Be the Cream, Not the Milk

How can you stay competitive in a market where most teachers are charging less than you are? Should you lower your rates? How will you survive if you charge “too much?”

Photo by Pin Lim at Forest Photography

Photo by Pin Lim at Forest Photography

Be the Cream, Not the Milk

I recently posted something on Facebook about the prices some people charge for lessons and one of my friends responded with a question that I would like to answer here, on my blog, instead of directly on Facebook:

I’ve been teaching in C*** ISD for about six years. I raise my rates every couple of years, but I’ve found it difficult to find an area where I’m remaining competitive while not undercutting the other teachers in the area. I’ve been told on many occasions that my services are worth more than I’m charging, but I don’t want to scare away the clientele. Any thoughts? Great post, Eddie! Thanks!

Communicating Value – How to Remain Competitive

I never understood the association between low prices and the word “competitive.” People often say that a lower price is a “competitive” price, but does it really work that way? I believe that the people who are forced to lower their prices do so because they are NOT competitive. If they were competitive, they wouldn’t have needed to lower their prices.

Of course, the problem for them is that there are other people in the market who are charging a lower rate than they are. Rather than think of those rates as being more competitive, why not acknowledge to yourself that this is your opportunity to stand out above the crowd? When your competition lowers their rates, that is a sign that they have lost confidence in their products. Your job, at that point, is to let people know that you are worth the price you charge.

I call this “communicating value.”

Not Perceived Value, But Communicated Value

At this point I would like to stress that I am not suggesting that you should create a false image of your product in an effort to lure new students. Not at all.

What I am suggesting is that all of us start off in the red when it comes to communicating our worth or the value of our products to potential students. No one knows the value of our product (music lessons) until we communicate that value to them.

Instead of lying to our future customers, instead of trying to con them into paying a higher price, we need to learn how to better communicate the true value of our lessons so they know what they are getting for the money they pay.

I do not believe in making a sale at all costs. I believe in honesty and integrity in business. It is wrong and unethical to “rip people off” with high prices if you have nothing to offer. So this is not about pulling the wool over people’s eyes. This is about recognizing the value of your product and then communicating that value to your potential customers.

First Step – Stress What Makes You Different

One of the mistakes people make about music is that they assume all things musical can be measured on a linear scale. We have a tendency to thinking in terms of better or worse. But it really doesn’t work that way.There is no need to put others down in an effort to make yourself look better. No, you don’t need to be better. You need to be different.

Different strokes for different folks? Right? Not everyone wants the same thing from a teacher. In fact, it has been my experience that many potential students are so specific in what they are looking for in a teacher that they are willing to pay a more to have that need met.

The problem is, if you don’t tell them what makes you different, the chances of them ever finding you are slim to none. So it’s important to emphasize those things that set you apart from the other teachers on your instrument, in your area.

Second Step – Do Best at What You Do Best

It’s not good enough to only be different. You must deliver high quality for whatever it is you do. If what makes you different is that you like to have fun with the students (that’s not my thing, but I know a lot of teachers who enjoy having fun with their students), then do it right. Give them the highest quality fun that you have to offer. No slip shot, half committed attempts.

Whatever it is that you do differently, whatever it is that you are communicating to your potential students that makes your lessons different, do that thing to the best of your ability.

Third Step – Blow Your Horn

Advertise!

When you charge more, you can expect to turn away far more students than what you would when you were undercutting everyone else. That means you must reach more people in your advertising. The number of people who want specifically what you have to offer will be a fraction of those who contact you for lessons. The farther your advertising reaches, the more students you will attract to your studio.

When you advertise, once again, be certain to emphasize those qualities that make you different. I can’t stress this enough times.

Fourth Step – Offer Options

The worst thing you can do is offer one “product” for one price. Not everyone can justify paying $150 per lesson every week. It’s important to offer the students a variety of pricing options so they can match their costs with their needs.

We have found that people want varying degrees of commitment and perks. We have lesson options for people who have no desire to make a weekly commitment and they pay a different price from those who do want weekly lessons.

The tricky part here is in creating a pricing structure that works for you in a practical sense, paying you what you deserve for the work and time you invest, while at the same time creating value for the students. We have eight different pricing variations in two three different categories. Consider how much this can boost your confidence in your lessons when the student gets to choose his or her pricing plan. If the students only have one option, then they are more likely to feel as if your lessons are not worth it. And really, they would be right.

