Tips for building up my studio

December 8, 2017, 11:27 AM · Hello all,

I am looking for some tips on getting more students. I have few great students that I have picked up of the years but I can't seem to gain more students. I have business cards in all the music stores and even post on Craigslist (not the best place, but I have had some luck).

I have my bachelor's in music, play in local groups, and teach elementary school general music so I have a solid background.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Michael

Replies (23)

Edited: December 8, 2017, 1:00 PM · Do you have a website? We could look that over for you. Do you have Suzuki teacher training? Lots of parents look for that. Do you ever advertise (or perform) in local churches and other places of worship? So your business card is at the local music store. Presumably that's where you buy your strings too? What comes around goes around. Do you have a way of reaching out to home-school families (in addition to through their churches)? Do you demonstrate your own violin artistry in schools? When I was growing up, a local violin teacher that I knew (not my teacher) did that every once in a while, and it worked very well for him. Since you already teach in a public school, you'd have to take a personal business day to do that, but presumably the other music teachers in your district would be welcoming toward you -- and you could return the invitation to them. Do you play weddings or other gigs in your town? Do your students perform locally public places? Do your young students ever bring a friend along to watch their violin lesson? Do you know the other private music teachers in the area, and can you work with them to help one another in recruiting students? Even group together to form a music school? Do you advertise on violinist.com? Does your profile on violinist.com have useful information, such as your educational background and contact info, or is it blank?

My guess is that until you build up a fantastic local reputation as THE go-to violin teacher in your area, the amount of work you will have to put into recruiting students, per student, is about 10 to 20 times as much as you would put into hustling one decent-paying gig.

December 8, 2017, 3:03 PM · Hey Michael, the most important step I ever did to establish my business was to create a website. Once you make a website, it's still going to take a few years for it to crawl to the top of the google rankings. But even before it's at the top of the list on searches, it'll still act as a great way of making you seem more legitimate.

You should also get social profiles going, like a facebook business page. Interact, even if there's no one to interact with.

The idea is to just more activity around your business in general. Post videos (of yourself, especially), talk about teaching, etc... The more website that direct to your main website, the faster it will reach the top of the google rankings.

I highly recommend you read up on search engine optimization (seo) to get an idea of how this all works.

Get your current students to write you reviews. I have a lot of reviews on Yelp, Google, Facebook and am also recognized on a couple of sites that recommend local professionals in an area (they picked me, though, so I had no say in that).

Basically, just get lots of different pathways for students to find you. Some people use google maps, so get google maps going. Some people use google searches, so get a good website going. Some people like seeing physical signs, so start posting paper signs all over the place (or, like me, make a giant violin-shaped wood sign and paint it, and stake it into the ground on an intersection where they won't take it down). Make friends with the local violin shop so they recommend you first.


Also, you can't be picky about your students at this stage. Retain EVERY student you can, as they are your lifeline. You don't get to be picky at this point, so accept adults, kids, poorly behaved children, adults who whine, etc... Everyone.

Oh, and teach at a local music store/school to pay the bills. I had to do this for several years before I had enough students at my own studio to only teach from home. Yes, music stores and music schools usually suck to teach at, and they're probably going to take about 50% of what you make (that's what the going rate is around here, 30%-60% I'd say). BUT, money is money. And if you want to make it long term as a private instructor you need to be able to pay the bills in the meantime.


Also, how are you teaching these students? At a church? At a house? A huge step for me was converting the garage of the house I live (I don't own it) into a really nice, artistic space. I put spiral LED lighting on the ceiling, painted everything red and stained the concrete floor to give it a nice marbled look. I put a wall of colored cloth all around and put nice trim cloth bordering the top of this. I made a violin display case to hold my nice instruments and hung other instruments on the walls. Etc etc etc....

That last suggestion probably isn't an option for you, but just some ideas to think about. People don't like going into something that feels too much like a "house" or an "apartment." They want a professional-feeling space where it doesn't make them feel like they're invading your living space.

