Handling a Telephone Query about Lessons

This file is about how to weed out those students who call for lessons but whose goals are not a fit for your studio program, who sound as though they may be problematic about payment or bringing younger children along to the lesson, who have in mind just to "dabble" in piano "for a while", or who are not people you care to teach for some other reason.

You may, however, be in the position of needing to take any students who call ("if you're breathing and have a checkbook, come on in!"), and this isn't a bad thing. We all have been in the situation of needing the income and not being able to be particularly picky about whom we teach. Before deciding to take on all comers, however, I advise you to look at how much money you need and how much you want - - which are two different things - - and use this calculation to guide how many students you add to your teaching load. Later, as your studio grows and each individual tuition check is less critical to you, you can be more selective.

The rest of this file presumes you want to add students to your roster, barring something that makes them entirely unsuitable, as mentioned previously.

The Most Basic Principal of Selling

The most basic principal to fielding a phone inquiry is to find out as much as possible about your caller. This way you can tailor your remarks directly to that person's needs and quickly evaluate how much longer you wish to spend on the phone with this person. That is, how much longer will it take you to decide whether or not to offer an interview.

Note: Use the word audition if you are a coach or if this prospect is a high-level student, possibly one going on for a major in music at college. Most other prospects would be more comfortable with an interview.).

In fact, finding out everything you can about a potential is the best way to sell anything! Find out the needs of your potential buyer and translate those needs into benefits.

Having used the word sell, let me add that you cannot force someone to buy lessons. All you can do is show her how studying with you will meet her needs. More on this in a moment.

Goals for the Telephone Inquiry

The caller has two goals for the call:

You have different goals for the telephone interview:

What happens during the phone call must serve both parties' goals.

Very Important: Your goal is NOT to try to sell lessons or persuade the person to study with you (as opposed to study with someone else).

Instead, your goal is to decide whether or not to offer this caller an opportunity to come to your studio to meet you. At the end of the call, you should have a fairly accurate idea of whether the caller is ready for study with you in the program you offer. If so, you offer the interview.

Again: your bottom-line goal for the telephone call is to decide whether to invite the caller for an interview. The telephone call is not to decide whether to take this caller on as a student.

Preparing for Telephone Inquiries

To a large extent, your telephone persona determines the outcome of the call. If you're prepared and are professional, you're most like to convert the call into a new student or to politely turn the student away.

To prepare, you think out what you are going to say: what topics you are going to cover (this is called your "presentation" - - more on this later). You make cue cards and keep them by all the telephones in your home so you're ready no matter where you answer the phone. When you have fielded inquiries for a while, you won't need your cue cards because you'll remember what things you want to cover.

You also need to prepare a number of statements that gently indicate you don't want to teach this person without saying so this bluntly.

The third preparation step is to keep a "telephone log" in which you list all calls and details about the query. It may be that someone will call you back a month (or even a year) later, and you will come off well if you demonstrate to the caller that you remember him and his situation. You probably won't recall, but if the caller indicates a previous call, a quick flip through your log book will bring up the basics, such as names and major concerns.

I use a plain, old 3-ring binder. I suppose you could use a hand-held computer or use some other system, but I find the low-tech approach works best for me in this context. For each call, I list:

If you do not already know for certain, your first order of business if the prospective student is a child is to find out if the child wants to take lessons. If you have taught piano at all, you know what happens when you start a student who doesn't really want to play piano! Plenty of unpleasantness to go around and usually a student who quits. Avoid this dreadful situation by accepting only students who want to study. Find out as early as possible in the phone query so you do not waste time on a call from a parent of a child who does not want to be a piano student.

Usually the parent will say the child has been asking for lessons or make some other comment that will be an opportunity to explore this vital question. If not, try these questions:

More discussion of assessing student interest in the section later on about fielding queries from parents of young children.

Make a list of your questions to keep by the phone.

Now you're ready to field calls, right? Not yet.

