Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Make-up Lessons – To Give, or Not To Give, That is The Question

When I first started teaching (many years ago), I did not have a make-up policy, and was charging by the lesson. No show = no pay. (Yes, fellow teachers, I can sense your horror and disapproval!) I am happy to say that those days are over; I now charge a monthly fee, and have a make-up policy. Still, the issue of make-up lessons comes up from time to time, and is one I find most frustrating to deal with as a private music teacher.

If you are reading this, you have probably come across the famous article “Make-up Lessons from an Economist’s Point of View” written by a parent. (If you have not read it before, it is a great email-forward to parents asking for make-ups!) I want to know who is that lucky teacher mentioned in the article?! In my experience, most parents do not think like this economist. I am sure we have all received the phone call that goes like “so-and-so can not come to lesson because of such-and-such, so can we have a make-up on this-particular-day from this-particular-time to that-particular-time because that is what suits us the best!”

When it comes to make-up policy, there are three basic approaches: None-Whatsoever, Free-For-All, or the Middle-Ground. I sure hope no one reading this is in the Free-Makeups-For-All category: you have got to respect yourself more! A quick search on Google tells me that most full-time private teachers have a strict No-Makeup-Whatsoever policy when lessons are cancelled by the students. (It goes without saying that all of us give make-ups when we, the teacher, cancel the lesson.) My current policy is the Middle-Ground: if students notify me of their absence before the day of the lesson, I will give make-up, otherwise no make-up. (Yes teachers, I see some of you shaking your head in disapproval again!) This policy seemed fair to me, but it means I am constantly rescheduling lessons when people choose to:

1. go to their sports practice

2. host a birthday party

3. go to a birthday party

4. go on vacation

5. study for school test

6. schedule a medical or dental appointment

7. whatever else they deem more important than their lesson

Another quick search on Google tells me that there are several other variations of a Middle-Ground policy:

1. limited number of make-ups allowed per semester

2. make-ups given only if other students cancel that week

3. make-ups given only under “special circumstances”

Some teachers will reschedule lessons missed due to sickness and nothing else – been there, done that, and not good! While some illnesses are genuine and you certainly do not want the sick students to come and get you sick, if you adopt this policy, you will have people cancel and expect a make-up over the littlest of headaches. The truth is, unless you take the None-Whatsoever approach, it is simply not fair for you, for your time, and for your family. So why did I choose to go Middle-Ground myself? It had a lot to do with my relocation and re-establishing a studio in a new city. I also took into consideration my own accompaniment and performance schedules that can be unpredictable, and figured if I am allowed to reschedule with notice, so can my students. What I forgot to take into consideration is that I would soon be dealing with a busy schedule and make-up times eat into my personal and family time. Am I reconsidering my policy? You bet! I am stuck with it though until the next school year.

How do you handle make-up lessons? If you are also reconsidering your policy, you may¬†find the information on The Piano Education Page very helpful. If you need to draft a letter to parents that demand make-ups, you may like to read “The Case Against Offering Make-up Lessons” on the fantastic Music Matters Blog. If you have successfully implemented a great make-up or no-make-up policy, please share your thoughts with us!

About the Author

Yiyi Ku
Yiyi Ku is a pianist and teacher. Born in Taiwan, she grew up in New Zealand and obtained her Master of Music degree with Distinction in Composition and Piano Performance from the University of Canterbury. Yiyi also holds a Licentiate in Piano Performance from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano from Music Teachers National As... [Read more]

16 Comments

  1. Jeannine

    I currently have 2 policies: one for my students through the school where I teach and one for the others.
    Students at school can make up any missed lesson, but they have to sign up for it in an open spot on my schedule, which is posted at school. Those open times are very limited, and I no longer stay late to make up a lesson a student missed. If the lessons are not made up by the end of the school year, they are forfeited. Some kids are responsible and sign up. Others forget and forfeit lessons. I do not remind them to sign up.

    Other students (that don’t attend that school) have the same policy as summer students, which is, you give me 24 hours notice, or you still pay for the lesson. Period.

  2. Cara

    When I had my own studio, students were allowed one make-up lesson per semester unless there was some crazy illness issue. Payment was in advance so they forfeited the lesson.

    Thank you for your post and the resources included.

