Making the Most of “Potential Student” Interviews

This morning I had a “meet the potential student” interview. You know these types of appointments. The parent brings their child to your studio to meet you and to discuss the possibility of taking lessons. You chat, you get to know each other, discuss books, lesson history, personalities, and the list goes on.

I’ll be honest. These “interviews” are not something I particularly enjoy doing.

While the parent comes under the guise of simply wanting to meet, I know that the real reason they are coming is to check me out; to see if I am a good enough teacher for their child, to probe me with dozens of questions, and sometimes, to get a sample lesson.

The ego inside of me, being the quick defender it is, usually responds to these appointments with a mental “What? They’re not going to just automatically sign up for lessons? I have to prove myself?”

Upon checking my attitude while preparing for today’s interview/meeting, I was taken back to the summer of 1999. I had just finished junior college and was applying to get into a 4 year school. I was about to experience my own such interview, but where I was instead the student, not the teacher…

I was busy working a summer job and awaiting college acceptance letters, and decided I needed to keep up my piano skills – since I would be continuing on as a junior music student, hopefully either in the Fall or Winter semester.

In an effort to do this, I sought out a piano teacher from the college that I was awaiting acceptance into.

Having just come from a junior college where my teacher was the Dean of Piano Studies, I automatically assumed I was prime material for one of the top college professors at my soon-to-be new school.

Oh how incredibly wrong I was.

The following 2 weeks consisted of me placing phone call after phone call to various piano professors in the music department, only to be subsequently directed to another teacher.

“I don’t accept non-students.”  or “I only take piano performance majors who are seniors.” or “You could not afford me.” were some of the answers I received.  One even told me, in so many words, that while I may have been “big fish” at my junior college I just a small guppy at a 4 year school.

One could say, that I had started at the top of the totem pole and was nearing the bottom, and running out of options. Fast. And I was starting to feel a tad bit of hopelessness.

Then, finally, I made contact with a teacher who agreed to meet with me. Excitedly I scribbled down the directions to his teaching studio at the school. Our appointment was to be on a Friday, late in the afternoon.

The day came, and I gathered my books, drove to the school, parked and started walking up to the Music Building. I walked in the door and looked around and noticed that his studio number was down a level.

So down the stairs I went. 

And then another floor.

And another.

I passed what I thought was the bottom floor which had the practice rooms. But nope. 

Down another.

I finally reached the basement. I looked down at the piece of paper with his studio number. Sure enough, this was the right place. 

I proceeded to walk down a floor-to-ceiling cement covered hallway with bright fluorescent hanging lights. At the end of the hallway it was dark, and I was really hoping that I wouldn’t have to venture down that far. I could hear each step echo as I walked.

Then, I saw a door with a window and a light on inside. I peeked in and saw a small grand piano and a man inside. 

Feeling nervous, but excited, I knocked.

“Enter.”, said the man with a thick Italian accent.

I went inside and introduced myself. He didn’t say much, but went straight on to ask me what I was going to play for him. Yep, I already pretty much felt like I was wasting his time.

“The Muchynski’s Scherzo”, I replied as I proceeded to get my music out of my bag.

“You will not your music. Play.” He ordered.

Okaaaaaaay, I thought to myself as I sat down at the piano. Good thing I had this one memorized.

I inhaled a deep breath, paused to realize how much I felt like I was playing for a competition more than a potential student interview, and then proceeded to play my piece. 

I managed to get through about half way through my song and then heard, “I have heard enough. I’ll take you. These are my fees. When can you start.” (with no question mark at the end of that).

But wait, I don’t know if I want to take from him yet though…but then again he is my last choice, I thought.

I looked down at the paper he gave me which included his fees. My eyes got extremely large, I gulped, then proceeded to thank him for his time and told him I would be getting back to him.

