Transcript 091 – Candace Hamm on Introducing a Conservatory Prep Program

091 – Candace Hamm on Introducing a Conservatory Prep Program

Transcript for Episode 091 – Candace Hamm on Introducing a Conservatory Prep Program


[00:00:00] Andrea Miller: Hey, it’s Andrea with Music Studio Startup, the podcast about the business of teaching music. Learn from the startup stories of music teachers who are doing incredible things with their studios. Be inspired by creating musicians who are branching out and thriving as entrepreneurs. Be empowered by the insights of experts who will help you grow your own studio. Let’s get started!


[00:00:35] Today’s interview is with a solo teacher who wanted a way to better prepare her students for advanced music studies. Her solution was to develop an intensive conservatory prep program. Although we talk a lot about the specific program, this interview has plenty to offer for any studio owner. Here’s my interview with Candace.


[00:00:54] Hi, Candace. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here today. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your studio?


[00:01:02] Candace Hamm: Hi, thanks for having me. So my name is Candace Hamm. I live in Sellar, Manitoba in Canada, and I have been teaching full-time since 2013. I have about 65 to 70 students every year in my studio. And it’s a very music rich area, and so I really enjoy teaching here.


[00:01:24] Andrea Miller: Awesome. And 65 to 70 students is a lot. And this is just you teaching, right?


[00:01:29] Candace Hamm: Yes. It’s just me in the studio. That is two students that I teach personally, one-on-one.


[00:01:35] Andrea Miller: That is crazy. Okay. We will hear more about your studio as we go along. We connected over Instagram because you’ve got kind of an interesting program that you do in your studio. Can you tell the listeners about that?


[00:01:48] Candace Hamm: Yeah. So I have started a conservatory prep program. The name I guess, is a little bit interesting, but basically what it is is that I developed a program to better prep my students who are hoping to go on to study music at a post-secondary level in universities, in various fields.


[00:02:07] Basically took the question of how could I make sure that my students have the most tools possible in their toolbox? How can I make sure they feel empowered and prepped? And how do I kind of bridge the gap between the private lesson environment and the high school environment, and then being thrown into a university setting where they’re expected to be a lot more independent. And how do I make sure that they’re the best prepared they can be? And so that’s where the program came from.


[00:02:30] Andrea Miller: Okay. And this is not your entire studio, right? It’s just a portion of your students that participate in this program.


[00:02:36] Candace Hamm: Correct. Yeah, so, I teach all levels from beginner up until university prep, but then this program is specifically just for those students who do know that they’re hoping to go on to university.


[00:02:46] Andrea Miller: About what percentage? Do you know?


[00:02:48] Candace Hamm: It’s currently between 5 to 10%. I’ve kept the program quite small. I want to make sure that students who are joining it are committed; that they know what they want because it is quite intensive. And this is a small area, right? So I’m not necessarily ever going to fill up my entire studio with conservatory prep students, but I want it to be there and I want it to be available.


[00:03:10] Andrea Miller: Okay. And then how is it different from the program for the rest of your students? Like, what are the expectations that you have for the conservatory prep students?


[00:03:17] Candace Hamm: So the program in general is a lot more intense. So they’re looking at twice a week lessons as opposed to once a week. I kind of work within a environment where lessons in this area are pretty set. There’s certain things that people just kind of expect are going to happen. So once a week, lessons are very standard, taking the summers off is quite standard, and the conservatory program kind of takes all that and goes, “Okay. Now, instead of doing what we are used to doing in this geographical area, what are we going to that’s going to best prep you for university?” So they’re looking at twice a week lessons. They’re looking at a pretty strict practice requirement: absolute minimum of two hours a day.


[00:03:56] The instruction extends beyond piano. So I want to give them a really good basis in the piano skills as well, but we’re also going into research techniques, delving into collaborative music. We’re going into their specific learning style, figuring out what holes they have in their independent learning. Teaching them how to kind of life coach themselves and how to analyze problems and problem solve where to find resources. You know, such as IMSLP. You know, many students don’t know where all that sheet music they’re getting is coming from if it’s not coming from a book. Just things like that that kind of smooth that transition and try to make them as independent as possible.


[00:04:37] Andrea Miller: Okay. And then how long ago did you start this?


