The first lesson with a new student is such an important one. I always try to ensure the student leaves my studio feeling happy and inspired. I want them to want to come back! I also want to make sure they are a good fit for my piano studio and I will be a happy teacher. Recently I moved back to New Zealand from California, and while I am continuing to teach my US students online, I am starting to receive inquiries from local students for in-person lessons. Here are some of my tips for ensuring the first lesson is a success for both student and teacher:
Tips for A Successful First Music Lesson
How much do you charge?
When I first started teaching many years ago I gave free trial lessons. I thought of them as learning experiences since I was a young teacher. Then my studio quickly thrived and my time was extremely valuable so I stopped giving away my time for free. Because of the time difference between NZ and CA, I do have some opening in my schedule now so I agreed to give a free trial lesson to a new student. In the end the parent didn’t sign the student up, due to cost. I did let them know my fees before the trial lesson. They loved the lesson but still decided I was too expensive. So I learned my lesson, too!
My time is still extremely valuable! I could have cleaned, sorted my books, practiced, cooked, or even just relaxed! So next time you decide to give a free trial lesson to a new student, think again. If you can also benefit from the experience yourself, by all means go for it. But for me, my time is valuable.
Let the student (and parents) know what you want them to call you. Ask the student what is their name (even if you already knew). Show them where to sit. Outline any house keeping rules - hand sanitizing, bathroom, sibling, food and drink, etc. Most people have good common sense, but I am sure we all have a horror story or two to tell!
Make the student feel comfortable.
Once the student is ready to begin the lesson, I like to ask them a few questions to get to know them. I also tell them a few things about me. The goal is to get them to talk, so later when we talk about the music they will be comfortable to engage in a conversation.
For beginners, depending on the age of the student and the length of the lesson, this may be very concise or very detailed. For young beginners, try not to overload them with a ton of theory. I once saw a teacher giving a first lesson to a young beginner with the piano lid closed the entire time while she very carefully drew on a piece of paper and explained how music notation works, what is a treble clef, what is a quarter note, what the time signature means, etc. The teacher worked very hard, but where is the music?!
Sound is the most important in the first lesson. For transfer students, I typically have them play something for me, and we use it as the basis for the lesson. I usually address any reading errors, technical difficulties, interpretational differences, and it allows me to see where the student is and what they need to work on.
Give something new to do for the next lesson.
Play the music you want them to learn next, even if it is only a small part. Let them see how your fingers/hands/arms/body work when you play. For beginners this usually means the whole piece. For intermediate to advanced students, it may not be possible or even advisable to play the whole piece, depending on the level of difficulty and the amount of time remaining in the lesson, but it is still very crucial for some type of teacher demonstration. This is where the magic happens! Even if only a small part, it allows the student to see and hear music that comes from you.
I hope you find this blog helpful. Happy teaching!