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To Give or Not To Give Make Up Piano Lessons

To give or not to give make up piano lessons - options to consider | composecreate.com

Inevitably, every few months, the subject of giving or not giving make up piano lessons comes up on all of the piano teaching forums. Every teacher certainly has the freedom to choose what is best for their studio and personal lives, but I find that there are a number of teachers that are currently unhappy with their makeup policy. I’ve seen countless teachers complete their semester of teaching only to have several more weeks worth of teaching because they are giving makeup lessons. I’ve heard of other teachers reluctantly scheduling makeup lessons during their personal or family time, making daily life difficult for their entire household.

So, what can a teacher do to be happy with their teaching schedule and minimize the number of extra days they teach? Here are some things to consider and some possible solutions:

Make Up Piano Lessons – Options

1.  No Make Up Piano Lessons

A growing number of teachers make it their policy never to give make up piano lessons unless they are the ones that cancel lessons. The reasoning behind this policy is that the teacher is scheduled to be present for the student’s lesson at a specific time. If the student cannot make it, then the teacher cannot schedule a new student for that one solitary lesson. The time is reserved for that specific student!  If you feel badly about offering no makeups, you can spend that lesson time making lesson plans, worksheets, or other plans for that specific student so that you can tell the parent that time was still being used for the student. Many teachers who have a no makeup policy have swap lists or extra performance classes so that parents can help makeup those times if they feel the need.

In my policy, I have the following paragraph under “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. Remember that your tuition pays for more than your weekly lesson. See Where Does My Tuition Go?

If you have difficulty in seeing the need for no makeups, consider this: You have reserved a specific number of minutes for each of your students and you should not be required to offer 2x that number of minutes with a makeup simply because they cannot be there. If you schedule even a few makeups a week, you will lose hours of time that could be spent with your family, exercising, or relaxing, which is something piano teachers need to do more often!

You’ll definitely want to read this tongue-in-cheek, humorous post: “Top 5 Reasons You SHOULD Give Makeup Lessons.”

2.  Swap Lists

This can be used by a student to swap lesson times with another student.  This is helpful in case of doctor’s appointments, being out of town, or even sickness.  Of course, if you use a swap list, you will want to get parents permission to include their name and phone number on the swap list you will distribute (I do this on the yearly “agreement to terms” form).  Also, you might want to be specific with your rules for securing a swap.  Mine include the following:

  • I must be informed prior to and after any swap is made.  (This helps me make sure that a 45 minute lesson is being swaps for a lesson of equal time.  This also helps me make sure that any back to back lessons that need to be preserved will indeed be preserved.)
  • No make up lessons will be given should confusion from this arise.
  • Should 2 people arrive at once, I will teach the one whose lesson is normally at that time.

3.  Phone Lessons (during the student’s regular scheduled time)

I have been amazed at how effective phone lessons can be.  I find myself asking a lot more questions about the music during phone lessons than I would normally ask.  This helps the student get to know the piece even better than they might during the regular lesson.   Of course, there are things that you can’t do in a lesson (like check fingering), but I often ask the student to evaluate these things since I cannot see them.

4.  Skype or Facetime Lessons (during the student’s regular scheduled time)

These are by far the most effective kinds of “makeup lessons.”  I often give these lessons if a student is not feeling well, but is not too sick to be in bed.  Skype is a free service which allows you to have both an audio and visual connection to the student.  It requires that both parties have a Skype account. Facetime is also free, but requires users to own a Macintosh device (iphone, ipad, or macbook).

5. Performance Classes

You may want to offer all of your students the opportunity to attend a few free group or performance classes in the year.  This can help parents feel like they are getting a makeup for a missed lesson since the class is free.

6. Building in an Extra Teaching Week

You can also build in an extra teaching week to your schedule so that students who never miss a lesson will get an extra lesson and those who miss lessons will have one official makeup.  However, you must account for this extra week of teaching…it’s a break that you are forfeiting and you’ll be teaching for free that week!

7. Sickness Options

Some teachers may opt to only give makeup lessons for lessons missed due to illness.  This seems like a reasonable policy, but you might want to make sure you have specific guidelines so that this policy is not abused.  For example, “What is sickness?”  “Does a headache count?” “Do allergies count?”  You might also make sure that you specify how many lessons can be made up for sickness or how much advance warning is required for the makeup.

8. Give Lesson Time to Siblings

This is the option that I find myself most often using.  When a sick or absent student has a sibling that takes piano lessons with me, I will offer the lesson time to that sibling, often making their lesson twice the normal length!  I use this time to do ear training, composing, playing games, and other activities that we don’t always have time to do.  I offer this option because parents feel that their money is not being “wasted” if they are able to still take advantage of the lesson time.

