How To Run Group Music Classes Kids Love with Daniel Patterson | Ep 47

October 24, 2019

Grow Your Music Studio With Group Programs

This episode is my second interview of six interviews that I conducted with music education industry thought leaders.  Today on the show, I sit down with Daniel Patterson of Grow Your Music Studio to talk about his group piano teaching program.

 

For those of you studios that are looking at offering group lessons or considering it or maybe currently offering group lessons, I think you’ll gain a lot of value from this interview with Daniel.  Also, he’s doing a lot on on Facebook and blogging about marketing for music teachers. He’s a bit of an SEO champion, knows his way around Google AdWords as well. Just a general great marketing mind.

 

How To Start a Group Music Lessons

If your goal is to have a scalable music teaching business, a business that’s not limited by your time dedicated to teaching, but a music studio that can be limitless in terms of its growth potential.

 

You have to offer group classes that are as good, if not better than private lessons, better in terms of value.  If you can offer a group program that your customers perceive as high value, you’ve got a winner of a program.

 

Music Studio By The Numbers

If you compare a music studio that has a hundred students in private lessons, and then a music studio that has a hundred students in group classes, the group class studio is much more profitable. Daniel Patterson’s business model is all group classes, so he’s dealing with a very profitable business model. A  teaching business that’s only private lessons is a business that has to focus on high volume, lots and lots of students to make a profit.

 

You figure 50% of your of a single student in private lessons is going to the teacher and then maybe another,  20 to 30% going to your other fixed costs. It doesn’t really leave you with that much.

 

If you try group classes and they didn’t work, the problem isn’t the format. The problem is the way the group class was presented. Daniel will share with us in the second half of the show about how you can make your group classes be a win for your students, for the parents and for you. If you have considered offering group classes, the start of 2020 is a great time to roll out a new program. January typically is when most music studios see a little uptick in enrollment. Kids have got their Christmas instruments and they’re ready for music lessons.

 

Interview Transcription

 

 

Dave:

I know most of my listeners are familiar with what you’re doing on a certain level, but I was just wondering if we could start off with you giving just a brief overview of what you’re doing at growyourmusicstudio.com.

 

Daniel:

Yeah. Perfect. I started Grow Your Music Studio as a blog without really a plan. I knew at some point that I wanted to take the attention that the blog would afford me and do something with it, but at the beginning, I didn’t really have a big plan. I was really open to what people needed. Not long after that blog opened, and that was in 2016, people started contacting me because of the articles that they’d read on the blog saying, hey, I need help with studio growth. As I wrote more and more articles, people contacted me for more and more diverse reasons.

 

Daniel:

It was in those first couple of years that I went from understanding what I knew about running a studio, about growing a studio, on a personal note, I went from kind of that base of knowledge, to really working with a lot of studios of many different sizes and beginning to get a much more diverse picture of all the issues and troubles and obstacles and goals that different studio owners had. It was from there that I began to create the various training programs that I’ve now created. To this date, mid or getting into the later half of 2019, we have really two main programs that we run that are kind of more of a class-based program, and one of them is successful group lessons.

 

Daniel:

The other one is studio marketing masterclass. There’s a third program and that’s more of my private coaching program. That’s for real unique situations or people who want to do something really unique in the world. A couple of examples, I helped a woman write a book on how to teach music to children with learning disabilities. I helped someone else start a blog. I’ve helped someone else start kind of an international music therapy program, just different things that are a little bit beyond what the training programs do.

 

Daniel:

That’s kind of the third program, that more unique and custom coaching program. Last year, 2018, we worked with over 150 studios. I say, we, because I have a team now that works with me, I couldn’t do this all alone. This year, again, about two-thirds of the way through the year, we’ve already worked with that many at least and plan on working with a lot more. That’s kind of what we do. We help people grow in their margins. We help people grow in the satisfaction that they experience in their careers. We help people grow as professionals by developing them into the leaders they need to be to get the kind of results they want.

 

Dave:

Wow. Yeah. It sounds like your business and your team has really grown since you and I first connected, so it sounds like you’re really getting the message out there and helping a lot of studios, and I’m sure you’ve seen, in the different Facebook forums, the interest and the recognition in the impact that group programming can have on a studio. That’s certainly something I want to really explore today. Tell me a little bit about your own teaching business and how … Because I’m going to assume that you started doing private lessons, how did you transition into group classes? And if you could share with us a little bit kind of what your current teaching studio looks like.

