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Simply Your Own Piano Instructions Business

By Michele Lee
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #67, 2005.

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A couple years ago, Practical Homeschooling reviewed the Learn at Home materials put out by Simply Music. Since that time, Simply Music has decided not to sell additional levels direct to the public, though the Level 1, Level 2, and Accompaniment programs are still available direct from the company. So if you proceed through these three programs independently and want more, what are you to do? You either find a Simply Music teacher, or you become one yourself.

Given the popularity of the Learn at Home materials, I wondered why the structure of the business has changed. Here are several good reasons:

  • Using a teacher is a more effective way of teaching a larger percentage of people and getting the word out about how great the program is.
  • Instead of the company answering questions from thousands of students, teachers can be well-trained to answer those questions.
  • Students are more accountable to a teacher.

What is required to become a Simply Music teacher? The desire to become one! Seriously, even if you have never had a music lesson in your life, or if you are a 30-year veteran at teaching music, you can learn this system. Teachers as young as 16 are teaching the program to other students, and making a good income doing so.

The head of the company, Neil Moore, makes sure that his teachers are trained very well, and provides a wide array of materials to help you learn every process of the business. The initial materials cost $2,000 (see the sidebar for what’s included) and contain almost everything you need to get started, with the exception of the student materials you will need for each student. Additional support is available at the website if you need it, and you can always call the company and speak to Neil if you have any questions. In fact, in order to progress through your initial training, you are required to call Neil after you have listened to the “Getting Started” CDs.

Depending on your motivation and desire, you can become an accredited teacher, then an associate teacher, and eventually a senior associate teacher, which allows you discounts on the materials you need to progress through the levels. Your accreditation is dependent on moving at least five students through a level. You don’t need to recruit other people to teach, or sell anything, but each student does have to buy the student level materials. A family with more than one student in your program can share student materials except for the notes book. It is recommended that each student have his or her own notes book. And all materials are copyrighted, so you are not allowed to make copies of anything that you have.

You become a licensed teacher after going through the teacher training program. After that, each teacher training level that you buy (Level 1 is included in your training materials) is $150. This amount is discounted for associates and senior associates.

There are other fees as well. For each student you teach, you are required to pay the company $2 per student per lesson for the first 30 lessons taught each week, and $1 per student per lesson for lesson 31 and up of that same week. So if you teach 32 lessons per week, you would pay the company $62 for each week. These fees are due at the end of each month, and there is a form for keeping track of these fees, called the Education Fee Schedule. All fees are explained on the website and in the materials you get.

There is also the cost of advertising, but this is up to each teacher. Word of mouth seemed to be the best form of advertising, although one teacher I talked to said she paid between $500–$1000 per year for advertising. Advertising materials are provided in your training program, with additional materials on the website.

Are these fees reasonable? The teachers I interviewed said that the fees are minimal compared to the amount of money they are making teaching Simply Music. Hourly incomes range from $17 to well over $100, depending on whether the lessons are private or shared. Obviously, if you are teaching four or five students (or more) in a shared lesson, you can make a lot more money. Shared lessons are encouraged by the company. Location didn’t seem to be a consideration when deciding on fees. Those in small towns were able to make as much as those in larger cities. One thing Neil encourages teachers to do when setting fees is to ask more than teachers in the area who teach a traditional method. The student receives a lot more in a fraction of the time, so this makes sense.

Fees and income aside, what is it that makes Simply Music such a great program, and worth teaching instead of traditional lessons? Aside from the fact that you don’t need any training except what Simply Music provides to become a piano teacher, your students don’t learn to read music right away—they learn to play music right away. This makes a huge difference in their motivation to practice and keep up with the program. A variety of aids are used to teach students the basics of playing, all of which are covered in the training materials. Emphasis is not on technique, like Suzuki, but daily practice is required. Lynn Frank, who taught traditional lessons for 30 years before finding Simply Music, switched all of her traditional students over, and they all loved the program—even one who was hesitant about it at first. Bernadette Ashby, who had no musical background before Simply Music, has had several traditional students and says that the switch to Simply Music was no problem for them, and that they also love the program.

