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How to Move to a No Makeups Piano Policy

Are you struggling with moving to a no makeups piano policy? Since giving the “Stress-free Business Practices for Your Studio,” I’ve had a number of teachers write to say that they are no longer giving makeup lessons. In addition, this last winter has been so full of snow days and many of you are now considering “no makeups” or incorporating “flex weeks” into your policy. But, how to get from where you are now, to a decent no makeups policy (and how to communicate that to parents) seems daunting. Here’s a step-by-step guide to moving to “no makeups!”

No Makeups Piano Policy

First though, let me clarify. A “no makeups piano policy” does NOT mean that you do not give other alternatives to missing lessons. That’s the key to getting rid of it AND being a reasonable and kind human being in the meantime. The idea is that you don’t need to be the one that always has to bend to others’ schedules. Your piano teaching business should not be the doormat by which other’s busy schedules wipe their feet! Read this article to see how giving “traditional makeup lessons” is affecting you and those you love!

The main point in preserving your time and schedule is so that you have time to freely give to those in need (including your family and students that need it).

1. Institute a yearly tuition instead of a weekly payment plan.

This is the most important step in moving to this no makeup lesson. It will be impossible for you to administer no makeups if you do not have a yearly tuition plan in place. When parents are calculating what they owe for lessons based on how many times their child is with you, then it only makes sense that they feel like they need a makeup lesson when you don’t spend time with their child. But, if you have carefully explained that they pay a “yearly tuition,” parents find it more easy to appreciate their investment.  The “yearly tuition” covers a number of things like recitals, lesson materials, music selection time, lesson preparation, etc. Download this brochure to give to families explaining this!

Follow the steps outlined in “Stop Charging for Lessons by the Week” to make this transition. Then, use the free “Where Does My Tuition Go?” (send them to that url or go to the bottom of the page and print the brochures to hand out) brochure to help explain how their payments are being used.

2. Carefully word your no makeups piano policy.

Feel free to use this wording:

Private Piano Lessons: Tuition for 45-minute private lessons is $xxxx divided into 12 [or 9] monthly payments of $xxx.  At this price, the student is guaranteed that I will be prepared and present to teach 38 weeks per year.

Notice that this wording does not guarantee that the student will get 38 lessons. Instead, it guarantees that you will be scheduled to teach 38 lesson.

Missed Lessons: Because specific times are set aside for specific students, a student who does not attend a lesson will simply miss the benefit of that lesson.  I will then use that time or other times to plan for the student’s progress, locate materials, etc. Please be assured that your tuition pays for far more than the time spent with your child (see “Where Does My Tuition Go?”). There are no refunds, discounts or makeups given unless I am unable to teach the promised number of lessons.

Now remember that this is wording for your policy. So, in your more personal email to your families, put a little more positive perspective on it. Say it with their perspective in mind. Keep reading to the end on how to communicate this to parents.

3. Offer reasonable alternatives

There are many ways to make families feel that they have some alternatives. Read To Give or Not To Give Makeup Lessons for a longer list. Here is what I offer my families.

Illness:  Students who are ill should not come to piano lessons.  The extra performance class offered can be considered make-ups for absences due to illness.   I reserve the right to send a student home if they arrive sick.  If students are only mildly ill, please email me and we will do a phone or Skype lesson.

Skype/Facetime/GoogleHangouts: Skype, Facetime, the telephone, and Google Hangouts are becoming a very useful tool for teaching students who cannot make it to lesson due to illness, weather, etc.  If you have a computer with a camera close to your piano or a laptop that you can move close to the piano, please create a free Skype account and add my name to your contacts (or add my phone to your Facetime).  This will allow me to call you and have a lesson with you over the internet if need be.  My Skype user name is….

Performance classes: Performance classes can be viewed as a form of “makeup” lessons [I offer these 1-2 times a year right before a recital.].

Swap Lessons: In addition, families of private students may trade their lesson time with another student to help avoid absences. Use these rules to make sure swaps go smoothly:

  • I must be informed prior to and after arranging a swap.
  • No make-up lessons will be given if any confusion from this arises.
  • Should 2 people arrive at once, I will teach the one whose lesson is normally at that time.
  • Please inform me if you do not wish to have your name included on the swap list.
  • Phone or “Skype” lessons during the student’s regular lesson time are also an option for those that are mildly sick or for inclement weather.