 

Daniel:

Yeah. Perfect. I graduated … Okay, so we’re going to go way back. I graduated from college in 2004. One my best friends of all time. He was the best man at my wedding. He was a close friend through college. He’s a couple of years older than me. He had graduated two years prior and was already out teaching one-on-one lessons. This is my friend, Greg. I’ve done an interview with him on my video show. He had this seed of an idea. He saw that summer was one of the worst times for music teachers. He’d already experienced two summers himself, and going to this third summer, he didn’t want his income to drop precipitously again.

 

He came to me newly graduated because I graduated mid-year, and said, “Daniel, I’m thinking of this idea of teaching kids in like a large group and I’d like you to come and help me design this program.” I’m not going to get in all the details of this because we could spend a long time here. But essentially, we spent six writing a two-week curriculum to take kids through the equivalent of the Faber Primer book in two weeks, and we were going to do it in a summer camp format. That way, we could recruit new kids during the summer and then have them be able to stay on during the fall. So, we spent six months building this thing out.

 

Daniel:

We run it that first summer, it worked fantastically. We didn’t have very many kids because I was 22, he was 24, we had no idea what we were doing in terms of promotion or marketing. Over the next five years, we grew that, from the first summer having seven kids there, to in the, I think, in the fifth summer, we had something like 150 to 175, and for the next half-decade after that, we were recruiting at least that many kids each summer to come in, and a lot of times it was the word of mouth people who had experienced the previous summer then came on the Piano Express Studio.

 

They had such great things to say about that starting experience they had. In fact, that was the tagline, get started right. Because we would give kids such a burst of energy at the beginning. They’re already through an entire book in two weeks. That’s where I got my start in group teaching. Now, the transition for me though, was a little bit more reluctant, I would say because we did that as a summer program. Going to a year-round program was going to be a little bit more tricky. What I’ll say is that we ran this program in the Washington, DC Area, suburban DC, which is where Greg lived.

 

Daniel:

I live in Indiana, so I was still back at home for those first couple of years just teaching private lessons all year long, and I would go out in the summer to teach the camp with Greg. It was finally a couple of years later that I made the jump and did my own version of it and I kind of came up with my own way of teaching group that was opposed to the way that Greg and I taught it in the summer camp, and it’s the big one. It’s the big problem that most small studios, which I was a small studio at the time most small studios have. That is, how do you group kids together when your studio maybe only has 30 or 50, and you have, let’s say 10 level one students, but every single parent has a different schedule and you can’t get them all into one night or maybe even two nights, how do you solve that problem?

 

It’s where I really departed from, and I’m just going to say it, every other group method in the world, where I didn’t want to have to be held down by how old the kid was or what level they were in. So, for me, I came up with, and maybe we can talk about this more in-depth a little bit later, but I came up with a way to teach kids multiple level groups and really committed to that. The first couple of years were tough because I made every mistake in the book when it comes to teaching in that way and I really learned from the school of hard knocks.

 

Daniel:

I also made every mistake in the book when it came to promoting it, because I put the groups out front and center, and parents, I came to find out, were very suspicious of group teaching. It was only after I kind of came up with, what I call the four marketing messages, which I teach in my successful group lessons training when I came up with these marketing messages that really resonated for parents, both new and old. It was after I really got that dialed in, it took me about three to four years to get all this dialed in and to be getting really fantastic results and having parents excited about it versus being suspicious.

 

But by 2011, 2012, I had really dialed it into my studio. I’ve been teaching groups now for 11 years, and the only private lessons I teach now are my really advanced students who’ve come out of my group program. That’s kind of how I came to teach group classes. I know that was five or six minutes there, but yeah, that’s kind of the whole story of how I came to be teaching in this way.

 

Dave:

Well, I’ve got about five or six minutes’ worth of questions now, because that’s really fascinating. Let me just kind of repeat a little bit of what I just heard, and tell me if I got it right. That the group at your challenge, how do I say this? Okay, so it sounds like your success came from figuring out how to do the group classes effectively, and I do want to talk about what that looks like, but also, changing your marketing.

 

Daniel:

Yes. I guess I would ask you to define what you mean by a marketing message. I’m hoping I’m putting on the spot there.