And that was the end of that. And as you probably rightfully guessed, no I did not end up taking lessons from Mr. Basement Floor Music Professor. (It turned out that I could not even afford the very last possible teacher in the school who would teach me, nor did I feel that it would have been a “good fit”. )

Despite what I think though (or how much I complain), these types of interviews are usually essential and helpful for both the teacher and parent to determine if lessons would be a good fit. Not only do I not think  Potential Student interviews need to go as quickly and awkwardly as mine did, but I believe they don’t have to be something where either party feels nervous or uncomfortable (Again, yes, thank you to ‘Mr. Basement’).

Yet oddly enough, here I am 10 years later, and find myself in a position not too different from this piano professor I met with.

Conducting student-parent interviews do take time out of my schedule for which I don’t get paid (remember the shortness of the professors conversation). 

Yes I would much rather gain students based on my merit alone, but again that is my ego speaking. (Mr. Basement automatically considered himself well qualified, yet didn’t give me the chance to ask him any questions or learn about him).

Here are a few points to remember when meeting with potential students and parents:

1. Instead of viewing the appointment as the parent interviewing you, turn it around. Remember that this is your studio, and you ultimately choose your students.

2. Have a list of questions ready that you would like to ask both the student and parent. What are their expectations from a music teacher? What are their goals with lessons? Do they want to participate in competitions (you may not provide that, while another teacher does)? 

3. Try to make the student as comfortable as possible. You want them to feel that it is a safe and fun environment.

4. Be prepared to listen to the student. Students want to shine, so allowing them to play will not only boost their confidence, but will help them realize it is okay and comfortable to play in front of you.

5. Make sure that they are aware of any studio policies that you have prior to their signing up for lessons.

6. Don’t just assume that the parents knows everything about you. Sure, they may have gotten your name from a friend who said a few nice things about you, but it might be a good idea to at least let them know a little more about your teaching history, style, expectations and maybe even some personal things if you choose (so they can get to know you).

7. Finally, just be yourself! While you may be trying extra hard to gain another student, remember that you want to be sure they are getting an accurate feel for your teaching style and personality. Otherwise, when it comes time for lessons, they may feel you were not the same teacher they met with previously. 

Hopefully some of these tips will help you out, no matter if you are a basement teacher or a top of the totem pole one. We could all use a little reminder.

Comments or more suggestions to make Potential Student Meetings more enjoyable and valuable?

About the Author

Jennifer Thomas
Jennifer is a composer, recording artist, and piano teacher from Seattle, Washington. She has been teaching the piano for 15 years, and currently maintains a small studio of 15 piano students and 2 violin students, where she encourages creativity, and fun.

In addition to teaching, she records and composes her own music, and she performs publicly. Last year she toured the northwest including sho... [Read more]


  1. Piano Lessons by QM

    Great post Jennifer. It’s always different when you put yourself in the other person’s shoes isn’t it? I too dislike the interview process but it’s a give and take thing.

  2. Dan the Music Master

    This is a timely and effective article, as I’m sure there are many teachers scrambling to get more students in these tough economic times.

  3. From the Voice of...Blog

    Thanks for the great post.

    I absolutely agree that the interview process is invaluable. I told myself that I would never be the teacher that took every body that walked through my door and so far, I love ALL my students!

    I always request the interview with the idea that we are interviewing each other and one always has an “out” should it not be a good fit.

  4. Amy M Burns

    Excellent post Jennifer! These are excellent tips for conducting a thorough and pleasant interview with perspective students!

  5. lee

    You have hit the nail on the head, this works!

  6. Ronnie

    Great article. This is also a good time to review MTH and what all it does. Ny exposing them to their own website, I find they are very impressed with the “High Tech” of my studio.

  7. michelle Payne

    Great post and very interesting story!! Thanks for the tips.

  8. lance

    While the parent comes under the guise …. This is common to a parent like me. We spend money for the skills of our children so you can expect. However, i do appreciate the teacher if i see changes in my children attitudes.

  9. deped teacher

    In Philippines there is too much number for student than teacher that you do need to please teacher with your capabilities. Parent will just leave the children to you. It is presumed that Filipino Teachers can readily trusted as person of authority.

