///No More Charging Lessons “By the Week!” – Piano Tuition Made Easy

Piano Tuition Made Easy: No More Charging “By the Week!”

Piano tuition made easy: No more charging "by the week." | composecreate.com

I’m giving several presentations at various conferences this summer entitled “Best Stress Free Business Practices for Your Studio.” There is so much to cover in this session that I thought it might be beneficial to publish a more detailed blog post on piano tuition so that I can just touch on it during the presentation and provide more details here.

Why Shouldn’t I Charge By the Week?

There are several reasons why billing by the week is unhealthy for your piano studio. Here are just a few of these reasons why you should choose to change how you charge for your lessons:

1.  You need a predictable income.

When you teach by the week, even if you bill “by the month,” you and your families tend to bill and pay based on the number of lessons you actually gave, which can vary greatly. Families are quick to deduct lessons that they have missed due to illness, soccer practice, and various other activities that crowd their schedules, making it difficult to maintain a good makeup lesson policy. Wouldn’t it be nicer to receive the same amount of money every month? This would make budgeting easier for both yourself and your piano families.

2.  Your families will appreciate a predictable number with which to budget.

Perhaps you are tired of this question, “How much do I owe you this month?” It is much easier on everyone if you do not have to spend time calculating what families owe each month. Families can budget more accurately and you can actually begin to rely on a predictable salary a year.

3.  You need to stop thinking you are only working for the student for 30 minutes.

In reality, we know that we spend a great deal more time on each student than just the 30, 45, or 60 minutes we spend with those students. But, have you ever really calculated how much time you actually do spend per student per week? I started keeping track at one point and realized that on average (remember that certain times of the year, we spend a greater amount of time picking out music, preparing for festivals, etc.), I spend an additional 15 minutes per 30 minute student! I think you’ll find the same thing occurs for you and your studio, but in case you are wondering what kinds of things a piano tuition pays for, there is a long list on this page that includes things like:

  • Time spent with the student
  • Time spent in preparation for the student (trips to the music store, lesson planning, bookkeeping, development of curriculum, etc. It has been cited by professional music journals that for every hour enrolled in piano lessons, you are investing in at least 2 hours of the teachers time!
  • Your training and experience
  • Recital costs and preparations (Programs, refreshments, facility rental)
  • Professional organization memberships
  • Professional journals (Don’t forget to subscribe to the indispensable Clavier Companion)
  • Publications to assist you in keeping current on new teaching materials and trends.
  • Studio expenses (Copying, computer software, incentive programs, instruments, tunings, repairs, newsletters.
  • Music books, CDs, music club memberships
  • Property taxes, self-employment taxes, insurance, business licenses, retirement
  • Continuing education, conferences
  • Certification costs

4.  Your families need to stop thinking that you are only working for them for 30 minutes!

It’s important for us teachers to educate our students about this additional teaching and preparation time so that families are not tempted to think they are only paying for the 30 minute lesson. To help you with this, I have created the “Where Does My Tuition Go?” brochure which you can download free and hand out to your students! (See bottom of that page for the brochure to print.)

How Do I Start Charging Differently for Piano Tuition?

To begin charging differently, change your way of thinking about payments to “paying by tuition” vs. paying by the lesson.  This reminds you and your families that they are paying for much more than just the time you spend with the student. Though there are many ways of doing this, and you are free to do it however you please, you can follow this 3 step process in order to make a plan that works for your studio.:

  1. Divide your year.
    Here are 3 ways to do this: “by the year”, “by the semester + summer” or “by the school year + summer.”
  2. Calculate how many weeks you want to teach in each (year or semester).
  3. Multiply this number of weeks by your “per lesson” price. (Only you should think of your “per lesson” price. You want your families to get away from this kind of thought process.)
  4. Decide how often you want to be paid (divide previous number by this) and collect tuition!

Let’s see how this works with these 3 scenarios:

Example: “Piano tuition by the year”

  1. I choose to collect tuition by the year.
  2. I want to teach 38 weeks per year.
  3. My lesson price is $35 per lesson x 38 weeks = $1330 yearly tuition
  4. I want to collect monthly, so $1330/12 = $110.83 per month. This means that I will collect $110.83 per 30 minute student per month, regardless of whether the month has 1 or 4 lessons in it.