 

Dave:

Oh, wait a minute. Now you’re interviewing me. Wow, pressure. I can do this, man. I can do this. In terms of this whole idea of getting the parents excited, this whole … You bring up this idea of people being suspicious about the group class and maybe it being of lesser value than the private lesson, and that is what I talk in the different music studios, that, that’s the challenge is, how do you persuade parents that, not only is the group class not of lesser value, but even greater value than the private lesson? Let me ask you this and then we’ll get back to this idea of the implementation of the group class and the marketing of it, but is it possible, or do you believe that the group class can potentially be of greater value than the private lesson?

 

Daniel:

Oh, absolutely. It really goes back to what you were just saying there is that, it’s a one-two punch. The way that you get parents on board is by focusing them on the results, but then, you actually have to deliver the results. Right? Over the last two years, at this point, I’ve helped over 200 studios convert to group doing it the way that I do it.

 

Dave:

No private lessons.

 

Daniel:

Some of them might do private lessons in the way that I do that, once a kid has kind of graduated to intermediate or advanced level, they move to private lessons. But yeah, I’m talking studios where there are 90% to 95% group. Most of these teachers are under 50 students and we’re very nervous to make this switch, but what I just said there, this is kind of the essential formula, that you focus parents on the results and then your job isn’t to actually deliver those results. Then, to answer the second question that you asked, how do you actually deliver those results? Yeah, that’s a very long topic. I’m curious what aspect of that maybe you want to focus on.

 

Dave:

People are biting their nails now and they’re eating scoops of popcorn. They want to know how or let me share with you, these are some of … Let’s do it this way. I want to share with you some, and I’m sure you’ve heard this too, some of the frustrations that people have had with group classes.

 

Daniel:

Love it.

 

Dave:

Then we can kind of go, okay, how do you deal with that?

 

Daniel:

Hit me with your worst stuff because I can answer it all.

 

Dave:

Hit me with your … Well, I feel like a Pat Benatar song, it’s coming in a year. That you have kids with different levels in the class. They struggle with navigating through that. I tried to do a group class once and I tried to have everybody playing together. So, I was struggling, it was a guitar, and I was struggling with these different skill levels, the whole functionality of it. People struggle with the implementation in running the class and they give up on it. How do you do it? Let’s talk a little bit about, what does a group class look like at your studio?

 

Daniel:

Cool. I run group classes for an hour. A child comes for an hour each week. My schedule runs currently, and has for over a decade, kids come in at 3:20, 4:25, 5:30, and 6:35 each day. Kids come in, they immediately set up. I’m a very orderly person, so there’s an orderly way to begin things. Kids come in, they know to open their books and just begin playing the song they want to show me first. What happens is, during this hour, is that I’m freely roaming the room, listening in on kids, either previous work that they’ve done or new work that I’ve assigned.

 

That’s what we pretty much do for an entire hour. Kids are there working with me. That way, each child is getting an individuated experience. So, in the way that I teach this, the amount of interaction that I do between children is actually minimal. Some people kind of scratch their heads at that, or even take issue with it that, but I guess my defense would be that, like I said, those first couple of years, I tried it a lot of different ways. At the beginning, I did experiment with trying to group roughly by level.

 

Daniel:

Maybe putting primer 1s and 2A’s together, 1s, 2As and 2Bs, 2A, 2B, a mix. I would do games with the kids. I would do technique drills with the kids. I would do just different things. I’d have the kids perform for each other. I spent a lot of time in each hour with the kids doing group activities or semigroup activities, and what I found over time was that nothing beat those kids just learning music for an hour. What I mean by that is that, and this is kind of my belief, it’s a phrase I’ve used for a long, long time, but the practice problem.

 

Kids will tend to do what feels easy, and that can either be your greatest curse or your greatest blessing. It can be your greatest curse in that, if a child doesn’t feel as if learning music is easy, over time, their motivation is going to flag to the point that they don’t want to do it anymore and then the parent quits. It’s your greatest blessing in that, if you can actually help the kid make practice feel easy, that they will just kind of do it as an afterthought. It’ll be this non-stressful thing. It’ll just be this thing that they can do and they don’t really give a lot of thought to, oh, I’m being made to practice.

 

Daniel:

I found that the more time that this child spent in a lesson with me just working on their repertoire, the easier music felt to them, and the longer they would stay in my studio and the more fun that they would have. I actually began to see games and playing on the iPad and performing for each other and doing group technique exercises, I actually began to see that as the enemy to the goal that every party involved had. I want to keep students really long. Kids want to have fun and parents want their kids to get a result and feel as if the money they’re investing in music lessons is actually worth their time and worth the investment.

