Return to Music Phase III: Recruitment and Retention

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Recruitment and Retention

Keep in Mind: 

  • “Change the ‘How’ Not the ‘What’” – Bob Morrison 
  • Being flexible will keep us from getting bent out of shape!

The Proper Frame of Mind: Being of Service

What we have to offer as music educators will impact the entire climate of our school–not just what happens in the music room. Principals will certainly welcome ideas to help them rebuild the spirit of the school as this will be a considerable challenge. Can you offer to lead a team-building event (drum circle?) at the first faculty/staff meeting or plan a welcome back pep assembly for the students? Greet returning students with a “Welcome Back Boulevard” lined with your drummers playing spirited cadences at the front entrance to the school. They will appreciate the raison d’etre! 

Recruitment and Retention Will be the Challenge of 2021-2022

Recruitment performances:

One of the most significant challenges teachers face during the pandemic is recruiting and retaining students. Health requirements have presented inconveniences and even impossible roadblocks for students to find the same satisfaction in rehearsing and performing that they may have had under normal circumstances.

Because of this, students have, in part, opted to navigate through their high school credit requirements more quickly, avoid taking “unnecessary classes” and graduate sooner than they might have in a previous year. This trend may continue to be a persistent problem over the next several years.

Teachers will need to go above and beyond normal recruitment practices to reach out to potential students. This may include working with feeder schools, private teachers, mass mailing campaigns, referrals, etc.

Equally important is retaining students already in the program. Careful attention will need to be paid to make sure current members feel part of the organization, that their presence is valued, and that ongoing participation is something important for their own well-being.

Retaining the students we started:

What can be done to retain all of the students who started this past year? Check out this S.M.A.R.T. Approach to Retention.

SUCCESS: We all know the expression, “If you really want to learn something, teach it!” Ask each current student to teach their parent, other family member, or friend how to play their instrument and submit a video of them playing a tune out of the beginning method book. The student’s job is to serve as the teacher by introducing the family member and the selection being performed. At the end, the student (acting as teacher) should encourage rousing applause from within the family household. Students love this and parents enjoy providing this kind of support. Students are far less likely to quit if their parents become actively involved in the program. (Watch Video on Success)

MODELING:  Young teens seek to maintain personal connections, friendships, or interactions with older peers who they often choose to imitate. Take advantage of this by asking a more advanced student/student leader to record a short video clip explaining what they like best about the program. It should be something short and exciting like, “band is fun!” or “the music we play rocks!” or “all of my friends are in choir!” Assemble these into a single video to share with your beginners. Seek approval to distribute over social media and post on your school website. Another idea is  to ask each of these more advanced students to create a cool poster of themselves that could be shared similarly with the goal of enticing the beginners to stay with the program. The key to remember is that these younger students  want to find someone to emulate or “follow in the footsteps” of their chosen role model. A more experienced student can serve as the perfect example. (Watch Video on Modeling)

ACTIVITY: Now is the time for directors to send a letter or note to EVERY parent/guardian of each beginning student to let them know how much you enjoy having their child in the program. Find something the student does well, praise him, and let the parents know that you are looking forward to having them in the program next year. Avoid emails and form letters if at all possible. Nothing is more powerful than a hand-written note. It does not have to be more than three or four sentences. It will pay big rewards. (Watch Video on Activity)

REFLECTION: Ask each current student to provide a photo along with a statement indicating what they like best about being in their chosen program. Create a PowerPoint and share the presentation with the entire class. You might also ask each student to share the most fun thing they did in class this year so far. The students will love seeing photos of each other as well as reading the various comments made by their friends. This will provide an opportunity to reflect upon the valuable experiences and close friendships that have resulted from participating in the ensemble. (Watch Video on Reflection)

TEAMWORK: Have current students form their own ensemble of 3  to 5 players and ask them to select a favorite piece of music to play as a group. It could be anything as simple as each student taking so many measures each or even getting more complex by assigning parts. Have them record their selection using an app like acapella or similar platform and have them send their separate videos to you to assemble and play back for the class. (Watch Video on Teamwork)

Watch All 5 Videos on the S.M.A.R.T Approach to Retention

Summer Parks and Rec Programs can be a Fruitful Recruitment Opportunity

Contact your local school music dealer to collaborate on offering a pre-band, pre-strings, pre-vocal, etc., summer program through your school’s closest Parks & Rec facility. Parents love to enroll their students in these summer Programs (judo, basketball, dance classes, etc.) to keep their children busy over the summer break. This is an ideal time to introduce instrumental music to new students who will be attending your school this coming fall or those who may have missed the window to sign up for music last fall.