Scholarships

One other option that sort of falls outside of the other pricing options is scholarships. On a fundamental level, I am opposed to arbitrary scholarships for trumpet lessons. I have been disappointed so many times by students who I gave sort of informal scholarships to. They have all ended up with the worst attitudes and made the least progress.

What we are doing differently now is making the scholarships more formal with qualifications that we take very seriously. If the student falls short of those requirements, they loose the scholarship and their rates revert to the current full price. This is a new thing we are trying out but we are very excited about it.

Summary

I believe that most teachers who charge so little are actually worth more than they charge. But the problem with not communicating that value to the customers is that you end up with a teacher student mismatch in the end. Your lessons may be valuable to some students and not others. If you only arbitrarily raise your rates without communicating value, then you will most likely end up with a dissatisfied student.

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Are You Guilty? Stealing Is Stealing!

I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that everyone commits intellectual property theft to some degree in their daily lives. Some steal more than others, but we are all guilty of it. The following video explains why this kind of theft has become so prevalent in our modern society.

I have experienced intellectual property theft for many years now. Within weeks of the publication of my first book people were sharing copies of it without my permission. Since then it has only gotten worse, not better.

On the one hand, you cannot say that it has hurt me if I never had it to begin with. Right? Things are different for me than they are for people who were already established before the internet made intellectual property theft so popular. But on the other hand, what if people actually paid me for everything they’ve ever taken? Where would I be in my career today?

I know there is an entire generation (or two) that believes music should be free. Those people are shallow thinkers who cannot see this topic any deeper than the topmost level. They do not look deep enough to see just how many people are hurt, including themselves, when people do not get paid for the work they do.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video.

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Life Builders: Anna Miller

Anna Miller – My Grandma

Since my New Year’s Eve gig last month was in Atlantic City (working with the David Caceres band at the Gold Nugget), I decided to go early, take Pearl with me, and spend a little time with my relatives from my mothers side of the family. I had been wanting to write a Life Builders post about my grandmother and I can’t think of a better time to do that than right after we finally spent some time with her.

This Life Builders Series is dedicated to acknowledging the people who have contributed to my success in life. This series is actually an offshoot from the other series I’m working on called Love Is. The Life Builders Series is part of the way that I am exercising “love” as it is taught in 1 Cor. 13. The Bible says that “Love is not proud.” The more I prayed, studied and observed pride and love in my life, I realized that the way that we exercise not being proud is to acknowledge those who have lifted us up. When we fail to acknowledge God and other people for what they have done for us, this is pride in its purest form.

My grandmother contributed to my success in life both directly and indirectly. She contributed to my success indirectly through my mother. Much of what I listed in my mom’s Life Builders page is stuff you can trace back to her mom. But even though I have spent very little time with my grandma over the past thirty years, there are some very specific things in my life that I can trace back to my conversations with her.

A Wellspring of Wisdom

My grandma is a wellspring of wisdom. I didn’t appreciate her in this way until I was older (and she would say that this is normal). The more I grew up, living on my own in a world that often seems so lacking in wisdom, the more I realized how valuable my grandmother is in that respect.

One of the reasons I waited until now to write this Life Builders post about her is because I was beginning to question my memory. Ha! As I get older, I trust my memory less and less. And I was beginning to wonder if I was just over exaggerating. Is my grandmother really as wise as I remember her to be?

That’s something most people know about me who know me well. I am not a person who just says stuff if I don’t mean it. I tell this to my students all the time. I feel obligated to keep saying it, not because it’s not true (yes, I understand that some people believe that if you say something like that all the time, then you must be covering something up), but because most people in society today DO just say stuff that they don’t really mean. I don’t want people to think that I am like that. All of these Life Builders are genuine and I wanted to be certain that I wasn’t just remembering things wrong.

But on this recent trip to see her, my grandmother confirmed my memories and opinions. She said several things that made me think, “wait a second, I should write that down!” He he he… What’s interesting is that she isn’t just TRYING to sound or look wise, in a superficial sense. No, my grandma’s wisdom is really something that just overflows from her personality. She is like a spring that bubbles up every day common sense.

Oh what I would do to be able to spend a few hours a week with her, just hearing her talk!

Watching My Weight

One of the earliest words of wisdom I can remember that my grandmother said to me was that I had the same body type as my great grandfather. She warned me to be careful with my weight. When she said that, I thought she was nuts. I don’t think I weighed much more than 125 lbs at the time. I was always a very skinny kid. But sure enough, I ballooned to 279 lbs by the mid 90’s. That’s when I remembered her warning

Here’s the thing about that… If I remember this right, she didn’t say I was going to get fat. She told me to watch the way I live to avoid getting that way. She made it clear to me, even though I wasn’t ready to hear it or understand it yet, that our health is largely our choice.