 

The more repertoire that a child learned each lesson, not that repertoire acquisition is the complete goal, but it is a good by-product of great teaching. So, the more repertoire that a child would acquire during each lesson, all three goals were being fulfilled because the child feels like a winner. I have kids that are flying through their books. The average child in my studio goes through Primer in three to four months. Then parents are looking and seeing how fast kids are going through, and then I love when this happens, when they compare notes with friends of theirs who have kids in with other teachers and looking how fast their child moves compared to what they’re hearing from friends or what they might’ve experienced in a previous studio if they’re a transfer, or what they might be able to compare against the experience they had as a child in music when they see that vast difference, I mean, they’re sold.

 

Daniel:

That really goes back to what we said, and I’ll be quiet after this, but that’s really what, going back 10 minutes of the conversation, that’s it. When you can deliver results like that, the marketing writes itself. You don’t really have to use tactics. You don’t really have to be the oily salesman that everyone seems to hate. You can just point to the results that you’re getting, and that’s really been my main marketing tactic for the last 10 years, is just to show what the kids are doing, because that speaks far louder than any kind of gimmicks that I can pull or Groupons that I could run, or trading likes with other teachers on the Facebook forums or doing the shiny object of the week marketing tactic. Yeah.

 

Dave:

I got two questions. I want to start with the second question that I want to get into. I’m really curious about how is it that you’re able to get your students to accomplish more than a child in a private lesson? Let’s put that question on the back burner, the first question is I want to see a little bit more what that class looks like. First of all, how many kids will you max out a class with?

 

Daniel:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I started with three and I felt like I was underwater. I got acclimated to that kind of pressure and I went to four students, I went to five. My current room that I’m teaching in really only has room for five. I really couldn’t stick a sixth kid in there, but if I could, I could definitely handle that sixth kid. It is so orderly and I’m running basically a music teaching machine now that most of the kids are completely … After their first few lessons, they are independent. They are independent learners. Most of the time I’m just kind of wandering the room and the kids are learning themselves.

 

I guess we could go deeper into that because I know that the second part of this question is coming, but, but to brief kind of give you the size of the class, it’s five you know, some of these studios that they’ve worked with that they’ve wanted to teach in the way that I’m doing, they’ve been wanting to get the results that I’m helping people get. They also start with a lower number because again, they feel overwhelmed at first, but it’s funny how they very quickly acclimate to this new environment for themselves and then can add four and then five.

Dave:

Yeah, I’m still struggling with understanding the role of the teacher in this setting. So, you’re going from student to student, and do you limit, like how do you balance the time that you spend with each student in your involvement in the role you play with each student?

 

Daniel:

Yeah, it’s a great question, and that was the problem that I had at the beginning because time is not on your side when you’re working with five kids. But this is where it gets into what I call the six principles. Inside my successful group lessons training, there’s a session called the six. It’s very fancy-sounding. It’s titled horribly, I think, but it’s called the sixth educational …

 

Dave:

People love lessons. I think it’s great.

 

Daniel:

It’s called the six educational principles for group success. It’s basically a series of guidelines and rules that I made for myself. Intuitively, I never wrote them out until I actually started training other students how to do this, but intuitively, I knew that I needed to change the way that I was teaching. One of the main things that changed for me and that changed for teachers who teach in this way now, these 200 plus alumni, is you have to talk less. That’s one, and two, you have to help kids become independent of you within a few lessons.

 

It would take hours to kind of get into all the different things that go into making that a reality. But to answer the question you asked, not the one you didn’t ask, that’s how I do this. When a child first starts with me, I have the first couple lessons practically scripted out every word I’m going to say. I’ve got observations videos of this, and teachers, they look at it and they see just how economical I am in my words and how already, from the very first lesson, from the minute that kid walks in the door, how I don’t see myself as an autocrat or a teacher with a capital T that is taking this poor benighted child and trying to mold them into something.

 

Daniel:

I look at this as a collaborative effort on both my part and the child, and that’s where it starts. Within a few lessons, I want to be putting most of the pressure and the independence onto that child’s plate, where I’m making them responsible for figuring out where the position is. I’m making them responsible for figuring out the rhythm. By the end, and this is, I can say this with 100% clear conscience, but 100% of my kids that come through my studio, by the end of the second lesson, are sight-reading and rhythm reading on their own, period.

