Parents Opposed to Shared Lessons
Dixie C, Washington
Today I received an email from the parent of a student who has had approximately 54 lessons & is about to enter Level 4. I love the student & the family, but the parents have, from the beginning, been trying to claim territory. I’ve unwisely, I’m thinking, conceded on a few issues, & on others I’ve held my ground.
I’ve already typed a response to this father’s email & have it waiting in my drafts folder while I await the wisdom of my colleagues. I’ve emailed to him a list I keep in my files of 16 benefits of Shared Lessons. Does anyone have any other ideas of how I should respond to this father? Frankly, it’d almost be a relief if they withdrew their daughter, as it’s a constant battle to hold my ground.
Following is a portion of his email: (I’m blanking out the names or using parentheses to preserve anonymity.)
I wanted to take a minute and tell you how much we have enjoyed our lessons with you. Our family has come to love having a piano in the house, we all like the Simply Music program and we’re all fond of you. The lessons are going well and the price is fair.
I am troubled about _____ being scheduled for a group lesson this Fall. The news has arrived that she will be in a lesson with three children. Our 25 minute lesson is now 1/3 of a 35 minute lesson or 11.66 minutes.
Please consider the following rate chart:
25 Minute Lesson = $51.43 per hour.
1/2 of a 30 minute lesson = $85.71 per hour.
1/3 of a 35 minute lesson = $110.27 per hour.
As you can see, when ______ is in a group of three, we effectively pay
double for the lesson. It is a stretch for our family to afford $51 an hour for piano lessons, especially when we are now paying for home school curriculum. At $675 for piano lessons this academic year (plus materials), your classes are over 50% more than our most expensive class.
We’d like to have lessons for (the younger sister), but that seems out of reach today. It’s too bad that Simply Music does not seem to have a sibling rate like
so many other curriculums do.
(My wife) and I agree that shared lessons have merit. Students teaching students, watching students and playing before a group are certainly
helpful. Some efficiencies can also be found in teaching the same song to a group of students. However, the lessons are just too short. We think that a lesson of, say, 20 minutes of playing and 30 minutes of teaching might work for a group of three. It could be a win/win situation if you consider that you get three lessons done in the time of two.
Thoughts? Please call me when you have a minute. We are certainly open to
Here is a portion of my response thus far:
Thank you for your thoughtful email. I’m assuming that by now you’ve received my email addressing your concerns as stated by (your wife) last Tuesday evening as well as outlining the benefits of shared lessons.
As a rule, in my shared lessons, all the students are getting the same information simultaneously, so in, say, a 10 min. segment, the students are receiving 10 min. of instruction. It doesn’t come out to 3.33 min. per student. The program is actually designed to be taught to multiple students. In order to teach a private lesson, I sometimes have to revise how the information is presented.
Concerning a sibling rate, you get a significant break in your materials when a sibling is taking Simply Music as well. I pay a royalty fee per student lesson I teach. But I don’t get a sibling break, so I have nothing to pass on to families of multiples taking Simply Music. Also, my time is limited, so a sibling taking a spot for say 75% tuition is depriving me of a full tuition from another student.
Ideally, if I stick to our lesson agreement, _____ should get only 20 min. of instruction, & 5 min. of assignment-writing/response to questions/verbal lesson outline/review (drawing a stick & playing). In a shared lesson of 3 she will get approximately 28 min. of instruction, as she should be learning from any instruction I give to the others as well. Being able to coach another student also figures into her instruction as it provides opportunity to cognitively think through how a song is put together. This in turn will lay a more solid foundation for the music reading program, as she won’t just be playing by ear/touch.
I can see why, from your understanding, you feel _____ is being short-changed when sharing a lesson with other students. However, research & the psychology of learning indicates that the material presented in a shared lesson environment (which allows for not only receptive learning, but generative & observational learning as well) is being more thoroughly absorbed, the path of learning is going deeper in the brain, & the learning is longer-lasting, than when the student is only learning receptively in a private lesson environment.
It sounds like finances are an issue so I have a couple suggestions. I have several families on tight budgets who pay for their lessons through Home Link. I remember you said that Home Link was already paying for several classes that the girls are enrolled in, but that is an option. Also several families have recruited students for me & are receiving one month of free lessons per student recruit. I have opened up Monday in order to make room for a couple of students & am in the market for nine more–an opportunity for 9 months of free lessons.
Cindy B., Illinois
I would keep my reply much simpler. No stats or lists. Just say something like, “I totally appreciate how you are looking at lessons, and I respect your opinions. I’ve enjoyed teaching your child, but based on my experience and training, the private lesson environment is not the best way to use the Simply Music curriculum. If having your child in private lessons is truly what you want, I can recommend ……… who teaches all her lessons in a private setting. (of course, you don’t have to recommend anyone, just recommend that they begin finding a new teacher) If, on the other hand, you are convinced that Simply Music is the curriculum you want your child to be involved in, then I have to insist on the shared lessons that work best. ”
This parent has no idea that as far as Simply Music piano lessons go, the point is that the student learns to play the piano and has fun doing it. The point isn’t that the child gets x amount of minutes for x amount of dollars.
Sheri R., California
I think you wrote a very thoughtful and thorough response.