First, a little "phone technique."

You need to know how to elicit this information. Remember, the more you know about the caller and what his goals are, the easier it will be to evaluate whether you want to accept this student or to convince him your studio program is the one he wants.

This is done simply by asking. Get the ball rolling this way:

Caller: "I'm calling about piano lessons."

Teacher: "Are lessons for you or for a child?"

Caller: [answers the question directly; also offers a lot of information along the way, which you should note in the phone log]

Don't interrupt. Let the person talk as long as she will. If you like, make soft, short confirmations ("Ok.") and empathetic sounds ("Umm-hmm") along the way to let the caller know you are listening carefully (if you're a woman, you'll do this automatically), but don't interrupt. When the caller stops for breath, you wait to see if she starts up again.

Sometimes in the course of the caller's opening statements a question will be posed. You answer, of course, but then you let the caller talk again. Wait until the caller divests herself of everything she wants to say. She'll let you know when this happens by either stopping completely or saying she's done.

Now you talk!

After the caller tells you all she wishes to say and referring to your prompter card (or your memory!), fill in your knowledge by asking further questions to which you need answers, such as "Is there a piano in the home?" After this, you begin your presentation.

A second aspect of phone technique is the message on your voicemail or answering machine. Make sure it's professional.

And last, make sure there is a pad of paper and something to write with at each telephone. You should be able to get to these immediately. (Believe it or not, as I was writing this file, I had a telephone query!)

Your Presentation

Your first task (after eliciting as much information about your caller as you can) is to educate your caller about what makes a good music studio. As your presentation develops, your caller will see that your program incorporates these very principals! These principals are really self-evident, but most callers have not thought of them specifically.

The first step is to figure out what you teach. Go to the file on advertising to work through the details of this. Choose no more than five or six of the items you generate. These should be the most important facets of your program. For example, you might choose notereading, individualized instruction, improvisation, practice techniques, initiative, and computer work with ear-training software.

Make two columns on a sheet of paper. Label the left side "I teach" and label the right side "so the student will." Write down your five or six points on the left side. These are the features of your studio program.

On the right side, you'll write how the student will profit from the five or six things listed on the left side. These are the benefits of studying with you.

For notereading, you might list the following student benefits:

The others:

individualized instruction:


practice techniques:


computer-fostered study:

Place these features and benefits on your prompter card. As you teach and ask you field inquiries, you'll refine and change this list.

Rehearse explication of these features and benefits before a mirror.

Also practice speaking slowly. Being nervous translates into speaking quickly. A caller may decide that speaking quickly indicates a lack of skill and/or confidence. You'll be nervous at first, so head off this problem.

Record your presentation. After you've done this two or three times (and thus worked the kinks and stumbles out of it), play it back for analysis.

Revise your presentation. This time speak it for a family member or friend.

Now you're ready to answer the phone, right?


What Happens During the Call


When the phone rings, you pull out your phone log in case it's an inquiry. You'll have time during the first several seconds of the call to spread out your prompter cards. Since you'll have only a few seconds to make a good impression, reach for these things whenever the phone rings or keep them so close that all you have to do is open your book (as opposed to rooting around in a drawer).

Jot down the caller's name (you can add the date later in the conversation). If the caller didn't give her name, don't worry about it at this point. She probably will say she's calling about piano lessons.

Very Important: Is she doesn't say so before the conversation takes a different tack, ask how the person found you: "How did you hear about me?" The caller will say he saw your ad in such-and-such or was referred by so-and-so. Don't let anyone hang up without telling you how she got your name! This information is crucial in evaluating your advertising program (or sending a thank-you note).

Getting Information from the Caller

The next step is equally important: discover what the caller wants to know. If he doesn't begin voluntarily, ask him ("What would you like to know about me or my program?"). Usually, however, the caller will tell you exactly what he wants to know.

Take notes. The topics he enumerates are the items about which she must have satisfactory answers before making the decision about beginning piano study.

