In a recent customer survey, we asked about the current challenges and opportunities presented to music teachers. It may not surprise you to learn that the impact from the pandemic continues to be felt by teachers. Student re-engagement and the ability to sustain interest and commitment to music lessons, practice and exams is an ongoing challenge teachers face.
Around 60% of the survey respondents told us that students were still prioritising a focus towards other subjects, as they continue to play catch-up after the extended period of disruption to lessons. For many who experienced significant disruption to their music education, whether in a school or private teaching environment, it has often proven difficult to find the motivation to re-engage after the loss of momentum and sense of progression they were previously experiencing.
Attracting new customers (students) is of course a key element for stability and future growth of a business or department, but it is widely accepted that retaining your customers for as long as possible is a far more cost-effective way to run than having to constantly find and bring new customers onboard.
We asked some experienced and successful music teachers for their tips and advice on how to keep students engaged in lessons for longer, and to keep your business or music department thriving.
Gareth has been teaching in schools and colleges privately for the last 16 years and is the director of live events company ‘Professional Play Music’. Gareth has also been an examiner for Trinity Rock & Pop since 2018 and specialises in 1-1 sight reading and music theory classes across London and Hertfordshire. Despite the pressures of the pandemic, he was able to retain all his current students and grow new business.
Here are Gareth’s top tips:
1. Keep it fun!
It’s important to start with a clean slate with all students when you first meet them and understand their needs and desires to improve. We all start from point A, so it’s important to find out what type of music students are genuinely interested in, what styles they can already play and try to develop their creativity. Discover any musicians they aspire to play like and assess what level they’re playing at. If you teach students what they want to learn, they’ll always want to learn.
2. Be empathetic
We’re all students of music, and sometimes it’s not always easy to play that song in the charts you heard today or the sheet music you’ve always wanted to play. Offer encouragement and support, and be kind when students are struggling. In my experience students will gain trust with you if you are positive and patient and have an upbeat energy.
Whether it’s reading chart music for the very first time, or studying towards a Grade 8 exam, find ways to keep students interested by asking questions e.g., is that an easy phrase for you to play? Are you enjoying the piece of music? Can you achieve the dynamics consistently through the passage work, or does it feel difficult at this stage?
3. Stay relevant
I currently teach in two primary schools and a college, with students ranging from age 4 to 18 years old. I could be teaching the newest Disney song to a complete beginner in one lesson, and then some complex jazz from Hank Levy’s ‘Whiplash’ soundtrack in the lesson after, with a more advanced student. Find out what makes your student happy and find the fire that makes them play from the heart and leaves them with a smile.
According to www.everynoise.com there are nearly 6000 genres of music! Try exploring new and exciting styles with your students on Spotify, YouTube, even TikTok.
At Trinity, we are seeing more and teachers who have been teaching classical and jazz now realising the potential of also offering the Trinity Rock & Pop syllabus to their students. Singing, piano and guitar students who perhaps are losing interest in the traditional repertoire are feeling excited and enthused by the chance to work with more contemporary songs they know and love. Find out more at trinityrock.com
4. Date the work you set and assess the next session.
It’s always important to leave a trail of the work you’ve covered in any lesson. It’s important to discuss improvements they’ve made since the last lesson, and what they have learnt. Students and parents will always ask, ‘so how are they doing?’.
5. Be meticulous
I’ve learnt a wealth of skills as an examiner. I joined the panel in 2018 and have assessed hundreds of candidates all over the globe. It’s important to me to be aware of clarity and depth in my own techniques, and the way I am as a teacher. Stay meticulous and avoid any negativity when giving feedback with sensitive students.
6. Break songs up into smaller bite sizes
Sometimes songs are really long and have tedious frameworks. Break lessons up into bite sized pieces for students and set achievable goals. Listen back each week and make an assessment.
Repetition is important in music but staying too long on the exercise at hand can be draining, regardless of any age. So, break your lessons into smaller clusters. This helps your students maintain their attention span.
7. Go above and beyond!
Have high standards and a duty of care for everyone you encounter.
I send students musical recordings to help them develop their general performances or develop their exam pieces. This takes up lots of time sometimes, and not always possible, but if you can find 5-10 mins to record yourself playing the song in time with the backing track, students can save this and practice in their own time the way they play the song. It’s a personal and effective method, and everyone should appreciate this.