4. Carefully word your email the new no makeups piano policy.

ChangeIf you were at the “Best Business Practices for Piano Teachers” workshop,  you know that I spent a bit of time on how to communicate policy changes to parents. The most important point of that segment of the workshop is to communicate with the parent’s view in mind. This means that you should always look at what the positive sides of your changes will be for them. For example:

Regarding tuition structure changes:

This year, I have reworked my tuition structure such that it will be much easier to budget for lessons. No longer do you have to wonder how much you because the annual tuition will be evenly divided into xx payments! This will help free up time and energy for both you and I since we will no longer wonder how much lessons are at the end of the month.

Regarding no makeups piano policy:

In the last few years, I have come to realize that the number of makeup lesson I have been giving has added such a huge stress to my life that I haven’t been able to give students the energy that they deserve in their lesson time. I will now be offering some reasonable alternatives if you cannot make your lesson (like lesson swaps or Facetime/Skype lessons), but moving to a no makeups policy will allow me to give every child the energy and instruction they deserve since I will be now able to spend appropriate time planning lessons instead of making up lessons.

Please be assured that your tuition is always working for your child as I spend a great deal of time outside of lessons choosing repertoire, planning, strategizing, attending competitions, etc. So, even if you have to miss a lesson and cannot use the alternatives offered, you don’t have to worry about receiving less for your tuition. You’ll be receiving more energy, enthusiasm and a more successful lesson each week since I will have the appropriate time to give.

This could probably be a bit more succinct, but feel free to take out what doesn’t apply and alter to fit your needs. The idea here is that you are telling them that their lessons will be better because you will no longer be giving makeup lesson (and they will)!

5. Fix your false narrative.

Just because you have an open spot in your schedule, DOES NOT mean you have time to offer a makeup lesson! That open spot is open for you. You need time to relax, brainstorm, and enjoy your family. When you take the time, you will be a happier, healthier, and more energetic teacher which is good for every student. Do not neglect to fix this within your mind.

I think I have it all covered, but if you have questions or you think I’ve left something out, please comment and I’ll respond! I’m thrilled that you are considering a no makeups piano policy. I know you’ll be much happier because of it! And if you are interested in participating in a “Best Stress-free Business Practices for the Piano Teacher” workshop, purchase a recording here.


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  1. Barbara March 26, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you so much for this fabulous article. I’m already on the “No Make-Ups” Boat, but these ideas make it so much easier to explain to parents, and they offer great wording for my policy.

    I use the analogy of renting an apartment. If you go on vacation and stay at a hotel you still have to pay your rent on the apartment. Basically, students/(parents) are renting a space (of time) in your studio. If they choose to do something else during that time, they still have to pay for the space, or eventually you won’t be there anymore! I realize sometimes if they are sick, it’s not their choice, but I’m sure we’ve all been left in the dust of a sports game at one time or another. I don’t necessarily tell this to parents but it helps me to think of it this way for my own justification of my time. Again, your professional wording will be a huge help for me. Thanks much!

  2. Wendy Stevens March 27, 2014 at 11:36 am

    What a great analogy Barbara! Thank you so much for taking the time to share that. I think many will find it helpful.

    Glad the article was helpful!

  3. Darlene Irwin March 29, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Thank you so much for this great article. Your wording is terrific! It is so important to be absolutely clear about studio policies. Another idea that I implemented a few years ago is to charge for the year (as suggested ) I did call it tuition and then I divided it into 5 post-dated checks (35 weeks, 7 lessons per check). All checks are cashed by mid-March. This prevents students from quitting in May when the weather is nice and they don’t want to practice anymore. This has worked very well for me…much better than charging by the month. If parents know well ahead of time, then they can budget for each check. I am also very strict about make-up lesson. I also started doing iPad Facetime lessons this year. It has worked quite well.

  4. Barbara March 31, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Darlene, what a great way to do the tuition. I think I might try that in the fall. Thanks for sharing your strategy!

  5. Darlene Irwin March 31, 2014 at 10:59 am

    Dear Barbara,
    I’d be more that happy to share my registration form etc. Five checks per year works so much better than every month. You can contact me through the Student Music Organizer Facebook page if you like. Just send a message and I’ll respond:-)

  6. Barbara April 1, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Hi Darlene – Thank you so much for your generous offer. I’d love to see your forms, etc. but I don’t Facebook (just can’t have one more thing I have to check on.) But if you’re still willing to share them you can reach me through my contact page at http://www.skylinepiano.com. Thanks again:)

  7. marian pease April 15, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Wendy: I do much of this already, so I think I can tweak my policy statement this year with some tips I learned from reading your article(s). Thank you. I just have to share this. I had to laugh about the paragraph about the “open spot in the schedule” not being available for lessons. I do not publish my schedule partly for this reason. However, this week is a “flex” week – just doing Repertoire (group) lessons and a few make-ups. (I do very few make-ups, but sometimes I just feel the opportunity for a lesson is best.) Anyway, so, I published this weeks schedule. I had written “holding” in one hour slot for a particular reason. One family just showed up at that time, because they wanted earlier lessons and the Mom says, “You had an opening on your schedule.” I was so startled. I was speechless. Later, I did see they had called and left a message, asking if they could come earlier, (actually about 45 minutes before the time!), but I did not see the message and had not returned the call. Needless to say, they were turned away, because I was working with another student. I will not publish my schedule ever again! LOL!