  10. cindy Nelson

    One such appointment I had recently proved to me I should add “be sure the student has discontinued lessons with the former teacher before the interview.” I teach in student homes as well as in a music store studio. I held an interview in a home that is a 30 minute drive for me. I was to gain 2 students. I spent an hour talking with the mom and her 2 children. Things went well and we decided we were going to begin the next week. Two days later I received the call. When they told the previous teacher that they were changing teachers because they couldn’t get back to back lesson times for their children, the old studio found a time that would work! I also spent about 30 minutes in the initial phone interview with this mom. I do not like student interviews. I do not like them Sam I am! (To quote the great Dr. Suess)

  11. Amber C. White

    Thank you for the helpful reminders. While I do not enjoy interviews, I find that it is better for both me and my potential students to know what we each expect from piano lessons.

  12. Leo

    Interesting article, though I didn’t realize this was such an issue with people. I actually have never had a interview of this type. When I talk to a potential client for the first time I simply tell them the basic policies, like cost and scheduling issues, and then I simply suggest we set up an appointment for their first lesson (which they pay for). One hundred percent of the time, they are perfectly willing to do this. At their first lesson, I make it a standard 30 minute lesson, it’s not a “sample” lesson. At their first lesson I don’t waste any time discussing things with the parent about policies and procedures. I figure the best way they can tell if they have confidence in me as a teacher is to simply teach them a lesson. At the end of the lesson I hand them a copy of my contract, I point out about 4 important policies in the contract that relate to cost, payment, make-ups, etc…and I tell them if they want to sign up for regular weekly lessons, bring the contract back next time signed, with payment. This has worked for me. There have a been a few people who were a bit more difficult than that to get signed up, but I think most of the time, this simple approach will work for most clients. You might consider trying it. This method removes all the stress of being interviewed or interiewing, and you get PAID for your first meeting with the client. Prior to running my own studio, I used to work at a music store which did all the administrative work for me, I never even met the student or parent until their first lesson, at which point they were already paid for the entire first month, and as odd as it may sound, it worked out fine for most people. No offense Jennifer, but I think you may even be over-thinking the whole process of signing up someone. Not that having an interview doesn’t have it’s merits. But at least from my experience, it’s not really necessary. Of course, if anyone ever asked for an initial interview, I’d be glad to set it up, but I have yet to recieve a single request for one, in the last 5 years.

  13. Heather Korn - Korn Studio

    I LOVE Student “interviews”! I do not see what the problem is? ?These are students interested in studying WITH me…..I am not groveling for students and parents. All prospective students in my studio first get a “new student packet” it outlines my policies and my expectations and has a form for them to fill out to bring to the lesson that helps me get to know what they are looking for.

    Following their review of the information they are offered a “trial lesson” opportunity which is a 30 minute appointment at a reduced rate. The trial lesson gives the students and parents an idea what my lessons will be like and gives them an opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns. They are not obligated to commit to lessons but in my 10 years of full time private teaching only 2 or 3 have not come back.

    Do I send out a lot of “new student packets” that never take a trial lesson? You betcha!! But if they are not interested in my teaching and my expectations and policies, then I don’t want them in my studio. For the ones that are ready to learn my art, they jump on board and we all (students & parents) have a GREAT time!

  14. telemarketing

    Very nice post. Very detailed. You’ll truly know when to spot students who are interested when you see one.

  15. jihna madsh

    I can’t help nut laugh reading your post. It was not just informative, it is also entertaining.
    Seriously speaking, I am a mother of two 8 and 9 year old boys. I planned to have them placed in a studio for their rocket piano
    lesson. They opposed the idea when they saw the piano teacher, she looks so strict and nerd, my youngest almost cried when I insisted of shaking her hands.
    So I searched for other resources, until a friend gave me this site;
    according to her, this is what they used when her children were learning piano. I tried it and found that it was really helpful. Last week, my boys just finished their first major performance.
    I don’t have anything against piano teachers, it’s just that sometimes, they themselves push their students away.