A Group Class Parents Prefer to Private Lessons | Ep 191

Why Music Lesson Is an Anomaly Among Any After-School Activities

If you look at all after-school activities, whether it’s martial arts, dance, gymnastics, or sports—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 just so hard to do that it requires one-on-one attention? Or could it be something else?


Music is Often Played in an Ensemble: Teach Your Kids to Play Likewise

Sure there are mechanical challenges with any instrument, especially for a beginner and more so for someone who’s young, but perhaps all musicians have that story of an older sibling or a friend who taught them how to play Heart and Soul on the piano. Maybe Chopsticks? Or perhaps it was Smoke on the Water—a single-note version of it on the guitar.


How long did it take you to learn Heart and Soul on the piano? My good friend Johnny Green taught me how to play Heart and Soul. He learned from his older sister, and I was mesmerized when he played it, and it took me maybe five minutes, or ten at most, to kind of have a basic handle on it. And I loved it! It wasn’t hard. Now it might have been hard had he tried to teach it to me by putting sheet music in front of me; that’s another story. But why do we start kids out in private lessons? Especially concerning the fact that won’t quite often when we go and hear music, it’s played in a group setting. It’s an ensemble quite often performing.


If the music we listen to is often performed by an ensemble, why don’t we teach kids how to play that way? I think the answer probably is “Well, that’s just how it’s always been done.”


Break the Mold and Improve Your Profits

Not that long ago, the piano was a stationary instrument. You couldn’t pick up your piano and go to a piano lesson, or knock out some of your favorite songs in a get-together with some friends. Nowadays, pianos can be digital. You can now throw them under your arm or even cast them into your backseat. It has now become a much more flexible and mobile instrument than it was 30 or 40 years ago.


Now, if you look at the dance studio, everything’s done in groups. That makes a lot of sense—it’s fun! It’s social! Everyone gets to do this activity together, and it would be great for your school’s profit margins. Say you got 15 kids in a dance class with only one teacher. Think of all that profit you’d be generating in a single one-hour class alone.


Debunk the Myth in Music Lessons

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 true. Parents don’t care about music lessons. They care about the outcome that the music lesson provides or the outcome that they think the music lesson will provide.




A Group Class Parents Prefer to Private Lessons

Sure, there’s some prestige and status to having a child who plays an instrument, but I would say most parents are hoping that their child will learn an instrument. They hope that the process of learning an instrument will help their child feel better about themselves, feel more confident, and feel a sense of accomplishment.


Familiar Reasons Why and Why Not Parents Sign Up their Kids to Group Lessons


1. Everybody Else is Doing It

Parents will sign their children up for a group class if they believe that they can achieve the desired outcome through the group class. Most parents simply don’t understand the value of group lessons. Most don’t even understand how music lessons even work. Maybe when they took lessons as a child, they probably didn’t have a great experience. They want their child to take music lessons, and part of it’s because everybody else is doing it.


2. The Value of Group Lesson Remains Unclear

Even so, I think there’s a part of them that genuinely recognizes the value in music lessons, but they don’t really understand what it is that they’re buying.


If you have a parent who’s looking to buy a new outfit at the mall, they have a really good sense of what it is that they’re looking for. Most parents don’t know what to look for in a private lesson. They don’t really know what makes one music lesson better than another.


3. Parents Don’t Know Enough About It

Parents say no to group lessons because they don’t know enough about them to say yes. They’ll say yes to a group lesson if the value is obvious and attractive to them and if they understand how group lessons can provide an experience that can’t be replicated in a private lesson.


Marketing Your Group Classes: How to Influence Parents’ Perception and Actually Get Sign Ups

1. Help Parents Get a Brand New Perspective on the Outcome of Group Lessons

Now, this is where sales and marketing come to play. If you can help parents see how the group lesson can better achieve the desired outcome that they’re looking for than the private lesson, or at least for the beginner, they’ll choose the group most of the time if not every time.


2. Create a Group Class that Can’t be Replicated in a Private Lesson

If you can design a group class that creates an unmatched experience over a private lesson, an experience that can be articulated in just a few sentences with a considerably more attractive outcome to parents, they’ll choose your group class.


How Private Lessons and Group Classes Played Out in My Music School

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 be able to keep a steady beat. The kids had to be comfortable with playing fast tempos. Guitar players had to have good accuracy with their right hand in playing scales, solos, and melody lines. IT TAKES TIME.


1. Kids Get Equipped with Skills First To Be in a Group

Some kids, maybe on the early side, say within four or five months, had the skills to be in a group. Quite often, it took up to a year, which meant that when I got a new student or a beginner in my school, I had to wait months. That child had to wait months before they could go into a group. The kids came into the school, and most of them are excited about the thought of being in a group.


2. Retention Rates Become Better in Groups

I was excited about it, too, for two reasons. One is 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; rather, 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 went into a group, the rehearsals were longer than private lessons. Parents paid more for the groups, and the profit margins were better.


4. Group Programs Become a Way to 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 in groups. This is when I developed my Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz program. These programs for ages 4 to 11 ultimately allowed me to funnel all incoming students in that age group right into a group. It allowed me to reposition the private lesson as a destination, and I had to work on not just developing the programs, but specifically how to talk about the programs on the phone.


5. Pitching Group Classes Build Interest in Parents

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 program for them to start and then drum lessons. Things really got interesting when I said, “We recommend Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz programs for all incoming students.” It even got more interesting when I said, “All students your child’s age start out in this group class.” It was a statement of confidence.


6. You Can Position Yourself as the Expert

I realized my parents relied on me and my staff to direct them. They didn’t 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. You as the music school owner 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 destination, some parents push back. Not many of them. What we would do is just say “Okay. Well, you know what, we’ll give you a 30-day money-back guarantee. We’re so confident that your child’s going to love this program. I know he’s a total beginner. Everybody else in this class is a total beginner. Try it out. If you don’t love it, we’ll refund you your money for the month. Then, we can go in and then your child can transition into private lessons.”


Why Kids Struggle Playing the 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 guitarist, the bassist, and the drummers don’t. Kids typically learn to play the piano as a standalone instrument, and that 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. It can certainly function as an entire symphony orchestra.


2. Participating in a Band Setting Challenges Kids Musically

What I found to be challenging for a lot of my piano students is when I would put them in the ensemble. They struggled with participating musically in the band setting. These kids are so used to being able to carry the melody and chords in the right hand with the bass patterns in their left hand, but that doesn’t fly in a group setting.


3. Playing the Piano as 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 with you, there’s no reason why the piano shouldn’t be taught differently now. 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 because the other people in the group can carry the rhythm in which they can 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 and a rock band can really be a highly creative endeavor. So many of my piano students going into the band were so used to the music always being scripted out for them, so I had to start teaching my piano students differently. I wanted to equip them better to play in the band setting.


How the Kids’ Struggles Shaped the Idea of Piano Jam and Its Value on Business


1. Piano Jam Allows You to Take the Unconventional Way to Music Education

Fast forward a few years, 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’d be so great if you could take that Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz approach to music education and apply it to the piano.”


2. Piano Jam Helps Your Kids Look Beyond the Sheet Music

At that point in time, I really wasn’t interested in trying to develop any new programs, but that idea really sat with me. I thought back to my days of owning a music school and trying to teach my piano students how to participate in a band setting, how to wean themselves off of sight reading and sheet music so that they could think more rhythmically and understand chords the way that guitar players do. So, I came up with the idea of putting a program together.


3. Your Kids Get to Experience Exploring the Edges

This is really just going to be a musical experiment. I put a program together in which the whole band is the keyboard. It’s an all-keyboard performing ensemble that plays with the support of a drummer or a maybe bass player, where the keyboard isn’t just one of many instruments in the band.


What’s so nice about the digital keyboard is you can have all these different sounds on it. I thought, “Well, what if you can get 356 kids together and each keyboard has a different sound so that the kids can create a really dynamic and full sound.”


4. Imagine Putting Up a Whole Band with All Keyboards

The setup is not five kids all playing the piano. It’s one kid on piano, one kid playing the organ, one kid playing a synth, one kid playing strings, and one kid playing an electric piano. So, I decided to give this a go.


5. Your 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.


The Four Piano Jam Levels

1. Piano One

Level one is for the complete beginner, which is for the child that can’t really play at all. It’s where the instruction happens. Right there! On the spot.


2. Piano Two

The second level is Piano Two, which is a little bit more involved specifically in the left hand.

3. Piano Three

Now, the melody of the song is being played in the right hand by Piano Three with some support chords in the left hand.


4. Piano Four

Lastly, piano four is a considerably more developed part, and that’s for a child who’s really a strong reader.


What My Musical Experiment Taught Me in Marketing Piano Jam

So I wrote up some sheet music. I ran some ads, created a one-page website, called the program Piano Jam, and I got 13 kids to sign up!


1. Choose the Right Words for Your Sales Pitch

Now, one thing I think is important to point out is this is a very conservative or traditional community. I knew that if I use the word rock band, that might not sit well with a lot of people. So I use the word ensemble, kind of like how you hear me today on this episode.


2. Deliver the Promise

Some of the parents were a little concerned that this wasn’t the traditional approach to the piano that I really worked on how I talked about it on the phone. I wanted their child to come out of that first class feeling good about themselves. I even made a promise and said “Your child in that first class is going to be able to know how to play every major and minor chord.”


3. Absorb the Risk

They’ll be amazed at what their child can do in just 1 to 3 weeks of rehearsals, and I presented a 30-day money back guarantee in case their child didn’t love it. I formed three different groups with these 13 kids, and the program was up and running. Within just a few weeks, all of my groups were playing complete-sounding pop songs.