You must address each of these prime concerns in your presentation. By writing them down as she mentions them, you insure that you don't omit any.

Don't interrupt, as mentioned earlier.

Sometimes you will have an inarticulate caller: He will chuckle and say, "I know so little about piano lessons that I don't know what to ask!" Rather than launching into your presentation, draw the caller out. Help him tell you what he wants to you can tailor your presentation to his needs. He has needs; he just doesn't know how to articulate them. Such questions as "Is this for you or for a child?" or "Tell me about your musical background" are good ways to start the flow of information.

After your caller tells about herself and her needs, she may have a specific question to put to you at this time. Usually this will be your fee. (More about your fee here.

Do not begin your presentation now! Answer her question right away and without hesitation. This answer is vital to her or she wouldn't have brought it up so early in the conversation.

After the question is answered, the caller will ring off (especially if it was a question about your fee), or she will pause expectantly. This is the time you say, "Shall I tell you about myself and how I teach?" If the answer is yes, then you give your presentation.

Your Presentation

Cover your major points (those five or six items), tailoring them to the concerns your caller expressed and pausing after each one to ask if there is a question. Answer that question.

Speak slowly!

After your presentation, check your notes to see that you have incorporated every one of the callers concerns. Ask for other questions.

If you have not had your own list of questions answered in the course of the conversation, pose those now.

Very Important! If your caller has not asked your fee yet, tell her now! Don't offer the interview without first knowing if your fee is going to be a deal-killer. Don't wait until you have spent a half-hour with the family to find out that you charge more than the family is willing to pay!

I mentioned tailoring your presentation to the caller. The reason you asked all those questions and took all those notes is so that you can tell the caller exactly how your program addresses those concerns.

Suppose you have a caller who wants to play for singing his weekly Bible study. When you talk about how you teach practice procedures, you might say, "Since you work full time, I'll teach you how to practice efficiently so you an play for your Bible study fellowship as quickly as possible. We'll start with your favorite hymns."

Do not promise something you cannot deliver. In this example, don't tell the caller he'll be playing for his study group "in __ months." How can you possibly know this caller might pick up these skills by then?

Similarly, if a parent says that the child is having difficulty at school with reading, don't say, "All my students who are slow readers show definite gains after a year of piano study." You could say, however, "Music study often helps with school work." Or, "Piano lessons will give your son experience manipulating abstract symbols, and this is what reading really is."

Be realistic about what piano study involves. Don't try to downplay the effort and time needed. You know it's not possible to "learn to play the piano in six easy lessons." You know a minimum of time will be needed for daily practice (for me, it's 30 minutes). Any caller thinking otherwise in these two situations is either laboring under false illusions and/or is a victim of deceptive advertisements (usually on TV).

In your eagerness for students, be careful not to box yourself in by implying or agreeing to teach something you know you cannot do or that you have no sound reason for thinking this.

If you can't deliver what the caller wants, say so. Better that the student study with someone else than be irritated at your program and then quit. (You could have filled that spot with someone who would be perfectly happy with what you offer and not have the aggravation of finding and interviewing a new student for that time slot.)

If, however, there is a realistic chance that, with some extra time and effort on your part, that you can teach this skill, take a chance: "Let's try this for three months."

Offering an Interview

By the time you finish your presentation and answer any remaining questions, you should have a good idea whether this student is someone you might with to teach. If so, the last step in the phone call is to invite the caller for an interview.

Try something like this: "Would you and your daughter like to come to my studio? This way your daughter can meet me, and I can show you my materials." Notice that you have expressed your invitation as a benefit the caller will receive from such a meeting.

The caller will make an appointment or stall.

If the caller accepts your invitation, do the following:

If the caller does not want to go any further with the process, he will tell you: "I'll have to call you back/talk to my wife/talk to my child/whatever."

