Readers' Questions and Answers About Business

Please take a look at the following list of questions in case your question already has been answered. (If not, do write!) I am trying to save keystrokes so I can answer more questions and not aggravate my rsi.

Another note: As these questions are answered in order of receipt, there may be other answers that are germane to your question. Please check list of previous and following questions, as most of the time I have not cross-referenced one answer to another. For example, there are numerous questions/answers about make-up lessons; please read all of them before e-mailing me. (Use the "Find" feature in your browser, usually found under "Edit," to search on keywords in this QA file.)

And finally: Please put something in the subject line of your e-mail ("piano" as one of the words is helpful!). My filters are set so that blank subject lines are automatically deleted.

Thanks!

Question 1 Difficulty getting students to pay tuition at the beginning of the month.
Question 2 Distracting sibling at lesson.
Question 3 Deductibility of tuition left unpaid when student quits.
Question 4 Breaking away from teaching at a music store.
Question 5 When student quits and says he'll "be back."
Question 6 Selling a studio clientele to another teacher.
Question 7 Parents don't understand damage when their children take the summer off.
Question 8 Parents expect not to pay when their children take the summer off.
Question 9 "Farming out" students temporarily to other teachers.
Question 10 Parent requests "trial period" lessons.
Question 11 Rescheduling around sports practices/games.
Question 12 Allowing cancellations with no payment.
Question 13 Converting from 45-minute lessons to 30- and 60-minute lessons.
Question 14 Calculating a half-hour lesson fee.
Question 15 Giving feedback to parents.
Question 16 Having a make-up lesson policy.
Question 17 Changing from traveling teacher to in-studio teacher.
Question 18 Irritating colleague.
Question 19 Fee possibly too high.
Question 20 Second thoughts about starting a student.
Question 21 Liability waivers.
Question 22 Availability of software program for scheduling, data, and finances.
Question 23 Percent of earnings that goes to the IRS.
Question 24 Method of estimating annual business expenses.
Question 25 Attracting students without holding a music degree.
Question 26 Tuition contracts.
Question 27 More about tuition due during frequent/protracted vacations by students.
Question 28 Student does not bring tuition check with him at first lesson of the month.
Question 29 Adult student habitually quits lessons before summer in order to avoid summer tuition and then re-starts in the fall.
Question 30 Teacher unable to find students through use of a brochure given to students at an elementary school.
Question 31 When a student is ill a month or longer at one time during the studio year.
Question 32 Changing mind about starting an adult student.
Question 33 A parent praises the teacher and then refuses to pay for unexcused absences on "holidays" dreamed up by the parent.
Question 34 Mrs. Lowlife, the Sequel.
Question 35 The best place to advertise. How to find out what to charge.
Question 36 Student is uncooperative, rude, and impossible to teach. Colleague wants to refer the family to me. [This is a problem from my own studio.]
Question 37 Dismissed student writes abusive e-mails.
Question 38 Student doesn't practice; has different excuse each week.
Question 39 Adult male student seems to look to female teacher for needs other than music instruction.
Question 40 Adult male student asks female teacher to dinner.
Question 41 When student is no longer motivated to practice and work at the piano.
Question 42 Trouble with reschedules because of frequent vacations, coupled with payment problems.
Question 43 Wealthy families are "slow pays."
Question 44 Parent asks teacher to come to prospective student's home to give "aural tests."
Question 45 Giving free lesson for a referral.
Question 46 Family plan (reduced tuition payment for sibling/s).
Question 47 Whether to change to a "summer schedule."
Question 48 Colleague pries into teacher's private studio business, insults teacher to her face, spreads rumors, etc.
Question 49 Roth and "regular" IRAs.
Question 50 More about wealthy people not paying; what to do about dismissing a student solely because the parents are problem payers.
Question 51 Responding to telephone queries from callers who want to know whether the Suzuki method for beginners is better than a traditional (note-reading) approach.
Question 52 Abusive mother interferes in daughter's piano studio.
Question 53 Student has a ferociously bad attitude and behavior; two siblings also study and father is professional colleague of teacher in her other job.
Question 54 Jug of water spilled in keyboard area of piano.
Question 55 Mother wants to chat about non-lesson-related topics when teacher calls for a brief conversation.
Question 56 Student has unusually high number of "illnesses" requiring lesson reschedules.
Question 57 Number of "sick days" allowed.
Question 58 Man transports another family's daughter to lesson and asks teacher to increase her tuition and pay him secretly for transportation costs.
Question 59 Teacher going through a divorce wonders if she can support herself and 16-year-old son teaching piano.
Question 60 Studio brochure.
Question 61 Recital food planning.
Question 62 Depreciating assets.
Question 63 Student family has large number of "emergencies."
Question 64 Mother makes insulting, hurtful remarks to teacher who institutes 24-hour notice policy for absences.
Question 65 Keeping books on hand to sell to students.
Question 66 Mini-lesson at audition.
Question 67 Student calls adult teacher by first name.
Question 68 How ABRSM Grade 8 compares with a U.S. college music degree. How to market with the Grade 8 certificate.
Question 69 Parents take issue with dismissal letter.
Question 70 Cure for hiccups.
Question 71 Paying a retiring teacher a fee for taking on her students.
Question 72 Job code for Schedule C.
Question 73 Proper recital attire.
Question 74 Family referred friends to teacher, mentioning fee, when teacher plans to take on new students at a larger amount.
Question 75 When one student is absent in a multi-student family lesson block.
Question 76 Greeting student at next lesson after a pointed disagreement about studio policy.
Question 77 How many times to call back in response to inquiry calls.
Question 78 Teacher is requested to "audition" at studio interview.
Question 79 Student's question about teacher's divorce.
Question 80 Transition from traveling teaching to studio-based teaching.
Question 81 Refusing to recommend a new teacher.
Question 82 Follow-up to questions 48 and 80 concerning teacher who seems to be behaving unethically.
Question 83 Difference between deduction and tax credit.
Question 84 Signing up for fall lesson times.
Question 85 More on signing up for fall lesson times.
Question 86 Teen boy may be in love with teacher.
Question 87Second thoughts, before first lesson, of accepting student with potential problems.
Question 88 How to tell parent the check bounced.
Question 89 How to check for bad breath.
Question 90 How to begin advertising in elementary school newsletters.
Question 91 Hiring other teachers to teach for you.
Question 92 Parent leaves nasty note demanding tuition back and hurries off before a response can be made.
Question 93 More from the hit-and-run mom in the previous question.
Question 94 Last installment about the hit-and-run mom in the previous two questions.
Question 95 Appropriate response when asked how many students are in the studio.
Question 96 Recital fee, recital expenditures.
Question 97 Starting a studio downtown in a large city.
Question 98 Circumstances in which to refund tuition.
Question 99 Follow-up to starting a studio downtown in a large city (question 97).
Question 100 Follow-up to home school "holiday" and tuition refund (question 98).
Question 101 Studio policy contract wording.
Question 102 Decorating church for student solo recital.
Question 103 Teacher leaving music store and asking students to come with her.
Question 104 More on teacher leaving music store.
Question 105 Making and selling a CD of piano playing.
Question 106 Student stops lessons entirely, leaving first lesson of month unpaid.
Question 107 Saving a spot in fall schedule for student who did not study during the summer.
Question 108 Homeowners' Association and neighbor trouble.
Question 109 Music store owner wants to charge tax on teacher's studio-space rent payment.
Question 110 Getting a method series published.
Question 111 Parents expect credit or refund of tuition for lessons of teacher working from a music store.
Question 112 Students who arrive at the lesson in wet bathing suits.
Question 113 Response to how to handle wet bathing suits at lessons.
Question 114 Smoky piano-lovers' meeting.
Question 115 Mistaken scheduling of two students for same lesson.
Question 116 Dealing with parents' gripes.
Question 117 Teacher feels she's too thin-skinned.
Question 118 How to find more daytime, non-after-school-hours students.
Question 119 Student needs to change lesson time every week.
Question 120 Prospects don't show up to interview.
Question 121 What to say to parent when lesson runs long so parent doesn't expect extra time every week.
Question 122 First student of the day arrives very early.
Question 123 Penalties if complete estimated quarterly taxes not paid.
Question 124 Keeping a new puppy quiet during teaching.
Question 125 Sales tax and tax ramifications of selling teaching piano.
Question 126 Independent teacher teaching at music store; owner wants a greater percentage of fees, have teacher take on janitorial chores, and sign non-compete contract.
Question 127 More on previous question.
Question 128 Discount for paying for many lessons in advance.
Question 129 Parent claims makeup date is different from the date set.
Question 130 Dealing with missed lessons during a child's sports season.
Question 131 Ideas for group lessons, especially for teachers who do not teach group lessons.
Question 132 How long to run an ad.

Question 133 Reducing tuition during hard economic times. Question 134 Eager and talented student with mother who disrespects studio policy blatantly and constantly.


I require students to pay for the month at the first lesson, but sometimes they don't, and this makes it difficult for me to pay my own bills on time. What do you suggest?

The best thing to do is to tell a new student at the telephone query stage and at the audition that your studio policies require payment for the month at the first lesson of the month. Hand the adult your written studio policies at the interview and ask her to read them. Point up your rule further by stating your requirement and asking if there are questions about this. Fussing about money is something most teachers want to avoid. The best way is to address it head-on and at the earliest opportunities, which are the initial phone contact and the studio audition.

As to enforcement of your policies, if the student comes in to the first lesson of the month and doesn't hand you a check, ask if "your mother sent a check today?". If no, write a note in the assignment pad asking for a check to be mailed or brought to the next lesson at the latest. Or, ask the child to come back in with a check "and just put it quietly on the table" before the family drives off. If the parent attends that first lesson, before the family leaves, ask for a check for the month ("Would you please write the tuition check before you go?"). This may require you to gather up your gumption, but I promise it is easier and easier each time. Except that probably you won't find this out because people will start abiding by your policies! (And anyway, asking for a check early on is a whole lot easier than asking for it in arrears when you're already into the next month!) And eventually the "straggler" families will remember.

If late payment persists, however, add a late fee. A few dollars will not get anyone's attention; those who wish to pay at their convenience rather than follow your studio policies will not feel any discomfort from the addition of a few dollars and will gladly pay it to continue in the way they wish to function.

But a half-hour's lesson fee will get their attention!

Instituting a late fee is much like instituting a tuition increase. A month before the penalty fee is to take effect, mail a notice to all studio families. A statement such as this is fine: "As you know, my studio policies state that tuition for the month is due on the first lesson of the month. As of (month name) first, a late fee of $__ will be added to all accounts which are not paid by the first lesson of the month. Thank you for your cooperation."

At the same time you issue this statement, also initiate an advertising campaign in case you must dismiss students who do not comply or if you have families quit in high dudgeon over your presumption in enforcing the policy they knew about when they started lessons! Don't worry about them; you're better off without them!

Once the penalty fee is in place, enforce it with an iron will. Otherwise, people will ignore it, and you'll be back where you started.

Another thing I would advise to solve this problem is, surprisingly, to raise your fee. People won't treat you so shabbily if they perceive you are worth more!

What do I do about a little brother who comes to the lesson, too? It would be ok if he sat quietly and read, but he doesn't. He messes around in my cabinets and also makes a lot of noise. This distracts his sister, and I worry what he's doing to my stuff. The mother just sits there while the kid wanders off, seeming not to notice what's going on! Help!

This problem is the parents'. They have not taught him good manners. This may be the way the child behaves at home, so the mom doesn't see it as a problem! Or, that she doesn't care if her child acts this way, as long as he is at someone else's house. Or, the mom may think that since you've said nothing, it's ok with you. Or, she may think part of piano lessons in your studio is your "baby-sitting" the other child so she can read or be oblivious.

