Determining Tuition Rates for Piano Teaching

Every once in a while, I receive emails from readers wondering if their tuition rates are appropriate.  Setting rates is a difficult topic to talk about, because for one thing, rate depend largely on the area where you live.  For that reason, I can’t advise exact numbers — but with this article I hope to offer some guidelines and suggestions regarding this topic nevertheless.

The Problem

I’m sure we’ve all experienced parents/students who are shopping for piano lessons by price.  Let’s face it: many parents today (especially in America) shop for piano teachers based on price, even though they really should be “shopping” based on the teacher’s experience, education, professionalism, dedication, etc..  Parents shop by price because in their logic, little 6-year-old Suzie doesn’t need an expensive teacher unless they discover that she has a talent for piano and long-term interest.  And they don’t know any better. 

How do we Combat this Problem?

Our studio websites need to communicate to viewers the value of our teaching.   And not just of anybody’s teaching, but the value of YOUR teaching (versus somebody else’s).  David Cutler, author of “The Savvy Musician,” recently suggested putting a list of top ten reasons why a student should study with you (click here to view the rest of his recommendations for studio websites — and go read his book.).  If you don’t tell potential students what is great about your teaching, they won’t know.  If you don’t tell them what they will get for their money, they won’t know that either!!

Charging Your Worth

In my experience when it comes to music lessons, you get what you pay for in most cases — as it should be!  It’s important for teachers to charge what they are worth.  When a teacher in an area charges far lower than anyone else, it can potentially hurts the rest of the teachers in the area (…unless they are doing a good job creating and communicating their value on their websites).  Setting low rates doesn’t do anyone any favors.  It communicates to parents/students that lessons are cheap, so they may be less likely to value music education and take it seriously.  Worst of all, it potentially jeopardizes piano teaching as a profession.

I don’t mean to say that we should charge ridiculous prices for piano lessons.  Charging a lot doesn’t create value.  It’s the quality and the unique benefits of our teaching that creates value.  While we should certainly strive to be affordable, I think we should at the same time be able to support ourselves with our profession without struggling.

Every teacher needs to determine for themselves a rate that is fair for everyone — the student, other teachers, and themselves.

Here are some considerations for setting rates:

  • Education: Do you have any college-level music training/degrees?  I think that if you have some college-level music training and are an effective teacher, you should be charging at least as much as the experienced but non-college-education piano teachers in your area – and maybe even a bit more.
  • Experience: How many years of teaching experience do you have?  And in what kinds of settings?
  • Professional Development: What professional association memberships do you have?  Do you regularly attend conferences?  What else do you do to stay up-to-date and to improve your teaching?
  • Additional Qualifications: What additional qualifications do you have?  Any certifications?  Do you have training in any specialty areas such as early childhood music?  How do you utilize technology in your studio?

Now go do some sleuthing!  See if you can find out what other teachers in your area are charging (and what their qualifications are), consider your own qualifications, and set your rates accordingly.  If you are a member of a local teaching association, you can ask other local teachers outright.  Otherwise, try finding their studio websites online.

A Note for Those Who Have Recently Moved

If you are moving to a new area, the problem always is that it takes time to build your studio from scratch.  If you think it might be hard to find students in your new area, you may consider temporarily putting your rates slightly lower for a year or two — and slowly bump them back up where they should be once you have your name out and a reputation established.

It’s not easy to figure out where to set your rates in a new area.  It is better to err on the side of “slightly too low” than “too high.”  And having a lot of students paying a medium tuition rate is better than having only a few students paying a high tuition rate.  Just be careful not to undercut other teachers too much.

Raising Rates

Every teacher should be raising their prices a little each year.  Yes, you!  If you don’t, you are actually losing money because the cost of living is always rising — not to mention you are probably paying for your education, professional memberships, conference attendance, etc..  In addition, as each year of teaching passes, you are gaining valuable teaching experience.

It is better to raise your rates a little each year than to raise them sporadically by a large increase.  Parents should expect rate increases, since it happens with everything else in the world!  To help keep things smooth, though, I advise giving parents advanced notice regarding each academic year’s new rates.  For example, if you plan to raise your rates at the beginning of September, announce what those rates will be in your May or June studio newsletter.