[00:04:40] Candace Hamm: So it’s about two years ago now I kind of started piloting it. This year is now the first year where I’ve had outside interest in the program. So I kind of started it. I didn’t say anything about it. I just made it available to a couple of my students that I knew were hoping to go into university. And so then I kind of, I’ve started talking about a little bit this year. And we’ll see where it goes from there. I’m not quite sure exactly what the end outcome is going to be. I know what I’d like to see, but it’s new. It’s not something that’s being done. I haven’t seen anything like it actually anywhere, let alone here. So yeah, we’re going to see what comes of it.


[00:05:19] Andrea Miller: Yeah. Okay. So what changed from a studio perspective? Like administrative, marketing, branding, whatever, from that perspective, when you introduce this program?


[00:05:30] Candace Hamm: Well, I would say in a sense, what’s been surprising to me is how little has changed. My marketing hasn’t really changed. Because of the area, again, this is such a unique area of the country. Most of my marketing is actually word of mouth at this point. And people seeing the results for my students in festivals and competitions and whatnot. So I haven’t really focused on marketing much at all. I know what I would do if I wanted to put it out there, but I don’t need to right now. The finances have not changed. What has changed is the time component because I’m creating an entirely new program from scratch, right? I’ve also had to make sure that I create space for twice a week lessons for some of these students, as opposed to, you know, filling those slots. And I’m having to be very organized because even with that two hours a week, plus a library of video lessons that they’re using, to try to fit all this stuff in is pretty challenging. So I have to be very scheduled, very aware of what’s going on. And it’s a constant balance between how do I individualize this for this student? How do I make sure we fill in their specific holes and make sure that they have what they need while still covering this foundation of what I know they’re going to need to make sure that things work for them when they go on.


[00:06:46] Andrea Miller: I imagine that’d be a challenge when you’ve got sort of a curriculum of things that, you know, it’s important benchmarks for them to meet before they graduate. But then also have it so customized and be inventing it at the same time. Do you feel like you redo a lot of things?


[00:07:01] Candace Hamm: Definitely a component of teaching on the fly, for sure. There always will be, and that’s something that I kind of push in my studio anyway. Part of, I guess my studio niche, is that I do individualize for each student. But at the same time, you know what? I really, really love it. I love the problem solving. I love figuring out what makes each student tick. So it’s time-consuming but it’s work that I really, really love. So it evens up, right? I end up enjoying myself.


[00:07:29] Andrea Miller: That’s good. Okay. How did you first introduce it? Did you invite students? Like particular students to join? Or did you announce it to your whole studio? How’d that go?


[00:07:38] Candace Hamm: So what I did was I talked to the students that I knew this would likely be a good fit for individually ahead of time. They knew this was coming and I made it very clear that they were not obligated to join.


[00:07:51] Obviously, you know, I I’ve had a lot of students go on to university and do just fine before the program. Right? So it’s never something that I want to present as being the only option. But I did explain to them exactly what I was doing, why I was doing it based on feedback from prior students, and how I knew things were going for them.


[00:08:12] And we started there. I actually had the students signed up that I wanted when I started the program prior to ever introducing it outside of those specific students. So then the next step, just to kind of start putting it in people’s minds, was I sent out an email to my parents and I stuck it in one of my information, emails that I send out monthly.


[00:08:30] And I just said, “Hey, just so you know, there’s a new program I’m starting. This is what it is. This is the type of student that’s for. You know, if this is something you want to consider at some point, if your student is considering a career in music, then let me know, let’s discuss this. Let’s see if it will be a good fit.” And yeah, so that’s kind of where it went from there. And the final step, I guess, was to kind of introduce it publicly: put it on my website and make a couple of posts about it. And that’s really all I’ve done because like I said, most of my marketing is kind of done by.


[00:09:04] Andrea Miller: And then how did those parents and students respond, especially those first ones that you invited to join?


[00:09:08] Candace Hamm: Oh yeah. It was very positive. All the students I talked to signed up, so that’s a positive outcome. Yeah. There was actually quite a bit of interest in it where I said, Hey, you know what? This is great. Your student is actually only in grade six or seven in school. Let’s wait a couple more years. Let’s not push them too hard yet, but let’s keep this as an idea in mind.