In that respect, she continues to be a huge inspiration to me. At 92 she remains very healthy and has set an example that I want to follow. Yes, it is my choice. I do have control over my weight and other various aspects of my health. Thanks in part to my Grandma, I am no longer 279 pounds.

Active Living

I remember when Grandma told me about some girls she worked with who were taking aerobics classes. Long before I ever read this same advice in a book by Stormy O’Martin, my grandmother said that she advocates an active life style over formal exercise classes. Almost word for word, she told me the same things that O’Martin says in her book; to take the stairs instead of the escalator, to walk more instead of driving everywhere, to make choices in your every day life that will require physical effort.

I  try to live that way today. She has inspired me to live that way. When we always choose to do things the easy way, then no amount of exercise can really make up for it. That’s why there are so many people out there today who have “cut” bodies but can’t do anything with them. That’s not healthy. That’s nothing more than cosmetic maintenance. When you live an active life style, you develop strength in the muscles you need most. This is something my grandmother taught me decades ago.

It’s Not Her Age

Before you get the wrong idea, I don’t want you to think that my grandmother is so wise just because of her age. There is that popular belief that wisdom is just a natural byproduct of old age. Well, my grandmother was a very wise woman long before she was “old.”

The Bible says that we should seek after wisdom, that wisdom is better than jewels (Proverbs 8:11) and that when we pray for it, God will give it to us (James 1:5). You don’t have to wait till you are old before you can have access to God’s wisdom in your life.

No Internet

Grandma lives in a quiet town, in a wonderfully peaceful home. She doesn’t have internet or anything like that. So she won’t be reading this or responding online. I guess that’s one of the reasons I have put off writing about her in one of these Life Builders posts. For the older people I want to honor this way, I have mailed them privately, via snail mail, to tell them how I feel and that I appreciate them.

That said, I felt it was important to include her here anyway, so that OTHER people know that I appreciate my Grandma. Please remember that the biggest, most important reason I am doing this publicly is to set an example. I would love to find out, years down the road, that I have inspired others to acknowledge the people who have contributed to their own success. That’s what this is all about. It’s not about me and all the wonderful people in my life. It’s about YOU.

Please follow my lead. Take an honest look at your life to see all the things people have done for you to get you where you are today. Do you want to move forward in your life? Do you want more out of life? This is the way forward! You are the result of many people’s love and effort. If you want to move forward in your life, the first step is to acknowledge those people and the differences they made in your life.

As always, I have not shared everything I could share about my grandmother. I have specifically chosen not to post her picture and I have not given you all the details of how she has inspired me.

 

 

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Music Without a Pulse Is Dead

Heart Rate

Feel the Pulse

I often tell my students that counting is not just for beginners. There is never a time in your music career when you are “good enough” to stop counting.

I had an epiphany one Saturday, on a gig after eight hours of teaching that day. It was a big band gig with David Caceres in the foyer of the Wortham Center (probably a gala for the Houston Ballet). As I sat there, I realized just how much counting I do on every gig. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I am counting constantly, every song, every measure, every note. There is never a time when I am not counting.

Why would I be thinking about this on a gig?

It was one of those days when all of the students needed work on the same thing. On that day, I had taught eight hours of lessons before the performance and I was talking about rhythms for at least six of those hours. So the topic was already on my mind when I got to the performance.

Rhythmic Guessing Games

It’s been my experience in over 30 years of teaching that most students who have troubles with rhythms just guess “how fast” the notes are. When they see half notes and whole notes, they play slow. When they see eighth notes they play fast and sixteenth notes are “really fast.”

Rhythms are more precise than this. There is a very mathematical organizational structure to rhythms, but before you throw your hands up in the air saying “but I’m terrible at math”, you should know that we are talking about sixth grade math here. If you understand division and ratios, then you can understand how rhythms work.

