Retention Tips for Music Ensembles in an Online World

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With the unexpected changes this year, many students may be missing out on key moments that encourage them to come back to music class year after year. Directors and educators have raised questions about how best to retain these students for the next school year when in-person events are currently off the table. Pepper recently hosted a webinar to discuss this topic. It can be viewed below, along with a few other ideas.

Continue reading below…

Here are some highlights from the webinar and from other suggestions that have been shared on social media and elsewhere.

Making a Plan

Whatever goals and tasks are on the list, it’s always best to make a plan for the months ahead and share it with administration. This would include any plans to hold online auditions for student placements in ensembles (more details about this in the webinar!). The more the communication lines are kept open, the better things will run in the school year ahead.

Using Your Contacts

Just as in years past, reaching out to fellow music teachers and other resources in the school system is important. You may even ask if you can be a guest online teacher for a class of younger students that will be moving up to your school next year. Likewise, you can brainstorm ideas and coordinate plans with other teachers to have a unified effort.

Keeping a Connection with Students and Their Families

This may be the most important aspect of retention. But how can this best be done in today’s environment? Among the ideas:

  • Use online tools (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, etc.) to schedule video meetings with parents and students.
  • Use online surveys in Google Forms or other tools to get feedback on the year or gauge interest in aspects of next year (what instrument do you want to play, what repertoire might be fun to add).
  • Utilize social media – Students may be able to help with this. Photos or videos from the year can be shared. Students can guide where the best places are to post, whether Instagram, Twitter or elsewhere. They may even add a story about their positive experiences in music class in apps like Snapchat. You also can invite younger students to join established social media groups, such as adding eighth graders to the high school groups.
  • Do online contests – Many community groups are doing this, so you may find examples. This could include encouraging students to share with their teachers how much time they practiced in a week. Students with the most practice time are then recognized on social media. With parent permission you may be able to post videos of those students playing music at home.
  • Send regular emails or text messages to parents and students – Information can be sent through some learning management systems, or you could utilize other management programs like Cut Time.
  • Use old-fashioned mail – Many parents will read letters or notices sent via postal service, and it is a way to communicate in areas with spotty internet.
  • Make phone calls – It is more time consuming, but this is a direct and effective way to reach out to students and families, particularly any students who may be considering dropping music.

Celebrating Accomplishments

It may help to take a look at the most publicized activities in a school to get an idea of how best to share student achievements. For example, there are many high schools that will promote seniors who have made commitments to continue playing sports in college – Division I, II & III.

Music teachers can use this model to recognize students who were admitted to a music school for college. Or you could note how many students in your ensemble won academic or service scholarships. What about any volunteer activities students did? Whatever great things have happened, gather the information and share it with your school and school district.

This will help showcase the importance of school music programs, enable students to be proud of their accomplishments and the achievements of their peers, and keep music out in the forefront with parents and the wider community.

Some of these steps may seem overwhelming amid struggles with virtual learning and the wider challenges of the times, but any measures taken will help in the long run. If you have more ideas or details about what is working for you, please share them in the comments.  


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Mary Rogelstad
Mary Rogelstad joined Pepper in 2018 as the company’s Marketing Content Coordinator. Previously she worked as a journalist in the international media and as a communications specialist at various nonprofits. In her free time, Mary has enjoyed singing in various choral groups and performing in musical theater.

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