What about cost of living?

The other day a friend of mine had asked on Facebook if anyone knew of a piano teacher that was not super expensive. She had messaged me for my rates as well, which I shared and also mentioned that I did not have any openings at this time. After I saw her question on Facebook there were a couple replies. I thought they were, well… interesting.

The first reply was from someone who had a son taking lessons. She shared that she thinks the going rate is $50.00 a month in our area. Yikes! If that’s the case (more on that later), then I’m almost triple the going rate!

The second reply was from someone who offered to teach her kids for only $10.00 a lesson and $8.00 for siblings.

In the early 1980’s my Mom was paying $40.00 a month for lessons. I was curious what the cost of living increase for 2012 would be so I checked using a cost of living calculator online and it came to $110.03.

So… there are teachers in my area charging 1980 rates. Am I surprised? Sadly no, I hear of this often and it makes me sad that there are teachers that still don’t treat piano lessons seriously.

Now I do have to say these teachers are not my competition. Matter of fact, I have a very long waiting list and even charge almost triple what they do. They don’t have a waiting list but also don’t typically treat their “business” as seriously as I do. They are what I call “hobby” teachers. They are doing it for a little extra income but they aren’t serious or even interested in making it a business (even though it really is because they are being paid for a weekly service) and they aren’t interested in bettering themselves or getting involved in any professional organizations. They use the excuse that they are just doing it for “fun”. Honestly they make it harder for the professional piano teachers out there that are trying to make a living and many times doing it on their own as sole income. They are teaching the community that piano teachers aren’t worth paying what they are worth. They make it very confusing to the community.

I had a phone inquiry the other day asking for my rates. I gave it to him and he was a little surprised. I told him that I had a waiting list so I would be happy to refer him to other teachers and he asked if my rates were what he should expect from other teachers. I told him that it will vary but it is average among professional piano teachers. I also explained that I do include music in my tuition so that accounts for a little higher rate in addition I offer many many opportunities and if he looks at other teachers he will see the difference. I encouraged him to look and meet with several teachers to see what is out there and figure out what will fit his wants/needs the most.

A little over six years ago I lived in Utah for 9 years. If you ever lived in Utah, then you know Utah people in general are notorious for being cheap. Finding students is typically not a problem because families want their children to learn but they don’t want to pay a lot of money. They see the value in lessons, but aren’t always willing to pay for it. I was one of the highest paid teachers in my small community and always had a full teaching schedule, but I always felt that I wasn’t being paid what I was worth. When I moved back to Arizona, I decided that I had the opportunity to change that and after a little research I decided I was going to charge what I was worth and immediately more then doubled my rates. My husband was very nervous about me doing this, because we needed the income badly. Within a month of advertising I was full and have been since. I can’t tell you how much more satisfying it is to know that I am being paid what I think I am worth. It is truly a good feeling.

So when I hear of the “hobby” teachers charging $10 a lesson, I feel sad for them, for the community, but not for me. I am glad I am not one of them. I work hard for my students, I put in a lot of hours for them and in my studio and I earn every penny that I make.

33 thoughts on “What about cost of living?

  1. Well said. If you’re turning away students, you’re clearly not overcharging. People do respect that – unfortunately, some are just willing to “settle.”
    Another pet peeve is teachers who try to justify their low rates by saying they don’t want to gouge their students. Get real! 🙂

  2. Excellent thoughts, Jennifer! I feel the same way and find that my studio has a solid reputation of offering so much more and worth the extra price! We just need to set the example and lead the way!

  3. When faced with the comment from prospective students, “Oh, Mrs. So and So only charges $xxxxx per lesson” I am always tempted to reply ‘Well, I’m sure she knows what her teaching is worth”……. but I’ve never been quite brave enough to be that nasty. Even if it is TRUE!!!!!! 🙂

  4. I am struggling with this. The going rate for voice lessons in my area is between $30-60 per hour. I am new. I am qualified, but don’t have a client base yet and I know the economy is difficult for a lot of people right now. I don’t want to devalue my program, but at the same time I need clients and to get them, they need to be able to afford it. I also include music with my lessons (printed and recorded accompaniment as well). I feel I need to charge at least the minimum that others charge, but I worry I won’t get clients if I don’t keep my prices low, especially since I’m new and my name isn’t out there yet.

    • Hi Erica, I totally understand your dilemma! When I moved here 6 years ago the housing market was at it’s peak so we paid double what it is worth now. Our mortgage was going to be more and we totally relied on my income in order for it to work. Nobody knew who I was here so I was literally starting from scratch. It was really scary and it was a gamble to go ahead and charge what I decided to charge. But before I decided the amount, I did a lot of research. I looked at rates online, I talked to teachers in not only my area but other area’s as well, and I considered what they offered versus what I offered and came up with what I felt was a fair rate for not only myself but for my students.