Not only is the teaching method different, but the way of thinking about music is different as well. Bernadette Ashby even goes so far as to say that the program is a “life-changing, profound experience.” Lynn Frank says that with the program, you are “learning a way to learn.” Karen Gibson, a three-year Simply Music teacher with little previous musical background, had this to say about the program:

“The look of amazement on the faces of new students as they leave their first or second lesson playing a song with both hands is typical. Yet in spite of the method’s seeming simplicity, it is very thorough. It provides a deep and thorough knowledge not only about playing piano, but also about music, and how it is put together. The program also produces consistent results.”

The strengths of the program are many. It teaches students to think musically. Students learn a wide variety of musical styles instead of just classical. Students learn how to accompany. All ages are able to play. Students have an easier time learning to read music when they come to that. And it’s fun. The weaknesses? One main weakness: that the method isn’t as well-known as it should be, so people unfamiliar with it may be uncomfortable about its unique approach. Your teacher training materials include videos to show to prospective students so they can see how the method is different from traditional methods, and why it is so successful.

But how do you explain to a music teacher with a master’s degree in music that anyone can learn to teach students to play piano by using this method? They want proof, so lots of testimonials are provided in the materials that you get. Ways to talk to people about the program are also included in your training materials.

Students who go through the program typically have a repertoire of about 40-50 songs from a wide variety of genres that they can play after about a year. This is without reading music. How many traditional students do you know with that kind of repertoire? Which brings up another possible weakness pointed out by Karen Gibson. She said that because the program is so easy to learn, students may feel like they need to be learning more than they are. If they’ve never taken traditional lessons, they can sometimes feel that knowing only 20 or so songs after six months isn’t enough!

People of all ages can learn the program, so if you feel like you missed out on your life calling as a concert pianist because you didn’t start lessons at age 3, you can still learn to play piano. The program has also been successful with students who have disabilities. In fact, Neil started the program after teaching this method to a blind child. Lynn Frank teaches an autistic child, and says that learning this program has not only helped him musically but has helped him with his reading skills. At the website, there are more stories like this, including one about a group of inner city kids who put on a concert after only eight weeks into the program. Michelle Masoner, a Board of Education member who attended the concert, said this about the Simply Music program: “Éthey broke the mold and they set a new standard for what could be accomplished in a very short time.” She also called the performances by these children exceptional. A Casio representative, who initially donated a few keyboards to the school, was so impressed with the students at the concert that he donated another 100 keyboards to the school.

The website has so much helpful information that it’s hard to know where to begin. There are snippets of videos about the program, company, and founder. There is also a teacher locator, and information about the learn at home materials. Almost all of the news clips about the program are at the site. And if you buy the teacher training materials, you are given access to the teacher intranet, which provides information on many topics, from how to deal with a variety of students, to different ways of advertising, to teaching strategies, to performances, and much more. You can get answers to your questions by posting a question on the message board, or look up answers that have already been posted there via the search engine, which is very helpful. There are also a number of coaching conversations that you can download. These address such issues as how to know when you are ready to teach, managing your time, assessing students with previous experience, and more. In this area you will also find support materials such as forms, schedules, manuals, more advertisement layouts, and other material that will help you be more efficient. It is recommended that you put your teacher information here, along with a picture. Neil says in the training materials that having a picture with your teacher information seems to put people more at ease when deciding on a teacher.

Along with all of these helpful materials at the site is a place where you can type in your students’ information so you don’t have to worry about losing their phone numbers or when they started playing, etc. You can enter the information as soon as your student shows up for his or her first lesson. What a great time saver!

Since the program is such a radical departure from other ways of teaching piano, you have a unique opportunity to teach this new method. There are so few teachers in many sections of the country, that those Simply Music teachers have a waiting list of students. This is an incredible opportunity for the homeschool parent or child looking for a home business. The initial investment may seem high (the fee was recently doubled), but compared to the cost of a degree in music, it is minimal, and your personal and financial rewards could be multiplied many times over.


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