This week I surveyed 9 people with the following experience in teaching private lessons:
· 6 months (piano)
· A year and a half (violin)
· Two years (horn)
· Five years (euphonium, in the UK)
· Seven years (horn)
· Ten years (horn)
· Sixteen years (2 people – piano/organ and clarinet)
· Seventeen years (flute)
What follows are the questions I asked them as well as the answers they gave. I felt it would be neat to see people's answers at different stages of teaching. (I must admit, the 7 Years answers were my favorite!)
What is your rate? Did you set it or did someone else?
Six Months: Since I don't have a music degree, I set the rate at $50/mo for once a week 30 minute lessons (this was in small town Wyoming mind you, so bigger cities you can get away with charging more). This rate was set at $50 even if there were 5 lessons in a month, though most months were only 4. So the lessons were approx $12.5/ half hour. I charged the $50 up front with the expectation of a full month committment. If they missed a lesson, their loss, unless it was something major, and I knew the person wasn't just making stuff up to get out of paying. I never had a problem getting paid because I charged up front. No pay no first lesson of the month.
1.5 Years: I charge $35 per half hour. I teach in a private school, I set the rate.
2 Years: Currently my schools set the rate: $17 for a half hour. My personal rate is $18/$36, more if I have to travel a bit.
5 Years: £20-£30 [$28-43] per hour depending on who or what instrument. I set it but my euphonium teacher always told me not to undersell myself. But I also teach individuals through music service, so they set the rate which is actually more expensive.
7 Years: My rate is $17-$18 per half hour, per mandates from the districts I teach in. I also teach one student in their home and receive $60 per hour for that, once a week.
10 Years: Rate - $18, Set by school district
16 Years (piano): It's been anywhere from $20-$25 per lesson (I've also done a flat rate of $100 per month). I set the fee.
16 Years (Clarinet): My current rate is $40/hr, but I collect the average of 3 lessons a month at $120/mo on the 20th. I'm considering raising it to $50/hr, $150/mo. I set my rate based the going rate at most schools, my degree, other professionals' rates, and the likelihood of clients actually paying said amount.
17 Years: What's your rate? $65/hr at home, $16/half hr at school. Home - [set rate] myself; school - someone else [sets the rate]
Where do you teach – a school/church/studio/home? Where do you feel is the best place to teach?
Six Months: I taught in my home. Church wanted to charge me for renting a room and it didn't make financial sense to do that with as low as my rates were. For cost effectiveness, I think a home is perfect, but it is best if you have a separate room to teach in where you can close the door and close out family noise. If you are degreed, teach higher level students, and charge more, a separate studio could make sense. And if you use a room in your house solely for lessons, then you can write it off as an office for taxes. Don't drive from place to place for lessons. So not worth the headache. But if you decide to do that, then charge enough to cover your gas and time to and from location.
1.5 Years: I like teaching in school because I have everything I need, good space, pick up the kids myself and can keep on schedule - and no travel time! I work at the school during the day as a strings teacher and do privates after school.
2 Years: Currently all at the schools I teach at. I actually really wish I could teach AWAY from the school, so it feels like a detached more focused environment. They’re so distracted, thinking about what’s happening in the next class, friends walk by, etc. If I had a home (not an apartment) to teach in that would be ideal, or a church or something separated from the school that they come to specifically for lessons.
5 Years: I either teach in school, Music centre or at students home, I feel it is best to teach in a mutual place such as school or at a music centre as I find kids are a bit cheeky and too comfortable in their own homes, it's more meaningful if they make the effort to travel.
7 Years: I usually teach at school, with the exception of that one student. I think once we are settled in a house, I will offer lessons at my home when I have more space.
10 Years: Teach at school, occasionally at student's home, formerly at my own home; Best place to teach out of those is at school.
16 Years (Piano): I have taught at a church, out of my house and now back at church, at a Music Academy I got started at my church. There are pros and cons to teaching in place. The church is nice because most parents don't feel as odd about going to a church as opposed to someone's house.
