Are You Charging Enough For Your Lessons
Stan M., Ohio
I believe Neil has done a great job setting up the reasons for why you should charge more than the going rate. The psychology of paying more for something clearly says, “This is better.” But we all know this is better.
On occasions, I have read emails on the forum that hint at “I have a hard time justifying what I charge.” Here is a reprint of a blog from Music Teachers Helper that I thought underlines for the teacher why we should charge what we charge.
The Price of Private Music Lessons
September 23rd, 2011 by Yiyi Ku
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.
Here is another obvious one. A good instrument is expensive, and many teachers have more than one. Then there is depreciation, insurance, maintenance, tuning and repair.
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.
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 software such as Music Teachers Helper.
7. Professional Developments
Continued learning through attending teacher meetings, workshops, conventions, private lessons, master classes, 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.
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.
This can include additional features offered by the teacher such as computer lab time, use of music software, 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?
Carrie L. Michigan
On the same note – How do you discuss us charging the same for shared as most do for private?
I have some thoughts but thought it might be a good continued discussion.
Stan M. Ohio
I don’t charge the same Carrie for several reasons. But if I did, I would say, “As great of results I get in the private lessons, I get even better in the groups lessons. Most students also enjoy them more. And with the additional time added, we have more opportunities to do more. Just great stuff.”
Carrie L. Michigan
Sorry I was unclear about my question. Let me rephrase it, I meant the same price in traditional private lessons (at least in our area)…
For example a traditional private lesson teacher would charge about $20 a lesson on average. We charge $23 for shared lessons.
I definitely charge more for private lessons at our studio.
Sheri R. California
If someone questions the price you might want to share the price comparison. Also, I always talk about all the benefits of shared lessons (that are missing in private lessons) at the SIS. There is a list of these (observatory learning, mentoring, peer-pressure, camaraderie, ensemble experience, etc.) on the teaching groups teacher training video. This in my opinion makes the shared lessons more valuable but of course we really couldn’t charge what SM lessons are really worth as they would be way too costly. But what students get in Simply Music, shared or private, is way beyond what most get in traditional.
Vee S. Florida
I am a product of Simply Music. I did not start as a child with years of private lessons, I started at age 50. I am not traditionally or classically trained nor do I have a degree in music.
I am a product of Simply Music which I started learning in 2006 after several years of frustrating traditional lessons. I am qualified to teach Simply Music and have been teaching for going on three years. Because I do not have the other qualifications should I be charging as much as those who do?
Donny L. Ohio
I have worked with students, teachers and pros over my lifetime. I have literally helped many with degrees and full of theory out the kazoo, and still are underdeveloped as musicians academically and performance based, of course not everybody. We have excellent teachers amongst us with such talent and academia to boot. Degrees? They are wonderful, they look nice on the wall and getting a formal education demonstrates many achievements. Nobody can take it from you. I promote all the education one can obtain. We are teaching a SM program that produces results, I only teach playing based for all my entry level students and all the advanced colleagues I teach. For me I charge more for SM than I do my advanced students beyond SM, because the value is greater to getting a proper start on the piano. When I work with a teacher or pro on advanced skills who has had “playing based” as a foundation, the results are easier and far superior. Therefore in my humble opinion, do not feel inferior to anyone with your prices, or your evaluation of yourself. You are a result of SM, in a tough market we may have to just justify our terms with more zeal and marketing savvy, but know you can walk amongst anybody with confidence. Student results and happiness is my goal, you have that formula in your hands and studio
Stan M. Ohio
That is a great question that I too have struggled with. I agree with Donny but he wasn’t wordy enough so here I go.
I am in my late forties so we are close in age, probably similar stories once we compare them. I am 49 but tell people I am 56. Most people go down with their age announcements but I think that is a mistake. I want people to say, “He looks great for 56!” vs. “Wow for being 40 he must of had a hard life.”
Should I charge the same as an experienced / qualified teacher?
As I started my studio, I asked this question to another local SM teacher and now a mentor of mine, Nancy L. told me the answer was “no” – charge the same. Here are some additional thoughts that help me solidify the answer.
First, let me clarify that there is a difference in my mind between “should” and “could”. The questions “Who should charge more?” and “Who could charge more?” are different questions. You charge what you can get, right? But as you read this, keep that in mind as I am looking at the personal question we raise for ourselves, “Who should charge more?”
Who would you think SHOULD charge more for swim lessons, Mark Spits (Olympic swimmer) or his swim coach Sherm Chavoor? To add to the story, Sherm Chavoor was not an accomplished swimmer. Neil told me about the story of Sherm several years ago. Out of curiosity, I called the club Sherm coached at to ask for more details of his story. I basically asked what kind of swimmer was Sherm Chavoor. The woman from the club called back and said she had talked to a swimmer that trained under him and she confirmed from this swimmer that Sherm was not a very good swimmer. This swimmer said he saw Sherm get into the water maybe one time and “it wasn’t pretty”. He wasn’t a great swimmer, but fantastic coach. So who SHOULD charge more, Mark Spitz or Sherm Chavoor?
Sherm created 6 Olympic swimmers in his time. As far as my research concluded, Mark Spitz has yet to create an Olympic swimmer. He was a great swimmer but not a fantastic coach. Not something to be ashamed of, but it is what it is. So who SHOULD charge more?
I tell people I am not the ‘gem’ in this studio. The real ‘gem’ IS this program. My job is to be the Sherm Chavoor of piano teachers in my area; although, I do believe I need to be able to play and continue to grow in musicianship as that helps me personally and adds to the tools I can give to students. I really don’t want the end story to be, “I saw him play once and it wasn’t pretty.”
A few years ago, as I was preparing to open my studio, I was talking to another SM teacher about this very topic, I had started playing for the first time eight months earlier – YIKES. He said after a few years of teaching he realized some of the mistakes he made when he first started teaching SM. By the way this teacher is also a product of SM. Kevin felt like he needed to go back and apologize to all his first students for those mistakes. Then he realized they probably have no idea because they still got a fantastic education, well past anything they would have gotten in other programs.
Suppose two people have a rock that is the same kind of rock. The first person calls it a rock and the second calls is a diamond. Who SHOULD charge more, the person that calls it a rock or the person that calls it a diamond? It will be the person that can turn it into something beautiful. But even more to the person that can turn it into something beautiful and knows to call it a diamond.
I love that I get to be a teacher of music using a diamond. What a great gift this is.
Richard C. Michigan
Thanks to Stan for posting this excellent summary of our expenses and time commitments. However, there is another way to look at the question of how to set our tuition rates and how to justify what we charge.
The justification for your rates is quite simple: your clients (parents and adult students) believe that the benefits of Simply Music lessons are worth the price. When you are thinking about buying a computer, or a bunch of bananas, you are probably not concerned with the costs of the raw materials and labor that went into the production of the computer or bananas; what matters to you is whether the benefits of the product are worth the price. Our potential SM clients are, in general, far more interested in “what’s in it for them” than in our backbreaking labors and jam-packed schedules. I’m wary of talking about my expenses and time commitments, since it risks coming across as apologetic or whiny.
If we are asked “How do you justify your outrageous rates?” that would be a good time to start a conversation about the benefits to be had through Simply Music lessons. And if anyone wants to get in on our “racket,” we can invite them to become Simply Music teachers.