9. Best Practice? Use a combination of options for make up piano lessons.

I have a strict “no makeups” policy that I have abided by now for over a decade. However, I don’t think any of my families think that I am a mean or inflexible person. It’s important to communicate whatever policy you implement in a friendly, but firm way. It’s also very effective to offer parents a combination of options. For example, in my policy I tell them that they can minimize their missed lessons by using: 1. Swap list, 2. Phone lessons, 3. Skype/Facetime lessons, and in the past, I’ve also had 2 “free” performance classes scheduled just before a recital one in the fall and one in the spring). So, my families see that I offer ways for them to be flexible when they over schedule their life or have a scheduling conflict. But, I never let a parent transfer the stress of their scheduling issue to my life. I have enough trouble with my own schedule!

These are just a few of the many things that you can do in your studio to help minimize the number of extra weeks that you teach.  Remember that no one controls your schedule but you!  Be bold and confident when you make decisions about protecting your family time, your free time, and your life in general!

Do you have any other suggestions for make up piano lessons?  Please feel free to share them in the comments. You might also want to sign up for the ComposeCreate email newsletter so that you can have business advice, new ideas, and inspiration come to you without any effort!

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By | 2016-12-31T15:20:27+00:00 April 14th, 2010|Dollars and Sense, Piano Teaching, Time Management|15 Comments

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15 Comments

  1. Laura April 14, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    This is SUCH good information. I’ve had to learn the hard way over several years that I am a much happier teacher when I have a strong policy about makeups. I’ve been considering offering a swap list but was worried about the potential for confusion. Your rules look like a good way to address that.

  2. Susan Paradis April 15, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Great post and much needed information.

  3. tdow April 18, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Appreciate your take on this subject as I often find that so many teachers are completely inflexible when it comes to this topic. Our studio has found having a clear policy, but exercizing flexibility when appropriate, has really benefited us through word of mouth advertising. People appreciate a studio that appears to be family friendly and kind.

  4. Katie April 19, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I totally understand the issue with parents putting piano lessons second priority but, as a parent, Draconian rules are frustrating. Piano lessons are expensive and there are many options out there. I do not let my children miss piano lessons for any frivolous reasons; however, my children are also so dedicated to music that they have choir at school (and community bands on weekends). Occasionally, the school choir, which is an official, graded course that goes into the overall GPA and affects college applications, schedules an evening concert and occasionally, that conflicts with piano. We just relocated and just started with this particular teacher who has a policy similar to what you describe. She also takes several weeks off during the year, two of which were in the last month, with National Guild quickly approaching. Missing lessons now is not only a financial hit, but also jeopardizes the upcoming audition. So, I notified her ahead of time of this conflict (lose major points in an academic class for missing a concert or lose 110$ of lessons and a crucial pre-Guild session). She begrudgingly offered a “just this time” slot on a different day. I felt very guilty accepting it, and thought I would first ask the mom of the boy who goes right before my daughter if they could switch times on this one day and then, with minimal disruption, my daughter gets lesson and keeps her choir grade AND the teacher doesn’t have to add a time on a different day. She scolded me in a very humiliating manner, told me never to do this again and, quite frankly, at 52, as a very responsible, dedicated mom of two pianists, I am thinking of taking my money elsewhere. BTW, we have NEVER missed or changed a lesson since starting with her. I really like her, but I think attributing irresponsible behavior, such as you are describing avoiding with your policy, onto parents who simply DON’T WANT TO MISS VALUABLE TIME WITH YOUR AWESOME TEACHING, you are perhaps doing yourself a disservice. Just saying, there are two sides to this story. The picture you paint is a very specific parent and your policy may not allow for general flexibility.

  5. Wendy Stevens April 20, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Dear Katie,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to articulate your thoughts here. You have some very important things to say about this and I truly appreciate you saying them. Ironically, I am more like you as a mom, feeling guilty about even asking for any favors, no matter what they may be. So in that sense, we are very similar and I understand your frustration.

    I certainly don’t ever, ever, ever encourage any piano teacher to be rude or demeaning about their policies. And I’m sure you probably haven’t seen all the articles I’ve written about it, but I advocate that teachers have a few options for parents like you when you are in a bind with requirements from other teachers. I encourage teachers to think of solutions that are fair to themselves first and then considerate of the very demanding and difficult positions parents are in frequently. Any teacher who has been following my blog will know that.

