Last year, I received an email from a piano teacher asking about initial consultations and interviews. What do you do? What questions do you ask? How long should it be? What materials do you give them? Great questions! Here are some of the reasons I offer consultations to prospective families (and why you should, too!):
Why Are Consultations Important?
1. They give you an opportunity to meet prospective students (and their parents) face-to-face before either of you commit to lessons.
2. For students who are transferring from another teacher, it's important to see what music they're currently working on, assess what they know, and determine where you want to begin in your first lesson.
What to Include
For most of us, consultations fall into two main categories: New Students and Transfer Students.
For new students, I usually ask the parent(s) and child to meet face-to-face for a 15- to 20-minute consultation/meet and greet. I usually do my 10-minute, go-to "introduction to the piano" lesson and get the child playing groups of two and three black keys up and down the keyboard, playing C-D-E and F-G-A-B groups, and reading quarter and half note rhythms.
If the student has taken lessons before, I like to use this initial meeting time to get a sense of where to place them. Often, I've had an initial conversation with the parent(s), by phone or email, before the consultation, so I am aware of lesson history, what books they've been using, etc. I usually ask the student to bring their books to the consultation, prepare something familiar to play, and do a little sight reading (rhythmic reading, playing, transposing a short melody, etc.). I ask questions as we go to get a sense of what they know and jot down a few notes for myself, based on my observations (strengths, weaknesses, technique, etc.).
(Read more about interviewing transfer students, what to look for, and questions to ask here.)
For both types of consultations, I tend to ask the student questions like, "Why do you want to take piano lessons?" "What kind of music do you like to listen to?" and if they've taken lessons before, "How much time do you spend practicing?" I also ask about prior music experiences and other hobbies and interests the student may have. If the parent answers all the questions for the child, that's a red flag for me. I enjoy working with students who genuinely want to be there, who want to learn how to play the piano, much more than students who are there only because their parents are making them take lessons.
What to Bring
I've done consultations a few different ways. In the past, I brought copies of my studio policies and expectations (with a copy for parent or student [depending on age] to sign and return). Recently, I put together a small welcome packet for prospective families with an introductory letter, studio policies and expectations (for teacher, parents, and student), calendar, and fee schedule. Depending on the situation, I either bring this to the consultation or email it out in advance.
For transfer student interviews, I usually bring a few books for sight reading, rhythm cards, and maybe a few short folk tunes for harmonizing or transposing.
When to Schedule + Email Templates
I often have limited space in my studio at any given time, but if it looks like I might have an opening, I may go ahead and schedule a consultation with a prospective family. In these cases, I tell the family up front: "I may have an opening this fall, so let's go ahead and schedule a consultation." If I end up not having space in my studio, I send a follow-up email that reads something like this:
"It was so nice meeting you and ____ (child's name) last week! Unfortunately, it looks like I will not have an opening this semester. I'd be happy to add you to my waiting list for next semester, or, if you like, I can refer you to another teacher that may be able to schedule something sooner."
I also like to give parents the opportunity to opt out after the consultation, if they feel we are not the right fit for each other. This saves everyone time and hassle in the long run. If I am offering a spot in my studio to someone after a consultation, I usually write:
"It was so nice meeting you and ____ (child's name) last week! It looks like I will have an opening this semester and I'd love to have ____ (child's name) in my studio. I have ____ (day/time) available. Will this work for you? Please let me know if you'd like to go ahead and schedule lessons. I look forward to hearing from you!"
Do you do consultations with prospective families? What do you include?