When we moved to Saudi Arabia from Chicago over a year ago, I knew finding an orchestra position would be difficult. There are a limited international schools with string programs in the country and where I live (in an expatriate community) an American curriculum is taught, but only provides band. This led me to work hard behind the scenes of the school and create my own music studio from home.
I began with getting in touch with the schools by becoming a substitute classroom teacher and making my presence known as a professional music teacher. Being visible to the community was one of my biggest assets to building my home studio. Using social media and word of mouth, I was able to have interested parents who wanted to sign their children up for private lessons. I made plenty of brochures, made a Facebook business page, and talked to my neighbors. The emails and phone calls starting coming within hours. Who knew the interest for music was so desirable.
BUILDING A STUDIO FROM SCRATCH
There were 2 main things I needed to start:
When we left the states I made sure to bring some of my materials with me. I had a Tupperware container of strings, stickers, rubber-bands, cloths, and cleaning supplies. These were the very basics to getting started. I also had one box of old method books, Essential Elements of course, and some theory sheets I use for all beginners. I also had one foldable stand that was easy to pack. I was used to teaching privately so I knew that if I wanted to continue this in this new country, I would need to bring the basics along.
When interested parents asked how they could get an instrument, I knew I needed to be prepared with a few options and they all had to be decently priced options or it might scare them away, as this might be the first time their child has ever played. After doing some research I found two stores that carried imported violins and if you requested you could ask for other instruments, strings, and specialty items. However, I found that Amazon was the best option. You can purchase a full violin outfit and have it shipped internationally for under $300.
As an orchestra teacher in the states I used to tell all my kids, “never buy an instrument online”. You never really know what you're going to get and when a parent sees a purple violin for $60 they usually think their 10 year old will love it and be the next Lindsey Stirling. When in Rome, use the resources you have and so far Amazon has been the best and most consistent option. I usually help send a link to the parents with a brand I suggest to avoid any brightly colored toy instruments.
My studio was about to start, instruments were being shipped, and I realized that my new students were all under the age of 10. I do have a couple of older student who I use etude books, scale books, and Suzuki solos or concertos I brought along or found available on IMSLP. I have taught middle school and high school but never elementary students. I even had a beginning freshman orchestra where we started from scratch and how to read music but students under the age of 10 are a whole different element.
SmartMusic is a software program that is still fairly new. It turns sheet music into digital notes that are played across the screen. The program has over 40,000 pieces of music and a decent selection of beginning to intermediate level string music. You can simply download the books or individual pieces you want for a one year subscription which is $40 for a student. The music is displayed in a screen that allows you to control the tempo, metronome, and you can turn accompaniment on or off. When you start a "take" it will count you in a full bar, record your entire piece, then assess you by highlighting the notes green if they were correct or red if they were wrong. The movement of a green line helps keep the eyes focused on the note being played and reminds me of karaoke. You can find more information at Smartmusic.com
I had used SmartMusic with my beginning freshman student before in the classroom and they really liked it. They liked submitting the assignments and playing along with accompaniment. So, I thought I could incorporate SmartMusic into my studio and make it like a sudo classroom. They made an app on the Ipad and it does amazing things for the 45 minutes I have with my younger students. Energy levels, attention, and focus can be all over the place with students that young. With SmartMusic they are completely engaged and excited. I have found that using Essential Elements method and a compilation of some other methods available that I have these students working really hard with full attention for a full 45 minutes, it's incredible.
All method books and materials are available online or can be shipped internationally. I have many parents now that ask for a list of materials and when they travel back to their home country they pick up whatever they need and bring it back. I even have one student who rents her instrument from a local music store in Texas and they've allowed her to bring it here to Saudi Arabia, how cool!
I could not make it mandatory for these students to get the software at home but a few have and those who have it practice more and are moving at a fast pace. Like I always tell them, “practice makes permanent”. With SmartMusic I can make my own Finale examples and import them making the experience really organic and keeps me on my toes creatively. Recently, I have taken some of the mp3 files and added them to student folders and we are making CD's for holiday gifts for their parents. These are all simple things to do, but are now more accessible and fun through this amazing program.
MORE THAN THE IPAD
Recently I took our laptop with the SmartMusic software on it, connected it to the TV with an HDMI chord and now I have SmartMusic on a large 50 inch screen. I think it would be similar to having a Promethean or Smart Board. The kids love how large it is and they are excited to come to lessons every week!
If you ever plan on moving to a new country and want to set up a private studio, I highly recommend using SmartMusic for its huge music library and exciting and innovative way of assessing and recording lessons, especially for beginners.
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