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The Price of Private Music Lessons

One of the most challenging aspects of being a private music teacher is running the studio as a business. One of the most frustrating aspects of being a private music teacher is dealing with payments. Many students and parents do not understand the price of private music lessons, what it means and what it includes. Situations involving late payments, non payments, cancelations and make-ups, are not uncommon in the life of a private music teacher. Who was it that said for every hour of lesson given, at least an additional hour went into preparation? I recently went to a doctor’s appointment; while chatting with the doctor I learned that she arrives at the office everyday at least two hours before her first appointment – to read patient charts and review lab results. It is common knowledge that you pay the doctor not just for the actual contact time you spend with them. The same is true for us music teachers. The price of private music lessons includes so much more than the 30 min or whatever time frame the student signs up for every week. Let me attempt to list some of the things it includes:

1. Teacher Qualifications and Experience

I will start with these two obvious ones. It takes years of private training, and then more years of formal study, to become a qualified music teacher. Then, not everyone with a music degree is experienced to teach different levels and age groups.

2. Instruments

Here is another obvious one. A good instrument is expensive, and some teachers have more than one. Then there is depreciation, insurance, maintenance, tuning and repair.

3. Supplies

Whether music books are billed separately or included in the tuition, time is spent researching and shopping for repertoire for each student. Most private studios also stock an extensive lending library, flash cards and various teaching aids. Then there is general stationary – folders, paper, pencils, ink cartridges. Then there is student incentives and awards – stickers, prizes, refreshments, medals and trophies.

4. Lesson Preparation and Reconciling

Time is spent before and after each lesson given. Time is spent planning for the lesson, making the most of the lesson time; time is spent (often subconsciously) thinking about the student after the lesson, on how well or not the student did and how to help the student improve.

5. Communication

Time is spent answering parent questions, phone calls, emails, giving advice on instruments, practice tips, writing progress reports, studio newsletters, setting up and maintaining studio website.

6. Professional Memberships and Subscriptions

There are many teachers associations and music organizations that offer student opportunities such as recitals, auditions and competitions. Most of them require a paid teacher membership fee on top of student registration fees. This can quickly add up, if the teacher wishes to provide a varied program for their students. Another category is the subscriptions to music magazines, programs, and softwares such as Music Teachers Helper.

7. Professional Developments

Continued learning through attending teacher meetings, workshops, conventions, private lessons, masterclasses, concerts, acquiring and maintaining teacher certification status, reading music education journals, publications, learning about new teaching methods, even taking the time to read this blog post on Music Teachers Helper!

8. Volunteer Work

Some teachers hold office at local music teachers associations – totally a labor of love! Sometimes a teacher is required to volunteer their time in order to enter students for certain events – example California Certificate of Merit.

9. Overheads

This can include studio space rent, utilities, home office expenses, and traveling costs. Then there is tax responsibilities, self-employment tax, private health insurance, lack of benefits and sick days. Biggest risk is instability – students go when they please, and do not always abide by studio policies.

10. Extras

This can include additional features offered by the teacher such as computer lab time, use of music softwares, recording facilities, group classes and performance workshops, as well as time spent planning for and attending student performances in recitals, auditions and competitions. Some teachers are also active performers and/or adjudicators.

Now that I have compiled my list, I think for every hour of lesson given, at least two additional hours are involved! The fact is, every musical activity we do has an effect, directly or indirectly, on the way we teach.

What do you think is included in the price of private music lessons? What factors do you consider when setting YOUR price? I look forward to your comments!

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]

18 Comments

  1. Julian

    You are right that there are lots of expenses and you have probably listed most of them. However, you might be implying that a piano teacher should charge more than a voice teacher because his instrument costs more 🙂

    But what makes the difference to the student? Is it the number of years spent training; is it the things the teacher does outside the lesson? I would argue the only thing that matters is what the student gets out of the lesson. I know some teachers who charge twice what others charge. They’re worth it because the students learn more and play better.

  2. yiyiku

    Julian: The voice IS the instrument, and as such, is the most expensive of all instruments! I am not implying why someone should charge more than others because of any of the listed factors, simply that the cost of a lesson can include any or all of those factors, or more!

  3. patrick

    I set my price based on the market rate and I adopt strategies to minimize these other costs.

    I would suggest that if you are having problems collecting payments from parents you adopt a better payment system. I bill parents a set monthly enrollment fee. If they don’t pay for two months in a row (or are late enough to have the same effect), I begin shopping their spot to other interested parents. I give them a reminder call as well. Eventually this will lead to me having responsible parents who pay on time and very little hassles about payments. Eventually I hope to set up credit card recurring billing for most of my families which should solve most of these issues.

  4. Kristin McGinnis

    I’m with you, Patrick. My tuition rate, though, is a little less than the market rate for piano lessons in my area. (Even though I have many years of experience, I do have less formal education.)

