How To Retain Music Students & Keep Them Interested
Here are 9 tips for teachers wondering how to retain music students by keeping them interested and engaged
As music teachers, the main battle we have is figuring out to retain music students. You know your class is good, the music you’re teaching is correct and your students are learning.
But how do we keep music students engaged, entertained and how do we keep them coming back?
We’ve put together 9 quick tips on how to retain and engage your music students featuring actionable tips from some established music teachers.
Bear in mind that in this blog, we will be using a lot of tactics to keep younger students entertained. However, a lot of the principles will transfer to any age – maybe not the sticker book though…
Here Are Our Tried-And-Tested Tips On Retaining Music Students
1. Make Music Lessons A Positive Experience
A positive attitude when you’re teaching anyone makes all the difference. If you approach a lesson with a negative mindset, or you just can’t be bothered, you are not only signalling to yourself that you don’t want to do the lesson, you’re also telling the student that the lesson is going to be boring and they will likely lose interest.
Guitar Teacher Paul Crame says:
“Putting students at ease is one of the most important things I’ve learned from my 15 years of teaching guitar.
From kids to adults, everyone gets nervous, so creating the right atmosphere is vital.
I aim for a relaxed feel to my classes and make sure no one worries about making mistakes!”
Children especially respond to observational learning and the simple act of turning up with a positive attitude, making the lesson fun and an enjoyable experience means that the student will want to come back.
Learning music should be a fun experience, not something a student should dread. So be the highlight of their day and watch your student engagement and retention increase.
2. Use Music Your Students Want To Learn
Of course, some curriculums will have to be studied and particular lessons that need to be adhered to if grades are coming up. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sneak in or add on some music that the students want to learn.
Classical students still might want to learn a Jimi Hendrix song on the violin. Piano players aiming at grade 5 still might want to learn how to play a Bon Iver track. So, mix it up where you can!
Ask your students what they want to learn and make the lesson fun by letting them learn that new Ed Sheeran track. As you know, learning other people’s songs still help you improve your skills.
Facetime Guitar Teacher Owen Evans says:
“My tip for retaining students would be making sure as a teacher, we provide student-based lessons. This means we have to realise that every student is different and therefore will have different needs and goals.
It’s our job to realise that some students might just want to learn via songs, others may want to have more of a theory-based approach or even work towards exams. If we can make a lesson plan that incorporates what they want to learn in a well-presented enjoyable way then students will always come back for lessons because they are relatable and enjoyable with a clear familiar goal in mind.
It’s also a great idea to make sure to ask students every couple of months if they are comfortable with the direction they are learning in and whether they have any ideas or input as to how we can improve the lessons.”
3. Rewarding Experiences
All students, especially smaller children respond extremely well to rewarding experiences. If you are teaching small children, you could set up some kind of progress book, poster or online leader board that shows them how well they’re doing and how much they’re improving in each lesson.
This “progress report” shows students that when they practice, they genuinely get better!
You could have a board with “this week’s top learners” and have names on that board to show off how well they’re doing. A student will strive to be on that board the next week.
If you motivate with success, the improvement becomes a reward. Stop and think about whether your lesson is rewarding when you’re figuring out how to retain music students.
4. Be Excited About Their Progress
Learning is a shared experience. If you engage your students by genuinely being excited about their achievements and how well they’re doing, they’re going to keep coming back.
When you show excitement about their chosen piece of music, your excitement will transfer to them.
If you approach each lesson with genuine excitement for their progress, you’ll find that retaining music students comes a lot easier as they want to be in the lesson with you.
5. Give Students Some Autonomy
We’ve mentioned that a structured lesson with smaller tasks can help retain music strudents, but make sure to set aside some time to speak with the student about what they may have learned, or even written themselves.
You know yourself, that at some point you can just start creating your own music. Maybe you could help a student develop that piece of music for 5 minutes so they have something to think about when they are next writing that piece.
We never stop learning or creating as musicians, so encourage that creativity in your students and become the positive force for their musical journey.
6. Break Lessons Up Into Smaller Chunks
One long-drawn-out lesson on the same drum fill or guitar line is going to bore any student – regardless of age. So, break your lessons into smaller chunks. This helps your students maintain their attention span and also helps them retain the information without being overloaded.
For example, you could talk about how to play a paradiddle in the first lesson, then break that up with correct posture. Then at the end mix the two and see how they’re related.
Break the lesson up and connect everything at the end.
On the subject of not overwhelming students; Matt Wensor, online guitar teacher says:
“My #1 tip on how to retain students is the adage of leaving them wanting more. Don’t give them so much content it overwhelms them in one session, deliver it slowly with a lot of detail and variation.
Whatever concept, song or technique we are working on, I’ll tend to show the student how it sounds in a musical context and how we could develop it further / make it even cooler next time before ending the lesson.
Students tend to love this as it gives them an extra drive to practice. They always know there is a next stage to work towards and leave our lessons already looking forward to the next one.”
7. Sticker Books or Stamps
Sticker books and stamps work extremely well on young children. We all love the feeling of being rewarded. And as stickers or stamps may seem quite innocuous, if you combine a positive experience with something small like a stamp, even adults will respond positively. Take this example from Dr Nick Fuhrman’s TED Talk about how even adults appreciate that positive reinforcement from something as simple as a stamp saying “great job”.
The simple act of celebrating your students’ success goes a long way in engaging and retaining music students.
8. Set Up A Mentor System
Mentor systems are frequently used in martial arts. They also work in the music world.
The best way to learn is to teach. If you are teaching a class of students, pick one student out from time to time to teach a certain piece or section of music.
Offer them the chance to showcase their skills to the class and encourage other students to get better so that they too, can teach the class.
Perhaps there is a song that your student constantly plays in between lessons? Ask them to teach the class (where appropriate of course) and reward them for learning something outside of class.
A student shouldn’t be punished for learning a song outside the curriculum!
9. Add Your Profile To MusicTeacher.com
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We hope these tips helped you on figuring out how to retain music students and engage better with your existing classes. Good luck!
Thanks to our contributors:
About the author
Lee Glynn is a musician, freelance content writer and ex-member of the UK-based band Sound Of Guns having played played Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and just about every stage and festival in the UK multiple times.
He has been playing the guitar for nearly 3 decades and has been writing for well-respected music blogs and websites for nearly 20 years.
He’s also very well versed in teaching children and adults as a previous guitar and kickboxing instructor. Although he just prefers to get beaten up by his toddler now.