Another problem for you is liability. You can bet your bottom dollar that if that child somehow injures himself in the course of wandering around unattended in your home that that same preoccupied mom will be johnny-on-the-spot with a lawsuit! (This is why it's important to have plenty of liability insurance!) Now, to solve the problem. Talk to the parent but phrase your request so that it will be a -benefit- to the student for the mom to do something about the little brother: "Mrs. Smith, Cynthia will have a much better lesson if Bobby is not here. He makes noise and walks around, and Cynthia is curious about what he's doing. This is a big distraction. Would you go to the park with him during her lesson or run an errand?"

If the mom thinks this was a one-time request and they start shucking their coats the next week, smilingly say that last week was -such- an improvement in Cynthia's concentration that you'd like Bobby to be elsewhere every week. Ruefully you can add, "You're not getting your money's worth for Cynthia's lesson when she is distracted because Bobby is wandering around and making noise." While you're doing this, help Bobby back into his coat.

As with prompt tuition payment, it helps a lot if you have something specific in your studio policy about siblings and lesson attendance. If the younger child comes to the interview or the parent mentions a younger one (at the phone query stage, if possible), speak right up and say that arrangements will need to be made for the sibling during lessons, as you don't allow non-students to be in the studio during lessons.

Sometimes you can hear squalling on the other end of the line during the phone query. If so, this is your golden opportunity to mention that the parent will need to "make arrangements for the other child during" so-and-so's lesson because your studio policies do not allow siblings in the studio during the lesson. If the parent balks, hey!, you've saved yourself a -lot- of grief! Let another teacher shoulder this family with no good sense!

A student quit owing me money. Can I deduct that as a "bad debt" on my taxes?

No. And I know this is not the answer you wanted.

The exception is if you're on "accrual basis" accounting. If you are, your accountant will have told you that you are. The idea with accrual basis is that you must claim as income all moneys you are -supposed- to get. It wouldn't be fair for you to pay taxes on money you never received, so you can claim that money as a bad debt.

If you are on cash basis accounting (which 99% of teachers are) and get stiffed, it's your bad luck. If you cannot collect your fees, the IRS has no sympathy for you. You have taught for free. You get no tax relief.

Try to avoid this by collecting your fees at the beginning of the month for the entire month. Put this in your studio policy!

I want to break the ties I have with the local music store where I am currently teaching. I don't want to create bad feelings, as they're the only show in town and I'll have to continue to deal with them, but I'm tired of giving them a cut of my lesson fees. I want to be on my own. How can I break away?

As you have discovered, it's more lucrative to work for yourself, as well as offering more flexibility for you and less accountability to someone else.

Don't feel guilty about wanting to leave the store's "protection." It's a good thing when a businessperson grows! In fact, the store's owners were probably expecting that someday you would want to go off on your own and won't be flabbergasted at your announcement.

Naturally, you must notify the owners in plenty of time before leaving. They can find a replacement if they want to. Mention that "it's time" for you to be on your own; don't mention your aggravation at having to share your fees with them. Be polite but don't elaborate on why you're leaving; just say "it's time."

Also notify your students - - in writing - - about the upcoming change. Give them the option of coming with you or staying on at the store with whomever the owners hire. Give the owners a copy of your letter so they will know -exactly- what you have said to your students.

My guess is that most students will stay with you, but start advertising as soon as you -make your decision- to leave the store. Any students you find this way are definitely "yours," whereas the owners may feel that students you taught at the store are "theirs," and if they make a fuss about your taking your current students with you, you will have to bow to their wishes. (Which is not to say that somewhere down the road - - say, a month or so - - families might not quit the store's new teacher and come to you on a private basis. Then the store can do nothing about it. Whatever you do, however, if some families elect to stay at the store or you're required to leave all your students there, *don't* send any kind of solicitation letter asking them to join your private studio!!! This is strictly unethical!)

Since you want to keep the relationship cordial, after you leave, I recommend writing a letter of thanks to the owners (assuming the parting was not acrimonious because of a tug-of-war for the students you taught there). Say how much you appreciated their giving you a start in town, providing guidance, and so on. Say you will continue to depend on them for materials for your students and look forward to working with them in the future. If you wish, send a small potted plant, arriving after your note.

When a student quits and says he'll be back, will he? Or is he just feeding me a line? I sort of feel like I should keep his spot open for him. Should I?

In my experience over the years, when a student quits, he's gone, regardless of what he says.

When the student quits, he actually may have the sincerest intent of coming back to piano study, but it still doesn't happen. Particularly with adults, once that practice and lesson time is no longer required in the daily schedule, other responsibilities (and leisure activities) flow in with a vengeance to fill the void.

I have had only one incident where a student quit and came back. He decided he wanted to play sax. That lasted about 6 months. Then he came back...and now he's at Juilliard. You can't know for sure, but I'd say the odds are 500 to 1 that a student who quits (and says he'll be back) is gone permanently.

Go ahead and fill the spot.

As to how to handle the last lesson, though you didn't ask, introduce several new pieces that are on the student's current level or slightly lower so he can work on them on his own. When he's at the door and says, "I really will be back," you say, "When you're ready, give me a call and we'll look at the calendar." Smile and shake his hand warmly. You'll never see him again.

If this all happens on the phone, you won't be able to give him a send-off with suggested pieces, of course. So just be warm and encouraging. But you still will never hear from him again.

I will be moving and passing along all my students to a teacher who is new to the area and has just graduated with a master's degree. What is the most "etiquette-full" way of passing on a business such as a piano studio? Does one "sell" the studio or simply help the next teacher set up shop? I will be passing on 45 students, age 5 to adult, of all levels, and I also will be giving her my waiting list of approximately 15.

Congratulations on building such a successful business! I know you won't have a problem setting up shop in your new town.

As to selling a studio, this is an area in which there is not much precedent (at least that is published!). There was a letter in CLAVIER e years ago about how music teachers got nothing when they moved and closed down their studio, not the way dentists or doctors or lawyers "sold" their practices upon moving or retirement. This person was whining about how she was passing on income to other teachers - - which is perfectly true - - and thought it was unfair that these "receiving" teachers didn't pay the departing teacher (her) some kind of compensation. I don't recall seeing any follow-up letters, pro or con.

Now as to your specific situation:

(1) Remember that you will be on the receiving end many times in your career and that sometimes it's time for you to be on the sending end.

(2) If you are selling your studio building and equipment, as well as the student load, you might try advertising for someone to buy the whole deal, but I think you'd be quite unlikely to find a piano teacher moving into an area who'd -also- like your location, your equipment, etc. I saw an ad from a teacher one time who was trying to do this. I do not know if she successfully sold her studio as a package or not. Though I was moving to the area, I know *I* was not interested! I didn't like the curriculum she had set up, so I knew her students and I would have a difficult time working out the kinks between her system and mine. She also had a large number of electric keyboards and other group lesson paraphernalia, and I don't do group lessons.

(3) Ask teachers in the area if they would like to be on an "exclusive referral list" for the students. Maybe one or two teachers only. For this privilege, the teachers would pay a set sum. A per-student finder's fee is not the way to go because some of the students wouldn't actually transfer. A one-time fee would be safer for the selling teacher.

Your situation is different, of course; you are leaving the entire student load to one person. You might approach her and ask her to pay you a one-time fee for your largesse. You have done all the marketing and development, and she is being "dropped in" to the business. I am not sure what to tell you to charge her. Perhaps 2 months' total tuition? Four? Six? (I have no idea what dentists, etc. sell their practices for. You might call a couple and ask.)

You may want to offer a time-payment plan if the amount is large. Be sure to have a legal promissory note. (Check Nolo Press's book of contracts for laypeople for examples.)

If I were "giving" the studio to the teacher (or "selling" it cheap), I would not feel a strong need to assist a great deal in set-up. After all, it already is set up! You could be available for consultation (the new teacher calls you on her own nickel), but you don't want to be involved in too much hand-holding. In your case, there may be a problem since the teacher has no experience in the real world and is coming straight from academia. Which is to say, consulting might become a big time drain for you. You might offer x number of hours or consulting and then charge for each hour thereafter.

My wife needs help in a hurry. She has many students who "take the summer off" and then struggle to try to make up when school starts again. Do you have any articles that would be informative for parents to help them understand why their kids shouldn't stop piano lessons during the summer?

Point the parents toward the consumer.html section of my home page. There are a lot of general articles there about the impact of piano study on family life, how parents can help children at home, and so on.

Your wife should read these sections and also my discussion of problems with summer study. From this she could devise her own policy and then write up something directed at the parents. This document should be circulated as soon as it is written, well before time to make summer travel plans.

I charge a monthly tuition but find that parents who leave on vacation for anywhere from one to four weeks expect that they won't pay for these missed lessons. I find myself being a wimp about this and feeling bad for charging them, but I know they should pay. What should I say to them?

Save yourself time by making yourself clear at the phone query stage and also at the interview. See also my answer to Question 20.

Then, reiterate it in your -written- studio policies: when the studio is open, tuition is due. If people plan to go on vacations when the studio is open, they have the choice of making up the lessons in advance, when they return, or a combination of both. In any event, tuition must be paid.

When people tell you they're going on vacation, ask them when they'd like to do the make-ups. This puts the ball in their court and lets them know your expectations.

If they say, no, they're canceling, tell them that that is not an option. "You are welcome to miss and just forfeit the lessons, but, gee, I hate to see you pay and get nothing." This is direct enough for most of them, and they'll cooperate.

If they insist they are not coming and not paying, say, "I understand, however, I cannot promise there will be a spot open the fall. I want you to know that if someone else wants your spot, I will fill it." Yes, this is tough, but you can do it! Remember what you want to avoid!!

Now then, what if they quit when you announce your new policy? Yes, they might. This is a blessing in disguise: you are losing people who want to study with you on their own terms and have no respect for you, your knowledge, your teaching ability, and your business. Bah! Good riddance!

Clever you have put an advertising program into place at least a month before you send out your letter. My suggestion would be display ads (size of a business card) in elementary school "Principal's Bulletins." Add new students to take care of any that drop away; and then begin a waiting list.

I am expecting a baby and plan to take some time off after the birth to rest and to nurse. If I do this, what should I do with my students? Ask colleagues to teach them?

First, use this opportunity to dismiss students who are not performing to your expectations; clear the deck, so to speak. This will reduce the number of students for whom you must make arrangements, whatever they turn out to be.

With your remaining students, you have three choices:

(1) Take one to two weeks off. After that, resume teaching, but on a vastly reduced and re-arranged schedule. Move remaining students' lesson times around, scattering them around during the week, so you have blocks of time when you anticipate the baby will want to nurse. This will provide you long "rest periods" between blocks of teaching time. The reduced load because of dismissal will make this re-arrangement easier than if you kept everyone on the roster. After two months of this reduced schedule, probably you will be feeling fine and ready to resume your previous schedule.

(2) Ask colleagues to teach your students.

(3) Take 4 weeks off completely after the birth, without asking a colleague to take the students at all, by preparing your students for this event.

If you have a good idea about your delivery date, no later than two months prior, specifically begin getting them ready to work on their own for the month. Teach them specific techniques for approaching a new piece, as well as practice techniques. (Of course, you've been doing this all along but maybe haven't called their attention to it specifically. Example: "When you see an arpeggiated LH part, you'll make quicker progress if you block it. What I want you to do is block only the changes. Let's find them and circle them. Yes, every time the group of notes changes. After you can get around pretty well with the blocked changes, set the metronome for about 56 and try to get one block on each tick..." and so on.)

I have never "farmed out" students to colleagues but used the "on your own for a month" approach. I had confidence my students couldn't get into too much trouble in only a month. I also knew that there was an added safety feature: practicing would fall off because of no deadlines (that is, lessons).

There is also another side to the "farm out" equation: when you are asked to take students of another teacher for short while. I -have- been on the receiving end; this files discusses options and problems.

Many parents have a rather frivolous approach to music lessons. How do you respond to a parent who says they intend to "try piano lessons for a few weeks" to see if their child likes it?

I tell people that I do not accept students who do not expect to stick with it.

