music lesson length, there are three main factors that come into play when it comes to deciding a lesson length:

Budgetary Constraints

Student Interest

Lesson Content

The first is obvious. If you cannot afford more than a 30-minute lesson, then you must restrict the lesson length. There is no debate about that.

Student interest mainly affects younger students, in that if one cannot give their attention for more than a 30-minute span, the lesson becomes a chore rather than the positive learning experience it can and should be. But for most students over age 10, maintaining focus for longer than half an hour is much easier, which gives way to the final point.

Lesson content is king. It is hard to gauge improvement with simple cursory reviews, or explain a music theory concept beyond what a book might say in the time constraints of a 30-minute lesson. Often, there are great depths to be found in the simplest of foundational concepts, depths which can ultimately lead to greater student successes.

However, many teachers feel that by suggesting that a student take a longer lesson than that, they may be perceived as being "greedy." After all, a 45-minute lesson does cost more than a 30-minute one. But no teacher is going to suggest a longer lesson strictly for monetary gain. Rather, it is solely to see a student improve at a better rate, with greater breadth of discovery and accomplishment.

The reality is, a great many students are chronically undertaught because of this teacher fear of being seen negatively. As a result, a lot of students move at a slower pace of improvement simply because there isn't the time to workshop something that may be blocking their upward path. Having 50% more lesson time can often lead to 75% faster improvement. We have seen this time and time again with our own students. That little bit of extra investment of time and money can yield far greater dividends than you may think.

Furthermore, as students progress, pieces simply take longer to perform, which means they take longer to workshop. While this may seem obvious, many students (and even some teachers!) have neglected this important point. Grade six pieces are longer and more complex than grade two. Beyond extra practice time (a subject for another blog!), extra lesson time becomes a necessity - simply to cover more ground.

In the end, lesson length is a very personal, individual choice. However, don't think that your lesson needs to be confined to a prescribed 30-minute box. You would be surprised what 15 extra minutes with your supportive teacher will do to your improvement. Talk to your teacher to see if a longer lesson may be the right answer for your future progress. 

Finally, talk to other students. See how many of them are taking a 45- or 60-minute lesson. You may be surprised by how many there are, and how much happier they are with their music.

And you should talk to the girl who's taking 105-minute lessons. (No, we're not making this up.)

Back to School: Attendance Policy

After a bit of a break (well, not really; we've been getting students ready for August exams!) we're back, and gearing up for the coming school year! If you're a student with us, you'll be getting your Welcome Back information in your email inbox shortly. If you're thinking of signing up, now's a great time to enroll. But as we approach the new year, we wanted to talk about something a bit more serious: our Attendance Policy. Keep reading for some important information and interesting perspective.

When you enroll, we require you to read and sign our Attendance Policy. While we try to keep administration to a minimum here at ToMA, this document outlines our mutual expectations for your attendance during the school year. We've written it in plain English, but often people wonder about what happens when you are away. Lessons missed by students will be billed, except in special cases (we always try to be sensitive to family emergencies and serious illness). But for soccer games, or school exams and other events, we have to bill. But we have our reasons. The Ottawa Suzuki School posted an article on their website from a parent's perspective. This parent is also an economist. We are re-publishing the article below, with special thanks to the Ottawa Suzuki School for their permission to repost it. You can read the original here.

Make-up Lessons from an Economist's Point of View

I'm a parent of children enrolled in Suzuki music lessons.  I'd like to explain to other parents why I feel - quite strongly, actually - that it is unreasonable of we parents to expect our teachers to make up lessons we miss, even if I know as well as they do just how expensive lessons are, and, equally importantly, how important that weekly contact is with the teacher to keeping practicing ticking along smoothly.  I think that it is natural for we parents to share the point of view that students should have their missed lessons rescheduled, but if we were to 'walk a mile' in our teachers' shoes, we might change our minds about what it is reasonable for us to expect of our teachers.

