Why Music Lessons Stand Out Among After-School Activities
If you look at all after-school activities, whether it’s martial arts, dance, gymnastics, or sports—they all start kids out in a group setting, but not music lessons, at least historically. That’s not how music lessons work. With music lessons, a child starts off in a private lesson.
Why is that? Is it because playing an instrument is so challenging that it requires one-on-one attention, or could it be something else?
Teaching Kids to Play Music in an Ensemble
While all instruments pose mechanical challenges, especially for beginners and the young, many musicians share stories of learning simple tunes like “Heart and Soul” or “Chopsticks” on the piano, or a single-note version of “Smoke on the Water” on the guitar, often taught by an older sibling or a friend.
Starting kids with private lessons raises questions, considering that much music is performed in group settings or ensembles.
Why don’t we teach kids to play music in ensembles, given that much of the music we listen to is performed that way? Probably because ’that’s just how it’s always been done’.
Break the Mold for Increased Profits
Not long ago, pianos were stationary, limiting portability for lessons or casual gatherings. Now, with digital pianos, you can carry them under your arm or place them in your backseat, offering much greater flexibility and mobility than 30 or 40 years ago.
Now, if you look at the dance studio, everything is done in groups. That makes a lot of sense—it’s fun, it’s social! Everyone gets to participate in this activity together, and it would be great for your school’s profit margins. Imagine having 15 kids in a dance class with only one teacher. Think of all the profit you’d generate in a single one-hour class alone.
Debunking Music Lesson Myths
Now, one could answer the question, “Why do music schools introduce children to playing an instrument through private lessons?” Well, perhaps it’s because that’s what parents want; they prefer private lessons to groups, but that’s not always true.
Parents don’t care about music lessons; they care about the outcomes they believe the lessons will provide.
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Following the Trend
While there’s prestige and status in having a child who plays an instrument, most parents hope that their child will learn and, in the process, gain self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
Parents enroll their children in group classes when they believe these classes can achieve the desired outcome. Many parents may not fully grasp the value of group lessons or how music lessons work.
Perhaps, based on their own childhood experiences, they did not have a positive learning experience. Nonetheless, they want their children to take music lessons, in part because everybody else is doing it.
Parents Lack Knowledge of Group Lessons
Even so, I think there’s a part of them that genuinely recognizes the value of music lessons, but they may not fully understand what it is they’re purchasing.
Parents reject group lessons because they lack sufficient knowledge to say yes. They will embrace a group lesson when they find its value clear and appealing, understanding how it offers an experience unique to private lessons.
How to Influence Parents and Boost Sign-Ups for Your Group Classes
1. Provide Parents with a Fresh Perspective on Group Lesson Outcomes
Now, this is where sales and marketing come into play. If you can help parents see how the group lesson can better achieve their desired outcomes than the private lesson, especially for beginners, they will choose the group option most, if not every, time.
2. Craft a Unique Group Class Unmatched in Private Lessons
If you can design a group class that offers a unique experience compared to a private lesson, one that can be succinctly described and presents a more appealing outcome to parents, they’ll choose your group class.
Private vs. Group Lessons: Experiences at My Music School
1. Kids Build Skills Before Joining a Group
My music school was a rock school. Not everyone started out in rock bands. They had to build some core skills and be able to smoothly transition from chords on their instruments.
Drummers had to keep a steady beat, and the kids had to be comfortable with playing fast tempos. Guitar players needed good accuracy with their right hand in playing scales, solos, and melody lines. It takes time.
Some kids, perhaps on the early side, say within four or five months, had the skills to join a group. Quite often, it took up to a year, meaning that when I got a new student or a beginner in my school, I had to wait for months.
The child had to wait for months before being able to join a group. When the kids entered the school, most of them were excited about the prospect of being in a group.
2. Retention Rates Become Better In Groups
I was excited about it, too, for two reasons. One reason is that I knew once I got a kid in a group, my retention rates would improve. The child was much more likely to stay in my school longer because the groups were fun, and the performances were no longer recitals; instead, they were concerts when they were in a group.
