Your first lesson with a new student will be the most important lesson you ever have with that student. If the student, or the parents, are not impressed, they won’t continue lessons with you. It’s not just important for your income as a teacher, it’s important for the student.
There have been many students that had a bad first impression with music lessons that didn’t continue. That’s sad! As teachers, our biggest desire is to share our passion of music with others. If we scare them off during the first lesson, it doesn’t matter how amazing of a teacher you are, they will never get a chance to find out! Here are some ideas that will make your new students beg to continue studying with you.
Understand Students/Parents Expectations with a Questionnaire
Before your first lesson even begins you need to get a good idea as to what the parents, or the student, expect. Some parents want a really laid back teacher that will make lessons fun. Some parents want a really strict teacher that will get their kids to practice. You can just ask the parents or the student, but often they won’t know how to answer, or they may sugar coat their answer.
This is where a questionnaire can really come in handy. Create a little survey using software like Survey Monkey. Then send it off to the parent or student before the first lesson. Include questions like “What kind of teacher do you want me to be?” or “How much can I expect your son/daughter to practice in a week?”
Make sure most, if not all, of your questions are multiple choice. Parents are a lot more likely to fill it out if you make it easy for them. Once you get the results, you can either adjust your teaching to reflect what they’re looking for, or make it clear up front that you can’t teach the way they want you to. If that’s not what they are looking for in a teacher, and you’re ok with that, then they can find a new teacher and you don’t have to waste your time or give a bad first impression.
Teach By Rote
You should get the student playing music right away. The point of the first lesson is not necessarily to impart tons of knowledge on the budding musician, it’s to get them excited to continue. Always remember this. Teaching by rote is something that should likely be incorporated into piano lessons for beginners anyways, but it’s most important during the first lesson.
Playing by rote is when the teacher plays something and the student repeats it. This is a great way for a student to leave a lesson with music learned. They can feel excited about continuing because they are working on music that sounds good, and they actually made visual progress. Make sure you have a video you can leave with them, so they can practice during the week as well.
When teachers only teach reading during the first lesson, often the student leaves without having been able to play much at all on the piano. This can be discouraging.
As teachers, we understand that becoming a competent pianist takes years. The student doesn’t understand this though. They wanted lessons because they wanted to learn to play, they are likely expecting to play something well after the first lesson.
Disappointment is the difference between expectations and reality. You don’t want to disappoint your student, and you’re not going to change their expectations. Your job as a teacher is then to make reality as close to the expectations of a student as possible. This is true especially during the first lesson.
There is a lot of amazing software out there for teaching the piano. Kids, and most adults, enjoy being able to use their phones or tablets during their lessons. It’s fun (and kinda cool).
For teaching notes, look into the app “Note Rush”. For teaching piano in general, Piano Maestro (for iPad) is amazing. Piano Marvel is a desktop program that is great as well. Technology is fantastic, use it and you’ll find your students more engaged and excited for their next lesson.
Lay Out a Plan
How are you planning on teaching this new student moving forward? Let the student or parents know! Are you planning on just following through a method book with no other supplemental material? There may be better ways of teaching, but even if that’s what you’re planning on doing, try to help the parents understand what that will actually mean.
How much of the lesson will be learning to read, playing by rote, ear training, learning theory, or learning technique? Explain to the parent or student why you include each one of these parts of the lessons. Be brief. You don’t need to give a piano pedagogy dissertation to the parents up front, just let them know what to expect.
Set Expectations (but be reasonable)
The student needs to practice right? How much? Let the parents know what you expect. Try not to overwhelm them at first. If you really want all of your students to practice an hour every day, maybe it’s best to work up to it. Would 15 minutes minimum for the first 6 months be a good compromise? You could then continue to add 15 minutes until they reach the hour mark you want them to reach.
People have a bad sense of the future. That’s why so many people get into credit card debt. 15 minutes likely seems manageable now. An hour may sound unmanageable to a lot of people. Let them know how you plan on practice progressing as the student progresses. Most people will have no problem with it because the hour isn’t required now.
Send a Personal Email After Their First Lesson
How did the first lesson go? If the parents were there maybe they have an idea, but they still aren’t music teachers so you know better than anyone. Let the parents or the student know how you thought it went!
Be nice. Focus in on the good things the student did. If you’re concerned about something, you can mention it briefly, but an after first lesson email may not be the best place to go into depth about things the student needs to worry about moving forward.
You can also continue with laying out your plan in this email as well. It can be helpful for the parents to read, so they can refer back to it as well.
The parents or the students will appreciate the email. It shows you really care about the student and that you want them to progress.
Teach the Student How to Practice
Students have absolutely no idea what they are supposed to do unless you show them. Don’t just say “Work on this piece more and next week we’ll go over what you did!” They don’t know what “work on this piece more” means. How do they work on it? Show them step by step what their practice should look like.
If they follow what you say, they’ll see improvement and be excited for the next week’s lesson. If they didn’t know how to practice, they’ll be nervous and some students just cancel the second lesson because of it.
Go Over Policies at the End
What are your lesson policies? When will the student pay? What about makeups and rescheduling? Be very clear from the beginning. This is one part of the lesson that shouldn’t be skirted around. If you wait until later to let them know that you don’t accept rescheduling, it may already be too late. You don’t want parents to later think they were deceived in some way. As long as everyone knows up front what you expect, there are usually no problems.
The first lesson for both the teacher and the student should be exciting and fun. If you follow these steps, you’ll have a great first lesson and start off your relationship with the new student in the right direction.
Do you do anything else during the first lesson that you find indispensable? Let us know in the comments!