8. Be friendly and professional
This has always served me lots of repeat business over my career. I must adapt my teaching style constantly with the broad range of styles and skills I teach from week to week, but I understand the needs of everyone I train and what the short term and long-term goals are. I’m genuinely interested in improving everyone I work with, and certainly the Trinity Rock & Pop syllabus and performance exams has something for everyone.
9. Encouragement and positivity
Put your students at ease from the onset and be excited about their progress. Seeing my students achieve distinctions in their exams is incredibly rewarding. Learning is a shared experience. If you engage your students by genuinely being excited about their achievements and how well they’re doing, and they’re going to keep coming back.
Becky is the founder and director of Becky Dell Music Academy based in southeast London where she teaches piano, singing and music theory. Classically trained as a percussionist at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music, Becky graduated straight into a role in the famous West End show STOMP! and worked as a free-lance professional musician before deciding to set up her academy in 2012.
Becky shared with us some of the activities the academy team have pursued in recent years to help with student retention and attracting new students:
1. Get the experts in
We have made a concerted effort to approach experts in the field to inspire and encourage the students in their musical journey. Providing free workshops in areas such a songwriting, working with two talented songwriters from the local community have been immensely popular. Through a collaboration with Dr. Uchenna Ngwe of Trinity Laban Conservatoire, our students will soon have the opportunity to explore and learn more about the Afro-British history in British classical music. Providing exciting new opportunities for students to expand their knowledge and skills keeps them coming back for more.
2. Embrace your communities
To support those students who may feel underrepresented in society, we hosted our very first queer night which we found energised and uplifted the local teenage queer community. Music education is so often seen through the lens of a traditional western classical approach and can often inadvertently feel exclusionary to particular communities who don’t see their place within it. Embracing the many cultures and influences and talents of the local community can open the doors to a whole new audience of willing students.
3. More than just the music
I feel that teaching music often feels like two-thirds music, one-third life coaching. Now more than ever, the teaching room, whether it is in a studio, a classroom or in the home can be a safe, positive and nurturing place for a generation that has gone through unprecedented experiences. Acknowledging your opportunity to perhaps once a week check in with your students and show you care about their wellbeing can go a long way to building a lasting and productive relationship.
We have recognised the vital importance of self-care as teachers and put in place support structures to encourage staff to look after their own well-being. Students need happy and energised teachers to be inspired by! Good programmes of continued personal development have also driven this initiative for us.
4. No pressure
With some students still feeling very overwhelmed and not back to a full capacity yet, providing opportunities for students to get involved where they want to and to what level they are comfortable with is key to keeping them engaged. We think about what speaks to them. What inspires them when they are low on energy and motivation? We dig deeper into their needs and try to offer the opportunities to meet them.
5. Nurture the soul
We know music has the power to create intense emotion, enhance a celebration and create memorable experiences. At the academy, me and the team are always looking for those opportunities to ‘nurture the soul’ of their students. Putting on concerts through the year, such as at Christmas or summertime, gives students something to get involved in and share their talents to friends, family and peers and the wider community. These types of events also provide a showcase for our teaching and can lead to new interest from parents and prospective students.
There is lots of great advice online from music teachers as to how they retain and attract new students. Here are just a few examples we have picked out that you may find useful:
Angela Beeching is a successful musician, teacher, author and consultant who works with music teachers, ensembles and music institutions. She suggests that not enough teachers are considering the effectiveness of their teaching bio page and what it needs to do. Prospective students (and parents) want to know what you are actually like to work with, not just how many degrees you may have, or how many years you have been teaching. Read more and see a good example bio on her website.
This article from 2014 features a number of useful ideas for student retention, some of which are echoed by Gareth as still relevant today. It highlights that possibly the most important aspect to consider is students who make social connections in music will study for longer periods and progress further than students who do not.
Dave Simon’s Music Enterprise features an article on how to improve student retention and includes an interview with a music school business coach where they discuss rethinking the approach to lessons and teaching students to be good lesson takers – accomplished by building a bridge between the home and lesson experience.
Musicteacher.com provide a series of tips on how to attract more students both in-person and online. Importantly it highlights TikTok as a potential source of new business. The rise of this social platform, particularly amongst a teenage audience has been phenomenal, and it offers a great way to showcase your skills and advertise your business.