[00:09:31] Right? Because a, 12 or 13 year old says they want to be a piano teacher or a music educator when they come out. That might change, so let’s give it a couple of years. But yeah, it’s been very positive.


[00:09:41] Andrea Miller: Oh, that’s that’s neat thing too. Cause I bet you can build anticipation by saying, “Well, let’s wait until you’re a 14” and yeah, that’s smart. Have you noticed any difference in retention because of this program?


[00:09:53] Candace Hamm: You know what, yes. And this is going to sound like a negative. It’s actually cut my retention a little bit. In my general studio, I have a lot of students who have been with me 5, 6, 7 years, or potentially even longer, but they’re just going through the general program.


[00:10:10] And so now with the conservatory program is starting to get interest from outside students who are wanting to transfer in . I haven’t necessarily historically taken a lot of transfer students. I really do like to start them from the ground up. But now with this, yes, they have to do the year of kind of remedial training to kind of like slot into where they need to be. But they do that. They go in, but then they’re going to be in it for a max of three years. So lengthwise it’s actually lowering my retention just because I’m getting older students who won’t stay long.


[00:10:43] Andrea Miller: Yeah. Well, that just shows that, you know, those metrics are relative.


[00:10:49] Candace Hamm: Exactly. It’s not a retention issue I worry about. It’s just a reality I’m not necessarily going to see these kids for the next 18 years.


[00:10:57] Andrea Miller: I mean, colleges hope they only retain students for four years, right? And then graduate and move on. That’s really interesting. And then you kind of referenced this earlier, but has the program impacted your finances in any way?


[00:11:11] Candace Hamm: Yeah, so it really hasn’t made a difference in finances. The difference has been mostly in time. So when I’m thinking about my marketing and I’m thinking about my business side of things and my finances and all that, there’s a balance between the actual amount of money I’m making, which has not changed, and the amount of time I’m putting into make that money, which has skyrocketed because of this program.


[00:11:38] So I’m not gonna lie, this year, I really love what I do, but these last two years have certainly been more stressful because this is always something that’s in the back of my brain. I’m putting in this time, I’m trying to figure this stuff out. I’m doing the research and I would say there’s a sense in which I could be spending that time teaching more students and making money. So that is an impact on finances. Long-term I kind of look at it as a cost benefit analysis. To meet the long-term benefits of doing this program, which I really, really love and believe in, is a positive impact. So I’m willing to take that perceived hit.


[00:12:15] Andrea Miller: And before we got on the official interview, you were talking about how you’re spending that time now that’ll save you time later. Can you explain that?


[00:12:22] Candace Hamm: So because I teach so much during the year, I was telling you prior to starting, I teach about 45 hours a week during the year. Which is a lot. I don’t have a lot of time. You know, I have a family too. I want to spend time with them and I do some volunteering and whatnot. So what I do is during the summer, I do some pretty intensive prep and professional develop. And make sure that everything is set for the year and I’m currently working on creating a three-year cycle, and that will be a three-year cycle for the conservatory program as well. So that I know that I’m hitting all the areas that I need to hit in depth. And so it’s a lot of work now, but I’m looking forward to the returns in three years when all of a sudden, you know, now I do have all this extra free time and I don’t have to do any prep during the year. I go through, I make my copies for the week. It’s already done. And then if I need to tweak something, it’s very minimal, as opposed to creating concepts.


[00:13:14] Andrea Miller: I have friends who are school music teachers or school teachers in general. And they talk about the first year they’re in a new role and all the prep they have to do to prepare for those classes.


[00:13:24] And then, you know, once you’ve been in the job for 5, 10, 15, 20 years, you’ve got so many lesson plans already set. It’ll be like you’re a first-year teacher for three years and then you’ll have an amazing resource.


[00:13:36] Candace Hamm: Exactly. And for sure you do want to update and you want to keep things current, but the updating process is much smaller than the creating the entire set of principles that you’re working around and that doesn’t change so much.


[00:13:47] Andrea Miller: How did you price this relative to your other program or your general program?


