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Losing Students

I read somewhere that 85% of music students will quit lessons within two years!

This astounds me. It is so rare for my students to quit and yet so many music teachers are having this problem: How to retain your students?

A Personal Story

When my son was around 8 years old, he began to express an interest in going to sleep-away camp. We were surprised as he has usually been a bit shy and slow to meet new friends. But this was good! Maybe he was breaking out of his shell.  

The thing about sleep-away camp, it’s probably more stressful for the parents than the kids. Parents have separation anxiety!  

The YMCA has rules for no electronic devices, no phone calls, no text messages, not even email because they know it will only promote homesickness and stress. But as parents, that was hard!

What got us through the stress were the daily postings to a camp website where they would post pictures and summaries of the day. It gave us a sense of confidence that our son was being cared for and we could see for ourselves when he was engaged and happy. It was providing information to their clients.

So why not do something similar for music lessons?   

Music Instruction As A Service

Music instruction is a service business. By framing it as this, you can start to ask questions like, what else can I do to offer a richer level of service to my clients?  

I send home a weekly email that details what we worked on, what they should be practicing and even links to videos I’ve created in the lesson or YouTube videos of the pieces being performed. I’ve been told that this is one of the best parts of my service.

I started using Music Teacher’s Helper a little over six years ago. Before that, I was cobbling together a bunch of other services like Google Sheets, Gmail, PayPal and an assortment of databases on my local hard drive. It worked, but the upkeep was a real pain. Initially, I figured the Music Teacher’s Helper (MTH) billing management and automatic email reminders would be all I would be using. But over the years, I’ve discovered the real power is the lesson notes. This is how I send home the aforementioned emails. By using the MTH system, both I and the client gets a copy and they also can log in and review the entire history at any time.

Process

My process is like this. Each teaching day, I check my MTH automated “Daily Summary” email, which arrives at 5:15am, to see my schedule and what was taught in the last lesson. I do a lesson prep on a paper template of my own design noting what I am going to work on this day for each student.

When the student arrives, I am mentally prepared to pick up right where we left off in the previous lesson. I don’t know what I would do without my lesson notes! During the lesson, I write down what was actually done and what I have assigned for the next week. What I planned to do and what actually happens differ often!  

Later that evening, glass of wine in hand, I sit and type up the day’s lesson notes and send them out to the parents. It has become a very efficient workflow.

So what are the results?

I just went through my student logs on Music Teacher’s Helper and I have several students with lesson notes going back over six years! My average student seems to have been with me for 4-5 years. It is rare to have an opening on my roster and when I do get one, I have usually filled it within hours.

Is my success all because of this weekly email? No, but it’s a part of it. I encourage you to start thinking of your lessons as a true service business. Think of ways to offer that extra bit that keeps your students and clients happy, coming back and referring all their friends and family.

What other ideas do you have for serving your clients? I look forward to your comments below.

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Photo Credit

When I was studying music in college I taught lessons from any unused practice room that I could find. Usually after K-12 schools were finished for the day the stuffy white rooms would start to clear out as well.

This set up was far from ideal, however. My instrument was perched on top of the room’s out-of-tune old piano and students (who were often too short to reach the top of the clunky chordophone) were forced to unpack in one of the room’s dusty corners. If parents wanted to observe the lessons they had to find whatever space was available and dodge flying bows.

As I have started to break into teaching in the real world, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good studio good, beyond the teacher, of course. What can we change about our studios to make them inviting and encouraging to students? Or if we’re moving into a new studio, what should we look for before we sign a lease? When 50% of young musicians quit after two years, it’s clear that we need to grab onto every advantage we can in order to maintain student interest.

(1) Consider your windows. There’s no simple answer to the question of windows in studio rooms, but it’s much better to think about how you want them than to ignore the issue. Some students will be energized by sunlight and a view of the outdoors, but others may be easily distracted and dispense with your lesson in favor of a bird that’s flying by.

In my experience younger students tend to be the easily distracted ones, while older more self-directed students are able to avoid the distractions and stay upbeat with the aid of some natural light. However, it’s up to you to judge what’s appropriate for each student. Consider investing in some curtains so that you can change the room on a fly.

(2) Think about your position in the room. If you’re like me then you’ll be all over the place to observe the student and watch his or her technique from every angle, but you’ll always default back to a specific spot. Maybe you’ll have a chair there, or a desk, depending on your situation, but one thing is clear: you need to give your students room to breathe.

No one likes to have their teacher breathing down their neck and we need to remember that we can often be intimidating to our students. Give your student some space. You’ll both be happier.

(3) Spice up your studio with some music-themed decoration. My viola teacher in my high school years had a Beethoven action figure that gave the room a sort of fun vibe. That’s not the only way to get your students excited about music, though. Maybe think about a poster of a famous composer or perhaps a page of one of your instrument’s great concertos. Reminding students that they’ll be playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto one day can inspire and motivate them through difficult times.

A few inspiring measures can go a long way.

A few inspiring measures can go a long way.

Perhaps a life size cutout of a famous violinist is what your studio calls for. What student doesn’t want Jascha Heifetz’s stony gaze scrutinizing their every note? Or maybe a get a cutout of yourself so that you can take a well-deserved nap.

(4) Give your students some space to unpack their instrument, resin their bow, or do whatever else they need to do in order to get set up for the lesson. Don’t repeat my mistake and stand idly by while your student slides their case along the floor, picking up dust and God knows what else along the way. All you need here is a low table, which can double as a place to keep your lesson box. That one investment can go a long way.

(5) Keep photos of your old students around. Every student who sticks with their instrument after they’ve stopped taking lessons is a story worth telling. On top of inspiring your current students to stick with it, having a reminder of your successes around can help you keep going through the rough days.

(6) Get yourself some sort of audio setup. This can be as simple as a pair of mobile speakers to hook up to your laptop or phone. As long as you’re getting your student to listen to some of the music for your instrument, you’re on the right track. I’m reminded of the story of a young Lynn Harrell, who listened to the records of Janos Starker for inspiration in his youth. Having your own equipment “in house,” so to speak, is more important than it seems here, since many students won’t have the resources or the motivation to go out and find recordings on their own.

These are some of my ideas, but I’m not the perfect teacher. Let me know how you make your teaching studios exciting in the comments!

About the author:

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Nick Cesare is a violist and teacher from Boise, Idaho. He has a degree in viola performance from Boise State University, where he learned that the viola belongs in the left hand and the bow in the right. When he’s not practicing, Nick likes to write about music, bike in the Boise foothills, and cook.

 

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MTH has the wonderful option to send Lesson Notes after each lesson. Although designed to simply let parents know what’s assigned or happening at lessons, this is an opportunity to save yourself time and keep your customers informed!

Answering ten unnecessary emails = wasted time!

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