Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Get Guitar Students

Teaching private lessons can be a great way to supplement your income, pass on your knowledge and keep on the latest music trends.  I have taught for over 35 years now.

It started when a teacher at my Jr. High saw me carrying a guitar case and asked if would teach her son how to play.  She offered to pick me up at my house, teach her son, take me home and pay me $5!  Sure I told her.  That was the beginning.  By the time I was 20 I was teaching 40 students five days a week at a store in my hometown of Indianapolis.

When I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a studio musician I had to start from scratch. Back at the store they were charging $7 per half hour lesson and paying me $9 an hour.  Three times minimum wage. So I thought charging $10 per hour lesson in 1983 would be a good place to start.  A dollar more for me and a four dollar savings for my students. It was slow building up to even a fraction of my midwestern numbers. I didn't have a storefront doing all the leg work for me.

Flash forward 30 years, if I even teach at all, I charge $75 per hour. Over the years I found a few things that can help you build up the numbers and I'll share them here with you now.

1. Play out or more. If you're like me, you're playing out in public a bit and you will get asked if you teach. If you aren't playing out find some places you can play even if it's only for tips. Close to home if at all possible. No one wants to drive a half hour to guitar lessons. This makes it easier to get students.

2. Give away freebies. Offer a free lesson for anyone who brings you a new student. Once the new student has taken their fourth lesson I would then give the freebie to that existing student. Even better, get someone who isn’t taking lessons to bring you a new student and give them a free lesson. This can net you two new students. And unlike advertising it doesn't cost you anything. Just your time. Another tip is to give away free lessons at a silent auction charity type thing. Maybe two free hour lessons. Someone wins lessons with you for cheap, the charity makes some coin and you’ve got a potential new student.
3. Be Flexible. Is there someone who would like to study with you but lives far away? Offer to teach them twice a month for an hour instead of every week for 30 minutes. I had a student that took a two-hour lesson once a month because he lived over an hour away. Does your student's son want to learn too? Let him watch for free. If you are flexible with rescheduling than your students will reciprocate when you need to reschedule to do that session or important, well-paying gig.

4. Live in a nice area. Or at least adjacent to one. This will allow you to charge a little more than average. And take on kids. When they start jamming on Nirvana for their friends that's better than taking out an ad on Facebook. Plus because your students tend to be younger than you, and truthfully more aware of the cutting edge of music, you'll hear about the newest artists before almost anyone else.

5. Keep your students. You could get a new student and lose two for a net loss of one. (I know obvious). Never would I raise fees on existing students only new ones. Every five years or so I would raise my lessons $5 per half hour.  But only on the new ones. Let the older students know if they recommend someone they will be paying more. This makes them feel special that they've locked in a lower rate. Attrition would take care of those paying less. Give percs. Give loyal students a free set of strings or picks you got at the NAMM show. Or better yet take them to the NAMM show. Give them tickets to your gigs. Put them on guest lists. Free CD's. You get the idea. You could also record the lessons and send them the mp3. Just give them value for their money and they'll keep coming back and bring their friends.

6. Advertise. On bulletin boards at churches, schools, music stores, the grocery store. But do something to make your advert stand out. A clever phrase, nice graphics, offer a free lesson, etc. Advertise with Facebook or Groupon. Tweet.

Now I don’t teach at all because I’m doing so much session work and writing and gigging. But teaching kept me in the game. Paid my bills. And the young kids helped me stay current.

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