Admittedly this is a buzzkill, but it’s a reality that every guitar student you have today will eventually stop taking lessons with you. Even the best are on a pipeline that ends in “So long! Thanks for lessons.” So what can you shift right now to keep your guitar students from quitting and ensure they stay on a successful learning path?
Rather than accept the fact that all students have an expiry date, you should be proactively working to push this date back and extend the lifetime of the student as long as possible.
In this article, by identifying these six ways to keep your students learning longer, you can extend the timeline of many of your enrolled students. Ultimately it will also help them achieve a higher level of guitar playing, where it becomes truly rewarding for them. How satisfying is that as the leader, when you know your work is effective?
Retention Step 1: Understand the Student Lifecycle
It’s an unfortunate reality, but every student you ever have will eventually stop taking lessons with you. Beginning teachers often overlook this and are surprised, unprepared, or simply annoyed when students quit lessons for a variety of reasons.
But instead of venting about the next student that drops, what if you could take an opportunity today to proactively work on retention? If you had the opportunity to extend the lifetime of your students and have them learning with you for longer, wouldn’t you take action?
Frequently, guitar teachers put a lot of attention and energy into booking new students. One thing they’re overlooking is it’s simpler (and less expensive) to increase the time students learn with you to replace them and fill schedule gaps once they’re gone.
As quoted in this Forbes article, marketers advise that getting the first dollar from a new customer is much more expensive and time-consuming than booking repeat work from your existing customers who are already accustomed to paying you.
So rather than be running on an eternal treadmill trying, why not try some of these ideas to keep your students learning (and enrolled with you) for longer.
Retention Step 2: Make lessons personally relevant
The number one reason students quit their guitar lessons is that the teacher wasn’t teaching them songs they liked (or had even heard of) or that there was too much of a focus on sight-reading and music theory.
If you want your students to stay with you for longer, you need to have them playing songs and music that they enjoy, because if they don’t enjoy their lesson, it’s only a matter of time until then they quit.
In addition, if you need to teach a particular technique, try to find a song relevant to the student that uses the technique or concept to learn what they need in the context of what they like. Adopt this approach and watch how engaged your students become.
Retention Step 3: Create clear direction & learning goals
Imagine going on a holiday to many rural towns one town at a time and only deciding on the next destination on the morning you arrive. The trip would be absolute chaos, with a totally random and wholly inefficient travel route. Once the journey is over, who knows where you end up?
For many teachers and students, the norm of weekly lessons is:
- Students arrives for their lesson
- Teacher asks, “What do you feel like learning today?“
- Student tells them what they feel like at the moment, and the teacher figures it out and makes a lesson around it.
- Or plot twist — Student says, “I don’t know”, and the teacher has to develop something on the spot.
This learning method holds the student back because it doesn’t follow any clear path and lacks direction.
Just like spinning the globe and deciding on the next holiday destination, the student bounces around to different things every week without ever building on or consolidating topics or even finishing off a song. A student can learn like this for months and have little to nothing to show for it.
A much better approach would be to start with the end in mind and reverse engineer a plan for students to work on.
Here’s a simple outline:
- Ask the student – “What kind of music do you like? What type of guitar player do you want to be?”
- Create a goal list of 10-30 study pieces to learn.
- Choose the easiest piece to work on in the first month
- Choose two other shorter songs for months 2 & 3
Then do followup steps:
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- In the next lesson, begin working on the first piece – spend 1 month completing it
- Introduce supplementary concepts shown in the music and relevant to their longer-term goals
- Add a new song every month and delve deeper into the underlying concepts each week within the song.
Concluding six months of study, your student will be able to play a handful of pieces they know and enjoy. They will also have learned several concepts and skills relevant to the pieces they know.
Out of guitar teacher 1 who uses the “what do you feel like learning this week” approach and guitar teacher 2, who plans the lessons around the student’s goals, who do you think will have happier, more motivated and more advanced students in six months?
Retention Step 4: Actively measure goal progress
Students often feel like they aren’t progressing fast enough and can be their own worst critics when it comes to the results that they are getting.
Their only measurement is whether they can play along to their favourite songs or not. Although this is often an unfair and unrealistic comparison for beginner guitar students to make (this deserves a whole article on its own), it’s the only one they have.
So if we want our students to have a tangible way to measure their progress to avoid beating themselves up and convincing themselves that they need to stop lessons, then we need to give them an objective way of measuring their progress.
Here are a couple of ways you can measure your guitar student’s progress:
- How many chords they have learned
- How many songs they have learned
- How fast they can play (measured with a metronome)
- How many lessons they’ve completed in a method book
- Exams and tests
Tip: You can also take videos or audio recordings of your students in their first session and every few months after that, which can be put into a progress montage to show them their improvement over time.
The main thing is that you give them away to help them measure their progress so that they have an objective measurement and can make informed decisions rather than jumping to conclusions about their apparent lack of progress.
Retention Step 5: Align lesson format to the student journey
Students go through different stages in their playing. Each step requires a different approach.
Imagine a newborn baby, a toddler, a primary school kid, a teenager and a young adult. If you were a parent, you would need to adapt your parenting approach to the stage in childhood development that your child is in.
Newborn babies need lots of lots of attention and have no independence.
Kids are more independent but need lots of attention to make sure they don’t develop bad habits and get into trouble, as well as lots of reassurance to grow confident in what they are doing.
Teens will want to do their own thing and be very independent (rebellious too, maybe?) But push too hard, and teens will withdraw. So find something that motivates them, develop rapport, and steer them in the right direction.
Young adults are a bit more mature and will follow directions better. You might need to give them a bit of extra TLC initially, but most of them will become pretty independent after this.
Your guitar students are going to have their micro life cycles during the learning process. Having the ability to identify where they are and what specific needs they have at their level and then catering what you do to match that will ensure they get the most out of lessons and stick with it through thick and thin.
Retention Step 6: Make it fun
Think about this for a minute – many of your students start guitar lessons to have a hobby and achieve a dream. They want to avoid stress, but often find it causes them more stress than they had to begin with because they can’t get the hang of playing, or because their teacher puts too much pressure on them to perform.
Making lessons fun, welcoming and creating a time each week where students can enjoy themselves is critical for long-term retention of students.
While having fun is such a broad idea that differs from person to person, it can include playing games in lessons for younger students, helping the person in front of you play the music they really enjoy, or simply having a great conversation with a student who might like chatting more than they like playing the guitar.
If you want people to stay with guitar long term, they need to look forward to coming to their lesson and spending time with you. So what are you doing to make lessons fun so that the student wants to keep learning?
Conclusion on how to keep your guitar students from quitting
Solidly implementing even one of these ideas could significantly affect your retention and the overall vibe of your music school.
Implement a lot of them, and you’ll quickly see a dramatic rise in not only the skills and motivation of your students but your bank account balances as the students stick around for longer.
Join us for a free guitar teachers webinar we’re having this October to learn how to improve your guitar teaching craft and skillset and have a ton more fun with your students right away.
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