Five Things to Help You Build Your Private Teaching Studio

Gabe-201webGabe Mueller is a freelance trombonist and music educator based in St. Louis, Missouri.  A graduate of the University of North Texas, Gabe earned a Bachelor of Music in Trombone Performance in 2008.  Since returning home to St. Louis in 2012, she has enjoyed being a part of the local music scene (currently performing in a variety of groups including the St. Louis Low Brass Collective and funk band Hazard to Ya Booty) and has a bustling private low brass studio.  She will be releasing her new album, “Solos for the Beginner and Intermediate Trombonist,” later this month.

Find out more about Gabe online at or on Facebook and Instagram @gabemuellertrombone

I first started teaching private trombone lessons when I was in college in Texas.  I only had a few students, and they were passed on to me by a friend of mine who didn’t have any more room in his studio.  But when I moved back to my hometown (St. Louis), I knew that teaching private lessons would be an important aspect of my music career and that I needed more than just a handful of students.  I also knew that I had no idea how to acquire said students!

I started building my current low brass studio 5 years ago.  The first few years I worked hard at recruiting to build my studio, but it paid off big time.  At this point I do very little “recruiting” but regularly receive emails and phone calls from parents of prospective new students.  Though my studio is pretty full, things are always changing and it is nice to have a steady flow of new student inquiries.

There are many things you can do to build your own private studio, but here are five suggestions I have. Some may make you say “duh” and some may make you say “are you crazy?!” but they have all played a part in building (and maintaining) my studio.

1. Offer Free Masterclasses

This is by far the number one piece of advice I would give to anyone wanting to start or build their private studio.  Offer to do free masterclasses at schools.  The point of these masterclasses are to meet potential new students and have them see you in person and get an idea of who you are and how you teach, but also (and more importantly) to start building relationships with band directors.  For me, this was crucial in building and maintaining my studio, but I’ll get to more of that later. 

Look up the different schools in your area (or the area in which you’d like to teach) and email all of the band directors.  Email them individually so it is more personal, introduce yourself, tell them what you do/play, tell them you have space open in your private studio, and offer to do a FREE MASTERCLASS for their students.  Keep the email short and sweet (they are band directors, after all, and have no time).

Because you are emailing band directors who get a million emails a day and have no time, you probably will not get a response to your first email.  That’s okay – it’s nothing personal.  Follow up with a second email a week or two later and they will more likely be appreciative rather than annoyed that you did.  After you do a masterclass, send a follow up email to the band director thanking them for having you in and giving them info about lessons and your private studio.

I would recommend sending these emails out once every semester to new schools or band directors that you have NOT done a masterclass with, and once a year (beginning of the school year) for schools that DID bring you in for a masterclass.  I did masterclasses for the first three school years when I moved back to St. Louis.

2. Have Honest and Specific Testimonials

Having solid testimonials online will help build your “social proof,” making potential clients more comfortable choosing you as a teacher.  A great way to garner honest and specific testimonials that speak directly to your target audience (aka parents/students/band directors) is to create a survey of 3-5 questions with answers than can be crafted into a strong statement about you/your teaching.  This can easily be done using online tools like Survey Monkey or Google Docs.  One of my favorite testimonials came from a parent as a result of a survey I sent out to a few of my students and their parents.

“My son has become progressively more dedicated to learning to play the trombone.  I think he sees what value there is to playing well, and Gabe has helped him on his quest.  I am a musician, and have knowledge as to what is good or bad.  Gabe is good.  Not only has she inspired my son, she has exposed him to many outside the lesson opportunities, all of which were valuable and interesting to him.  Gabe is a motivated, innovative, top notch music teacher.”

I was able to put together this testimonial using answers from targeted questions I asked in a survey regarding my teaching methods and pedagogy.  Examples of those questions were, “Please describe the changes you have seen in yourself/your student as a result of taking lessons with Gabe” and “Please explain how you/your student has benefited from Gabe’s specific pedagogy/brass playing concepts.”

Determine what you want your testimonials to say about you and your teaching and create questions that will help guide your current students and parents in providing answers that will be useful for testimonials.  Even if you only have one student, getting a strong testimonial from them, their parents, and even their band directors is a good start!

3. Make a Video

The Internet and the people who use it love video.  There are so many places you can put a video to reach potential students/parents (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your website).  I highly recommend making a video that shows people what it’s like to take lessons with you and be a part of your private studio.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or long, just genuine and informative.

It is relatively easy to make a short simple video on your own.  If you don’t have the skills to make a video, I think it is a smart investment to hire someone who can do it for you.  Here is a video that I had made for my private studio:  The whole video is on the longer side and resides on my website and YouTube channel, but I was able to pull snippets of it to post on social media.

4. Be Visible and Accessible

Make sure people know who you are and what it is you do!  There are a number of ways to be visible, both online and in person.  If you don’t already have a website or Facebook page, go make one now!  There are a variety of online tools to help you build websites and/or an effective Facebook page.  (And once you do that, include those testimonials and videos!)  Make it as easy as possible for people to find information about you and your services online, along with how to contact you via email or phone.

I also find it helpful to go out into the world, be social, meet new people, and do a little self-promotion.  Perform in community ensembles in your area to meet other musicians.  Attend local, state, or national clinics and conferences to connect with other music educators.  Look up your local arts council and attend meetings, workshops, or other events.  You never know who you will meet that will connect you to future students (and gigs!).  Have business cards on hand to pass out when you meet people in real life.

5. Foster and Maintain Relationships

As I mentioned earlier, band directors can be your best friends and lifelines when it comes to building and maintaining your private studio.  As long as you are teaching lessons, you need to continue to foster these relationships.  Keep in contact with them by sending a quick email updating them on their students’ progress.  Get their input on things like solo & ensemble repertoire selection.  Attend your students’ band concerts and say hello to the band directors before or afterwards.  Show them that you are present and that you value their music program and their students.

This may seem like the simplest of my 5 things, but I think it is the most important.  Even when you have a full studio you will always need a stream of new students.  If you play your cards right, you will get to a point where you won’t have to do as much recruiting as when you first started out.  I personally do very little recruiting at this point but still get new student requests regularly through band director referrals.  Maintain good relationships with your band director colleagues and you will always have students in your future!
Good luck to you if you are building your private studio!  Teaching private lessons is sometimes tough, but also magical – enjoy the ride!

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