Katherine Bartol

Use ethical business practices. Don’t take cheap shortcuts. Go the extra mile to help your clients and they will always be there to support you and spread your great reputation.


Katherine Bartol is a prominent music educator who pioneered the Kodaly method in Central Pennsylvania. Originally from York, PA, she attended West Chester University and won the senior piano competition. She researched the human voice at the University of Minnesota and studied conducting at Westminster Choir College and The University of the Arts.
In addition to public teaching, Katherine Bartol taught privately, managed her own bands, sang with Davy Jones and performed as a guest artist. Her credits feature five Carnegie Hall performances with world-renowned composer John Rutter, NBA games, the WWII Memorial Dedication, and the 400th Anniversary of Jamestown with President George W. Bush in attendance. She was honored by professional associations for her exemplary choirs.
Currently, Katherine Bartol is writing an advisory book and received the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. Her famous former students include opera singer Elizabeth DeShong and members of the band Breaking Benjamin.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

I grew up with a talented musical family. Gatherings included family members bringing instruments and having jam sessions. My cousin, Larry Smith, was signed to the record company Columbia in a jazz/rock fusion band entitled The Allen Harris Band when I was a freshman in college. He inspired me to become a great musician and I knew my singing voice stood out since I was a small child. I also learned the piano and guitar very quickly. Practicing music was therapeutic while it increased my concentration and confidence. With each solo and leading role I won, the more inspired I became to work harder.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Now that I am retired from the demanding and time consuming public school music education, I spend my days practicing the piano to get my classical technique back, working on my new electronic keyboards, writing new songs, and preparing for performances as a soloist or with a duo or group project. Sometimes I am hired to sing and play on recordings, for weddings, or to play the piano for a choir. I also spend time writing my advisory and entertaining book on the real world of teaching music. I teach piano and voice students in my home studio.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am a detailed observer of student and adult piano players and singers, and overall performers. I watch their strengths and weaknesses and constantly think of shortcuts and different ways to explain how to execute their skills at a higher level, more quickly and efficiently. Each player and singer is unique. I have to pay strict attention to the shape and function of each person’s body and custom design the coaching to fit the individual’s needs. I have put aside reading a lot of other musicians’ and music educators’ advice on various ways to achieve results because I find my own innovative ideas work better for me. My advice to bring ideas to life is to not let anyone else’s publications or experiences intimidate you into thinking that their way is the only way. Developing your own style is necessary for true success. Always be open to creativity and for trying something different. Try to break it down in a different way that is more attainable to the particular individual. If you discover something new that really works, you should write an article and become known for your approach.
As far as song writing goes, I am a firm believer in starting with the known formulas to begin your attempt but then try something new that hasn’t been done before. Never, ever be afraid to be yourself and create something that is completely your own style. Artistic creations would be at a stand-still if everyone repeated what was already done. I said this a long time ago to a group of 7th graders in a guitar class — and low and behold — the successful rock band Breaking Benjamin came out of that class.
As a motivational conductor, I brought in modern composers, such as Matthew Harris, from New York City, to talk to the students about his work. In performing Matthew Harris’s Oceanic Eyes the students had a unique experience learning a major work with a guitar and string quartet accompaniment with the lyrics of Chilean Nobel Prize winning poet and diplomat, Pablo Neruda. I also constantly pointed out my singers’ strengths and told them how excellent they could become if they worked hard. I told them that I knew they were as talented, (if not more talented) than many people making it big in the music industry. They only had to focus and work hard for it. I also believe in not being afraid to approach and get to know successful people. So many people are afraid to talk to a famous, and/or successful person. My lesson here is that connections are keys to opening the doors to knowledge and success.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am a total believer of the Kodaly method of music education as the most comprehensive and successful way to teach music. It was developed by the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly. It uses the Kirwin hand signs to visualize a scale and intervals for singers. It teaches everyone how to read music by looking at the score without having to play it on an instrument. This is accomplished by following the development of the human musical ear and its ability to hear intervals. It follows right along with child development. It is a way to teach the exact sound of musical intervals and how to inner-hear them by looking at the score; much like the alphabet sounds and the steps for reading are taught. I also know it strengthens the musical ear to the degree that one can pick out any musical line in any given recording, especially in the pop/rock, country, rhythm and blues, and folk styles. If our country would adopt this method in all public schools everyone would be able to read music and sing without having to learn an instrument, just as everyone learns to read a language.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

