2017 MTNA National Conference — A Guitar Teacher’s Welcome To A Piano Teacher’s World

Eric Branner

Apr 19, 2017

“Oh my, you are a guitarist, I can tell by your fingernails!”

I heard that one at least a hundred times last week while attending the Music Teacher’s National Association’s national conference in Baltimore. I was one of maybe… two or three guitar teachers at the conference. Most of the attendees and members are piano instructors. That’s okay… I learned a ton, got really inspired, and made some great new friends!

What is MTNA? And Why Should I Join?

MTNA is the largest professional organization for independent music teachers, and has been around since 1876. I became involved with the MTNA after joining my local chapter in Seattle, and serving on the board there.

Being an independent teacher can get lonely professionally, and I was really hoping for some fellowship with other teachers. I’ve met some really awesome colleagues through MTNA, albeit mostly piano teachers. Although I’m a guitar teacher, I still see great value in being a part of the organization. I think the MTNA is a great platform for all independent music teachers, and that more teachers should join. Here’s how my experience at the conference went:


The entire week is packed with awesome lectures and presentations regarding pedagogy, business, inspiration, and… piano technique! It is true, 80% of MTNA teachers are pianists. However, the organization did a great job of having pertinent material at every time slot for non-pianists. I went to a fantastic presentation on understanding how generational shifts will inform our music teaching. My award for most inspirational presentation probably went to Forrest Kinney. He taught a technique for teaching students how to improvise, and how to spontaneously create. He was awesome at teaching a topic that is a toughie for many piano teachers. And his great vibes and ideas transfer well over to the guitar too!

the exhibition hall.. sorry it’s blurry. you can’t stand still in a sea of piano teachers! the exhibition hall.. sorry it’s blurry. you can’t stand still in a sea of piano teachers!

The Exhibition Hall

On day one, I walked into the exhibition hall and thought to myself: “Wow, this could really grow into something legendary.”

The hall is basically a huge store for piano teachers. Piano makers and sheet music publishers made up the majority of the exhibitors. There were also pedagogy products, educational institutions, and tech firms that provided educational software or professional services.

I walked through quite a few times, chatting with the exhibitors, and the teachers. I couldn’t stop imagining the floor being ten times bigger… with guitars, strings, drums, recording software etc… I’d love to go to a conference that really tended to the needs of all music teachers. We all have so much in common.


I met with the MTNA’s chief operating officer, Brian Shepherd to talk about his vision for society’s present and future. I was particularly interested in whether guitarists and growth are welcomed and I filled him in on the work I’m doing with Fons. He was kind enough to spend an hour with me, and sure enough.. all instruments are welcome! I also got to meet with many present and former board members of the MTNA. These folks are really dedicated to teaching music, and are incredibly friendly!

Keynote Speaker-David Cutler

The highlight of my trip had to be meeting David Cutler, and seeing his keynote address.

David has a resume way too long to list.. he’s essentially an excellent musician who has dedicated much of his career to helping artists make a better living through making a bigger impact. He heads the Arts Entrepreneurship program at University of South Carolina and authored The Savvy Music Teacher.

Anyway, I got a meeting with him the afternoon before his keynote address, and I was pretty blown away by his standout question-asking ability, breadth of knowledge on arts entrepreneurship, and the really great vibe he has.

His keynote address absolutely rocked! He presented on ways to shake up your music studio to make more money, while increasing your impact. He presented a blueprint for re-imagining traditional elements of music teaching and stress-points.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Let’s say your students don’t practice between lessons. Try giving them a 30-minute in-person lesson on Monday, and a 15-minute touch-in on Wednesday and Friday online. The hour lesson slot is re-imagined to solve a common problem.

Another super-creative example was overlapping two students by 15 minutes to make them play together and for each other. You build community using this method as you’re putting these students on the spot to encourage preparation, and you all save 15 minutes of time!

All in all, I’ve already tried at least ten of the ideas from his book. I would emphatically recommend buying his book and learning more about him. He’s really inspiring, and has really done his homework on the music teaching profession.


If you’re an independent music teacher, you should consider joining the MTNA. You’ll probably be a part of a local group, a state group, and on a national level (depending on where you live).

If you’ve never gone to a convention, you should check it out. I’ll surely go back. I hope to, in some way, get more people involved in the MTNA. I think that all of us independent teachers need to stick together, and I really think that other instruments and disciplines could really add to the excitement and efficacy of the organization as a whole.

This organization really has the infrastructure and the mission to grow. The conference inspired me on so many levels. I noticed many teachers connecting with colleagues they’ve known through this event for decades…hopefully I’ll see a few more guitar teachers there next year, and maybe a booth or two for guitar teachers!

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