I winnow out these people at the telehone stage. I don't waste my time having them come to the studio for an interview if they're not in this for the long term.

How much do you accommodate piano lesson scheduling conflicts with baseball or soccer?

Only within the confines of my reschedule policy:

If they call 24 hours before the lesson (to the minute!), I will reschedule for whatever reason. If they call less than that, I will not reschedule. Therefore, they must choose to do the piano lesson or the other activity. In any event, the piano lesson will be paid for. The words "I hate to see you pay and get nothing" make it very clear that there will be no non-paid absences and that the choice is theirs as to what activity is selected.

In my studio policy, I specifically state that I will not reschedule for "last minute" (less than 24 hours' notice)changes because of soccer games, birthday parties, car trouble, **parent or sibling illness**, heavy homework, unexpected business trips, and the other specific reasons I've been offered as excuses to be let out of paying tuition. I put these exact situations right in the policy!

I hand out my written studio policy at the interview, and I also go over this with the parents and say, "I want to make this very clear at the outset. This is how I handle make-up lessons. I enforce this policy firmly, and I want to make sure you understand now how I do this, in case something like this happens to you. If you call me 24 hours or earlier, I will reschedule no matter what the reason (even whim). If you call me less than 24 hours, then you forfeit. I do this down to the minute. If you have a 4:00 lesson on Tuesday you have to call me 3:59 or earlier on Monday."

I have "time and date stamp" on my answering machine/voice mail so there's never any chance for "mis-statement."

The exception to my rule is if the child comes home sick from school or wakes up sick.

If the -parent- is sick, the parent must find another way to get the child to lesson. I make this clear in my policy, so the parent has plenty of time to make alternate arrangements against this possibility.

I cannot take responsibility for all the vagaries of the lives of 50 students (and their parents and their siblings and their coaches).

My families have never questioned this because I lay it out that way from the very beginning.

If you act like a professional, you will be treated like one. If families think they can get away with something, they will try it. And if they do try it, you say, "I'm sorry, but it's less than 24 hours until the lesson. My studio policy requires 24 hours' notice. To be fair to everyone, I enforce this rule firmly."

If you have no make-up policy now, and I suspect you do not, get one in place immediately. Send out a memo now saying that there will be a new make-up policy taking effect in September. Outline the specifics. Invite parents to call with questions. Those who do not want to hew to your new line will drop out. You are better off without them, I promise you! Fill those spots with committed students.

How do you handle cancellations?

Not at all. I make it clear at the phone query stage and at interview that I have only paid lessons or vacations. Otherwise tuition is due and lessons are made up if sufficient notice is given. See answer just above. Cancellation ("excused absence") is not a option I offer. I make my policy very clear and have never had any problems.

I want to eliminate 45-minute lessons and do only 30- and 60-minute lessons. How?

I don't blame you for wanting to get rid of 45-minute lessons. I hate them because the schedule is always so loused up!

I'll do 45-minute lessons -only- when it's the same family with two 45-minute lessons back-to-back. This creates a family block of 1.5 hours, thus my schedule is not disrupted by difficulties with atypical lesson lengths. If there is a problem of a school trip or rescheduled soccer game, one person receives no lesson and the other person receives 1.5 hours that week. Whether the "away" person gets 1.5 the next week is entirely up to the family.

So, how do you transition these people and when? When you change tuition rates is a good time; so is the beginning of a new school year or even the calendar year. You can do it any time, however.

No later than one month before you plan to do away with the 45-minute lessons, announce that you are eliminating 45-minute lessons and that students who are currently taking such lessons should let you know whether they wish to change to 30 or 60 minutes.

Be prepared for some major schedule reshuffling if you have a fairly full roster. For this reason, at the beginning of the studio year in September is probably the best time to make this change, as everyone's schedules are in a state of flux and you'll encounter more flexibility.

How should I calculate the fee for an hour lesson?

Double the half-hour rate. Parents see a very direct correlation this way.

Some teachers, however, use a "special half-hour rate." And it's not what you expect!

A half-hour lesson is -more- expensive than 50% of an hour lesson. A range of 70%-80% of the hourly fee is what they charge for a half-hour. So, an hourly rate of $30 would create a half-hour rate range of $21 - $24. Such teachers say that preparing a half-hour lesson is a lot more work since time is so short and therefore they deserve a higher fee.

I use the "double the half-hour lesson" approach, and nearly 100% of other teachers to whom I've spoken do so, also.

I frequently get questions from parents regarding their child's status, like, "How is she doing?" This leads me to believe that I've neglected somehow to inform the parents of their child's progress. Would you suggest a report card? If so, do you have any examples?

I think it is normal for any parent to ask about the child's progress.

Does the parent attend lessons? If not, ask him/her/them to start coming, say, every 2 weeks; or every week if it's ok with you. (I -hope- it's ok with you! Saying you don't want the parent there hints that you're trying to hide something. Of course, siblings are a definite no!)

When the parent is there, you can make observations to her every week, if you like. Be careful, though, not to speak to the parent as if the child weren't there.

Also, you can make statements to the child, which the parent will overhear: "It sounds like you've practiced really carefully this week! Good for you!" or "The Mozart wasn't as far along as I had expected. Did you miss some days practicing, or is there something you don't understand that I should help you with right now?"

Ask the parent if she would be specific in the kind of areas in which she wants feedback. This helps the parent clarify her ideas and also gives you the opportunity to know exactly which areas you should talk about...hit every one of them, as these are "hot buttons" for the parent.

Another approach for content: pretend you're the parent shelling out for the lessons. What kinds of topics would you like addressed? Probably: cooperative attitude during lesson, lesson preparation, attention to technical studies, speed at which student is progressing through material compared to others her age and achievement level, and so forth.

I don't do written report cards. Have you heard anyone who does? I have not heard of such, but that doesn't mean no one does or that it's not a good idea!

I just think verbal communication is quicker. It's more immediate. You have the parent's facial expressions and body language to react to, as well. E-mail is fine, too. Often after a really good lesson, I'll e-mail the parent to exclaim. (I don't use e-mail for problem solving, however.)

Another thing I do, which is another sort of feedback, is that as I announce the name of the child to play next at our big spring recital, I "brag" on the child. This gives the parent an "overall view" of the child's progress. After the recital I speak to each student and each parent and relative -separately- about the child's fine playing. When they get home and "compare notes," they have another composite picture.

If you feel that a written summation would be a good addition to your administrative processes, by all means, do it! (And let me know how it works out so I can make an addendum to this answer.)

Do you also have a policy on make-up lessons that you use for everyone?

Yes. Make-up policy and when tuition is due are the two most important parts of a studio policy.

And, yes, the same policy should be applied to everyone so all students are treated the same way. This way no parent can squawk when you stand firm on your policy.

I have been traveling to students' homes to teach, and now, for a variety of reasons, I want to teach in my home. How do I make this change, and will I lose students?

The how-to is addressed in a file on traveling teachers. Will you lose students? Maybe; probably. But to counteract that, three months before the change will take place, get a vigorous advertising program going so you have students waiting in the wings - - to replace any who quit and to fill the slots that you open by converting drive time to productive income time.

There is a colleague who makes me so angry! She talks about me behind my back, makes snide comments to my face, and so on. No matter what I suggest in a meeting, she finds fault with it. I try to be pleasant, but her behavior doesn't change. Do you have any suggestions?

We all have run into people like this! I have two suggestions.

First, build a "wall" between yourself and this person. Have as little personal contact and conversation with her as possible. Don't serve on committees with her. If someone else mentions her in a way that sounds like an invitation to gossip, say something like, "Really?" and then change the subject. You want to distance your physical self and your conversation from this person.

Second, make a change in the way you view your anger. Maybe my experience will be a help to you in this situation.

I finally came to the realization that my being angry at someone didn't hurt that person at all. Not one little bit! Nor did my anger change that person's behavior. It was still just the way it always had been. All my anger did was make -me- churned up inside. Did I want to give this person such power over my emotions? No, I did not, I decided. So now I acknowledge that I am angry at a person and then set it aside. The fact that I'm angry is still there on the periphery of my life; it hasn't gone away; but this person no longer has the power to make me upset. Instead, I get on with things.

Perhaps by severely limiting contact with this person and not allowing her to have power over your life will be of help. Remember that you can't change her behavior; you can change only -your reaction- to her behavior.

If it makes you feel any better, my guess is that this colleague feels threatened by you and your abilities and seeks to build herself up by tearing you down. She is more to be pitied.

After graduation, I started teaching at a music store. After a while, I decided to start my own studio. When I set my fee, I set it the same as what the music store was charging, but I have since learned that this rate is very high in comparison with other piano teachers in the area with similar backgrounds. I have stuck with this rate for 6 months, and although I have some students, I suspect the high rate is preventing me from getting more students. Should I lower the rate or stick with it?

How does this fee compare to what a month of dance or karate lessons cost? An average fee for these activities generally indicates what parents in your community will pay for a month's "enrichment activities" for their child.

If you are attracting students, I'd stick with your rate, especially if it's commensurate with dance/karate for a month.

You do not have to lower your rate because colleagues cannot charge what you can!

Instead of lowering your fee, step up your advertising. I have a lot of info on these topics, including setting and changing your rate. Try other avenues to increase the size of your studio. Don't reduce your fee; this will be bad for current students who will wonder why suddenly you are not worth what they are paying.

I am having second thoughts about a student I agreed to teach. During the interview, the girl and her younger brother ran wild in my studio. The family does not have a piano and had planned to buy a keyboard because they don't know whether the girl will like piano. I was hesitant to start her - - and told her mother so because they didn't have a piano - - but now I am hesitant for other reasons. To make matters worse, the mom paid me for the month in advance when they left the interview. What should I do? What could I have done to avoid this problem?

As this is your business, you don't have to teach anyone you don't want to. And, as this is your business, it falls to you to take care of the unpleasant details. If you don't want to teach this child, for whatever reason, write a letter to the mom (address is on the check) and say something like, "After further consideration, I will be unable to teach ____. I am returning your check. Thank you for considering me for the important task of teaching your daughter." Don't explain why, as this opens the door for questions. Make a bland but firm statement.

Will the mother call you? Probably not. If she does, repeat what you said in the letter. Don't be drawn into adding detail: "I'm very sorry. I just cannot teach ____." Keep saying this until the mom gives up.

Will the mother bad-mouth you to others in the area? Probably not because then she'd have to reveal that she thought things were all set and you "rejected" her. If she does, what kind of people would she tell? Are these families the kind you want to deal with on a continuing basis?

As to avoiding the problem, do it at the phone query stage:

I am concerned about liability in my home studio, such as what if someone's grandmother falls in my studio while visiting for a recital. I was thinking about having families sign a waiver. Will these hold water?

I'M NOT AN ATTORNEY! THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE!!

From my research and discussions with attorneys (including a personal injury attorney), it appears that such waivers are "usually useless." This is because such a waiver is an attempt by the teacher to get around laws (statutes) and legal precedent (case law authority), and judges probably would not be sympathetic to you if you tried to abrogate someone's rights with a waiver of this type.

On the positive side for you, the grandmother would have to prove that you were negligent.

It's not practical to remove "all hazards" from your studio. How could you know what is a hazard and what is not? What to do? The consensus is that you should make sure your liability insurance is up to snuff. Check with your agent; I'm not going to suggest amounts to you!

Are you aware of any software packages which have been developed specifically for music studios which combine scheduling and financials? I need one for a studio which has an owner-teacher with other teachers working under her.

I am not aware of any. If there are any specialized for music studios, they are probably programs people have done for themselves and are not commercially available. Therefore, I would suggest doing the money and data separately: a database for student records and scheduling; and something like QuickBooks (Intuit) or Money (Microsoft) for invoicing/posting to accounts.

