Encouraging Summer Piano Lessons

 

by John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
Rio Rancho, NM USA

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eachers sometimes write us asking what they might do to preserve their studio numbers and income, as well as their students' skills, when students want to "take the summer off" from lessons. Teachers are facing at least two problems here. The first is that students often want a break from lessons and practice so they can have "fun" during the summer. The second is that parents sometimes want a hiatus from paying for lessons and encouraging kids to practice and attend lessons regularly, so that they can vacation with the kids. Some teachers also intentionally cease giving lessons during the summer, thereby providing implicit, and, perhaps, unintended, support for the idea that it's might be desirable to take the summers off from piano lessons. Setting aside the issue of the teacher's income, summer vacations from practice and lessons can result in serious losses in skills and memory for many students. In this article, I'll provide a long list of suggestions for how the piano teacher who wants to teach during the summer might encourage existing students to continue lessons and even give some impetus for new students to start.

 

keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)The teacher must impart the idea that the studio remains a dynamic place during the summer, with activities and events that clients will want to be a part of.

 

Use the summer well!

Following are a number of studio-tested ideas that may help the piano teacher to encourage people to continue or take lessons during the summer, rather than having lessons drop to the end of a long list of priorities. These are listed with similar subjects together, but not prioritized.

  1. Make your students and parents aware that stopping lessons during the summer is undesirable from a pedagogical and a skills maintenance standpoint. You can do this briefly in your policy and at greater length in your studio newsletter or other studio communications. Explain all the consequences of stopping lessons and the ground that has to be recovered when lessons are resumed. Make it clear that, if parents' money is not to be wasted, students must continue, at the least, to practice during summers off from lessons. This removes one of the prime motivators for parents in having kids take summers off. Make sure that you make (or renew) these arguments enough in advance of summer (say, 2 months) that parents and students can have this in mind when they plan the summer.
  2. For students who have special issues or problems, suggest that summer is the best time to address these problems, since both the teacher and the student have more and larger blocks of available time.
  3. Alter slightly the content of summer lessons to bring in some fun aspects (music history, etc.) that most teachers regret not having the time to do during the school year. Invite the parents to attend lessons so they can get a taste of this, too. I'm not suggesting that you make your lessons less valuable or devoid of real content, just make them a little more fun with real material the students need to know.
  4. Consider some changes in your lesson pricing structure for the summer to encourage people to come in at times other than evenings and similar "prime times". This has the positive effect of freeing up your summer evenings to some degree, while still having students take lessons. I'm not suggesting that you lower overall lesson rates, per se, but that you offer discounts for those willing to continue lessons in the summer at times that you would rather teach.
  5. Give, and publicize, an across-the-board discount for summer lessons. Although I'm not a supporter of universal discounts, some teachers have reported that they have done this successfully in their studios in various places. This can be a helpful motivator for those parents who are unsure about whether their children will follow through with lessons.
  6. Make sure that your fee structure encourages people to attend lessons. If you charge by the lesson, at any time of the year, whenever money gets tight or students have something else to do, they'll miss the lesson. Charge by the "quarter" or "semester", in advance. Give a small discount, if you like, to those who pay in advance, if you also continue to accept payment by the lesson.
  7. If you have students in competitions or other events like studio concerts, put the students into preparation for such events during the summer. This gives the student some motivation to come to lessons, beyond doing Hanon and Czerny exercises, and allows you to concentrate more on preparation.
  8. Give some thought to arranging group lessons during the summer. These are easier to schedule during the summer and are often more fun for students, who begin to miss socializing during the summer. You can charge less for these, since you are teaching a group, thus giving parents a financial incentive. If you would like to try group lessons in your studio, the summer may be the best time to do so.
  9. Make sure that you offer free "make-up" lessons for those who miss lessons during summer vacations. Just be certain to say that such make-ups must occur during the the summer "quarter" itself, not strung out over the rest of the year. This will allow parents to keep their kids in lessons and not "lose" lessons they have paid for when they go on vacation.
  10. Suggest to students and parents that they "double-up" summer lessons (for example, a 1 hour lesson instead of 2 half-hour lessons). Most teachers enjoy teaching longer lessons, because they can accomplish more. This also allows the student to "cover" vacations without using makeup lessons. It also works well for those kids caught up in joint custody situations, who alternate between Mom and Pop in different towns during the summer.
  11. Encourage your "better" students to take longer lessons. These are the ones you probably want to spend the most time with anyway. Longer lessons allow the student to focus more and also free up larger time blocks for other summer activities.
  12. If you have a significant number of students with day camp conflicts on weekdays, consider trying to schedule all of them on a Saturday during the summer. This way, there is no conflict with the day camp.
  13. Make sure you inquire of parents well before the summer whether their children will be involved in summer sports, and, if so, what the schedule will be. Then, you can arrange lesson times that don't conflict. If you wait until the summer to do this, the kids will already "scheduled-up" and piano lessons will be dropped.
  14. Indicate to students that they can practice together for a part of their practice during the summer. This will help motivate them both to practice and stay in lessons. Provide some instructions on how they might do this. Since socialization opportunities are so important to kids, you are giving them the chance to make practice more fun.
  15. Schedule at least one studio concert during the summer and make sure you invite all the studio's clients to attend (but not to play), not just those who are taking summer lessons. This can provide some additional motivation if you put it on the studio schedule well before the start of summer. This should probably be done as a "pitch-in" barbeque or tied to some similar social event.
  16. Consider doing a summer "clinic" of a half day or a day focused on a particular issue (e.g. practicing well) or age group (e.g. adult students). This might be a good way to recruit new students, as well as augmenting your income. Students who have stopped taking lessons for the summer will often give up a day to come in for such a special event.
  17. I have suggested in another article on marketing a teaching studio that conducting free music appreciation lessons is a good way to bring students into your studio. Summer is the perfect time to do these, since people often look for something relaxing to do in the long summer evenings. This might also be the subject of a clinic of the sort I mentioned above.
  18. Whatever you do, if it involves policy changes, make sure it's in your studio policy. My extensive Teaching Studio article on that subject covers at length the writing and use of a studio policy.

Will it work for you?

It's virtually certain that some of these ideas will not be appropriate for all teachers' situations. Some address similar issues and probably should not be used together. However, many should be helpful for a large number of teachers, since they are based on positive studio experience here or that of other teachers all over the world. Whatever you do as a teacher, the goal is to impart the idea that your studio remains dynamic and interesting during the summer, with activities and events that clients will want to be a part of. Summers can be a great time to build the skills and knowledge of your students; you must simply make sure that they and their parents understand this important fact.

 
 
 
 
Page created: 8/24/09
Last updated: 01/07/14
 
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 9, No. 2, http://pianoeducation.org
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