As a piano teacher, I am used to receiving new calls or text messages from prospective students, but I am always confronted by the same question: should you teach a trial piano lesson? This question is not exactly about how to teach piano but about how to run your business as a professional piano teacher.
A trial piano lesson offers you several benefits. You need to think about a trial lesson as your sales pitch. You are running a business, and you can show your potential clients why they should buy your exclusive product or service. You need to understand that your clients are looking for a service provider, but they are the ones who need to understand the value they will receive from you and why they will also be evaluated as potential clients.
Why do prospective students ask for a trial piano lesson?
There are several reasons for this. You have to assume that prospective students or their parents are interested in lessons, but they are also shopping around for a good teacher, a cheap teacher, a teacher who lives near their house, a music academy, or perhaps a pre-college program at a university or music conservatory. You may be a formidable teacher, but your tuition might be out of range for some students, or your studio might be too far away from their house.
When a student finds a teacher that meets their needs, they might be willing to travel wherever you are in the city. Don’t feel like you have to turn down a student who might live on the other side of town thinking they could quit at any time when they get tired of their long commute. You might be surprised to discover how many people prefer quality over convenience. Along the same lines, some students are willing to pay more for a teacher they felt a connection with rather than paying a cheaper fee with the famous teacher who lives in their neighborhood. However, sometimes the opposite is true.
Sometimes prospective students are looking for a consult and are confused about what it means to study music or an instrument. Parents might want to know if their children have a talent or musical aptitudes, and they just want your honest evaluation. You need to be able to express yourself freely when meeting and evaluating a student. After all, people came to you because you are a professional.
You have to be able to tell the family or students when you don’t feel your teaching style is a good fit for them, or when you feel they are not a good fit for you. You might have certain expectations in your own teaching style, but they may also come with expectations that do not fit your teaching criteria and curriculum. Let them know about it.
I believe the most important reason why prospective students ask for a trial lesson is that they want to feel a personal connection with the teacher. If you are an independent piano teacher like I am, you know that the majority of the students in your studio will consist of pre-college students. It is very important for children and teenagers to feel a personal connection with their teacher.
I often receive shy students who hide behind their parents when they come to my studio for the first time. I see this as an opportunity to establish a stronger connection with that student because I want to believe the student has a real interest in music. It is our job to give this type of student the possibility of exploring music with a teacher that they can feel comfortable with.
Why should you offer a trial piano lesson?
Let’s be honest, trial lessons are not only for the students. Trial lessons are always a great idea for you. You need to know whether you want to work with certain students and their families.
On several occasions, I’ve felt a great connection with students, but I sensed resistance or negativity from the family based on how they contacted me, how they talked to me about my studio policy, or my teaching style, etc.
I have chosen to let prospective students go simply because I did not want to go through the hassle of dealing with such families. On the other hand, I have met wonderful families only to discover that their children were not really showing interest in piano lessons. Sometimes parents just want to have their kids in music lessons as an after-school activity, but the kids themselves might not really have any interest and will clearly express that to you in their behavior.
Do you want to have a lesson with a student that has no interest in being in the same room with you? Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had students like these, and after some time, I’ve seen how students develop a serious interest in music and the piano. You will always find exceptions. It’s only a matter of deciding whether you are willing to deal with the situation for a while with the expectation that the student or the family will change their initial negative attitude.
In my early years as a piano teacher, I was willing to accept all students simply because I was trying to make a decent income. After I became more established as a professional piano teacher, I began to define my criteria for accepting new students. You might also be in this situation where you cannot afford the luxury of letting a potential student go because you are in the process of building your own studio. Whenever you can afford not to accept prospective students, you will be able to give reasons as to why you are not willing to work with a student.
When I don’t feel comfortable accepting a new student, I can simply say that I have a full schedule at the moment but will happily add them to my waiting list. Nobody wants to tell a student that you don’t want to work with them because you don’t like them. If the family is shopping around for a teacher, they will simply go to another teacher. I always tell these types of students that I would gladly recommend them to other teachers since I cannot guarantee when I will have open slots in my schedule.