In my own studio, I used to use Quicken, which is really designed as a personal finance package, but since I work by myself, bill by the lesson, and don't have any "draw-from" accounts, I don't need invoicing or fancy financial computing power. I keep student records by hand in a 3-ring notebook and the schedule in a professional calendar (book type calendar with columns for each day, broken up into 15-minute segments). Students are responsible for keeping their own repertoire lists, for purchasing music at the local music store, and writing checks to master class/recital sponsors and anything else that is out of the ordinary.

Quicken and I were -not- good friends, I must confess. In fact, using it broadened my vocabulary quite a bit. A new computer had Money pre-installed, and so I decided to try it instead. Could hardly be worse, right? There is a feature that will import Quicken files, so I tried that. It didn't appear to work, so, with a deep sigh of one put-upon to an unbelievable extent, I resigned myself to re-creating all my categories and sub-categories. (This tells you how exasperated I was with Quicken!) I bought Money 2000 for Dummies, too. Actually, Money is sort of intuitive; I was all set for completely non-intuitive. I was able to poke around and pretty much get it all going. I also discovered that my Quicken files did get imported, for which I am thankful so I didn't have to start that at square one.

Entries are easier in Money than Quicken, I think, but I haven't figured out how to "call out" a report in just the format I want. In fact, it was generating reports that was the final straw with Quicken (the newest version). The newest version was even less user-friendly than the old one I was using!

Unless you already are a Quicken hotshot (and/or need to generate invoices and track user accounts, all tied in to your expense and income records), I'd suggest you give Money a try. There is a demo version you can download from the Microsoft Money website.

There are many checkbook programs available on the Internet. Many of them are free. If you are a sole proprietor, these checkbook programs should work fine for you. They are not double-entry formats. Therefore, you'll have entered the data only once; and also will have no second way to double-check the accuracy. Note also, you will have to generate your own reports for tax purposes.

I'd be happy to have feedback from anyone who knows of a program which does what this reader seeks. And about a simple accounting program.

Update, 2013: Money has been discontinued by Microsoft. A mixed blessing, as it was more user-friendly than Quicken but nearly impossible to find how to generate a report and even more difficult to find how to print it. I converted to Excel. True, I had to re-enter all my categories (but it gave me a chance to cull and subdivide, something I never would have taken time to do, otherwise) and there are little idiosyncrasies to the program, but it works better than Quicken (urge to kill!) or Money (ack!). And it will never be discontinued (I hope!).

My dad says they will take 50% of my earnings as a studio teacher. I found the IRS web page, though, and it said only 15.3%. How much of my earnings will go to IRS?

The -percent- of your earnings which goes to the IRS is a function of how much you make (plus some other things, such as if you're married, blind, over age 65, and so on). The more you earn, the greater the percentage you pay the IRS. It isn't quite as easy as this, because there are some other factors such as the tax on your "last dollars earned," but this is the bare-bones explanation. Your accountant can give you the full treatment!

The -amount- of your earnings you pay to the IRS depends on your total income.

The 50% figure may be what your dad pays! If you make less income, you will be in a lower tax bracket (maybe that 15.3% one).

Above, I mentioned that the greater your annual income, the higher the percent you pay in taxes. This is the -theory-. The idea is that is takes $X to subsist and that anything above that is discretionary income. Those who have "money to burn" should contribute more for the public good. Those who have a whole lot of money to burn should do their civic duty to the country which enabled them to live so affluently: by giving a very large percentage of their income to the government to use to finance highways, national defense, etc. The problem is that, for the ultra-rich, there are many of what are called "tax loop-holes": a "hole" in the rule through which people may slip and not pay what they ought to, be it a large percent or small.

As to your exact question, figure 25% as a safe guess unless you're making money hand over fist, in which case you'll owe a larger percentage to the IRS.

You also need to file estimated tax payments every quarter. It makes sense that you would total what you made at the end of the quarter and send in tax on that amount, but it doesn't work that way. Instead, the IRS asks you to guess at your coming year's income; then you divide that sum into four parts and submit one part every quarter. The rub is that if you guess wrong you're penalized. Yes, even if you make -more- than you expected to! Makes no sense, I know, but we're stuck with it until Congress sees fit to change the law. (Contact your Senators and Representatives.)

Do you have an accountant? Even if you actually fill out the forms yourself, it's good to have an accountant who can advise you and answer questions.

If you want to save some money, have the accountant do a tax return every other year for you; you use that as a template in alternate years. There are changes in the tax laws every year, of course, so in alternate years, purchase one of the fat tax guides. You must keep abreast of the changes; ignorance of the law is no excuse. The cost of the book and your accountant's fees [for the studio portion of your family's taxes] are deductible as a business expense.

Is there a way to estimate what my business expenses might be?

As a general guideline, take 15% of your gross income (all the money you make before taxes and any other things are subtracted from it) for business expenses. If you live in an area where the cost of living is high, the same purchases will cost you more, so 15% is very likely to be low.

A projection like this is a very good thing to do. Figure out how much you will earn in a year and then subtract 15% of that for business expenses. How do you like the resulting take-home pay?

Note: This 15% figure is what my accountant gave me as an overall small-business number. The 15% doesn't hold true for me. I have found that my expenses are rather more, but I live in an area where the cost of living is extremely high, plus I don't cut corners much at all in how I run my business.

If you file a Schedule C, all business expenses are deductible.

Important: Don't just take 15% of your income and use this as your business deduction sum! Your business expenses may be more or less. If it's less and you are audited, you are in big trouble! If it's more, you have cheated yourself and paid more in income taxes (and self-employment taxes) than you needed to. If you've overpaid, you also let the government keep the money you could have been earning in interest somewhere else. Of course, any overpayment will come out in the wash at tax time, but you have created an unrecoverable opportunity to have made money on the amount of the overpayment.

Also, please remember that you must document each deduction. Keep those receipts!

If you don't file a Schedule C, declare your teaching income on page 1 of Form 1040 (that is, the front side of the form). This will be money you have earned as "regular income." That is, it is not subject to any special treatment. If you do this, however, you won't be able to take your business deductions - - a special treatment, so obviously, I suggest that you take the trouble to file a Schedule C.

Business deductions include music books, CDs used in your teaching, probably concert tickets (usually considered "education," but consult your accountant), office supplies, postage, recital expenses (food, program printer/photocopying, hall rental, decor), insurance, mileage in your car for business purposes, magazines, etc.

You also can -depreciate- your piano. This is another kind of deduction that you claim over a period of several years. Other pieces of equipment also may be depreciated, such as computers, software, tables, filing cabinets, desks, and so on.

If you claim a deduction for office in the home, this is another business expense you can claim. This includes part of the mortgage or rent, heating, electricity, and so on.

!!!Caution!!!

If you claim the deduction for office in the home, you will reduce the amount of money you can put in your retirement fund. Unless you are going hungry, I always suggest that the retirement money later is more important than the deduction now, but this is your decision.

When you set up your accounting system, set up expense categories that match those used on the Schedule C.

I don't have a degree in music. I studied music through college but listened to my father and got a more "practical" degree instead. Will this be a disadvantage in opening a studio? How could I sell myself with this in mind?

How much music did you study? How does what your music transcript shows differ from the regular curriculum of a music major? This makes a big difference. If you lack a couple of courses in orchestration or conducting, this is different from having only 2 years of applied piano (that is, instrumental study with a teacher). Find a couple of college catalogs to find out what music courses are required for a degree. Compare this with the classes you've taken.

Are you studying now with someone? If not, you should. This shows your commitment to keeping current and to "make up for" not having a music degree.

Are you considering going back to pick up the courses you lack to finish a music degree? If not, I'd advise you strongly to consider it.

Have you joined the local teachers' group? If not, you should. You may be able to get a student rate on membership fees if you are enrolled in college coursework. (I don't know whether private piano study would qualify. That would be a decision made by the teachers' group or its state/national governing body.)

As to marketing yourself with the sort of education you have: suppose there is a wonderful kindergarten teacher who has good instincts and studied kindergarten teaching for a couple years in college before going off to accounting or something else. This person probably can go on instinct and fly by the seat of his pants in teaching kindergarteners, but he won't be able to be hired full-time by the school district because he doesn't have the paper credential. Same with you: you can wing it and go on your own partial training and good musicianship, but you can never join the ranks of "real" music teachers because you don't have the credential.

Therefore, I would get involved in getting that degree. This way you can say you are currently enrolled in classes to "complete [your] music degree." You would market yourself as a person who has one bachelor's degree (or whatever) but are "going back to school to get a degree in what I really love." You'll be respected for doing that - - for making that effort.

Know that you won't be able to charge as much as someone else in your town with a bachelor's, but you can certainly charge more than someone with no college music study at all! After you have that degree, you can raise your fee considerably.

Good luck! I know you can do it!

I have some friends who told me that their children's music teacher made the parents sign contracts regarding commitment. Have you ever done this, and if so, did it work for you? Do you know where I can get a sample contract to draw up my own, or should I go to an attorney?

No, I have not done this, but many teachers do.

Rather, I screen carefully at the phone query and the studio interview stages. If I don't sense that this is a long-term project, I don't even invite them for an audition. Therefore, it never gets to the contract stage.

Of course, if you need the money (and this is a -perfectly- legitimate reason to teach and to accept students - - "honey, if you're breathing and have a checkbook I'll teach you for however long you want to study"), you may not want to screen for "temporary" students. Later, you may decide to be more picky.

A lot of people want to "try" piano - - kind of like an introductory course in china painting at the community center.

Look in the library for Nolo Press's book on simple contracts. Talk to teachers who use these contracts.

I am fortunate to get nearly all my students by word of mouth now. My schedule is constantly full, and I am blessed with a waiting list. I don't teach any more than I do because I have two kids of my own and save two afternoons a week for their activities. Therefore I don't have much free time for make-ups. This town is fairly affluent, and my students do a lot of traveling during the holidays and the summer. In December, June, and July my income is generally down 30%-50% because I give credit for time off, as long as I'm notified the day before. This is starting to get out of control. I was pondering giving my students a set number of excused absences for which they can receive credit or make-ups: maybe 4 or 5 per year. If a student has 4 absences in January, then all subsequent lessons would be paid for. Have you tried anything like this? Has it worked for you? Do you have an alternative that has worked for you?

I think you have two separate questions.

(1) As to being short on time for make-ups: consider one day a month, on one of your day-off days, giving make-up lessons that are needed. Or, fit in what you can in holes in the weekly schedule and do the rest on that one day a month.

Another way some teachers do make-ups is to do a group lesson, doing everyone at once. This could be done at the tail end of a teaching day or on one of your day-off days; or even a Saturday (this will make it easier for all parents to get their children to the make-up session). Do this once a month. If the student missed a whole month, then he would get group lessons for 4 months running before and/or after he returned. If a student cannot come on the scheduled group day, it's your choice to have him forfeit or let him carry it to the next group lesson day. If the latter, I'd put a limit on the number of "carries" you allow (1 only, for example). Otherwise, you leave yourself open to being taken advantage of - - except in a different way! As you say, the present situation in your studio is "getting out of hand," so you want to structure tightly any new make-up situation you install. Since the area is affluent, all parents will understand your wish to be in control of your business and thus maximize your income.

Some teachers have a "no make-up" policy and wouldn't change that plank of their studio policies for anything in the world.

(2) Short answer about the credit slips: don't do this. Things would only get more out of control. Whose business is this, anyway? Who's in charge? Who's making the decisions? Whose family comes first?

Long answer: as you may have guessed, having read in my file on studio policy and a response on this Q&A page, I wouldn't endorse your idea of "credit slips." Why would you do this? You are full and have a waiting list!! Your services are in demand!

I suspect you are being wishy-washy because you are afraid you'll lose students (or think their families will think badly of you). This is a common fear and a common reaction when families press for outright cancellations. As you know, some of them are very skilled at browbeating! If you're not strong, you'll lose every time! Even if you did lose students, you could replace them with ease because of your waiting list. And if you lost them over this, you are better off, believe me.

