Studio Business

Q: Who buys the music books — teacher or student?

Today’s blog post topic comes to you as a result of a question submitted by a reader. The question I received was essentially: How do you go about acquiring music books for piano students and managing the reimbursement/expense?

While there is no single “best” way to do business, there are certainly a number of good options to consider in order to find a procedure that works best for you and your clients. In this blog post, we’ll explore a handful of possible procedures and discuss their potential downsides and upsides.

4 Main Options for Acquiring Music Books and Managing the Expense

As I see it, here are the main options for self-employed music teachers:

  1. You can ask students/parents to purchase their own sheet music.
  2. You can purchase sheet music on behalf of your students and then collect reimbursement afterwards.
  3. You can purchase sheet music on behalf of your students and cover the expense yourself via a special books/material/registration fee.
  4. You can purchase sheet music on behalf of your students and cover the expense as part of the tuition fee charged for piano lessons.

Let’s discuss each option in more depth.

Option #1: Asking students/parents to purchase their own sheet music.

Asking students to purchase their own sheet music is a fairly straightforward method. You simply provide students with the title — or even a direct link — for the item that should be purchased, and then let them take responsibility from there. This means that you don’t have to worry about requesting or keeping track of reimbursements.

A possible advantage to this approach is the fact that you are giving students a reason to step foot in your local music store (if you have one near you). It’s great for students to visit the store to browse and see what’s available!

A possible downside lies in the fact that you are dependent on the parent being prompt about making the purchase and purchasing the correct item. If a parent doesn’t order a book in time, you and the student may have to wait a week or two until the copy arrives. To help prevent unwanted delays in student progress, it may be important to give the parent a few weeks notice ahead of time.

Option #2: Purchasing sheet music on behalf of your students and collecting reimbursement afterwards.

For some teachers, it may feel easier to acquire the music books and then collect reimbursement afterwards. Perhaps you might prefer being able to handle book orders yourself and take advantage of teacher discounts (for example, from PrimaMusic.com, SheetMusicPlus.com, or your local music store). Parents might appreciate the convenience factor of this approach.

With this option, it’s important to have a system in place to ensure you receive reimbursements for the book purchases you make on behalf of students. You’ll need some kind of record keeping method to track how much students owe and when the balance has been paid. Students/parents should be provided with an invoice noting the amount due to cover the cost of new books.

In case payment is not received in a timely fashion, I recommend having a plan in place to send additional invoices and charge a late fee after a certain period of tardiness. Hopefully, you won’t often need to resort to these measures, but it’s wise to have a procedure already in place so that you don’t have to make these decisions while in the midst of a problem situation.

Option #3: Purchasing sheet music on behalf of your students and covering the expense yourself via a books/material/registration fee.

Another option worth considering is covering the cost of books via a special fee (separate from piano lesson tuition payments). Call it what you like — for example, a books/materials fee or a registration fee — regardless, this method may make life easier in certain regards. For one, it eliminates the need to communicate with parents regarding balances due (yay!). However, recordkeeping is still necessary to track how much you tend to spend per student; after all, you’ll want to know if your fee is enough to cover the average cost of books.

With this method, it’s also important to track your book purchases as you would with any business expense. If you are providing music books to your students as part of your services offered, they are most likely considered to be a business expense that can be written off on your tax return. (Be sure to check with your tax professional on this.)

Some teachers consider the materials fee a “deposit,” which parents may need to add to once the balance is depleted. Others simply charge the fee once per year (with no refunds) to cover whatever book expenses may arise.

I think this is a great approach to use if you like the idea of not having to bother parents/students about the cost of books. Just collect the fee at the beginning of each school year or semester, and then just make sure you’ve got your record keeping method in place!

Option #4: Purchasing sheet music on behalf of your students and covering the expense as part of the tuition fee charged for lessons.

A fourth option to consider — especially if you are a minimalist when it comes to this sort of thing — is to cover the cost of books as part of your usual tuition charges for lessons. This means setting a slightly higher rate than you would otherwise and being sure to communicate this particular value of your services to students when they join your studio. Parents/students will quickly get used to the fact that it’s as easy as you handing them their new books. As a teacher, it’s nice not to have to collect a separate special fee from your students each year since it’s already factored in. Simple and convenient!

This option works particularly well if you charge a flat monthly tuition rate, which is what most music teachers should be doing, in my humble opinion. Charging the same amount every single month makes bookkeeping a dream and also simplifies budgeting for your students/parents. It naturally encourages consistence lesson attendance, too.

(Option #3 discussed above also works great with the flat monthly tuition, by the way — especially if you tend to take a month off during the summer. The book/materials/registration fee can be collected during your month off to help provide your business with consistent income year round!)

