To keep your music program going strong,  student retention is powerful. There are three basic reasons why retention matters. 

1.) Retention brings Financial Stability to the Music Studio

In the independent music studio,  our income is dependent on recurring students. The ability to keep students for the long -term holds obvious importance. It goes without saying that we need to keep students in our studio to pay our salaries.   From a monetary standpoint, student retention encompasses the value the student brings in total income. This is based on the full amount of time they stay in our studio from beginning to end. For instance, if a student pays $100 a month, and stays in the studio for 12 months; The retention value of that student is $1200. 

Adding new students to our studio continually can be expensive and exhausting. Keeping the roster full can be costly if it requires constant marketing.  Retention brings financial stability to a music studio. Referrals from happy clients bring free advertising to the studio providing another cost savings. These referrals can lead to a desirable wait-list for the instructor. Happy students that have found their place in the studio often bring in new students based upon their testimony and recommendation of the quality of the program. The program gains strength as new students are added that come with a measure of trust from that referral.

2.) Retention Creates a Higher Quality Music Student

Financial security is only one important aspect of music student retention. Another important benefit of retention is the quality of the student that it provides to your studio. A student that is committed to their instrument, and enjoys learning from their teacher can be a real pleasure to teach. If they are excited about their lessons and what they are learning, they are more likely to practice outside of class. A growing student brings joy to the studio. 

In contrast, new students need a different level of support than students that we have already developed an ongoing relationship. Each new student that comes in has their own personality, learning style, and habits (or lack of. ) This can be an added stress that is costly to both the physical health and emotional stamina of the teacher if the new student’s needs are particularly demanding.  A revolving door of students is a perpetual stop and start that is unstable. Constantly starting new students is an interruption to the harmony of the studio and the teacher’s overall well-being. All of our students take energy from us, but new students (especially transfer students) often take more. 

A huge benefit of having a music studio is that we can potentially have the same student over many years. We can really foster and measure their growth over time.  We build a unique relationship with the student and their families. We are in a  partnership together. Our aim is for the success of that student.  We are invested in each other’s well-being. This level of care and trust facilitates a higher quality student. Together we move past the try-it-out phase to musicianship, and the relationship is significant.

High-quality students that have personal excitement and buy-in to their musical growth naturally inspire other students.  Excited students are contagious. Newer students can be inspired and motivated by hearing the more experienced students play well. Positive peer influence is powerful.  Committed students help to encourage new and uncertain students helping them to avoid stalling out and potentially quitting.

3) Retention means Less Review and More Personalized Learning

As long-term mentors, we have a significant impact on the lives of our students. We are on a journey with each student. We get to be with them throughout all of the peaks and valleys of this journey. This long-term relationship puts us at an unusual advantage within the education system as a whole.

Most students in their younger elementary years in public schools have a classroom teacher that changes from year-to-year. The classroom teacher must spend significant time getting to know each student and how they learn. They must also spend quite a bit of time at the beginning of each school year reviewing concepts that may have been lost over the Summer Break.

Although middle and high schools have more specialized teachers for each subject, they have even less first-hand knowledge of how the student learns best. It is even harder for these teachers to build a lasting mentorship relationship. The student is often only with them for a semester.  These instructors just don’t have enough time with each student to really foster long-term growth that is personalized. They have a very short window to get to know each student and that makes differentiated learning difficult.

As specialized music teachers in a private setting, we have the benefit of knowing our students over a long-term relationship. We can get to know them including their strengths and weaknesses. We can differentiate their learning and can cater to each student’s pace and learning style. As we get to know our students, we can adapt our teaching style to their ever-changing needs. This is possible because of the beauty of retention. 

Be Intentional with all of your Communication to Encourage Retention

 We have determined that retention is important to both the music studio and the student’s overall growth.  However, retention doesn’t just happen magically. An instructor must be strategic about retention before the student is even enrolled in the studio. From the onset of the relationship, the instructor must be strategic into how they will foster retention. This attention will greatly determine the overall quality and value that the student will bring to the studio.

Marketing Materials begin the Retention Process by Building Trust

Retention begins with the attraction phase of bringing new students into our studio. This starts with the first contact with parents and students from our website and marketing materials. Are they professional? Do they convey what we are about from the beginning? What differentiates your studio that would make them not only want to join but allow you to be their mentor? These materials should be designed to develop trust for your potential clients that you will be a good fit for their needs. Because I want to lesson the revolving door in my studio. I purposely publish my tuition on my studio website and in my fliers. When people contact me about lessons they will have in many cases already weeded themselves out concerning tuition cost and my expectations. This can extinguish potential conflicts before they are started. 

Progress Reports 

Progress reports and consistent check-ins with parents are critical to keeping a pulse on how each student is relating to their music studies.  Communication with the parents helps us determine if the student knows how to practice at home,  and to the effectiveness of their practice. It can also help us to know if a student is starting to stall out on their progress. Communicating with parents and the student can help us put measures in place to help them progress, and prevent burn-out.

Progress reports don’t necessarily have to be an old-fashioned report card. They can be emails phone calls, texts, and quick visits before and after a lesson. The parent and the instructor must keep a running friendly conversation. New students need a different level of support than students that we already have a relationship with. Progress reports can also come in the form of a survey that is sent out to parents from time-to-time. Although this information may not be as personal as a phone call. It can give parents or students a format to let you know honestly if they feel supported. Surveys can provide important information into what parents and students are really wanting in their studio experience overall.

Allow Longterm Students to Have Input into their Focus of Music Study

As mentioned before, high-quality students have developed ownership over their music studies. As instructors, we should encourage them to in any way that maintains their excitement for learning. This means giving long-term students choices about what they want to learn. Certainly, as an instructor, you may have your core curriculum that is fixed. But as a student stays with you for the long-term, they need to have more input into the direction of their studies. This will give them a feeling of ownership. They may want to dive deeper into a certain genre or begin composing. Or they may want to learn more about music theory, or they may want to make a recording or a video of their performances. They may simply want to play more fast pieces than slow ones. Giving our students options that they pick, will greatly enhance their motivation. Perhaps the student wants to perform more in their community and need you to assist them in that. Students who make their own choices are intrinsically motivated.  Motivated students that have ownership over their study, and feel a camaraderie with their instructor, stick around for a long time.  It’s our job to make sure that music lessons stay exciting and don’t get stale. This comes from allowing our students to design their course of action, encourage their goal setting, and move from a teacher role into a coaching role over time.

Retention matters, so let’s make it a priority in our studios. The life of our studios certainly depends on it.

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