[00:13:53] Candace Hamm: So, what I did was I actually just literally doubled. I went with the lesson slot and I charged double the tuition that I would charge for a normal, hourly lesson. Because, and this is not going to be the same for every teacher, everybody does this differently, but I actually put that same amount of work into my general studio. I do the same amount of prep. I had the same amount of different concepts going on. This is just a different focus. Right? And so the relative amount of work that I’m doing is the same. And so then what ends up affecting my financial bottom line is the time that I’m actually putting into the student each week.


[00:14:32] And that actually is exactly double what I would put into my normal general advanced students who are getting an hour every week. So I just doubled the price. It’s definitely more of an investment for parents. This is an area that’s pretty financially conscious. So I also want to be conscious of that because I do have a lot of parents and a lot of families who are making sacrifices for their students to attend.


[00:14:53] So yeah, I factored that in as well. When I thought about it, you know, I guess the way I run my business, my philosophy, is a little bit different. It’s not necessarily always, we’re almost ever about the bottom line. I want to make the money that I, that I need to make a living, but there’s better rewards in it for my personal philosophy than money.


[00:15:13] Right. So, you know, if I can see my students doing well and enjoying music and whatever that to me is as important as finances. So I want to make it accessible. Yeah.


[00:15:23] Andrea Miller: So you talked about some of the time investments that you’ve made in getting this program off the ground. Have you made any financial investments?


[00:15:30] Candace Hamm: Yes, but these are investments that I’ve also made into my general studio as well. So I wouldn’t say that they’re specific to the conservatory program. This summer, for example, I’ve been delving pretty deep into performance psychology, which the implications are pretty obvious for people who are hoping to go on a university, but I also really want to create those life skills for my general students as well.


[00:15:52] I want them comfortable performing. I want them comfortable, you know, using good sportsmanship. And competitions, seeing competitions as healthy, preparing for general performances like recitals or going and sharing their music in care homes and that sort of thing. So to me, the investments that I’m making in my general studio transfer over and the investments that I’m making in my conservatory program transfer back.


[00:16:16] So there’s nothing specific that I’ve done for the conservatory program. I’m trying to utilize the skills that I have in the learning that I’m doing just in a slightly different manner.


[00:16:25] Andrea Miller: Yeah, you can like separate out knowledge and only apply it in one area. Once you’ve got it, you use it everywhere. Anything else that you’re looking forward to that you think might just give you more skills in this area or other things on your radar?


[00:16:38] Candace Hamm: Like I have a three to four five-year plan for my professional development. One of the things that I’m hoping to do is actually a pretty in-depth study of impressionistic, peddling techniques . It’s basically just more, a matter of finding the time to actually go through and, and get through the list of stuff that I want to write.


[00:16:58] Andrea Miller: I can’t imagine why that would be a challenge. Or you mentioned that you’ve been getting outside interest in the program. What kind of student, or what kind of characteristics does a student have, who is attracted to this program?


[00:17:11] Candace Hamm: So usually, I mean, always these students are hoping to go onto university. And my website and the stuff that they do see outside is structured in such a way that they know what this program is about right off the bat. The very first sentences, you know, is preparing for university studies, So that kind of weeds everybody out who’s not quite sure what’s going on right away. But after that, then often there’s kind of two categories.


[00:17:36] So there’s the families where these students absolutely adore music. They really want to go on. They want to study it. They want to give themselves the best possible prep. So that’s kind of the first category. Everything is kind of going good and they just want to take it to the next level. The other category that I often get interest from, and this is kind of a fun one for me because I do really, really love the problem solving is the students where they really want to study music, but something’s not working. And often, they’re hitting the wall on what they think they can do piano wise. And they’re getting frustrated often. There’s technical issues that are going on. They may have performance injuries that are starting to happen. Often, they’ve had maybe a little bit less than successful performance experiences, and now they’re sitting there going, okay, I’m going to have to perform in university and I cannot make it through us an audit without a mental breakdown.


[00:18:30] And so that’s kind of the second category that I get a lot of interest from. And I really enjoy working with those students because if I can take them and figure out what’s not working and fill in those holes, those are the kids that often end up getting the most out of it because they really, really want this and they’ve had to work through the problem. And so then they go into university and it’s like, you know what? This stuff is going to come up. And I’m going to have these problems that are going to come up because we all do when we’re working on postsecondary studies, but now they’ve already seen they can work through this stuff.


