Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Back to Music School: Welcoming Students

Like many music teachers, I find that new students tend to sign up for lessons in the fall, right as school starts up again. What's more, many of my current students have had a bit of a break from violin over the summer, since families go on vacation and the school I teach at is closed in August anyway. Thus around labor day I'm usually welcoming back both new and experienced students. One of the most important parts of getting all these students engaged (or re-engaged) in music is helping them establish a routine of lessons and practice.

First, it's important to establish a consistent teaching schedule. That's easy to do when you work at a music school that schedules students for you. Then, all a teacher has to do is come to work on time and avoid too many absences. However, if you are an independent teacher who schedules your own students, it's vital that you stick to your schedule as much as possible. Children thrive on routines, and regularly coming to lessons late or canceling lessons leaves students uninterested or even resentful. Likewise, it's important that you remind parents that your time is valuable, and children lose that whenever they show up late. If you have a home studio, make sure you create a policy about late or missed lessons, and that all parents understand it and have a written copy.

Ideally, parents will make music lessons a priority in their children's lives. I've frequently had children, or even parents, tell me that their schedules are so busy they never have time to practice. In that case, it might be better to cut back on a child's other activities before committing to music lessons. Music is not easy--it requires time, attention, and regular practicing or else students will quickly become frustrated and "stuck" on beginning pieces. If a parent or a child isn't ready to make a commitment to regular practice, it might be better to wait until their schedule clears up to start such a demanding discipline. This is a conversation I like to have with parents before they sign a child up for violin, which is a particularly difficult instrument for a beginner, but that's not always possible. If parents insist on keeping a full schedule, then I encourage students to find even very short times in their schedule to practice, maybe as little as ten or fifteen minutes a day for an older child, or only five minutes for a student under six. Once a student (or their parents) finds a time for them to practice, then it's often helpful to make a practice chart, or some other written reminder of when it's time for practice. Setting a regular practice schedule will make students much more successful, and success leads to enjoyable, exciting lessons!

It's also helpful to give students and parents a calendar of events at the start of the year. If you're planning a studio recitals, graduations, or perhaps even a state music theory exam students can participate in, let students and parents have those dates right away. This helps people keep important dates open, and gives students goals to work towards. It also helps students to feel welcomed and engaged in their lessons and in your school or studio, which leads to better retention and a happy, productive atmosphere.

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