    So, all I can say is that it sounds like this teacher is certainly not following all of my advice in this regard. Yes, I do encourage teachers not to do makeup lessons for a variety of reasons, and I do tell them to offer alternatives (like swaps or group lessons on occasions), but I never tell them to be unkind or humiliating, or scolding.

    I’m so sorry that you have had this experience!

    Warmly,

    Wendy Stevens

  6. Anita E Kohli April 25, 2016 at 2:03 am

    Hello Wendy,
    Thanks so much for this post. I give 100% makeups, because of the location I live in – my parents and students have genuine difficulties, and will actually miss most classes, if I don’t. But reading your posts on ‘no-make-ups’ helps me do this in a way that my work schedule moves the way I want, and fits in with my personal and family committments.
    It’s always helpful reading your posts.

  7. Wendy Stevens April 25, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Hi Anita,

    I’m so glad to know that! I’m glad you can make it work for you personal and family commitments. That’s what’s important and there are many ways to implement the ideas. Thanks for leaving this comment!

    Wendy

  8. Marissa Reynolds October 24, 2016 at 11:53 pm

    Love the “swap lessons” idea! I had never thought of implementing something like that. Generally I have very considerate students and families, but even if just one or two a week (there are 28 students, things happen!) ask to reschedule I try to help them and it has resulted in some frustration from my husband who is trying to juggle a work schedule too! Thanks for the wonderful tips!! 🙂 Love reading your articles and excited to check out some of your holiday music Thanks, Wendy!

  9. Wendy Stevens October 25, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Marissa! I’m so glad uo love the articles and I’m glad they are helpful too! Thanks for checking out the holiday music! Here’s a way you can see them all at once: composecreate.com/store/holiday-music/

    It’s nice to have very considerate families. What a blessing. But, there’s always one or two or one or two times that you need to have some tricks up your sleeve! 🙂

  10. Carol McCallum November 8, 2016 at 1:21 am

    I appreciate your articles on makeup lessons. It’s helped me guard my free time. I teach a 40 hour week and do not have times set aside for makeups. In the past, I’ve offered makeup lessons with 24 hour notice, so to go to a no makeup policy was a bit difficult. Now, when a student cancels a lesson, I post the time on an online signup sheet that can be accessed through my website by those wanting to schedule a makeup. I don’t guarantee that they will get a time and I don’t give refunds or credits. So far, this seems to be acceptable and viewed as flexible by the majority of my parents.

  11. Wendy Stevens November 8, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Thanks for sharing, Carol! I’m glad you were able to find a way to make this work for you to save your valuable time and definitely sanity! Thanks for sharing how you did it!

  12. Elizabeth September 25, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    I also make mark cancellations on an online schedule visible to parents. That way any family can take any canceled slot at any point throughout the year and whenever it suits their own schedule. It’s made a big difference to my stress levels! Making the teaching schedule visible helps parents understand why it is so difficult for me to change their lesson time at the drop of a hat or to offer make ups. I think transparency is key.

  13. Kimberly Taylor December 8, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    I have utilized a Google Calendar that I make open times available so parents can see what is available. I separate this from my personal work calendar (private for me to view) to keep client privacy. As I travel to students home I offer one makeup per semester for the students and unlimited makeups for myself should something cause difficulty in my reaching the students home (but i try to never miss any lessons!) I like your suggestions a Lot! A Skype lesson for a makeup would make a huge difference for me so that I could conduct makeup lessons on a scheduled morning or evening- every 15 minutes of drive time I save could be another students lesson!

  14. Anna G January 29, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Wendy! Thanks for this article! I love all your ideas of adding group lessons or swap or the other options you mentioned as alternatives! I do the same thing a few others above mentioned about posting my schedule online and they can schedule in the make up during any of my open slots! This works great for me but I normally have trouble getting parents to actually schedule in the make up. Lol! I still have to follow up with them from time to time to schedule in their makeup so they don’t lose it the following month. I’m getting much more protective of my family time since we music teachers often teach evening hours it takes us away from family much too often!

  15. April M June 17, 2018 at 1:29 am

    I’m learning so much from your articles, Wendy. I teach once a week at a studio which is an hour’s drive from my home. I cannot just drive in and do makeup lessons. The policy I have developed is that first there must be a valid, urgent reason for not attending and I must be notified in advance. I then schedule one or two days in each semester for valid makeup lessons. I set a schedule for those days and give parents a chance to review the schedule way in advance. They must confirm the scheduled time. I often do this on a Saturday and I don’t think I have ever had anyone say, No, I can’t do it. I have had a few not show up for the makeup but then they lose the make-up since they confirmed in advance. It has been pretty painless. I will be opening my own studio soon and think this will work there too in most cases. Any input you have is very welcome.

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