The truth is, guessing the rhythms will always get you in trouble. Whole notes are not always slow and sixteenth notes are not always fast. It doesn’t work like that. A half note is precisely half as long as a whole note. The ratio is 2:1. Very simple. A quarter note is precisely one forth of the whole note and one half of a half note. And so on…

Rhythms Are Measured Against the Beat

The problem is, even when you understand the ratios of rhythms, you may still have trouble playing those rhythms accurately if you do not have a sense of the pulse. Rhythms are measured against the beat, against the musical pulse of the song. If you do not have a feeling for that pulse, you have no frame of reference for performing a rhythm correctly. Without feeling the pulse of the music, you have nothing with which to measure the duration of each note. That’s why I say that “music without a pulse is dead.” If you cannot feel the tempo while you play, then you cannot play the rhythms accurately. It is impossible.

I teach various solutions to this problem. The most common and most accessible solution is to ask the students to count themselves off each time they play. It’s amazing to me how many students just start playing without feeling the beat before they begin. If the piece is in common time, simply count to yourself, “one, two, three, four.” For about 80% of the students, this is enough to fix their problems with rhythmic accuracy. Counting yourself off (mentally – it need not be out loud) helps to establish the pulse before you begin a phrase.

Subconscious Counting

As I have said in previous posts, my teaching is full of statements that seem to contradict themselves. I have told many students that there is a time when you can stop thinking about counting the rhythms. But that statement is a bit misleading. When I say that, I am really talking about counting consciously. We never stop counting, but there does come a time when the counting is done in the background of our minds. It is not always front and center in our thoughts.

That is our goal for much of what we do when we practice. We want to get to a point where most of what we do is automatic. Musical excellence is not something we acquire with our conscious minds. No, music excellence spills out from our subconsciousness. It does not mean that we ever stop “thinking” about the music. The thinking is just deeper down, out of the way so we can consciously think other, higher level thoughts.

Feel the Beat, Then Play the Rhythms

That said, I would like to say it one more time, just to be absolutely clear. You must feel the beat first before you ever become any good at playing rhythms. If you have trouble with the beat, your first priority must be to fix that. How to fix it will have to be a topic for another day. At this point its just important that you understand the relationship between the musical pulse and the rhythms. You cannot have a rhythm without a pulse because it is the pulse that defines the rhythm.

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2013 Concerto Competition

2013 Concerto Competition
Sunday February 3rd
Bay Oaks Country Club
Bay Area Youth Symphony
The Bay Area Youth Symphony Concerto Competition is open to all BAYS members and features tremendous rewards for students. Please click here to learn more about becoming a Bay Area Youth Symphony member.
2012 Winners of the Concerto Competition:
$100 Abraham Eyre (Violin) Preparatory Orchestra, Home Schooled
$500 Victor Liaw (French Horn) Friendswood Junior High
$1000 Olivia Davis (Bassoon) Clear Falls High School
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Self Esteem Desn’t Lead To Success

Self esteem doesn't lead to success.

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Update and Theme Problems

TypingAs you can see, I have had to change this blog’s theme. I updated WordPress to stay up to date with all the new features and such. Unfortunately, the theme I was using isn’t compatible with the new version of WordPress and was causing all sorts of problems on the administrative side of the blog.

I have mixed feelings about this problem. On the one hand, I have had far fewer problems with WordPress than most software (local or remote) I’ve ever used before. That’s a good thing. And to be absolutely clear, the problems I had were not on the WordPress side, they were all caused by the theme – which is a free theme and they have no obligation to upgrade it for free.

But that creates a bit of a problem. For as long as I am using free themes, I will always run the risk of having something like this happen again. Since I don’t make any money off of this site, I really can’t afford to go in the hole to pay for a supported theme.

Another option is to learn how to write my own themes. That way I can make my own updates when I need them. Yeah, right! It’s not that I don’t have the skills to do that. But where would I get the time? If you are one of those who believes that “time is money,” then this is actually a more costly option than paying for a supported theme.

The third option, which is the option I have chosen, is to keep the blog as generic as possible and just switch themes if and when I need to. If I keep things simple, then the switches should be relatively painless.

Now, switching themes takes very little time. But time is something I don’t have much of right now. I am extremely blessed to have so much work to get done in January. But the price I have to pay for that is cutting back on less urgent tasks. Although I do consider this blog to be an important task, it is not urgent. So it has taken me this long (several weeks) to get the theme switched and ready to use again.

That’s what I’ve been up to. I appreciate all the wonderful comments I have received from people who have been enjoying this blog. I can see in my stats that it is NOT a popular blog, but that doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that the people who read it actually get something out of it. And the comments I’ve gotten in the past month or so have communicated this clearly. So I wanted to make sure to thank all of you who took the time to share your thoughts about this blog. It really does mean a lot to me.

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