Monday Mailbag – Charging for Lessons

How do you charge for lessons? I have been charging new students by the month, old students pay when they have their lesson. I haven’t found a happy medium and can’t figure out a good way to go about doing semesters (with make up days) which would really help my business. The way the economy is I am afraid of losing the students I have and should I just start doing semesters with new students?

This is a great question! When I first started teaching (and didn’t have a clue what I was doing!) I charged per lesson and the families paid at the beginning of the month for the lessons they planned to attend that month. What a disaster! Lesson commitment was a huge problem, and bookkeeping was a headache. Eventually I switched to a flat monthly rate. The lesson fee is $xx/month per student which includes weekly private lessons and participation in all studio activities. The monthly fee is the same regardless of how many lessons are in the month or how many lessons the student attends. Even if a family is going to be gone for an entire month, they pay the same fee because that time in my schedule has been reserved especially for them.

I know there are teachers who charge by the year or by the semester and that works great for them, but I prefer the monthly approach. It’s easy and manageable for both my studio families and me. Basically, I would think through what will work the best for you and your studio families and then base your payment structure on that. Always emphasize as you make changes that you are looking for ways to run your business more efficiently so that you can focus the majority of your time and energy on teaching rather than on bookkeeping related issues. (And if you haven’t tried using Music Teacher’s Helper yet, I highly recommend it. This has streamlined my bookkeeping so that I hardly have to do anything anymore!)

As an aside, one of the things that I am always looking to do is increase the value of what I am offering my students. I always want families to feel like they are getting a great deal for their money, just like I want to feel when I pay for a service. That’s why I put so much effort into planning yearly practice incentives, holding fun studio events, and providing a well-rounded music education with lots of additional opportunities offered throughout the year. The basic premise of a good market exchange is that both the buyer and seller are exchanging something of value for something else which they perceives to be of greater value. I try to keep this at the forefront of my mind and look for ways to ensure that my families receive a great value for their money.

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

I’m Dreaming…Of Becoming a Great Musician

Some of the wonderful folks over at Jemsite.com asked me to write a guest post for their blog. Although the site is primarily geared toward guitar enthusiasts, they wanted something that would be applicable to all musicians. Thus was composed, I’m Dreaming…Of Becoming a Great Musician:

Some things in life occur instantaneously. Learning to play a musical instrument is not one of them.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t prevent many an aspiring musician from entertaining grand visions of becoming an overnight virtuoso. Here’s how it usually works: You hear someone perform a musical selection that sends shivers up your spine. Inspiration strikes and you determine that you, too, can learn to play that piece. So you set out to acquire the necessary equipment, music, and instruction to make your dream a reality. This is the oft-traveled path of an eager teenage student to the door of my piano studio. And so begins my role as teacher-turned-cheerleader-turned-counselor as I try to keep the dream alive amidst the rigors and realities of the daily discipline of learning a musical instrument.

>>read the rest of the article>>

Intervals by Ear

One of the hardest skills for my students to master is identifying intervals by ear. In fact, most of my students door quite poorly with our annual ear-training tests. I always think that I need to do something to help them improve, but usually that’s about as far as my good intentions get. Well, no more. Now I’m determined to help them make some progress in this area. That’s why I’m sending them the link to this post of 7 Useful Resources for Identifying Intervals By Ear compiled by Chris Foley of The Collaborative Piano Blog. Isn’t that helpful of me? 🙂

Monday Mailbag – Makeup Lessons

Do you have a contract that the parents must sign about piano lessons, etc.? I have tried doing a contract and it falls through every year. I now have a 24-hour policy, but it is so hard to keep that policy with certain parents (those being the parents who give me the most business and usually have a good excuse). I feel like I am in a rock and a hard place with contacts and policies. I haven’t found anything that sticks and sometimes feel like a pushover and am scared of losing students.

This is hard – I’ve been in this same spot before! First off, if you are interested, you can look at the wording of my studio policies on my studio website. I don’t have a contract, per se, but when I conduct my initial parent and student interview, I do require the parent to sign their interview form indicating that they have read and agree to abide by the studio policy.