3. Group Classes Improve Profit Margins
You had camaraderie and teamwork at play, and my business made more money. When a child joined a group, the rehearsals were longer than private lessons. Parents paid more for the group sessions, and the profit margins were better.
4. Group Programs Reposition Private Lessons
So it was a real win for everybody, but as my school grew, I wanted to find ways to get more and more of my students into groups. This is when I developed my Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz programs.
These programs, designed for ages 4 to 11, ultimately allowed me to channel all incoming students in that age group directly into a group setting. It enabled me to reposition private lessons as a destination. I had to work not only on developing the programs but also on specifically refining how to discuss them over the phone.
5. Pitching Group Classes Build Parents’ Interest
Parents would call and say, “Hey, I want to sign up my eight-year-old for drums.” My objective was to show them how my Jr. Rockerz program was a better option for them to start than just drum lessons.
Things got really interesting when I said, “We recommend Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz programs for all incoming students.” It became even more interesting when I added, “All students your child’s age start out in this group class.” It was a statement of confidence.
6. You Are The Expert
I realized that my parents relied on me and my staff to guide them. They didn’t always know what was best for their child when it came to music, but they trusted us. We’re the musicians; we’re the experts. If your doctor tells you, “Okay, you need to cut back on sugar,” but you want to eat more sugar, you have to trust the expert, and the doctor is the expert. As the music school owner, you are the expert.
7. Private Lessons Become The Destination
My school became more profitable but not necessarily bigger. When we told incoming students that all students start out in one of these group classes and that the private lesson was the ultimate destination, some parents pushed back, but not many of them.
What we would do is say, “We’ll give you a 30-day money-back guarantee. We’re so confident that your child is going to love this program. I know he’s a total beginner, and everybody else in this class is a total beginner too. Try it out. If you don’t love it, we’ll refund your money for the month. Then, we can discuss transitioning your child into private lessons.”
Challenges in Kids Playing Piano in an Ensemble
1. Kids Learn The Piano As A Standalone Instrument
One thing I noticed in my school that always troubled me was working with piano students in an ensemble setting. They struggled in a way that the guitarists, the bassists, and the drummers didn’t. Kids typically learn to play the piano as a standalone instrument, and it certainly makes sense why there’s a struggle.
The piano might be the only instrument that can produce ten tones and ten sounds at one time. You can’t do that on the guitar; you can only produce four at one time unless you’re strumming open strings. The piano can function as an entire band and can certainly serve as an entire symphony orchestra.
2. Struggles in Keeping Up with Band Members
What I found challenging for many of my piano students was when I would place them in an ensemble. They struggled with participating musically in a band setting.
These kids are so used to carrying the melody and chords in the right hand with bass patterns in their left hand, but that doesn’t work in a group setting.
3. Being a Team Player is Hard
A pianist has to be a team player. Now that the piano can be portable, like a little digital keyboard that you can throw into your arm and carry anywhere, there’s no reason why piano instruction shouldn’t evolve.
There’s no reason why kids taking piano lessons shouldn’t learn how to participate in an ensemble, think more rhythmically, and understand that they don’t have to play all the time. Other people in the group can carry the rhythm, allowing them to incorporate space.
It’s more like a bass player; they can create textures with the synth. With a piano, you can use the sustain pedal, but you can really approach the keyboard in a whole different way. A piano or a keyboard in a rock band can truly be a highly creative endeavor.
So many of my piano students entering the band were accustomed to having the music always scripted out for them, so I had to start teaching my piano students differently. I wanted to better equip them to play in a band setting.
How Kids’ Struggles Shaped Piano Jam and Its Business Value
1. Embraces an Unconventional Approach to Music Education
Fast forward a few years, and I had a phone call with Danny Thompson. I’m sure many of you are familiar with him and his Music Lesson Business Academy podcast. Danny licenses my Kidzrock program. He said, “Dave, I think it would be great if you could take that Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz approach to music education and apply it to the piano.”
