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Three Things You Need To Do In Your Music Teaching Business


The Working Creative, Blog #1


In my education career, I have been just about every part of the equation of successful teaching businesses that I can think of. I’ve been the student. I’ve been the teacher. I’ve been the admin person, the marketing director, the frontline customer service person, the curriculum advisor and the trouble-shooter. I’ve been exposed to these various roles as a private tutor working from home, a contractor to music schools, and as part of a music tuition admin team that was generating $1.5M p/a in lesson revenue in a company of close to 40 staff and teachers.


If I were to offer my best advice for all sizes of teaching businesses, I would do so in three points:


1. Play music like a musician

2. Teach like a teacher

3. Do business like a business person


These three things sound simple, but when one is done like the other, failure in that area can impact the trajectory of your business. 



Play music like a musician 


This is the most seemingly obvious of all my points, but I’m amazed at the number of people who charge money for passing on a skill they have not yet acquired. Before marketing and sound business practices even begin to come into play, competence in the subject you wish to instruct on is non-negotiable. You can be an all-rounder, a specialist or even just an entry-level teacher to begin with, but if you are not passionate about your own musical pursuits, you do your students a disservice.


"It’s essential to have a sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a player and build your student roster accordingly"


It’s essential to have a sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a player and build your student roster accordingly while addressing the things that will improve the range of services you offer. Have the integrity to turn away a student that you don’t have the experience to teach. Be bold enough to recommend another teacher better suited to the student’s goals.


Grow the skillset required to teach the things you wish to teach. If you’re a rocker, but you want to teach Jazz, go and be a student of a formidable Jazz teacher and let that material enhance you as a player before incorporating that style into your business model. Don’t accept students merely for the sake of filling a spot.


If you’re running a music school and hiring teachers, hook your junior teachers up with your more experienced teachers as mentors so that they can grow in the role of instructors for your business while still working within the realms of their current capabilities. Not only is this approach fair to your customers, but it also reduces the turnover of teachers, creating a stable team.


Have regular staff meetings that discuss curriculum, your in-house teaching approach, and ensure that teachers are comfortable with and appropriate for the students allocated to them.



Teach like a teacher


I once overheard a teacher ask his 7-year old student in the first lesson “So, how do you wanna do this?”. Yes, a grown man asked a child how they wished to go about learning the guitar.


As a teacher, it’s your job to be the authority, the person with the plan. Consultation is, of course, crucial to mapping out an individual route that tends to each student’s needs and goals, but doing so with a measure of confidence in your approach is what makes you the teacher. One of the people in the room is counting on the other one to have direction and purpose to lesson material. Which one are you?


There are many teaching styles, and I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that you should pretend to be someone you’re not in the lesson room. Be friendly, be a cool guy, be funny or whatever it is that makes you an excellent communicator of your teaching message, but don’t be afraid of being the leader in lessons.


"Tell your students what to practice. They won’t be offended"


Just as your school teachers taught to a curriculum, it’s important to have a general arc of where the lessons you provide are going. To this end, I often take notes in lessons about areas of improvement to address or reminders to prepare specific material. I regularly refer to the first contact email sent by the student to gauge if the lessons are sticking to the initial brief.


A good lesson will resemble an episode of a TV series in which you have a short recap from the previous lesson, the introduction of new content, and a hint of what comes next.


Tell your students what to practice. They won’t be offended. The worst thing that can happen is they don’t do the work. Make sure that your students understand what practice is, how to do it, and what to expect as a result. No good point is too basic or obvious to make.




Do business like a business person


This point is mostly about overcoming fear. A lot of music teachers are afraid to come off as being about the money, or being a hard-ass.


Your student is not afraid to be the customer. After all, they’re paying you for a service. They expect value, competence and quality. Even in the friendliest lesson situations, you’re a business person. Don’t fear offence or rejection for acting like one.


"This is your service. Run it like the CEO"


Have a pricing structure, a lesson policy, a cancellation policy, heck… I even have a cold and flu policy! Be as flexible as you like, but have principles and boundaries for how you do business. This is your service. Run it like the CEO.


Invoice your students, make sure they understand your trading terms and be assertive in the things you consider the most important in doing business and enjoying what you do. If you end up hating what you do because your customers treat you like a doormat, the blame falls fairly and squarely on you. Potential conflict with unhappy customers, something that is possible but rare in my experience, can be best avoided by being clear about how you operate so that this can be referred to later if necessary.


Remember that good customers respect good business.


Playing music like a musician, teaching like a teacher and doing business like a business person not only make your teaching business rewarding to work in, but lay the foundations for growth and success.


Happy teaching.




Comments Section

Great stuff! "Remember that good customers respect good business." So true. Our best clients get it. The ones that don't typically don't get the chance to sign up, and if they slip through the cracks, they generally don't stick around long.
Excellent advise. Thanks Chris.
Great advice Chris. As Ioannis said, many musicians struggle with the business end of things. No business sense = no stability and frustration. Looking forward to your next blog.
100% agreed. Excellent post.
That's outstanding Chris!
This is really great advice, Chris. And the last part, about business, is particularly essential to most musicians. Great post - looking forward to the next one

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