[00:19:05] I shouldn’t have a favorite category. And I don’t necessarily, but, there’s something specially rewarding about that. If I can take a student, that’s like, I want this, but I don’t think I can and be able to turn that into an I can, and this is going to work. I love that. That is just so much fun for me to see.


[00:19:22] Andrea Miller: And it’s fun to see someone turn around when the student who just goes along with ease and always does great, that’s fun, but yeah, when you see someone make a shift and really just turn it around, that’s really exciting. And then you said that you haven’t had to do a lot of marketing because word of mouth kind of takes it for you. But if a teacher is listening, who’s maybe interested in starting a program like this. If you were to market, what kind of strategies would you employ there?


[00:19:49] Candace Hamm: If it were me, I think the first thing I would be doing is trying to take the students that I already have and pushing those students up to as high a level as possible. Because in the world of university prep and in the world of I’m going to work through competitions and I’m going to work through that sort of thing, results speak better than anything else.


[00:20:11] They need to see what works. The problem is that that takes. So when you’re starting out and you don’t have that, then what I would be doing is I would be targeting the area of actually professional development and saying, Hey, I have studied all of this stuff. Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s what I’ve got to offer and taking it from there and building up a studio that way. But I do find that results, and that sort of thing, are kind of the backbone of a teacher who’s hoping to hoping to move into the more serious arena.


[00:20:46] Andrea Miller: Yeah. Cause everyone’s watching those students at the competitions and they know, you know, Susie Smith students always win or whatever.


[00:20:54] Candace Hamm: And I think I want to temper that a little bit with the word of encouragement though, because. In the university that I actually studied at, there is a truly excellent group of teachers in a different instrument than, than mine. And I’m going to try to be a little bit vague here because people are gonna figure out if they’re all of a sudden listening who I’m talking about, this is a really small area, but there’s a really excellent group of teachers. They are all wonderful. And there’s one person who tends to get the top tier students, because they’ve got the experience, they’ve got the performance resume to back it up, et cetera. And then there’s two other teachers. And I actually, when I look at myself as a teacher and I go, what do I want to be able to do? Those are the two teachers that I look at, because what they’re doing is they’re able to take these… I don’t like calling them second tier students, but the ones who maybe have a little bit more growing to do or the ones who are having maybe a few more problems or something isn’t quite working for them.


[00:21:49] And they are able to put these students out at almost, or at the same level as the other teacher, who’s getting the cream of the crop. And that to me as a teacher, that’s what I look at. Because it’s a lot more. But if you can figure out how to solve those kinds of problems and put out that kind of product, that word spreads really, really well. So if we’re thinking about these serious students, I don’t want other teachers to go, “oh no. How am I supposed to get these really solid students in the first place?”


[00:22:21] Don’t do that. Create them figure out how to fill in the holes, figure out how to teach the meat and potatoes. It’s way harder. But that’s where word really starts to spread because they’re going “Well, how come there’s so much improvement in this kid from, you know, two to three years ago to now? Why are they playing totally differently?”


[00:22:38] And so part of it obviously is the student, but part of it’s that teaching too. And that, to me, that’s what I really admire as a teacher. Those are the ones I want to learn from. That’s what I want to emulate.


[00:22:48] Andrea Miller: I love that. And I love that you’re looking to other teachers for that inspiration and just to emulate in your own program, that’s really valuable. Have you noticed any difference in the expectations that parents have or students have from you when they’re enrolled in this program?


[00:23:05] Candace Hamm: Well, there’s a sense in which, you know, obviously I have to be on my game. Because they’re coming in with a specific goal in mind. But I think, actually, the more specific I’ve gotten and the more specific I’ve gotten about my expectations, the easier the onboarding has been, because first of all, my website, and I think I was telling you this in a couple of our conversations prior, my social media isn’t mostly for trying to get students. My social media is designed to weed students. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I really do think there’s a teacher and a program for every student and everybody deserves to do music. And everybody deserves to have a focus as designed exactly for them, but I can’t be everybody. I have a specific personality, and sometimes that’s not going to work the best for the student who just wants to try out piano for a year. I can do it. I can try to be creative, but my natural bent is to work with students who have a little bit more of a goal in mind. And so my social media, my Instagram, my Facebook is designed to give parents at peak into the studio.


