Sunday, June 03, 2007

10 Ways To Compete With The Lowest-priced Piano Teachers In Town

As the summer is upon us, now is the time when studios and schools begin to think about recruiting for the coming school year. As interested parents and students navigate the world of music teachers via advertisements, flyers, referrals, word of mouth, and AdSense ads, the inevitable question is eventually asked: "How much do you charge?"

The rate differences for piano teachers can vary drastically in an area. In Toronto, they vary from between $30 and $120 an hour. My rate through the Royal Conservatory of Music Community School is $62 per hour and $31 for a half hour, which puts me in the mid-priced range $100 per hour, which puts me near the top of the price range in Toronto. At my Oakville home studio, my private rate is a slightly more reasonable $60 per hour.

However, the toughest part of each year is competing with teachers that charge less than $35 per hour, many of whom are drastically under-priced for what they offer. My yearly battle has resulted in this guide on how to compete with the lowest-priced.

I'll start with a few words of wisdom from Martha Beth Lewis, who has written about this subject extensively on her site. On the subject of what fees actually are, she writes:
Here's what we should be thinking: our lesson fees are tuition.
  • They reserve a space in our schedule for a specific student.
  • Music instruction is an on-going thing.
  • It is an investment in time and effort, as well as money.
Here's what we should -not- be thinking:
  • Our lesson fees are payment for services rendered.
  • They are a flat fee for a product delivered.
  • They are fees paid for the duration of the buyer's interest.
As for the perils of charging too low a fee, she writes:
Charging a low fee - possibly because you think students will be unable to pay you more - typecasts you as a cheap teacher. An unspoken assumption among buyers is that you are not a very good teacher because if you were better you'd be more expensive! As a low-fee teacher, generally you will tend to draw from the pool of students who consider music instruction as a short-term activity and who consider what they pay you as money given for a one-time service rendered (like baby-sitting or a haircut). This kind of family tends to be cavalier about lesson attendance, cancellation, timely payment, and continuation in lessons.
I partially disagree with Martha on this one. In our find-the-lowest-price culture, parents are looking for a service, are willing to pay as little as possible for it if they can, and usually don't have the skills to equate price with quality unless they have prior experience accessing private education. On the other hand, a teacher with a higher rate often tends to have students with a commitment towards working hard and for a longer time period.

Therefore, here are some ways to compete with teachers that charge less:

1. Advertise your education. Teacher, institution, and program. If you have a high-quality education, that can certainly affect your fees, and a teacher with a graduate degree in music is entitled to charge more than one that doesn't.

2. Advertise your professional network. If you are a member of MTNA or a local registered teachers' association, you have access to professional development, student performing opportunities, and professional publications that non-members don't. In addition, many local associations have minimum rates for their members.

3. If you teach at an institution, broadcast their curriculum, related courses, and financial aid. Part of a teaching institution's value is in offering a wide umbrella of courses for different types of students. For example, at the Royal Conservatory of Music Community School where I teach, students have access to a large number of programs for all age levels, performing opportunities, and financial aid based on both merit and need.

4. Advertise your performing career. Not every teacher is up to the level where they can actually perform for an audience and make money from it. If you perform regularly, that reflects a depth of experience you can bring to the teaching studio that can be reflected in your fee.

5. Advertise with better materials. Cheaper teachers rarely go to the expense of creating high-quality materials, but this is one of the most effective ways of looking professional. Simple things like high-quality business cards and attractive-looking flyers can make a big difference.

6. Offer online registration and support. You don't have to go to the expense of creating a huge server infrastructure in your own home to do this. Music Teacher's Helper offers a full range of options, including online registration, automatic billing, website integration, and student progress reports all for a reasonable monthly fee.

7. Performing opportunities for students. Not every teacher develops their students to the level where they can actually present their work for an audience. If you are a teacher that regularly puts your students in recitals and festivals, that shows a level of commitment that goes beyond the ordinary and should be reflected in your price.

8. Have a professional-looking studio with high-quality grand or upright piano. Merely having a large and spacious studio with grand piano is not the sign of a great teacher, requiring only money and good design sense, but it can be reason to charge a higher rate since it is a better learning environment.

9. Have an extensive library of scores in your studio. It is equally important to advertise your score collection and is the sign of a teacher that has a long-term commitment to acquiring the core materials of your field.

10. Advertise your articles and publications. If you have taken the time to create articles, books, publications, authoritative websites, or methods, this shows that you are an authority in your field and one that creates and builds rather than simply imitates, and is one of the primary indicators of one who could qualify for a high-end teaching rate.

Some options that are mandatory but didn't make the list because they are ubiquitous these days, can be faked, and shouldn't really figure into your rate:
  • Creating a website. They are so easy to make these days and cost very little if anything, depending on type and location. Everyone seems to have a great picture and bio and it's hard to put yourself in front of the pack unless you truly distinguish yourself in this department by taking the time to offer something the others don't in terms of content or features, lovingly maintained and updated over years rather than days.
  • Statement of teaching philosophy. Although this is a standard question asked of prospective teachers by parents the world over, statements of this sort can be faked. How can a dedicated teacher encapsulate their entire teaching philosophy in one sound bite? However, you still need to know what to answer and have something worthwhile to say when asked the question.
  • Student accomplishments. Also can be faked and I've seen it done many times. I've also seen teachers raise their rates to exhorbitant levels based on the success of one student, rather than long-term quality and commitment to teaching excellence.
In case you are concerned you might be charging too little, Freelance Switch has a list of 10 ways to tell. Two of them are listed below:
3. You never run out of work, yet you are subsisting on baked beans and 2 minute noodles.
8. Even though you work 80 hour weeks your income level qualifies you for welfare payments.


  1. Thanks! This is great, at a time when I'm sure a lot of teachers are thinking through what they want to change for the upcoming year. I'm planning to switch to a tuition system, rather than the month-by-month system, which is so hard to enforce.

  2. Becky, I use the tuition system (through the RCM) and it saves a lot of headaches midway through the year when students traditionally drop out of lessons. Students are generally happier with their playing if they can measure it for an entire year as opposed to a few months.