As a song writer with my own rock bands, or with any group endeavor, I have allowed room for everyone’s creative input to support the project. Capitalizing on everyone’s strengths motivates all involved to be free to create and add their own intellectual talents. This, in turn, incites them to work harder because they can achieve the satisfaction of seeing their own contributions shine. They will have ownership in the project which will inspire them to do their best. The more strength and knowledge you can use from the people who work for you, the more success you are likely to achieve. Not one single person knows it all.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell myself to never be intimidated by anyone; to not let anyone’s negativity stop me from following my dreams and visions. I would tell myself to protect my work under lock and key. There are many jealous, competitive and negative people who will say and do low things to make themselves look better than you. If you want to be successful you should not trust every co-worker as your best friend. You must look out for yourself and stick to your individual beliefs and ideas. Don’t be a follower-Be a leader! Soon you will notice many will be following YOU!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

There are two subjects I would like to address.
1) Many adults have said to me “I don’t sing” or “I can’t sing”. I know for a fact that 99% of all humans have an innate sense of music and can be taught to sing in tune. I feel guilty that I followed the old school of thought when I first started teaching music and actually auditioned little fourth graders and turned some of them away from the chorus. This is the way it had been done before I started teaching. No wonder why so many adults think they can’t sing! This could leave a permanent negative impression on a child and is very wrong! I did this for one year and then followed my own research and opinion and included all who had the interest. Some people are simply later bloomers than others. So many high school freshmen would not audition for solos at first because they thought the same students who got the solos during the previous years would get them again. I assured all of my students that if they followed my direction their voice would definitely improve and suddenly bloom like a flower. Sure enough, some of the shyest students, who never sang a solo, became some of the most prominent and award-winning singers. These students far surpassed the students they thought would always beat them in solo auditions.
2) I feel I have a deeper view of students’ or employees’ strengths than most people. Every single human being has thoughts, ideas, and experiences from which you can learn and use in your own life’s ambitions, business, and creations. This includes elderly people, people with special needs, quiet and withdrawn individuals who are not so noticeable and even children! The ability to work with others is not easily recognizable and must be carefully considered. However, you must be a good listener and take the time to observe them and notice the details. I believe in giving everyone a chance and to not be so quick to judge who I choose to employ. There are many intricate facets beyond the basic job requirements when reviewing applications, interviewing, and hiring.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Use ethical business practices. Always put 100 percent into your work. Always be genuine and honest. Don’t try to fool people or coerce them into buying your product. If you want long and loyal customers you need to consistently produce excellence. Give them a beautiful promotional package to get their attention. Don’t over-charge at the start of your business. Don’t look for shortcuts to do less work. If you want to be successful you must prove that you have a great product and you genuinely care about your customer. Go the extra mile to help them and they will always be there to support you and will spread your great reputation.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