Also, I don't think you need to structure your financial life around your students' vacations, either. Especially in affluent areas, vacations tend to be frequent and/or prolonged.

You are in a strong position. I'd suggest the following:

Give up the idea of credit slips. When the studio's open, tuition is due. Period. -You- decide when the studio is open (more on this below).

This is my own make-up/"cancellation" policy. I state it clearly at the audition, get agreement, and have no trouble at all. (1) When 24 hours' notice is given, a make-up will be given for whatever reason. (2) If less than 24 hours', no make-up will be given and the student will have to choose between the lesson and the other event, whatever it is. (If the less-than-24 is because of illness *of the student* - - not a sibling or the chauffeuring parent - - I give a make-up; you would decide whether to do this or not.)

True, sometimes there are gripes, but I just say, "I have to treat everyone fairly. This is my policy." I have never had anyone quit because of this, and I suspect you wouldn't either. More in my file on make-ups.

I suggest you keep your make-up policy brief. The fewer parts there are, the fewer parts there are with which parents can take issue. That's why mine's 24 hours' notice; and for illness of the -student- only.

Now, let's talk about when tuition is due.

Decide how many weeks of vacation you want. Close the studio for that amount. This amount and the calendar dates are your choice, made for the convenience of you and your family.

Those who want more vacation than you decide you want to give them have a choice: make up in advance or afterwards; restructure their vacations to match your studio closure so they don't pay you for lessons they don't take; quit (horrors!); and/or risk having someone else put in their place. Also offer the option of having them pay full tuition in order to hold their place in your schedule.

Besides your actual bench time spent teaching, tuition holds a spot in your schedule for the student. This spot you will honor conscientiously and will not fill with someone else on whim or decide to go off and get a pedicure instead of teach. My guess is that your studio families don't understand this basic principal of what tuition is. So, you tell them (in your newsletter/"housekeeping" memo).

Make sure your [new] make-up policy is known to every family. Publish it in your studio newsletter; or write a letter about it (mail the letter; don't use e-mail or "child-delivery"!). If this make-up policy is a radical departure from your former policy, you may wish to follow up with phone calls to all families to make sure they understand. Speak with the adult who called you initially by phone about lessons or is your "contact" in that family, not the spouse and certainly not a child. Some teachers use the written contract approach; this may be indicated in your case.

If a student takes a long vacation, is not paying to keep his spot, and another student comes along (from a new query or from your waiting list), **fill that spot.** There is *no* reason for you to lose money! The vacationing family has demonstrated that it doesn't fear losing its spot in your studio; if they feel no anxiety, you shouldn't either. Fill that spot!

Make sure you state this clearly when the family announces it's taking 4 weeks in July to visit the Straits of Magellan. "Thanks for letting me know. How would you like to work your lesson time? Would you like to pay tuition to hold your spot?" No! I told you I'm not going to be here for the lessons. "I understand. In this case, however, I cannot promise you the spot will be open when you return. I would try to hold another spot, for you, of course, but I can't guarantee when that spot will be during the week nor that there will actually be a spot." What??! Lose my spot??! "Yes. I sent a memo out in September, at the start of the studio year, explaining my [new] make-up policy. In it, I explained that tuition is due during all the weeks the studio is open. Unfortunately, the times you have earmarked for your trip are during my studio year. So, you need to pay full tuition to hold your spot." Why, that's outrageous!!! "I'm sorry you feel that way, but this is my policy." Merciful heavens! I never heard of such a thing. "I understand, but this is my policy."

Note that you have not "risen to the bait" at any time but have remained calm. Nor have you disputed the other person's take on your policy. You have simply stated your policy and stuck to your guns. Once the parent sees that his outrage isn't going to change your policy, he will start to be rational. You also haven't said why you can't let the spot remain open; that's none of their business.

When the parent calls back to confirm, you say, "I'm so glad you were able to work it out. I would hate to have had Rodney miss so many lessons! He'd be so frustrated because he'd be so far behind in September."

Another option is to have the students make up the lessons in advance: "Unfortunately, the times you have earmarked for your trip are during my studio year. Rather than pay full tuition to hold your spot, I'd like to have you take the lessons before you go." This is an excellent solution and is the one I always offer to my students first: 99.9% of them take it. This option allows the family to keep its spot in the schedule. (You can do make-ups in the spot, too!) This option also avoids a confrontation such as the one described above, you get your payment, and the student doesn't get behind the eight-ball by a hiatus in study for an extended period.

Here's another confrontation scenario which includes the advance make-up option. "You'll be away 2 weeks in June and 2 in July. I'm glad you told me now. Let's see. We'll need to find some make-up times before you go." Make-ups? I just want to cancel. "As is stated in my studio policy, I don't do cancellations. I only do make-ups with greater than 24 hours' notice. Since you've given me more than 24 hours' notice, I'm happy to make up the lessons. [Pause.] Your other option would be a forfeit." Forfeit? What's that? You mean pay when we won't come?! "Yes, and I really hate for you to pay and get nothing. That's why I want to do make-ups. Is this a good time to set some make-up times? We can do an hour [double-up lesson duration and perhaps move the student to the end of the student's regular day] on __ or you can come twice a week on __." Well! I never! You expect me to pay and get nothing? Outrageous!! "It's my policy that tuition is due when the studio is open. I really prefer to make up the lessons in advance so you -do- get what you are paying for. [Pause.] If this isn't a good time to set make-up lessons, why don't you bring your calendar to Rodney's next lesson and we'll do this first thing. Or call me at your convenience."

Again, you have stuck to your guns, not verbalized any value judgments on the parent's point of view, and offered a calm, rational solution.

If you don't believe your studio policy, no one else will, either.

As to low cash months, you may need to put away some cash to see you through your studio vacation months. Decide how much you need to save and put it in a special savings account (not a checking account where it can be spent readily!). Transfer from this savings account to the family checking account each month. (This trick works with saving for the quarterly estimated taxes, too.)

Be sure to keep your studio savings and checking accounts separate.

I ask that monthly payment for lessons be made at the first lesson of the month. Of course, time and time again, a parent forgets. Children are usually dropped off in front of my home and walk themselves to the door. This means I do not often have contact with the parents after the first few lessons. When a parent sends no payment at the beginning of the month I am always left to wonder, "Gee, I wonder if they'll remember next week?" No one has ever called to say they forgot the monthly payment, so I am left to wonder. I do not like to involve the child. I feel very uncomfortable calling on the phone. Would you suggest a note by mail?

It's ok to involve the student. "Did your mom send a check today? No? Ok, after the lesson I want you to go out to the car and have your mom write a check. Then you bring it back in to me." OR "Did your mom send a check today? No? Let's go out to the car together and get it.....Hi, Mrs. Jones. Rodney didn't have the check for the February lessons with him, so I came to ask you to please write me a check now." If it's near the end of the month: "Rodney didn't have the check for the February lessons with him, so I came to ask you to please write me a check now. Since next week will be March, please write the check for both months." Obviously, this latter approach is for families that have failed more than once to pay on time. You can judge how firm you will have to be. It's important not to get behind, so if February isn't paid for by the end of February, ask for March to be paid at the same time. Otherwise, the parent may [honestly] forget that the check he wrote last week really went for lessons last month.

Another option and one which many teachers prefer because it's basically non-confrontational: invoice the parent immediately. That means getting the invoice in the mail the -next- day after the -first- lesson of the month. The invoice will arrive well before the 2nd lesson. If there is no check at the 2nd lesson, repeat the request to the student about the check. Resend the invoice the very next day and mark it "second request." If the child arrives at the 3rd lesson with no check, you face a choice: (1) teach the child and call the parent that evening; or (2) give the child a book and ask him to sit somewhere to read while you spend the lesson time doing chores that need doing. Do not feel that you must entertain the child or "be a good hostess." Say: "Sweetie, I'm not going to be able to teach your lesson today because you mom has not given me a check this month. She should have sent it in with you on your first lesson, but she didn't and I can't teach you until your mom and I fix this problem. Here are some books you might like. Pick one to read, and I'll take care of some things that I need to do while we wait for your mom to pick you up."

Tough? Yes. Unpleasant? Yes. Do you want to clothe your kids and eat ? Yes. No-brainer.

Bottom line: You want the money you are due; you must do the dirty work to insure you do get it from the people who are slow to pay (or hope you will extend "time payments" to them; or plan to pay whenever it is convenient with them). I am sorry you feel uncomfortable on the phone; many feel this way. I recommend you use the invoice system, as this puts a piece of paper between you and the parent - - something the parent probably prefers, too!

Re your response to question 8: "Parents expect not to pay when their children take the summer off." My problem is: In my policies, the students have to pay if they take the vacations when studio is open. But I've an adult student who has a trick so that she needn't pay her vacation tuition. When she plans to go on vacation or is too busy as a housewife, she says, "I'll quit after next month. I don't know when I'll be back". But two or three months later, she calls and says, "I'll start lessons again". It has happened more than once. I know, she should pay. But, how can I ask her to pay, if she has said she's quitting lessons and doesn't know when she'll be back?

This woman is taking horrible advantage of you.

If she quits before summer, for whatever reason, she is abiding by the letter of the law; that is, she's no longer a student of yours and therefore does not owe you tuition for the summer. By quitting to avoid paying the summer fee and calling again after summer is over to start again, she is unethical.

I suggest that when she next announces she is quitting, you say, "I understand. If you quit, please be informed that I may not have a space for you if [not "when"] you return." She will be astounded!

Further, if she does quit again and then calls to restart, tell her no. "I'm sorry. I have no openings for you. If you'd like me to call you if I do have an opening, I will be glad to put you on my waiting list." What?! A waiting list?! I'm your student!! "No, I'm afraid you aren't. You quit just before summer, remember? I would have saved your lesson time had you abided by my vacation tuition rules, but you told me you were going to quit." But I was going to be away. I couldn't come to the lessons. I didn't have time. "I understand, but I enforce my policies the same to everyone. Since you quit, I filled your spot. Would you like me to put you on my waiting list?" It's likely she will say no, but you will have had the privilege of educating her about how to treat a piano teacher and you will have gotten a little bit of satisfaction by giving her some of her own medicine!

You don't need this woman!

You don't need -any- students who treat you this way. If they do this to you, they are showing that they have no respect for you as a person and for what you teach. Good riddance!

My friend has a one-year-old baby. She has one student and finds it is difficult to find a new student. She can't become a traveling teacher because she doesn't have a baby-sitter. I also think she wants to look after the baby by herself. She has given brochures to the students of an elementary school that is near her house but doesn't get any piano students.

I would advise her to stick to the elementary school, but instead of sending home a one-time brochure, she should advertise on a continuing basis, such as in the weekly Principal's Newsletter. Getting her name in front of people one time will help her reach only the people who (1) notice her brochure and read it; (2) don't lose it when they set it aside; (3) want piano lessons; and (4) want to make a call -right now- to pursue study. What's the chance that there are that many people at that elementary school who fit that description? Low. Very low. Her brochure won't reach those who lose the brochure, aren't really thinking of piano lessons at this time, might be considering it but don't have time to call, toss the brochure into the recycling bin without reading it, don't have a piano, etc.

She's in the right venue. She just isn't using it properly.

She also must think how she going to handle child care while she is teaching. She can't wait until she has another student.

If a student is ill more than a month, I think he should pay an absence-fee while he is ill. Is this a good idea? And how much? 50% of the normal lesson fee? When should he pay?

Full tuition. Due at the beginning of every month. Reschedule lessons until all the make-ups are finished.

(1) Yesterday, a man I don't know called for lessons. I agreed to teach him. Then I changed my mind. I feel uneasy about him because I don't know him. I didn't think about this when I talked to him on the phone. How can I explain to him that I changed my mind? He said he'd call back. (2) How I can make sure that someone who calls me is a good person?

(1) If you have changed your mind, when he calls, tell him that you have decided you cannot teach him. He will ask why, so you say, "We aren't a good match." If he asks why not (which he probably won't), say: "I don't think what I have to teach is what you want to learn. I'd be happy to recommend some other teachers to you, however." End on a positive note. If he doesn't call back, your problem is solved.