Like many parents, I pay in advance for lessons each term.  In my mind, what this means is that I have reserved a regular spot in the busy schedules of my sons' teachers.  I understand - fully - that if I can't make it to the lesson one week (perhaps my son is sick, or we are away on holiday, or there is some other major event at school) then we will pay for the lesson, but that my teacher is under no obligation to find another spot for me that week, or to refund me for the untaught lesson. And this is the way it should be.

In my 'other life' I am an economist and teach at our local university.  Students pay good money to attend classes at the university; but if they don't come to my lecture on a Monday morning, then I am not going to turn around and deliver them a private tutorial on Tuesday afternoon.  When I go to the store and buy groceries, I may purchase something that doesn't get used.  Days or months later, I end up throwing it out.  I don't get a refund from the grocery store for the unused merchandise.  If I sign my child up for swimming lessons at the local pool, and s/he refuses to return after the first lesson, I can't get my money back.  So there are lots of situations in our everyday lives where we regularly pay in advance for goods or some service, and if we end up not using what we have purchased, we have to just 'swallow our losses'.  On the other hand, if I purchase an item of clothing, and get home and change my mind, I can take it back and expect either a refund or a store credit. 

So why do I believe that music lessons fall into the first category of 'non-returnable merchandise', rather than into the second case of 'exchange privileges unlimited' (which I think is one of the advertising slogans of an established women's clothing store!)?  Speaking now as an economist, I would claim that the reason is that items like clothing are "durable goods' - meaning, they can be returned and then resold at the original price - whereas music lessons are non-durable goods - meaning, once my Monday slot at 3:30 is gone, my son's teacher can't turn around and sell it again. The only way she would be able to give him a lesson later in the week would be if she were to give up time that she had scheduled for her own private life; and that seems pretty unreasonable - I can't think of many employees who would be thrilled if their bosses were to announce that they couldn't work from 3:30 to 4:30 this afternoon, but would they please stay until 6:30 on Thursday, because there will be work for them then!

Many teachers hesitate to refuse our request to shift lesson times (because our busy schedules do change), because unless they keep us parents happy, we will decide to take our child somewhere else for lessons (or to drop musical study), and they will lose part of their income.  This is particularly true in areas with lower average income, where it can be particularly difficult to find students. So rather than telling us that 'well, actually, the only time when I'm not teaching and that you can bring your son for lesson is during the time I set aside each week to go for a long soul-cleansing walk, and I can't do that on Monday at 3:30 when you should have turned up', they agree to teach us at a time that really doesn't suit their schedule.  Teachers who are 'nice' in this way often, in the long run, end up exhausted, and feeling exploited; they try to draw a line in the sand.  However, too few parents ask to switch only when absolutely necessary, and too many parents want lesson times when it suits them this week, which is not the same time that suited last week.  If the conflict arises because my child is in the School play, and they have their dress-rehearsal during his lesson time, then I feel that I must choose between the two activities, and if he attends the dress rehearsal my private lesson teacher doesn't owe me anything.

During May, my eldest son will be missing three lessons because he is going to accompany me on a trip to New Zealand to visit his great-grandparents.  I do not expect my son's teacher to refund me for those missed lessons, or to reschedule them by 'doubling up' lessons in the weeks before or after our departure.  Since there will be lots of advanced notice, I might ask her to consider preparing a special 'practice tape' for that period, or to answer my questions via e-mail, but if she doesn't have the time (the second half of April is going to be really busy for her, and she wouldn't be able to do the tape until more or less the week we left) and so has to refuse, then that's fine. I certainly don't expect her to credit me with three make-up lessons; there is no way for her to find a student to fill a three-week hole in her schedule during our absence.  Instead, I hope that she will enjoy the extra hour of rest during those three weeks, and that we will all feel renewed enthusiasm when we return to lessons at the end of the trip.

Article Copyright © 2001 Vicky Barham