[00:24:16] The website is designed to weed potential students out who might not be the right fit. And then the next step of that is the interview process. And again, I’m reading students. That, that I think might be better suited somewhere else or also can go great and we’re going to click really, really well. And so by the time they get through that process, they already have a really good idea of what’s going on and what’s going to happen.


[00:24:39] So when they hit the conservatory program, they’re expecting that I’m going to try to go the extra mile and they’re expecting that I’m going to push their kid and they’re expecting that I’m going to have expectations. And those are very clearly laid out in the information that I’m giving them through that whole thing. I would say probably the expectations are a little bit higher because obviously, you know, you’re prepping kids for post-secondary, but at the same time, I find that really enjoyable because it’s more clear. I’m not trying to figure out what everybody wants. They’re not trying to figure out what I want. It’s laid out.


[00:25:12] Andrea Miller: Have you always been so clear in setting those expectations or do you think you’ve grown into that?


[00:25:16] Candace Hamm: I’ve definitely grown into that and I suspect that’s pretty similar for a lot of teachers. Again, it’s a fairly unique geographical area and it’s got a pretty developed music culture, and I’m starting to step outside of it in a sense. Where I’m starting to create a consistent studio culture where everybody’s thinking along the more serious lines as opposed to recreational like, oh, well maybe the most talented are going to go on and do things more seriously.


[00:25:45] And so when you start out as, somebody who just graduated from university, I was exactly the same as I think most people. It’s like, okay, well, how do I make the money I need to put food on the table. And so it’s partially been my process of growing as a teacher where I’ve sat there and gone, you know, I can best serve the student and best serve myself by defining exactly what I want and by not trying to be something that I’m not. And that’s really empowering, actually. It’s really good.


[00:26:12] Andrea Miller: It’s really scary at first, I think, because you feel like you’re closing yourself off to potential students, and you are actually. But yeah, it’s just figuring out like, who is the one who’s really the good fit because that person is going to have the best experience in your studio . And then be super committed and like you’ve experienced now, you’ve got even your more general studio is a more goal-oriented student, and you decide your own reputation. And I think as a business owner and music teacher, that’s cool.,


[00:26:43] Candace Hamm: And I think I’m kind of going a little bit on a personal tangent here.


[00:26:47] I tend to be a little bit of a people pleaser. That’s my general bent. And so for me, at first as a new teacher, it was like, well, you know, if, if they change teachers or they decide they want to quit lessons, there must be something wrong with me. And so to go through and to figure out that actually, if I focus on how do I provide the student with the best possible fit, if I structure my business model so it’s very clear people know exactly what they’re getting, and I see it as an opportunity to invest even in the students that I don’t take or whom I let go or who., You know, we mutually go, “okay. You know what? I don’t think this is quite the right fit or your goals have changed. And maybe now you’re better suited for a different teacher.”


[00:27:32] If I can see that also as helping them along on their journey, that’s just mutually beneficial for everybody. And so I’ve kind of come to structure my business model and the conservatory program and everything else around, how do I best serve the student? And if I phrase it that way, I just find that it’s, it’s a lot more fun. I have more fun. They have more fun. Everybody has more fun. We get better results.


[00:27:54] Andrea Miller: I think that really builds the whole music lesson ecosystem because it makes a way to connect with the local teachers in your area or your other online teaching friends, because you can then, when you know what another teacher’s skill set is, and passion for teaching, you can send your students that would really be served by that teacher their way. And they send the students who are really going to be a great fit for your studio your way. And I think it breeds collegiality, you know, and really just a strong musical community.


[00:28:25] Candace Hamm: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and I think we have this tendency to see, oh, okay. Like the serious students, this is the top of the hierarchy.


[00:28:32] And then at the bottom is the beginners where they’re just trying to go and that’s, I don’t think that’s the way it is. I think that, Hey, we have different focuses and people are going to want different things in life. And you know what? I am not, I will be very, very honest. Like I’m not good at teaching the kids who just want the musical experience every week. But there is nothing wrong with them wanting that. That’s super valuable. That’s super good. And there’s a couple of teachers in this area who are like so well suited to that and are so creative and can think on the fly so well, you know. Why wouldn’t I send students that way? There is nothing like, that’s a good thing. It’s not a bad thing.