Give the classes a fun name and description to entice the young people to sign up. Choose music that the students might already know and easy to learn to help guarantee a successful experience and offer the classes homogeneously. Teaching by rote might be just fine for this. Remember, this is not about teaching band—this is about providing a fun opportunity for kids to make music and, in the end, recruiting them to continue by enrolling them in a beginning music class when they come to your school. You won’t want to let the students walk out of your final summer class without registering them for the fall.

Ask your local dealer to help with your recruiting efforts by:

providing rental instruments for such a program

providing a staff person to attend the classes to get to know the students, their parents, and to facilitate and enhance subsequent further enrollment in the fall

providing photos of the students with their instruments at the end of the summer session(s)

helping to offer a separate class for the instrumental music students already enrolled to keep them playing over the summer

offering follow-up instruction at the music store to participants who may want to continue their study after their summer program experience

What about the funding?

Parks and Rec Departments have a structure in place for programs like these to exist so some funding is already in place

Parents are used to paying fees to have their students participate in Parks and Rec Programs

According to a recent article from K-12 Drive, several states are dedicating part of their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds — provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act — to summer learning programs, according to a tracker from the National Conference of State Legislatures. (ed. California  has 4.6B allocated for summer learning)


Programs like this help build community partnerships and support students’ emotional health. It all starts with contacting your local music retailer to gauge their interest in helping with growing your program. Make the call as soon as possible as Parks and Rec Departments are building out their summer programs at this very moment.


Contact the elementary music teacher PERSONALLY and get recommendations for potential students and as much of their contact information as possible. Always check with the administration to ensure you are following student privacy policies. 

Have student leaders send personal notes to promising beginning students

Send letters to parents of incoming students with quotes from current band students

Why Learn to Play Music brochure available (Download PDF)

English Version

Spanish Version 

Arrange with the teachers of the elementary programs to meet with their classes via Google Meet or other platform to provide an engaging session on “exciting music opportunities at the middle school.” This would be a great time to share videos of current high school or middle school students having fun making music!

The most important audience for HS Band Programs is the elementary school audience

Elementary students are impressionable—anything  that is  large in scope is a BIG DEAL to these younger students. 

Elementary students want to be like the “big kids.” They WILL remember how much fun high school band students were having when they saw them perform “back in elementary  school.” 

Have your school send out robocalls recorded by student leaders and/or parent boosters to the homes of incoming students

Contact your local music dealer to access professionally-made student-focused videos that focus on students demonstrating band and orchestral instruments. Place these on your school’s website to rev up excitement about becoming involved in an ensemble. Make the videos more effective by attaching an interest/sign-up form to these videos.

Limit the Variety of Instruments Offered

Some directors have shared that they will start a more limited variety of instruments this year rather than the full complement as they have in the past then expand as appropriate as the year progresses. Many directors already use this approach.



Percussion later 


Violin – Cello

Viola and Bass later

Student instrument choice:

Students that show an interest and aptitude for an available instrument should be allowed to select that instrument for their participation in music classes. This participation should be allowed without regard to socio-economic status or other home-life conditions.


If needed, here are some ideas for Instrument “Choosing” in place of Instrument “Testing”

For most instruments, hand size, arm length, lip size, and dental structure are the key factors involved in finding the right fit. Some of this might be able to get accomplished virtually. 

An online Google Hangout would be very helpful. The students can submit photos using common items as a size reference.

A photo of a child’s hand with a quarter in their palm can help a teacher judge finger length and finger pad size.

Yard sticks are great for arm length.

Smile and repose face photos are helpful for lips and teeth. Flute is always exceptionally difficult. Even when the embouchure looks “right”, small variations can make it difficult for students to create a first sound.

