Are you starting up a private music teaching studio? You probably have questions. Beginning teachers often ask the same questions. Usually the first is “How did you get started teaching?”
Let me answer that one before digging into others. I grew up in a family of professional musicians. My sister and I sang and played—and got paid for it—from the time I was five years old. Relatives composed songs and choir cantatas, wrote musicals and played in dance bands. My mother coached countless kids performing vocally and instrumentally, both individually and in groups. I was in on it most of the time, and began to coach others during middle and high school. By the time I started college, I had sung/played for over three hundred weddings. Yet it never occurred to me to earn a living at it until I discovered how unsuited I was for waiting tables!
So in my hometown, I let it be known I was going to teach beginning piano. I told people at church and put up a couple of small posters, hand-made. I started in the basement of my parents’ home on a 100-year-old piano with three students. I used the books I’d grown up with. I went straight through the books without variance. Somehow those three students stuck with it, thrived, and by word of mouth my studio grew. I was passionate about helping others make music. I added other instruments. And I got bored with the books. That made me take every opportunity, whether at the university or beyond, to educate myself pedagogically and grow as a skilled—and fun—teacher.
There are five questions I am most often asked. However… I will start with
One question no one asks, but should!
What is my motivation for teaching?
Your answer to this is crucial. It will affect almost everything about your approach to teaching. There are lots of possible reasons, and all are legitimate. But whichever ones reflect your mindset, I encourage you to run your studio in a businesslike manner. Take it seriously enough that music will happen. Here are four motivations, some of which may blend together:
- It’s a hobby. You enjoy it and would love others to have the same fun with it you do.
- It provides a service. One that is appreciated by many people. Plus there’s the added benefit of giving you extra cash.
- You need to pay bills. You must earn a living, and intend to make this a success. It is your job.
- It’s your passion. You want to pass music on to as many students as you can. You know how important it is to individuals for their entire lives. You know what music means to you and those around you. It is pure joy to see others take off and make music for themselves.
Be honest with yourself about why you want to do this. Many of the other answers to questions will hinge on this!
Five Questions I’m Most Often Asked:
- Where should I teach?
Home—do you have a piano in good shape on which to teach? Is family privacy an issue? Is there space for parking? Do you need to ask neighbors about parking? Do you need permission from a neighborhood association? Are there insurance concerns? Where will parents wait for students?
Rent a room—from a church, school or community center? How is the piano? How much will the room cost? Is parking an issue? Is the place available whenever you need it? Do you have any control over heat or air conditioning? Think it through thoroughly!
Teach at a music school, store or studio—how is the piano? What size is the room? What are the studio’s policies? What is the policy concerning missed lessons—will you still be paid? Will you be responsible for scheduling makeup lessons? Is there sufficient noise control between other teaching rooms? Who does the billing and how do you get paid? Will you have other duties besides teaching?
Travel to students’ homes—they have a decent instrument, right? Will parents be at home when you’re there? Are there pets to watch out for? Are they friendly? Do you have a place to teach without distraction? Will the student be there when you come, and not forget?
I know many teachers enjoy going to the student’s home. I had an unfortunate experience with it. The dog was friendly, but jumped on me, piddled on my feet and on the piano bench; the students were not always there; the parents both worked and had not always arrived at home yet, so I’d be there alone with the kids. Essentially babysitting as well as teaching. Think the logistics through ahead of time!
- What should I charge?
What’s the going rate in your area? Inquire of other teachers. Take your experience or lack of it into consideration. But don’t undersell yourself, or you won’t be respected. Start conservatively, but expect to raise your rates regularly to reflect standard of living and your experience and level of training. What sort of families do you wish to attract? What will be your overhead costs? What is your time worth? Remember that the actual teaching time is only a portion of it! You have lesson preparation as well. Factor in continuing education. Also studio costs like instrument upkeep, computer equipment and software, bookkeeping, etc. Here’s an article by Sarah Luebke in Music Teachers Helper.
- What ages should I teach?
Are you uncomfortable with certain ages? Some teachers don’t want the wiggliest littles, or feel intimidated by adults. Or teens! Would you prefer beginners or are you prepared for higher levels?
- How do I get students?
If you know other teachers, perhaps they’d be willing to speak to someone on their waiting list. Make yourself visible. Perform whenever you can. Do a program at the library. Be involved in your community. Put up posters wherever you can—at grocery stores, laundromats, other stores. Advertise in the local papers. Get to know music teachers at the schools and offer business cards. Get to know homeschoolers in your area. Offer a few group lessons as a springboard. Ask friends and acquaintances if they are aware of anyone looking for lessons. Volunteer to teach at a nursing home.
- How should I set up my schedule?
If you teach at someone else’s studio or store, you might have to adhere to their hours. Otherwise, decide how many hours you feel you want to teach. How much money do you need to make? That might determine your hours. Understand that fewer people are available during the day because of school or work hours, so you might have to stick with 3:30 to whenever in the evenings, unless you add weekends. Homeschool students might be available during the days. Whatever you decide, do schedule yourself a break or two. I learned the hard way how important it is to have time to eat a meal or just breathe.
I use Music Teachers Helper to set up my schedule. I can save it as a spread sheet and see it on the calendar a month, week or day at a glance. It is a great help–check out the features.
All these things to consider, and you haven’t even gotten to the actual teaching yet! Who’d have thought?
In the next months I’ll cover questions about the actual teaching: methods & books, resources, games, composing, recitals, and more. If you have specific questions, feel free to put them in the comments, and I’ll see about including them soon. See you then!