Friday, June 13, 2008

Should Accompanists Charge Clients for Practice Time?

This post is in response to a reader's question (Thanks, Toto!) regarding the issue of whether pianists should charge for time spent practicing the music in order to prepare for rehearsals and recitals.

Imagine yourself in this situation (many of you won't have to imagine it)...

You get a call from a soloist that is doing a recital in the next few weeks. You are available and the soloist is someone you would like to work with. The soloist asks for your fee for the engagement. The problem is that you don't know the repertoire and you'll need to spend an inordinate amount of time in the practice room learning the rep before the first rehearsal. Would you charge for practice time or not?

The above scenario is only one instance of where it might be possible to charge clients for time spent practicing. Then again, there are some pianists who charge for practice time as a matter of general policy. Take the poll on the sidebar just below the ad unit to register your vote on this question:

Should Accompanists Charge Clients For Practice Time?

Feel free to leave comments below as well.


A few quick clarifications: I'm referring to "practice time" as time spent learning the score away from "rehearsal time", which pianists do traditionally charge for. I used the term "accompanists" and not "accompanists and/or collaborative pianists" in order to have a more direct question without excessive verbiage.

And thanks for the comments so far--I didn't realize there was so much at stake with this issue.


  1. Anonymous3:41 PM

    chris, i don't think this is a very clear question. in the situation you present written in your blog, where the repertoire is difficult to decode from the page and it would take a lot of time to learn it, yes. i did this in a circumstance when i first played the hindemith tuba sonata.

    but if the repertoire is not so very challenging, or if i've played it many times, then in general no, i don't charge for the practice time. however, no matter what gig we take, don't we all have a fee in mind that makes the act of making music worth our time? i try not to sightread unless there is a change of repertoire at the last minute. thus, i think that when i schedule any event, my hourly fee already covers a bit of practice time. and if i am already playing the piece regularly, then that's just an added bonus of a piece i don't have to freshen up.

    anyway, i believe the question you present in the voting along the side, do you charge for practice time, is very different from the question you present in your blog: do you charge for practice time when the repertoire is ridiculously hard to play.

  2. You're right, the general question on the sidebar is different from the specific example in the posting. However, the question that a reader posed was regarding the policy of billing for practice time in general. The question I posed in the posting was a small subset of that billing policy in order to set the stage for a discussion.

  3. Anonymous, you're right. I took another look and the scenario and question I asked in the posting looks like it might beg the question in the sidebar poll.

    I tightened up the wording of the post and led the scenario into the main question, which I then posed with the same wording as in the poll.

    That should get a more accurate reading of how people feel.

  4. Nhat-Viet Phi, alias "Toto"7:37 PM

    Looking back, I think my thoughts on the question are very close to those from anonymous, whom I thank for crystallizing various items lurking in my mind for years. :-) I too don't charge separate practice time because the rehearsal fee pretty much covers it.

    The last time I had to do a Crazy Sax Cram (tm), I didn't bother to nickle-and-dime my hours and assessed a total package fee which more-or-less made my time worthwhile. It was definitely more than my usual fee, but everyone agreed with the amount and everyone was happy when it all ended. However, I had only two weeks until the event and a limited number of hours I could practice in a day.

    Although I still would not currently charge per-hour for practice, I have to wonder if I would still be compensated fairly if I simply added a 50% or even 100% surcharge per rehearsal hour for hard stuff? Probably not.

    I think I will have to refrain from voting in the poll, since I am still chewing on the overall subject and considering the long-term future (Jolivet's 'Chant de Linos' etc.). Furthermore, CD or DVD recording is an entirely different matter. :-)

  5. Great comment, Toto. I'll reveal my opinions on the matter when the poll closes next Friday...

  6. Personally, I think every situation has to be evaluated individually. If you have new difficult rep to learn and it could take more rehearsal time, then perhaps the "rehearsal hour" with the soloist is higher, or the recital or concert fee is higher overall...

  7. Anonymous10:51 PM

    Hiya, Chris baby, Liz here. At first, I assumed your question meant, when practising WITH the soloist. Then yes, you'd charge him/her (let's say "them"). Especially singers who want you to help them learn their part - I had to call her on that. Anyway.

    In general though, I'd say no. All musicians have to practise, that's part of the deal. However, if it's some crazy-ass plink-plonk new music thing that's totally complicated that involves a click-track thingie in your ear and complex rhythms....and involves extra rehearsal time with the soloist...then yes.

    But in general, no. Practise is part of the collaborative pianist's deal, and I'm sure some of the practise time involved is part of the fee overall.

    I don't miss prasticising at all.

    Ha ha ha...... :)

    1. "crazy-ass plink-plonk new music thing". I love it! Can I use that?

