An overwhelming majority of those surveyed in August 2015 insisted that personality was the #1 thing they look for when choosing a music teacher. Yes, personality was número uno. Not experience, not performance accolades, not awards won, not methodology, and not price. Read that again, it was all about personality.
Further, well over 60% stated their child’s happiness as the most significant factor when determining how they move forward with lessons. Consider for a moment what this means: by all accounts and supporting data, most parents just want a music teacher that has a vibrant personality and makes their child happy. That’s it.
Imagine if our government sanctioned education system was governed by these two overarching postulates. Think we would get very far? Probably not. So why does music follow a different path? It’s not that counterintuitive at all. When we think about music, it inspires creativity and happiness. It doesn’t conjure images of painstaking schoolwork, right? After all, we play music, we don’t work music.
We play music …
“But scales, classical repertoire, regiment, and hours of practice are what the kids need,” said the teacher with few (if any) students. If you were 12 years old, would this teacher appeal to you? Unlikely.
“I would like to practice rudiments for hours, learn really old music I am unfamiliar with, and not enjoy my time spent creating melodies,” said no music student, EVER.
So does being “cool” translate into lots of students? Not exactly. Being a teacher requires not only the moxie, but the ability to back it up as well. Kids can spot inauthenticity pretty quickly, sometimes more quickly than their parents. Talent and success will not overcome the challenge of working with a shy child, a terrified adult, or a know-it-all teenager. Teachers have to be able to connect, not just musically but personally.
5 Reasons teachers can’t get enough students
Okay, so you’re cool and you’re talented? Why is there not a line of students at the door? Experience, commitment, professionalism, consistency, reputation, marketing, finances, communication… There could be a number of reasons, but we’ll start with the most common.
- If you’re a weekend warrior and not a true music teacher, you’ll have a hard time substantiating any claims. Parents want to know there is a reason to pay you for your service, and you’re not just a bored software engineer with a guitar.
- Many bonafide musicians prioritize their performance career well above their teaching, to the detriment of their student base. There is nothing wrong with being a performer. In fact, it’s great and lends instant credibility to your craft. However, when you instantly ditch your responsibilities to those you committed to teach in favor of a last minute gig, that says something about you. The lack of commitment can be glaring, affect consistency, and sets a very poor example.
- To some musicians or music teachers, professionalism is a bad four letter word. How you act, talk, dress, and carry yourself are all forms of communication, whether verbal or nonverbal. The great teachers walk the walk and talk the talk. They show up on time. They’re prepared. They follow up. They are familiar with the concept of advance notice. They never use text-speak abbreviations. Their emails have greetings and salutations. They leave their Affliction muscle t-shirts and ripped, baggy jeans at home. They do not smell like cigarettes or whisky. Bottom line, working musicians and great teachers care and they show it.
- Musicians think students will flock right when they put the sign on the door. Building a brand takes time. Creating a buzz takes carefully planned, calculated steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was your student list. You have to work with one student before you can work with two. No one walks into a loaded schedule. Sometimes connecting with potential students and reaching the community to evangelize your services, talent, and brand means working with incredibly talented folks like Forbes Music Company who have a platform built to do so. There are means available to get working, but unless you use them, you will remain anonymous. Caveat: You better have the personality and the ability because companies like FMC only go after the best.
- Some musicians think they have students, only to show up to an empty household. Ouch. Guess you should have called ahead, right? If you’re a poor communicator, make assumptions, don’t follow up, don’t read your emails, or are late to respond, you can kiss you student list goodbye. The truth is, if you’re not giving someone the service they want, need, or feel like they deserve, they will go elsewhere to find it. And they will do it right away, often without telling you.
Tips for schedule success
In summary, be exceptional. Work hard to identify with the student. Understand their goals, NOT yours. Relate to them. Help them find joy with music. Inspire them to create. Motivate them with positive reinforcement and help them achieve granular success. Be a role model.
If you avoid the pitfalls that beset a majority of pretenders, you’ll find success teaching music. Remember, it’s about personality and happiness – what we seek in those we admire, and how it makes us feel. It’s really no surprise.