    As for payment of lessons, I give my families the yearly tuition rate (based on 34 weeks of lessons from Sept-June) and then divide that amount into 10 equal monthly payments that are due by the first lesson of each month. I send out invoices on the 27th of the previous month and also have the “automated overdue reminder” email set for 6 days after their due date (first lesson of each month). So, even if they don’t pay at the first lesson, they get that reminder just one day before the 2nd lesson of each month. I also use the Paypal option which many of my families use. I have had very few issues (actually, I’m trying to think of one!) with payments being more than 2 weeks overdue. MTH is such a great help with this!

  5. Yiyi Ku

    Patrick and Kristin: thank you for sharing your invoicing tips! I also charge by the month, but still have had to deal with late payments, people prorating their invoice based on the number of lessons they choose to attend, and even non payments when people terminate lessons with an outstanding balance. My article tried to list the cost of running a private studio, and what tuition rates may reflect. Perhaps a separate article is needed to address issues dealing with invoicing and payment.

  6. JulieC

    How interesting that I stumbled on this website and read your bio! I was trained and received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music here in the US, but my husband and I moved to Christchurch, NZ in 2006. While living in NZ, I taught piano to around 60 students at Christ’s College, St. Margaret’s and St. Andrew’s College…that was the life! We just moved back “home” to Texas last year and I am struggling hard (after recently buying a home) to find students. The economy is terrible and the population where we live in West Texas is not as supportive of the arts as some other places. I have had to drop my rates twice now and I charge as much as teachers here who have no training, experience or degrees in music. It is a choice I had to make…if I want any students at all. Perhaps in a few years when my reputation grows, I will be able to raise it again.
    However, we have no regrets coming home – we are very happy to be back. Christchurch is in shambles after the thousands of quakes and aftershocks which destroyed our home among many others. Many of my music teacher friends have lost lots of students who moved away for good. Glad you have done well in the US.

  7. Yiyi Ku

    Julie: what a small world we live in! Is Robert Aburn still at Christ’s College? He was the head of music when I taught at Rangi; those were good times teaching at private schools! They handle student enrollment, payment, provide teaching space, instrument – all you have to do is teach! I certainly have fond memories till this day! I know what you are going through regarding starting over again, I have been there many times! I, too dropped my rates every time I moved, but with hard work, things do get better! I wrote an article about that, if you have not already read it, I hope it may give you some tips: http://blog.musicteachershelper.com/how-to-rebuild-a-studio-from-scratch/

    All the best to you, and do let us know how you get on, I hope you get lots of students soon!

  8. JulieC

    Robert Aburn was head of music at Christ’s and Jill Kerr was retiring when I left last year in September. SMC still collected fees for the teachers, but I had to bill at the other 2 schools. Things had changed and the schools were tired of getting bad debts. Is there a way I can send you a private message or email you without being posted online?
    Yeah, I am also very familiar with “starting over” after having taught for almost 30 years. I just hate leaving an established clientele and good students that I spent time and sweat equity on…only to let another teacher enjoy the fruits of my hard work.

  9. Paula Wilson

    She is soooo right! Having a Dad as a musician/teacher/arranger/etc he has always told me ‘Put value on what you do Paula’ which is something I’ve always had a really hard time with….but he’s right!!

    I’ve spent the better part of my life working on my skills and continue to do so through my own private lessons (for which I have to teach 3 of my own just to pay for), plus attending workshops and just about everything she mentions in her article.

    What she states is true, it’s not just the lesson time students are paying for, it’s the many extra hours each students receives outside the lesson too!

    Maybe music teachers should starting charging by the minute like a lawyer and perhaps our time will just as valuable too?

    Don’t get me wrong I love love love what I do and wouldn’t want to do anything else however it’s nice to hear someone putting value on our jobs!!!

  10. David

    I invoice my students twice per year. The first payment is for lessons from Aug. 15th through Dec. 31st. The second payment is for lessons from Jan. 1st through Aug. 14th.

    If someone can’t pay that amount, then I’ll split it into monthly payments with a 15% surcharge.

    By having parents pay in large chunks, they are much more invested and it requires students to take summer lessons (or else forfeit the money for those lessons).

    I’m sure that wouldn’t work in all communities, but in my area, nobody has stopped taking lessons when I implemented the new payment schedule.

  11. Yiyi Ku

    Paula: thank you! It is nice to hear someone understanding what I am trying to say here!
    David: thank you for your suggestion. What I have learned from some of the comments is that I need to get tougher with implementing my payment/cancelation policy. No more “exceptions”!

  12. Dan

    A friend of mine teaches in Ireland. He recently initiated a strict policy where everyone pays in advance and can only cancel with one weeks notice. He not only makes more money, but the lives of his students have improved greatly: they don’t get sick or injure themselves as often as they did, and seem to have many fewer unexpected problems! Their progress on their instruments has also improved greatly!

