The Mind-Reading Music Teacher: How To Impress Your Customers

by Daniel Patterson

Have you ever seen Antiques Roadshow?

This show is a huge hit. The reactions of people are priceless when they discover that their antiques are valuable.

Wouldn’t it be nice? It’s a thrilling thought.

You are in a costume jewelry store. You’ve never seen those pieces before. You didn’t know their value.

The shopkeeper pulls you aside and makes a one-time offer. She pulls out that piece from the video and asks you for $1,000.

My hunch is that you would likely turn her down outright.

Yet, if you took her up on the offer – you could have made 5x your money in an afternoon.

When presented with a $1,000 piece of jewelry amongst racks and racks of cheap costume jewelry, you would be uninterested. It’s only natural. It is a huge disconnect.

I’d like to suggest that the way you talk about your piano lessons, your studio, and your credentials is just as much of a disconnect for parents and prospective customers.

How do you talk to new parents in your studio? What things do you choose to talk about with new prospects?

Most teachers lead with their philosophy, their credentials, their tuition price, and – worst of all – their policies!

I believe this is incredibly insensitive. I saw a big change in the the way that parents responded to me when I stopped talking about things that were important to me and started talking about things that were important to them.

When you start “speaking their language,” you will quickly see a difference in:

  • Your students’ practice times
  • Relations with families in your studio
  • Your reputation as a teacher in your community
  • Your compensation as a teacher
  • Enrollment numbers in your studio or music school

How do we change our perspective? How do we begin to inhabit the thoughts of another person?

An Insight Into Human Nature

It begins with realizing that humans are completely irrational. We humans like to think we have things under control. We like to think that the our actions come from a place of reason and intellect.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth! People know what they should and should not do. Yet they do the opposite anyway!

Emotion trumps logic. Have you heard the terms “stress eating”? What about “binge shopping”? “Self-destructive habits.” “Carb addiction.”


Binge shopping – Responsible for loads of debt and the plots of popular 90’s movies


Emotions drive parents to make decisions about their kids.

Think about the questions below. These are just a taste:

  • What keeps my student’s mom awake at night?
  • What frightens her?
  • Why did that mom sign up her child for lessons? What is the deeper motivation other than “we want them to learn music”?
  • What is she afraid might happen if the lessons didn’t go well?
  • What does it mean about her child if the lessons don’t go well?

When did you last think about the inner emotional life of your customers? Learn their fears. Inhabit their thoughts and take their perspective.

I can be prone to hyperbole… understand that what I’m about to say is not an exaggeration:

The rewards are great for those who take the time to understand their customers. You will have greater empathy. You will be more persuasive. Your studio will grow.

It shows a generosity of spirit that parents will reward.

You will gain the respect, trust, support, admiration, and love of your students and families.

A Lesson I Will Never Forget

I once had the parent of a student stay after a lesson to speak with me. She sent her daughter out to the car.

She told me that “Jane” was struggling with academics this year. They were spending so much time helping her study for tests and quizzes that she had dropped out of all sports. They were spending huge chunks of time on the weekends studying.

She then said something that is FOREVER burned on my memory. Several other friends from Jane’s school attend my studio including the “Smith” family.

Jane’s mom said: “We are doing the best we can, but Jane isn’t a ‘Smith’.”

And then she burst into tears.

I’ll be honest… In that moment, my heart went out to her. I got a glimpse into the mind, heart, and emotions of another person.

From that moment on, I inserted a new phrase into my description of my lessons. Whenever I spoke to a new prospect, I would say:

“Kids excel in different activities – academics, sports, dance, martial arts. These are all places where children and parents feel real pressures of competition. Piano is so much different than that. Lessons give an incredible boost of self-confidence to children. Kids get the opportunity to experience fun and personal achievement outside of a competitive environment.”

Now, you might say this is cynical or opportunistic. I don’t think it is. It’s not either of those things because what I said is actually true.

A parent’s “currency” is happy, well-adjusted, successful kids. I’m showing them exactly how piano can help them achieve that. And, I’m doing it by plausibly addressing a real, deep-seated fear that parents have.

I’m TRANSLATING the value for parents. I’m speaking their language. I’m showing them how these lessons can help them fulfill the goals and desires they have for their child.

How To Understand What Parents Are Thinking

How do we go about getting inside the minds of our student’s parents?

As teachers, we will not experience such raw, vulnerable honesty all that often. Most people keep their guard up.

If you want to take it to the next level, you are going to have to make a CONCERTED effort to ask those questions to every family in your studio.

Now, if you don’t mind acting like a detective on Law and Order, by all means grill your student’s parents right after lesson. Just hit them those questions I shared earlier.

On second thought… That’s probably impractical. They might even think you’re a weirdo.

It would be better to use an online survey tool like Polldaddy, Google Forms, or Typeform. These tools are free to use. Give people the chance to anonymously answer these questions on their own time. You will receive longer, more honest answers.

