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Recital Alternatives to Increase Studio Community and Retention

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Sara Campbell / Savvy Music Studio
recital alternatives to increase studio community and retention

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

In this blog post we’re going to focus on recital alternatives that will help you build community in your studio and increase client happiness and retention.

Why this topic?

Because happy clients = higher retention rates. AND… happy clients = more referrals.

To start… I’d like to share two short personal stories to give context to why I’m passionate about this topic.

I’ll preface these stories by sharing that I moved around a lot as a kid, which meant I had the opportunity to work with many different piano teachers! As I look back on my memories of the different teachers I worked with, a couple experiences stand out to me:

The Recital Story

When I was in middle school, I remember being part of a studio where recitals were a VERY big deal. We’d prepare our pieces for months, working towards elusive perfection. When the Big Recital Day came, we’d gather at the church venue and sit in program order in the front pews, waiting for our turn to perform. The recital would last for hours, and if I’m honest – I don’t remember much more than feeling really nervous, having sweaty palms, and being so relieved when it was over.

This was our only communal experience, and aside from my sisters, I didn’t know any of the other students.

The Piano Party Story

The other studio experience I remember was as a very young piano student, probably 1st or 2nd grade. We had recitals, but they weren’t the only time we gathered together as a studio. Instead, the memory that stood out most to me was our end-of-school-year party. My teacher would invite her students and families to gather at her house, and we’d play games in her backyard, eat yummy snacks, and swim in her pool. (Yes, there was a lifeguard! And yes, I can’t imagine pulling something off like this nowadays without a crap-ton of extra insurance and waiver forms, but this was the 1980s and things were different then.)

Looking back I find it interesting how these two stories stuck with me. They’re so different from one another!

So why am I sharing these stories?

Studio recitals are the “gold standard” communal event that’s been passed down through generations. As teachers we chose to use this model because recitals offer a chance for our students to showcase their skills, build confidence, and receive recognition for their hard work.

While I do believe that offering performance opportunities can be an important experience for some students, the standard “wait in line and perform” style recitals are missing one very important thing: community building opportunities.

In most studios, once-yearly recitals are the only communal experience.

As both a teacher and coach-of-teachers, I’m passionate about leveling-up studio experiences so that we can do TWO things:

  • Provide engaging education that will encourage our students to continue playing and singing the rest of their lives
  • Give ourselves as business owners the opportunity to increase student retention rates and referrals

If we want to create a truly exceptional music studio experience that has people BEGGING to stay or to get on your waitlist… we gotta think beyond the standard recital format. There are so many recital alternatives that can give students the opportunity to grow their musical skills!

Here’s a handful of ideas that have worked for my studio and for my coaching clients.

5 Recital Alternatives to Increase Community and Retention:

#1 Awesome Non-Recital Events

Hosting non-recital events is a GREAT way to build community in your studio. And there are SO many options! You could organize in-person workshops, studio gatherings, or even movie nights where students can get together, socialize, and share their musical skills and knowledge with one another. If you have an online studio, you can organize online group classes or other experience, which allow students who are miles apart to socialize virtually.

These events help keep the good vibes rolling and encourage your students to connect with one another. The more connected someone feels to your studio (not just YOU as the teacher), the more invested they become in the entire process of learning and creating music.

Some recital alternatives that my students have REALLY enjoyed over the years:

  • Holiday parties where we watch movies, eat snacks, listen to music, and wrap up gifts for local families in need.
  • Themed summer camps and group lessons that give them the opportunity to flex their musical skills and make new friends.
  • Adult Sip-and-Play nights where my adult piano students could get together with wine, cheese, and maybe perform a little piece — or just TALK with people their age who are studying piano. (I wish I had remembered to take pictures of those evenings!)
#2 Studio Buddy Systems

The buddy system is another great way to build community in your studio. By matching students who have similar skill levels and interests, you can create an environment where students can collaborate, jam, and cheer each other on. This can help students stay motivated and focused on their musical goals, while also providing encouragement and support that they may not receive when practicing alone. Students who feel connected to other students in the studio are more likely to stay committed and continue taking lessons over time.

This system could be something that you use throughout the entire year — or in seasons where your students need an extra boost. Here are a couple ways you can integrate a buddy system:

  • Overlap lesson times that allow students to work together between their private lessons. (I’ve seen these sometimes called “duet lessons.”)
  • Use a studio management app like Tonara that will allow students to connect via group chats and offer things like practice leader boards for motivation.

Here’s an example of two rockin’ buddies from my studio in 2018. Julia and Sophia paired up during lesson times throughout their spring semester and collaborated on a Senior Recital.

#3 Create a Rad Community Wall

A community wall is a space where you can celebrate student wins, display artwork, and share the latest news in your music studio. You can deck out a space in your studio (or lobby!) with pictures, posters, and notes from students, creating a place where everyone can come together to share their awesomeness and build a sense of community.

The community wall doesn’t have to be music-related; it can be a space where students can share their achievements in other areas of their lives, such as school or sports. This allows students to connect on a deeper level and develop friendships that extend beyond the music studio.

