10 Simple Easy Ways To Avoid Losing Students Guaranteed!

One of the most popular questions I receive from teachers is ‘how do I keep students?’ Knowing how to avoid losing students is as important as knowing how to find new students. In fact, losing students is not just bad for business its bad for your reputation and confidence. Whenever I lost a student in their first year I felt guilty because I had let them down. There were even sleepless nights worrying about where I was going wrong. This pushed me to seriously search for answers so I am sharing this list below of what I consider to be 10 simple yet easy ways to avoid losing students.

Find The Decision Maker —A huge mistake I see far too often are teachers neglecting the person who matters the most. The decision maker. You might assume the student is the decision maker but this is often not the case. With children it is usually a parent but even with adults a spouse or influencer (think friend, work colleague etc.) might be involved. Make sure you know who calls the shots when it comes to the lessons and keep them in the loop if possible. Putting a huge amount of energy into trying to keep a student from quitting may turn out to be a complete waste of time if they are not the decision maker.

Emotionally connect – A Harvard Business Review post entitled  ‘An Emotional Connection Matters More than Customer Satisfaction‘  says and I quote ‘Our research across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories shows that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level‘. This means its not enough to just satisfy their needs. You must go deeper and connect on an emotional level. The way I see this is students must know and feel that you truly care. The way to do this is to find out why they are really learning guitar. Unlike a career choice learning music is often a 100% emotional choice. We don’t take up guitar because its a sensible career choice. What is the emotional driver behind the decision to learn guitar? In my case I had a strong connection to music as a child. I felt music was a magical escape. Closing my eyes and listening to music took me to amazing places.

Clear expectations — Do your students know what you expect of them? If we fail to be clear about what we expect students will sense your disappointment. This in turn leads to a loss in confidence and eventually the student dropping out of lessons. If you expect your students to practice 5 times a week communicate this clearly. If they really don’t like it thats okay. They will likely seek another teacher but in most cases they appreciate it. Clearly stating your expectations shows confidence and students seek confident teachers.

STOP improvising  – Do you have a plan for your students? Far too often teachers try to wing it. There is often no program, no clear goals and no strategy. Students can work out pretty quickly if you are making up the lessons on the spot. Its not enough to know how to play guitar. You need to have a plan for how to teach each and every concept. For example, what is the best way to teach a scale? Yes I understand every student is different but that’s not an excuse. You should have an ABC list of strategies. A is the strategy that works best in most cases but if it fails move to strategy B and then C if necessary. If you have no plan for your lessons I guarantee you it will be costing you students.

Student motivation – When students lose motivation you have two choices. 1. Prepare to see them quit lessons or 2. Find a way to recharge their motivation. You might assume its not your responsibility but if you want to keep 80% of your students you’ll need to reconsider. Motivating students I have come to understand is not a one off event. It requires ongoing maintenance. Look for your student’s hot buttons by noticing what excites them. For instance, you might see that whenever you mention a certain band they sit up and look more enthusiastic than usual. Take mental or even written notes.

Confidence is King – An often overlooked are is student confidence. As an advanced guitarist its easy to forget those early months and years. I don’t know about you but my confidence was like a roller coaster. One day I felt like quitting because it seemed all too hard. I would at times seriously consider whether I was really meant to be a guitarist. Most people actually do quit so the fact that you and I are still here playing and teaching goes against the odds. Like motivation its important to be maintaining student confidence. Point out their wins no matter how small.

Sense of progress – In the video game industry they point out that the most important element to keep players in the game is a ‘sense of progress’. Note they say ‘sense’ oppose to ‘actual’ progress. This is an important distinction. More to the point is this. A student can actually be progressing but don’t get a sense of that progress. This is where you come in. Give them that sense of progress by showing them. You could do this by showing them a video of themselves a few weeks earlier or, keeping a checklist of skills they can execute and checking them off as they go while also taking monthly snapshots. You can then refer back to previous snapshots to point out their progress.

Tracking progress – Now if a sense of progress is the key to confidence tracking progress is the key to feeling a sense of progress. On all international flights you will see on the screen a map with stats like distance, speed and time both to the destination and from the point of embarkment. Without this we don’t really have a sense of where we are on our journey. Imagine getting on a long flight having no watch or idea how long the flight would take. I’d bet most of us would become very restless within a few hours. Airlines know that its the ability to track progress that keeps passengers calm. Tracking student progress is no different. The checklist suggested above is just one way but I also believe tracking practice time as in number of hours helps too. I know that quality of practice makes a huge difference but in terms of gaining a sense of progress tracking time really helps. Students can at least get an understanding of what 100 hours of practice gets.

Design practice – So we have concluded that confidence is King and a sense of progress helps with confidence and tracking progress helps with gaining a sense of progress. The next step then is to carefully design their practice to help them get more bang for their buck. We want them to feel noticeable progress for all the reasons above so, ensuring they practice the right things is critical. When we give students very specific step by step instructions they are more likely to practice and even more likely to practice in the way we want them to practice. For example lets use a scale. If I say to a student practice this scale as much as you can thats not specific. If I instead say practice in these notes in this order 10 times and then these notes in this order 10 times and to repeat that each day this week the result will almost always be better.

Don’t overwhelm – Last, give students an appropriate challenge. The fastest way to lose a student is to overwhelm them. I see many teachers making this mistake. An overwhelmed student won’t feel the same progress as a student who is given an appropriate challenge. Teachers overwhelm students because they see information like some kind of commodity. The more they give the better they think. Why teach a student one chord per lesson when you can give them five. Won’t they be five times happier? Well no. They will often feel they have to learn those five chords by their next lesson. Giving less means it feels achievable and they therefore get that all important sense of progress.


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