Ask non-threatening questions. Ask open-ended questions and give parents a chance to elaborate. Here are some ideas:

  • Why did the families in your Studio pick music lessons? (as opposed to dance, soccer, karate, etc.)
  • Why did the families in your studio pick you over everyone else?
  • What did the families think lessons would be like?
  • What concerns and fears did your families have with starting lessons?
  • What general goals do your families have for their child? (not related to music)
  • What do families not like about being in music lessons?

Now, like me, you have a vague idea of the answer to these questions. Over the years, you’ve picked up on people attitudes and clues about their thoughts.

Good for you! That’s great.

But that’s not enough.

The Power of Empathy: A Huge Change In Results

Before surveying the families in my studio, I had a vague idea of what parents were thinking. I based my communications with families on those opinions.

Once I surveyed the people in my studio, I began to realize that much of what I thought was WRONG. I was completely wrong about the fears parents had when signing up for lessons. I was most wrong about the reasons parents signed their kids up for lessons.

Now, I could just be exceedingly bad at understanding customers. I could be less intuitive than most. Maybe you have a better handle on what your customers want.

I would suggest that you put that thought aside. Even if you have a better understanding than I did… there is still an incredible amount of power in hearing the exact words and phrases that parents use.

Parents often tried to explain and justify their answers in the survey. They gave me not only the “what”… they gave me the “why”. Knowing someone’s “why” is powerful.

Because of the survey, I completely changed my marketing message. I took words and phrases right from the survey and used them on my Web site.

I changed the description of my lesson program.

I changed how I talked about my lessons program to potential customers.

After all these changes, I noticed differences when new families inquired about lessons. Parents would say things like: “It seems like your lessons are different than what I had as a child.” Or, “It looks / sounds like kids really like coming to see you.”

These are not exaggerations.

I learned what parents wanted and I showed them that they could count on me to deliver it.

What Were Those Answers?!?

You might think to yourself… What did those parents write in the survey? I need to know!

I have to be vague here… I don’t want to actually give you the answers I received to the survey questions. I don’t want to take away the benefit of this survey process away from you.

The answers I received were relevant to my studio and my customers. While there would be of general relevance to you, the specifics would not be! You and I live in different locations, we have different teaching styles, etc.

The point of this isn’t just to know the right answers. Our goal as teachers isn’t to just get more information.

Our goal is far more ambitious. It is to understand what the parents of our students want. With that information, we use our skills as a teacher to do more than just teach the facts of music. We can use our skills to make the entire experience of taking lessons a joy for the parents and the students.

When you do that, the value of your lesson program increases in the mind of your parents. Parents will perceive your new words, actions, and communications as empathetic. You will be respected and valued for the influence you have in the lives of your students.

When you DO get the answers and understand what the parents of your students want, what next? In this mini-video series, I go into different and creative ways you can use customer feedback to grow your studio and connect with studio families on a deeper level.


Caring about your customer isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good business.

Most people travel through life only thinking of their own goals and hopes. They rarely stop to consider the perspectives, desires, hopes, and fears of other people. And, if they do – it is an afterthought or a reaction to someone who is having a major crisis or breakdown!

Are you growth-minded? Do you desire to make an impact? If so, listening to your customers could well be the missing piece of the puzzle.

This is a counter-intuitive but powerful principle.

I will leave you with a thought from the imitable Zig Ziglar:

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

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Daniel Patterson is a private teacher, writer, and marketing consultant for music schools. He began teaching in 2004. He co-founded and led marketing operations for a summer music camp that sees over 200 children each summer.

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  1. Amy Chaplin

    Yea for the first post! A great reminder to really LISTEN to our customers. I do an evaluation every year and I love talking with families and getting their feedback. I will have to use some of your suggested questions this year. Thanks!

    • growyourmusicstudio

      Amy, do you use survey software?

  2. Greg

    Well done! You didn’t oversimplify or over complicate. Just honest to goodness runway level stuff. Love it!

    • growyourmusicstudio

      Thanks Greg. You’ve certainly hit a nerve there in Northern Virginia.

  3. Leila Viss

    Great advice and well written!

    • growyourmusicstudio

      Thanks Leila!

  4. Evangelina

    So true! Thanks for your inspiring words. Cheers from Argentina

    • Daniel

      Happy to help!

  5. Elizabeth

    Daniel this was exceedingly valuable. In my early teaching years I was too insecure to ask for that feedback. I see how incredibly important that those conversations are with families. Thank you! A great post.

    • Daniel Patterson

      Elizabeth, it’s so true. Thank you for the kind words!

  6. Eden

    Just sent out my survey this morning, via Survey Monkey. Thanks Daniel!

  7. Mary

    I haven’t done a survey, but plan to this month thanks to you!

    • Daniel Patterson

      Excellent. Your customers will feel heard, respected. Don’t be surprised to feel that in your interactions with them.

  8. Rebecca Hauglid

    Just sent out the survey! Thank you for the help!

    • Daniel Patterson

      Fantastic! Let me know if you have any questions about that!

  9. Gail Gebhart

    Daniel, this was an excellent reminder to really communicate in a meaningful way with parents. I am creating a parent questionnaire and this was extremely helpful.

    • Daniel Patterson

      Really glad that this helped! This was one of the first posts I ever wrote for GROW! Glad that it was still helpful all of these years later!



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