The Possibility of Making a Healthy Income Doing What You Love as a Piano Teacher

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“I don’t do this for the money. I just love teaching kids/music.”

How often have you said or thought this? And how often have you heard this sentiment from fellow teachers?

Problem: There is a huge, rather unhealthy assumption implied in this narrative. The false assumption is that teaching kids/music is at odds with the desire or need to generate income.

Is doing what we love as a teacher actually at odds with making a good living? Let’s explore this further.

Is there something wrong or unethical about earning money doing something that you are passionate about? Is there something wrong with earning money being a teacher, arguably one of the most important professions in the world as it so directly impacts the next generation? Especially as piano teachers, artists, seeking the particularly challenging aim of nurturing the minds and spirits of learners? Is there something wrong with earning money from our art, our musical ability? Is there something about generating an income that nullifies, dilutes, or contaminates our art or our dedication to teaching?

While it may be true that our passion for teaching impels us more than does our practical need to make a living, it does not diminish – nor is it necessarily at odds with – the legitimate priority of generating an income. It is a prevalent but mistaken notion that we must choose one or the other, or prioritize one over the other: making a living versus doing what we love.

Not only artists tend to fall into this trap. Most people view their career goals through a false dichotomy consisting of two general categories: Job A, which pays well but isn’t a job I would much enjoy – or Job B, which doesn’t pay well but would allow me to do what I love.

When I was growing up, my pastor used to say: “If you ask the wrong question, you are sure to get the wrong answer.”

Because here’s the thing: Why should we necessarily have to settle between either doing what we love or making a healthy income? Those aren’t the only two options. Why can’t we aim for a third option – Job C, having both?

This false narrative is prevalent in society. Despite the importance of teachers, society tends to believe teachers deserve a low income (at least, here in America it is often the case). And every artist must come to terms with generating an income with his/her art. Including us piano teachers.

We need to recognize and address the false narrative and replace it with a better one. We must advocate for the possibility of both; we must argue for the rationale of and embrace the propriety of doing what we love while making a good income.

Making a living and doing what we love isn’t an “either or”. Let’s stop believing that, and know that we can have both.

Let’s move forward together with a shared commitment to the pursuit of generating a healthy income doing what we love.

Call To Action

Have you found yourself assuming that doing what you love and making a regular and reliable income seem at odds? Please post in the comments below.


If you liked this article, check out my online course offered through Piano Teacher Institute with Joy Morin. My course teaches you how to make a regular and reliable income doing what you love: teaching piano. The next 6-week session is starting up soon. Join the email list at this link to receive the details.


[As a brief, somewhat related aside: Many in society tend towards an unexamined, counter-productive notion that non-profits are inherently unethical if/when they are successful, and strategic; that is, for example, compensating their employees sufficiently to attract competent executives, etc. Watch this eye-opening TED talk for more on how we tend to punish and handicap charities.]

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 1119 posts here.

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15 Comments

  1. Soni Conville
    Posted 24 November 2016 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    My 17-year-old daughter, now applying for college, is facing the same dilemma. A passionate independent film maker, she wants to major in film and have a career in film editing. My husband and I both fully support her goals but other family members are skeptical. They’ll likely spend Thanksgiving dinner trying to talk her out of a career in film and into what they consider the lucrative STEM field. As it is, they view my teaching piano as a cute little side job that supplements my husband’s income but isn’t a “real” job. If they only knew how much goes into teaching.

    That said, there’s no reason you can’t generate a living income pursuing your passion as long as you understand that earning a living in the arts isn’t the same as earning one in corporate or academia. There are few steady jobs with a steady income and benefits in the arts. A career in the arts generally consists of cobbling together a living from several sources such as teaching and performing. It’s hard work with nontraditional hours but if it’s something you love it’s also spiritually rewarding. The hand-made birthday card from a 7-year-old student declaring “I luv u, Miss Soni. U are the best teacher in the wurld” is far more satisfying than any performance review I ever received in the eighteen years I spent in corporate HR.