Other Tips

  • Charge a flat fee for each month — do not charge by session.  This is a MUST.  For one thing, customers like knowing exactly what the cost will be.  For another, it will make your bookkeeping much easier.  Thirdly, it will help discourage students from missing lessons, regardless of your make-up policy.  Read more about the flat rate here (article by Chad Twedt).
  • Offer a free consultation/trial lesson to potential students.  This gives them a chance to see your studio and experience what your teaching is like — and to experience the value of your teaching firsthand.  Hopefully, this will get them hooked and convince them that you are the teacher they need to study with.

Have questions?  Or do you have further suggestions to offer pertaining to determining tuition rates?  Leave them in the comments below!

Other Resources To Check Out:

Photo Credit: Public Domain Photos | CC 2.0

PG
Joy Morin is a piano teacher in Perrysburg, Ohio (United States) who enjoys keeping her teaching fresh with new ideas and resources. ColorInMyPiano.com serves as a journal of her adventures in piano teaching as well as a place to exchange ideas and resources.

Joy has blogged 1016 posts here.

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23 Comments

  1. Posted 5 July 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I lowered my rate slightly this past term since we moved onto a street where another piano teacher lives, and also travels to his students’ houses instead of making them come to his. We advertised on the same Kijiji page, and I felt that for the sake of competition, I should lower my rate just a bit. And it worked- I got some business out of it.
    I also offer the first lesson free, as well as the first lesson in January after Christmas break.
    I’ve never done the monthly thing, but I am seriously considering it for the fall. Joy, could you email me with some details on how to make that work smoothly?

  2. Posted 5 July 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Great post, Joy! I totally agree with everything you said. Having moved to a new state a year ago, I had to lower my rates a LITTLE from what I hoped to charge, but like you said will be raising them a bit at a time from here on out. One really helpful resource that can help give teachers an idea of what they should charge is the Rate Finder on mubus.com – you answer some questions about your background, experience, location, etc., and it tells you about what you should be charging.

    • Posted 6 July 2011 at 12:09 am | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing the mubus.com site. That really helps out! And Thanks Joy for posting this! I needed it!

    • Posted 7 July 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      What a great link! Thanks Jenny!!

  3. Posted 5 July 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    This is definitely a tough issue. No matter how much you charge, someone will complain it’s too expensive. In my opinion, though, those are the people who don’t value the lessons and won’t be good students, anyway.
    I moved to my current city from out of state, and had to make a name for myself. I, literally, called every piano teacher in the phone book and pretended to be a potential student. Asked how much they charge, as well as their credentials. Then, I set my rate very slightly lower than the least expensive one who also had similar credentials as mine. I put one ad in the paper for two weeks, and had 14 students by the end of the month. Then, gradually increased my tuition each year.

    Now, I own/operate a music studio that has 14 teachers and over 125 students. We do not charge a flat tuition rate for every teacher/instrument. While one teacher is qualified to charge $40/hr, the next may not be. The teachers and I decide together a reasonable tuition rate. We take into consideration their background and training, the demand for their instruction , average rates in our area, the fact that it’s a somewhat rural area, etc. Those who teach wind instruments and voice are able to charge more than the piano and guitar teachers simply because there are already a LOT of piano and guitar teachers in our area. The others are hard to come by.

    I do charge a fixed monthly rate. That definitely makes budget management and bookkeeping a lot easier. And it greatly reduced the number of missed lessons. All of my students seem to prefer that arrangement.

    To meet the needs of the student who just want to “try piano” without a huge financial commitment, I offer group lessons. The savings isn’t huge, but it’s enough to make it appealing to those who are shopping for the cheapest option. And, in the summer, I offer a 3-week class where they come for 2 1/2 hours a day, Mon-Fri, to get a crash introductory course in piano. All practice is done in class, so they don’t even have to buy a piano, unless they decide to continue with private lessons after the class.

    A lot of things like this are learned by trial and error. It’s hard to know what works until you try it. Having other teachers who’ve been teaching for a while to bounce ideas around with is a huge help, though. Even though I’ve taught 15+ years, I still benefit from discussions like these.

