Student Retention |Guitar Student Taking Lessons With Noel Wentworth

10 Crucial Strategies For Student Retention

Student Retention is so important!

Do you feel like you are starting from scratch every year or have wasted your efforts trying to grow your music school only to have it taken away?

Listen, I hear it all the time and somehow teachers think this is normal.

It’s not.

Student retention is the key for Music Studio growth. If your students aren’t leaving, you’re going to need to hire more teachers and build more studios!

Look, if your students start taking lessons, stick around for 6-12 weeks, then drop out you have to ask why?

Why do some teachers hold onto to students for 10 years and others only a few weeks?

What are music schools that are growing doing that’s so different to what you’re doing?

Here’s some ideas that helped us to grow our music school to 1200 weekly private students in a city of 140,000 people.

Student Retention Explained

Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you get 100 new students in a year for your school.

An average teacher will be able to hold onto 75% of those students by the end of the school year.

Exceptional teachers who “get it” or have the natural ability to foster relationships can hold onto upwards of 95%.

If you’re holding on to 75% or more based on a 100 student a year increase:

  • Year 2: 175
  • Year 3: 249
  • Year 4: 306
  • Year 5: 330

You get the idea.

You’ve got to get your student retention to be higher than 75% to really grow a teaching operation.

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Show The Student You Care

Teachers that are warm, friendly and immediately try to get to know their students do a lot better at retaining them.

Teachers should want to make the students feel like they matter (because they do)!

Here are some ideas to start:

– Ask the student when they start their weekly lesson how their weekend went or how the week is going for them.

– Ask students “what’s new” or questions about their lives or other hobbies showing you’re interested in their lives.

– On their first lesson, ask what grade they are in, what their favourite class is or what they love doing outside of school.

– Ask the student what music they like to listen to and teach them songs they want to learn (or ideas how to get there).

– Be excited to show the student something that will help them be a better player quickly.

– Give students something that will make them sound impressive or more skilled in their band class. Maybe a soloing idea or how to construct a solo?

– Joke with them or create new lyrics to a song to make them laugh.

– And most importantly, tell the student they are doing a good job and offer praise regularly during their lessons.

Things to think about. But I’ll tell you, they all make difference.

Student Retention Strategies

Some of these ideas apply to a young beginner student but all will encourage and help develop good practice habits.

– Once a student has successfully finished a song, some teachers will give out a sticker and place in their students book.

– I recently heard of a school that had a rewards system where a student received points for every 20 min they practiced in a week. This counted towards a prize that could be redeemed for a piece of branded school merchandise from your school or store like a hat, t-shirt, coffee mug, pen, bumper sticker. If you don’t have any branded merchandise,  something from the dollar store like candy or a novelty toy.

Having branded merchandise to give away is a no brainer to increase your visibility and brand around your community or within your students circle of friends/family.

Innovative And Traditional Ideas To Retain Students

Little things like wishing a student happy birthday or a personalized text message of encouragement to their parent(s) is a nice touch.

Pro tip: Write a students birthday down on a calendar or set reminders in your phone so you don’t forget!

Sending a postcard card in the mail or a digital card by email is simple but also an effective way to show you’re thinking about them and will help with student retention.

Female Piano Teacher Teaching a student

Student Retention Through Positive Feedback

High anxiety levels are a catch phrase these days.

Getting students used to performing in public events like a recital is stressful for many, but a great life skill to develop as well as a confidence builder.

– If it’s a beginner, what about a performance on the 3rd week of lessons? Student prepare to play their first song in front of a parent/babysitter or people that the students are comfortable around.

– As a note, the stress can be spread out if students can do a group performance or play in a band. This can also encourage them to practice so they don’t let their peers down.

Hearing Loss Pills Tinnitus

Student Retention Through Lesson Culture

What are the chances your student will stick around longer if you make them feel like they are part of the family?

Make them feel special or a “celebrity” at your school!

– What about putting a picture of them performing on your studio wall, the waiting room or on your piano? Students love this, especially if it’s a photo of them under colorful lights or at a rock concert looking like a superstar.

