Make-up piano lessons are a hot topic for music teachers. For many, they take over their weekends, cause endless stress, and limit their earning potential.
But what can we do about them? How can we stop offering them if that’s what parents expect?
Moving away from make-up piano lessons is a two step process in my experience.
Pivot 1: What Enrolment Means
Your Studio Enrolment Mindset
What do YOU think it means when someone signs up to your studio?
Whenever I hear from piano teachers that they feel it’s unfair to their students not to offer a make-up piano lesson under XYZ circumstances, it’s usually because of how they see their studio.
Their students might be paying a monthly fee already, but underneath, they still feel like their students are paying for a certain number of lessons.
Your students are paying to be part of your studio.
There is a massive difference there so please take note. If you believe your students are paying for 4 lessons per month or 40 lessons a year, then yes, it feels unjust not to make up a lesson that they missed because of Granny’s funeral.
But. If you think that they’re paying to be a part of your studio then that includes:
- A weekly lesson spot which you hold for them
- Your own regular professional development (whether that’s in-person or online like the trainings I do for members of Vibrant Music Teaching)
- Research you do into new methods of teaching, new resources and repertoire selection
- Recitals and other studio events that happen during the year
- Anything else that students have access to such as iPad apps, computer stations, theory games, group workshops…whatever you have going on!
I really doubt that all you do in a week is just arrive at the lesson, teach the student as best as you can during the time, and then not even think about them until next week. Right?
I mean you’re reading this blog right now. I doubt that’s just for fun.
Write a list of everything that’s actually included in your tuition. Really think about it and you might be surprised how much stuff you do and how many facilities are available to your students. (If you need more help coming up with your list, check out this article by Wendy Stevens.)
Once you have your list and your confident that your studio is a package deal, not a direct time-for-money exchange, you’re ready to convince your piano parents of that too.
The Piano Parent Enrolment Mindset
Adjusting how your piano parents see their enrolment in your studio is something that happens in bits and pieces. You can’t give some eloquent speech or write a well-crafted email to have them see things your way.
The first and most important aspect of this is at the very first meeting. Take the time to inform your prospective piano parent about all the things you offer in your studio.
You won’t get another chance at this first impression of what your studio is and what their tuition covers.
But Nicola, I hear you say, what about the piano parents I already have in my studio? Is that opportunity lost forever?
Well, yes and no. That first impression opportunity is lost, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do.
Start by making a plan to regularly communicate what you’re doing with your piano parents.
- Create piano parent progress updates
- Send out emails about projects their child is working on
- Do a newsletter and mention your own training, research you’ve been doing and exciting events
This change in the way your piano parents think about your studio can only be done in nudges. Give it time.
Pivot 2: Your Make-Up Piano Lesson Policies
This is the part piano teachers usually jump to. They ask: “What policies can I bring in that will eliminate make-up lessons?” or they ask “How can I adjust my policies to make rescheduled lessons more manageable?”
But policies are not going to do the work.
Policies are just guidelines. They’re just paper. You are still going to be the one that has to say NO.
Which is why the mindset piece of this above is so important. Once you believe that you shouldn’t be offering make-up lessons, wholly and fully, then you can bring in a policy you’re comfortable with.
And maybe that includes some missed lesson alternatives.
Other Students’ Cancellations
In my policies, I say that parents can contact me when they’ll be missing a lesson and I will offer them another available slot if I have it, such as another students’ cancellation.
This works for me because I’m strict with myself. If you think you would be tempted to put that student outside of your regular schedule, during your break time or some other such madness – do not have this policy!
I’m serious. You need your downtime and you need your breaks. Ok?
Some teachers like to take themselves out of the equation entirely and have parents either opt in or out of a swap list at the start of the year. They can then contact other parents on the swap list when they need to reschedule.
I think this is a great idea for many teachers! I don’t do it personally because of all the different lesson format options I offer…it would just be too messy.
If your student will be missing because they’re contagious (but not really poorly), their parents car is broken or some other such reason that simply means they can’t get to your studio; Skype or Facetime lessons are a great back-up.
I covered 4 consecutive snow days when we could all barely get out of our driveways with Skype/Facetime lessons recently. It was absolutely fantastic.
If you’re nervous of trying this then check out the recent quick clip where I showed this in action. It’s really not that scary!
The last option I recommend you consider is a video lesson option.
This is where the student and parent record a video of their playing at any point during the week and send it to you. You can then review this during their lesson time and reply, either with another video or with text notes.
Having the video lesson option is great for those scheduled trips and commitment clashes that they know about well in advance.
Non-Recommended Missed Lesson Alternatives
I’m not here to preach at you. Run your studio the way you want and do what makes sense to you.
For what it’s worth though, these are the missed lesson alternatives that rub me the wrong way:
- Allowing a certain number of make-ups per semester. I don’t like this because it perpetuates the idea that they are in fact entitled to that lesson time. And as we discussed above, they’re not buying your time – they’re buying into your studio.
- Group lessons as make-ups. By all means, offer group lessons as part of your studio package. I do this myself. But encouraging parents to see these as make-ups for missed lessons doesn’t make sense to me…much better to point to them as one of the many benefits of being enrolled in your studio.
Again, both of these come back to that mindset shift above. They smack of “I think I should offer make-up lessons but I can’t handle how many I need to do”.
Resolve to Leave Make-Up Lessons in the Dust!
I hope I’ve showed you here that you don’t need to offer make-up lessons, and given you some confidence to change your policies and your actions.
Let me know if you’re going to move to no make-ups in the comments below or in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group on Facebook. You got this!