One of the most important things that music teachers tend to ignore is how long they are keeping each of their students. As music teachers and school owners, we are constantly focusing on getting new students and developing new marketing materials to bring clients to our businesses. Keeping the flow of students coming in to your business is great, but if you are not keeping your students for very long, then it can be a big waste of time and effort. I track the retention of all my teachers at my school. Shooting for longer periods of time (3-5 years), greatly reduces the amount of marketing needed to keep your schedule full.
If your average student retention is 12 months, you will need to find a new student every month to stay at your current enrollment. If your retention is 3 months, you will need to find 4 new students every month to keep your enrollment at the same level. If your retention is 24 months, you need to find a new student every other month. Can you see now, how working on retention can help your business?
So how do you increase the overall retention of the students you are working with?
1. Keep A Detailed Log
So many teachers wing each of their lessons. They have no plan for their students and will just see how the lesson goes. I understand that sometimes lessons can take their own turn depending on the students needs, but having a general plan of what you and your student will be working on will give your student confidence in your teaching and their lessons.
Additionally, when students are feeling a bit disappointed by their progress, you can show them your detailed log with all of the skills, songs and techniques they have learned over the course of their lessons. Most students are impressed that you have taken to time to keep track of everything. Not only that, it gives them a boost to see all of the skills they have learned since starting.
2. Check In With Student Goals Every 3 Months
As students learn new things, their goals and expectations of the lessons will change. When most students walk through my door, they have absolutely no clue why they are taking lessons. They are not sure what their goals are because they do not know whether they even have the skill to play an instrument.
After the first 3 months of lessons, I do a goal check-in with students. They usually have a better idea about where they want their lessons to go, what songs they want to learn and where they want their lessons to go. If students are still not sure, I will ask them very specific questions. For example, with a gutar lesson I may ask a student, “Would you like to learn more complex rhythms?” “Do you have an interest in finger picking?” “Are you interested in learning a guitar solo?” And so forth and so on. This sometimes helps student decide what they are really interested in.
Keep checking in with your student about their goals and make sure to write them down as they evolve.
3. Lessons Are About The Student, Not How Good Your Are
Students honestly do not care about your skills or how great of a musician you are. All they care about is that you can teach them to do the things they want to do, so do not waste their lesson time showing off your cool skills. Remember, it’s about what they want to learn, not what is on your personal agenda.
Keep in mind each student is different. Not everyone is going to be into improvising. Most of my female acoustic guitar students just want to play and sing songs. So we do not delve into scales and improv as much as a would an electric guitar player that wants to rock a solo. Not everyone is going to love music theory, but I will try and work things in in bits and pieces. I will wait for a moment when they ask a question that requires a music theory answer like: Why is it called an A7 chord? This gives me the opportunity to say, “That’s a great question. To answer that, we are going to have to learn a little music theory.”
I will not spend weeks teaching something the student does not like. Students need to always feel motivated about lessons. If they are not motivated, they practice less. When they practice less, they make less progress. When they make less progress, they get frustrated and quit lessons. This is why the 3 month check-in mentioned above is so important. It allows you to get feedback on how you are teaching the student and correct your teaching approach if you are heading in the wrong direction.
4. Make The Student Feel Like They Are Part Of A Community
Probably one of the biggest things you can do to increase student retention is to make students feel like they are a part of something. Hold student hang outs where student can meet up to play music together, or even just meet up at a bowling alley to have fun. Activities with your students do not always have to be music related. Hang outs like this allow students to meet other students that are just like them.
I recently held a Band Program at my school for adult players. Every single student asked the same questions, “Will I be the worst player?” or “Is everyone else going to be better than me?” Students really do feel like they are alone sometimes in the learning process. Meeting other students that are at the same level is encouraging and creates a sense of community. All those band students have given rave reviews about their experience and most of them have only taken lessons for about a year. They can’t wait until the next one.
Create little get togethers with your students, and you will create a community where students look forward not only to their lessons, but hanging out with the other students.
5. Build More Personal Relationships
As you can see, a lot of these tips have nothing to do with actual lesson material. Teaching lessons is more about pschology than the actual lesson. Every student has a different reason for taking lessons. Learn what those reasons are, and learn about your students’ lives outside of the classroom. Remembering that little Sally had a birthday party last week means a lot. Asking an adult how life is going gives them an opportunity to vent frustrations. I sometimes joke that some of my students think I’m a psychiatrist, but I know it means I have connected with them. When your students feel comfortable opening up to you, you know you have done a good job of building a relationship.
Always strive for the best in your students, but do not forget to build amazing relationships with your customers along the way.