– What about taking a picture of them on your phone to put on social media (with parental permission). You don’t even need to use their name. Just say “Great first lesson” or  “Success!”. This recognition shows their efforts are not going unnoticed! I bet they practice more too!

– What about a picture of them holding a sign with “completed my first song” or book? Get a few laminated pictures with a message made up at a print shop to look professional. You can use these for years!

Their are lots of ideas to make a student feel special or recoginized!

Student Retention Using Goals

I’m a HUGE fan of goals to retain students. To get applause and cheering after you’ve performed is one of the best confidence builders in the world as well as recognition for hard work!

Goal idea #1: Rock Concerts or public performance

At our school we put on two HUGE tour like rock concerts every a year. Once students get to perform for a sold out audience of 860 people screaming for them, it’s almost guaranteed they’ll be back next year (and many years after). I can tell you many students in our shows even come back for 1-2 years after they graduate just so they can be on stage and have that feeling of importance! Check out some of the events I put together here 

Goal Idea #2: Holding a competition

Competitions are another great goal to keep students motivated and coming back. Why not do a Guitar, Drum or Piano competition at various age levels with prizes?

For example, we held a drum competition called Crash and Smash where students played along to a backing track or created a drum solo with their teacher. The performance was judged by reputable, local judges as a preliminary, semi finals at a local music store bringing in traffic. The finals were held at our local children’s festival. We also contacted our musical suppliers and got prizes like Cymbals or cymbal packs, drum sticks, t-shirts, etc.

If you can advertise the competition in your community event listings online, social media, in store, email, etc, you will have more luck in getting a supplier to partner with you.

Call some of your suppliers or go to a local music store to see if they would like to partner with you for some advertising. If they agree to getting their name mentioned, they will likely call a few of their suppliers to see if something can be sent for your competition. Remember to mention any companies that provide anything

Goal Idea #3: Music Festival

In our City we have a yearly Music festival where students are adjudicated and compete for awards and prizes. This a great goal to keep students motivated to practice to take an exam or for prizes.


Graduating from one grade or level to next and receiving a certificate is another way to boost your retention.

Students and parents get to say they completed a level but also get bragging rights to say what they have accomplished.

In Canada, we have Royal Conservatory (RCM) exams or Rockschool (RSL awards).

RCM focuses on Classical music/theory and Covers Piano, Violin, Cello, Viola, Classical Guitar and Voice.

Rockschool focuses on contemporary music and uses Jazz based theory. It covers every musical style from Rock, Metal, Jazz, Fusion, Funk, Blues, Reggae on Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Ukulele, Piano, Keyboard, Electric Bass, Drums, Popular Voice (Male and Female).

Both offer graded levels from beginner to University level performance and teaching diplomas. Both are excellent ways to retain students.

Certification from exams also add a credential to a students resume or college application. It shows an employer or post secondary school that the student is goal orientated and can go from point A to point B. It also is an indicator that the student can destress.

One of our SOLD OUT student concerts of 860 people (1400 in attendance including the matinee show)

Everyone Wants To Be A Part Of The Story

Everyone wants to feel like they fit in or belong to something bigger. (Learn more here)

Can you line up an opportunity to do something in the community through Music that incorporates a lot of your students? Can it be something with a donation in mind? “We helped raise over  $________ to help ______”. Or “I got to play music with (Insert veteran musician here)”.

For example, at our school we’ve raised over $260,000 to help children at our local hospital all through putting on Rock concerts and giving away the proceeds from the events.

Students are told each time that they helped raise money and made a difference through doing something they love to do.

Other ideas we’ve been a part of are:

  • Local food bank
  • Children’s mental health facility
  • Hospice House fundraiser
  • MS Walk

Student Retention Ideas To Grow Your Business Summary

You can’t avoid student drop outs, but you can strive for higher student retention rates.

Keep in mind, if students aren’t leaving, you’re growing!

Student Retention | Noel Wentworth, Music Lesson Expert

Noel Wentworth is the former Vice President of Education of the multi award winning Wentworth Music Education and is available available for consultation. You can reach him below.

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