Many teachers interview prospective students before accepting them into their studio. While I haven’t yet felt the need to do so with my own studio, after reading James Bastien’s insight concerning interviews in his book Teaching Piano Successfully, I’m convinced that interviewing students is a great idea — even if you are planning to accept the student anyway.
It’s difficult to know how to spend the first lesson: should you buy a book in advance for the student, and jump right in? Should you hold off on the music books, and first teach them the musical alphabet, some simple tunes, and maybe some five-finger patterns? Maybe.
But what if you spent the first lesson (whether it’s a beginner or transfer student) getting to know the student? It might sound like a waste of time, but, as you know:
You have to take time to save time.
If you could gain a better sense of the students’ musical level, wouldn’t it be so much easier to plan the student’s repertoire? (Why didn’t I think of this sooner??)
James Bastien’s book contains some great suggestions for how to conduct student interviews. Here’s my summary:
Purpose of the Interview
- To inform the parent(s) and student of the studio’s objectives and policies.
- This may include information concerning: length of lessons, tuition costs, cost of books/materials, accepted payment method, recitals and other performances, participation, etc.
- It is advisable to type up Studio Policies handout for the parent/student to refer to as needed.
- To allow the teacher to gain information from both the parent and student, so as to better teach the student.
- It is advisable to type up a Student Information Form for the parent to fill out. (to be blogged about soon!)
- It may also be helpful to create a form for yourself to fill in as you interview the student.
Questions to Ask the Student
The first part of the interview should be completed without the parents’ presence in the room. Politely ask the parent to fill out the Student Information Form in another room (dining room table or living room couch is fine). You may also give them the Studio Policies at this time, so they can start reading it through if they have time left over while waiting. It is likely that the student will relax more without the parents’ presence. Besides, it is important to see whether the student is able to answer the questions without the parents’ help.
- name? can you spell your last name for me please?
- parents’ names?
- can you read? do you enjoy reading?
- what school do you attend?
- do you like school? what subjects?
- do you want to take piano lessons?
Activities to Conduct with the Student (Beginners Only)
Before asking the parent to return to the room, you may wish to ask the student to perform a few simple musical activities, so you can better assess the student’s level.
- Sing a simple melody with them. Drop out and let them finish on their own.
- Ask the student to match a few pitches within their singing range.
- Show him/her the black key 2’s and 3’s. Ask them to cover the 3 group (fingers 1, 2, and 3 are fine; or 2, 3, and 4) and to copy simple patterns that you play.
- Ask the student to clap back some short rhythms. Or, ask him/her to clap the rhythms to familiar tunes, like Row, Row, Row Your Boat.
- Tell the student that the Musical Alphabet contains only the letters A through G. Ask the student to try reciting it backwards.
Assessing Transfer Students (Intermediate or Advanced)
For older students, here are some more suitable questions to ask:
- What music have you been studying with your previous teacher?
- How long do you practice each day? Do you like to practice?
- What recitals, auditions, or contests have you participated in?
- Were you taught theory?
- What did your teacher assign you for technique? (ask student to play some scales, chords, and arpeggios.)
- What were some of your memorized pieces?
- Ask the student to play a piece for you. Listen for the student’s rhythm, fingering, and dynamics.
- Ask the student to sight-read for you. Ask the student what key the selection is in.
- Test the students ear. Ask them to identify whether a chord is major or minor. Ask them to identify some intervals.
Discussing Studio Policies
After assessing the student’s musical level, you may ask the parent back into the room. Now is the time to discuss the Studio Policies and to address any questions or concerns the parent/student might have. The major points to hit:
- Scheduling. If you have not already set a regular weekly time for the student’s lesson, you may do so now.
- Payment. Inform the parent of the tuition rate, and tell them the proper payment method (by the month, by the semester, etc.). Inform them of the late fee policy (if you have one). Make sure they know about how much to expect to spend on books/materials, or whether that is an expense that you cover.
- Attendance. Inform them of your policy regarding excused and unexcused absences.
- Practicing. Make sure both the parent and the student understand how much time they need to devote to practicing. Make sure they understand that lessons will be much more progressive and enjoyable if they practice regularly!
- Contact Info. Let them know how they can reach you and when is the best time to call.
- Questions/Concerns. Ask the parent and student if they have any questions or concerns. Encourage them to read the rest of your Studio Policies on their own. Bastien recommends this book to parents: A Parent’s Guide to Music Lessons, by Vera G. Wills and Ande Manners (Harper & Row, 1967). (I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but I thought I’d pass along the information!)
So there’s some ideas to get you started with conducting your own student interviews! I’ve typed up some forms for myself to use in my own studio, and plan to blog them soon. Check back soon and have a peek. :]
- coming soon: example New Student Interview form
- coming soon: example Transfer Student Interview form
- coming soon: example Student Information form
- coming soon: example Studio Policies handout