We’ve had a LOT of fun with these over the years — from sharing our favorite songs to leaving inspirational notes for one another.

#4 Get Grooving with Collaborative Projects

Collaborative projects are an excellent way to bring students together and create a sense of teamwork in your studio! These projects can include ensembles, duets, group compositions, and other musical endeavors that involve multiple students. When students collaborate on musical projects, they have the opportunity to shine together and learn from each other. This can be an exciting and rewarding experience that helps students develop their musical skills and build lasting friendships.

A couple collaborative projects that have worked well in my studio:

  • Collaborative compositions – Several of our summer camps focused on group composition skills. We composed wrote movie scripts, composed theme songs, and created short films. VERY fun! You can check out some of those films here on our YouTube channel.
  • Collaborative recitals – we did this with senior piano students who wanted to showcase their work to their close family and friends at the end of their piano lesson journey. They designed and organized everything from their program list to the food they were going to serve.
#5 Virtual Hangout Sessions

A virtual hangout session can be a great recital alternative for connecting students who are in an online music studio. This can be a forum where students can interact, chat, and share their experiences with one another. By providing a space where students can connect with each other, you are creating a sense of community that extends beyond the private lesson model. Additionally, a virtual hangout spot can be a great way to keep students engaged and connected even when they are not attending lessons, which can help improve student retention and ensure that your students continue to make progress in their musical journeys.

Here’s a fun screenshot from one of our singing parties during the pandemic. We gathered together to share songs we love, talk about our journeys as vocalists, and to celebrate Ava’s birthday!

zoom voice lesson party

In Conclusion

By going beyond recitals and incorporating creative ideas like non-recital events, buddy systems, community walls, collaborative projects, and virtual hangout spots, you can create a studio culture that fosters connections and friendships among your students. This not only leads to better student retention and word-of-mouth referrals, but it also creates a fulfilling and meaningful experience for both you and your students.

The key to building community in your music studio is to create opportunities for your students to connect with each other!

How are you creating a sense of community in YOUR studio?

If you have other fun recital alternatives and community building ideas, please share them below. Tell us how they work, show us links to your pictures and videos. I’d LOVE to see what’s working in YOUR studio!

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10 thoughts on “Recital Alternatives to Increase Studio Community and Retention”

  1. All great ideas, Sara! Thank you for sharing! The photos are wonderful! I was very interested to read about your childhood impressions of the two recital experiences.

    Before the pandemic, I treated my Spring Recitals like a party / jam session after the individual performances with pot luck dinners and students continuing to play additional repertoire. You are so right about creating a collaborative community in your studio! I am continually looking for ways to bring students and their families together to create positive memories.

    Last season, I arranged for students to play at a local coffee shop. (I got this idea from other teachers doing so!) I took a keyboard and small amp. Sadly, only two families (3 students out of 22) showed up for this. I hope for better attendance next season as the 3 students enjoyed it and two lovely sets of parents met and connected.

    I also enjoy group virtual hang-outs (I call them Master Classes). Again, I’ve been disappointed in overall attendance as students in my area are over-scheduled in general. I provided 5 Friday afternoon dates in September for families to plan around. Not sure what else I can do? Master Classes also serve as make-up time for all missed lessons. As I’m about to create my 2023-2024 Studio Policy, I wish I could think of a way to require attendance as it so important in fostering the community culture.

    1. Hey there Sheri! It’s so lovely to hear from you 😀

      I love the ideas of the party / jam session recitals. And it sounds like you had a great beta-run for the local coffee shop gig. If you got pictures / video / testimonials from that event, those could play a role in your internal marketing for the next round. I’m sure parents and students would love to hear how much fun it was!

      Re: the virtual hang outs. Maybe test out having less options for students to attend? OR — poll your studio to find out if Friday afternoons are a time that works. I know that in my area, there tend to be a LOT of activities going on on Fridays, so putting events on that day was always a hard sell.

      Keep testing things out! You’ll find something that resonates 🙂

  2. In the summer, I like to do an outdoor recital/picnic at a local park. It’s a fun experience for the students and families, and it’s also a great way to do a little guerrilla marketing!

  3. My studio does regular studio class to practice performing, so the once or twice yearly recital isn’t quite as daunting. We also learn how to give positive feedback in “I” statements, communicate with the pianist, acknowledge applause, etc, as well as some light character work. Last month another local teacher and I did our recital together, splitting the work! It was so positive.

    I’ve done holiday parties for the families, and end of semester pizza parties for students. During Covid we did weekly group practice online.

    I LOVE the picnic recital idea, as well as the posting board… wonder how this could be done virtually….. Anyway, I so appreciate this post as I forgot about some of this AND got new ideas, AND remembered my “why” of creating a community. Thanks!

  4. I love this! Got some cool ideas to build community with my reading students.
    And some thoughts about the music camps where I teach.
    I remember those recitals too, where I didn’t know anyone.
    And I remember recitals for the music program at our church, where it was fun to hear my friends play.
    And I can’t imagine parents enjoying a long recital where they are waiting to hear their child play either.

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