4 Ways to Improve Student Retention

4 Ways to Improve Student Retention

How to Improve Student Retention

We all want to attract new students, but imagine the increased profitability of your music school if more students remained enrolled for longer. According to Forbes, attracting a new student often costs 5 to 7 times more than retaining an existing one, yet music schools frequently focus more on acquisition than retention.

Think of your students as the fuel that makes the engine of your music school run. Every music school experiences a ‘leak in its gas tank’ as students gradually drop out over the school year. There are ways however to patch your leaky tank and decrease your dropout rate.

4 Ways to Improve Student Retention

This blog post focuses on 4 ways to improve student retention. These include:

  • Improving the music lesson experience
  • Focusing on relationship building
  • Conducting client surveys
  • Building community and culture

Improving the Music Lesson Experience

A great music lesson prioritizes the experience above mere skill and knowledge development. A good lesson experience is determined by how emotionally engaged the student is. If a child loves attending music lessons, they’re desire to grow and push themselves will follow. Trying to achieve significant musical progress without the student’s desire to grow is an uphill battle that usually ends in disappointment.

Most children enter music lessons with the belief that playing an instrument is hard to do. A teacher can help a child eliminate this belief by focusing on creating a series of quick wins from day one.

The more easily a child can play simple and popular musical motifs, the more they begin to identify as a musician. The more they can perform and show off to friends and family on their instrument. Once a child identifies as a musician, they become determined to reinforce this identity through continued practice.

Focusing on Relationship Building

If a child admires their music instructor and enjoys their time together, they’re going to value the teacher’s approval. A music instructor has the ability to bring a little star power to the lesson.

Most kids have never met a professional musician before which can be a source of intrigue and excitement for a child. Inviting students and their families out to see their teacher perform can help add to their star power.

Most children interact with teachers and coaches in a group environment. The private music lesson creates an opportunity for a child to form a unique and special relationship with an adult. Devoting the first two or three minutes of each lesson to asking students about their week is key to building relationships.

If a student mentions they have a special event they’re attending over the weekend, ask the child the following week about the event. Show them that you listen and that you care. A music teacher can serve as both an instructor and a mentor.

Great musicians don’t necessarily make for great teachers. During the interview process consider whether the job candidate would make for a good role model and mentor. Hire for personality and train for skill. You can teach a person to become a better instructor but you can’t teach someone how to have a more engaging personality.

Conducting Client Surveys

While client surveys may require a thick skin, they can offer invaluable insights. Understanding the reasons behind a student’s decision to leave your music school can lead to changes that positively impact retention.

A parent at my music school once said in a survey that she felt my music school should feel “more like a school.” At first I was hurt and even angry. Ultimately this comment motivated me to implement new systems that shared with parents their child’s musical goals and accomplishments. 

A brief survey of just a few questions can reveal valuable insights into how parents and students perceive your business. For those who don’t fill out the survey, try following up with a phone call or text. This extra step sends the message that you genuinely care about the happiness and personal growth of your students.

When a student discontinues lessons, it’s an opportunity to gain a better understanding of how you can improve the lesson experience. Consider asking the following exit-survey questions to gather insights:

  1. How did you hope your child would respond or feel about his/her music lessons? 
  2. What aspects of the music lesson were not enjoyable for your child? 
  3. What could we have done differently to improve your child’s experience?

Get out ahead of any potential problems by following up with new students 1-2 months after they start lessons can help you identify any potential concerns of waning interest early on. Parents will be impressed when you reach out to them to check in. It shows them how much you care about their child.

I recommend sending an email to schedule a 5-minute phone call, allowing you to directly ask these important questions. A phone call can provide a deeper understanding of the parents’ feelings and expectations.

Consider asking the following questions to parents 2 months after their child starts lessons. 

  1. What aspects of the music lesson does your child enjoy? 
  2. Are there any aspects of the music lesson your child doesn’t enjoy?  
  3. What could we do differently to improve your child’s music lesson experience?

Sharing parent feedback with your instructors can allow them to come up with creative solutions to better engage their students. This proactive approach helps build trust and shows parents how much you care about the well being and development of their child. 

Building Community and Culture

The more your music school fosters a sense of community, the more emotionally invested students and their parents will become. The more your music school feels like a community the more students and parents will feel a sense of belonging.

Your music school is full of opportunities to build community. Community can be formed in the waiting area as parents get to know each other. Group classes are great for community building. Social nights, an all school meet up for ice cream at the local ice cream hang out or an end of summer barbeque are all great ways to build community.

Recitals are a great way to build community by getting the audience to participate. Music trivia games with prizes between performers creates a sense of togetherness. The audience becomes a part of the event as they compete, laugh and cheer each other on.

Coordinating with a child to invite one of their parents up on stage to play percussion as the child performs can make for sweet memories and a good laugh.

Most children’s only exposure to a musical environment is their music class at school. It doesn’t take much to transform your school into a musical wonderland. Disney World ignites the imagination of a child. The ambience and décor of your music school can have a similar effect. Some paint, cool lighting, colorful artwork and furnishings can go a long way.

Starbucks is another good example of the value of creating a transformative experience. People don’t just return to Starbucks for the coffee; it’s the experience that brings them back.

The warm and welcoming communal atmosphere keeps customers returning for more. The over-caffeinated baristas who refer to customers by name as they approach the counter creates a sense of belonging.  

This holds true for music schools as well. The decision to discontinue music lessons often stems from the parents and/or student’s expectations not being met. It is essential to focus on crafting an environment where students anticipate each lesson, much like the anticipation of returning to a favorite coffee shop.

As your music school grows, maintaining personal connections with each parent becomes increasingly challenging. Spending time chatting with parents and kids in your lobby is a great opportunity to connect with people and build relationships. The more parents like you and your staff the more emotionally invested they will be in your school. 

The more parents and kids feel a part of your community and enjoy the social and cultural aspects of your school, the more your school will feel like a home away from home. People are always looking for a community to be a part of. There’s no reason why your music school can’t fulfill that desire. 

Providing high-quality lessons doesn’t automatically result in improved student retention. The relationship the child has with their teacher plays a significant role in how much a child enjoys their lessons. 

A child who feels seen, heard, and valued is more likely to remain committed to their musical journey. A child who admires their instructor and is eager to please them, is more likely to practice and push themselves.

Establishing this emotional connection goes beyond technical proficiency; it’s about creating an environment where students feel a sense of belonging and inspiration.

The Key to Music School Growth

The key to music school growth is not just a matter of attracting new students but more importantly, keeping them engaged and committed for the long haul. The strategies outlined in this post are fundamental to creating an environment where students feel valued, engaged, and motivated to continue their musical journey. These strategies include: 

  • improving the music lesson experience
  • focusing on relationship building
  • conducting client surveys
  • building a strong community and culture

Implementing these strategies can significantly reduce your dropout rate, transforming a potentially leaky tank into a well-oiled machine, powered by the consistent and enthusiastic participation of students.

Author: Dave Simon

Dave Simon is a former music school owner and Business Development Manager at Ensemble Performing Arts. He is also the host of Music Lessons and Marketing – a free Facebook group and podcast that teaches music school owners how to effectively market and grow their business.


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