(2) One way is to ask how he "found out about" you and then use that to evaluate. (Of course, there is no way to know for sure.) Did a friend at church recommend you? A present student? He saw your ad? Where? He got your name from a colleague or a music store?

The mother of a student always praises me lavishly but refuses to pay for holidays - - many of them obscure - - I do not observe and when the child does not take a lesson. When I suggest a make-up time, it's never a good time and, "Brian likes his time off." I raised my rates $2, and she told me angrily that she didn't "appreciate" that. I can't believe $2 made that much difference to her, financially. After saying many more negative things about my payment policy and announcing she would be deducting a payment from the current month because she had paid for one of those holidays the previous month, she threatened me with finding a new teacher. I said very calmly, "I think that would be a good idea." But she didn't quit. What now?

That's easy; dismiss Brian. You'll get rid of the mother at the same time.

You cannot have a soft spot in your heart for the student. It is not a situation between you and Brian. It is between you and the boy's mother.

It is not worth keeping the student and suffering abuse or poor attendance at the hands of the mother. She'll find another teacher for him, so don't worry that his music career will come to a halt. The teacher is unlikely to be as good as you, but that is the mother's problem. Her actions have robbed her boy of a wonderful experience. No doubt she has done this to him before in her treatment of other adults who interact with her son (perhaps even his school teachers).

Use the "I am no longer able to teach Brian" statement. She'll say, Why? Simply repeat, "I am no longer....." But he loves piano and you're such a good teacher! she'll say. You repeat the line. She will continue to probe and rant, but give no more details. None!

Notice that you didn't say you "decided." You just said you could not. It is not her business why you are dismissing him. You could have decided to take up exotic dancing and need the time for lessons and practice or shopping for a couple of feathers. She doesn't need to know how you run your life or your business.

If she starts to say insulting things to you, as she has proven in the past that she shows no qualms about doing, or wants to whine and draw out the conversation, say (interrupt if necessary when she pauses for breath - - and if she starts talking, just continue on and allow her to talk on top of you if necessary, but you keep talking), "Mrs. Lowlife, I can no longer teach Brian, and I have things that need my attention now. Tell Brian that I wish him well. Goodbye." And then hang up.

Hang up even if she was talking on top of you while you were giving her the swan song. If she was too stupid to listen to you, what you had to say will not penetrate her brain.

Do not let her prolong the conversation. What good does talking to her do for you? None. You're not going to teach the boy, and it's no pleasure for you to listen to her harangue.

If necessary, have this speech written out and just read it right off the paper. Make copies for all telephones so you're prepared no matter where you answer.

Another option is to write her a letter. Use only the "I am no longer able....I wish him well" sentences. Nothing else!!!!! Will she call you? I doubt it. Will she write you? Maybe (this happened to me once). If she does, pitch the letter in the recycling. I'm sure you won't like the contents!! Then go take a hot shower to relax yourself and let this woman and all her abuse go down the drain with the water.

Might this mother tell others about how you so sorely mistreated her son? Maybe, but what sorts of people can stand this woman long enough to be a friend of hers? More people just like her, and you don't need them, either! Don't worry about her spreading lies.

If you have not done so, issue a new studio policy that stresses your vacation and make-up policies. You must take charge of your business, or parents will push you around.

Here I am again. Help! Brian's lesson is tomorrow.

She has paid you for February, right? How many lessons does that make that she's paid for and will not take after you dismiss Brian? Enough to cover all the times she's stiffed you with bogus holidays? If so, keep her entire check. (If not, refund the difference.) Tell Brian, when he comes in, that there is no lesson for him today because of your problems with his mother regarding payment. If his mom is waiting outside, send this letter out with him (which you have prepared in advance):

"Dear Mrs. Lowlife,
"Because of your repeated failure to abide by my studio policy, I can no longer teach Brian, starting today. I wish him well with a new teacher. Cordially..."

Do NOT mention the check. Will she call you? Perhaps.

Ok, let's suppose she does call.

You say, "As I said in my letter, because of repeated...." She'll be irate. You say, "I understand how you feel [you offer no value judgment on her feelings], but as my studio policy states...." She may say something else, particularly something threatening such as, "I'll take you to small claims court." You say, "I understand how you feel...." and then, "I have things to do that require my attention, Mrs. Lowlife. I must say goodbye to you now." And hang up! As I noted before, do not allow her to drag you into further conversation. Your time can be better spent, and you do not deserve to listen to her rant and rave.

Will she take you to small claims court? I doubt it. She'll find it costs money to do this - - about $500. (No cost to you.) And what are we talking about as far as lesson fees? $50, $100? (You didn't tell me your fee, and I don't need to know it, or the total number of lessons she's flaked, so I can't guess what the amount is, though my bet is that she's stiffed you for more than she might have paid you "in advance" and which I advised that you keep.)

Now suppose she takes you to small claims court (far less than a one-percent likelihood), the worst of all scenarios.

You are prepared with all your documentation: the letter, your studio policies, the dates she called you to cancel the next lesson, and your chronology of the debacle. (Get to your computer right now and start compiling the chronology while it is still the freshest in your mind it's ever going to be.) Has Brian studied with another teacher? Call this person and ask about Mrs. Lowlife's payment and "holiday" history. Ask the other teacher whether she/he will write a letter in your behalf. Now you're set.

Now suppose Mom generally sits in your waiting area or with Brian in the studio during the lesson.

When they come to the door, you stand in the doorway and do not let them in. Tell her, "Mrs. Lowlife, because of repeated...." She'll bluster. After a moment, interrupting if necessary, tell her, "I have things to do...." If she threatens small claims, you say, "I already am prepared to go court." You are very calm; you have role-played this with another adult, who tries to get you all flustered. Remember, the key is to repeat the same sentence over and over so eventually Mrs. Lowlife sees that she's not going to get a rise out of you, or even different words!

If she sends you a nasty letter, slip it into your court file, unopened. If you get a summons to small claims, go; you're already prepared. (And you are required to go.) The likelihood is that the judge will rule in your favor because your policy is clearly stated. Particularly if you have plenty of documentation. What will Mrs. Lowlife have? Probably only her verbal tale.

If you had to use another student's lesson time to speak to Mrs. Lowlife, make it up to the student with an extended lesson at another time, apologizing to the parent for the inconvenience. Extend a lesson at no charge - - say, 15 minutes - - if 5 or more minutes were taken from the next lesson; or give the student an entire half-hour at no charge.

You want your money, right? You've earned it. If you want it, you'll have to stand up to Mrs. Lowlife. You'll never see this woman again, but you might be confronted with the same or a similar situation again, so take this opportunity to learn how to do this - - it sounds as though Mrs. Lowlife will be an excellent teacher! Jokes aside, it won't be easy to stand up for yourself; I won't lie to you; but I will say that it will be easierER the next time. Get up your gumption and do it. If you are prepared with your statement to repeat and are prepared for the 100% likelihood that she will try to give you a ration of unpleasantness, you will win. You're in charge of your business. Stand your ground. Don't be a doormat.

PS. Without delay, take Mrs. Lowlife's check to her bank and cash it (remember to add this amount to your annual income). Wouldn't she be likely to stop payment on it?! Usually your own bank will charge you a fee for her having stopped her check.

Where do you suggest a new teacher to a new area advertise? And second, how do I find out the going rate in my area? Does it matter if I am Ph.D. candidate in music? Should my rate be higher? Does it matter which neighbourhood a teacher lives in, in terms of rate per hour?

The best advertising medium is principal's weekly newsletter at local elementary schools. Put an ad in each one within 10 minutes' driving time of your studio. Keep your ad running until you're full; it may take a while, but don't quit.

As to commanding a higher rate, it depends on your experience. Are you a new teacher? With a nearly-done Ph.D., yes, you could command more. (I assume you aren't "ABD" - - "all but dissertation," which usually means the student quit the degree because he/she couldn't face the prospect of the dissertation or got bogged down or decided it was more work than he/she wanted to put forth or quit for financial reasons, etc.)

Call local dance and martial arts studios and see what they charge for a month of lessons. This will give you a good idea what parents in your area are willing to spend per month. If you're not experienced, charge a little less. If you are, maybe charge a little more.

Yes; people in ritzier neighborhoods will pay more. When you move, try to be as close to the seats of dollars as you can. People don't like to drive; within a 10-minute drive is ideal. If you rent studio space, the same rule applies; and in this case, of course, where -you- live is unimportant.

This is an e-mail exchange I had with a local colleague who wanted to send me one of her problem students.

Colleague: "I want to refer a problem student to you. He absolutely pounds on the piano while I am trying to explain something to him. He is very uncooperative - - impossible to deal with. I just don't want to teach him. I hate to tell him 'I quit' because I feel guilty giving up on him. You're more experienced that I am. Will you interview the family if they call you? I don't want to send them to you if you don't want me to."

mb: "The mother just called me, and I was pretty frank with her about what I expected as far as cooperation and politeness. (She said he played "softly" while you were talking, you'll be interested to hear.) She, I think, is a big part of the problem. I had to say, TWICE, 'Just a moment, please. Let me finish,' when she tried to interrupt me (this was the 4th and 5th times she had done it). I told her to talk to him closely and to find out if he wanted to play. And that he would have to know if his behavior wasn't exactly what was expected, I'd bounce him out. She may call back, and she may not."

Later:

mb: "She did call back, and they came over. The child did not want to play for me, but I finally coaxed him to the piano with some silly stuff. (He later accused me of "having too much fun". Huh???)

"He and the brother had their shoes on my couch, etc., and I had to ask them not to do that. Several times. Obviously no discipline.

"And to all this the mother was oblivious.

"The child said he didn't want to play piano and didn't like it. You're right about the mother. She immediately jumped in with, "Oh, Aaron, you know you like piano." He then announced that he didn't need to take lessons because he already knew how to play, and he knew enough.

"While I talked to him, he rolled around on the floor, and I finally had to say to him, 'Sit UP!'

"When it finally got down to the time to talking turkey and asking him to agree to play piano every day at his house and to give me good cooperation at the lesson, he said he would not. Just flat out said he would not.

"I said, 'Well, then, I won't teach you. This is interview is over. It's time for you to go home.' I gathered his books, handed them to him, and went to the door and opened it. The child was completely flabbergasted. I am sure he had never been called to task at all for his attitude - - and certainly not as bluntly as I did. I think he was -way- past due!

"I said to the mom as they all went out, 'I won't teach someone who doesn't want to learn. If he's interested in the future, you know where to find me.' She said she understood, and that's the last I heard from them."

I dropped one lazy student (12 yrs. old) last year. I told his mom that I was dropping him and that he could not take a playing exam as part of my studio. Yesterday, he sent me an email to tell me that he just passed with a distinction, which he did with his new teacher. He said this teacher was much better than I am and has much better credentials; he also said that I'm a worst teacher he ever had; he used very bad language. While he was my student, he did not practice; he was uncooperative during the lesson and used bad language. He says his mom almost always hit him after I told her that he never practiced. I've replied to his email and explained why I couldn't let him to take the exam, but he emailed me again with bad language. If I tell his mom, she will hit him, and he will more hate me. What should I do?

My, what a mess! I think part of the son's problem may be a result of his mother's hitting him. At this point, since he is no longer your student, there is very little you can do about this problem. Had he still been your student you might have spoken to his school teacher and principal.

You did exactly the right thing to drop him, however. First of all, he won't practice. He was uncooperative and verbally abusive in the lesson, and he sent you abusive e-mails.

If he writes again, copy this e-mail (plus all the others he wrote you - - look in your "trash") and print them out and send them to BOTH his parents, not just addressed to mom. Don't tell him what you are doing, as he will watch the mail to steal the letter. Don't hand-address the envelope or put on your return address, either.

