HERE ARE THE TOOLS we USE, updated for 2020
Here’s our short list of best tools to manage and run a studio teaching small business, website, and accomplish daily teaching. There’s a few extras, too, if you’re looking at recording and producing your own content.
If you’re looking for training: online courses, webinars, coaching and more, head to TopMusicPro, our membership site.
PIANO STUDIO ORGANISATION
Studio Business Software
First things first: make sure you get your business affairs organised. Running a business comes with responsibilities (tax, scheduling, billing) and much of this can take a lot of time, so it pays to be efficient and to automate things as much as possible.
If you’re still using paper invoices and billing parents manually, take back some of your time with an online schedule and payment system. MyMusicStaff software takes all of the hassle out of the business/logistic challenges so you can spend more time teaching and preparing amazing lessons.
Schedule lessons and parent communications efficiently, while tracking your resources, lending library and students’ repertoire. Possibly the best part is automated lessons billing, so you can stop asking to get paid for lessons and sending late fees out.
TopMusicPro members: get a 90-day free trial to MyMusicStaff, saving $39US (check your discounts list!)
PIANO STUDIO AUDIO/VISUAL & TECH
Studio Sound System
Curious about what sound system is in Tim’s home studio?
He’s always used and loved this Logitech system with Subwoofer. While Bluetooth systems are great, they often lack the punch of a wired system. Make sure you get something with a subwoofer – the sound quality will not be beaten.
This is the Logitech Z623 which, at just over $100, is a bargain for the sound quality you’ll get. The sound is huge! If you have a big studio and don’t want to plug-in via cables, grab the Bluetooth Audio Adaptor while you’re there.
Stop pausing to swipe the iPad and use a pedal already!
BLUETOOTH PAGE TURNER
AirTurn makes one of the top iPad accessories for musicians — a reliable foot pedal for page turns.
Not only do they have the best bluetooth page-turners on the market, they also manufacture stands, mounts, a great eBook, remote controls and a variety of other handy accessories for any musician or teaching using the iPad in their studio.
AirTurn was started by teachers and performers looking for great solutions and continues to be run by musicians dedicated to enhancing the use of technology in the studio.
TopMusicPro members: get 15% off AirTurn (check your discounts list!)
Our current advice on tablets is to go straight to the iPad Pro and skip smaller options, or Android. While your students might have other types, for pro musicians there is a clear benefit in being on iOs. And some music teaching apps like Piano Maestro only work on iPad!
Related: If you’re unsure about the best apps for piano teachers, check out: Best iPad Apps for Piano Teachers.
But what iPad model is best? Find our current iPad pick on the link on the left at Amazon. This is the iPad Pro 12.9″4th Gen. for 2020, in 128GB wi-fi only model, which is a best-in-class for any piano teacher.
Why do we like this one? The screen size is large enough to rival actual sheet music, so you can read without squinting. Camera quality has improved greatly since prior models, and it’s incredibly thin, so great to carry to gigs or travel teaching situations. You can skip the expense of the larger hard drives and go for the 128GB model, especially if you have cloud storage for files.
If you’re going to do anything related to music notation or handwriting on the iPad, you’re going to need a stylus.
If you have an iPad Pro, then get the Apple Pencil – 2nd Gen.
It’s been upgraded from the first generation to magnetically stick onto the side of the iPad and charge itself without a cable or dock. You can double click the pencil for eraser, and the hand-writing feel and function is spot-on. Expensive, but lovely!
PHONE AND TABLET HOLDERS
Have you been looking for a simple way to hold your phone so that you can record your students performing without all the shaking?
A shaky video detracts so much from the content and is so easy to solve. Forget sticking your phone to a music stand and hoping it doesn't fall off: just get the iKlip mini!
This great little device holds any iPhone-sized smart phone at any angle and clamps to either a music or microphone stand. Easy to adjust and move, you'll wonder how you ever coped without it!
Related: See Tim demo the iKlip and learn to set it up for teaching online.
Ps This model is for phones. If you want to hold a tablet, you'll need the bigger iKlip Expand. Tim uses both and wouldn't recommend anything else.
Most digital pianos have a USB connection which will allow you to send MIDI data to your iPad for recording, notating and games/tests.
However, until everything goes bluetooth or wireless, you’ll need a physical adapter to connect your keyboard to your iPad as the iPad doesn’t have a USB connection.
For newer iPads with USB-C, use this adapter to get the job done.
If you have an older iPad with lightning port, then you’ll need one of these connectors.
Our trusted favourite in this category is the Logitech HD Pro c920 Webcam, useful for online teaching, quick Youtube videos, and more.
The 920 model, while not the latest (check out the c930 for that), is the gold standard amongst webcams. It has a huge range of features and 1080 high resolution image quality.
For setup, this Logitech webcam has a universal bracket that allows it to sit atop a computer, tablet, or attach by screw to a tripod for overhead keyboard shots.
Related: Learn how to shoot overhead video for online teaching here on our YouTube video.
If you've seen videos on this site that look professional-grade with a clear image and out-of-focus background, that's thanks to a Canon EOS Rebel series DSLR camera.
