The new student is usually excited, nervous, full of potential, and ready to play. They may come with experience or they may not. They probably have a few preconceived ideas as to what happens in a music lesson. They probably have at least a little bit of knowledge from their school music classes. They may be beginners or they may be advanced. They may have bad habits; hopefully not. They may be experienced players, looking to hone their skills. Regardless of knowledge and experience, the first lesson is critical – not in ensuring musical success, but in helping your new student feel welcome and ready to learn music. While every studio and every teacher is different, here are a few things that I do to make my new students feel welcome.
Have a seat. Usually the first thing I do is introduce myself to the student and his or her parents, and then usher the student right to the piano bench. This is ‘their spot’ and I want them to be comfortable in it.
Welcome packets. The second thing I do is hand my student a welcome packet. The packet varies slightly depending on the age and ability of the player, but it usually consists of a 3 ring binder, studio policies, business cards, brochures, a few assignment sheets, and some getting started materials.
Get them playing ASAP. As soon as I can make it happen, I have the student open up their binder and start playing. This is a great time to have the student play any little ditties they’ve learned from their friends or taught themselves. No matter what or how they play, I find something to praise. I don’t correct any flaws at this time. The point here is to get them feeling comfortable playing in front of me; I want them to know right away that I am there to help them and encourage them.
Talk about the welcome materials. After I listen to the student play, I usually go over the studio policies briefly and at their level. If the parents are there, I mention to the parents that they should look over the policies, too. At this point, I use the binder to talk about hand position and finger numbering, show them a music staff, and talk about the assignment sheet. I have them play again, testing out hand position and finger numbers.
Get their info. The next thing I do, if I don’t already have it, is get as much info as I can. I ask for the usual – name, address, telephone, email, etc. I also try to find out why the student wants to learn to play, what they want to learn, and what their interests are. What kind of music does the student like? Are they into sports? Art? Language? I also take note if the student is shy, outgoing, serious, quiet,etc. These are things that will help me relate to the student over time, as well as tailor lessons to their needs and wants.
Lesson book. I usually include the lesson book in the binder, and we go over it at this point. Usually, we open the book and play the very first thing. Then I explain what to practice and how to practice. I give them a song or two to practice at home, but not too much. I want to make sure that their first week is a slam dunk so they feel good about coming back and playing for me again.
A welcome present. The last thing I do is present the student with a little welcome present. This is to help them feel like they are a real pianist, even if they are just beginning their musical journey. This year, I’ve been giving out silicone bracelets that say, “Piano is my forte” along with piano pencils. Not only do the students’ love presents, they’re great for advertising to their friends, too.
I always try to keep that first lesson moving fast, but also allowing for the new student to ask questions or tell me anything they want. I keep it lighthearted, fun, and get the student playing as much as possible during the time. They always seem to keep coming back, ready to play some more. How do you make your students feel welcome?