Example: “Piano tuition by the school year + summer”

  1. I choose to collect by the school year + summer.
  2. I want to teach 30 weeks in the school year.
  3. My lesson price is $35 per lesson x 30 weeks = $1050 school year tuition.
  4. I want to collect monthly, so $1050/9 (Sept.-May) = $116.67 per month for 9 months (Summer can be done however you want using the same formula.)  Again, this means that families will pay $116.67 per month of 9 months regardless of whether there are 1 or 5 lessons in the month.

Example: “Piano tuition by the semester + summer”

  1. I choose to collect by the semester + summer.
  2. I want to teach 13 weeks in the semester.
  3. My lesson price is $35 per lesson x 13 weeks = $455 semester tuition
  4. I want to collect by the semester, so families pay $455 for the semester or $230 two times during the semester (gives those paying early a discount). Summer can again be done however you want using this formula!

I hope this is helpful to you. Of course, there are other ways of doing this, but I find that this seems the most straightforward. Moving to a yearly or semester based approach of charging tuition is well worth the effort and will save you lots of time, stress, and even money! Don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter so that you don’t miss other Dollars and Sense posts that help you experience “stress free teaching.”

I’d love to hear from some of you that have moved from the “by the week” approach to a different approach. Are you happy with this change? What have been your challenges in implementing piano tuition?

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By | 2016-12-31T15:20:07+00:00 June 18th, 2012|Dollars and Sense, Piano Teaching|25 Comments

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  1. Laura June 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Ive wanted to do this for a long time but my biggest issue is music, reeds, etc. I put these on their accounts when purchased so they end up having weird amounts different months anyway and still get the “how much do i owe” question anyway. Any thoughts on this issue?

  2. Wendy June 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    Hi Laura,
    I know a lot of teachers are moving to a registration fee or a materials fee where they can just freely buy those things for the students, keep track of them and then not have to worry about billing. Of course, you’d have to have a rough idea of how much would be needed, but its one way of doing it. You could divide your year into 11 monthly payments, then make the 12th payment be the materials fee so that your monthly income is the same. I believe that is what Kristin Yost does, explained here: https://composecreate.com/how-to-get-12-months-of-revenue-as-an-imt

  3. Laura June 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Great thanks! Another question, sorry to take over your comment section 🙂 do you have different monthly fees for the different length of lessons?

  4. Wendy June 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    No apologies needed. That’s exactly what the comments section is for! You never know who might have the same question.

    Yes, I definitely have different monthly fees for the different length of lessons. I just used the 30 minute fee for an example, but I figure 45 minute monthly prices the same way.

  5. Mary Jane Cope June 18, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    I moved years ago to an annual tuition amount divided into 12 equal installments. Tuition varies depending on the lesson length (I’m happy to share my policy with anyone interested), but is stated as an ANNUAL fee. No complaints from parents; I simply pointed out that this was becoming the norm with professional teachers and their organizations. I also charge a per lesson fee for students coming less regularly, and point out that the monthly payments amount to a substantial saving over a per lesson fee. Parents are reminded that the summer tuition payments complete payment for yearly activities (recitals, consultations, extra coaching for chamber music, etc.). I’ve never had any objections.
    It’s important that we regard ourselves as professionals who have had YEARS of training and experience – we deserve a stable income AND a paid vacation. It’s also important to realize that we have a responsibility not to undercut other local teachers, since many of them rely on this as their sole source of income.
    I also charge an annual registration fee, due by July 1. This secures a place in my studio for fall, and
    is non-refundable.

  6. Wendy June 19, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Hi Mary Jane,

    This is great advice from you. Thanks so much for sharing. I couldn’t agree more!

  7. April Hamilton June 23, 2012 at 1:13 am

    Hi Wendy! Thanks so much for the helpful information. I’m going to be changing from a “per-lesson fee” to a “set monthly tuition” in September. One thing I’m still trying to figure out, though, is what would be a fair amount of lessons per year, but also create a more stable income for me?

    The issue is that I don’t want to scare away my students by asking for a lot of summer lessons, but this summer many students chose only 6 lessons out of 12 and I’m suffering financially. I have been thinking of 45 lessons for next year. This would allow for the regular “off” times such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, a vacation week for me, and also two make-up weeks. Do you have any advice on what a good amount of lessons is and if that would create trouble for my families? I would be willing to re-schedule some of the lessons in the summer so my students would be free for their vacations, yet still able to attend their lessons, so as to keep up their skills and keep my studio financially alive. What do you think?