After the caller declines, you can do one of two things:

If you offer a brochure in either case, mail it today or tomorrow while the caller's memory is still fresh. In the case of a positive response to your offer of an interview, include a note which reiterates the day and time of the meeting and saying you are looking forward to the meeting.

Declining to Offer an Interview

If you do not want to teach this prospect, do not offer an interview! Even if the caller asks for an opportunity to meet you in person, don't offer the opportunity to come to your studio.

You know you are not going to accept this student, so do not spend more time with the family.

Politely say something like this: "After speaking with you, I don't think your goals and my curriculum will be compatible, but thank you for calling." This technique allows the caller to save face. You are not indicating he is unworthy of your time. You are indicating that he would find more suitable lessons with another teacher.

Whether you offer names of colleagues depends on the situation. Someone looking for $5 lessons won't find them with a colleague, either, but someone looking for a program with very heavy emphasis on composition might. If you do not wish to offer a colleague's name, say something like, "No, I don't know anyone who offers what you are looking for" or "Call Tuttweiler's Pianos and ask for their teacher list."

How to Know the Caller Has Made a Decision

Very Important!. Invite for an interview only those students who have already decided they want to study with you.

How do you know this?

The caller lets you know she has made the decision to study with you.

The following "closing questions" indicate this decision:

When you hear one of these questions (during your presentation or after it, that is, not early in the call), stop talking! Your prospect is sold. Stop your presentation!

You are now in the position of deciding whether or not to offer an interview.

Answer the question and offer the interview if you are interested in the final steps of your evaluation of the prospective student.

Occasionally you won't hear a closing question but if seems as though the caller is someone you'd like to teach, offer the interview: "Would you like to come to my studio to meet me?" Sometimes the caller needs a bit of a nudge.

If the Caller Declines Your Offer of an Interview

If your offer is declined ("I'll have to think about it/talk to my husband/am calling other teachers"), say nothing more. Don't push. The caller has not made his decision to buy.

You wouldn't want to start this person, anyway, because he'll quit. You can't coerce a person into being a content and long-lasting member of your studio. Don't try.

And don't be offended. This happens to everyone.

Using the Phone Query as a Winnowing Device

You will save yourself time, aggravation, and the distress of having a student quit if you winnow out all the students you can tell would not be a good fit for your program or who would otherwise not be a positive addition to your roster. Later, as your studio grows and each individual tuition check is less critical to you, you can be more selective.

Use the telephone inquiry as a way to weed out those who cannot or will not meet your requirements so they never set foot in your studio.

Retention of students starts at the telephone query stage.

Dealing with Objections

You will not be able to please everyone. Some of your callers will challenge some of your requirements. Be prepared to handle these objections.

Objections to Fee

Fee objections will be the most numerous because not everyone can afford what you charge or that what you charge is what they want to pay. Note that I didn't say anything about the "fairness" of your fee. What is fair to you and what the prospect is willing to pay are not the same things at all. Keep this in mind particularly if you have recently raised your fee.

In dealing with fee objections, do not negotiate your fee or apologize for it. Under no circumstances should you debate with the caller whether your fee is appropriate or justify the amount you charge because of your program or your credentials. State what you fee is and adhere to it! There are plenty of people around who will pay what you ask. Forget the others.

Here are some common things a caller might say:

Your responses:

By offering references, you are not disputing the caller's statement but inviting him to find out why you are worth what you charge. You are telling him suibtly that other people are willing to pay your fee.

Match reference as to age, sex, and level of accomplishment, if possible. Call the family (immediately!) and let them know someone may be calling them about you and your program.

Role-play with someone who pretends to object to your fee.

Add these objections and your responses to the prompter cards.

Other Objections

These might include fear of playing in public recitals, fear of memorizing music, unwillingness to participate in studio recitals or adjudicated exams, unwillingness to drive to your studio, unwillingness to come a second time per week to attend a group theory lesson, unwillingness to purchase a piano, and so on. Role-play so you are experienced in handling these objections.