16 Years (Clarinet): Home. Teaching in most other places has a limit and/or overhead costs. There are benefits to all the different places to teach, but I feel my home is best for rate, efficiency, lower overheard, and less stress.
What’s something you’ve learned about students?
Six Months: I have learned that students are vastly different from one another. Some have drive, some don't. Some are in it only because their parents forced them to be. I tried not to take those students because I wanted committed people. Some students seem to have learning issues and though they try hard they don't quite understand theory. Some of those students gave up emotionally despite extra help. The younger ones have shorter attention spans hence my lessons only being 30 minutes long. I also noticed that adults are more apprehensive than children, and tend to apologize profusely when they make mistakes. Kids just move right along. I had one student who never came prepared and just didn't play anything right. I thought maybe it was my teaching methods, so I had a friend take her on as a student, but she had the same issues and eventually told the parents she wasn't going to teach her anymore.
1.5 Years: I work with very young students in private lessons, and I am really learning that they are all so different developmentally. Some younger ones are more developmentally ready than older elementary aged students; some student are made to play the violin and things come very naturally and some are not. Some practice and some don't practice at all. At first I was frustrated because with those that don't practice and/or don't have a facility for the instrument, I felt I wasn't helping them progress quickly enough. But a teacher who's opinion and guidance I really value told me that with these young students I should focus on developing a love of music. Make the experience fun and positive so they leave their lessons learning the joy in music. This comment freed me to stop begin discouraged by lack of the progress I was hoping for with some of my students - those that don't practice or have facility or are not developmentally ready. I can always teach them something new that they are ready for, and I'm happy to say that they always learn something and are smiling when they leave and are excited about the experience. I have some students that work hard and are ready and with them I can move a different pace. But I want them all to love music so whether they continue or not, the will always have an appreciation for music.
2 Years: I’ve found treating students differently than their other teachers do usually gets good responses from them. They are in a one on one environment, that means I can have higher expectations. I can treat them more like a person than a kid I’m “managing” in a classroom. I can dig in to force them to think more and tell me what they need to do/learn rather than me lecture them. Kids are underestimated, not pushed, not held accountable sometimes, and almost (more importantly) not valued or explored as individuals. Of course I keep professional boundaries and everything, but I try to respectfully treat all of my kids as individuals I not only want to teach but get to know as people, and they appreciate that.
5 Years: Students rarely practice unless you make it really relevant to what they want to learn. But sometimes they don't know what they want to learn.
7 Years: I have learned that students need encouragement, but tough love at the same time. Most of the time, they don't want to disappoint you - you just have to figure out what clicks for them, what motivates them.
10 Years: Horn players in particular are some of the smartest, busiest kids. They have so many different interests and activities. They want to be good at it all, and often just don't have time.
16 Years (Piano): There is never enough practice.
16 Years (Clarinet): They all have different needs, and how you incorporate lessons around those needs affects their success. Sometimes it's not even about music.
17 Years: Everyone is teachable.
What’s something you’ve learned about parents of students?
Six Months: I found that parents don't often help. They may make their kids practice, but they don't help them practice. Mostly because they don't know how to read music either, but if the parents can learn some basics too it helps immensely. The commitment is not just for the students, but also for the parents, so set that expectation up front.
1.5 Years: I have not had problems with parents. Some are more involved than others, and the ones who's parent are involved and want to know how to help their kids at home have the best success. Some parents don't give any support at home so success at home depends on the child's individual motivation, which can be hard at that age. I try to give parents updates from time to time so the they can understand how we are progressing. Managing their expectations is important.
2 Years: Don’t let them walk over you. If I had something clearly spelled out in my contract, I deserve to have that obligation met, and have my time respected. It’s easy to get very “nice” with parents, but that can have negative repercussions. Ultimately this is a business.
5 Years: it's always good to communicate clearly with parents.
7 Years: What have I learned from parents? That some care too much, some care like they should, and some don't give two hoots. People pay a lot of money for these lessons for their kid to never bring their horn home. Sadly, I have more kids who have parents who "just can't get them to practice"...uhhh i'm sorry, what? Aren't you the PARENT?!!
