What To Charge For Shared Lessons
Patty D., California
I have struggled with this alot. Half of my students are in Private Lessons but paying Shared Lesson rates, as I don’t have someone to partner them with. What I need to do is cut down the lesson time by 5 minutes as I resent it. Because I teach out of my home, my group size is limited. Most of my Privates started out as Shared, and then one or two dropped out. It is frustrating, but I don’t see a way out. Every so often I evaluate everyone and have yet to be able to put people together. It is challenging enough to start people at the same time!!
With two from the same family, I don’t give a discount. I tell them that when my daughter takes sax lessons and my son takes drum lessons, the teacher doesn’t give me a discount because I already pay for one lesson. For the two in one family, they are saving by only driving to one lesson – only pay for one set of SHMs. It took me a long time to put the family thing into words, but once I saw my own life experience, it was a no brainer.
Sheri R., California
I have had the same problem of a group of 2 or 3 falling apart, leaving me with one student who didn’t match anywhere else. I tell the parents we can either do a 15 minute private lesson for the shared rate (half the time of the shared lesson they were in), or increase the fees to my private rate and have the full 25 minutes. I know 15 minutes is a very short lesson, but so far, I’ve done it successfully for a few people who just couldn’t afford the private rate and I am just not willing to give the full 25 minutes for the shared rate – no chance for resentment that way!
It’s obviously not the best situation and I only ever do it if this type of situation arises, and it’s always done with the intention of eventually trying to get back into a group, although that is not always possible because of all the different places and ages students are at.
I also sometimes, contingent on a good level of commitment and cooperation at home, have the student catch up to the closest group by temporarily increasing their work load and by also, at the same time, managing the Shared Lesson I’m trying to catch them up to, by giving proportionally more supplemental stuff (Arrangements, Composing, Improvising, creating arrangements to existing songs, etc.) along with the usual Foundation Songs being introduced a bit more slowly temporarily – the group doesn’t see this as being any different from other lessons, because they are still getting plenty to work on.
Sometimes I might have someone come to two lessons a week, their own temporary Private Lesson and the group they will be joining. They will in this case often be learning two Foundation Songs a week (or whatever portion is being worked on), until they are caught up. I haven’t done this a lot, but it’s another way to solve the problem.
I also am sure to tell people, if they don’t want to wait for a bigger group when they first start, that it is possible that their 2 or 3 person Shared Lesson could fall apart (I like to add it’s because of scheduling problems or people moving away, so you don’t give an impression right from the get go that it’s common for people to just quit), in which case they might be left with a situation where they would be in a Private Lesson. This way they are clear from the beginning that somewhere down the road they may be paying for a Private Lesson until a Shared Lesson can be found. I have had people willing to pay for Private Lessons even when there was another group available because they weren’t able to make the other group work in their schedule.
Dena M., Iowa
I do not teach any Private Lessons. I had 3 students privately at the beginning and I regretted not charging double.
Here is what my daughter, Whitney, does. She tells people that if a partner drops, the family has a short time (2 – 4 weeks?) where lessons will continue at the Shared Lesson rate. After that time the family can decide to take lessons at the Private Lesson rate (double the fee) or wait until a Shared Lesson starts. I think that little bit of notice gives people the “warmth” a teacher might want to give, but still put a short end in sight to the situation.
Neither one of us initially believed that anyone would pay the Private Lesson fee. We live in a town of about 30,000 and my younger daughter’s former piano teacher (who teaches at a private college) charges $60 a month for private lessons, whereas for SM lessons, we charge $152 a month.
Yesterday one of the parents in my studio said that the switch from how I taught last year to SM is thrilling. I can’t imagine how it will be when I get more experience and get better at teaching this!
Kim L., Washington
I’ve had this situation a few times — where you get a good group going and then people drop out or need to change times, and so a group morphs into one person. Now, as part of my Foundation Session we talk about Shared Lessons, how things may change, and that if ever it happens I’ll do my best to place people back in an appropriate group. If that’s not possible, though, they’ll be in a Private Lesson situation and can either pay the private rate or wait until I have an appropriate group.
Even before I started saying this upfront, and just had the conversation as the groups were morphing (yes – it was a scary thing the first couple of times, which revealed a lot about me!), I always had people elect to stay on as private students because they love the method and they love playing piano.
The more I read on Simpedia, the more I realize that building a shared lesson-based studio simply takes time. It takes time to get to the point where you are full enough and making enough to ask students to hold off enrolling until you have a group for them; it takes time to build awareness in your community so you’re having consistent enrollment.
Take a deep breath — there’s a way out. Even if you’re not ready to ask all of your current students to change to private rates (you could, though!), you can certainly begin now to explain to your new students what will happen if they end up the only one. That will stop the cycle until you begin to have enough groups to shift people around easily.
Beth S., Tennessee
Wow! The thing I have learned from this discussion is that I have been charging way too little. I’m shocked at the comparison between what y’all (Tennessean here) are successfully charging and what I am asking. But, it occurred to me the other day that by the time I pay the Ed. fee, income taxes, self-employment taxes and any misc. expenses, I am really doing charity work while my kids are running around without me.
Of course, there are other benefits — to myself and my children, but that is the situation money-wise. It doesn’t seem like y’all who have been discussing this are necessarily in my predicament. I think it started out partly from
- my desperation to get 5 students through in whatever way, free if necessary,
- my lack of confidence in myself as a new SM teacher,
- my dislike to collect money for any reason,
- what I assumed I could charge and collect in this area without being laughed at.
Anyways, now that I am fully immersed into this, but have not finished the first school year, it seems impossible to raise rates. And so the question would be, at what point would it be appropriate to raise rates and by how much? Also, it doesn’t seem fair to the parents who love this method and have invested thus far, but have no freedom to go elsewhere since I’m the only teacher in this area. They’re pretty much stuck with whatever I dictate unless they want to quit and lose their investment to date. I wouldn’t want it to look like I’m taking advantage, being the only teacher around, but it very well could. So, now what?
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
I think the first thing we need to get comfortable with is not being apologetic about what we charge for lessons – I think it gives the impression that even we may not believe the lessons are worth it. I raised my rate by $5 last year and by $10 this year to get to a more acceptable level. I offered no explanation, just announced matter-of-factly that tuition would increase effective Jan 1st. Not one person complained or even asked for a reason. A few months later, I did have a mom comment once about how rates have increase twice in the last 2 years. But I just agreed with her and didn’t apologize for it.
Also, you can’t worry about everyone’s individual situations. I know that’s tough, especially when you are trying to grow your business. But, just because you are the only piano teacher in the area doesn’t mean you are taking advantage of people. What would be unfair is you not earning what you are worth as a Simply Music teacher.
I remember when I was in one of the training conversations with Neil and expressed concern about people not being able to afford my lessons. He asked me if I would like to drive a Porsche (well, yah, who wouldn’t). Then he asked if I could afford one. I laughed. He said something like “That’s life. You can’t always afford everything you would like. No matter how little you charge, there’ll always be people who can’t afford piano lessons.”
I honestly think it is more difficult to grow your business if you are giving people a break in one form or another in order to get students. Maybe it’s a psychological thing related to the perceived value.
It was uncomfortable for me at first to raise my rates, so I kind of put blinders on, so to speak, and decided, “this is what Simply Music lessons are worth, and that’s what I’ll charge.” Now, I am at a point with my numbers where I feel comfortable offering one or two “scholarships” to families who I am aware could really use a break.
You have something really unique and powerful to offer; don’t cheat yourself! Good luck!