Teaching Studio Mistakes You Should Never Make

Teaching piano

Teaching piano.

There is no guarantee  for success in the private music teaching studio, but there are guarantees for disaster.  Trust me, I’ve made plenty of these mistakes in my years of teaching private piano lessons.  And I learned the hard way how to avoid these pitfalls, too.  Are you as guilty as I am with some of these?  Don’t fret, dear teacher! Make a plan to never make these mistakes again and avoid sabotaging your private teaching studio.

No Studio Policy.  A studio policy protects you and your students.  It gets all of the expectations up front:  how much your fees are, how much practice you expect, and what your attendance expectations are.  Do you give makeup lessons or credits?  How much advance notice of cancellations do you want?  A thorough studio policy (which parents read and sign) may save you heartache – and income loss- later on.

Poor financial records.  Your accountant will appreciate it if you keep good financial records.  Keep track of your income and expenses so you don’t overpay Uncle Sam at tax time.  Also, you’ll need to know which students have paid and which haven’t.  There’s nothing worse than wondering if you’ve received all the money that was due.  Music Teacher’s Helper is a great way to track all the money coming and going in your studio.  And all you have to do is print a report for your accountant – no more agonizing over how much you were paid over the past year.

Not returning phone calls.  I hate to admit it, but I am terrible at retuning phone calls.  But returning a call within   hours is professional and courteous, even if you aren’t looking for more students.  Plus, you don’t want to lose new business because a prospective student heard back from another teacher before you got around to calling them back.

No referral policy.  Ask your students for referrals – and reward them!  ITunes gift cards, erasers, free lessons are all great incentives, depending on your students.  They are your best advertisements if you are looking to grow your business.

Talking too much.  You have much wisdom and music to impart, but giving it all at once just makes your students shut down mentally.  Speak what needs spoken, but allow your student to work through the material.  Don’t give them more info than they need – it will just confuse and bore them.

Playing too much.  Part of the reason we teach music is because we love to play music.  But lesson time is the students’ time to play.  If you must demonstrate, that’s ok, but try to keep it to a minimum lest you bore your student.  Let them figure out tricky sections before you demonstrate; they’ll learn it better that way.

Not teaching how to practice.   Students don’t come to me knowing how to practice.  After a good long time, I figured out that I needed to teach them how to practice.  So part of what goes into every lesson is working out how to practice the week’s assignment.  Otherwise, students have a tendency to sit at the piano and play, but if they don’t practice well, they may not make much improvement.  Remember, practice doesn’t really make perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect.  Some students even need to know how many times to practice a piece, or which part to try first.

No prep time.   It’s so easy to just show up for a beginner student, teach out of the method book, and send them on their merry way.  But spending a little time prepping for each student – or even a group of students – will set you apart from other teachers.  Incorporate something fun, or different into every lesson to help drive home the material.  Worksheets, games, and free music can all be found online for free.  A quick Google search will get you on the right track.

Putting down other teachers.  This is a tough one, especially for transfer students.  Just be careful what you say, because what goes around comes around, and usually it isn’t pretty.  If you want your students to respect you, make sure you respect the other teachers, especially their former teachers.

Charging too little.   This is a big mistake that beginner teachers make, and I’ve done it myself.  You don’t want to overprice yourself, of course, but you need to make a living.  Charge according to the professional that you are.  You’ll build a studio of more serious students who are more dedicated.

All in all, if you want your music teaching business to grow and be successful, you need to treat it with respect.  Respect yourself, your students, and your business and you’ll gain the respect of your students, their families, and the community.

And hopefully, you won’t make the same mistake twice.

About the Author

Amanda Furbeck
Amanda has been teaching private piano lessons for 15 years. She plays piano, keyboard, and organ, and has worked in church music for 17 years. Amanda received a B.A. in music from Eastern University. She has written and recorded music that is available on iTunes and, and writes CD reviews for Worship Leader Magazine. She is the author of "Clef Hangers," a book of devotions for wors... [Read more]


  1. Leila Viss

    All good points and good reminders!

  2. Ms Jean

    Good article. Are there any articles that one could copy and paste on teaching how to practice? I tell the students and write notes, but a written protocol would be great.

  3. Amanda Furbeck

    Thank you, Leila and Ms Jean!

    That’s a great idea about a written protocol for practice – maybe I’ll work on that next!

  4. Justin Johnson

    In regard to your section about prep time, about how much time would you say you spend on each students lesson plan outside of the lesson? I am a music ed student looking to start giving lessons so this is something that interests me, thank you for your help.

  5. Heidi W

    I completely agree with you on the prep time. Just a few minutes can go a long way! Planning a new game, a new way to compose, improvisation, pop quizzes (just make sure these are fun!), etc. all can keep them from getting bored, which is the last thing you want.