  8. Wendy June 24, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Hi April,

    These are all good questions! Are you sure you aren’t interested in attending the SMU institute this summer? My presentation there will cover many of your questions!

    Here’s some tips and examples to help you:
    1. Consider no makeup lessons at all. See this article: https://composecreate.com/to-give-or-not-give-makeup-lessons/
    2. I give 38 lessons a year. I think 45 is the absolute maximum any teacher should charge (regular school teachers get about 7 weeks off if they teach in the summer). Perhaps you should consider giving 40, 41, or 42 lessons and then you’ll have more time in the summer where you are not teaching and don’t have to worry about your teaching weeks conflicting with vacations.
    3. If you don’t give makeup lessons, then it’s easy to not worry about those conflicts with vacation schedules. Parents need to understand that you are scheduling to teach for (let’s say) 42 lessons per year. Their tuition covers more than just the per lesson price and you can give them the “Where does my tuition go?” brochure to help explain this. This will help explain to them why you don’t give makeups even in the summer…their tuition will help cover recital costs, prep time, picking out music time, etc. (See bottom of this page to print the free brochure: https://composecreate.com/students/wendys-piano-studio/studio-info/where-does-my-tuition-go/)
    4. As an example, here is how my year went: My policy said that I would teach 38 lessons. By the time mid-May came around, I had already taught 35 weeks. So, I only had to teach 3 weeks in the summer to finish my teaching. There were a few families that could only make it to 2 of the 3 weeks, but they have been with me long enough to be assured that their tuition is going to much more than just the lessons and they were fine with that. I also offer a swap list, so sometimes that helps.

    I hope this helps!


  9. April Hamilton June 25, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Hi Wendy! Thank you so much for the very helpful information. I have enjoyed reading those other articles recently, but may look at them again. 🙂 Thanks for all your helpful articles!

    I’m curious about the SMU Institute Presentation. Is that in Dallas, Texas? I would love to read more information on that; not sure where to find that on your website. 🙂

    Thank you!

  10. Wendy June 25, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Hi April,

    Yes, the SMU Institute for Piano Teachers is in Dallas Texas. Here’s a invitation from one of the directors, Sam Holland: https://composecreate.com/a-personal-invitation-to-an-exciting-conference/

    You can also see lots of info about the conference on their site: http://www.smu.edu/Meadows/AreasOfStudy/Music/WorkshopsAndSpecialPrograms/SMUInstitutePianoTeachers

    Let me know if you decide to come! I’d love to meet you.


  11. Kathleen July 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I generally teach 36 lessons over a 38 week time span. This gives me two weeks for sickness or appointments that I do not need to make up. I have parents pay 4 lessons in Sept and then bi-monthly after that. This works out perfect for the Christmas time spending as they pay beginning of Dec and the next one is Feb. , so they are not short of money!

  12. Wendy July 14, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Creative! Isn’t it nice that there is so much flexibility in being a teacher? I’m glad you found a way that works for you, Kathleen! Thanks for your comment.

  13. Bella December 22, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I’m considering this payment model for 2016. Everything makes sense. The only area I’m stumped by is 3 day weekends. I generally take off fore Memorial Day and Labor Day. Any suggestions for how to handle that?

  14. Wendy Stevens December 23, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Hi Bella,

    Yes, there are a number of ways you can handle the Monday holidays. There are some ideas on this post: https://composecreate.com/how-do-you-handle-the-monday-holidays/ Hope that helps!

  15. Christie May 18, 2016 at 7:35 am

    Thanks for all interesting and wise ideas. Do you do any discount price for some particular students. I have many talented students who loves music but can’t afford to pay $60 per hour. I teach them for less.

  16. Wendy Stevens May 18, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Hi Christie,

    That’s always a great question. I would consider it on a case by case basis, but as a general rule, I don’t. I tell a story in one of my workshops about a teaching friend of mine who had some parents that just threw a fit when she raised her prices. They kept insisting that they couldn’t afford it. But then, soon after, the girl drove up in her birthday present from her parents…a brand new convertible!