Here’s what I would recommend: you have set aside certain hours each week for teaching. When you look at your calendar, you have to start to see only these set aside hours as available teaching hours. If a student cancels and wants to know if they can have a makeup lesson, you can look at your calendar to see if you have any other times available. If any other students have canceled for that week, or perhaps the next, you could offer that time. Otherwise, say something to the effect of, “Thanks so much for letting me know that you won’t be able to make your lesson this week. I’m looking at my calendar, but unfortunately I don’t have any other times available this week. If I have another student cancel, or something opens up, I will let you know.”

You have to be kind, but firm, and stick to this – at least until your families learn the principle that their lesson time is their lesson time. That time is reserved specifically for them, and does not guarantee the availability of another time if something prevents them from being present at their lesson. Once you have firmly established this and your families don’t automatically expect to be able to makeup missed lessons, you have some freedom again to make exceptions to this policy if you are so inclined. Part of the hurdle you have to overcome is feeling pressured or obligated to give a makeup lesson just because you technically have some “free” time.

I wouldn’t worry too much about losing students over this. If you are a good teacher, parents should value you and your time. They don’t want to take advantage of you; you just have to put in some effort to help them understand your policies and why they are important. The purpose of such policies is to help guarantee your ability to continue providing excellent instruction without getting burned out because of the business side of running a studio.

Hopefully this provides some helpful thoughts for consideration. Does anyone else have some input on this issue? What type of makeup lesson policies have you found to be effective?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

I’m Back…Sorta

Thanks so much for your kind words and prayers last week – I really appreciate it. It was a rough week, but God faithfully supplied my family with the strength we needed to get through it and I trust will continue to do so in the days ahead.

Postings may be a little sporadic around here for the next several weeks. This week, I’m heading out to Colorado with my new book: Pajama School – stories from the life of a homeschool graduate. I’ll be exhibiting at the CHEC State Conference. This will be my first non-local event, so I’m looking forward to the experience!

Hope you all are enjoying your summer so far!

Taking the Week Off

Dear Readers~

My Grandma unexpectedly passed away yesterday, so I will be taking the week off of blogging here in order to spend time with my family and help make arrangements. Thanks for your understanding and prayers.

~Natalie

Kansas Music Teachers State Conference

This weekend, I’ve been attending our annual state music teachers conference. We’ve had a slate of wonderful musicians and presenters. Here are some pictures with a few notes:

The conference began with Brenda Dillon sharing about the Recreational Music Making program that has been developed in the last several years.

Dr. Robert Weirich gave a masterclass yesterday. My student, Luke, was one of four that played for Dr. Weirich. It was a wonderful experience! I always love attending masterclasses and learning from other teachers – watching their interaction with the students, and their approach for dealing with the problems that they observe.

In the evening, Dr. Weirich gave a lecture recital called “Aaron Copland’s America: Cultural Identity Explored through his Piano Music.”

I’m more familiar with Copland’s orchestral music than his piano music. And for the most part, I prefer his orchestral music, although Dr. Weirich introduced me to some nice piano selections as well.

This morning, Wendy Stevens gave a session on teaching composition to our students. You can find a lot of great material and tips on her new website.

Tony Caramia spent the day with us yesterday and then presented two workshops today. It was fun to meet him in person and find out that he is a Music Matters Blog fan! 🙂 He’s got a great sense of humor, and of course is a wonderful Jazz musician.

There were numerous other aspects of the weekend, but these are some of the highlights. I love attending our state conference each year! It’s been a great way to connect with teachers from across the state, meet and learn from wonderful presenters, and pick up lots of great teaching ideas! Do any of you attend your state conference? Have you been to any particularly interesting sessions? Or heard any particularly great presenters?

June Music Education Blog Carnival

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who forgot to submit something for the carnival this month…oops! The BNC Education blog, however, has done a fabulous job compiling posts from the 100 ME Bloggers to create a carnival anyway. They’ve separated the posts into four categories: Your Students, Your Program, Your Place, and Your Life. Lots of great reading for this month!