  8. Wendy Stevens April 15, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Hi Marian,
    Thanks for sharing that…good to remember. We do live and learn, huh?! That’s definitely a disadvantage to publishing your schedule. If teachers think it necessary, they could also put the word “Busy” and block out those times, but sounds like you tried that with the word holding. Good for you on not feeling like you needed to teach them too!
    Thanks for sharing and for the reminder!

  9. Deborah Freeman April 16, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Thank you again for such wonderful advice – can’t wait to see you in June!
    Regarding the empty slots on the schedule: If teachers decide to publish their schedule, write “Unavailable” or “Teacher planning” in the empty slots.

  10. Larissa O'Malley April 21, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Hi Wendy,

    I just subscribed to your news letter (which I though I did long time ago since I have been following you for quite some time now). What a great tip about no make-up policy! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Unfortunately, I am one of the teachers, who is too soft about this issue. Your post has finally inspired me to say “no” to make-up lesson starting next school year (I have been caring this idea for a long time now). Past year has been so stressful for me in regards to make-up lessons also because I have a few families I teach at their home (also am trying to work toward no traveling to families home, starting next year). I just want to make sure I am clear on an issue of cancellation due to an illness. Since, I do not offer any extra performance classes, a student, who cancels a lesson due to having a cold (usually right before the lesson) will not have any opportunity to make-up that lost time. I understand that my time is precious and give another precious time usually happens on a week-end or during school breaks. Also, I don’t know about you but I have kids from all kinds of schools with all kinds of different schedules during the school year. For example, when Fall Break and Spring Break fall during different weeks of the month, parents take vacation time, asking if they could re-schedule. And, of course, I am all over the places with that. I guess my question (or my own answer) to you is this – offering “swap” lessons (having parents arrange between themselves otherwise they simply miss a lesson) or internet lessons during such cancellations (if a student is recovering from being sick for e few days) is an alternative. I started offering internet lessons this year for snow days and received a very negative response from a few families and it caught me by surprise. So I am thinking to not offer lessons to these families next year.
    Thank you Wendy again for this great post!

  11. Wendy Stevens April 21, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Hi Larissa,

    Yes, my answer to any missed lesson (by the student) is either a swap or a phone/skype lesson. Most people who have never used skype, facetime before are the ones that resist, but they usually come around when they see the benefit. Emphasizing that you offer several options and keeping is positive is key!

  12. Larissa O'Malley April 22, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Hi Wendy, Thank you so much for your encouragement!
    I scheduled a prospective student for an interview this coming Saturday and will need to make changes in my Studio Policy by then. I am so glad I came across your post.
    Thank you again.
    I look forward to hear from you in the future.

  13. kelly December 18, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    Hi I am really stressed out and worried making new policies from old policy.i’ve always had a make up lessons for all my students and even on the weekend and some of student is still paying once at a time. also
    how often increase your fee and how much? Please help me…i need to figure this out until this sunday…

  14. Wendy Stevens December 19, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Hi Kelly,

    I’d definitely take the “best stress-free business practices for your studio” workshop that’s available here: https://composecreate.com/online-workshops/ . You will feel much better and know a lot more about the details of this switch after you take that.

    In addition, be sure to read this blog post: https://composecreate.com/should-i-raise-my-teaching-rates-this-year/

    Let me know if you have any questions about the workshop!

  15. Mary S March 16, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Thank you Wendy I have a small
    Studio of 7 kids how can your strategy work for me?

  16. Wendy Stevens March 17, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Hi Mary,

    Yes, the strategy will work for any size of studio. I have used it for both a small and a medium studio with great success. Is there a part of the strategy that you think will be tough to implement at that level? Let me know and I can help address those specific things!


  17. Dave Quinn May 6, 2016 at 7:12 am

    Why is this “No make ups PIANO policy?” As far as I can see its a valid strategy for any instrumental music lessons?