If you hear nothing from the parents after they should have received it, do nothing. If, at this point, the child writes to you again, contact his parents by telephone and say that any further occurrence will result in your filing a police report. The parent will understand right away that you consider their son's behavior as harassment.

If you receive further correspondence, make good your statement about the police. It is a sad situation, but this boy could decide to do something worse than send you threatening e-mails. Keep copies of all letters and e-mail, should you need them.

I have a student who never practices. Last week I put him on probation because every week he has a different excuse (since September; it's now February). Should I send a letter or call the mom to tell her? What is appropriate?

He knows he's on probation? How long is the probation? Did you tell him how long it is and what date it ends? Does he know the consequences? Does he know what he has to do to keep studying with you?

Another question: Do you want to continue to carry him for the sake of the income until you get someone else to fill the spot, doing your best with what little preparation he brings for you to work with? If so, there's nothing to be ashamed of. Money is money. If you get someone to fill the spot, you can bounce him out with no more than a week's notice. Put the new student someplace else for that one week and then move the new student into the lazy student's spot.

If you just want to get rid of him with the least commotion: (1) at his next lesson, tell him he's history; and call the mom to say so ("I can't teach Roscoe anymore.") (2) call the mom and say he has "2 weeks" (no more than 3!) to shape up or he's history and ask her to speak with him. I think this is what you had in mind.

One of my adult male students seems to look to me for affirmation that he is an interesting (and desirable?) man. His wife is a physician, and he's a stay-at-home dad. This makes me very uneasy. Help me, please. I don't want to dismiss him because he has talent and because I need the money, but I'm uncomfortable. He has not made a pass at me or anything. It's just a "feeling" I have about the importance I play in his life. Maybe I'm just imagining things? I have absolutely no interest in him at all. I also teach his daughter, so the tuition loss would be double.

This is a problem that isn't too common, but it does happen, as your letter proves.

First, trust your intuition. Red flags don't fly for no reason.

Second, ask yourself how financially critical his/their tuition is to you, should you need to dismiss him down the road.

You are probably right that he looks at you as more than just an instructor. I imagine his wife is wrapped up in her career (as male physicians usually are in theirs, of course), and there may be a dynamic at work in which she does not value his contribution to the family (again, this attitude is most commonly directed from a husband to a wife).

It's pretty common for adults of both sexes to become "attached" to their teachers because the teacher offers 100% attention to them in an area of vital interest, where a spouse might not (no time, doesn't value piano playing, trouble in the marriage, etc.).

Here are some ideas:

One of my men students (he's single) has asked me to dinner. I put him off because I don't know what to do. Should I go? Please rush your answer! (I'm single, too.)

You didn't say whether you wanted to go, but I suspect you do or you wouldn't have written asking for "permission."

Simple answer to your question: NO! Do not go. Do not mix business with pleasure. Period. No exceptions. Never. Refuse him politely with, "I am so flattered by your invitation, but I never mix business with pleasure. I don't mean to offend you, but I learned the hard way [even if you didn't - - I did, and you can pretend to be me] not to do this."

What do you do about a student who is no longer motivated to practice and work at the piano?

Dismiss the student unless you need the tuition fee. (It's no crime to keep a student because you need the money. When you find a better student and/or have reached the income goal you set for yourself, dismiss the disinterested one.)

Have you talked to the parents? If not, talk to the student first.

Meanwhile, soldier on as best you can. Try to find music that is appealing to the student. Try composition. Ear-playing. Transposition. Improvisation. Sight-reading. How about holiday music that isn't in season (most students love Christmas and Halloween music)? Or, use the lesson to practice. (The lesson may be the only quality time the student spends at the piano.)

I have a family that is difficult to work with. They go on numerous vacations during the studio year -and- are uncooperative in scheduling make-up lessons (they know these are required because this information is in my studio policy). They pay at each lesson (and sometimes they forget - - I have to remind them to pay me double the next lesson - - and sometimes they forget and then act surprised - - I'm sure you know what I mean). I never have their tuition in advance, so I can't "hold the money" hostage to insure the make-ups. I also have trouble getting them to reimburse me for books I buy the child. This summer I know they will be gone a lot. I dread the reschedule hassle. Help!

The combination of two of the worst problems: problem pays and students who are difficult to reschedule.

Get the jump on them for this summer. Right now, call and ask when their vacations are going to be ("I know how much the family travels."). Suggest make-up times. If the parent is recalcitrant or non-committal, say you need to have this information to schedule the make-ups/do the make-ups in advance before [date].

If parent still hems and haws, or does not contact you, dismiss the student. Make sure, however, that you have been paid through all the lessons you've given because you'll never get the money after you dismiss the student.

Have you considered requiring everyone to pay at the beginning of the month? That is, make weekly payments no longer an option?

Also, quit buying materials for this student. Send the parent to the music store. Since this will likely take a while, "place the order" with the parent for the book 3 months in advance.

My wealthy families are among my slowest "slow pays." Do you know why this is?

Maybe it's because they don't have the same healthy appreciation for money that the rest of us do. Or maybe it's just chance that these particular wealthy people are lacking in integrity and common decency. Another option: they have less money than they want you to think they have and may live from paycheck to paycheck.

When you get tired of their behavior, dismiss them. Make sure all the lessons they have taken are paid for, however.

My friend, who is a piano teacher, too, received a phone call from parents who said she was too expensive. Then they called back and wanted my friend to come to their house and give their child "aural tests" prior to beginning study with her. (The child is already taking lessons from another teacher.) Maybe they decided my friend was not too expensive? Should the family pay for my friend's time? If so, how much? What advice do you have for her?

If your friend gives tests or makes other evaluations, it should be at her normal hourly rate plus payment for drive time to and from the student's home, also payable at the regular hourly fee. These fees should be stated up front; often the parent prefers to drive rather than pay the teacher to drive. Under no circumstances should the teacher leave her home without a clear understanding by the parent that the parent will pay $X at the time of testing. (It sounds as though your friend should get the check -before- the testing takes place!)

If I were being asked to do "testing," I'd require the student come to me. And I'd question why the parents feel these tests are needed, especially since the child is presently studying. Perhaps the parents are concerned that the current teacher is not doing a good job. At any rate, before I did any testing, I'd discuss the need with the parents.

Most teachers are able to find out what they need to know about a prospective student by speaking to them during the interview, hearing them play during the interview, and after teaching one lesson.

Frankly, it sounds like the parents having your friend jump through hoops for their amusement. They probably won't start study with her.

My advice? One word: run!

I saw the following: "If you refer a student to me, and they take lessons for more than a month, I will give you a free lesson!" Is it a good idea to give a gift to the students who refers a new one to me? A free lesson? What if a teacher refers to me?

Although this teacher may mean well, it is stupid to give a free lesson. If you give free lessons, you have or are creating several problems. (1) You are devaluing what you sell. (2) You must devise some "scale" of how many free lessons per referral (or how many referrals per free lesson). And then track all this. What if there are two students in the family? Do they both get a free lesson if the referred student takes a month of lessons? How much extra paperwork would you like to create for yourself? (3) It's money out of your pocket. Any free lesson cannot be written off as a charitable gift. Charitable gifts are listed only on the Form 1040, not on the Schedule C (Profit or Loss from a Business) because a charitable contribution is not a business expense. It's a family deduction and appears on the 1040.

Copious verbal thanks and by a hand-written thank you note mailed the next day are sufficient.

If you want to give a -thing-, give a thank-you gift. A gift is deductible (on Schedule C).

A gift might be something like a pencil, pair of shoelaces or hair scrunchee, funky bent straw, Frisbee, etc. (all with a musical motif).

If a colleague refers to you, again, a hand-written thank you note is the way to go. Each time. The next day. Remember the teacher with a card at holiday time. If a large number are referred to you (ex.: a teacher is closing the studio to move and refers all her clientele to you), take the teacher to lunch. (Half of this cost is deductible; this percentage may change in future years; check with your accountant.) Perhaps a CD or score you know the teacher wants as a "good-bye" gift.

What about a "family plan" for tuition fees? I am often asked if I give a discount for a second (or third) child in the same family. Is this a wise thing to do? What do I say to parents who ask for this?

You say, "No."

Here's why.

(1) As I noted above, reducing tuition for other family members devalues what you sell. (2) Is your time and effort worth less for one child than another? (3) If one child took piano and one took flute, would the flutist receive a discount from the other teacher? Or if one took piano and the other dance? Parents know what enrichment activities cost, and if they want these things for their children, they expect to pay. You shouldn't "pay" them for the costs of seeing a second child receive enrichment! (4) What kind of reduction would you make which could make that much difference - - enough to induce the family to place more than one student with you? Half-price to the second and subsequent child? How do you like teaching for half-price? Isn't teaching for too little the reason you raise your fee?

Also to be considered is that it is more difficult to teach more than one child in the family. Care must be taken not to have too much overlap in literature. The less advanced one (usually the younger one) must not feel he/she is less of a musician because the sibling is "ahead" or is advancing more quickly. You must be in constant contact with the parent to monitor how things are going at home and whether there is rivalry or bad feelings.

As to what to say, I would advise the following: "No, I do not have a family plan." Soften your statement: "I know that's probably not what you wanted to hear!" People will not query you on why you don't do this.

If one is pushy and does ask, you say, "I decided long ago not to have a family plan." You don't give any more information except that your rule was established long ago.

Let's say that the caller continues to pursue this topic. You respond, "If you are looking for a family plan for tuition, I am not the teacher for you." I promise you will not get this far.

See also my file on this topic.

If, after you first state you do not have a family plan, the caller says, "Thank you," and hangs up, you know this family is shopping price. Price shoppers are universally poor risks: they are casual about payment (you can't be worth much if you cost so little), they are slow purchasing music, they badger you about unpaid cancellations, etc. You don't need people like this.

I am thinking about changing to a "summer schedule" so I can free up some days to be with my family. During the school year, I teach every afternoon, and I'd like to be able to have some days without lessons. Do you do a "summer schedule?" What are your thoughts on this topic?

Yes, I have done a summer schedule. And for the same reason you are advancing!

Was it easy? No, it was a pain in the neck to create the schedule, but I wanted to free up some days so I knew the kids and I could do things together. Therefore it was worth the hassle.

When my children were young, my studio was smaller than it is now. Moving everybody around was not as difficult as it would be now.

A change to a summer schedule will not reduce the number of reschedule lessons your students will request. You'll still have to find make-up times. Presumably, this would not be terribly difficult when all the kids are out of school, though sometimes families take off for a month-long vacation.

Also note that if you move everyone into only a few days per week instead of five, on those teaching days you will be quite tired by the end of the long day. And your children will have done without you much of the day rather than part of it. This may or may not have repercussions in your family. For example, therefore, if you teach five afternoons now, you might be better off condensing your teaching week to three days instead of two.

If you need childcare, you will need to make arrangements for an unusual schedule. Your provider may or may not think your schedule is "unusual," but keep in mind that it might be looked on as "difficult." (Daycare centers like a steady income and head count, too!) On the other hand, hiring a babysitter to come to your home on those days is easier in the summer when teens are out of school.

For a combination of reasons, I now do not do this, but that doesn't mean a thing for your situation. Evaluate the hassle of the rescheduling. Think about when you'd do make-ups. Consider the impact of a few, but longer, teaching days on your family. Investigate the ramifications of your revised schedule on daycare arrangements. Make a list of pros and cons of such a schedule revision. (A list like this is called a "Ben Franklin," after the gent who popularized this decision-making technique.) In all, which is preferable - keeping things the way they are or changing them?

