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.
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.
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.
- 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:
- Here’s a link to a great Nolo.com article about determining what to charge for your services. It’s a great read because it looks at pricing from a very business oriented perspective.
- Here’s a link to a must-read article called “The Courage to Charge What You’re Worth” from the Studio Helper Blog. Thanks to Laura for finding this!
- Another excellent article: “How To Tell When Your Rates Are Too Low.”