  8. Tom Meg10:53 PM

    If I were a pianist, I would never have a fixed fee, except maybe for coachings. I would find out from my colleague the rep, the time frame, the approximate number of rehearsals needed, and then decide how much I would need to get paid in order for it to be worth my while. This would allow me to demand more for projects that seem particularly arduous, or charge less for projects that I really want to do.

  9. Sorry ... I'm not sure how to sign off with MY name. Let me try that again.....

  10. Yes they should :)At least those who are trying to do it for living.
    More interesting to me is how that should be presented to the "client". Should it be some kind of hidden charge or "fair"? So in my opinion, if we are speaking of money we should follow the example of more succesful busineses around us.

  11. Gee, I never thought about this! But I rarely do anything that requires a pianist. (This is for a multitude of reasons, none that you'd want to really hear!)

    Being a symphony/opera/musical theatre/freelance oboist, it never has occurred to me that someone would get paid for practice time. But I realize I live in a different world, and I don't fully understand the life you lead.

    I'll be interested to hear the results of your survey, but I'd be more interested to see how many that respond are the collaborative pianists and how many are the ones doing the paying.

    Oh ... wait ... you are saying "accompanists" in this instance. So is that different? If it's not a collaboration ... it does sound like it's a different sort of thing. Collaboration sounds more "even" while "accompanist" sounds like the hired help. Sorry if that sounds rotten ... I don't mean to be demeaning ... which is why I prefer the collaborative thing much more. :-)

    I don't mean to sound dumb or argumentative. Sorry for the ramble, too.

  12. Susan, tom meg, kb, liz, and Patty, thanks for the comments. At the end of the week I'll post the final poll results and my own opinions on the subject. Until then, let's hear more opinions, both for and against.

  13. Anonymous2:18 PM

    My answer to this excellent question is a definite "it depends" -- I have charged additional fees for practice time when the rep is extremely difficult and when I'm asked at the last minute in a panic situation.
    In that case, I figure rehearsal time, performance (or audition or competition) time then round WAY up.
    Ex: last year I was asked, with just a few days notice, to play for a university's audition. They offered me two hours pay (at their quite low accompanist rate) to rehearse for 30 minutes with the student then play the audition. It was a Bartok concerto I hadn't played before. I negotiated a four hour rate as I had to put in several hours to learn it adequately.
    Yes, we do have to "donate" many unpaid hours practicing and learning rep in this business - much of that is good investment as we learn music that we will play again and again. But there are occasions where we are justified in having our "accompanees" help cover that time.

  14. I think that patty nailed it:

    "Collaboration sounds more "even" while "accompanist" sounds like the hired help."

    As a singer my inclination would be that, if you're involved in the artistic process, want recognition for the work as an artistic partner, or are interested in billing of any sort, then I don't know if charging for this kind of practice time is appropriate.

    Even if a pianist is there as an, excuse the pun, blunt instrument in the process, I don't know if I've ever known a pianist to charge for rehearsal time specifically, only to work preparation time into their rate.

  15. I've found that it tends to be easier to charge a fee, especially when dealing with a multitude of gigs in one place (i.e. a school). If I were to charge per hour and change the hourly rate depending on the person, there would complaints, if not an uprising!

    In the end, I have general figures that I work from depending on the amount/difficulty/newness of repertoire that includes a specific number of rehearsals/lessons depending on the purpose. I also charge more when it is a last minute request. For example, your average 10 minute jury would include 1-2 rehearsals and be one fee, provided you ask enough ahead of time. A jury involving a complete work that is new for me would be more. A jury being asked about less than a week before would also be more.

    I have to admit that sometimes you run across singular situations that create a need for extra thought as to how to charge, but I feel that it is worth that little effort. Also, I've found that people in those last minute situations tend not to have any desire to negotiate, even when you ask something a little on the high side. Another important thing that I try to absolutely abide by is having everything in writing, preferably via e-mail (although these days sometimes it's via Facebook). It prevents confusion and gives you a chance to think about what to say next, especially when it comes to fees.

  16. I agree with everyone else that said "it depends". The extent of my schedule sometimes makes learning something nuts (say a Crazy Sax Cram) really difficult, to a point that what little time I have during peak periods for sleep, laundry and grocery shopping disappears into learning that crazy new thing. It takes a physical toll on me, as well as a mental toll. I'd prefer to charge more for this, and often, I do, but some situations it doesn't seem appropriate. Then again, I am a magnet for the desperate, and I often feel sorry for them, and I probably shouldn't. In my wildest dreams, I'd rather charge double for the @#$% Bruch violin concerto since I dread it so much, and to charge less for actually getting something fresh and new to work on with someone I enjoy playing with. But bills must be paid, and the Bruch, well... it buys some groceries.