Role-playing of any time would be an excellent program for a teachers' meeting! Pair up and try to stump the other teacher. Switch partners.

Dealing with One-Criterion Shoppers

Some people make their decision about music instruction based on only one factor. They don't want to be educated about what the intend to buy. They are interested on in your response to a particular question. If you are the first one to give the right answer, you are chosen as the news teachers. If you give the wrong answer, you are rejected without further consideration.

Price Shoppers

Ninety-nine percent of all one-criterion shoppers are price shoppers. Be ready for them.

Fortunately, they're easy to spot. A question about your fee is nearly the first thing out of their mouths: "I saw your ad. How much do you charge?" Often the caller will not identify herself because she wants as little commitment as possible until she has the answer to that all-important question.

Answer the question immediately! Don't try to find out about the caller's background and goals. Rather, state your fee plainly: "I charge $14 for a half-hour and $28 for an hour."

If the caller is truly price-shopping, he will want to say good-buy right away, so be alert to jump in before the caller hangs up the phone. "Before you hang up, please tell me how you heard about me." For every call, you want to have a "trail", as mentioned earlier.

If the caller is not price-shopping per se but is price-sensitive (and most people are - - very!), treat him as you would any other caller by first inquiring about goals and concerns; and then following with your custom-tailored presentation.

Other One-Criterion Shoppers

Price is not the only single standard by which people make purchasing decisions. Other tip-offs that you have a one-criterion shopper on the line are immediate questions such as the following:

Fielding Inquiries from Referrals

In due time, you will receive calls resulting from referrals. These calls are just like those resulting from an ad because you ask about the prospect's concerns and give your custom-tailored presentation. In other ways, however, referral inquiries are different.

These phone calls lead to a new student more often than a non-referred call does. This is because the caller is already tentatively "sold" on you. The referring party has given you the stamp of approval, so the caller is predisposed to having a positive reaction to you and your program. This makes him more likely to decide to study with you.

Also, the referring party has pre-screened the caller for you. In her estimation, the prospect is a good fit for your program.

Knowing the relationship between the caller and the person who referred him can help you understand the prospect's concerns better or give you a more accurate picture of what kind of student the prospect might be. For example, if the family just bought a grand piano from a music store and received your name from the manager there, you would surmise that this family is committed to long-term, quality study. Or, the prospective student is the dearest friend of your flightiest female student ("My daughter and Ashley are so alike it's astonishing!" bubbles the caller.) You might wish to consider whether you want to add another easily-distracted student to your teaching load.

Financial Aspects

Referrals have financial aspects. Since the caller and the referring party probably have talked at some length, they almost certainly will have discussed what you charge as tuition. Usually this is a beneficial discussion from your perspective because if the referred party is unwilling to pay your fee, she would not have called you at all.

If you are not quoting the same tuition fee to prospects that you currently charge enrolled students, you may find yourself in a difficult situation with the caller. (One reason you might quote a higher fee to callers is that your roster is nearly full and you want to find out if you can attract students at a higher rate before instituting a fee increase. As soon as you determine your answer, raise everyone's fees right away.)

Let's suppose the worst: the prospect knows what the other family is paying, and you just quoted your [new, higher] fee. The caller might declare, "That's not what the Morrison's are paying!" Ack! Calmly, you answer, "I am taking new students at this fee." You need not add that you plan to raise everyone's tuition. Neither the caller nor the Morrisons need to know this. Remember never to reduce or justify your fee. It is what it is. If the rate you quote to the caller is too high despite the build-up the present student gave you, the prospective student will not join your studio.

Will the caller complain to the referring family about the price? I doubt it. To do so would be to reveal that you charged too much for them to pay. Or that they rethought their finances. Or any number of things to which they don't want their friends to be privy. If the referring family touches base with the caller to ask whether the call was placed and/or how the phone call went, the prospect will say he has not called yet or that the family "decided to wait" to begin lessons.