10 Years: They won't hesitate to (kindly) ask for services that go above and beyond the standard (which also taught me how to say "no").
16 Years (Piano): There is never enough practice, and they need just as much, if not more coaching on how to practice than the students.
17 years: Speak Spanish.
What’s something you’ve learned about working with band directors?
2 Years: Sometimmeeessssss the less they know the better. Little Johnny isn’t having a lesson because he can’t pay this week. If the band director finds out it becomes this big thing. I’m gonna come in class on Thursday instead of Tuesday for little Suzie’s lesson, if I tell the band director it becomes a big thing. Basically things become a big thing with them….
7 Years: I've learned that band directors can be amazing, or completely unreliable, when communicating about school functions. I know you're busy, but seriously. Also, I'm amazed at what habits some horn students pick up before I get a hold of them. How they weren't caught, I'll never know...
10 Years: They are busy busy busy. And they always worked hard to accommodate me if possible
16 Years (Clarinet): Stay friendly. Quickly opt for a live conversation over email/text when questions arise. Don't bug the directors more than necessary unless they enjoy your company and conversation. However, bug the directors as much as feasible when issues arise such as payments being missed, or schedules being clearly communicated.
17 Years: You are a one-man band unless you have a personal relationship with them.
Have you ever had problems getting paid for your work? How did you go about fixing it?
1.5 Years: I am having trouble getting paid now - one parent is three months late. So, after one more lesson, I will perhaps say that I can't continue without payment. I know I'll get it, but they are pretty inconsiderate to make me hunt it down!
2 Years: First, talk to the student, try to find out what is going on. I prefer to go on to phase two (parents) with some information rather than calling them angrily at the get-go. Then eventually get directors involved. Communication with parents is sometimes really hard so this is a frustrating problem I’m still working on…
5 Years: Never not been paid.
7 Years: I have had issues getting paid, but only minor ones. Usually, they get resolved pretty quickly, because I'm not afraid to make a phone call and be... uh... nicely direct. You can't be scared to be upfront with people. If you go into it with the notion that you're going to always make people happy, you better buckle up. As long as you present yourself professionally, most people will respond that way. the ones that don't, get their kids dropped. I once had a mom threaten to contact the "fine arts board" (there isn't one) because I asked for payment at the first lesson of every month. I told her to go ahead, and I didn't teach her kid for awhile. Needless to say, she came back, and we didn't have any problems after that.
10 Years: Yes, but mostly just in a timely manner. Have only twice been ignored by requests for payment after lessons ended for the year and never received those payments.
16 Years (Piano): Getting paid is always a challenge. I actually had one parent stop payment on a check AFTER I had already deposited it. Ticked me off to no end. I've tried fees, giving discounts, being nice....nothing really worked.
16 Years (Clarinet): Yes, there have been a great deal of issues with payments. The list of excuses is vast. I now only take payment by credit card, with an online process through Intuit, with an automatic $120/mo, using Intuit's permission form. The caveat is that I must keep an accurate lesson-by-lesson invoice with absences notated for both student, me, and the school.
17 Years: I have had students not pay several times. The only way to help yourself is to have a contract signed by the parent.
What’s the worst thing about this job?
1.5 Years: Kids who don't get support at home, don't practice and don't have a good facility - the progress is so slow and I want to make sure the kids don't get discouraged.
2 Years: Communication. So many people involved. Pay sometimes feels random, and you don’t KNOW how much money you’ll have week to week. Ideally everyone “pays for the month on the first lesson of the month” but that doesn’t always happen… Also keeping up with payment and attendance and TAXES.
5 Years: Worst thing is when they cancel lessons last min and then your like not getting ££ [$$ :P ] - I guess its better to invoice termly or something and have a disclaimer about missed lessons,
7 Years: Worst thing about this job? That when you do it for your full-time position, that sometimes people just quit out of the blue. I hate that. Or the fact that when lessons are kind of a "thing" down here, and that a good percentage of your kids really don't give a s***, and you have to babysit them every week. Start them over. EVERY. TIME. Repeat the same information. EVERY. TIME.
