The Biggest Mistakes in Lesson Programs

Music lesson programs can seem like a no-brainer—get new students, keep them. But at The 2017 NAMM Show, music lessons expert Pete Gamber showed that it takes more than wishful thinking to build a successful lesson program. During this NAMM U session, Gamber, a teacher and former retailer, shared his lessons learned and how to avoid mistakes with a program. Here are highlights from the presentation. (Watch the video for the full session.)

Know your lesson room potential. It’s not enough to say you want to have 500 students. You’ll need a formula to figure out the potential of your lesson program. Gamber shared his own formula: Multiply your number of lesson rooms by the number of possible lesson slots in those rooms per day. Then, multiply it by six (or the number of days per week you offer lessons). Factor in school-age students and adults when scheduling. (Watch the video for the slide).

Don’t let your lesson program become a new year’s resolution. Don’t run out of steam by summer. Stay charged up.

Have a blueprint. Accountability comes from setting goals. Charge your sales staff to book a lesson every day, and post a chart to track the stats. Consider offering incentives that get bigger with the number of lessons booked. Develop student sign-up and lesson retention plans, so your staff knows what to do and where they’re going. Train your staff on product, and make sure they’re up on the latest features to demonstrate to students. If there’s no training on product, there’s no training on lessons.

Tell everyone you know that you offer lessons. You’ll want to get everyone you know on your lessons team. Gamber shared that his hairstylist sends him students. Hand out cards and fliers, even if you’re driving through a fast food window. Ask your entire staff to get involved, even those not in the lessons department. If your staff talks with a customer, they should mention that you offer lessons. This includes your repair and sales staff, school reps, collections department and accountant.

Train your staff to close the sale on lessons. Employees often assume that everyone knows about your lesson program, but this isn’t the case. Train your staff on handling lesson inquiries. It’s their job to answer questions, help with online lesson sign-ups and close the sale. Teachers should be teaching. Staff shouldn’t hand off customer calls to teachers, nor should they ask customers to call back and speak with teachers. Staff needs to be involved and make lessons a priority.

Don’t wait for students to come in. Call drum kit renters and tell them you teach drums. Host an “Intro to Drums” class and invite kids to come in (they can bring practice pads), then rotate them on the drum set. When Gamber held this class, he said that he converted more than half the kids into drum students. Rental returns are also an opportunity. Try converting students who are ready to quit band, and get them signed up for lessons on another instrument—guitar, flute, violin or drums. When a customer asks about beginner books or to tune a guitar, those are opportunities to talk about your lesson program.

Don’t promote only prime times for lessons. Everyone wants a 3 p.m. slot. Stop asking, “What time is best for you?” Tell customers, “We have a great teacher at (name the time),” and book the early morning and late-afternoon slots. Retired people can come in at 10 a.m. to mid-morning. Have a lesson-booking plan. (Note: It may take some time to get your schedule where you want it.)

Match new students with the right teacher. Don’t give customers the line about all of your teachers being good. Know your teachers’ personalities and expertise, and match students with the right teacher. Unless there’s a good fit, you will lose students.

Sign up new lessons with high-retention teachers. You can’t expect to grow if you sign up low-retention teachers with new students—you’ll lose those students quickly. Don’t book bad teachers with new blood. Start looking now for good teachers. You wouldn’t carry a bad product in your store, and you shouldn’t keep unsuccessful teachers. Your students will pay the price. Get the teacher on track, or ask them to leave.

Make your teachers accountable. Track your teacher retention rates. According to Gamber, the No. 1 reason teachers don’t retain students is the teachers aren’t fun. They teach “bore-damentals” instead of fundamentals. Give teachers who participate in student showcases priority booking. Develop a Student Performance Status for teachers who participate in performance events.

Host performance events. You can’t expect students to just take lessons, practice and repeat the cycle endlessly. They need to have fun, get excited and perform. Take a lesson from the American Youth Soccer Organization, where games are played year-round. Its saying is “Everyone Plays.” Does everyone play in your lesson program? Take another look at your program for student and teacher excitement levels.

Don’t rely on teachers to create performance events. As owners and managers, make sure you’re supporting your lesson program, students and teachers by creating and scheduling performance opportunities. In December, Gamber shared that he put on events three Sundays in a row. Host summer events, too—Gamber had 12 events during his Summer Music Fest. You want your students to have so much fun that they’re recruiting more students for your program.