By Kadee Henderson
I am a professional pianist and teacher with 25 years of experience as a performer and 7 years experience as a teacher. I began teaching at the Utah Piano Conservatory after receiving my Bachelor of Science in Integrated Studies degree (emphasis in Piano Performance and English-Creative Writing) and Associate Degree in Music. The COVID-19 pandemic shut the Utah Piano Conservatory down in June 2020, so after 5 years as a teacher and one year as the Program Director, I began my own thriving independent studio.
Being in control of your policies, schedule, and salary while having the freedom to structure lessons and recitals the way you see fit is exhilarating. Attracting and maintaining clients can be intimidating (even overwhelming!), but building a sustainable studio depends on it. Developing and maintaining your ideal clientele is always a work in progress, but these three tips will always help.
1. Form Unique Personal Bonds
Form a personal bond that is unique to each student and family. I offer a trial lesson to potential students, which I use to show them how fun and exciting learning the piano with me can be. We spend the first several minutes getting to know each other as I ask them several questions about their lives, hobbies, and interests. These questions include:
- What grade are you in?
- Where do you go to school?
- What is your favorite part about school?
- What do you like to do outside of school?
- What are your favorite summer activities?
- Do you like sports? What is your favorite sport?
- Do you like art? Do you like to draw or color?
- What is your favorite color?
- How many siblings do you have?
- What is your favorite song?
- What is your favorite movie?
- What are your favorite toys?
These help break the ice by helping the student relax and become more comfortable around you, especially if you point out that you have some interests in common! I then take the opportunity to start teaching them some basic fundamentals, so they can get a taste of my teaching style. This also gives me an opportunity to see how they respond to instruction and make any necessary tweaks in order to reach them better.
If they proceed to enroll in lessons, I take their answers to these questions and use them to create games and activities that will appeal to them and aid in their learning. Do they like basketball? We play the Basketball Note-Reading game! Do they like to draw or color? Then we have various drawing and coloring activities that help them learn music theory. Do they like cute little stuffed animals? Then we bring out Beethoven Bear and Mozart Mouse from Alfred’s Music for Little Mozarts collection and learn about the different octaves on the piano or the volume of different dynamics. Do they like to race? Then we play games that involve a stopwatch, such as correctly identifying and playing as many notes as possible in less than one minute. Find any and every connection you can make with the student and relate it to learning music. Students realize that music is fun and parents appreciate you taking the time to understand their children and figure out how to best work with them.
2. Make Your Lessons Different
Each student is different– each lesson should be different, too. Bring your unique expertise to the lesson. Method books and materials are meant to be an aid, but not the entire learning experience. Tailor lessons to suit the students’ goals (or parents’ goals, if the student is young), and don’t be afraid to improvise in lessons. Encourage their curiosity. Allow students to explore their instrument and what it does, such as the function of each of the pedals on the piano. Some of my students thoroughly enjoy challenges and love to look at what is coming up in their books. If they see a dynamic marking or an articulation marking that they don’t recognize 10 pages ahead of where they are now, allow them to ask rather than telling them to wait until later to learn about it. Giving them something to look forward to keeps that spark of excitement in them. When parents come to pick up their child at the end of the lesson, they love it when their child excitedly tells them what they are (or will be) learning.
During the course of the lesson, you may find their needs differ from the lesson plan you came with. For example, you planned to teach them the names of the white keys on the piano, but you discover they need a review of finger numbers. Don’t be afraid to hold off on what you had planned if it serves them better to do so. Students and parents alike will appreciate your flexibility and care for what is truly best for them. When parents and students are happy with the instruction you provide them, they will tell their family and friends. This likely will result in multiple great referrals to your studio, giving your business the boost it needs!
3. Network and Build Real Relationships
Get out there and network. As private teachers, we spend a lot of time in our studios alone – developing lesson plans, creating/gathering engaging games and activities, and maintaining our own practice schedules between teaching lessons. Connect and chat with fellow business owners, both in the music field and out, and let them know what you do. But don’t just try and sell how great you are. Be personable and friendly with fellow professionals you meet. Take an interest in getting to know them. Create a solid reputation as an expert at what you do by not being afraid to share your unique ideas, perspectives, and experiences. Join local music teacher associations and participate in community events. Most of my referrals have come from music store owners and fellow teachers who either don’t have openings in their schedules or teach other instruments. By building a good working relationship with these individuals, my private studio enrollment has blossomed.
The work you do speaks for itself – and it speaks volumes. Though it takes time to build a thriving business, never underestimate the power of forming authentic bonds with students, parents, and fellow professionals. Sowing the seeds of expertise, wisdom, flexibility, and care will inevitably produce the fruit you seek.
About the Author: Kadee Henderson is a classically trained award-winning pianist and works as a private studio teacher and collaborative pianist. She appreciates connecting with colleagues and learning helpful tips and tricks from each other. Follow her on Instagram at @pianogirl361 and subscribe to her newsletter.