 

This method would not work without that. That’s how I’ve done it for a very, very long time and that’s what I’ve taught other people to do, how to get kids to be independent very, very quickly so that they’re handling the bulk of the emotional and intellectual work and I’m there more as a coach, not as a capital T teacher. Not to say that I’m not teaching. Obviously, there’s content involved, but the approach is less focused on the abstract theory and knowledge of music and more on the actual practical playing of it, and that’s kind of the focus.

 

Dave:

Yeah. During the course of an hour, let’s say you’ve got five kids in there, at how many points in that hour will you return back to a given student?

 

Daniel:

That’s a tough question, Dave, because I’ve never formally really counted that. It’s more of an organic process for me because I got a little system, Greg invented this actually, my partner at the Piano Express. I have two cards. I’ve got a green card with a note on it, and a kid puts that up if they want me to listen to what they’ve been working on, and then there’s a red card with a question mark on it, and they put it up if they’re stumped or they’re stuck with something in the music.

 

When kids come in, they know that they have these two cards available, because the last thing I want is a child to be sitting there with their hand up the whole time, if their hand’s up the whole time, their hand isn’t on the piano. I want their hands on the piano for an entire hour. What I do, really my job, it’s very stress-free, is I just go, and I call it clearing cards. When a card is up, I go over and I either listen and make suggestions or I help them with the problem. Then when it comes time to learn a new concept, we build on this way of teaching that I’ve helped kids learn to do with me, and I’ll teach them the new lesson.

 

Daniel:

10 years ago, it used to be that kids would get to the beginning of Faber 2A, where they learn eighth notes, and they would struggle the entire way through that book with eighth notes. Now we turn to that page, I explain eighth notes to them in under a minute. Again, most kids that are coming to my studio are learning pages 10 through 16 … I’m sorry, 10 through 15 of that book. That used to take me weeks to get kids through. They’re now learning it in one day. I found economical ways to explain all these concepts, and they’re all again, based on these principles.

 

So, kids just learn the concept, and then I get them practically working on a song, so that’s the practical application of it in that moment. They work on it, and while they’re working on it, I go and I clear some other kid’s card. That’s kind of how that hour runs. I just walk to where I’m needed.

 

Dave:

Well, and it’s interesting, and I think if we keep talking for another minute, we’re going to organically answer that back-burner question. It almost sounds to me like, instead of your music lesson being a lesson, it almost sounds like you’re at home with the child practicing. They’re bringing home to you, but you’re there off in the wings … I mean, they’re basically practicing because when you’re at home practicing, you’re problem-solving on your own. But you’re at home with them basically, and they’re problem-solving and they throw up a card when they hit that wall. So, maybe that independence that you’re teaching them, I mean, it’s forced them, like they have to be independent. They have to problem solve on their own. They have your assistance. But is it, perhaps, that process makes them less dependent on you?

 

Daniel:

You’ve really nailed it. Yeah, you’ve really nailed it. The way that I would add to what you’re saying there is that it’s the best of both worlds. When the child’s with a private teacher one-to-one, they know they have that teacher’s undivided attention, and children can really exhibit that learned helplessness that I think our culture is giving to children.

 

Then, on the opposite end of that, you have the home environment where they are independent, which is a really good experience for children to have, but if they get stuck, we all know the results of that. They come back, the song’s not learned or it’s learned very, very poorly. The group environment is the best of both worlds. There is this wonderful balance of independence and dependence. The independence in that I could walk away from them, and they know that I will … Some kids know that I will let them flounder, and because we’re not in a one-to-one environment, they know that I have zero of their attention at that moment.

 

Daniel:

But at the same time, so for kids that I need to break that learned helplessness in, I can use that independence tool a little more heavily. Once a child is kind of in with the program, then that balance is kind of restored, and that child knows that they don’t have my attention all the time, and that they’re responsible for learning this song, but they know that if they get stuck at any point, they can put that red card up and I’m going to go help them get unstuck. Yeah, it’s why I would never go back to teaching one-on-one.

 

I can get kids through books faster. I can get them through with less stress, with more fun, and I don’t have to sacrifice inequality. I say that because my students, I put them through the Royal Conservatory achievement exams, and they’re coming back with those highest honors scores, the majority of them, and the group doesn’t have to be a less than sort of thing. It can be just as quality, if not more. I would say more because I get kids through those levels a lot faster.

 

Dave:

Have you ever, or any of your clients, ever had, say a 17-year-old, advanced student in the class as an assistant?

 

Daniel:

I have never done that, again, because of the size constraints, but Greg, who runs his own group program, which is really different than mine. We share a common DNA and how we came up with our two programs, but Greg runs music yEAR… Or I’m sorry, group classes year-round, and he will have six kids in the front room, six kids in the back room simultaneously. In the front room, he does have high school assistants who moderate and help the children. In fact, it’s funny, I just was actually out visiting Greg earlier this month.

 

It would’ve been the first time in a couple of years that I’d actually been to the studio and he actually had me put my son in one of his classes, just for fun. We kind of match it up to an appropriate level to where my son’s at, my son’s six. The assistant that worked with him, was just so amazing, the assistant was this 17-year-old girl who I had taught in one of the original Piano Express Summer Camps when she was five. It was just unbelievable. She’s now one of their advanced assistants. It was just so cool to have that come full circle.

 

Daniel:

Yeah, it’s definitely possible. Again, if I had more room to work with, then I really don’t have any motivation to increase the size. Though, there’s one of my clients, they’re in Georgia, Hinesville, Georgia, they actually have their teenage daughter as an assistant, and they have up to 12 in a class and they’ll have one assistant … I’m sorry, one teacher and two assistants, 12 to a class, and they’re teaching, they went through my successful group lessons program, and they’re teaching in the way that I do. But yeah, it’s absolutely possible to do it.

 

Dave:

Let’s say I’m a parent, I call your studio, and I know very little about your studio and I call you and I say, “Yeah, I want to enroll my eight-year-old daughter in piano lessons, what are you going to say to me?

 

Daniel:

I’m going to ask you what your goals are. I’m going to ask you if she’s been in music lessons before. I’m going to ask the parent if they have any musical experience, and really just going to have a conversation. Then I’m going to focus on the outcomes and the results that my kids get in my studio and then ask if you want-

 

Dave:

At what point are you going to tell me about the group thing?

 

Daniel:

That’s a great question. At that point, I’m going to invite you in for an intro lesson. You say, yes, you come in, that’s where you learn. That’s where you learn that it’s a group. In fact, you’ll learn at the very, very end of that intro lesson.

 

Dave:

Interesting. So, you really build that trust and that belief from them that, hey, this guy knows what he’s talking about, I like him. He’s offering me some insights on this, that they’re already kind of buying in to working with you, and then they find out what could potentially be a hurdle for them. I mean, do people push back when they hear about the group? Like, well, that’s not what I wanted.

 

Daniel:

By that time, no. sometimes I see parents kind of their eyebrows shoot up a little bit, but at that point, they’ve already watched their child go through 13 pages of the Primer book in 18 minutes, and so they don’t even care, because again, it’s about the results. Honestly, I don’t mention the group for the same reason that I don’t talk about my degree or the kinds of pianos that I use in my studio or what my policies are. It’s not because I’m trying to hide the fact that I’m teaching group, it’s because it’s just not relevant at that point.

 

Daniel:

There’s really only one thing that I want parents to be aware of when they’re first introduced to me, and that’s what I can do for their child. Anything else is just a distraction and would only detract from the beginning of that relationship and that conversation.

 

Dave:

It’s just a shift in mindset from your perspective as the marketer. You’re focused on the child and you said the outcome and the benefits that they’ll receive, it’s not relevant until later, and they’ve seen the results, they see their kid up and playing, and then you say, and this is how we do it here is we do it in groups. I would think that there are … Most people, the traditional, sort of the image that they have in their mind is I’m going to sign my child up for piano lessons, and they have a picture in their head of what that looks like, and you have to paint a new picture for them.

 

I took group piano lessons as a kid, and it was terrible. The problem wasn’t the format, the problem was how it was being taught. How do you deal with that objection? How do you try to get them to see that your way is really going to be effective?

 

Daniel:

I don’t really have an interest in arguing people into agreeing with me. My approach has been to prevent pushback, and I rarely get it now. Early on, I did, because like I said, I made every mistake in the book. Just everything I could’ve done wrong or said wrong, I did. As I began to learn what the objections were, even when I would focus on the results I could get for children, which is of its own self was a miracle to pull off, but even when I focus on that, I still would get objections, and I began to learn what those objections were and then just begin to seed the conversation with things, magic phrases, and scripts that I kind of have in my training program, to just prevent them before they even happen.

 

I think it’s the equivalent, for those of us who have kids, if I want to … The best way to prepare my six-year-old for a change isn’t to say, “Oh, hey, you can’t watch any more YouTube right now. You’ve got to go clean your room.” We both know that that’s going to cause a fight, but if I come in five minutes before I want him to go clean his room and warn him that he has five minutes left, he has time to kind of emotionally process that and intellectually process that information, and I’ve prevented that problem.

