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#90 My Secrets to Getting and Keeping Adults playing Music - part 1 of 3

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

By Christy | the Practicing Pro

Are you ready to…learn my 10 secrets to teaching adults so that they keep playing and keep taking lessons with you? Adult retention is a skill teachers learn and practice just like any other skill.

1. How to sell lessons to adults:

Many adults, especially when trying something new, need to make small steps of commitment. Asking an adult to sign up for a year of lessons or even a full term of lessons is great if that’s your school /studio's policy and you are full, BUT if you want to grow your adult population (especially if you want to branch out into group classes or teach more during the day instead of mainly after school hours), then I have some thought for you about adults and how they need to be nurtured into being a long term committed student.

Adults like to TRY and see if they think they will be good enough at something. So try for a small package. Enough lessons to commit to getting past that “new beginner” hump. That's the hardest part - the first few weeks, especially for instruments that are not natural to humans from their everyday life. Singing and piano, for example, are like things we already do for the most part.

If you take singing lessons and grew up singing around your house or at school or church, and already sing in tune, then singing lessons can be rewarding right off the bat.

If you play piano, then it’s a sitting at a desk typing on a keyboard position, and then you go from there.

Be extra careful with strings - they are another issue. For the violin, you hold it to the side, not in the center, then add a bow in a stroke crossing your midline, then the opposite arm still but with finger actions; well, it’s like rubbing your tummy and patting your head.

Most adults can't tell if they like playing the violin in the first lesson. I take about three lessons minimum to just do “set up” with adults. I always find the slower I take for set up, the faster they learn later and the faster I have them ‘playing” on their own and enjoying it. If on the other hand, they play a song in their first lesson, sure they leave happy, BUT they often feel discouraged after a lesson or two as they struggle over and over with the “setup” while they continue to try to play harder songs each week.

So this is a THING. For some instruments, you can't just ‘Play” and feel immediate satisfaction.

For this reason, if you want to ‘capture’ the commitment of a new beginning adult, I suggest (and this is magic) TWO lessons a week for the first three weeks. You can even make them shorter lessons. It gives them an incredible BUMP START and helps them make a string foundation so that they will have the confidence they need to progress at home on their own between lessons.

Adults have to buy a package, I would never teach single lessons to an adult. If they ask - ‘to try” I would definitely give them this 3-week/twice-a-week option. That would be considered my ‘TRY.’ Then after this set up package, do a longer package of lessons afterward.

2. Don't reschedule lessons easily

You are doing your adults a favour if you keep them accountable for their weekly lessons. Of course, emergencies happen but try to have them commit to a day at a time and don’t let them miss without paying for their weekly lesson. Swap, donate lesson policy. Works extra well with adults! (more on this another time)

3. Adults need a vision of what they can do and then a goal

Adults get discouraged quickly.

They have expectations and misconceptions going into lessons. Talking about their vision and making goals with them that are realistic is imperative.

Once they have a vision - they need a goal (small ones will make them feel good and help them to keep going)

I love having” just adult” concerts at our school. They are sometimes 2 or 3 players, and I have them later in the evening, like 8:30 pm. They love the very small audience and cheer each other on. It's not any extra work for me as I have then after I am already having a student concert. The adults inspire each other. Whenever I have a small adult concert, I say to myself, ‘we need to have more of these!’

4. Daily Habits

If they have gone a lifetime without having daily habits consistently, then this is your main goal to help them learn how to do something every day and even just a little.

If daily habits aren’t an issue but they don't have time to practice with their job or family, then be sensitive to this and know that lessons will be a time you “practice together” for a season. Blog on this one. Search “routine”

5. Different Seasons of time are ok.

Respect that they are sometimes busy some weeks or months and can’t always practice consistently. Some weeks they may practice a lot; other times, they might go for weeks and struggle to get in just a little practice. Help them not to beat themselves up about missing without saying, ‘you don’t expect them to practice.’ I would go with the mantra - a little every day, even when busy. Five minutes is the goal. And in 5 minutes, do what you can and remember something you have already learned, not to forget it. If they miss a day, it's okay, but never allow yourself to miss two days. Teach them Dc Suzukis ‘practice only the days that you eat” quote. It's a fun one and helps them remember that we still eat, but sometimes it's a big feast we take hours to prepare, and others it's drive-through or a PJ sandwich we eat running out the door, BUT we still eat - it just looks different depending on our time.

6. Have a practice plan

Give them a busy practice day plan and a more time practice plan.


Help them play or sing every day, even one song for a motto or one that is performance ready. Do a short 2-minute concert when walking by.

More time?

Adults need to have structure but only a little structure. Check out blogs. Search “practice chart.” Encourage them to make their own for different days - a creative day - a focused day - help them decide how their practice will go before they start and how to let the practice go if their mood changes.

7. Listening is the most important.

Teach them the value of listening to music in their ears. Especially the current music and what's coming up next. Blog on this.

8. Document what they need to do in different ways.

Adults do their best with lots of explanations and need references. You can make a video explaining what to do; this is my favourite. Example: At my dance class, we will do something we love; we've got it and are so excited! We practice it, and it's easy, and we do it ten times in class! The next day we need help remembering which dance it was in. So discouraging and makes you feel dumb and discouraged. Quick video ‘ this is what we did, and this is what we will think about doing it at home” one demonstration or the teacher or student doing it the correct way and a few short words to describe the “focus.”

9. When giving practice instructions or making a video think…

Super specific

“There are so many things - I am so lost - can you tell me exactly what to practice and how-

Tell me one, two and three - can you make a video.”

Tangible is always best whenever they can do, touch or feel it.

Object descriptions to remember (for example soft hand & butterfly)

Help with technology (make sure they can find and use it)

10. Playing along helps

Provide accompaniment to play along with tracks. This works especially well with adults. Even if it's a video in class for them to ‘play along with”. Adults love doing duets. Simple songs instantly start to sound more advanced. This is very motivating for them. When performing it also helps with nerves to play with their teacher.

There you have it - part ONE - 10 of my 16 secrets to working with adults. How to get them started in music lessons and keep them playing music - for a very long time.

Click HERE for part two.

By following these suggestions, you can keep your adults taking music lessons longer and with more confidence in your studio.

This is the first blog of a three part series. The third one #92 is for Adults. Suggestions on how to put music in their lives and ideas to have it stay. Click COMING SOON to go directly to part 3.

Speaking of suggestions, check out my Free PDF download Checklist for a Successful Music Practice for teachers and practicing parents.

Your easy checklist for successful home music practices from Christy, the practicing pro. Whether you are a new or seasoned practice parent/teacher, this checklist will help you organize before, during, and after practices for effective and fun practices.

Check out my Free PDF download Checklist for a Successful Music Practice for teachers and practicing parents.

Your easy checklist for successful home music practices from Christy, the practicing pro. Whether you are a new or seasoned practice parent or music teacher, this checklist will help you organize before, during, and after practices for effective and fun practices.

INVITATION from Christy Hodder:

Speaking of amazing practices, let me tell you all about the digital course, the Practicing Pro Academy. This is for the serious practicing parents and music teachers and is an at-your-own-pace, step-by-step, online course to bring you more effective, positive, and fun home music practices. Registrants receive a special package in the mail from me, and I am with you in person with Q&As to answer all your questions.

Learn more about PPA and join the waitlist HERE for the next Practicing Pro Academy course. It's only offered once a year so you don't want to miss it. The registration will only open for a few weeks and I'll let everyone on the waitlist know immediately so that you can grab one of the spots.

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