      I think determining your rate is one of the hardest things to do. But whatever you do, do it without regrets! And be confidant in your decision. It’s hard to start too low and work your way up to where you think you should be. The other tip is be sure to find your niche, make sure that you stand out in some way that clients will say to themselves I want her as a teacher. If you don’t have a website, be sure to get one.

      Good luck!

  5. I am a “hobby” piano/flute teacher, however, I am very qualified and charge similar rates to other full-time teachers in my area. And I am also very active in my local music teacher’s association and my students participate in virtually all of the local competitions and other events… I think the difference is not whether the instructor teaches as a hobby or full-time gig, but whether the teacher has a love and respect for music education. And unfortuantely, with music lessons, much like anything else, what you get is what you pay for.

    • Hi Elizabeth, I wouldn’t put you in the category of a “hobby” piano teacher. You are qualified, charge similar rates to other full-time teachers in your area AND active in your MTA. All things that would make you a professional piano teacher. 😉

      • Thank you, but I do have a full-time job as a paralegal, in addition to my studio… So, I suppose I could qualify as either an over-achiever hobbiest or part-time professional teacher. 😉

  6. Thanks so much for this post! I am in a small community, where there is myself and one other music teacher and she is very much charging 1980’s prices. I was upset when I first heard this as she is a well respected and professional teacher but have realized that is her choice, not mine. I just wish we could standardize rates so undercutting would be less. I value my time and put in many extra hours for my students, which I can see the benefits of after lessons,I know what my time is worth. Students have come to me from her and never once have I heard anyone state that I am too expensive. Glad to know I’m not the only one out there with this situation!
    Doreen

    • Standardizing our rates would sure help, wouldn’t it? Even plumbers have a fairly standard rate. Sure they might vary but you aren’t typically going to find one with 1980 rates. Or if you do, I’m sure nobody would hire them! Which brings me to a good point, I know if I was a parent looking for lessons and I’m calling around for rates and I come across a teacher charging $10 a lesson, I’m going to wonder why she is so cheap, surely she couldn’t be very good? (Which isn’t necessarily so, but that’s how it comes across). In the end they are hurting themselves.

  7. Dear Expensive Piano Teacher,
    I will be honest, several of your comments about piano teaching bothered me:
    • early 1980′s my Mom was paying $40.00 a month for lessons (P.S., In the 1960s, I think my Mom paid my awesome teacher $1.50/lesson; put THAT in your income calculator, or better yet, try http://www.salary.com!)
    • “teachers that still don’t treat piano lessons seriously” (P.S., It should be teachers ‘who’ not teachers ‘that’; we are not inanimate objects)
    • don’t typically treat their “business” as seriously as I do
    • “hobby” teachers
    • they aren’t interested in bettering themselves or getting involved in any professional organizations
    • make it harder for the professional piano teachers (oh, ooo-la-la!)
    • piano teachers aren’t worth paying what they are worth
    • in addition I offer many many opportunities (many many? Really?)
    • I am being paid what I think I am worth (I’m glad you’re not teaching either of my kids with that attitude!)

    I am so glad you’re teaching piano and not English! You are a disgrace to the teaching community. Why is it so hard for you to understand that some people simply want to learn how to play the piano? As a lifelong piano player, music lover, piano student, pianist, organist and piano teacher, I am one of those “hobby” teachers to whom you are referring. To me, there is nothing as sad as to hear parents say they “can’t afford piano lessons” for their child or worse yet, children. But that’s just me. And it’s because of arrogant jerks like you, acting as though you’re teaching rocket science! It’s not! It is piano, ABCs, 123s! Stop making it something it’s not!
    You think I don’t “take my piano lessons seriously”? Really? Then why am I getting rave reviews and awesome results. I love what I do, I love my students, my students and their parents love me, and together we make beautiful music! What’s wrong with that? Just because I’m not raping their parents all the way to the bank doesn’t make me a bad teacher. AND you say “hobby” teachers “aren’t interested in bettering themselves or getting involved in any professional organizations”? Just because you write a check (with funds from your overpriced lessons) once a year to some piano teachers’ guild, or better yet, *Like* them on Facebook, you think that justifies tripling your rates? You remind me of the union workers who have catapulted their own salaries into the stratosphere and subsequently think they are ‘worth’ it. You’re not, get over yourself. Or if you’re out to make a ton of money, maybe you shouldn’t have majored in music!
    Best of luck to you.
    Signed,
    An Economical “Hobby” Teacher

    • Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for your comment and English lessons. 😉 I confess I did not have a chance to edit or even review this post (which is the case of many of my posts), so yes- I do have a lot of grammar mistakes. Yes, it is a good thing that I am not an English teacher. Too bad that I didn’t send it to my husband who actually did major in English to review it. (He even reminds me of this fault of mine occasionally)

      I knew this would be a tough topic and make some teachers, like you a little hot (or in your case steaming), but it doesn’t change how I feel.