Denying Enrollment to a Referral

This is another potentially delicate situation: you do not offer an interview, but the caller knows you still have spaces left in your schedule. Ack!

In this case, you could offer the interview even though you know it will go nowhere, but I think that will create another problem because it will give the caller a false sense that you will accept the student. The best thing to do here is to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry! I filled my last spot yesterday." Should the caller say, "Sandy Morrison said you had spaces," you reply, "Yes, I do, but not times for school-age children. Sandy asked me about availability and I did tell her that I had openings, but she didn't ask specifically about after-school openings, so I just told her yes since I thought her question was a general one."

Do not offer to put this student on a waiting list! The caller may report to Sandy Morrison you did this and continue to be hopeful. Sandy will keep singing your praises, and that makes the problem even more acute for you.

If the caller asks to be placed on a waiting list, of course you must agree, but I also would put another plan into place. Say, "I don't know when I will have after-school openings available, but in the meantime, let me give you the names of some colleagues who may have openings. When I have an open lesson time, I'll give you a call. Then we can talk further if you want to."

If the caller does continue to want to join your studio, you have several options.

Tough? Yes.

I hope I have not discouraged you from speaking to people who are referred to you by current students. These alarming scenarios I've given here are the worst circumstances you'll face because I know secretly you want me to address worst-case situations!

On the whole calls from referrals will be positive, welcome inquiries which usually will result in a student well-suited to your program.

Fielding Inquiries from Transfer Students

As with other students, the telephone inquiry will enable you to eliminate some prospects out of hand. For example, the caller wants something that is not an aspect of your program. Or there's just something about the call that sets off warning bells.

A parent's verbal appraisal of the student's achievement level is often inaccurate, particularly since the previous teacher's program probably is not an "equivalent" to yours and therefore you end up trying to guess whether the previous teacher's lawnmowers are the same as your apples.

More useful information will be produced by asking questions such as:

Of course, this list sounds like the Spanish Inquisition when taken as a whole, so you may wish to choose only some of these questions and/or thread them into the conversation a few at a time.

Regardless of how many of the previous questions you pose, conclude with the two questions which will tell you the most about the attitudes of the student as well as the parent and what the family is seeking with the new teacher:

Put these questions on a second prompter card, just for transfer students.

If you offer an interview, you'll want to hear the student play. Ask the parent to let the child know so there are no surprises. I generally ask for the child to play something he likes, "not necessarily the most difficult piece he knows or the one he studied most recently. Just something he likes to play." Also ask the child to bring all his books plus his assignment pad.

Fielding Inquiries from Parents of Very Young Children

What's a "very young child"? That depends on your definition! I've taught children as young as two-and-a-half years old, but this was an exceptional child. Quite often I find three-year-olds are ready for study with me, but more often I find three-and-a-half or four-year-olds are better suited to beginning lessons.

Remember, this is what I do! Many teacher will not teach anyone who cannot read words.

Obviously, I disagree with such a limitation! Students don't need to be able to read words to read music. They simply must be able to handle symbols, which is what music notation is (and which the written word also is). Being unable to read the written word symbols does not preclude a child's being able to read music symbols. Unfortunately, the reluctance of these teachers means that many children who are ready for private lessons and whose parents are committed to the journey are denied access to piano lessons for four or more years. During this time, other interests may fill the time and the window of opportunity is lost to make music an integral part of these children's lives.

Of course, a three-year-old will progress more slowly at first than a four- or five-year-old, but this is no reason to deprive this child of music. The product - - how many songs he can play - - is not important. What is important is that the child is involved in aesthetic endeavors early in life and learning first hand the joy of making music. He also is acquiring skills that will foster success in school (the so-called Mozart Effect), is building faith in himself, and is becoming socialized to the world outside his home.

