Every day, you see young students arrive enthusiastically for private lessons in your music school. During recitals and showcases, they perform with confidence and poise. Adult students, on the other hand, approach you with caution, if not trepidation, inquiring “for a friend” about music lessons. Why is this, and what can be done to help?
One common reason adults fear learning a musical instrument is because of a long-ago negative experience. An adult student of mine recounted that in fourth grade, in front of everyone, her choir teacher told her she was tone-deaf. She was not only embarrassed and discouraged but for the next 40 years also believed she couldn’t sing!
Perhaps your student never got the chance to play saxophone because he or she was outshined by an older sibling, or fear of failure prevented that person from even touching an instrument. Maybe music was so underappreciated at home that it wasn’t a choice at all.
A fearful adult music student needs to feel invited, supported and encouraged. Once adult students have had a positive experience, they’ll feel the emotional and psychological benefit of learning and playing music, and their fears will quickly fade.
Your teachers and retail staff can create a positive experience the following ways:
• Ask prospective adult students, “What’s your musical story?” Have them share their experiences with music, whether positive or negative, and get them to recall the details of those events. Show that you’re listening, and let them talk without interrupting them.
• Get an instrument in their hands. Rather than talk about lessons at the outset, hand them a ukulele or invite them to pick up a guitar. This helps bypass their initial fears that instruments hold some sort of mystical power and lets them feel that it’s not as intimidating as they think.
• Be matter of fact. When I told my voice student that tone-deafness was a clinical condition requiring a diagnosis, she was immediately relieved and able to sing a simple tune in key. Speaking factually earns their trust, gives them a chance to be open so you can pair them with the right teacher, and can be the beginning of a long and fruitful customer relationship.
• Make ’em laugh! If you can get your potential adult music students to laugh while teaching them a chord or two on the salesfloor, they’ll know they’ve made a valuable connection in your store and school.
As we grow older, so does our aversion to risk. No matter how accomplished we may be at one thing, each of us secretly has something we’d love to be able to do, but fear of failure stands in our way. Remember the adult who was inquiring about lessons “for a friend”? Creating a positive interaction with music in your store will get her to sign up for lessons, too!