    Cara
    http://miscellaneousme.wordpress.com

  3. Ed Pearlman

    Officially I don’t teach makeups because one of the places where I teach has a policy of having students pay a monthly tuition regardless of whether they show up or not. The upside for students is that if there happen to be 5 Tuesdays in a month, and their lesson is on Tuesdays, they get an extra lesson for the same price.

    However, if I can fit someone into my schedule for a makeup within a reasonable time, I usually will do it. Still, students know they may not get one, so I have no pressure to fit it in, nor do I have to hear about why they couldn’t make it to a lesson — that’s the best part of the policy.

    Here are some previous posts in the MTH blog that addressed this issue:
    https://blog.musicteachershelper.com/putting-teeth-in-your-studio-policy-redefining-the-cancellation-policy/

    https://blog.musicteachershelper.com/studio-policy/

    https://blog.musicteachershelper.com/payment-and-cancellation-policies/

    https://blog.musicteachershelper.com/collecting-the-benjamins/

  4. Bryan

    I think Jeannine has the right idea with her school students, although I don’t know that I’d give them the whole rest of the year to make it up. I would say to keep 1-3 open slots on your weekly calendar which can be used for make-up lessons. If a student needs to miss a lesson, they can make it up that week in one of the open slots on YOUR schedule or they forfeit the lesson. I think this gives some flexibility for real illness or emergencies but drives home the point that if you miss a lesson and want to make it up, you do it on YOUR schedule, not the student’s.

  5. Amber White

    I have my students pay monthly, and use months with a 5th week as a make-up week. I’ve had so many students not show up for make-up lessons, that this seems to work best. It also doesn’t eat into my personal time.

  6. Sarah U

    Great article. This is only my third year with a full time studio and I have often wondered when I will have to make the cross-over to the “None-Whatsoever” policy.
    I have a middle-ground policy that is working for my studio – so far! I teach by “Sessions” which are 2 months each. Students pay up front for the entire session. Each student is allowed 1 make-up lesson per session IF they give a 24-hour notice of canceling before a lesson or if they are sick. I also don’t initiate the offer for a make-up lesson. They know the policy, and if they ask for a lesson, I give it to them. Honestly, some parents are too busy to even schedule a make-up lesson for their student and others count themselves to blame for missing the lesson, so they don’t even ask for one. I find every 2 months that I am scheduling less than 5 make-up lessons.

  7. Randy

    Thanks for the article! I have a make-up policy that works beautifully for me which some might find somewhat different or helpful. Students at my studio pay monthly on the first of the month and cancellations do not affect their monthly tuition, so when they cancel I do not lose income. Students may cancel at anytime right up until the lesson begins ( I am a parent too and I know I don’t always know ahead of time if my kid will come home sick or if I am stuck in traffic) and they have 90 days to re-schedule a make-up for the lesson in an open slot on my schedule. With around 50 private students, there are usually 4 or 5 cancellations a week. Since my schedule is basically full, they may call me and schedule a make-up in any slot I have open due to another student’s cancellation. Occasionally since I teach Monday through Friday, I will offer a make-up day on Saturday and just go in and clear make-ups to help people out. I don’t mind this, I love teaching and the families are very appreciative. Many of the students don’t ever bother requesting their make-ups and if they cancel right before a lesson, I don’t look at this as wasting my time, but rather a welcome break of 30 minutes I am getting paid for, which I can use to practice, enter payments, whatever. Many also give me plenty of notice even though I don’t demand 24 hrs in advance, etc. Sometimes I even make exceptions to the 90 days rule, and provide an expired make-up as a courtesy. Consistently students and parents are very grateful and appreciative of the make-up policy, as my goal is to provide them with the most amazing customer service experience possible, while making sure I still get paid. This policy also works very well in the summer, as there is typically 0 drop in enrollment and/or income. Since students know they will have 90 days to be able to take a make-up later if they wish, they continue enrollment and paying monthly, even when sometimes they will gone for two or three weeks on summer vacation, camp, etc.

    Many years ago (sadly) I took a real job in the corporate world and although I didn’t dig the job I did learn a few things there, one of which was that retaining your current customers is equal to or possibly even more important than getting new ones. Recently I relocated my studio and have now asked the majority of my students to drive 7 or 8 minutes further each way to their lesson. Only 1 student un-enrolled and they were driving a really long way as it was and had found someone to come to their house. Attempting to provide the best customer service in the industry (no matter what the industry, even music teaching) can really pay off in the long run.