4. Create an Effort to Educate the Parents

Again, these are all songs that I wrote. They sounded like rock and pop songs. In the class, I would use drum loops. They’d play along with the drum loop, and every week I’d send out an email to the parents educating them on how this program works and what their child is learning.


5. Anticipate Possible Concerns from Parents

I was trying to anticipate concerns parents might have about the value of this program since it was so different. The program used sight reading, but sight reading was treated more as a reference tool for the kids as opposed to the sole form of communication.


6. Set Your Hopes and Goals for the Kids

What I really hope for in this musical experiment was to see the kids really going to get excited about playing the piano, and they did! They were into it, and the parents are giving me that kind of feedback.


7. Never Bring Up Practice

What I didn’t expect was the amount of practicing these kids were doing at home. Before I started the class, I told the parents that the only way for this program to work is that they don’t ever pressure their child to practice and that they never even bring it up at home. I never brought it up in class. I never said you have to practice; instead, what I said is once they can all play Piano One with basic proficiency, then they can move up to Piano Two, Three, and Four.


8. Make a System to Motivate Kids to Practice

I’d say, “So guys, here’s what a Piano Two sounds like. Does anyone here want to play it?” Then I see all the hands go up. “Okay. In order to play Piano Two, you have to come back next week and show me that you can play all of Piano One with some basic proficiency.”


But how are they going to do that? How are they going to come back and play Piano One with just a basic level of proficiency? They’re going to have to practice. I didn’t say they have to practice. I said, “If you want to go to Piano Two, this is what you got to do. You gotta master Piano One.”


9. Create a Healthy Competition Among Kids

Well, next week in each group, at least one kid really could confidently and competently play Piano One. So I move those kids and showed them a Piano Two, and they were up and playing it.


You can guess what happened. A healthy dose of competition took place as kids kept moving up to Piano Two, Piano Three, and then to Piano Four in each part. Musically, it was more exciting to them when they heard the Piano Four part. “Wow! That sounded amazing”.


Again, I never said, “You practice”. I just say, “Well, 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 play you guys with just a short sample of one of my groups. As you’ll hear, some of the kids have the piano sound. There are two boys in this group that have a synth sound, and they’re playing the Piano Four part. They’re performing in concert with a higher drummer that I had play along with them. Now, I’m playing along with them too. I’m playing a bass part in my left hand and then adding somebody to the mix. All the while, I too hang out with the Piano Two part where the other kids are. I kinda give them a musical reference point. Let’s give it a listen.


Not bad for maybe three months of rehearsals. It’d be 10 to 12 rehearsals. None of these kids could play a note on the piano on day one, and they were so proud of themselves. They were so pleased with what they were able to do.


A Turnkey Program that You Can Roll Out for Your Music School Business

I wanted to share with you today on the podcast that I’m now making this program available to music schools to license, just as I license my other programs that I mentioned Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz, which are typically $235 a month.

Get the Chance to Avail the $195 Lock-In Rate for a Year 

But if you license Piano Jam, simply reserve it by February 18, and you can license it for $195 a month and have that rate locked in for a year.


Set Up Your Rates The Way You Want

Now, Piano Jam’s a one-hour class. I’d recommend music schools charge their 45-minute lesson rate for this hour class. Even if you don’t do 45-minute lessons, you could take your 30-minute lesson rate, cut it in half, and add that amount to it. Most likely your charge would be over $200.


Run the Program Risk-Free

Really, one student in the program should more than cover your monthly investment. If you aren’t blown away by the results of this program after 3 months of running it, I’ll refund you all of your money.


So you got 90 days to try this out, and I’ll give you 50% back of your one-time buy-in if you decide that this program isn’t working out for you. So I’m pretty much absorbing all the risks here.


Get a 90-Day Moneyback Guarantee

Once again, it’s $195 a month. You get that locked in for a year. That rate will go up to $235 in year two. There’s a 90-day money-back guarantee. No questions asked if you’re not loving the program or it’s just you feel like it’s not for you. It doesn’t really kind of fit in with what your school is about. That’s fine. I’ll refund you all the money, and I’ll give you 50% back of your one-time $150 buy-in.


Take All the Marketing Materials and Resources for Free

Just like with Kidzrock and Jr. Rockerz, all of the marketing materials are there. The program’s designed so that it’s totally turnkey. You can roll it out and have all the tools and resources you need to run a successful Piano Jam program, and you don’t even need a big ensemble room to run this. If you got a room that can have at least three keyboards in it, you can run this program.


Schedule a Call Now

If you’d like to simply schedule a call with me to learn more about this and see if this is for you, you can visit davesimonsmusic.com.


But first, I want to play for you a 60-second video. You’ll hear again some kids playing one of the songs in the background, but more importantly, you’ll hear parents sharing their impressions of the program. They’ll share with you how they overcame their concerns about group lessons.


I was so amazed and so pleased to hear that all these parents said that their kids practice without ever being asked to or without ever being prompted to. Let’s give it a listen.


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