As studio music teachers we should carefully consider whether we can effectively teach and meet the needs of each student before accepting them. Not all students are the same, and it’s important to recognize that some may have specific learning styles, interests, or needs that the teacher may not be equipped to address. If a teacher feels that they are not the right fit for a particular student, it may be better to refer the student to another teacher who is better equipped to meet their needs.
Additionally, it's important for teachers to set expectations for their students, including practice habits, attendance, and performance requirements. If a student or parent is not willing or able to meet these expectations, it may not be the right fit for the teacher or the student.
Before accepting a child for music lessons, asking questions can help the music teacher determine whether the child is a good fit for their teaching style and whether the parent's expectations align with what they can offer. It can also help the teacher tailor the lessons to the child's needs and abilities to ensure that they have a positive and productive learning experience.
Often, it’s easiest to have the parent fill in a form before you meet them, to give you time to think about whether the student will suit your teaching style. Here are some suggested questions:
What is your child's age and musical background?
Have they had any previous music lessons? If so, which instrument, for how long and with whom did they study?
What is your child's current skill level?
What are your child's musical goals?
How often will your child be able to practice at home? (For younger children: Do you have time to supervise your child’s practice?)
Are there any medical conditions, special learning needs or physical limitations that may affect your child's ability to play an instrument or take part in music lessons?
What are your expectations for the music lessons and your child's progress?
Do you have any questions about the music lessons or the teacher?
Are there any scheduling or logistical issues that need consideration?
The Next Step
Many teachers have one “Meet and Greet” lesson, to discuss anything arising from the questionnaire and to meet the student and their family. If you or the parents are still not sure, you could offer a 4-week trial (paid lessons) at the end of which, either party has the option of discontinuing lessons.
After this, most teachers require students to make a commitment and that lessons be paid either per month or per term. It is important before signing up a new student that the parents are fully aware of your studio policy and whether or not you offer make-up lessons. My own experience is that payments per school term work well and I do not offer make-up lessons; the payment is to secure their child’s place in my schedule each week, as explained in my previous blog “Are you exhausted from make-up lessons and holiday lessons?”
Don’t be afraid to say “No” to a prospective student! Sometimes you and the student are just not a good match. Or perhaps their availability for lessons is too restrictive, or the parent’s expectations do not align with the way you teach. If you meet the family and there are any red flags, trust your instinct and explain you don’t feel you are a good match for their child. When first building a studio, it is tempting to accept every student, and indeed some teachers may need to do this from a financial perspective, but if you can select students who fit with your teaching approach, you’ll be happy teaching the students and have a successful studio.
If you have no experience with special needs students and don’t feel comfortable with teaching a student, you can suggest the parents look for a teacher who has experience in this field. If you have a name/s to refer the family to, it is very helpful. If you are accepting a special needs student it can be a good idea to ask the parents what teaching methods or strategies have worked best in the past, after all, they are the experts on their child.
Overall, as music educators our foremost goal is to ensure a positive and enriching learning journey for our students. It is crucial that we carefully consider the students we accept, focusing on those with whom we believe we can establish a productive working relationship. While it may be uncomfortable to turn down prospective students, it is ultimately in their best interest if we feel we can't provide them with the best learning experience. Fortunately, most of the time, we can joyfully welcome new students. By posing these few essential questions before commencing lessons, we can effectively strategize and tailor our approach to guarantee a successful outcome for all.
Karen North is a music teacher, mentor and book author. She is passionate about bringing music into the lives of children and adults and has enjoyed working in music education for the past 40 years.
Karen is the author of the popular method books "The Young Flute Player" and has commissioned many new works for intermediate flute repertoire in "Lyrical Flute Legends" and "Inspiring Flute Solos." Karen has written a book "Fun & Games for Music Lessons", and has recently worked with specialist consultants on repertoire books for Violin, Clarinet and Saxophone.
Karen also organizes an international FLUTE CHAMPIONSHIP each year, to give students of all ages and abilities an opportunity to submit a video performance to an outstanding panel of judges. Her workshops for teachers are enthusiastically received and she also offers one-to-one mentoring sessions.