    Follow your bliss and believe that it’s entirely possible to make money doing what you love.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Posted 29 November 2016 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s discouraging to encounter skeptics, isn’t it, Soni! It’s true that it’s not necessarily easy to make a living income in the arts, but with some savvy and hard work it’s very possible. And as you said, teaching in the arts is so incredibly rewarding. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Jill
    Posted 26 November 2016 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Completely agree. Well written. In fact I would go so far as to say if you really love teaching and you build up your studio so you are generating a decent income you are likely to teach better. There is nothing so frightening as living in a garret and trying to put on a brave face when teaching and wondering how to pay the bills. Having now successfully grown my studio, I can say that I am more relaxed, think up way more exciting ways to teach, always teach with a smile and don’t lose quite so much sleep when I do inevitably lose the odd pupil.

    • Posted 29 November 2016 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      Great point, Jill – there is definitely a correlation there. When we feel well-paid, it feels easier to teach towards our fullest potential.

  3. Posted 28 November 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I have never thought of having to choose between art and income, because I have never had the luxury of thinking that way. I am not married and have to support myself teaching piano. It is difficult. I really liked your post! And the TED Talk.
    :)

    • Posted 29 November 2016 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for commenting, Julie. Yes, it is certainly challenging, I think especially for those who are single. I’m glad you liked the spirit of my post and enjoyed the TED talk!

  4. Posted 1 December 2016 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    I was laid off two years ago from a management job in healthcare and decided to take my chances starting a music business. I love teaching piano but you better believe I am also dead serious about running my business and generating income. I
    also believe that as a musician it’s good to diversify your sources of income which is why I also work as an accompanist for dance classes at a local university nod also work as a church musician. I love my students, my flexible hours and all that I am able to do. I love your article and I believe that we have to take our businesses seriously.

    • Posted 2 December 2016 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing your story, Sharon. I love your outlook!

  5. Nicole
    Posted 2 December 2016 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Anyone have tips on how to gain more students? Needing to get more, just not sure best way to advertise, etc.

    • Posted 2 December 2016 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      The thing that has always worked the best for me is having a studio website. I use Weebly.com. I also recommend having a studio facebook page and also adding your business to Google Places. If you type in “Studio Marketing” into the search bar on my blog, you’ll find some other articles that ideas might help you out! Good luck, Nicole.

  6. Joetta Carles
    Posted 2 December 2016 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    What a great article! I’ve often felt “guilty” when I’ve increased my teaching fee. I now keep the fee the same for long term students and add the increase to new students, . I now feel deserving and don’t dread telling established students of an increase. By the way I live in Findlay, Oh, not too far from Perrysburg.

    • Posted 6 December 2016 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Joetta, you’ve raised a good point. It’s not uncommon for teachers to encounter a feeling of guilt when raising rates, even though it is more often than not the case that we are more than deserving of the increase. It’s definitely something we need to work through and overcome, as you described.

      As an aside, I’ll just say that I personally prefer to keep all students paying the same tuition rate, to keep things simple. But I know that you aren’t alone in opting to increase only the newer students.

      Thanks for your comment. And I’m sending you a wave from Perrysburg down to Findlay! :)

  7. Posted 2 December 2016 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Fabulous article, Joy! I struggle with this concept for years — the “You’re (I’m) just a piano teacher” narrative is so difficult to overcome, especially when you first get started.

    Sometimes we just get too bogged down by trying to change people’s perception of our jobs. Fighting battles about makeup lessons and due dates can be truly exhausting, even for the seasoned teacher.

    My best word of advice for teachers struggling with this issue is to practice your own narrative. Treat yourself and your business professionally, and your clients will learn to do the same.

    It’s a lesson that we must constantly reinforce for ourselves. That’s why I’m so thankful to have blogs like yours! <3

    • Posted 6 December 2016 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

      Sara — thanks for your comment. I agree, this narrative is one we must correct and practice in ourselves first, and then we can present this narrative properly and comfortably to those we encounter in our business and beyond. Thanks for sharing your experience and advice!

  8. Posted 23 December 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I have not finish reading all of your site, but it is simply not so that saying you do something for the love of it, and not the money is at odds with the idea of an income. It is sad that such a statement causes you to believe such. We have a website we do for free simply because it a very needed resource, we could not find one so we are creating one. We hope to have an income from it one day, but we do it for the love of it now, not because we are opposed to money, but because we know too many people who need the resource and there is none available to them. Income is not always measured by money, but by the satisfaction of a job well done, by seeing the faces that accomplish a task, the joy of sharing a talent or gift with others who are not so fortunate. Hope this can be understood in terms of value to others that money cannot buy.

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