The Business of Music

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Teaching Private Lessons: Cutting out the Middle Man – Part II

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So how do you break free of the music store grip?

Start small but cast a wide net.  It takes about two years to build a healthy private studio.

Building your private studio:

  1. Meet your future student and their family before the first lesson.  If this is the student’s first experience having lessons, it’s extremely intimidating to play for an adult, and especially an adult they don’t know.  Take the time to get to know a bit about the student, the family, and what the student wants to learn, without an instrument.  This is also a great opportunity to talk about how you teach, what you do professionally, and to offer to play for the family.  If you’re teaching many lessons in a row, there isn’t a lot of time to converse, making this effort even more important.
  2. At this meeting, take the time to set-up your lesson schedule and talk to the parents about how you run your business.  This is how I run my studio: students pay for lessons by the month.  At the beginning of each month, I see what conflicts I have and what conflicts the family may have.  If time is valuable, this can be done via email, but I always do this on an individual basis.
  3. Why have students pay by the month? CANCELLATIONS. If students/parents have already paid for a month, cancellations are for true emergencies and illnesses.  I am flexible with my students, when my schedule allows, but during our first meeting, I am clear that I do not make up last-minute cancellations.  On the other hand, if I EVER cancel, I always make up the lesson and give students as much noticed as possible.
  4. Teaching at home versus teaching at a student’s home: do both. Especially when starting your studio, you might find that teaching at a student’s home will lead to other students in the same area wanting lessons, or other students playing the same instrument from the same school wanting lessons.  Just like freelancing, if you never leave your house, no one will ever know who you are.
  5. Teaching at a student’s home also brings music to the entire family, not just one student.  I have had numerous experiences where a child begins taking lessons and afterwards other members of the family begin taking interest.  I have parents and children from the same family taking lessons currently, and at the first opportunity, I find a way for them to make music together.
  6. Lead by example.  Teach your students why music is important and include them in what events are going on in your own career and development.  This does not mean only asking your students to attend your concerts, but invite your students to attend concerts with you.
  7. Make music with your students and have your students make music with each other.  Last year, I had three students in the same local youth symphony horn section.  Although they were at different points in their development (senior, sophomore and eighth grade), they enjoyed the opportunity to perform together and the occasional horn quartet afternoon we would all share.
  8. Recitals. I finally held my first recital this spring, and realized I should have done it several years earlier.  Although this is a different topic altogether, it is a great way for your students and families to come together to meet each other.  For your students, it is an opportunity to see how other students performing the same instrument sound and what they are performing.

My goal for this first recital was for each student to have the most positive performing experience possible.  For my younger students, I allowed them to select a favorite piece, even if slightly below their current abilities.  For my older students, I picked something that featured their best assets and had one short rehearsal with an accompanist the hour before the recital.

Some other notes about teaching lessons:

When you are teaching on your own, you get to create your environment.  Whether you are in your own home or traveling, you get to choose the tone for each experience and work with students that value your time and that you feel are interested in learning.  Most of the time there is no one being force-fed music when you teach on your own.

You have a much closer relationship with the family.  In the conveyor belt of revolving students at a music store, most parents will wait in the car or out of reach for a weekly conversation.  When teaching at a student’s home or at your own, parents are aware of what their child is working on and a respect for the teacher is developed.  When parents see the progress their child is making and the interaction you have with their child, they become aware and interested in how you are enriching their child’s life.

Students love mentors that are active in their field.  When I travel, I always bring something back home for them.  Even if very small, the fact that you thought about your students while away means a lot.  For example, I have brought back keychains from South Africa, soccer lanyards from Croatia, and bookmarks from Mexico.

Something to avoid: the music teacher database websites. They are a waste of time and I have never EVER seen one indication of getting a student in Pittsburgh, PA, Eastern, OH or Arizona using these sites.

Please feel free to add to this list of recommendations of starting a studio.

For Tuesday: Musicians and the Culture of Complaining

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Written by rosemfrench

October 25, 2009 at 6:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. This post is excellent! I agree with every point and I wish I had known these things when I first started teaching lessons. I’m looking forward to your future posts!

    Derek J. Wright

    October 25, 2009 at 2:16 pm

  2. Rose, I appreciate you pointing out the advantages of traveling to a student’s home for lessons. I’ve been focusing on working strictly out of my home, to maximize my time, and also since I don’t have a car! But, I may reconsider, and perhaps set up a small radius within which I can travel for lessons.


    October 25, 2009 at 2:35 pm

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