[00:29:13] Andrea Miller: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about the conservatory prep program that you think would be helpful for listeners to hear?


[00:29:19] Candace Hamm: Well, I mean, if we think about the business side of things. If teachers are listening to this and going, “Hey, this is something I’m interested in.” I would really encourage taking the time to do the visioning process and taking the time to define exactly what you want. Which is why, you know, when you initially contact me, I was kind of like, okay, well, you just got to understand this comes from my general program, right? I don’t know if I can totally separate it, but I knew exactly what I wanted and it’s not going to look the same for each teacher. So if someone’s sitting there going, you know, I think I might want to try something like this. You know, figure out how it can flow out of your own teaching and also kind of start from the top down. So like what’s the outcomes you need to see? It’s kind of a life coaching technique. Where do you want to see this thing go? And then break it down and filter it down from there and figure out what that needs to look like to make that happen. Right? So you kind of end up starting from the bottom and starting from the top and meeting in the middle.


[00:30:23] Andrea Miller: Define the outcomes and then build the program that supports those outcomes.


[00:30:27] Candace Hamm: Exactly. And it’s not going to look the same for anyone. You’ve got to add your own unique flair, I think.


[00:30:34] Andrea Miller: I like that advice. Is there a book or a resource that has had a strong influence on you as a teacher or as an entrepreneur?


[00:30:40] Candace Hamm: Oh, I mean, I spend a lot of time in professional development. I think, you know what? If I were going to kind of label the one thing that I haven’t seen necessarily a lot of other teachers talk about this being very invaluable for me. They’re like, there are so many pedagogy resources out there and there’s so many methods and ideas and all that kind of stuff. But the thing that I think has been a little bit unique in my journey is that I really enjoy studying life coaching techniques. It does not work for everybody. Some people really like a list of steps and life coaching really pushes you to step outside and think independently, which is what I need my students to do for the conservatory because they’re not going against Bluefin University. But if you can get into that and you can go, okay, like how can I figure out the steps I need to make this happen? And then what are the most effective ways to execute those steps? I think that really helps define teaching. I think that really helps to find how we interact with and work with our students.


[00:31:41] And yeah, I’ve just found, how should I put this, you know, life coaching can sound a little bit like woo-woo a little bit strange, right? But there’s actually some really good concrete learning theory and behavioral psychology based principles that if you can find those and get past all the hype and figure out what’s actually under there, there are some really effective strategies you can use, and I’ve seen the benefits in my studio. So I would just encourage people to look into some of that kind of stuff. Not necessarily working with a coach. Not necessarily, you know, like trying to become this facilitator, but figuring out what the science is behind it and pulling that out and going, okay, how can I use that to effectively help my students?


[00:32:26] Andrea Miller: I think a lot of teachers can relate to the serving as a little bit of a life coach or a shrink for some of their students that sometimes. And so yeah, putting some more formal knowledge around that would definitely be helpful. Is there a particular resource that you like a book that you’ve read or blog or podcast?


[00:32:41] Candace Hamm: You know, I took a course with a coach named Sue Guiher, G U I H E R, a while back, and I did find that very helpful. It was funny because it was actually in, I do search and rescue dogs when I’m not teaching. I’m a search rescue handler for the province. And so it was actually a dog training course. She does general coaching as well.


[00:33:02] And it was exactly kind of like what I’m talking about. Somebody like me who is naturally an independent bent, I got so much out of it. Other people, you know, they expressed that they were really struggling with it. So it’s not for everybody, but it could definitely be something to explore.


[00:33:16] Andrea Miller: All right.


[00:33:17] Thanks for that. And what’s next for you? What goals you’re working towards this year in your studio?


[00:33:22] Candace Hamm: Well, there’s a lot of goals. So I’ve got the conservatory program going. The next thing that I kind of want to consider, I won’t be able to do it once I start teaching for the year, this will probably be my next summer’s goal. I’ve been kind of starting to delve into what does very early years pre-instrument look like, because I do think, and the science kind of supports this. I do think there’s a very strong basis if we understand how to teach music as a language prior, like preschool and under even, you know, 6, 8, 10 months old, we could really set them up for music to feel very natural in a lot of the areas that people struggle in, you know, pulse rhythm, that sort of thing.