      When it comes down to it, the teachers that charge 30 year old rates do NOT put VALUE on what they offer in their studio. This doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good teachers, they just don’t see the value in themselves or what they offer. Which makes it harder for those who do and need to make a reasonable living.

      I am not as what you call me an “expensive” teacher. And am in no way “raping” my clients to the bank. My rates reflect what I offer in value and in time. My rates are also in line with other professional piano teachers in my area. I simply get paid what I think I am worth. Those who might think I am too expensive go elsewhere. Those who see the value of what I offer take lessons with me.

      Good luck to you as well.

      • Dear Rachel,

        I don’t normally reply to posts like this, but I’m quite appalled at the way you have lashed out at this blogger like you have. I’m sorry you feel this way, but wow, your attitude is beyond nasty. I for one, certainly hope that your students have never had to experience the demeaning and vicious attitude that you have displayed here.

        Secondly, would you hire a mechanic or plummer to work on your car or plumbing issues if he were charging $15, even $20 an hour? Everyone deserves to make a decent living, and there’s no reason why music teachers should have to be martyrs and live like paupers in the name of music education. That’s ludicrous. When you have gone to school to earn a degree in music from a university or other institution such as the Royal Conservatory, why would one go to all that trouble only to make the same money they could be in a retail store, with no education. And before you question my love for music and my love for teaching, let me tell you, there’s no question there. I decided when I was 17 that that was what I wanted to do for a living and it took me 10 long years to finally get there! I worked my butt off to get where I am today and love that I was able to pursue my dream and make it happen. Wholeheartedly, my passion is sharing my love for music with my students. And their parents know and appreciate my enthusiasm, my relationship with each one of my students, and my qualifications. I have never had anyone balk at the fact that my rates are $38 per hour and have never had a hard time finding students, the majority of which come to me via word of mouth. And yes, I am a professional. Just like like your mechanic, your plumber, your children’s school teacher, your financial planner, your lawyer, etc. If one goes to school, gets credentials, works in their field, I believe that qualifies as “professional”. If not to YOU, it does to the government when I have to file my teaching income as “professional self-employment income”.

        Finally, please refrain from editing my grammar. That’s not what this blog post was about.

  8. Jennifer, I think you are right on point with this. I am giving you a standing ovation from my living room.

    I have felt this way for many years. I have always thought that since I have put 20+ years of training, practice, preparation, and education into my career, I deserve to make what any other professional in their respective field would. When I started out, I was a teenager and, admittedly, a hobby teacher (by the way, this is what I call them too!). As I grew, earned my degree, and started out fresh from college, I decided my rates would reflect my training and the opportunities I offer my students. Interestingly enough, when I was a cheap teacher, my students were of lesser quality, their parents would often try and take advantage of me, attendance was spotty, etc. Now that I am charging an amount that reflects my training and qualifications, my students are more dedicated, parents are more supportive, and attendance has increased, among other things. it isn’t solely the rates that have caused these changes to take place, of course, but I believe they are a large part of it. People place more value on the things that they pay more for, it’s a simple fact of human nature.

    I would trust you teaching my own children, from one professional to another. In no way are you a disgrace. I can’t believe the comment above from Rachel. She is obviously the voice of a very, very small minority, and honestly, you probably hit a nerve and struck a little to close to home for her comfort. It would be very easy to make judgments about what kind of teacher she must be based on her comment, but this would not be fair to her as I have never personally observed her teaching, I’ve only seen her written word, which is not enough to base a judgment on. Sadly, Rachel did not extend this same courtesy to you and made judgments based on your written word that were both rude and grossly erroneous.

    I think she is also confused by what you refer to as a hobbyist. In my opinion, and I believe this is your view as well based on the reply you made to Elizabeth, once a teacher begins to look into the professional associations, enter their students in festivals, competitions, and community events, they evolve from a hobby teacher to a professional teacher and we welcome that and look forward to educating them about their true worth. I think your post is empowering! I hope other teachers out there who are afraid to charge more will see this post and realize they ARE worth it! Seriously, in what other profession do you begin your training as young as age 6 or 7? We should be making more than doctors, lawyers, and the like!