If you do teach inside of a house, make SURE the students never see any roommates you might have. This is very unprofessional in their eyes and it will give them a bad feeling. Pay 100% attention to the student during the lesson and give them all the energy you have. If you need to, block off certain areas with curtains so that your roommates are not seen or heard by the students. You have to be professional.


Anyways, those are my most basic suggestions. Craigslist is also fine for now, but I'm sure you've seen that it brings in pretty low-quality students, so in the long term it's nice to get away from that.

If I knew more information about you and your situation, I might be able to give more specific advice.

December 8, 2017, 3:17 PM · In addition to the above: How much do you play in public venues, when you're not part of a group -- say, just violin and piano? Especially venues that draw people who have school-age children that might be in want of lessons?

Audience members often come up to me after a performance asking if I teach. I don't -- but I imagine that it would be very useful publicity for someone who does teach.

December 8, 2017, 4:51 PM · Giving free recitals at church, and performing music at communion, would be great publicity. If you sound good, many churches would appreciate the variety of having violin music from time to time. And you can stay out in the lobby afterwards with cards.
Edited: December 8, 2017, 6:53 PM · I'm going to disagree slightly with Jason. My own feeling is that you should be very careful about playing for free. One of the reasons musicians have a hard time making a living is because of the number of people who are willing to play for free "to gain exposure" or because they're "only amateurs" or such. Some pro bono work for legitimate reasons -- special charity functions, etc. -- might be acceptable, but I bet the charity function still pays the caterer. Besides, there's something to the idea that people will have more respect for your work if they're paying you. I suggest you contact your AFM local and get ahold of their minimum fee schedule to provide a baseline guide. I do think it's different when you are playing for your own church.
December 8, 2017, 9:07 PM · I think it really depends. The number of paid solo opportunities tends to be super limited, and they are likely to go to the most skilled and self-promoting players in a given city.

In most of the public recitals I play, the other performers are pros, with a sprinkling of serious amateurs (often people who hold music degrees but now work in some other profession). We're all playing for free. Sometimes it's a charity fundraiser (and in those instances, the charity's committee or church or the like donates the food, no caterer). Other times, it's simply for the sake of performing -- often, in the better venues, performers put those places in their resume. In retirement homes, playing is usually a community service -- sometimes in preparation for some more significant public concert (which is often still played for free).

Looking at the OP's history -- from which I conjecture that he started playing around 2005, graduated with a BA in Music in 2015 (i.e., a late beginner) -- I'm guessing that he's probably getting paid to do weddings and such, but isn't likely to be getting paid to play concertos with orchestra or solo recitals.

December 8, 2017, 10:37 PM · Could you apply to teach at a local music school? You may have more luck getting students because there's a larger teacher-student network. You could also volunteer to teach some disadvantaged students at low cost if you want to (not the best way to make money), but don't publicize this information on the internet or on business cards etc.
Edited: December 9, 2017, 8:23 AM · A solo recital is another thing in my opinion. Sorry I didn't mean to divert this thread. I think that if the OP can give a recital that would be great. I thought of a couple of other things. Does his locality have a "Parks and Recreation" unit? When I wanted jazz piano lessons in Evanston, 25 years ago, I looked in the "Parks and Recreation" activities booklet, and sure enough, there was a listing for a guy who taught jazz piano lessons. It basically just said that you call him up and arrange it on your own. Not sure what he paid for that if anything. But the lessons were great! The man's name was Jack Hubble and he turned out to be a terrific jazz teacher who understood what I needed and had lots of his own materials. He played pretty well too, I went to a few of his gigs. Another thing you can do is take a page from the financial industry's (and real estate) playbook. Hold a seminar or workshop on "How do Private Music Lessons Work" and such -- something that would explain different philosophies, general expectations, costs, etc. Mention the other teachers in town. Explain that they may have more experience, but maybe your schedule is more flexible, at least for now while your studio is still growing. There are teachers in my area who will say "I have a spot on Thursdays at 4:15" and you can either take that spot or you get bumped down the waiting list. Not so good if that's exactly when you've got something else like Chinese or a sport. There's a risk because it'll look bad if only two people show up. Are you the faculty PTO rep for your school? Be that. Get to know the active parents! Oh and since you're a public school music teacher here's an idea. My kids' elementary school music teacher would invite kids who play an instrument to perform in the school lobby before school on Fridays. My daughters performed several times. The teacher and a parent would roll the piano down the hallway to the lobby and the music teacher would accompany the kids as needed. (I played the piano accompaniments for my own kids though.) The goal is to be the guy everyone in your community associates with music and music lessons.