Our top pick is the EOS 800 / Rebel T7i model which shoots video in high-res 1080 and has robust continuous focus capability, helping you avoid blurry videos from movement. The whole Canon Rebel lineup is quite solid in the DSLR category in the mid-range level. Look out for the release of the next model T8i in July 2020 for 4K film upgrades.
Rode makes a portable mic that matches well with this camera.
Tim suggests adding an EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens. Note: you don't get the same effect with telephoto lenses and the standard lenses that generally come with new cameras.
MICROPHONES - PODCAST & RECORDING
For the price, you really can't go past ATR USB microphones.
When Tim first started podcasting, he used the ATR2100 dynamic microphone, before moving to the ATR2500 condenser USB microphone (pictured). This is what you hear on podcasts up to around episode 100.
He now uses a Rode Podcaster mic which provides incredible sound quality. If you're just getting started with podcasting, then I would definitely start with one of the ATR mics listed above. You can always upgrade later.
If you get a condenser microphone like the one pictured, you'll want to get a scissor or boom arm, pop shield and shock mount given they are much more sensitive and need to be held in a different way to the standard (cardioid) mic.
In plain English, this just means the mic is very sensitive and these extras help you position it and use it without audible bumps and extraneous noises.
TELEPROMPTER FOR IPHONE/TABLET
If you want to be able to read a script while recording your videos, then grab a teleprompter app for your phone or tablet.
My recommendation is Teleprompter for Video which is what I use on the homepage video for this website.
Easy to use and makes recording videos soooo much simpler. You can download the app and test it for free, but you'll need to pay around $20 to unlock the full features.
Worth every cent!
This is the place to start if you want to build a free website. WordPress is the Number 1 platform for websites that are 100% customisable, free and easy to use.
Please note that when starting a website, you've got two options with WordPress:
- WordPress.com - free site that is hosted at WordPress. Customisable but not as many options for future growth and features as the next one. Use this if you're just starting to dip your toe into the water. I started with a free site before moving to the self-hosted option. Perfect for a studio website and/or blog.
- WordPress.org - same as the above except that you have to host the site yourself (see below for my hosting recommendation). Hosting costs around $10-20 per month to start but gives you unlimited functionality, plugins and room for growth which is limited in the free version of WordPress. This is a slightly more technical option for those who can foresee building their site in the future.
Over the years, we've tried various hosting services and currently run on Cloudflare web hosting. We recommend checking out different hosts and comparing not only cost, but customer service and reliability/speed performance as well.
TopMusicPro members: Wish someone would take website-building off your plate? Get $100 off a custom-built website by Studio Rocket Web Design - check your discounts page here!
WEBSITE THEMES AND PLUGINS
Once your hosting is up-and-running and you've installed WordPress on your server, don't do anything before you've downloaded Thrive Themes and Thrive Content Builder.
These guys have the most stable, well-coded and conversion-focussed themes on the internet and constantly bring out new updates (every week).
Thrive Content Builder plugin is by far the best front-end editor for WordPress which means you can build pages that look amazing without any coding knowledge.
Add every conceivable button, feature, headline, animation, etc. that you need all with a drag and drop interface.
EMAIL MARKETING & AUTOMATION
One of the first things you want to do when you set up your self-hosted WordPress site is start collecting emails. ActiveCampaign is the software I recommend for this purpose.
Collecting emails allows you to start building a fan base of people who you can directly contact when you update your site, release new information or products or just want to share something and ActiveCampaign allows you to do all this and much more, simply.
BLOG AND SOCIAL MEDIA SCHEDULING
Once you've created your site, if you're looking to blog regularly, then check out CoSchedule which is a mainstay for TopMusicCo.
CoSchedule allows you to plan your blog posts on a calendar and share roles and writing with other people really easily.
It also allows you to create your own automated social schedule for each article you write.
All-time Favourite Teaching Books **MUST READ!!**
These are all books that have shaped my current teaching practice and continue to be books that I reference regularly (if I could only find them amongst all the Post-it notes and scribbles!). These books will change how you teach.
- The Savvy Music Teacher - David Cutler
- The Talent Code - Daniel Coyle
- Coffee with Ray - Nick Ambrosino
- The Inner Game of Music - Barry Green & W. Timothy Gallwey
- The Virtuoso Teacher - Paul Harris
- Lessons with Matt - Nick Ambrosino
- The Dynamic Studio - Philip Johnston
- Improve your teaching: Beginners - Paul Harris
Teaching Methods & Technique
- Practising the Piano - Graham Fitch's eBook series
- Chopin's Funeral - Benita Eisler
- Boris Berman - Notes from the Pianist's Bench
- Chopin: Pianist & Teacher as seen by his pupils - Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger
- Famous Pianists & Their Technique - Reginald R Gerig
- Daniel Barenboim - A Life in Music
- Heinrich Neuhaus -The Art of Piano Playing
- Piano Technique - Walter Gieseking & Karl Leimer
- The Leschetizky Method - Malwine Bree
- Professional Piano Teaching - Jeanine M Jacobson
- The Perfect Wrong Note - William Westney