    Keep up the amazing work, Jennifer. Your blog is inspiring and I can tell you are an inspiring teacher as well!

  9. Thank you Genny. Yes, I think there was a little confusion to what I consider a hobbyist. A hobbyist isn’t necessarily a teacher that teaches part time. You can be a professional piano teacher and have only a handful of students. I also was a hobby teacher when I started out. We should all have the goal to evolve into a professional piano teacher.

    A hobby teacher is usually a teacher that simply has students come and go, the teacher typically doesn’t put any prep time into their lessons, they simply teach them the 1/2 hour of lessons and then they are done. They don’t usually hold recitals, etc… they don’t usually have a studio policy, and there is also a misunderstanding that they aren’t “good enough” to join professional organizations. (I know this because I have heard teachers say this to me) This in itself could be a whole other topic but one that I think is very misunderstood. Perhaps I’ll blog on it. LOL! 😉

  10. Just imagine, if you will, a “hobby” math teacher or a “hobby” English teacher …. ouch! Suddenly we all get up in arms because there is a standard in our local school. Why to teach in NY the public school teacher needs a Masters in Education. Hobby teacher? I really don’t like this term. In my area we call the hobby teacher the neighborhood teacher. My Grandmother supported her family through the depression as a neighborhood teacher (25 cents per lesson). Let’s re-think our categories of teachers of music and perhaps create categories of students as well. Instead of “hobby” teacher (which seems to imply no training or some lovely lady with a lap poodle saying, “That was lovely, play it again dear.”) how about recreational piano teachers, academic piano teachers, advanced training piano teachers, veteran piano teachers, beginner piano teachers, poor piano teachers, clueless piano teachers, humorous piano teachers, well- informed piano teachers, grumpy piano teachers, tight lipped piano teachers, small minded piano teachers and artist – piano teachers (I think I saw a book on this category at the Juilliard book store.) I bet you can created a bunch of other categories.

    Now my categories of piano students: recreational piano students, passionate piano students, dead beats, cute piano students, rude piano students, intelligent piano students, driven piano students (desire to aspire), awkward piano students, learning challenged piano students, blind piano students, deaf piano students (and I don’t mean physically deaf), pretty piano students with high heels, well behaved piano students, sleepy piano students and my favorite, bored piano students.

    OK you get the picture. As a teacher of piano I market for students that will mix with who I am, my training, my interests, my passions, my faults, and these students will stay for a lesson, or for a year or for 10 years. Some will call me and say I charge too much, some will never question my rates and some have actually tipped me and said I was charging too little.

    Ain’t it grand? What would happen to piano teaching if we actually had national Standards? Oh right, Carnegie Achievement is working on that.

    • To all the professional teachers and other people I offended, I apologize. I think Ellen is the only person who might semi-understand the thoughts I was trying to convey. I just really, really hate to see the high costs of music lessons prohibit an interested child from learning. That’s all.

  11. With you all the way!

    By the way, using “that” in reference to people is perfectly proper (trust me, I know these things–part of my living). According to Bryan Garner, one of the more conservative (and best) style authorities around, this usage “has always been good English” (on p. 808 in the 2009 edition of Garner’s American Usage–and if I could have figured out how to use italics in this comment, I would have!).

  12. I wanted to contribute a few thoughts to the conversation. First, I once heard Beth Klingenstein (author of the excellent “The Independent Piano Teacher’s Studio Handbook”) say that even the “hobby” piano teacher can and should be professional about their business. She compared it to having wine tasting as a hobby. A wine taster could join a wine tasting association, attend meetings, subscribe to professional magazines/journals, judge at events, attend the equivalent of conferences, etc. etc. etc. You could also compare it to having photography as a hobby. Even “hobby” income can certainly be professional.

    Secondly, I completely agree that students should be able to afford lessons. But it is important not to give EVERY student a discount just because you believe anybody who wants lessons should be able to get them. Teachers can offer discounts or “scholarships” to students who cannot otherwise afford lessons. MusicLink can provide books to students for free, and can help teachers determine which students/parents truly need the discount.

    I believe piano teachers should be able to make a comfortable living doing what they love. There is a lot we need to consider when we set out rates. As sole proprietors, we pay 25-33% of our income in taxes. We have to pay for our own insurance. We have to save for retirement ourselves. We have business expenses like any other business.