If you want to go beyond a trial lesson, consider offering a trial month either at a discounted or full rate. Some parents are hesitant to commit to an entire semester or year. This is an opportunity for them to have a better feel for piano lessons or for your teaching style. Just be warned, this could create chaos in your schedule since a student might take you up on that trial month, and then decide to stop. You could end up with an open slot in your schedule, which you could have offered to another student.
If you are against a trial lesson, consider at least offering a meet-and-greet session. You can chat, talk about the method books you like to use, allow students to see where they will be taking their weekly lesson, allow parents to feel comfortable bringing their kids to the studio, etc. You can limit this type of session to 10 or 15 minutes.
Another option you can offer is for the student and family to sit and watch you teach one of your regular lessons. If you choose this route, make sure to ask your regular students for permission to be observed since some people do feel uncomfortable with this.
Hyperactive students. It is not a myth. They exist, and we all go through this. Sorry to say this, but you will not be an exception. Sometimes you find a really nice child with that really nice family only to discover that the child cannot sit still for more than five seconds. If you feel you cannot work with this type of student yet, let the family know that it might be better to wait six months or even a year before considering starting lessons. You might want to recommend them an introductory music class for children, but they could wait a bit longer for piano lessons.
Read more on hyperactive students on this blog post about teaching piano to students with ADHD and ADD.
The most important thing to remember here is that you are a business owner. You want to make money, and a trial lesson creates a perfect setting for the sales pitch. You should not be ashamed of wanting to make a sale. Put your sales-person hat on and sell your product.
Should you charge for a trial piano lesson?
Let’s clarify something first. A trial lesson does not mean a free lesson. I think there is confusion with this term. This is your work. This is your time. Charge for it! You should not feel guilty to ask for compensation for your time.
There is a profound personal element in a piano lesson, but this is also a business. At the end of a trial lesson, the student might not want to sign up with you, but at least you made a little extra income. Some teachers charge their regular fee, and others prefer a reduced rate. You always have the option to reduce your rate but also the lesson time.
Some teachers see free trial lessons as good marketing. You are offering free value, and you trust your potential clients will sign up with you. It is a valid argument, and you should consider it if you are trying to bring more students to your studio. You can even post ads on social networks and advertise your free trial lessons.
There is a downside to free trial lessons and meet-and-greet sessions. The word “free” sometimes makes people feel entitled. After scheduling a trial lesson, some people feel like if they have the time they will show up. If they don’t, then they can reschedule whenever they want. That’s right.
If you are offering free services, don’t be surprised if you get stood up, or if you get a call or text saying they forgot, or something came up and they will contact you later. Many of us fall victim to multiple no-shows and reschedules. This is why requiring a minimal fee can also help you weed out people who do not have a serious interest. If a prospective student chooses to continue with you, they can prorate the rest of the month. Just make sure to include this in your studio policy.
How to include a trial piano lesson in your studio policy?
Make your life easy by including your trial piano lesson in your studio policy. Your study policy gives prospective and regular students clear guidelines about your expectations. Most of us include in our studio policies a detailed section about how much we charge and how we charge.
Some teachers have different fees and payment plans such as charging lesson by lesson, a monthly fee, a specific period, and even a year in advance. So, it makes sense we should also include the cost of your trial lesson. As mentioned before, you may choose to charge your regular or discounted rate but make it clear in your studio policy. Indicate whether the trial lesson requires an additional fee or if it is included or prorated in their tuition.
Feel free to use this as an example to include in your policy: “I offer a one-time $10 introductory lesson of 30 minutes to new students and must be paid at the time of the lesson. During this session, I will be evaluating different abilities and all policies will be reviewed. I will offer my professional evaluation and will recommend method books, materials, and a plan of study. It is required for parents of younger students to be present during the entire lesson.” Adjust accordingly.