Option #4 is what I currently use with my students, and I have no intentions of going back to any other approach. I love keeping things simple for everyone. It’s easy to write off all sheet music purchases as a business expense. I used to sometimes feel bad when a student needed an expensive book. Now, I always feel free to choose whichever books I honestly feel are best for each student — no matter how expensive or inexpensive that book might happen to be. I keep oft-used books in stock on my shelves so they are easy to grab when needed. And I also I have quite a selection of sheet music I’ve received complimentary at conferences, been given from retiring teachers, or thrifted from local shops or garage sales (hooray for recycling!).

A potential downside to this option is that is means it requires raising your tuition rate, which could possibly have a couple of results. It might make you look more expensive, at first glance, in comparison to other lessons in your area. The other possible result is that it might cause you to shy away from raising rates even when it might be entirely appropriate and in fact wise to do so. As long as you can avoid falling into these psychological pitfalls, I think including the cost of books within your normal tuition rates is a great way to go for any music teacher.

Summary

There you have it: FOUR solid options for how to go about acquiring books for students and manage the expense. Although I’ve weighed in with my personal opinion regarding which method I like best (#4), there is no one-size-fits-all solution for all piano teachers. It’s truly a matter of what works best for you and your students. All four options are valid, and it’s great to be able to consider multiple ways of doing things — especially if you are looking for a way to solve a problem or streamline things in your particular music studio.

Your turn: Let’s discuss! What is your current procedure for acquiring books for students, and why? What other methods have you tried in the past? I’d love to hear from you! Leave your response in the comments below.


PS: Would you like to learn more about streamlining your business operations and running a profitable business? Please consider checking out my online course, Excellence in Piano Teaching! We discuss business topics and much more. The next session begins in January. Learn more and join the email list HERE.

PSS: Would you like to submit your own reader question? I invite you to submit yours here!

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14 thoughts on “Q: Who buys the music books — teacher or student?”

  1. The law varies from state to state. In Arizona, if I want to purchase music for my students it is necessary to fill out a tax form for the government each month. I choose not to o so! Since moving here I have asked the students and their families to purchase the music. It is much less headache for the teacher.

    1. Yes, very good point, Marlene. It’s important to be aware of the laws and tax requirements specific to one’s own country/state. It might be necessary to collect and report sales tax, which certainly does factor into one’s decision making when it comes to how students should acquire music.

  2. My students pay a flat bimonthly fee (every other month). Since I email statements, I just tack on the cost of music purchased in the Interval. Some years I have charged a materials/books fee in September and January. This seemed a bit more complicated so I chose the former method. All of the students’ materials are a business expense in my state.

  3. I’ve been using Method 4 for years and it works great for me! Got tired of asking the parents to buy the book and then they get the wrong book, get it weeks later than I wanted, etc. I just buy the necessary books/sheet music and add the amount to their monthly tuition, and done 🙂

  4. I’ve used Option 1 very successfully for years. If the book is in stock at the online or local vendor, it’s rare that a student doesn’t have the book by the next lesson. It’s my understanding that Option 2 would require me to collect and report sales tax. Please let me know if this isn’t true. I have extra copies that I’d happily sell to students!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Laura! I think with Option 2, it depends on which country/state you live in whether or not you might be required to collect and report sales tax. Definitely something important to check out!

  5. I have done #1, 2, & 3. Option #3 is my current situation (home studio) and I like it. Option #1 is my school situation and I not a big fan since you do have parents delay getting the books sometime up to a month and purchasing the wrong book….another delay! But I started sending an Amazon Prime link by email and (bam!) they immediately put into their cart and have it in a day or two. This has made this option much better. Note: did not add to their bill because the school takes 20% and did not allow for a book fee.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Donna! You’ve just about done it all! And yes, being able to send an Amazon link does help tremendously, assuming the needed book is available on Amazon!

  6. I have done option 2, downside was some new family left without paying the books. Currently doing option 1 for new family and 2 for old family. I have used option 4 for a brief period, the reason for quit it was had parents keep lost their books and require new one. How do you handle this situation? Also, if you only sign 1 piece from a book, like an advance student or Christmas music, are you going to give or lend the book to students?

    1. Yes, if I want to assign only one or two pieces from a book, often I will just lend the book to the student and ask them to return it when finished.

      And that’s a tricky problem — I have not yet had it happen that a student keeps losing their books and require new ones. I think in that case, I would possibly set a yearly limit on the book expense and require the parent to begin paying the cost of books after that point. That might help motivate the family to keep track of their books!

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