[00:34:06] So I’ve been experimenting on my little guy who is 18 months. And I’m really like, it’s really fun to watch and fun for me to kind of go, oh my goodness, there’s so much stuff that he can do and that he understands already that I’m not going to have to teach later. No, this is fantastic. So I’m kind of sitting here going, okay, what can I develop for this area that, you know, could make that available to other people as well.


[00:34:30] So I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet, but that puts it in the back of my head.


[00:34:34] Andrea Miller: So you’re shooting for like an 18 year retention, average retention of 18 years. That is great. Well, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for talking to us today and sharing kind of what you’re doing in your studio.


[00:34:48] Where can listeners get in touch with you?


[00:34:51] Candace Hamm: So I do have a Facebook page. I have an Instagram, Candace Hamm Piano. You can definitely contact me on there. That’s probably the easiest way, you know, I would just say what I told you again, when we were kind of discussing this, my social media is not for teaching or for marketing or anything like that.


[00:35:08] It’s literally basically to give parents a little bit of an inside view on some of the activities we do. So it’s not going to necessarily look what people are used to seeing if they’re going looking for resources. But you can definitely check it out and contact me and I’d love to chat.


[00:35:23] Andrea Miller: All right, Candace, thank you so much.


[00:35:25] Candace Hamm: No problem.


[00:35:32] Andrea Miller: When I first reached out to Candace, it was because her conservatory prep program sounded interesting and I wanted to hear more about it. But as I re-listen to this interview, what I find even more interesting is how she essentially has two tracks of study in her studio, and how she positions those tracks so one doesn’t sabotage the other. Candace mentioned that she lives in a smaller town and there’s some standard expectations around music lessons. Specifically weekly lessons, maybe the go-to 30 minute practice requirement, and taking summers off. Some would say, oh, a more intense program wouldn’t work where I live because these expectations are so ingrained. Or there aren’t enough students of that caliber. Or I’d have to teach online and I don’t want to. Blah, blah, blah,. But rather than doing this, Candace accommodates those market pleasing expectations in her general track, and then she takes those same expectations and flips them around to highlight how the conservatory prep program is different. The two programs reinforce the purpose and goals for each track. I could also see these two tracks as a way to manage the expectations of some students and, perhaps, some pushy parents.


[00:36:39] Have you ever had a student come in insisting they want to play some advanced rep that they heard someone else play at a recital? But this student wants to commit 15 minutes a week to getting there and they have no clue that behind the scenes the advanced student is practicing 15 hours a week? I like the way Candace’s conservatory prep program makes this a little more transparent and credits the student who’s made that commitment.


[00:37:01] Everyone can see the results of the program when a student performs at a recital or competition, but most outsiders just assume that the student is ” talented” and they don’t realize the hours the student has invested in advancing their craft. Speaking of students in the program, Candace talks about how she really enjoys teaching the student who is good, but stuck. She’s not exclusively competing for the top 5% of students who are already great.


[00:37:27] Instead, she’s looking for the student with the desire to become great. As she talked about this, I was reminded of a gutsy 1960s ad campaign that has been written about in business publications and marketing textbooks. As the story goes, the Avis car rental company had been struggling to gain market share for a decade. It was trailing behind the market leading company, Hertz. Avis decided to embrace their second place status as a way of showcasing their exceptional customer service. They adopted the new tagline “when you’re only number two, you try harder.” The ad campaign was remarkably effective and Avis significantly tightened the gap between them and Hertz in just a few years.


[00:38:06] Candace described a similar phenomenon in her own studio. When the top students remain the top students, no one’s surprised. But when she can transform a good student into a really exceptional student, people take notice. When you’re number two, you try harder. She might have to be more creative in her teaching and problem solving, but ultimately she’s after a more meaningful transformation in the student, which in turn has led to greater success throughout her entire school.


[00:38:34] Thanks, Candace for giving us a glimpse into your studio and giving us so much to think about. As you listen to this conversation, I’m curious to hear if this concept inspires any changes in the way you think about your own studio. Let me know on Instagram or Facebook. The show notes for this episode can be found at


[00:38:54] That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back next week

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