It may be that the three-year-old will take a year to accomplish what a four- or five-year-old can manage in six months, but the early start - - if the child is ready - - gives him six additional months of benefit during the child's most receptive years. For success in piano study, a child must demonstrate mental, physical, and emotional readiness. In a general, way, readiness is linked to chronological age, but there is a great deal of variation. A three-year-old may be ready, but a five-year-old may not be. By querying the parents at the telephone stage, you often can save yourself interview time by eliminating children who are not yet ready.

Based on your teaching philosophy, studio curriculum, and lesson format, devise questions and set criteria which will give you a good idea whether the prospective young beginner is ready for lessons from you.

Near the top of this file I mentioned the two things I want to the child to know (alphabet, count to 2), plus (1) the ability to sit still for 5 minutes at a time; (2) have a hand which measures at least 2" across at the knuckles; and (3) be able to sit at the bench and have the forearm relatively parallel to the floor (or be willing to sit on a phone book or other booster). I state my four benchmarks to the parent at the outset. These are my mental and physical criteria. (We'll assume here that there are no hearing or vision abnormalities. If there are, the parent will mention them.)

If the parent feels the child can't do these things reliably and/or with good humor and isn't large enough physically, I make arrangements to talk to the parent in six to twelve months. Or for the parent to call me back any time before then if he thinks the child is now ready.

Emotional readiness has several components.

Interest is the most important factor, you won't be surprised to read! It does not matter how much the parent wants lessons for the child or how much you want to share the joys of music. If the child is not interested, everyone will be frustrated. Music study will not be a positive experience for the child, and he will want to quit.

This is a no-win situation. If the parents allow him to stop lessons, the child will learn that if he complains loudly and long enough, his parents will let him have his way. If the parent refuses to grant the child's wish, the situation escalates into a power struggle, and no music learning takes place. Therefore, it is not a good idea to being study until the child expresses interest in it.

How does a child express interest? Here are some ways:

Ask the parent what other activities the child enjoys and how long he is able to sustain interest and concentration with those activities.

And let us not forget parental readiness! Unless the parent has studied piano as a child (and remembers the experience!), the likelihood is that the parent will have a rather fuzzy vision of what is going to happen at home and what part he will play in music study beyond paying and driving.

A child between the ages of three and five will need assistance from the parent on the bench on a daily basks. After age five (but perhaps as late as age eight), the child may not need hands-on help for the entire practice session, but he probably will want someone to "keep him company" at the piano.

Many times, parents enroll their children in lessons with the mistaken assumption that the child will carry out his home assignment completely on his own, so it is vital to educate the parent about what you expect of him. Here are some questions you'll want to put to your caller:

Since the parent doubtless wants his child to receive maximum benefit from piano study, if he cannot support the child as you require, it is necessary for him to know this at the telephone stage.

Note: Those who teach private lessons to pre-school children are scarce. If you discover you have an aptitude and desire to teach young ones, this can be a rewarding market niche for you and your studio.

Fielding Inquiries from Students Who Want to "Try Out" Piano Study

Music study is not something to fill up boring summer days when there's no schoolwork to gripe about, yet some parents think that music lessons might be used this way.

This parent is uneducated about what piano study entails and that your studio is your business, not a drop-in activity.

Respond to the request ("I'd my son to try out piano lessons this summer") by explaining that you do not take short-term students: "I'm sorry, but I don't have a summer-only program. I teach only students are committed to long term study."

Another way to scare off the dilettantes is to have a high enough fee that people with a frivolous approach to study will say good-bye when they hear what the trial period will cost them.

Of course, some of the people who will call you for a summer-only gig might be perfectly fine students after they understand what piano study means and requires. If you sense the caller wants to learn, treat this as call you would any other query: go back to square one and gather information you'll need about the caller's goals and concerns so you can give your presentation crafted to this caller's situation.

The callers who are of the summer camp mentality will make themselves known immediately after you say you don't teach short-term students.