Sing back pitches, identify high and low pitches 

Imitate clapped rhythms

Match the teacher’s modeling of brass mouthpiece

Buzz high and low pitches

Use a finger to demonstrate the clarinet or flute embouchure formation – including teeth placement, chin, etc. – proper tongue placement and other details of preparing to make an initial sound.

Reminder that this is not a perfect science even in the best of settings so be flexible—students can be transitioned as needed.


Complimentary Recruitment/Retention Materials Available to Download

The Music Achievement Council (MAC) is an action-oriented nonprofit organization sponsored by the National Association of School Music Dealers (NASMD)and the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) whose purpose is to enable more students to begin and stay in instrumental music programs, to share real-world, successful strategies developed by instrumental music teachers. The following complimentary recruitment and retention materials are available at

First Performance National Day of Celebration–Honor Your Beginners in the 6th-7th Week of School

A Practical Guide for Recruitment and Retention (with modifiable recruitment forms)

Tips for Success

Bridging the Gap Between Middle School & High School

Much More


Resource Links


Arts Education is Essential Statement of Support

CARES Act: DOE State Allocations Table

Collection of COVID-19 Reopening Resources from Music Education Professional Associations (HSBDNA, CBDNA, NFHS, NAMM Foundation, NAfME, ABA)

NAfME Social Emotional Pamphlet

Recruitment and Retention: Be Part of the Music

Teaching Resources



Strategies and Video Examples

Challenge your current students to become actively involved in the process 

Have them make promo videos about their instrument

Ex: “All Day Long” Student Video on Euphonium

Concentrate on sharing the family aspect of being in the program

Ex: Carmel HS Bands: Family

EX: Foothill HS Bands: There is a Place

Announce and Spotlight Members on Social Media

Design personalized posters for each to post on social media

Standardize info to share

Ex: Franklin (TN) HS Band Twitter Acct (Summer, 2020)

Signing Day (like-college bound athletes)

Get local news coverage – this is a “good news” story that local news will usually love to cover. 

Engage Your Community!

Participate in virtual community events

Provide virtual performances

Ensure that your students are seen AND heard as often as possible

Have beginning students take part in the First Performance National Day of Celebration (FPNDOC) to acknowledge and recognize their achievements

Virtual FPNDOC Trailer AND Full Length Virtual Version of FPNDOC:




YOUR CREATIVITY MATTERS! Example – Mr. Gordon’s YouTube Channel:

This is an amazing resource with videos posted every other week.


Are you a high school band director? Challenge your students to create innovative teaching videos like these to share with younger students. Here’s the tutorial:  




Examples of Recruitment


  • Inspirational video of college marching band with an elementary school study

  • Yamaha’s Welcome to Band!      

  • Yamaha’s Welcome to Orchestra! 


Examples of Quality Virtual Concerts from 100% Virtual Programs

  • Foothill High School Bands (NV) Virtual Winter Concert

  • Green Valley High School (NV) Winter Choral Concert: Connected Through Song


Added during Phase III


Recruiting the “Lost Class”

When thinking about re-recruiting students into the music program, consider working closely with teachers in feeder schools. Looking at rosters from before the pandemic and reaching out personally to students who are no longer playing as a result of COVID-19 can be the start of a positive relationship and spark the interest again.  When talking to students and parents about rejoining the program, be sure to speak to any changes in mitigation strategies that may have been the reason the student stopped playing.  

If some of the returning students who were expected are missing, ask students to help get them back into the group by asking, for example, “Does anyone know where Suzie is? Could you give her a call and tell her that we miss her?” This type of personal contact means the world to students.


Additional recruiting and back to school suggestions:

 Other retention and recruitment suggestions from the Mind the Gap Webinar series include:

Success Stories from Music for All’s Minding the Gap Episode 15: “Recruitment and Retention, Part 1: Here, There, and Everywhere: Where Are My Students?” with Jacob Campos, Kevin Ford, Bo Sodders, and Quintus Wrighten, 

From Music for All’s Mind the Gap Episode 16: Recruitment and Retention, Part II: Looking Back, Looking Forward, Now What? With Scott Casagrande and Candi Horton,

Music In Our Schools Week Assemblies for Elementary Instrumental Music Program Recruitment: