Engaging Students with “Aha” Moments

In the early days of Facebook, the team behind the social network came up with a metric that could predict the likelihood of whether or not someone who signed up for a Facebook account would become an active user. They determined that if a new user connected with seven friends in ten days, they would be hooked. They called this the “aha moment.”

Today, Facebook has 1.32 billion daily, active users. With numbers like that, you’d think it was a drug! I’d say their philosophy worked.

I’ve been thinking about how I could use a similar metric in my studio to get my students addicted to piano lessons.

“Aha” Moments for Music Studio Teachers

Music lessons don’t move nearly as fast as a Facebook news feed, but I do think the first few weeks and months set the tone for the entire course of study.

Every once in a while, I’ll get a student who comes for just a few weeks of lessons and then drops out. I always bemoan this because I feel like they are giving up before they have a chance to get the whole experience. This got me thinking about what that “whole experience” really is and what experiences are critical for getting students hooked for life.

My Studio “Aha” Moments

I came up with a long list, but I narrowed it down to five key experiences (my studio equivalent of Facebook’s seven friends “aha moment”):

  • Playing recognizable and loveable music
  • Receiving positive reinforcement from peers
  • Participating in a public performance
  • Having friends in the studio
  • Having an exceptionally good lesson (the kind I can brag to their parents about… “Sarah had an AMAZING lesson today! She worked so hard at home and it really showed on that new song…”)

The students who really engage and stick with lessons have had all, or nearly all, of these highly rewarding experiences.

Being Intentional

Then I began to brainstorm ways I could make sure students get these important experiences in the first six weeks of lessons:

  • Playing recognizable and loveable music – I am always envious of guitar teachers here because a student can learn two or three chords in their first lesson and go home able to play several of their favorite pop songs (perhaps poorly, but still… ????). This is possible with piano, but it takes more effort on the teacher’s part since most method books aren’t designed with this goal in mind. I can do a better job incorporating ear training and rote learning to get students playing motivating music right from day one.
  • Receiving positive reinforcement from peers – Nothing beats the approval of a friend. If I can get a student to play something for their best friend, and that friend tells them how awesome it is that they can play the piano, that student will be hooked.
  • Participating in a public performance – Performances have this way of gathering entire families to show their support for a student. When grandparents, family, and friends all show up to hear a student perform, it communicates to them that their hard work is worth it.
  • Having friends in the studio – I make a special effort to foster relationships between students, especially those with back-to-back lessons. Sometimes I’ll invite them to join in a game as we start or end a lesson. When a student gets to see their friends at piano lessons, the attachment is that much stronger.
  • Having an exceptionally good lesson – You may think this one is up to the student, but I really think it comes down to me setting crystal clear expectations on our goals for the next lesson. Sometimes I’ll even say “We looked at two new songs today, but if you really want to blow me away next week, you could also take a look at the next one in the book!” If they come back having done that, I make an over-the-top big deal about how awesome they are for trying something on their own.

Tracking Engagement

Even though I approached idea of “aha moments” with new students in mind, the same concepts are just as motivating to veteran students. With the new school year just starting up, I set a goal to make sure all of my students experience a few of these in the first six weeks of the semester.

Because I like to track things, a tracking worksheet was born. In digital and printable form. And, of course, I’m going to share it with you.

For an editable digital version, copy the digital file to Google Drive. For a printable version, open the “Printable Student Engagement Tracker” tab in this worksheet.

Why Should You Care?

The more rewarding music lessons are for students, the more engaged they become. Highly engaged students make highly dedicated students. Highly dedicated students lead to high studio retention and waiting lists.

What are your studio “aha” moments?

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