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This week I have encountered a few interesting things involving retention of music students and I thought we all might benefit from discussing some of the common issues and solutions.
Scheduling – This is the WORST!!! I realize that that these solutions are by no means one size fits all, so please take what might work, and feel free to ignore the rest depending on your situation.
Call the Parents – Often times, the parents are not even aware of the scheduling conflict and will get some serious traction on resolving issues.
Counselors – Call/go see the counselor immediately to see if you can resolve this issue somehow
Creative Placements – Sometimes, I have had to place an advanced student into a different ensemble. This is not ideal, but here is how we work it out:
Student acts as a Teacher’s Assistant – runs sectionals, tutors, etc.
Student is given practice time during class (I usually give only 20 minutes) to work on music from advanced ensemble
Student performs with BOTH ENSEMBLES in concerts
This has worked beautifully for me in the past & has resolved many a scheduling issue!
Time – I have had some students who are incredibly talented who are in a “lower” group than they might have auditioned for because they have too many activities and will not be able to dedicate the time to practicing. If you push students to do too many things, you will lose them! Give them the option to be in a younger group if possible so that they can continue in your class but also handle all of the things they have going on.
Braniac Workaholics – Okay, this may sound insulting but we all have these students. The reality is that International Baccalaureate, AP, and many Honors classes are turning our students into workaholics. I have chosen to avoid contributing to this unfortunate state of education within my own program. So…
Student approaches you with concerns about time – Immediately let them know that they are not alone and praise their wisdom as they look into the future. Provide options so that they don’t feel as if they are bringing the group down because they don’t have the time to practice the way they really should.
Students feel pressured to audition for/participate in the “top” group – Why do we do this to our students? Don’t they have enough stress as it is? Also, do we really want to be nagging them all year because they aren’t practicing? Place them in a younger group! And praise them for making these wise decisions!
Concerts – Many students are concerned about the amount of time and/or transportation for concerts.
Shorter Concerts – Okay, this is one of the hardest things for me, but I’m working on it.
Transportation Options – Work to find ways for students to get home from concerts. Perhaps this is just an amazing parent who can drop off a few students, or maybe it is even a school van that can be used to drive students home.
No Friends in Ensemble – Okay, this is a reality that we all hate to face, but… it exists & is one of the biggest reason students stay or drop an ensemble. Remember when you were a kid? I once joined track… wait for it… because I had a crush on a boy who was on the track team… I’m not even kidding! I have students who are in my program who I am fairly certain stay because they like the social aspect. So here are a few ways to encourage friendship within your program:
Orchestra Siblings – We start this in the winter and call it “Secret Siblings.” Each student gets another student from a different class to get a small gift for. They decorate each others lockers & everything. They LOVE this!
Getting to Know You – I know it is uber cliche, but students really need this at the beginning of the year. Work on building friendships within your program by making sure they get chances to know one another. Whether this occurs through games, quartets, duets, or whatever, it needs to happen! You never want to find out that a student doesn’t know that cellist’s name over there even though they have been in class together for 3 months….
Trips, Tag Days, Field Trips, & More! – Have multiple events outside of school where the students can get to know each other. Encourage camaraderie and friendship within and outside of the ensemble! Reward students for helping each other out.
With school starting, we should already be thinking about how we can keep our students interested in our program & these are a few small ways to do it. Isn’t it interesting that very little of it has anything to do with music making? When it comes to music making, just keep it enjoyable! Gauge your ensemble & meet them where they are at. Once you have their trust, you can bring them up to your level (eventually) & luxuriate in your steady, stellar, stable program.