Music Teacher's Helper Blog

What Would You Do? – Anabel (no. 11)

I hope you enjoy this series of fictional scenarios about teaching music, and find it at times thought-provoking, familiar, and even humorous.  We look forward to reading comments by yourself and other teachers at the end, about “what would you do?”

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Anabel is very excited to be taking music lessons.  She is a middle-aged adult and is committed to practicing.  At her lessons she asks many questions, and does what you tell her as best she can.  She takes notes in her notebook to use at home.

She understands your lesson polices, having printed them out from your policies page on your Music Teachers Helper website.  Your policy is that a student has to pay for a lesson if they cancel the same day, or if they don’t show up.

Anabel is very particular about lesson times.  She wants her money’s worth.  She is not overbearing about it, but she lets you know that if you start her lesson 3 minutes late, she does not want to quit on time.  She does not mind if her lesson goes a touch late, however.

One winter day, the day of Anabel’s lesson, there is a snowstorm in the morning.  The snowplows are at work quickly and by Anabel’s lesson time, roads are reasonably clear.

One minute before her lesson time, your phone rings.


“Hi, it’s Anabel.  Are the roads terrible?”

“No.  They’re pretty clear.  Just basic winter driving.”

“I know I’m supposed to be there, but I thought the driving would be bad.”

“Well, not that I can see.  How is it out where you are?”

“Oh it’s not too good.  And I think I’m getting a sore throat.  You don’t want to get that, do you?”

“No, sounds like you want to stay home.”

“Can I get credited for this lesson?”

“Well, you’re canceling the same day, so the policy is that you’ll have to pay for this one.”

“Could I take my lesson over the phone?”


“Can I take my lesson over the phone?  You know, we talk, I play, you comment — over the phone.  Now.  Since I’m paying for the time.”

OK, teachers!  What would you do?


Please add your comments below; if you have any hesitations about it, please see the earlier post about “Adding Your Two Bits! How It Works“.

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]


  1. Amy Chaplin

    Hmmm…this is hard and one that I wish I could see other people’s responses. I guess when it comes to weather for me I feel it’s hard to argue with people for their safety even if you think they’re being over the top. Sometimes you can’t know what the weather is going to hold. It can change drastically within an hour so I think in this case I would probably actually just tell her we would schedule a make-up lesson and that I don’t do lesson’s over the phone. It depended on how full and busy my studio was.

  2. Zach Millwood

    If possible, schedule a make-up lesson. There are simply too many things to take care of in person during a lesson that can’t be replicated over the telephone, not to mention the poor sound quality.

    If a make-up is not possible, I credit the student. An Act of God (weather, etc.), as unfortunate as it is, should be reasonable cause for an excused absence. If she’s trustworthy and I believe that she’s not fabricating the sore throat in an effort to stay home, I’ll credit. If there’s a history of this, I not only wouldn’t be teaching her but I’ll also enact my policies more exactly.

  3. Laine Bryce

    I give credit for an act of god, but this sounds a little bogus.

    I would say, “You’ve,already paid for this lesson. Are you sure you want to miss it?”

  4. Alfons Verreijt

    when she signed up for the lessons, she signed for the rules as well. See it this way: when a teacher cancels, the lesson will be rescheduled. The same when a student cancels. Except when the cancellation is too late. Then it’ s their own risk, just like with any insurance, there is a small threshold.

    This will prevent disputes like this. It’s none of my business why someone cannot come. I do not want to know. If I would not have these rules, I would be out of business soon, waiting for people not showing up and listening to excuses all the time. Or the lessons would be so expensive for the people who DO show up, that I would be out of business a little later.

    By the way, lessons through Skype are possible, but through the phone I cannot give the performance and quality I want to give. Besides, if they pay for a lesson, they did not pay to own you for a while. They just paied for a lesson in the conditions and settings that is agreed upon.

  5. Irene Postma

    Hmm.. unlike apparently most of you, I would quickly come to a different conclusion. Indeed, I was expecting to teach her that half hour; and as I teach back to back lessons and have a pretty full schedule, I usually don’t do much in the half hour that suddenly comes free.
    Besides, I start to dislike rescheduling, and finding room for unexpected lessons. Rescheduling would cost me more time.
    So I would say: “Why not! But then I can’t listen and see what you have been studying. So instead, we’ll discuss some theory…
    And I will use it for (depending on what she knows): Italian terms/ major-minor / music history / history of the fortepiano / or make it a sort of exam. Eartraining is also possible: I play five intervals, she tells me what they were; or she writes down what I play (8 bars, 6/8, key is c minor… and then I first play something (and write it down while she does it too) and have her write it bar by bar.
    I don’t think I would ever come short of ideas of things we could do even through the phone.

  6. Trish

    Thank you for posting this, it’s a really good question for a really typical scenario. I’ve been thinking about monthly flat fee billing for a while, and now I’m convinced to do the switchover. Charging per minute I don’t feel good keeping their money when they don’t come due to illness or what not, even with the cancellation policy, it just doesn’t feel good. But neither does losing out on deserved income. For some reason I feel that flat fee monthly billing that I feel may alleviate my pressure to buckle.

    Laine had a good response too. Saying “You’ve already paid for this lesson.” is a really good way to put it. It puts the pressure on them to use it and not on me to worry about refunding it.

  7. Laura

    This sounds like something that can be addressed in the studio policy if weather is a frequent concern. My rule is to follow the county school system. If the schools are canceled or if the school day starts late (in either my district or theirs if different), then I allow makeups for lessons missed during the time that school was not in session for those who’d rather not come. This is my policy for all students, children and adults. If school was still in session, then I would not let her off the hook because of the weather. I don’t teach on weekends, but if it were a Saturday, then perhaps you could go by whether or not other businesses are closing.

    I’ve never done lessons over the phone, but I can imagine doing some ear-training, or music appreciation activity, or if a skype-type video connection was available, then maybe I’d do an actual piano lesson with video. The thing is, though, if you allow it with one student, you need to make that option available for all and have an explicit policy about it. In no circumstances would I do this if I were only notified of the absence one minute before the lesson.

    I’ve also found that it helps to address situations like these before they come up, presenting a scenario like this one at the interview, for instance. I explain that they are paying to reserve a space in my studio, much as they would be if they were paying tuition for a class they might attend and occasionally miss. I also explain at the interview that it sometimes happens that a conflict will come up that is not something I make up lessons for, and that my students understand that they will not be reimbursed for these. As long as people don’t abuse my makeup policy by pretending to be sick or constantly asking me to make exceptions, then I will continue to offer makeups for illness. I tell folks at the interview that if I do feel my generosity is being abused, then I will curtail any makeups at all.

  8. Kj

    …..Charge a flat monthly fee! Period. No makeups/ no excuses/ Try getting another doctor appointment this way!
    You want the service? Then you show up……..I have a waiting list even in this economic turbolence;
    to allow the student to get off the hook is only preparing them to “use” other teachers the same way.
    I had a college professor who would grade you on a paper day-to-day if you were late. If it was due on Tuesday by 1pm and you turned it in on time , then you would get your grade say as an A. If you turned it in a day late; then you received an A minus a letter and receive a B even if you were an A paper. Something to think about. We are training these students’ to be “users”? No way!

  9. Ronda

    Missing lessons due to weather depends on where you live. In areas to the south it takes a small amount of snow to totally freak people out. In northern states going with school closings is probably a good policy. Here in VA many times they close schools when roads are perfectly safe by afternoon. I find that I have to call students on bad weather days. Sometimes they are out of school so they can come earlier in the day. Students that live in outlying areas on mountain sides, can’t come until the weather totally clears.

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