Starting Your Own

Music To My Ears is a volunteer organization where middle and high school children teach musical instrument lessons to elementary school age children. It was started in October of 2009 when Hanover County budget cuts removed the strings program from the elementary school curriculum.  When the announcement was made by my teacher, I was taking the strings class at the time and my brother had taken it a few years before.  We both benefited from the program, we had both taken viola and both play guitar outside of class.  I knew how important it was for children to have a chance to have music in their lives.  Many of my friends are musicians, and I assembled a team of middle and high school experienced musicians to teach these same kids free weekly instrument lessons so they would not have to miss out on this opportunity.

If you want to start Music To My Ears in your community you only have to share your music talent with one student. Then with another, or if you have a peer that wants to do the same, help them find a student.  

I did something a bit more formal and would be glad to help you to do that also.  First, you have to start by writing a mission statement about what you want your version of Music To My Ears to be.  For instance, I wanted to provide beginner instrument lessons to elementary school age children; you could expand that to older children or even include vocal lessons.  Then you set specific and realistic goals.  This is where you could determine what you wish to teach, and how many teachers and students you want to have.  Think about what you want to accomplish, and create detailed line items to accomplish these goals.  Here are some of mine.

1. In order to recruit teachers, I contacted friends I knew that played an instrument and asked them to be a teacher.  I also asked them if they knew anyone else that played an instrument and might be interested in teaching.  I advertised in my local newsletter for teachers of all instruments.  You could also ask for help from your school district to send flyers home to advertise for teachers.

2. I recruited students by running an advertisement in the local newsletter, putting flyers in mailboxes, and by word of mouth.  If a teacher knew someone that wanted to take lessons or maybe a student knew another student that wanted to take lessons, I contacted this person.  You could also ask for help from your school district to send flyers home to advertise for students. 

3. I think one of the most important things I did when recruiting teachers and students was taking time to write out the commitments and benefits of each so they knew how the program worked.  Reference the website under new teachers and new students.  I talked personally to everyone that was involved each session so I had a personal interest in matching student to teacher.  I think this helped to make the program run more smoothly. 

4. I created this website for easy access to the program and to me via email.  I check in with the teachers and students periodically and do a survey at the end of the sessions to see what I need to do to make the program work better for all involved.

As you know by now we have offered guitar, piano, violin, viola, flute, harp, and saxophone beginner lessons but the possibilities are endless.  We have a team of experienced middle and high school students that volunteer to teach the elementary school children 30 minute weekly lessons. Lessons are supervised and taught at the teachers' homes.  We usually have 7 to 10 teachers each session and an average of 18 students.  But this too is limitless and only depends on the availability of teachers and students.  I have found that you can get the students; it’s the teachers that are harder to come by.  The other hurdle with students that I had to overcome was understanding that not all children that want to take lessons have access to the instruments.  Even though this program is a labor dependent community service project, some fundraising helps.  Recently, I have work more on this to be able to provide instruments to children that are interested in lessons with no means of renting or to provide the beginner books so there is no outlay of cost.  Some other ideas that I have pursued were to try to work with a local music store for discounts on music books and rentals.  As the program has become better known, some people donated instruments, plus I also advertised for used instruments in my neighborhood newsletter.  Another option is for parents of students to consider is to look at their local Goodwill or Salvation Army store for inexpensive used instrument.  In the case of pianos, use keyboards for practice, they can also be rented.  I also realize that it is not always convenient for families to host lessons so when considering teaching locations, think about local community centers, churches, and schools. They almost always have pianos and the other instruments are portable.  

2009-2010 was our first year and it was very successful.  We had 7 teachers and 13 students.  Now that we are in our seventh session, my community service project has given back over 2000 service hours and has benefited 148 children, students and teachers. I also have to thank the parents of the teachers and students that have supported Music To My Ears.

If you need any assistance in starting Music To My Ears in your community please email me.  I will be able to provide you with additional suggestions for getting started no matter how large or small you envision your program.  I'll also provide the materials, such as flyers and ads, that I use for recruitment and advertisement.  I can also get you started on your own website or you can be added to this website for ease of start up.