Of Warmth and Websites

Today’s teachers often create their own web sites to attract students. A teacher remarked recently on a forum that she was having trouble getting a full class. So I went to have a look at her website on which she gave a list of the characteristics parents should have as well as what would be expected of parents and students in order to learn and play the instrument successfully. You might think this is reasonable. But the effect this had was to give students and their parents reasons NOT to study with her. The first requirement (parental musical experience) was off-putting enough. Some of her other requirements had the same deterring effect: obligatory daily practice and very few other outside activities, for example. If I were a qualified and dedicated prospective parent, I would fear that I lacked the commitment and other qualities to match those high expectations. In other words, her site was not warm and welcoming, but scary and off-putting. If you met all the requirements, you could consider calling her. It’s no wonder that very few did. She came off as interested in teaching the violin, not the student. She seemed interested in success, not the student. She even posted a video of her possibly most advanced student playing a difficult concerto, something that could discourage beginners or less advanced players of the same age as that student.

Contrast this with the website of another teacher who teaches beginners up through advanced students, some of whom she has gotten into the better college and conservatory programs in the USA. Many of these former students still come back to her for lessons anyway. You wouldn’t know it from her website which is brilliant in terms of warm and welcoming. She gives very few parental requirements other than that they attend the lessons and take notes (for the young ones) and that practicing should be done every day but she would accept five days a week. There is a lovely gallery of pictures of her smiling, surrounded by happy students of all ages. There are no videos or mention of her advanced students who, other than the ones she brings up herself, come to her by word of mouth – she is trying to attract beginners. You take one look at this website and grab your telephone. Instead of running the other way, you would LOVE to have lessons with this warm and inviting individual who is giving you every reason to want to study with her – whatever she may teach. She makes having lessons with her sound easy and relaxed. She seems approachable, warm and accepting to students of every kind and age. No prerequisites other than what any parent or older student is easily capable of. However, if you think she is not a demanding and exacting teacher, you are wrong. But her students adore her and the occasional student who is mired in the practicing doldrums will continue to practice anyway just to avoid disappointing her.

She also knows something any good salesman knows: you have to get people in the door first so you have the chance to allay their doubts and convince them of the value of your service in person. What if the parents want little or no involvment in their children’s music education? If you scare them off with your website, you will never be able to convince them to change their minds. People can change and it’s up to you to make them want to, not issue ultimata.

The same goes for terms and conditions. One experienced, successful and business-like teacher I know simply hands out a printed page to the parents without even asking them to sign it. The advantage of giving them your terms and conditions yourself is that they then can’t say they haven’t read them. If these policies are only on your website and parents have to click to get to them, they can profess ignorance when it’s convenient. In any case, if you were to go online to inform yourself about a new car, you certainly wouldn’t read all the terms and conditions of a sales contract before you have first established whether or not you are interested in the product.

You must also consider that most parents aren’t really all that sure they want their children to study the violin in the first place. This may sound like heresy to a violin teacher – I mean, WE think it’s wonderful, how could anyone else not think so?? This is cognitive egocentrism: thinking that because we think about something in a certain way, that means all people do – or if it enters our dim consciousness that they don’t, well they ought to. We have to get over this right away. Most people do NOT think the same way we do and are not going to be convinced to do so by a list of requirements on our website. We may also think that the virtues of playing a musical instrument should sell themselves with no help from us. In a perfect world, that would be true. Do I have to tell you that the world isn’t perfect?

You see, most parents are looking for an excuse not to proceed with violin lessons, so we mustn’t provide them with one. We have to accept that the reasons to study music in the first place are many and varied. Thank heavens for the world that there are lots of different points of view. If the only reason to study a musical instrument were to become a fantastic soloist, only child prodigies accepted, then almost all violin teachers would have very few students, there would be no future audience and many excellent amateurs and pros would never have gotten as far as they have. Many people would never experience the joy that making music can bring and the world would be a poorer place. So by making our websites and our own selves inviting, we really are doing a service to mankind.

Warm and sincere people accept you just as you are and make you feel it. The first teacher’s website invites you to judge yourself – am I capable of living up to these standards? The second one not only does not force you to pass judgment on yourself, it makes you eager to get started. No self-assessment (or worse, assessment of your child) necessary.

Obviously, both the attitudes represented in these two websites carry over into the lessons. This is why the first teacher has trouble attracting and keeping students. The second teacher instead takes many of her students from infancy to college and gets other advanced students by referrals. For her, all her students are success stories of one kind or another, whatever career or educational path they may eventually choose.

You may be tempted to say that the first teacher just isn’t a warm person. I would disagree. I think, as Carlos Castaneda would say, that she just needs to “turn her head” a little. To be warm and accepting, you have to teach the student, not the instrument. You have to make the student feel welcome in your studio, that you accept him as a human being first and as a prospective violinist second. A slight change of attitude can make all the difference in the world and this is something we can all do to be more effective and successful teachers.

Post author: Eloise Hellyer

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2 August 2017

6 thoughts on “Of Warmth and Websites

  1. gipsika

    I guess it depends what the teacher wants. If she only wants to raise little virtuosos, may she be welcome to them! There are other teachers who teach for all the other reasons – to allay learning problems, give a child a love for music, etc etc.

    It is only silly to want the broad catchment net (“anyone welcome”, for whatever reason) if your website clearly states that you’re a mini-virtuoso specialist.

    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      Unless a teacher is a highly sought after, famous teacher of prodigies, she’s going to have to change her attitude and rethink her approach if she wants the possibility of having a full studio. “My way or the highway” is no way to win people over to another way of thinking.

      1. gipsika

        On the whole I agree with you; but I’ve seen how teachers (especially those who partout will not take beginners) actually build a reputation on only taking severely committed families with children who have already advanced quite a bit. They then look “better” than the start-up teachers… until someone asks, “and how long has this child been playing?” I’ve seen it in action. But it doesn’t matter, because even in a place absolutely jam-packed with violin teachers there still is a niche for everyone. If this lady really only wants the ones who practise like mad, then that is what she will get, but her student volume will be lower. She has specified it; she must not complain if she gets exactly what she asks for. There will not magically be more highly committed people just because she wishes it so.

        Btw I’ve seen many studios with very strict rules; when you actually deal with the teacher you realize she’s quite soft and the rules are there to save her being quite so strict.

        1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

          It’s okay to have strict rules but hand them out in person, not on a website, after the prospective students/parents have decided to study with you. You can scare off a lot of potentially excellent students with lousy marketing. The teacher in question not only wanted really committed families up front (which you can do when you’re a famous teacher with a waiting list) but outright said that the students should have very few outside activities. That’s really off-putting. Let a child have lessons with you and then decide to give up something else – if that’s even necessary. Thanks for your comment.


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