An important strategy in achieving success in my private lesson studio and with my rock bands was the promotional package and where I advertised. The package included a biography with past achievements, photographs, the costs for the service, and contact information printed on hard copy pamphlets, as well as on a website. I also used business cards. Social media pages should be used as well with the same promotional information. A good professional photo is crucial to promote yourself. If you are advertising as a musician you should have a link and/or a CD for people to listen to samples of your performances. Your promotional information should appeal to as many people as possible. Appealing to a wide variety of age groups brings in more business. A great way to accumulate students or gigs is to advertise in other organizations’ bulletins or concert programs such as the local community orchestra and chorale concert programs, high school choir and band concert programs, local Broadway musical production programs, and in church bulletins. This will get your name out in the community for people who may not know who you are and will not be looking you up directly on the internet. Newspaper advertising has always been a great help as well. The initial cost to advertise is worth spending in order to build your business. You could contact the local newspaper and have them feature you in a story to boost your visibility and credibility.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My one failure as an entrepreneur was giving up on a rock band project just because I lost an employee who I didn’t think I could replace. This incident prompted me to take control over my group projects by diligently having each employee sign a contract with what is expected of them; as one signs a lease for a landlord. I learned to protect my business legally. Of course this was before the internet. If I had to do this over I would have continued using the demo recording to attract the interest of record companies no matter what and would never have stopped the project. I had invested a sizable amount of money in the demo recording! With internet resources you can connect with almost anyone you want if you are aggressive enough. This particular band could have made a fortune if I wouldn’t have given up. At the time I didn’t see a way to keep going but I was young and more easily intimidated. Presently, with internet resources, there would be no reason to give up. I have a much more worldly view of possibilities and I am much more legally informed.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I recently had an idea to start a “Bucket List Piano Project” This was going to be a series of lessons dedicated to older people who always wanted to play the piano but never had the time. There are not a lot of learning activities advertised specifically for retired people. I think some retired people get lost and confused at first and don’t know what to do with themselves after working long days for so many years. I think this business idea would be successful.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I am a strong advocate for health and fitness. I recently spent approximately $100.00 on vitamins that I find crucial to maintain my health. I see a bio-identical hormone replacement doctor once a year. The job stress in the public school system and the threat of closing down the music program had caused a break-down of my adrenal system. There is a fair amount of stress in being a performer as well. Stress can kill people. The supplements make me feel much better, younger, and more productive. My advice to younger people in the work force is to try to avoid stressful situations. If you are in a job that causes a lot of stress it will shorten your life. You must consider a change or it will adversely affect your health.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

There are three websites that I use often:
1) As a musician and music teacher I use Youtube constantly. Every music teacher and performer I know refers to Youtube for fast and accurate examples of any performer and any style of music. I have used Youtube videos to quickly learn songs for myself and to point out some great professional performance techniques for my students.
2) ChoralWiki, Choral Public Domain Library is a site I have used whenever I plan a concert program of music that I am conducting. All music on the site is old enough to be in the free public domain. This consists of music published in 1923 or earlier. All of the early styles of music are available from the great composers of the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras. Since public schools don’t usually spend a lot of money on music this site is great to use for all public school music teachers. You can print out anything and make as many copies as you need.
3) I pay monthly to use Scribd. This is a great site to read books or find sheet music for students. It is well worth the $8.00 monthly fee for the convenience of having so many resources at your fingertips.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This is the best book for entrepreneurs and people in a position of authority. It is not a manipulation book. It is a self-improvement book with a wealth of information on how to treat people who work for you or with you. The information is about becoming a more genuine and sincere person and an efficient leader. It explains how to bring out the best in people and how to encourage them to work hard because you value their opinions and knowledge. The book teaches you to be a better listener and less self-absorbed. Dale Carnegie explains that if employees feel valued and happy they will do their best for you. I personally have seen too many people in a position of authority try to dictate to others when the authority person knows nothing about the employee’s job or education. I think everyone in the work force should read this amazing book.

What is your favorite quote?

I have many favorite quotes but these three popped into my mind:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus Christ
“When the going gets tough, the tough reinvent.” RuPaul
“Instead of worrying about what people say of you, why not spend time trying to accomplish something they will admire.” Dale Carnegie

Key Learnings:

  • Developing your own style and establishing connections are necessary for success. Don’t be a follower- be a leader.
  • The Kodaly Method of teaching music is a way for everyone to learn to read and hear music as everyone learns to read and speak a language.
  • Treat employees with respect and allow them to have ownership and creativity in their work and they will do their best for you. But also have your business protected by defining the employee responsibilities in a legal contract.
  • Use ethical business practices. Don’t take cheap shortcuts. Go the extra mile to help your clients and they will always be there to support you and spread your great reputation.
  • Effective advertising helps to grow your business.
  • Be aware of too much stress and how it can harm you.