How many trial lessons will you offer? Write it in your policy. Most teachers agree that one trial lesson, free or paid, is enough. If the student wants more than one, then it is up to you to decide if you want to take on that student knowing they could only be testing the waters for a few weeks. This is why it is important to have a studio policy where you define what a trial lesson is. Some teachers require students to sign up for an entire semester or an entire academic year. If you specify this in your studio policy, your prospective students will have more information before making their final decision.
Some students are not interested in a trial lesson. They just want to start lessons with you. Perhaps you already had enough time chatting on the phone, and you feel comfortable with your evaluation. You could go ahead and start lessons immediately, but at least you could protect yourself against any possible situation that may arise with a prospective student if you require a trial lesson before fully accepting a student.
What to do during a trial piano lesson?
If you don’t know what to do during a trial lesson, let me say this: teach the student how to play piano. This is your chance not only to evaluate the student, but it’s also your chance to show off. This is your opportunity to establish yourself as the authority that you are. These people came to you. Show them what you can do in one single lesson. Just remember one thing. Students want to play the piano. They want to make sound. So, teach them that.
I would not waste time teaching concepts during a trial lesson. I teach sound and music from the very beginning, and you can also show them how they can start playing piano and making music immediately. They will have plenty of time to learn about concepts in future lessons. It can be a piece that is played with one single finger. Even one single piece can show you a lot about what this student can or cannot hear and do.
You can also evaluate the students’ ear based on their ability to imitate melodic and rhythmic patterns, or single pitches at and away from the piano such as identifying high and low sounds. Young children are usually very curious about the instrument itself. They want to know how it works, what’s inside the piano, what the pedals are for, etc. You might want to have a brief explanation or demonstration about how the instrument works. After this evaluation, you can design your future lesson plans.
Here is an excellent video about what you can do with a young beginner during a trial lesson.
You can also show the structure of a regular lesson. Show them what behaviors will be allowed in your studio during lessons. Perhaps you have a routine you want your students to follow from the very beginning until the very end of their lesson. Show it to them.
If you are a Suzuki teacher, perhaps you are used to starting and ending a lesson with a bow. I have seen very chaotic lessons in other teachers’ studios because they never showed the students what was and was not accepted during lesson time. A trial lesson gives you the opportunity to set the rules from the very beginning. Don’t waste this opportunity.
Trial lessons are not only for beginners. You might have a prospective transfer student who is asking for a trial lesson. You need to use this time to assess the student’s strengths and weaknesses. You also need to evaluate if you are able to help the student to become a better pianist.
Some teachers only accept students who can play at a certain level. You might only work with beginners, elementary level, advanced students, adults, etc. If the student is not within the level you are comfortable working with, you can always refer him to a colleague.
What if you have multiple family members who want to participate in the trial lesson? You can choose to give the same time to each member. However, you could give more time to the first person, then give less time for each additional student since they already watched you work. With the next student, just go straight to the point and get to work.
At the end of a trial lesson, always invite the student and family to think about it before making the final decision. You don’t need an answer on the spot. This also gives you a way out in case you decide in the next few days that you don’t want to work with this family.
One final recommendation. It is very important to use the trial lesson as an introduction to the concept of practicing. Explain what it means and what you expect. Don’t be afraid to ask prospective students and their parents directly if they are willing to commit to a practice routine. You can design a practice routine for the student during future lessons.
If you are ready to formally start lessons with your new student, you can read this blog post about how to start a new piano student.
- You are a business owner. Establish your policies as a business owner.
- Students are shopping for a service provider, and you are shopping for exclusive clients. It goes both ways.
- Define your criteria for trial piano lessons and include it in your studio policy. How long will the lesson be? How much will it cost? Will it be free or at a reduced rate? Will you offer a trial period or just a trial lesson?
- Create a lesson plan based on the students’ ages and musical backgrounds.
- Be prepared with your materials, including your printed studio policy, information and registration forms, music scores you might want to use for at least one or two pieces you can teach during the trial lesson, and any printable materials you want to give to the prospective student like worksheets, etc.
- Ignite the spark in your potential new clients by making them play music from the very beginning.
- Show off and sell your product!
- Evaluate the students and don’t be afraid to refer them to another teacher if you felt you were not a good fit working together.