PS are you coming back to this forum?

Edited: December 9, 2017, 10:08 AM · I've advertised a couple of times on craigslist. The 2nd time I posted, it had been just long enough for me to forget why I shouldn't have posted the 1st time. I would get responses like this:

"Our twin daughters will be in your town and need lessons for three months, twice a week. Tell me the total and my personal secretary will send you a bank draft since I will be out of the country."

Yeah, whatever.

One idea: try to tap into the home school community. For one thing, they tend to spread your name around within their network (homeschool parents tend to know lots of other homeschool parents...). For another, their scheduling tends to be very flexible, so they can scheduled in the mornings or early afternoon. But in my experience, home school students tend to be the best to teach. They seem to be more mature, have more parental support, practice more, and are better prepared. And often socially better adjusted..

And one more thing: do NOT lower your fee to try to compete for students.

December 9, 2017, 11:15 AM · Get onto the private teacher lists of any of the groups that you're currently affiliated with. People do call their local orchestras asking if any of their musicians teach lessons.

Individual schools in your district might maintain lists of private teachers. Call the music teachers there and find out if they'd be willing to add you to their list.

December 9, 2017, 12:55 PM · Scott wrote, "[Home school students] seem to be more mature, have more parental support, practice more, and are better prepared. And often socially better adjusted." I'll agree with that in general -- of course it's a generalization and there are exceptions. But the reason I think it was good for Scott to say that is because often the stereotypes run opposite, particularly in terms of "socialization." Yes there are some who seem terribly cloistered. But in the public schools is where you will see the opposite end of the spectrum -- kids who run amok because their parents -- if even they have any -- are largely absent from their lives. Scott's overall point, that the home school community is a gold mine for private violin teachers, is spot on. If you have a day job you can't really take advantage of their daytime availability though.
December 9, 2017, 8:02 PM · Thanks, everyone for the great advice.

I am on the lists of the music stores and I am the only string teacher in my district.

I'm going to research into building a website!

December 9, 2017, 11:16 PM · Many schools solicit ads for the program booklet of school plays and such. I'd suggest advertising there, if it doesn't present a conflict of interest.
Edited: December 10, 2017, 12:43 AM · I've been teaching in my area for 20+ years, and no amount of advertising has ever replaced the quality of students that came in because of word-of-mouth recommendations from current and former students. At the beginning, it took me about three years to build up to a size-able group of thirty or so students, but it was time well-invested.

Building a studio is about getting your local community to trust you to deliver results, but it is also about attracting the kind of students/families you want to work with. As someone who despises chair placement and local competitions with no real merit, who focuses primarily on basics and exposure to chamber music as the path to musical mastery, I'm definitely the wrong teacher for lots of folks. My successful former students who stay in touch with me years and decades after graduating understand this, and only send people to me they feel "get it."

December 10, 2017, 7:41 AM · I am a board member at local music school. And in spite we have access to all schools, local newspapers, commune support etc, there is a problem to load our string teachers. No problems and long waiting list for other instruments.
What i wanted to say- that your problem can be in reduced interest of population of your district for violin by itself.
We try now (and see some improvement) organize events for children, where we present different low-demand instrument, show how they sound, try catch children on hook. It is in a story-tail formats. And we set relative low entrance fee. And 1 from 20-30 children comes for trial lessons.

December 10, 2017, 9:01 AM · This may be controversial. However, here goes: be a female.