  8. Jennifer

    I blogged about this topic a couple weeks ago so I’ll just link to my blog post…http://fpsresources.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/no-makeups/

  9. Yiyi Ku

    Thank you all, for your wonderful comments. What makes it frustrating for me is that I totally agree in principle with Jennifer’s “No Makeup, No Overtime” policy, as well as Randy’s approach of trying to help people out (especially in the sense of trying to make your existing clients happy) and just accommodate their various makeup requests. My students are very grateful when I give them makeups, and I also view the missed lessons as a welcome break to do whatever, but honestly I am finding myself heading for burnout with my current middle-ground policy.

    Thank you, Ed, for the links to the old posts that also address this issue.

  10. Kevin

    I simply have students pay a monthly fee. If they miss a lesson I have time allocated on Saturday morning for them to make it up. Otherwise they missed that week and it’s on them. I have no complaints and from time to time I will accommodate other times for make-up depending on the circumstances.

  11. Christine

    When I started my studio, I freely offered make-ups, with no questions asked. I only had about 10 students to start off with, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. Two things happened, though: 1) I started increasing rapidly, up to nearly 40 students, and 2) Certain students began rescheduling all too often. Now, students pay by the quarter. I count up how many lessons there will be in the quarter, and multiply by the per-lesson rate. If they want to make monthly payments, they sign up for it through my website using PayPal, and it’s automatically deducted, or they leave me post-dated checks. When they make the payment, they sign a contract that spells out the attendance and make-up policy. If they cancel with 24-hours notice, they can reschedule ONLY if they can come during a time that I’m already scheduled to be “at work”, but have no student. If such a time does not work for them, they forfeit the lesson. If they cancel without 24-hours notice, they forfeit. Some students have chosen not to re-enroll once I implemented this policy, but those were the students who asked for too many make-ups in the first place. Why is it fair to me, to pay a babysitter, lose out on family time, and go to work twice, essentially, for the same student to be charged only once? The author of this article hit the nail on the head: We do have to respect ourselves better than that!

  12. Yiyi Ku

    Kevin – that is what I am sort of doing – I am not loosing out on the income because I charge a monthly fee too, but I am having to spend extra time working to give the makeups, and once you do it once, it seems every circumstance is a “special circumstance”!

    Christine – I know exactly what you are saying, when I first relocated, I did not have many students, so I did not mind too much giving the make ups, but yes, it soon builds up and every spare time becomes precious time. I am glad you have it all figured out and are sticking to a policy you are happy with.

  13. Bryan

    Christine – I think that’s a great way of handling it and I like that you have the students sign a contract. I think the biggest point we all want to drive home is to teach students responsibility and that we value our time as much as they value theirs.

  14. Karen Ware

    Parents in my studio pay for a 30 minute lesson. Except the students are scheduled for a 40 minute lesson. The extra 10 minutes per week makes it possible for me to have days off during the year, and no makeups. Each month adds up to an additional 30 minute lesson or more. Some days during the week the extra 10 minutes may add up to more than 1 thirty minute lesson. To me, that is one day that the studio can be closed. The 10 minutes extra per week also adds up to time that the students can also miss. If they come every week as scheduled, then the extra time is bonus time. This method has been successful in my studio. I go through the year long calendar and circle the days that the studio will be closed. Usually, there are enough extra days that half is given to the students and the other half is given to me.
    I love this arrangement. I also like having a little more instructional time.

  15. Nicole

    The best advice I was given was starting strictly and then relaxing the rules when you knew which parents were genuine and which ones weren’t.

  16. Monika

    My policy is similar to Christine’s, except I’m a little more vague… I don’t put a time frame on it, and I have a clause that says “no guarantee – only if my schedule allows.” Then it’s up to me. If the student is a hard worker and rarely cancels, I really do try to accommodate. But if it’s a student who barely practices and tends to skip often or cancel for silly reasons, last minute, etc. then I don’t try as hard. My schedule is usually pretty packed, and I warn them upfront before they sign the contract that makeup lessons are not guaranteed and are actually pretty rare. I DO encourage them to swap with each other, though – but it’s up to them to contact each other, set that up, and let me know (I’m lucky that with my studio, many of the students and their families know each other).

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