 

Daniel:

In the same way, that much of parenting is just being three steps ahead of your child and being thoughtful, I would say it’s similar to when you’re beginning of the relationship with a prospective family for the studio, is that I now know every possible objection and I start solving those objections from the moment I get on the phone with them or start the conversation with them long before they’re in the intro lesson. That’s kind of what I’m getting at, is that I don’t have arguments with parents anymore, because I have all these phrases and I have all these ideas and ways of speaking, again, very purposeful, that just help them go along with it.

 

Dave:

What do you say upfront that is already answering that objection of, well, aren’t group lessons less than private lessons?

 

Daniel:

Yeah. What do I say upfront? It’s just tough to parse that out because it’s the whole script, but let me think here for a second.

 

Dave:

Do you think it’s more than trying to build, that you’re focusing on them liking and trusting you?

 

Daniel:

Yeah. I would say 80% of it is just them seeing the results with the kid, seeing all the testimonials and case studies that I have. But there is one thing that I … Here’s just one small example. This is just one of those tiny little phrases that I just throw in there that tends to decrease the parents’ level of alarm. They’re not on red alert. One of the transitional phrases I use, I say, so, you see all the pianos in here because they’re in the group piano room with me for the child’s one-on-one introductory lesson.

 

I’ll say, of course, you see all the pianos in here, all of my students begin in these one-hour beginner groups, and once they go through my beginner program, they kind of go out into more of that traditional one-to-one lesson. That’s what I say. That’s something I’ll say in response to something that a parent might bring up. If I feel like it’s appropriate that moment, I’ll say that phrase, but the idea that this is a temporary thing, that this is not it … Because I don’t talk about how long that’s going to be, but they hear that and they assimilate that information, and are like, oh, okay. So, this is a little unusual, but he’s got a plan.

 

Daniel:

I’m assuming that’s what’s going through their head. Obviously, I haven’t asked if that’s what they’re exactly thinking, but we know psychology. We know how people think, how people work, and I’m relatively certain that, that’s kind of the thought that’s going on in their head at that time.

 

Dave:

But you’re also allowing them to still hold on to that image of what it is that they initially dreamt of, is that, oh, that can happen and it’s going to happen. But first, that’s the ultimate goal. My hunch is that, I bet you, a lot of parents just kind of forget about it because they like the new image that they have of the kid coming in the lessons and saying hi to their new friends from their piano class, and then the mom starts to kind of get to know some of the other moms and it’s their own little community, and they might like that picture better.

 

Daniel:

Yeah, I was going to say, ultimately, the picture that I want to leave parents with is that this is going to feel easy for their child and that their child will have success and that they’re not going to have to undergo the stereotypical image that people have of beginning music lessons, whether it’s piano or guitar or whatever, and the stereotypical images, the child plunking out notes, sounding horrible on their instrument for a year before they even begin to create something that could even be accidentally mistaken as music.

 

I’m showing them in that lesson right there, your child just learned four songs. Your child just learned six songs in under 15 minutes. When they come next time, they’re going to be up to page 23 of this book. They’re going to learn another dozen songs the next time they’re here, another dozen pages of music, and it won’t be hard for them, and they just believe it because they see, and then there’s just a lot of things that I’ve got going on in terms of my marketing and then what they’re actually seeing in that intro lesson with the child that it’s just authentic. It feels real to them, and it is real. I think that does it.

 

Dave:

I think also for a teacher who has no interest in doing group classes, there’s still something to learn from this in terms of what the private lesson’s going to look like and this whole idea of empowering the child in teaching independence because then that becomes a marketing idea of, hey, we’re going to teach your child some independence, and really, these skills that these kids are learning in your program, they can apply this to their homework in terms of, okay, I’ve got this math problem, what’s the process that I need to go through to figure it out? Ultimately, your students need to develop some type of process to be able to master this new challenge.

 

Maybe there’s now an eighth note rest on the downbeat, and they’ve never done that before. They have to go through the process of counting and tapping it out. I’ve seen a lot of schools, they talk about, oh, we teach your kids life skills. You’re really teaching these kids some life skills here with this.

