By: Andrew Swinney
Teaching music lessons can be a great way to make a career or generate side income. It can also be one heck of a grind. One of the first things you should do is determine how much to charge your students per lesson. Here are some tips I learned from running my own studio and helping friends develop theirs on how to pick your lesson fee.
Consider this step your "market research." Established teachers have figured out the appropriate rate for the area. Furthermore, their rates set an expectation in parents' minds about what a fair rate is. Look at music instructors who teach the same instrument as you, as this can dramatically impact the going rate. Being the only French horn teacher in town give you a greater ability to pick your rate than being one of 100 piano teachers. In the latter scenario, parents have the ability to price shop. Another thing you can do to differentiate yourself is to teach a specific sub-category. For example, there might be a lot of violin teachers, but you specialize in the Suzuki method. Or, maybe you focus on specific skill levels, instead of all ages and abilities.
Now that you know how much other teachers are charging for the "same product," consider how your resume compares. A professional musician who plays in the local symphony, has a doctorate, and 30-years of experience will be able to charge a higher rate than someone who is teaching over the summers to pay for college. Even if you are an amazing private teacher, the best in the world, no one knows that. All they know is what your teaching resume looks like. To command a premium price, you will likely need a degree in music.
In many cities you will need to work with the school board or band directors to get approval to teach. Sometimes they have fixed rates and sometimes they take a percentage of your lesson in exchange for using their practice room. This also happens if you teach through a school of music or one of those websites that enable online lessons. You will have other costs associated with starting a music studio: music, advertising, gas to drive to student's homes, etc. Take all of these into count and figure out what your actual per hour rate is. Sometimes the numbers just don't add up. You can still teach music lessons, but do so because you love the process, and not because you want to pay the mortgage.
Students are going to miss lessons. Like, a lot. And if they cancel last minute or just miss the lesson then you don't get paid and you have still wasted the time. You can avoid this if you have a clear contract that outlines how these events will be handled. Make sure that you have a policy that says any cancellations done with less than 24 hours will still be charged. This might feel awkward, but you have to enforce it.
When I was teaching, there were a couple of students who consistently missed lessons. Week after week, they would cancel minutes before the 24-hour deadline. It is unfair to you and to other students to keep them in your studio. After 3 times, cut these students from your roster. Too often, music instructors are stuggling to make money, so they will lower their standards for any opportunity. This makes for a miserable and unsustainable career. If a student has too many absences, then politely let tham know that it seems like this isn't a priority for them and that you have students on your waiting list who would benefit from this time.
When you teach private lessons, you are trading time for money. It's 1-to-1. Now, what if you could teach multiple students in that one hour? Maybe they pay a smaller fee, but you have 10 of them in the group lesson. Which is a better use of your hour: teaching an individual lesson for $40, or teaching 10 music students who are all paying $10 ($100). I know you can't fill your 40-hour week with events like these, but this should teach the important idea of looking for ways to scale your time. Plus, not every parent can or will pay $40 each week, but they might consider $10 a month. You can capture students that might not otherwise be interested in your services. Here are some examples I've seen be successful:
One of the big problems I see when teachers do this is that they (1) don't repeat the process (2) don't limit attendance. If you can teach a sectional at one school, one day a week, for one hour, and make $100, why wouldn't you then call every middle and high school in the area and offer to do the same. Maybe there are enough schools where you only teach once every two weeks. Your calendar is full, but the band director isn't spending a ton of cash. Limiting attendance is important because it creates a sense of urgency and exclusivity. This is more of a marketing tactic than a financial one, but it allows you to get fully booked and then later offer another session.
Hopefully, with these 6 tips, you'll be able to price your time appropriately and discover opportunities to monetize that help you achieve your goals!