Fielding Inquiries from Students Who Don't Want to Study

As I mentioned above, the child's desire is the foundation of piano study. As above, it is fairly easy to find out whether the child is amenable to study or whether the parent is pushing him to do something he doesn't want to do. In such a situation, I suggest you tell the caller, "I'm sorry, but it's just not going to work. If your child doesn't want to take lessons, it will be painful for you, for her, and for me." To soften the blow, you might add, "If she decides later she'd like to learn, please do call me back." If the child sounds like a pain in the neck with a bad attitude and one you wouldn't ever want to teach, don't offer any hope of future study with this palliative. Be polite, but be firm ("I just don't teach children who really want to study").

Suppose they wheedle, "But can't we try? I know she'd like it if she tried it even though she says she won't!"

This kind of earnest parent plays on our heartstrings! It's so hard to say no, but you must. "I know you don't want to hear me say I can't teach your child since you obviously want her to," you say, "but as I indicated all ready, it will be an uphill struggle for us all if we start lessons when your daughter has stated plainly that she doesn't want to learn how to play the piano."

You have been straightforward but not insulting.

You might wish to follow up: "It sounds as though you value piano study. Have you thought of taking lessons yourself?" You know what to do from this point on!


Your Location

Prepare a set of directions that are very clear. (If you're like me, they need to be very detailed, or I'll get lost!).

Get your callers to some central point from which directions will be the same for everyone.

Begin by finding out where the caller lives. Then direct them to that central point, usually a landmark like a school or a street intersection.

An example of very specific directions (the kind *I* like!):

"Follow Main Street until you get to Central Park. There's a bandstand and basketball court there. Are you familiar with this? [This is a "way point."] Don't do anything. Just wake up. Go one more block on Main Street. This will be the intersection of Main and Sycamore; there's a gas station on the corner. [Another way point.] Turn left on Sycamore. Go down three stoplights. This is Elm. Turn right on Elm. If you get to Parkbrook School, you've gone too far. [Another way point. Hey, I like waypoints!] Count two stopsigns. This is Maple. Turn right on Maple. I'm the second house on the right. It's a purple house with red shutters."

If your house is "ordinary" (ex.: beige stucco with a red tile roof) or your yard doesn't have any distinctive plantings, note something about a neighbor's house or yard ("The house just before mine has a large pine tree and a birdbath in the front yard."). Give directions slowly enough that the caller has time to write. Wait until the person indicates he's ready for the next part.

If You've Forgotten the Name

The easiest way to refresh your memory, especially if you are laying hands on your pad and paper while the caller is identifying himself, is to say, "Please spell your last name for me." Most last names are at least a little bit complicated! Of course, eventually you will run into a Smith, as once happened to me: "Smith. S-M-I-T-H." I backpedaled vigorously, "I thought so, but I wanted to make sure it wasn't S-M-Y-T-H-E."

Requests to Observe a Lesson

Callers who are making a very thorough search (or a little bit undecided) may ask to observe a lesson. They may want to see how you interact with a pupil during a lesson, see the physical layout of your studio, observe lesson contact, evaluate a student's level of enthusiasm, and so on.

Decide if you will allow this. Some teachers don't, and it's not too unusual if you don't allow observations, but most teachers oblige such requests.

Choose the lesson slot carefully.

Tell the student/parent that you would like to allow someone to "observe the lesson next week." Don't spring a stranger on the student when he walks in the door.

Tell the caller that you will need to check with your student to make sure she has no objections to the visit and you will confirm.

If you have a recital or other studio event coming up, consider inviting the prospect to one of these.

If the parent does not call back to continue the process of becoming your student, don't call him. He has not made his decision yet, or he has decided no. A few people are well-mannered and will call you back if the answer is no, but generally if you hear nothing, the conversation is dead.

The telephone query is the first contact your students are likely to have with you. Use it wisely to draw out the information you need to decide whether to offer the caller an interview.

copyright 2002, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.

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