Why Students Quit Music Lessons
I would say 80 to 90% of people who sign up for music lessons at your school have the hope that their child’s going to enjoy it and want to continue for months, or maybe even years. Parents don’t approach music lessons with a seasonal mindset. Music lessons aren’t like soccer where there’s a season that has a start and an end date.
Most parents really want their children to love their music lessons and to stick with it for as long as possible. Yet we all have students sign up and then within a few months, they drop out. When you ask them why they dropped out, quite often they’ll have an excuse—maybe there’s a scheduling conflict, the basketball season just started up, or their kid’s not practicing. At the end of the day, the reason they drop out is that the kid just didn’t like it enough. If more kids loved their music lessons, fewer kids would drop out.
You know your marketing is having an impact when your customers incorporate your brand language into their speech when describing your music school to their friends.
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Fixing Your Marketing Message
The first step to fixing this problem is to start with your marketing, specifically your marketing message. You might claim that your music lessons are fun, but if they were truly fun, not that many kids would drop out, or maybe fewer kids would drop out. Perhaps in your marketing, you claim that your music lessons help kids feel more confident. The better you deliver on that brand promise, the fewer kids would drop out.
This makes me think of a Zig Ziglar quote from his book Secrets of Closing the Sale where he says “The divorce rate would be much lower if more people in marriage delivered what they sold in courtship”. We can apply that to the music education industry and say, “Fewer students would drop out of your music school if you delivered in the lesson what you sell during the marketing and sales process”.
Implementing Your Brand Promise
We all get excited when we come up with a clever or meaningful marketing phrase. I used to use “Music lessons that help kids discover their potential”. That’s nice, but that’s just the beginning. So many businesses create a brand promise and then stop there. It’s like the Zig Ziglar quote about courtship. Everyone’s on their best behavior, putting their best foot forward, trying to persuade the other person that they’re Mr. or Mrs. Right, but when you get married, quite often different reality plays out”. Good and strong marriages are strengthened by both people constantly making effort to better deliver on their brand promise. The same applies to your music school.
When you claim your music lessons are fun, you have to obsess over how that becomes a reality and how to come up with ways to make the music lessons more fun, and then implement these new teaching techniques or strategies.
Involving Your Staff in Your Marketing Message
I wish fifteen years earlier, I told my team “This is what we tell prospective clients on the phone. We tell them that our music lessons are going to help their child discover their potential.” I’d like everyone to talk about how learning to play an instrument or really mastering an instrument would help you to discover your potential? What life skills to learning how to play an instrument teach you and how was learning to play an instrument helped you in life? How has it helped you cope in difficult situations? What role did it play in transforming your life into what it is now?
My staff loved these questions. Though quite personal, certainly these are questions that everyone enjoys talking about, and it was an emotional moment. It gave everyone an opportunity to reflect and think about how important music was to them. I asked them, “Can you imagine what would your life be like if you couldn’t play music?”, and that’s certainly a bleak reality for everybody.
Everyone on my staff felt such loyalty and commitment to music and to sharing it with other people and teaching it to other people. They were all smart people. They could have chosen more lucrative careers than teaching music and gigging on the weekends, but they all express such gratitude for how music had impacted their lives. So then, I said, “Now I’d like everyone to go around and talk about how in your lesson you bring to life what you all just talked about. How in your lesson kids are learning life skills? What do you do in your lesson to help kids solve problems, troubleshoot, and persevere when faced with a challenge? What do you do in your lesson that genuinely helps kids feel more confident? What do you do in your lesson to help kids discover their potential? The question wasn’t about what musical knowledge and information you share with them, but it was about forcing them to think on a deeper level.
Sometimes music teachers (and I’m guilty of this) are very caught up in this whole idea of feeling this pressure to transmit information to the student. I got to teach these kids the scales and chords, how to read the music theory, how to improvise, how to invert chords, and how to utilize relative scales. All of that stuff’s important, but the process of how that information is being taught is where you have the opportunity to make good on the brand promise.
Do Music Lessons Really Make Kids More Confident?
Confidence is a feeling. It’s a perception one has of themselves. How does anyone become confident? By having successful moments? Confidence is often elevated when a child experiences multiple failures and then finally overcomes the hurdle. A drum student who struggles to transition from a drumbeat into a drum fill but can transition back to the beat without flipping the beat and struggles with it and struggles again, and then finally, one day makes the transition, that’s confidence occurs.
Just by simply getting your staff to talk about music lessons in this way to think about music lessons in terms of life skills and character development, the music teacher plays the role of a mentor or a coach as opposed to just an instructor who’s sharing information. That’s why music lessons get interesting. Whenever a parent said to me that they’re pulling their kid out of my school because her child doesn’t practice, I always view that as a personal failure. Do you mean you’re going to deny your child the transformation that music can offer just because they’re not practicing? I fail to educate the parent on the idea that practice is a goal in itself if the child can work towards it.
Getting Control of the Product
Any business owner wants to have control of their product. Starbucks has control of its coffee. They have a process. They have ingredients. And every Starbucks coffee tastes the same. But every music lesson in your school is a little bit different because every teacher is a little bit different. Your teachers are the product. They are your frontline marketers and they need to be aligned with your marketing message. They have to buy into it. They have to use it as a source of inspiration and motivation. Your marketing message should be their rally cry. It’s not about making kids better musicians. That’s a desire that can only live within the child. If that’s an aspiration that a child ultimately develops, the music teachers are right there to help them achieve that goal.
Perhaps the students simply just want to have some musical wins and enjoy music on a very basic, maybe social level. They want to be able to strum a few chords by a campfire or play a little piano at a family gathering or be able to go to a blues jam and play some drum beats. By getting your staff involved in your marketing and getting them to align with it to buy into it, they’re going to eventually begin to talk differently to the students and to the students’ parents instead of saying, “Well, today in the lesson, Billy and I worked on playing a drum beat into a drum fill to a new drumbeat but on the right cymbal”. Instead, the teacher might say something like, “For the last three weeks, Billy’s been really struggling with transitioning from one section of music to another. And I just wanted to share with you how proud I am of him in terms of his ability to focus not to get frustrated and persevere. And finally today, after three weeks of working on this, he finally was able to make that transition.” This encourages your teachers to talk about personal development as opposed to musical development. It’s going to impact how your students and parents feel. It’s going to impact how parents talk about your music school to other people.
The Ultimate Success In Your Marketing
The most revealing sign of successful internal marketing success (and when I say internal marketing, I mean the marketing that you do within your school, which a lot of music schools neglect) is when your teachers incorporate your marketing language into their speech when they’re talking to students and parents. You know your marketing is having an impact when your customers incorporate your brand language into their speech when describing your music school to their friends.