  13. Ashley

    This article is so very relevant! I have been frustrated (and struggling) with students/families who say they ‘value’ private music instruction, but treat it so poorly. My experience has been that even in the poor economy, parents seem to understand and are paying market prices for other activities such as sports, dance, martial arts. They seem to treat those activities differently- more willing to accept the billing, attendance, etc. policies, as if they are somehow more ‘valid’ than what I offer at my in-home studio. Assumptions are made that because I teach from my home, I’m doing it just for fun (which is partially true), and that they can somehow expect less stringent policies and have lessons on their terms.

    Once I explained that my teaching their children involves much more than just the 30 minutes per lesson, and detailed my extensive training and advanced degrees a bit more, suddenly they were MUCH more willing to accept my strict monthly fee & other policies. I started two sibilings about a month ago and just today they dropped. The reason- the mother felt that because they were going on vacation for several weeks, they should be exempt from the policy statement she signed. I highly doubt that would have occurred at a dance studio! I keep reminding myself that my parents paid a pretty penny for the incredible teachers I was fortunate to have, and then I put myself thru two degrees. I serve on state boards, judge competitions…the list goes on. What I offer is worth it, and with consideration given to all the behind the scenes work, a bargain at the price!

  14. Joiful

    Yiyu & Julie,
    I have been reading through your posts and I am very happy that you have reconnected.
    Thanks for sharing the link to your post about starting over.
    I am also in the same situation as Julie, starting over in Philadelphia, Pa after many years of successful teaching and growing my piano lesson business in the Washington, DC area. I am very close to the Main Line area and Montgomery County (great supporters of the arts). I am sort of baffled that I have not been contacted by any families.
    I hope that others can chime in about how they restarted in new areas.
    Thus far I have tried newspaper ads, craigslist etc., but no takers.
    Good luck to all.

  15. Yiyi Ku

    Ashley: I totally understand what you are saying. Some people just have the mentality that if they do not come for the lesson, they don’t have to pay you. I applaud you for dropping the students that disrespect your policy. I know that’s what I need to do, too – it is very hard when you become attached to the students and there has been so much progress made, but the parents are the ones that are causing payment issues.
    Joiful: i see you have a studio website – your next step is to increase website ranking in search engines. This can be done through content enrichment, posting comments and link-backs on other websites (such as this one), using keywords for search engine optimization, and even spending some money on Internet advertising such as Google Adwords. If you have spent money on newspaper ads with no result, it is time to go digital! That is what has worked for me! Good luck to you!

  16. Ed Kihm

    I think one very important thing to consider when determining your fee for lessons is the average income of the area where you live and draw your client base from, regardless of experience people always shop based on price. The “going price for lessons” or the “market price” really comes down to what people can actually afford to pay. I believe in keeping my prices lower while delivering the absolute best and most knowledgeable instruction so that I can always have a higher number of students and I usually have a very full schedule teaching full time Monday through Saturday, morning, afternoon and evenings. I’ve been teaching since 1987 and very rarely has anyone ever asked me about my experience or even if I have a degree, the first thing they always ask is “how much do you charge” …after answering that question and filling in all the other particulars such as times and location and what are you interested in learning, I never even mention my higher degrees or experience.
    I also have a strict time reserve policy, here’s a copy of it:

    — I have a flat rate of $75 per month which reserves your time for a half hour weekly lesson, most of the time there are four lessons in a month and occasionally there are five but the rate is the same. If you start in the middle of the month I’ll pro-rate the fee for anything less than four lessons. I don’t reschedule missed lessons; the flat rate is strictly time reserve.–

    I like to keep it simple so once I state the policy and make it clear I don’t want the payment for lessons to ever be an issue again, I think it makes the lesson experience awkward to constantly have to deal with that. I do occasionally have people who are slow to pay and sometimes don’t pay and quit but I just accept that as part of the business and prepare for that by having a spending plan so I can adjust for those situations. Concerning vacations, I do have some parents who will pay the entire summer, two to three months, or when ever they’re away so I’ll hold their preferred time because they think it’s worth it but on the other hand some would rather stop and start back and I always welcome people back to the schedule.

    I hope this helps,

    Ed Kihm

  17. Yiyi Ku

    Dear Ed,
    Thank you for your insightful comment. It is very true that market price plays a big role in setting lesson prices. I agree flat rate is the way to go; even when there may be less than four lessons a month due to holidays, I still believe the teacher does so much more outside lessons, that it more than makes up the time. You are so right that payment issues are awkawrd to deal with, and make the lesson experience less enjoyable. I will have to reconsider my policy for the next school year. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  18. Laurel

    Dear Julie and Joiful,

    As far as getting students, be sure to take some business cards to the elementary music teachers as well as middle and high school choir and band teachers. I know that my daughters elementary school teacher was always referring students to me, and our high school has a bulletin board where business cards are posted.