I'd say that over the past decades, the vast majority of my students have been girls. And I have to wonder whether young girls and their parents are more likely to seek out and trust a female teacher over a male.

I guess parents of young girls have good reason, unfortunately, to be wary of men as private teachers.
I can think of several area high school music teachers who have been caught molesting their students.

If you can't be a female, then I'd say do whatever you can to build trust in your community. Also, being married and having young children also helps your credibility as a "not molester."

Edited: December 10, 2017, 6:06 PM · Scott raises a good point. I know of two cases where the families explicitly were seeking female teachers -- in both cases it was the child that wanted that. The parents were okay with either gender.

It's the same with elementary school teachers. I don't think that particular profession is dominated by women just because only women want to teach elementary school. I think men direct their careers away from it because they know they'll never be completely trusted by parents or administrators. *Any* type of touching can be misinterpreted. Due process is under siege, and once an allegation is made, it's instantly public, and your whole career is toast, if not your whole life.

For private violin teachers, how to work around this? One way is to hold your lessons in a place that is basically a fishbowl. If you teach in your home, that's very hard to do. If you rent a room in a church, for example, you can make sure it's a room that has a large window in the door and enough traffic during lesson hours to create a reasonable expectation of being observed. You can also ask the parent to sit in the lesson room with you. However, sometimes that creates behavioral problems with younger children, and it's silly waste of the parent's time for an older child who practices independently. You can also set up a video camera in your studio and require each student to bring a blank SD card with them on which to record their lesson. Parents can erase and re-use the SD cards or archive their child's lesson as they see fit. Any such policies would have to be spelled out on your web site.

I wonder also if parents who want their children to be comfortable in the presence of opposite-gender adults (e.g., doctors) might do well to start that process at an early age.

December 11, 2017, 12:27 AM · I wonder whether routine video recordings don't bring too much other headaches to be worth the trouble. Snippets can be taken out of context and posted on social media. Think: "look, this is how this teacher made our snowflake cry!"
Edited: December 11, 2017, 9:05 AM · There are teachers who do this routinely. The parents can sign a non-disclosure agreement indicating that any clips they want to share need to be approved by the teacher. Already these NDAs are usually in place as a matter of studio policy for many teachers because otherwise you could take a video or picture of someone else's child having an "epic fail" at a recital or other studio-sponsored activity. In fact the videos are good for the child to review midweek. "I forgot what he said about my detache." Well, you can review that.
December 11, 2017, 11:02 PM · I just encourage parents to stay for the lessons. They need to be observing, anyways, for the good stuff to be taken home and utilized properly.

If there are weird social dynamics between the parent and child so that it changes how the lessons go when the parent is present, I usually address that first because it can cause other problems at home.

This applies to teens as well as children.

But I think the SD card idea is a cool one. I wish more parents would videotape the lessons so they could go home and do EXACTLY what we did in the lesson, but most parents aren't willing/able to take the time to do that (in addition to reviewing the footage at home).

December 14, 2017, 3:27 PM · I am looking for a teacher right now (tips anyone? Go to "violin teachers near me" discussion. I have looked a little bit of every where, but two of the big places I looked at where the suzuki teacher register, and takelessons.com
December 14, 2017, 5:17 PM · I'd be very, very surprised if the best teachers in any area could be found on takelessons.com or any similar site. The good teachers--at least once they've had a few years to become established--typically have students beating down their doors.

The high school and middle school orchestra teachers in my city almost all maintain lists of private teachers in the area, and those lists tend to be...comprehensive. I get the occasional call from such a list--I almost never take students who contact me that way, only because I already have more students than would be ideal--but I always ask the parent who else is on the list so I can make recommendations. The teachers on such lists, in my experience, range from excellent to abysmal with stops at every level in between.

Edited: December 14, 2017, 7:51 PM · My experience with those sites like "takelessons" is that they tend to list the sorts of violin teachers who also give clarinet and trombone lessons.

Mary Ellen's suggestion to contact school orchestra teachers is great. Did you also try the MacPhail Center?

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