2. Encourages Kids to Look Beyond Sheet Music
At that time, I wasn’t particularly inclined to embark on the development of new programs, but the idea really sat with me. I thought back to my days of owning a music school, where I tried to teach my piano students how to participate effectively in a band setting and how to wean themselves off of sight reading and sheet music to embrace a more rhythmic approach and comprehend chords akin to guitar players, the notion persisted. So, I came up with the idea of putting a program together.
3. Kids Get To Explore The Edges
This is really just going to be a musical experiment. I’ve developed a program where the entire band functions as the keyboard. It’s an all-keyboard performing ensemble that plays with the support of a drummer or perhaps a bass player. Here, the keyboard isn’t merely one of many instruments in the band.
What’s great about the digital keyboard is that it can produce a variety of sounds. I thought, “What if we gather 356 kids, each equipped with a keyboard featuring a unique sound? This way, the kids can collaboratively create a dynamic and full musical experience.”
4. Create a Full Band with All Keyboards
The setup isn’t five kids all playing the piano; rather, it consists of one kid on piano, another on the organ, a third on synth, a fourth on strings, and a fifth on an electric piano. Intrigued by this idea, I decided to give it a go.
5. Kids Crave Practice Like Never Before
Living here in Cleveland, I wrote up some sheet music that’s very similar to how Jr. Rockerz is put together, where each song that I wrote for the program contains four different levels.
Living here in Cleveland, I wrote some sheet music that closely mirrors the structure of Jr. Rockerz. Each song I’ve written for the program contains four distinct levels.
The Four Piano Jam Levels
1. Piano One
Level one is designed for the complete beginner, catering to children who are just starting and may not be able to play at all. This is where the instruction takes place, right on the spot.
2. Piano Two
The second level is Piano Two, which involves a more detailed focus, particularly on the left hand.
3. Piano Three
Now, Piano Three plays the melody of the song in the right hand, supported by chords in the left hand.
4. Piano Four
Lastly, Piano Four is a more advanced section, designed for a child who is a proficient reader.
Marketing Lessons from My Piano Jam Experiment
1. Craft an Effective Sales Pitch with the Right Words
I wrote some sheet music, ran ads, created a one-page website, named the program Piano Jam, and managed to get 13 kids to sign up!
Now, one thing I think is important to point out is that this is a very conservative or traditional community. I knew that using the term “rock band” might not sit well with many people. So, I opted for the word “ensemble,” similar to how you hear me use it today on this episode.
2. Deliver The Promise
Some parents expressed concerns that this wasn’t the traditional approach to the piano when I discussed it with them on the phone. I aimed to assure them that I wanted their child to leave the first class with a positive experience. I even made a promise, saying, “Your child, after that first class, will know how to play every major and minor chord.”
3. Absorb The Risk
They’ll be amazed at what their child can achieve in just 1 to 3 weeks of rehearsals, and I offered a 30-day money-back guarantee in case their child didn’t love it. I organized these 13 kids into three different groups, and the program was up and running. Within just a few weeks, all of my groups were playing complete-sounding pop songs
4. Educate The Parents
Once again, these are all songs that I wrote, and they sounded like rock and pop tunes. In the class, we would use drum loops, and the kids would play along. Every week, I’d send an email to the parents, educating them on how the program works and detailing what their child is learning.
5. Anticipate Possible Concerns From Parents
I aimed to address any concerns parents might have had about the value of this program, given its unconventional nature. While the program incorporated sight reading, it was treated more as a reference tool for the kids rather than the sole form of communication.
6. Set Your Hopes And Goals For The Kids
What I truly hoped for in this musical experiment was to see the kids genuinely excited about playing the piano, and they were! They got into it, and the parents provided positive feedback.
7. Avoid Mentioning Practice
What I didn’t expect was the amount of practicing these kids were doing at home. Before I started the class, I informed the parents that the only way for this program to work was if they never pressured their child to practice and never brought it up at home.