 

Daniel:

Yeah. Just to add to that, I completely agree with you. We had 30 studios join the training, around 30 studios join the training in June, and then we had about another dozen join in the last, since June, about the last 45 days. One of those guys, he was actually, you know I said a few minutes ago that I don’t really try to argue people into my point of view, this fella, and he actually said, I have a testimony from him already. He self-admittedly said he was a very hard sell on doing this.

 

But a couple of weeks after he joined the training, it was funny, he sent me an email and he said those exact words. He said I’m only starting out with a few groups because I’m wanting to test this and really feel comfortable with it, but these principles that I’m learning in terms of how to teach, they are directly applicable to teaching one-on-one. I feel those one-on-one students getting better. Yeah, I completely agree. There are elements of this that you can put into the marketing, even if you’re a one-to-one studio, and there are definitely elements of this that can improve your teaching if you enact it in a one-to-one studio, even in that private lesson environment.

 

Daniel:

There are things that you can’t get in the private lesson environment, but there are principles that can be learned here that you can help a child succeed more with.

 

Dave:

Well, and after, I can’t remember when it was, but you and I had a conversation about your teaching, this is maybe a couple of years ago, and I was still teaching and I found myself leaving the lesson, I would say to the kid, “All right, here’s this new challenge I’ve presented, I’m going to come back in three minutes.” I want you to know, so here’s the clock, and I’m going to leave the room and come back in three minutes, and then I would leave the room and I’d go to the kid parent and say, “I’m leaving the room, and here’s why,” and the parents loved it. They loved it.

 

I’d said, I really want your child, I’m modeling for your child what practice at home is going to look like because I wanted to bring the practice setting in that challenge, I wanted to bring it into the lesson, but then, it also created a performance opportunity because the kid knew, at some point, well, in three minutes, I’m coming back and the child’s going to have to play for me and perform for me. I could have gone into another room and spend a few minutes with another kid. I didn’t, and I just stood there out in the hall wasting time, but I did incorporate that into my teaching.

 

Dave:

So, it really does make a lot of sense what you’re doing. After I initially met you and you told me what you’re doing in your business, I did the math in terms of the amount of money that you’re able to generate, and the amount of money, at that point in time, I was running a studio with nine or 10 teachers and I had a big rent, and I figured out, you could potentially make more money as a solo teacher teaching group than a big operation like I was running. In terms of your ability to earn a nice living, it really is there, with this group format.

 

Daniel:

At the time that we spoke and did that work a couple of years ago when we really first met, I was teaching 22 hours a week and seeing just under 100 kids per week. I live in the Midwest, cost of living here is very low. Whenever I tell people on the coast what home prices are here, they get really, really jealous. I bring that up because at the time, I was making just over five figures a month teaching 22 hours a week in this group lesson format. Then, to speak to larger studios, last September, I worked with a big studio in, I think Orlando, Florida, or it might’ve been Tampa, I can’t remember, but they have something like 500 kids enrolled under one roof.

 

The owner of that studio reached out to me and actually had me work directly with the head of his piano department. They have 350 kids learning piano with that location to roll out a group program in this format in a large studio like that. This is not just for large studios, it’s not just for small studios. I think, if you have a room that’s 10 by 10 or 12 by 12, and you have a desire to increase your margins and give your kids more opportunity to succeed, then I think anybody can roll a program out like this. Hopefully, you don’t have to go to the school of hard knocks as I did, but you can take a couple of years to do it and figure out all of it.

 

Daniel:

But yeah, I think it’s definitely possible. It wasn’t purely a monetary decision for me. It wasn’t purely a monetary decision for me to do this, but I haven’t complained about it, right?

 

Dave:

Well, look, if you can do something that’s going to make you more money and is going to turn more kids onto music and make kids happier and enjoy this format better than the private lesson, it’s a win for everybody.

 

Daniel:

It is a win for everyone. Absolutely.

 

Dave:

I’ll never forget, the reason I did the math on your business is that you had a blog that you wrote, how I make $10,000 a month teaching private lessons. I’m thinking, no way. You can make 10,000 a month with a big studio with 12 teachers and maybe three or 400 kids, but you can’t do it teach him private lessons. I read it, I spoke with you, and then I did the math, and I’m like, wow, he really is making that kind of money, and there’s no reason why other people can’t and not have all these employees and have all this overhead. I thought it was some type of a false promise, some fancy sensational title to a blog, but it it’s real.

 

About Daniel Patterson

Daniel is a business coach that helps studio owners grow. That could be growing revenue and students, growing margins, growing the quality of their lesson program, or helping the studio owner grow and develop professionally.

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