    I highly recommend the book I mentioned earlier. Beth Klingenstein has done research about the average income of piano teachers in the U.S., and has found that they typically get paid less than most other professions (even housemaids), and yet we often have many years of education, years of taking lessons ourselves, years of teaching, experience, certifications, years of professional development, etc…not to mention the cost of living issue that Jennifer blogged so well about!

  13. Thanks for your post about tuition. Money is a touchy subject no matter what the setting. I have been considering going to 45 min. lessons next fall and have really battled with it. But right now I have 43 piano students with 2 other part time jobs, plus I am a wife and mother. So going to 45 minute lessons is very appealing with less students. In the past I have taken whoever called, and have had a wait list for 8 yrs. Thanks for all of the Piano Teacher blogs and the information I have been gathering, I feel better about charging a little more.

    I don’t think there is one right answer except you have to be able to live with your decision. And you have to respect yourself as a teacher.

    My students love me and in my book that’s important! They work hard for me. Over the years, I have let students go that were not practicing, since I want to actually earn the tuition, and not just babysit their kid for 30 minutes.

    Thank you for sharing your knowlege and ideas!

    • Rhonda, at the Minnesota Music Teachers Association annual convention last summer, Philip Low gave an excellent presentation (I can’t remember the title, but it was along the lines of “Knowing Your Own Professional Worth”). One of the things that struck me was when he said, “You have a waiting list? You can raise your rates!”

      If you’ve had a waiting list for eight years (!!! — people know you are a good teacher!!), you should definitely go to 45 minute lessons — and I daresay, raise your rates.

  14. Rhonda, I hope you do go to 45″ once you do, you will wonder how you ever got anything done in 30″ once a week. Things to consider are, how many students will have to ‘leave’ to fit 45″ lessons in to your available time? 1/3? If so, are 1/3 of your students due for ‘firing’? That may be the biggest sticking point for you — determining if you can bear to do this.

    But you have to consider your own sanity and other calls on your time. Even if you don’t raise your rates, ie increase your tuition cost per hour, the students will be paying more at even your current rates because they are with you for a longer slot of time.

    One thing you might think of doing, as a way of just dipping a toe in the waters of change, is to begin all new students from here on out, in 45″ lessons, with whatever fee you decide on. And if you haven’t given yourself a cost-of-living raise in the last couple of years, I believe you should raise your hourly wage a bit as you do this.

    Otherwise, if you decide to just go for it, a calm, reasonable explanation to all your students at the time you announce the new rates and lesson times. You can say things like, ‘in accordance with standard national guidelines…….’ and ‘I believe the new lesson times will increase the value and depth of the students’ learning……’ It’s not as if you are proposing some crazy, newfangled scheme.

    Whatever you decide, good luck.

  15. I wish I could say the same thing. How did you fill your studio so quickly? I have been here since January and still don’t have any students! I have had to try a new profession, even though I love music so much. It is hard. What did you do to advertise?

    • Hi Lacy,

      I know I have spoken with you about your situation before and it’s disheartening to hear how you are still struggling. I’m so sorry… I advertised in a community newsletter that was close to me and the paper, and then of course my website. Besides referrals, my website brings in the most inquiries. I would recommend that if you don’t have a studio website to make sure you not only have one but that it is searchable. So if I searched for a piano teacher in your area, your website would be on the first page preferably but no more than the 2nd page. Most people only look at the first 3 pages of a search if that.

      Another thing I would recommend especially in your situation where you are living in a smaller community, assuming you have a “community” newspaper, contact one of the reporters (or several) directly and tell them about yourself and what you offer. Ask if they would be interested in doing a story on your studio. I know when I lived in a smaller community, being featured in the community paper was a nice spotlight and definitely helps. Good luck!

  16. I know this is an old post, but I did want to add to it. I am a piano teacher, and I charge much less than the going rate in my area, but it is not because I don’t take it seriously or am not doing it for my job. When I started teaching I was still in highschool, and I am still teaching without a college degree. Because of this, I charge a lower rate than a professional would charge. Even though I am not a professional, I do think my students are getting professional level of instruction. I will be leaving for college next year, and will be referring my students to new teachers. When I establish a studio after college, I will figure out my cost of living and the going professional rate in the community and definitely charge a LOT more than I am now.

  17. This was great!! I took lessons from one of the best piano teachers in our area growing up. I had to clean 3 houses each week to pay for them. I don’t regret it for a moment! Now that I am teaching, I charge way more that most teachers in my area. I feel like I put so much into each lesson, and I go the extra mile to make sure that I do. Thanks for reaffirming this for me!!
    Jennifer

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