I refrained from discussing it in class, never insisting on practice. Instead, what I emphasized was that once they could all play Piano One with basic proficiency, they could progress to Piano Two, Three, and Four.
8. Create a System to Motivate Kids for Practice
I’d say, “So, guys, here’s what Piano Two sounds like. Who here wants to give it a try?” Then, I’d see all the hands go up. “Alright, to play Piano Two, you need to come back next week and demonstrate that you can play all of Piano One with some basic proficiency.”
But how are they going to do that? How will they come back and play Piano One with just a basic level of proficiency? The answer is through practice. I didn’t say they have to practice; I said, “If you want to advance to Piano Two, here’s what you need to do: master Piano One.”
9. Foster Healthy Competition Among Kids
Well, in each group the following week, at least one kid could confidently and competently play Piano One. So, I moved those kids and introduced them to Piano Two, and they were up and playing it.
You can guess what happened. A healthy dose of competition took place as kids moved up to Piano Two, then Piano Three, and finally to Piano Four in each part. Musically, it was more exciting for them when they reached the Piano Four part. “Wow! That sounded amazing.”
Again, I never said, “You must practice.” I simply said, “If you want to play Piano Four, show me that you can play Piano Three.” The parents never talked to their kids about practicing.
10. Enjoy The Process
So, I want to share a short sample with you from one of my groups. As you’ll hear, some of the kids are playing the piano sound. Two boys in this group have a synth sound and are handling the Piano Four part.
They’re performing alongside a drummer, and I’ve added my own contribution, playing a bass part in my left hand. Simultaneously, I’m hanging out with the Piano Two part where the other kids are, providing them with a musical reference point. Let’s give it a listen.
Not bad for perhaps three months of rehearsals—about 10 to 12 sessions. None of these kids could play a note on the piano on day one, and they were so proud of themselves, pleased with what they were able to achieve.
Turnkey Program for Your Music School Business
I wanted to share with you today on the podcast that I’m now making this program available for licensing to music schools, similar to my other programs like Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz, which are typically priced at $235 a month.
Secure the $195 Lock-In Rate for One Year
But if you license Piano Jam, simply reserve it by February 18, and you can lock in the rate at $195 a month for a year.
Customize Your Rates as You Wish
Now, Piano Jam is a one-hour class. I’d recommend that music schools charge their 45-minute lesson rate for this hour-long class. Even if you don’t typically offer 45-minute lessons, you could take your 30-minute lesson rate, cut it in half, and add that amount to it. In most cases, your charge would be over $200.
Run the Program Without Risks
Indeed, just one student in the program should more than cover your monthly investment. If, after running the program for three months, you’re not blown away by the results, I’ll refund all of your money.
You have 90 days to try this out, and if you decide that this program isn’t working for you, I’ll give you a 50% refund of your one-time buy-in. So, I’m essentially absorbing all the risks here.
Enjoy a 90-Day Money-Back Guarantee
Once again, it’s $195 a month, locked in for a year. The rate will increase to $235 in year two. Additionally, there’s a 90-day money-back guarantee.
No questions asked if you’re not loving the program or if you feel like it’s not for you and doesn’t align with what your school is about. That’s fine. I’ll refund you all the money, and I’ll give you a 50% refund of your one-time $150 buy-in.
Access Marketing Materials and Resources for Free
Just like with Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz, all the marketing materials are provided. The program is designed to be totally turnkey, so you can roll it out with all the tools and resources needed for a successful Piano Jam program.
You don’t even need a big ensemble room to run this. If you have a room that can accommodate at least three keyboards, you can run this program.
Book Your Call Now
But first, I want to play a 60-second video for you. In the background, you’ll hear some kids playing one of the songs, but more importantly, you’ll hear parents sharing their impressions of the program. They’ll talk about how they overcame their concerns about group lessons.
I was so amazed and pleased to hear that all these parents said their kids practiced without ever being asked or prompted. Let’s give it a listen.