10 Years: Scheduling, emails about student progress and payments, lack of communication from parents/teachers about altered schedules and missed lessons
16 Years (Piano): I don't know if I really have a "worst thing"... other than the time that I've felt was wasted by students who didn't prepare and parents who felt like it was 30 minutes of babysitting.
16 Years (Clarinet): It's inconsistent with good and bad seasons, and must be paired with other sources of income (i.e. 2nd job or other freelancing income)
17 Years: No retirement, benefits, or job security. Summer work is almost completely void.
What’s the best thing about this job?
Six Months: The best thing about teaching lessons is when you get a kid that has natural talent. It is super exciting to see them get it and have those light bulb moments. They are the ones that make you want to keep going.
1.5 Years: I love seeing the kids joyful in their lessons and seeing them so proud! That makes my day!!
2 Years: Teaching has improved my motivation in my own life and playing, communication skills, pedagogical concepts in my own playing. I feel very rewarded working with great kids I love and now feel protective of. Also the pay is good, technically I make $34 an hour just telling kids what fingers to put down and reminding them what breathing is, a pretty good set up, but of course more effort and time goes into it than just that.
5 Years: Best thing is forming fantastic relationships and seeing kids be proud of themselves.
7 Years: What I love? When the lightbulb goes off, and they finally figure it out. Getting rewarded for their hard work by making All-Region. Getting to share the joy of making All-State with a student who has busted their a** for months on the same music. Getting a simple "thank you" from a parent or band director.
10 Years: the kids can be so fun, and it's great to see them improve and succeed. Even better to see them grow as human beings, not just as musicians.
16 Years (Piano): Best thing... I had a voice student get a 1 on her solo for solo/ensemble on Saturday. It's things like that that make it so worthwhile to me. Hearing the improvement and the confidence being built.
16 Years (Clarinet): Freedom! Vacations any time given you plan for skipped lessons. You are your own boss, mostly. It's the ideal teacher to student ratio. Parents and students appreciation for your mentorship is more poignant. You have control over your entrepreneurship.
17 Years: Using your degree.
Any assumptions you walked in with that have now changed?
Six Months: I thought it would be easier to teach lessons, but it is actually hard. Makes you question your own abilities at times.
1.5 Years: I guess the one thing that really changed for me is learning not to get discouraged about those kids that I just mentioned above. If I can teach joy and connection to music, I've done my job in the lessons and I've done my best with what I have in front of me. Changing to this way of thinking helped me be a better teacher because I stopped wasting energy on being so hard on myself!
1. I have to do a lot more out of lesson prep work to be effective than I thought.
2. Kids don’t always practice. Why did I think they would always practice?
3. I thought I would view this as easy side money but it’s really a huge part of my life now, and all that that includes, the stress, the money, the joy, the fun, etc.
5 Years: Don't assume kids will necessarily all want to learn like you did.
7 Years: I assumed that all of my students in Texas would want to get better. When I was in lessons, lessons were for kids who were excelling, and who wanted to get ahead and do more with their musical abilities. Here, it's expected that you take lessons if you can afford them, regardless of your talent level, work habits, etc. It has taken me a LONG time to get used to this. I still don't have patience for a lot of that, because I think it's okay to assume that even the lowest band kid who is in lessons wants to get better. Anytime I'm faced with that, I make that my goal. How can I motivate them without overwhelming them? It takes a lot of work, and sometimes it works. Sometimes, it comes back and slaps me in the face. But... that's what it's all about!
16 Years (Clarinet): Payment collections! I now never assume anyone will be consistent, therefore everyone does my payment process. It's the only way to get paid consistently. I really can't recall other assumptions. Change is inevitable, and in fact, one should look for the next thing to change for the better.
17 Years: Assuming all students in the section will take lessons. Assuming the band directors will help you. Assuming the kids care at all. Assuming the parents care. Even if you care, sometimes others just don't. And that's ok.