    • Posted 7 July 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Wow, Rebecca, 14 students in just one month?! That’s great! What kind of paper did you advertise in? Was it the city paper or a more local one?

  4. Posted 7 July 2011 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Excellent post, Joy!
    A must read for all my piano teacher friends.

  5. Posted 3 October 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Great post, Joy! So sorry I didn’t read it when you wrote it back in July.

    I’m in the middle of reading The Savvy Musician. Very good resource! If you order from the site, the author will sign the book for you.

    Regarding raising fees. This is tough for me. I am guilty of sporadic fee raising, and have come to find out I may be low for my area based on my experience, education, and quality. So now that it is October, what to do? I need to make an adjustment in the 10% area. One of my families is encouraging me to raise rates effective December 1st. It is tempting. I turn away new students a few times a month (I’m booked full — average length of study is about 4 or 5 years, so not much turnover).

    Good problem to have? What should I do? I took my rates off the policy page of my web site for the time being, while I decide what to do.

    Can I put in my two cents about 3rd-party billing like MuBuS.com? Their rate-finder is a nice tool, but their billing service is wonderful. I’ve been using them since August of 2003. I only lost one student at that time, and this student was already on the fence about piano in general. So, if any of your readers are contemplating using MuBuS.com or another 3rd-party billing company, I highly recommend it. The benefits have been numerous! The rate is fixed, no one is late paying, and attendance is stellar among my students. Mostly, though, it is so nice to get paid by the 15th, by direct deposit, every month, and to have someone else contact a parent if the credit card expired, or the payment was marked NSF… it takes me out of the equation as far as being the “bad guy” bill collector so I can focus on teaching. Not making monthly invoices saves me at least a small amount of time and paper/ink as well. Okay, that’s my 2 cents!

  6. Posted 18 January 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve tried charging per lesson as well as per month, and I have to say I prefer the former! I feel less guilty taking time off when I need it, if I know that I won’t have to charge the students or arrange make-ups when I miss a lesson.

  7. Concerned mom
    Posted 8 August 2013 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    My daughters teacher is asking for $115 per hour. She is definitely a good teacher and my daughter is talented as well. But I am wondering, if I am being naive here.

    • Posted 24 February 2014 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      Rates vary widely by area. But I can say that, IMO, a good teacher is worth every penny!

  8. David
    Posted 11 March 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been teaching for 13 years in the UK and over that time have an an awful lot of different payment methods etc.(monthly flat-rate, pay in advance, pay by term, pay weekly) and I’ve never really been able to settle on one which works for everyone (or me!). One of the problems I have is that I teach a lot of adults – they don’t always have fixed slots so can end up missing weeks because of holidays, too much work etc. I love teaching adults, but they’re not necessarily, in that respect, a good business proposition! I wish I could find a way to balance both income and flexibility.

    • Posted 12 March 2014 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      I have heard of teachers who sell 6-lesson packages for adult students who can’t commit to weekly lessons. The “a la carte” lessons are sold at a slightly higher rate than the weekly commitment lessons and must be used within a certain amount of time (for example, within three months). I haven’t tried doing this, but just thought I’d pass on the idea.

  9. Terence
    Posted 10 June 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Hi from Richards Bay – South Africa.
    As a breadwinner in the family, I needed a fixed income. I have also been burnt with people not paying so I had to decide what suited me and the prospective students.
    I chose to set a fixed monthly/quarterly fee at the beginning of the year.
    I also work on a fixed timetable as I teach 35 plus students a week.
    Thus all prospective students get no financial surprises.
    Because of a fixed timetable, adults juggle their lunch breaks to accomodate the lesson as opposed to me being at the beck and call of every student.
    I also did not lower my fees when I moved into the area – I’m actually the most expensive. I am also highly trained and skilled. This being said, my students show progress and enthusiasm and parents are happy to make the financial sacrifice.
    I also recommend other (renown) teachers in the area if people cannot afford my fees or cannot slot into my timetable (shift workers etc).
    I increase my fees yearly by 10 in July. This too is clearly marked in my studio policy and have not yet had a parent question it.
    I have had a situation where people could not afford (they had been with me for three years) and I chose to reduce their rate as a thank you to them. I would rather lower my rate slightly than lose a (good) student.
    My yearly financial loss has been less than 1% since I put all details in a studio policy with my expectations.