    I just say that to say you really have to be careful to discern if it’s a true need or parents are just putting their money elsewhere. Parents don’t like to spend any more money than they have to as a general rule. That said, if you do have a student who works hard and you KNOW that the parents can’t afford lessons, a scholarship would be appropriate. Make sure you determine what amount of scholarships YOUR budget can afford before offering any.

    Does that help?

  17. Brent July 28, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    I am getting ready to switch from pay-per-lesson to a tuition system. I am concerned that some students will not feel right about paying the same rate for months were there are less lessons (as few as two), such as December and summer months. Even though the tuition takes into account the total number of lessons per year, I’m certain some of my students will not be happy about paying the same rate for these months. People are often more emotional than logical about purchases, and paying the same rate for a month with less lessons just doesn’t “feel” right, even though the logic is sound. In fact, some may even decide to drop out for those months (like skip December or take a summer month off). This is obviously a great financial concern. Any thoughts on this?

  18. Wendy Stevens July 28, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Hi Brent,

    I understand your concern. It’s really about communication. Yes, there may be some months where they pay the same amount for fewer lessons, but there will also be some months that they pay the same amount for a lot MORE lessons. You just have to remind them that “For this tuition, I promise I will be present to teach for xx number of lessons.” And that this is a help to them because it will help them in their budgeting, making it not so straining in those months where there are more lessons and they would have had to pay much MORE if you were doing it the other way.

    It truly is a help rather than a financial burden when families can predict what they will owe and it’s a consistent amount each month!

  19. Brent July 28, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    Yes, I agree it is a help. Hopefully my students will too! Thank you, Wendy! By the way, your website is extremely helpful. I reference it quite often and will continue to do so.

  20. Wendy Stevens July 29, 2016 at 8:14 am

    Thanks for your kind words, Brent! I’m so glad ComposeCreate is a help to you!

  21. Victoria July 31, 2016 at 6:37 am

    Thanks for your great posts! If parents have opted to pay by semester, what do you do when they decide to quit mid-year? Let’s say they want to quit 3 weeks into the 2nd semester. Do you offer refund for at least some of the remainder weeks? I currently receive monthly payments and require a month’s paid notice to end lessons.

  22. Wendy Stevens July 31, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Victoria,

    I’ve never charged by the semester, but if I did, I’d have to figure out something that ensures that there is at least a month’s pay that will give me enough time to find another student. Then, I’d ensure that there is a clause in my policy that says something like “if a student withdraws from lesson for whatever reason before October 15th, 1/3 of tuition will be refunded. If they withdraw before November 15th, 1/4 of the tuition will be refunded and if they withdraw after November 15, no tuition will be reimbursed.” I’m not recommending those numbers, but that’s where I’d start. The most important thing to do is to figure out what you NEED to make the finances and situation work if someone does withdraw. Then, you can just reflect that in your policy. Does that help?

  23. […] I require payment by the 10th of the month. Then I charge a $1 per day late fee. I only allow make-up lessons if another student cancels and I can fit the make-up lessons in the cancellation. These policies have left me with a stress-free tuition policy! If the above math was confusing and/or you’d like to see some other examples for teachers who don’t teach year round, see this post. […]

  24. Anna March 27, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    HI Wendy,

    I know this is an old post but had a quick question about how you would go about charging by semester when each semester has a different number of weeks in it? Would you still just calculate the total of yearly lessons and then just divide it by 9? (I offer a separate summer program to my yearly tuition)

  25. Wendy Stevens March 27, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    Hi Anna,

    That’s a good question. Initially, I would say to calculate it based on how many weeks are in each and that way if parents are retroactively calculating a per lesson price, it makes sense to them. On the other hand, it would be easier to remember your tuition if it were the same both semesters. I’m not sure what to do, but those are the things I’d weigh.

    Let me give you an application that happened to me as a parent. My kids had swim lessons in February and March. I paid the same price for both February AND March, however, the swim place made me understand that there would be 1 fewer lesson in March than in February. I wished that weren’t the case because I felt like I paid a little too much, but the consistency was important enough to me that I didn’t stew too much about it. Those are the kinds of thoughts that parents have.

    I hope that helps give you some food for thought. Personally, I would lean to charging less the semester where there are fewer lessons. If your tuition is truly “semester” based instead of yearly-based, that’s they way I’d lean…always packaging it based on the semester’s offerings.

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