When people break down the lesson by how much per hour it costs, it isn’t exactly accurate. I mean a massage might be $60 an hour and when you’re done, unless it’s therapeutic, it doesn’t usually last-once those hands are done you are done feeling great! (At least that is my experience.) A doctor’s advice might cost $300, and as I believe Neil once said, it might take the doctor an hour to give you this advice or 5 minutes. Well, if you value your time, I’d rather have the same advice in 5 minutes and if the cost is the same, well, the benefits derived from that advice can change your life. (Or you might get bad advice for an hour and $200 or good advice for an hour and $300.) One is obviously money well spent. (I think this was told to me by the wise one in
response to someone maybe complaining about the cost of Simply Music versus a traditional lesson.)
I think with piano lessons one is not just paying for the 30 minutes. A student is paying for 30 minutes of time so they can know what to do during all their practice sessions throughout the week. It’s not like going for a ride at the amusement park, which has its value (for some!), but is over with in a flash. And we all know it’s not just any 30 minutes–it’s 30 minutes with you, a Simply Music teacher!
In the end I would urge them, based on their success so far, to trust you on this, that their child will derive deep and lasting benefits that they just can’t see yet and if after a few months they find their child is not progressing at the same rate, you would be sorry to see them go, but that is the structure of your studio.
Chances are they won’t find a thing to complain about after they’ve given the shared lessons a real chance (I had a number of classes of 2s that I combined over the summer into one class of 7–all the parents were concerned but they quickly saw how much better it was–longer, thus more time to cover more things, more energy, more fun, etc.)
Best to you and hope this student continues.
Carrie L., Michigan
When I transferred over my students from traditional to Simply Music I had one mom in particular who was really angry about the whole thing.. shared lesson, the cost, the new method etc etc… but she went along with the change. About a year later, she told me that she wasn’t happy about the method at first, but that she was very happy with it and loved it and could completely see the value of it.
For the past year her daughter has been in a shared lesson of 2 with another student who keeps her on her toes, the two of them write beautiful compositions and a couple of times have creatively talked about words for a
particular song or made up a story about it. She’s truly seen the ‘value’ of Simply Music lessons.
Sometimes I’ve found it helps to say that changes may change again if they
don’t work… like we’ll try it for a month and see how it goes. Very rarely does the shared lesson not work so a month turns into a year quickly!
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Wow. What you’ve got there is a number cruncher. I’ve only had something like this happen to me once, when I first switched from traditional to SM. One of my parents calculated how much I would be earning per hour in group lessons. It seemed to really bother her that I would be making decent money (i.e. a lot more than I was making teaching traditional lessons). When she told me exactly how much I would be earning, I simply agreed with her and didn’t offer any defense. She discontinued, which was fine.
I think your response is well-worded, and very tactful. A few comments:
1. I’m assuming this family will still be paying the same amount each month for shared lessons as they were for private? Which would not pose an added strain to their budget; interesting that he perceives only 1/3 of the instruction is received per student in a group of three. He is getting more lesson time for the same amount of money per month. Here’s one of Neil’s analogies that I typed up a few years ago:
Mortgage payment (Value of Simply Music lessons vs. traditional lessons)
Consider the following hypothetical mortgage payment plans for the same house:
$500/month for 20 years – pretend 90% of the population favors this plan
$750/month for 10 years – pretend 10% of the population favors this plan
Which costs more per month? Which one is a better deal in the long run? Of course the answer to both is the 2nd option. Even though the monthly payments are higher, in the long run you pay far less for the house. Ninety percent prefer to pay less per month, perhaps because they don’t understand the value they sacrifice.
Simply Music piano lessons should cost more per month than traditional piano lessons. Students accomplish so much more in far less time that the value of those lessons is far greater. In the long run, Simply Music students will not have to pay for lessons for as long as traditional students in order to achieve the same results. In fact, they achieve much more in much less time. You pay more when you get more.
2. He is missing the point of the lessons entirely, which we talk about in the Foundation Session but parents often forget. The lesson is not where the learning takes place, it’s where the students are coached. Their learning happens at home – the restaurant analogy. It sounds like he only considers time actually spent at the piano during lessons to be “instruction”, which is a product of our culture’s traditional mindset.
3. I would avoid feeling like you have to respond to or counter every point he made, even though many lack merit. It’s kind of like when you tell a child “no”, and they ask why, and you start in with explanations, and they come back with 10 different “But…”s and you keep explaining and explaining. It only adds fuel to the fire by leading them to believe their arguments have merit. What if you said something to the effect of:
“Thank you for sharing your concerns with me. I always like to keep open communication about your experience with Simply Music. Simply Music challenges traditionally held beliefs about the most effective way to learn piano. One of those is that the lesson environment must be a one-on-one situation. In this environment, the student is always on the spot to produce a result immediately and doesn’t benefit from the questions, comments, creativity, and camaraderie of other piano students. With Simply Music, the learning is multi-faceted, taking place through visual, aural, and tactile cues, observing others, time at the piano, and group discussions, to name just a few. Instruction is not limited to time at the piano. In a shared lesson, students benefit from longer lessons for the same monthly tuition, and they get more out of the lesson.”
I guess what I’m saying is, consider just communicating the benefits of Simply Music, and without apology communicate that your studio will now be shared lessons. I would always offer to talk more about their concerns if they wanted, but stick to your guns.
One other thing ~ he compares what he pays for SM to what he pays for other classes. So what. If he brings it up, just agree with him that yes, it apparently does cost more than other classes. It’s really not your concern what he pays for anything else outside of piano lessons and has no bearing on you whatsoever. It’s just an attempt to put you on the defense.
These are just my personal ideas. I appreciate Neil’s “take it or leave it” approach, as long as they have some real understanding of what they are taking or leaving.