    My perspective and experience.

    Great site and blogs. Greetings

  10. caryn
    Posted 5 January 2015 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    that is really very helpful. I’m still figuring out my current rate for my piano lesson as i just started taking up a few students for piano lesson.

  11. Lyndsey
    Posted 14 January 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Hi Joy. Could you please send me some more info on flat rate tuition? Wondering how it works for students who have lessons on Mondays and hit holiday Monday’s? Thanks

    • Posted 21 January 2015 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Hi Lyndsey,

      You just need to create a teaching calendar for yourself at the beginning of each year. If you would like to take Monday holidays off, then I would suggest you be sure to teach on the Monday before Thanksgiving, a Monday during the week of Christmas, etc. Personally, I like to teach on the Monday holidays. I don’t mind rescheduling students if it works out, but most of my students don’t mind having a lesson on those holidays.

      Decide what your ideal teaching schedule is, and then create a calendar and system that will work for you and your studio!

  12. Lorice
    Posted 14 January 2015 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi,
    I am a piano teacher with over forty years teaching experience. I live in a small country town in Australia (approx 2000 people) I charge by the school term of which there are four, so that is approximately 40 weeks a year. I don’t have lessons in the last week of the year because of school activities. Sometimes I will have makeup lessons in that week. I don’t teach in the school holidays.
    I am putting my fees up for 2015 and notified them when I sent the fourth term accounts out. Obviously, I am not teaching as a way of earning a full time living.
    I find that parents have different expectations of public holidays. Some accept that it is a public holiday, others expect it to be made up. There are three, sometimes four Mondays in the year that are public holidays. Mostly they accept that it is a public holiday.
    When pupils are being prepared for practical exams I will put in a couple of extra lessons at no extra charge if I feel they need them. For theoretical exams they will be at my place just before the exam and work an exam paper from an earlier year under exam conditions. I find this works really well and the exam results are all scored in the nineties with sometimes a 100% score. For them to sit for a music exam involves a 160 km round trip to a bigger centre.
    I expect the fees to be paid by the end of the term and mostly they are. Usually the parent will mention to me that they will be a little late paying. I have only had two non payers in the time of teaching.
    I have 15 students a week but it has been a many as 30 for many years. There is not quite the same level of interest as in the past. I am the only piano teacher in the area.
    All the above is for students who are still at school. Usually when they have finished their schooling and are about 18 years they leave and go to University in a bigger centre. I have had several pupils that have been with me for eleven years (their whole school life) They usually start learning at 6 or 7 years of age.
    Adults are a different matter. They pay as they come to lessons. This suits both of us.
    I have an annual concert in a hall in town and I cover all the cost of that. The concert is only for parents and relatives and some friends. There is no charge for this concert. I have been doing this for many years and it is keenly looked forward to. It is also a big incentive to practise as they don’t want to be on stage and not know their pieces.
    I try and keep every thing enjoyable and a pleasant experience, however I do expect a level of commitment from the pupil and the parents. I really enjoy piano teaching and seeing the children develop and sometimes going further.
    I have always been reliable and a good communicator.

  13. Bridget
    Posted 21 January 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    How would you suggest moving from a per-lesson-monthly rate (where I have a “per lesson charge” but tuition for the month is due at the first lesson of the month) to the flat monthly rate? So far I have not had any trouble bookkeeping on the various 4 or 5 weeks months, and it works well when we take certain weeks off, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. It sounds like a great concept, but I’d be worried when a parent begins to think they are being “gipped” during a 4 or 3 week month by paying the same rate as a 5 week month.

    • Posted 21 January 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Hi Bridget! It’s all about communication. The system is quite simple. You need to be confident that parents will readily understand the system assuming you explain it in simple terms!

      If I ever have a parent verbally question me about paying the full rate for December when they only receive 3 lessons that month, I remind them that there have been previous months where they received 5 lessons. So, it all averages out. I also encourage them to read that section again in the Studio Policies and contact me by email if they still have questions. And I assure them that I would never require them to pay for a lesson I don’t intend to give!

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