Creative Time Management – taking short breaks during music lessons?

Posted by on June 16, 2011

Not trying to be opinionated here, but this article (Creative Time Management for the Full Time Independent Music Teacher left me a little perplexed.  Perhaps things are different in Australia, or I just have very high standards, but I don’t wander off to pay bills during my students’ music lessons.

I also make sure I go to the toilet well before I begin lessons (it’s like preparing to go on a long-ish car trip!), and I don’t answer my phone either.

I do remember my violin teacher on occasion (not often – I could probably count on one hand over the many, many years) having to have a quick toilet break if my lesson was scheduled at 7pm or later as she has already been teaching for many hours by that time.

When I worked briefly at a Music School, I made sure I arrived early so that I had time to unpack and get my room straightened out so that I wasn’t taking up student’s time.  If a student was already waiting, I would just sing out “Just give me five minutes to set up ’cause I’m early, and then we can start your lesson”.

Minimising interruptions:-

- I always keep a bottle of water nearby so if I need it, I don’t have to run to the kitchen.

- My own children are taught not to interrupt.  They don’t do this often and I usually have them all sorted out and instructed before I begin teaching.  They have also grown up with me teaching so it isn’t foreign to them.  On occasion I have had to break up a fight or two but it is a rare event.

- Turn off your mobile phone.  There has only ever been once where I have needed my mobile turned on for a life or death situation.  I had warned my student that it would ring, and that I would make up those few seconds of time spent with that.  Usually I don’t know where my mobile IS, so this was no drama.

- Make use of your answering machine.  Students are reminded to leave me a message on my phone if they can’t make it because I don’t answer the phone when I am teaching.  Because this is ‘normal’ for my studio, if the phone rings for it’s short 3 rings before switching to answering machine, it doesn’t disrupt the student.  They know the drill and we don’t stop for me to listen to a message.  I listen to those messages in my own time afterwards or during a scheduled break, and not many of those calls require a returned phone call.

- Make sure you eat before you teach. I make sure I have eaten a low GI food before I begin teaching – these foods general are a slow release sugar type that will keep me going for hours.  I also prepare dinner during the day so I don’t need to spend hours after I finish teaching waiting for dinner to cook.  Having sips from a bottle of water next to you is no problem, and students and parents will understand this.

- I try my hardest not to leave the room I am teaching in (unless it is to grab change at the end). 

- Pre-prepare your lessons so that you have everything to hand.  I try to make sure I have relevant games and music already put in the manila folders of my students for that day so I’m not hunting around looking for them.  If your studio is organised, it shouldn’t take you long to begin with anyway.

When have I left the teaching studio?

- To get my asthma medication (understandable – I don’t have asthma attacks often, but when I need these meds, boy do I need them).

- To wash my hands with anti-bacterial soap if a student I have just taught has been sick.  I Glen 20 the piano and run and wash my hands so that the next student doesn’t get sick.  I haven’t had a student or parent complain about that minute ‘wasted’!!

- To grab change if the change in my ‘change box’ is used up.


My students shouldn’t need to ‘practise’ during their lesson time, and I take the opportunity when they ‘warm up’ to ensure their technique is as it should be.

There is so much to get through in a standard half hour lesson.  Samantha Coates last year in one of her Theory Seminars explained that in a standard 30 minute lesson, you have one minute to say hello, one to say goodbye, and then you’re left with 28 mins.  1/4 of those 28 mins (so…7 mins) should be spent on theory, the remainder (21 mins) on repertoire and technique.  It’s really not long when you think about it.  And that, my friends, is why I don’t have ‘breaks’ when I have a student with me.

One Response to Creative Time Management – taking short breaks during music lessons?

  1. Erin

    I agree that I also found the article a bit off. I tell my students they are getting a 30 minute private lesson, so that’s what they should get. I’m not anal enough to set a timer to ensure that I don’t lose a minute while switching students and they only get 29 minutes, but I avoid other activities during lesson time.

    Some of my time saving tips:
    All of my students have an assignment notebook where I record what their weekly assignments are and they record their practice time. I try to fill this out while my students are doing something. I either ask them to practice a song in front of me while I write (Especially students that have more trouble figuring out how to practice at home and I want to check to make sure they know how to do everything on their own) or I have them work on their theory assignment while I write.

    I program all my students’ numbers into my cell phone so I can see who is calling. I don’t answer the phone, unless one of my next 2 students. I figure if they are calling that close before their lesson, it’s because they are canceling or coming late or have a question they need answered before their lesson.