How To Use Your Clients’ Best Tool: A Plain Old Notebook

Val Blaha

Jul 26, 2017

Every business owner has a preferred way of helping their clients stay organized and keep track of notes and assignments. Mine is a plain old 8.5 x 11 inch spiral bound notebook.

As a music teacher, I’ve used assignment sheets and journals provided by clients, but I’ve always found a notebook to be the most versatile tool. I don’t use notebooks with my youngest clients (instead, I use color sticky tabs so they can find their weekly assignments) but for all others I either ask clients to bring in a notebook to their first appointment, or I provide one if I have some handy. (Hint: buy 12 to 15 when school supplies are on sale in July!)

Why am I so specific on size and style? I like spiral bound books because they are easy to flip open, and they stay open. (I avoid notebooks that are bound across the top — it’s so difficult to flip to previous pages.) I also like larger sizes, like 8.5 x 11 inch, because I can use one whole page for an assignment, and can write in BIG letters when I need to highlight specifics. Finally, a three-hole notebook can be put in a binder to be collected with other materials as needed.

So, what do I use the notebook for?

1. Assignments

The most obvious use for a notebook is to write in my clients’ weekly (or monthly) assignments. Single “assignment sheets” could also be utilized (and collected in a binder), but even when I’ve designed these for my own use, I find that the section labels are often not as helpful as I would hope. Instead of a one-size-fits-all sheet, I can customize each client’s assignment in their individual notebooks to help them keep track of where they need to put their focus.

At each appointment, I write the date, plus the day’s topics and exercises, with any suggestions or goals for each one. For clients who need it, I’ll sometimes write details about further resources and page numbers to reference material.

During an appointment, I refer to the prior page to see what I had assigned, and whether the student had met the goals we had set. I’ll often check off things that have been accomplished, so the client can look back and see their progress.

2. Mid-Week Tips & Planning

As a music instructor, I feel that I’m not only assisting clients with how to understand various music-related concepts, but also how to learn to practice effectively and efficiently between appointments. To this end, the notebook is valuable because I can include suggestions for day-to-day use. I always use the first page (front and back) of the notebook for this.

I might title the front side of these pages “Practice Tips”. These are specific suggestions or “hints” that I’ll discuss with a client during their appointment, and demonstrate how to utilize them. For example, for piano students I often encourage them to make sure that each hand can play correctly in a song. In the notebook, I include “hands alone” to remind them that if they are having trouble with learning a passage, this is something that they can try. My goal for this page is to have a central spot where clients can look between appointments to find ideas that they can apply to their study.

On the back side of the mid-week tips page I write in a suggested schedule. I include the number of days to practice and a reasonable goal for the number of minutes a day (sometimes I’ll include a range instead of a set time). Then I break it down further into warm-up, exercises, works-in-progress, etc., and approximately how long to spend on each. I usually add this to a client’s notebook, and discuss it with them, within 4–6 weeks of the first appointment.

3. One-page “101”s

I find it’s often useful to use one whole page of a notebook to outline a topic. For music clients, this might be something simple like a clear diagram of note values, or something more complicated like chord transposition for guitar players. (I might title the page “Transposition 101”.)

Using a full page to write out details in large print as I explain the concept usually helps the client comprehend the ideas better, and they can refer to the page as needed in the future.

4. Quick Reference Guides

The inside front cover is a great place to put information commonly needed for reference. For string players, I’ll draw the neck of their instrument, and label the strings, and later the individual notes. For piano students, I draw the treble and bass clef staves, and add the mnemonic devices for the notes (FACE, Every Good Bird Does Fly, etc.) In addition, I’ll often add a drawing of a keyboard octave with keys labelled with note names. I’ll refer back to the inside cover as needed during appointments.

5. Client Wish List

This is one of my favorite uses for a notebook. Ask your clients to identify goals, and write them down on the last page of the notebook (facing the inside back cover). This can be during appointments or on their own. For example, I encourage my clients to start a list of songs they would like to play. If they don’t have specific songs, I encourage them to list songwriters, musicians or composers whose work they like and/or would like to learn. This helps me learn more about my clients, and also gives me a list from which to draw tailored topics or materials for our appointments.

A notebook… so simple, and inexpensive, yet it’s become an indispensable tool for myself, and for many of my clients. Not only can it help organize assignments and topics, but clients can look back and see how much progress they have made over time, and hopefully it will inspire them to continue and strive further in their quest for musical excellence!

Val Blaha is a music instructor, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter based in McMinnville, Oregon. She performs solo and with her duo Luminous Heart.

Val has been teaching since 2001, and loves helping people follow their dreams of learning to play an instrument.

Discover more about Val at valblaha.com.


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