  18. Wendy Stevens May 6, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Dear Dave,

    Yes, absolutely, this works for any instrumental music lesson! We just talk a lot about piano policy on the compose create blog and it makes it easier for piano teachers to find this article if we specifically talk about it in reference to piano policy. I’m so glad it will help you as a percussion teacher though! 🙂

  19. Tracey D June 28, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    I work for a studio and we have never offered make-up lessons. Our families sign a contract that says that as such in no uncertain terms, yet I constantly get people asking me when they can get their lesson made up. Frustrating! But I am lucky that I always have “the studio” to “blame” for not being able to make it up. I do personally offer the Swap option to my families, and they seem to be very grateful for that, although it’s very rarely used!

    The biggest downside to a no-make-up policy, in my opinion, is that parents will send their children to lessons sick. Yes, the contract states not to do that either, but parents still do it. I added a line to my students’ info that says: “Sick children tend not to benefit from a lesson when they feel unwell.” I don’t know why parents think that they will! But there are simply some families who go to work sick, go to school sick, go to soccer sick and naturally, go to piano lessons sick.

    I am not in a position to refuse to teach sick children, but I have refused to sit with them and play the instrument alongside them. Additionally this year I posted signs all winter that asked students to wash their hands before their lesson, and, “Thank you for helping to keep our SHARED INSTRUMENTS clean!” I will not hesitate to wipe down a piano in front of the child after their lesson. I will tell them outright that it’s not fair to the next student to have to play on the piano after they’ve been there, sick.

  20. Terri K. June 28, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    I have policies in place for no refunds, no make-ups for missed lessons. A couple of families with siblings taking lessons leave the country for a month to visit family in India. They are very good students who practice and take their lessons seriously. Yet they feel they do not have to pay for the month they are gone. I really like the analogy of paying rent for an apartment. I am going to have to get brave enough to tell them that they will have to pay to reserve their spot or loose their spot and face the fact that I will not be working with them anymore. Have you or any other piano teachers had to deal with this? I appreciate all the help you give us fellow teachers. Thank you.

  21. Wendy Stevens June 28, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Hi Terri,

    I think the key is to help them change their mind that their money is tuition for a yearly package which includes far more than just their weekly lesson. When they see it that way and know that you are still working for them during the weeks when they are not there, then they can understand this more clearly and will be more compliant. Use this to help: https://composecreate.com/students/wendys-piano-studio/studio-info/where-does-my-tuition-go/ You can even download the free PDF and give it to them.

    In cases where the family is still reticent to pay, I sometimes tell them that I will go ahead and use that time they they normally would be in lessons and do things like lesson plan, choose music, etc. That helps them see that the time is still being used toward them.

    I hope that helps!

  22. Nancy Hiatt February 14, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    Sorry to join in the conversation 2 years later! But I have been struggling with the same issue. I’m single, and I started piano lessons for 2-3 students as a supplement to my full time job . Then I lost my job and took more students on. Now that unemployment compensation has ended, I find that I spend about 15-20 hours a week for just 13 students! And I have to pay health insurance, self employment tax, etc. I don’t even want to compute what my hourly wage is. I do dog boarding and Pampered Chef on the side, but I can’t sustain myself on this!

    My piano parents WILL NOT pay for time their child misses due to vacations, visiting the out-of-state non-custodial parents, etc. They want to take “summers” off. They want the option to quit if “lessons don’t work out” or soccer interferes. Dividing up a year doesn’t work because they won’t commit to summers and not sure what the future will bring. They won’t pay for more than a month in advance, not the 4 months I encourage. yadda-yadda. The worst parent has referred 4 students to me, of course at the rate 2 years ago, so I’m worrying about losing 5 students if I offend her.

    So I have “trained” them how to treat me poorly. I do remind the parents often that I spend more than twice the time on their child as she spends “on the bench. and they don’t get it. This “worst” parent is taking her child to Disney World for 2 weeks, and INSISTED on making up 3 piano lessons on the bench in a 3 week time because she had already paid for February. Her daughter is ADORABLE, but the mom wants me to work around soccer, vacations, etc.

    So my question is – how can I raise my rates, ask for a 1 year commitment, and still retain students and their parent’s goodwill? I need to start now to implement changes so I don’t starve this summer.

    Thank you for your assistance!!! I am desperate.

  23. Connie Venti April 26, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Hi Wendy,

    I appreciate your studio policy helps SO much, and plan to change this fall from a monthly tuition calculated per lesson, to a monthly fixed tuition. However, I have always given a 5% discount to families with more than one student. How can I figure that into a fixed tuition per month?

  24. Wendy Stevens April 26, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    Hi Connie,

    Just mention that you give the 5% discount in your policy and then you can figure it out manually and give the number to the family. So, if your tuition for one child is $150, then the tuition for the 2nd child would be $142.50, making their monthly payment $192.50 for both children.

    I hope that helps!

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