This blog post about summer music lesson project ideas was written by guest contributor Ruth McAdoo. Ruth has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology/Vocal performance from Appalachian Bible College, and has been teaching creative piano, violin, voice and ukulele students near St. Louis for the last 4 years. When she’s not teaching, you can find Ruth listening to film scores, mixing up a fresh batch of waffles, or rollerblading into the sunset with her husband Micah.
How do you not only retain current students over the summer, but attract additional students?
A few summers ago, I took a weekly pottery class.
I wasn’t great at it, but the messy newness of it made it fun. I took home clay-spattered sandals, a few misshapen masterpieces – and a fresh empathy for my music students who were also learning how to coordinate their bodies to create something.
Most importantly, I took home the excitement.
I can learn something new. I can make something I couldn’t make before.
What if our summer lessons focused on giving students an experience and a product to hold their excitement for music while giving them the change of pace they need?
Create a Project
If you want to gift students with these small wins, consider project-based lessons for the summer.
Instead of trying to teach the instrument at large, try honing in on one skill you could teach in 6, or 8 or 12 weeks.
What you could help a student achieve in that length of time?
Practice is OUT
The most important part of project-based summer lessons is eliminating the need for practice.
You heard me right!
If vacations, day camps and going to the pool will keep your students from practising, don’t let those activities keep them from exploring music. Plan on accomplishing all the steps of your project in the lesson/class.
Keep them excited for the next class and eliminate the guilt which comes from not completing their assignments.
Bonus: If your students absolutely love what they’re learning, they’ll want to work on it at home own anyway. 🙂
Success is IN
Don’t set the hoop too high.
Narrow down the scope to what you can actually accomplish in the time you have. You want your students to feel successful, not overwhelmed.
Make sure you have a week-by-week breakdown of what you’ll be doing. Of course this can be flexible, but if you advertise that the student can compose a song over the course of 8 weeks, you’ll need a plan of how to get them there.
Let’s explore some different project-based lessons you could offer in your studio this summer and how to group them.
If you need more help managing summer policies, check out my hub page devoted to running your Studio Business.
Summer Music Lesson Project 1: Put Them at the Composer’s Desk
Composing is a great change of pace for your current students.
Students are still learning theory, musicality and technique. But when they are the ones making those decisions, they take new ownership over the concepts and enjoy the learning process much more.
Plus, composing is a musical activity which requires no practice.
Even if they don’t touch their piano in between classes, they can still pick up their project where they left off.
Why not write a suite of music pieces with each student over the summer?
To simplify your curriculum planning, you can zero in on a set of concepts you can adapt to all levels. Try creating:
- Ocean-themed pieces incorporating the whole tone and chromatic scales
- Animal-themed pieces in different time signatures to express types of movement
- Fairytale-themed pieces using musical form to show progression of the story
Don’t forget their concrete, take-home item. Having a properly notated printout of their pieces will make the learning experience feel much more “real” – that’s their name at the top!
NoteFlight, MuseScore and other notation software programs have free versions. For older students, you can teach them how to use the software to input music on their own.
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Composing projects would work at all levels, but will clearly be most attractive to students who have at least some experience on their instrument already.
While you could adapt this content to many different teaching formats, composing lends itself best to:
- One-on-one coaching
- Small groups of 2-4 students
Your students will need one-on-one feedback from you, so don’t take on more students than you can help at one time. You want to make sure they have time to ask questions and get the help they need to create their best work.
Summer Music Lesson Project 2: Put Them behind the Microphone
Composing might be great for kids who are already hooked on music, but how about the newbies?
Try offering a chord-playing class. Who wouldn’t want to spend the summer learning how to play and sing your favorite pop songs?
Playing chords has huge benefits for existing students, too – they’ll be growing in rhythm skills and harmonic theory without even realizing it.
There are millions of songs out there with chord charts available in print and online – try narrowing your scope by genre based on who you’d like to attract.
- Folk songs are fun for young students, and you can introduce songwriting principles as they add their own verses.
- Pop favorites are a hit (pun intended!) for all ages, and you can explore common progressions and vamping styles.
- Movie hits can offer more of a challenge, and are great for keeping more advanced students engaged.
Collect a cluster of pieces to start off with. “In the Jungle” by Solomon Linda and “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars are my personal favourites.
Once students are comfortable playing from chord charts, you can have them pick a favourite or two which may be more of a challenge.
At the end of the summer, record all their pieces and collect them into a private YouTube album which they can share with family and friends.
Playing chords and singing works well in groups. You can teach as many students as you have keyboards for, or more if you add rhythm instruments and rotate students through the keyboards.
Group students by level and add more in-depth theory for the more advanced classes. You could even finish the summer by having students write their own song or create a mashup of their favorites.
Summer Music Lesson Project 3: Change Their Place in the Band
We all know you can’t learn to play the piano well in 8 weeks with very little practice. That would be crazy.
But there are many short-term experiences we could give students to introduce them to different aspects of music. Think about what non-piano experiences you could offer students this summer to give them a fresh musical perspective.
Pick your instrument:
- Ukulele – if you can learn 4 chords, you can teach a bajillion songs to kids. Uke is great for developing finger coordination and a strong sense of rhythm.
- Singing lessons – you may not be a voice teacher, but you can still enjoy singing with students and teaching them the basics of good breathing, pitch, and artistry.
- Rhythm band – what about coordinating percussion parts to popular songs? You can teach rhythm reading and ensemble playing using songs kids will love.
At the end of the summer, organize an outdoor concert showcasing your musicians.
Band projects are the perfect fit for a day camp, but they can work with weekly group or one-on-one sessions too.
Kids enjoy being around kids their age, so try grouping these types of activities by age rather than by skill level. That way everyone’s trying something new and will enjoy learning together.
Attracting Summer Students
How will you advertise your awesome composing class?
Your fabulous pop-playing course?
Your ukulele band?
Advertising can feel overwhelming. But if you have your details, you already have your advertising copy.
Tell them what they’ll be able to do and what things they’ll get with their class:
- Compose your own Ocean Masterpiece this summer! Get one-on-one coaching to write your own three-piece piano suite inspired by the sights and sounds of the magnificent ocean.
- 1+ years of piano experience required.
- Includes eight 45-minute sessions by appointment, a composing binder, and a printed copy of your 3-piece suite.
Personalize your offering details abd add on pricing, contact info and a sign-up deadline. Then post at your your local coffee shop, list it on your website and email it to your mailing list.
Remember: Parents are looking for fun activities for their kids. Get yours out there so the right people can find you!
For more specifics on marketing, check out 11 Awesome Ideas to Market Your Piano Studio and Get More Students.
Do you change up your summer curriculum?
What’s been your most popular summer offering? Are you changing up anything for this summer? Comment below – let’s swap ideas and have our biggest, most fun studios this summer. 🙂