  17. Given the scenario you have outlined I would say yes. In my experience in London, UK if you want a good accompanist (as opposed to someone who will just turn up, read and be average) then you have to pay for it. The difference here is that this would normally be covered in the quoted fee as an all in fee (so there would not be a seperate fee for practice but it would be in the overall number).

    I would also add that the scenario above would not apply for more straight forward or common works.

  18. Nhat-Viet Phi, alias "Toto"2:01 PM

    OT @ Chiarinaestrella: Is the Bruch Violin Concerto truly so bad? I find I quite enjoy it, especially if the soloist is up to the technical and artistic challenges, and understands enough to take the lead from all the excitement you've built up for him/her...

    (rubs chin thoughfully) But maybe you've played with more than your fair share of four-string hacks who actually weren't up to par, thus spoiling your appreciation of that piece.

    So I guess we agree that "it depends." :-)

  19. Anonymous2:34 PM

    I believe that providing the piece is relatiely difficult or unknown, than yes, the pianist should charge for practice time to assure good preparation. As an accompanist with excellent sight-reading I make it clear that if I have played the piece before or if it is relatively easy (anything before 1890, really), I will only charge my usual rehearsal rate only, and if it requires more than my usual per-piece practice time I will charge double or triple. I am used to pianists butchering my works and excusing themselves with "no practice time" even though they are paid to play a concert, so I have a relatively low patience for underprepared pianists. This is how I have solved the financial issue for myself and it seems to be working, as I always guarantee the highest level of preparation. As a poster said on this forum, one should pay for a service.

    Forgive my ignorance, but what is the difference between an accompanist and a collaborative pianist? May be anglophones distinguish between them, but I've never really know the difference. I assume that an accompanist can realize figured bass by sight and generally plays oom-cha pieces whereas a collaborative pianist performs the PIANO and Violin sonatas by Mozart (as you likely know, they are piano sonatas with violin accompaniment and not vice versa...)

    I am guessing, I don't actually know, so any explanation will be appreciated.

    I have taken the State Exam in accompaning in my country in the music school which awards degrees equivalent to Quebec CEGEPs, but I don't know whether it would count as a collaborative piano credential (since the state exam is called exam in accompaning. And yes, the Bruch concerto was included, %^$#*@)


    Thank you very much for your attention.
    Respectfully Yours;

  20. There is no difference between an accompanist and a collaborative pianist. I use the two terms interchangeably on this blog. Thanks for your commment!

  21. Nhat-Viet Phi, alias "Toto"4:43 PM

    Another OT, this time on the topic of figured bass. Is sight-reading in this mode truly still a standard? Has anyone here had to develop this skill in a Master's program? I've simply never found myself in a position where the expected left-hand part was not fully written out. If in the future I were ever caught having to play from such scores, with no backup referrals, my inclination would be to invoke the extra fee clause. Darn those lazy composers! ;-)

    Maybe I've just been lucky? I also have not had to play much pop (and certainly no musical theatre) where only the chord charts were provided.

  22. Anonymous12:17 PM

    In response to several of the comments pertaining to this question, speaking from my own personal process as a professional collaborative pianist in an academic environment, I would not add personal practice time to a performance fee. I have a fee structure that is standard for all students based on duration for rehearsals and performances generally. Some pieces require a lot more practice time than other and I find you have to take the rough with the smooth ie: sometimes you get great money for not much private practice, and other times you put a lot more practice in than you are compensated for. In the latter case I try and reconcile that I have a new work to add to my repertoire. I read over all repertoire before accepting a booking so I know if I have time to learn more challenging works. I found it really impossible to tailor different fees to repertoire, as it's hard to justify to students why their studio cost twice as much as their buddy next to them. They are not concerned with what it takes you to learn their repertoire - only that you can bring it to a rehearsal prepared to a certain degree and go from there. That's just my two cents though :)

    By the way, I'm a new blogger to this site.

  23. Anonymous2:46 PM

    I'm curious what to pay an accompanist for a classical voice recital I'm doing in another city. We did a concert together already and this upcoming program would be almost completely if not completely the same repertoire. We will probably have two rehearsals. The concert is a few hours drive from where we live which would involve spending the night out of town. I will also probably give a vocal master class and would like to pay the same accompanist to accompany that. Many thanks for any advice!

  24. Thanks for the question, anonymous poster. Your answer can be found here:

  25. Anonymous8:23 AM

    Chris, I agree with your fee chart completely. Having "monitored" the happenings on campus I'd say your suggested rates are right on. The only slight deviation might come with the actual recital fee, as you stated, if the performer or rep warrant a higher or lower fee. Overall, I believe a pianist must have a basic rate for rehearsals and performances and then may make small adjustments as circumstances require.