I've a problem with a friend who is a beginning teacher and who has been teaching about 8 months. After grade 8, she decided to stop lessons forever, but last year, she changed her mind. She's taking lessons again and has started teaching. Before she quit, she and I took lessons at the same time in the same school, and she always had better scores on exams than I did. I want to help all beginning teachers if I can, and she comes to me for help about how to teach and her students' problems. She tells other teachers, however, that I'm not a good teacher. She tells me, "Who would want to take lessons in your studio?" and other insulting things. She also asks nosy questions, such as, "How many students do you have?", and when I answer, she says that so-and-so teacher has many more. I am preparing for my Diploma exam; she is, too. She calls me almost every day and tells me I'm a fool to take the exam at all. I want the Diploma to improve my knowledge in music. It's not for my prestige, but I realize that I can't teach grade 6 if I don't have the Diploma. (My teacher approves and supports me 100% in my Diploma studies.) I don't want have an "enemy," but it seems a friend like her will do more harm than good. I have tried to explain to her how I feel about what she says and about her frequent phone calls, but it does no good. Why does she behave this way? How should I handle this?

My word!

This poor woman, who is no true friend of yours, has many problems, among them no manners and no honor.

She also is jealous of you and your success. She is afraid she will never be as good as you are. She knows that you know much more about music than she [now] does. And that you know much more about teaching than she does and probably than she ever will because you started teaching quite a bit of time earlier than she did. She is frightened that she will score less than you on the exam or that she won't pass at all! She is afraid she is no longer as good as she once was; that she is no longer "at the head of the class."

She is trying to make herself feel better by saying mean and hurtful things to you and about you, knowing they'll get back to you from other teachers who are as nasty as she is - - why else would they pass on her comments? Anyone who acts this way shows that she is utterly insecure. Ignore any comments from such a person because they are not based in reality and therefore are meaningless.

The fact that this woman chose you to belittle is a compliment of sorts! Why attack someone who is not any good and not worth the effort to "pull down"?!

Now, how to deal with her.

You are not required to be nice or helpful to someone like this. You are required only to be civil.

If she says something nasty or hurtful directly to you, look her in the eye with a totally blank face, say nothing, and turn away. This way, she will "lose." If you respond in any fashion (words, facial expression, body language), she "wins." Eventually she'll get tired of "losing to you."

When she asks a question about your business, you must answer her question with one of your own: "Why would you want to know that?" When she replies, you repeat, "Why would you want to know that?" (You will be like a child saying, "Why?" to every answer given to him!) Eventually this woman will shut up in frustration because she knows you are not going to tell her anything; and that you going to repeat the same annoying question no matter what she says.

This technique will work only if you repeat your question over and over and do not allow her to force a response from you. (If so, she "wins," right?)

When she calls, tell her you can't talk on the phone: "I'm sorry. I can't talk right now. Goodbye." Then hang up! Do not respond to anything further she says. If you say anything more, you open the door for her to ask another question or say something else.

Say goodbye and hang up, even if this means hanging up while she is still talking. Do not worry about being rude by saying goodbye and hanging up. It is your home; she is "invading" it with her telephone call. You have a right to be at peace in your own home.

Your repeated statements will work only if you use them. And only if you use them consistently. If you are not willing to make this commitment, she will continue to harass and insult you.

To make sure you can carry out your repeated statements, practice before a mirror because she'll take you by surprise, at least at first. Maybe you can get another friend to "role play" with you and surprising you with a question until you can respond automatically. In the meantime, whenever you see this woman, prepare yourself to turn away and to repeat your "why" question. Make a card and keep it by the phone so you can read it; this is in case you completely forget what you want to say when she calls!

In short, do not have anything to do with this woman. Do not talk on the telephone with her. Do not answer her questions about your studio, how you teach, how you run your business, how you are preparing for the exam, and everything else. Give her no information about anything.

Do not worry about what she might say to others about you. Those who know you will ignore her. Those who know her already know not to believe anything she says and that she is a jealous, unpleasant, and frightened person who treats others horribly, hoping to make herself feel better.

Hold your head up, secure that you are doing your best work. You are not required to take this woman's abuse. Unless you allow her to abuse you. And that's entirely your choice!

What's the difference between a Roth and a regular IRA?

This is, of course, a question for your tax advisor, but I can give you a nutshell answer.

The difference between these IRAs is what happens at both ends of the pipeline: "what kind of money" you contribute to these retirement accounts and whether the money you take out at retirement is taxable or tax-free.

More specifically: (1) With a regular [traditional] IRA, you put in "before-tax" money. That is, your contribution reduces the income on which you pay taxes. Since the government will get its cut one way or the other, when you take money out at retirement, the withdrawals (called "distributions") are taxed. The distributions include the money you put in along with interest earned on it. (2) With a Roth IRA, you put in "after-tax" money. This is money on which you have already paid tax. That is, the money you put into the Roth did not reduce the income on which you paid taxes. (The government already has gotten its share.) The Roth distributions are tax-free.

For example, if you earn $10,000 (we won't worry about business deductions for these examples), with a traditional IRA, you put $2000 of the $10,000 in your retirement account. You are taxed on only $8000.

If you elect to fund a Roth IRA, you earn $10,000 and pay income taxes on $10,000.

So, it boils down to: do you need the reduction of taxable income now or the lack of tax later?

Of course, these are generalities, and tax regulations and economic conditions change all the time, so please consult a tax professional. Or an IRS publication, at the very least. Download IRS tax publications here. Go back to the IRS's front door for other help, including FAQs.

Most particularly, look into the increase in IRA/Roth IRA contributions, as well as "catch up" contributions you can make if you're 50 or older.

I have a student whose father sends me the monthly tuition very late every month. I instituted a late fee of half the $30 tuition a couple of years ago, yet this family's check comes several days late. In some cases, it's two to three months late. I call, send notices, etc. I finally received a check for December's tuition this week [3rd week in January] - - after two notices and one phone call! Solutions? I hate to drop this girl, however, I've run out of ideas - - short of increasing my late fee to the equivalent of her lesson each month or adding an additional charge per late day. I'm not sure that will do any good. Finances are not an issue with this family. Lawyer, very nice part of town, etc.

Breathes there a teacher who hates to dismiss a student because the student will bear the brunt of the penalty but who hates dealing with the child's family? The problems are 98% money problems. Breathes there a teacher who has not been confronted with this problem?

No, to both.

This well-to-do family lies the opportunity to pay whenever they like; your penalty fees do not dissuade them, as you noted. Letters and calls are marginally effective, as you also noted.

Solution: Announce that they must pay at the first lesson of the month (they may squawk but "my studio policies state that tuition payment in arrears is not acceptable"). Say that if they cannot abide by the policies - - to which they agreed when lessons began - - that you will be unable to teach the daughter. It is not the child's fault, and she will "take a hit" when you dismiss her, but it is only thing that will work. Unless you want to continue as you are.

Write a letter to arrive the day after the student's lesson.

The reason you want to time the letter for arrival after the lesson is two-fold: (1) you're going to sit the student down in your waiting area during her lesson time; (2) you're going to send a copy of the letter out to the car with the student.

When the student arrives for her lesson, as noted above, put her in the family room with a book or magazine and tell her you cannot give her a lesson today because her "parents have been consistently late with their tuition payments" and "are 8 lessons behind now" (don't say "2 months"; use weeks because it's a bigger number and will get her attention). You can be blunt. Send an invoice out with her. Hand it to her as she leaves; don't give it to her while she's amusing herself during her lesson time. "Give this to your mom, will you, please?" Naturally, the child will tell the parents what happened during her lesson when they pick her up, and the parents will open the invoice.

They will be steaming mad.

Who cares?

They've demonstrated time and again they don't care about what you think or that the way you run your business is important; nor do they value what you are imparting to their daughter. They value only their convenience.

I doubt very seriously that the family will change. I think the only change must come from you - - that is, the change you make to decide to dismiss the student.

Regarding lost tuition for lessons you gave but which were not paid because the family was so in arrears that it's several weeks into January now, you may be able to collect it through a series of letters and phone calls. Small claims courts work well, but since there's a lawyer in the family, threatening to take the family to small claims court may be an idle exercise. You might make headway, however, since you have all your records (see collections file linked above).

If you can't get your money, chalk up the loss to experience.

And remember you cannot deduct this as a bad debt unless you are on accrual basis accounting.

There is also the good possibility that the "wealthy" family has money troubles, and they are having difficulty finding the money to pay you because they've put their funds into maintaining a faÁade of prosperity.

Or, perhaps they are using their discretionary income on things such as vacations and consumer goods, leaving you at the bottom of the food chain. That is, they are able to pay you if they thought you were important enough but don't think that way!

There is no way they can plead forgetfulness after all the times you have been in touch with them about the same problem.

Bottom line: Dismiss the student. It's too bad that she must "pay", too, but your family comes first! You need a paying student in that lesson slot because your family likes to eat!

If your advertising program isn't active now, crank it up - - unless you have someone on your waiting list. By asking the right questions at the telephone inquiry stage, you are likely to find someone whose parents want to pay you in a timely manner.

In my teaching area (approximately 20 mile-radius), almost 75% of the piano teachers are Suzuki teachers. I teach a traditional method because I believe that learning to read the notes and count the time is very important. I frequently receive calls from parents who are "shopping" for a piano teacher. The most often asked question is, "I have been told that children who study using the Suzuki Method advance more quickly and have more fun." Talking to the parent about a balanced teaching approach is, of course, a good answer because I do not lack students, however, I just wondered how you would respond to this particular statement. Suzuki is very popular in my area, and I admit that this is, at times, frustrating to me because I believe so firmly in a traditional method.

I agree with you that non-Suzuki is the best way because it integrates everything at once; as you know, reading is secondary (and postponed) in Suzuki. Also I really don't like that mimic approach. Ok, we're singing on the same page of the hymnal.

I say something like this:

"Suzuki is a popular method, and I know many teachers swear by it. After evaluating several approaches to teaching beginners, I decided that (whatever you want to call it -- 'traditional method' - - 'beginning with notereading and counting from the start of study,' which is the way I'd say it) is the best way to begin learning how to play the piano. I feel that there is absolutely no substitute for reading music, and that it's sort of 'unfair' to kids to let the start study by not reading. In the same way it's unfair to start readers with pictures of nouns and other things rather than having them actually read. At some point the veil is lifted, and Suzuki students must learn to read words with letters. This is an unpleasant shock!

"Also, my experience has been that when I get Suzuki transfer students, they must backtrack quite a bit to learn how to read, and this is very disheartening to them because they're playing literature that is much more complex, and therefore satisfying, than their reading level allows them to play. (We embark on a concentrated emphasis on sight-reading to cure the problem.)

"Therefore, I prefer to side-step this problem by teaching note-reading right off the bat. (I add: "Both my sons took Suzuki violin. My older son was playing the Bach Double Concerto and didn't know how to read a note! I finally put my foot down and demanded that the teacher begin note-reading immediately. I knew what to do when my younger son began study: he began with a traditional teacher. Shortly thereafter, we moved and I sought 'traditional' teachers for them.") My recommendation, if you select a Suzuki teacher - - and they are fine musicians and excellent teachers - - is to tell the teacher at the interview that you want note-reading alongside the Suzuki method and ask if the teacher will do this."

Note that you are saying nothing but positive things about the Suzuki teachers. You also are stating your experience with Suzuki transfer students.

Hmmm, the caller will say. Or ask another question. At any rate, the caller is absorbing what you had to say.

"As to fun, I believe that the fun quotient is a function of the teacher, what's in the assignment, and what goes on at the lesson - - not the 'pedagogical system'. And 95% of rapid progress is a result of the time and attention the student puts into playing at home ."

Be sure you address each of the caller's concerns about the positives of Suzuki and the positives of a note-reading approach.

You add, "If you'd like, I'd be happy to give you the names of some of my students if you would like to call them." No reference to whether Suzuki figures in the equation or not. You are just referring them to satisfied students.

As you say, you're full, so what you're doing in speaking with the caller, really, is educating him. This is what a good telephone query answer does for the caller. Then the caller can decide whether what you teach is what he wants to buy or whether he wants to buy what someone else teaches. A teacher cannot force someone to make a decision to join the studio. The decision to buy must be made by the caller.

Also, I think many Suzuki teachers (at least in my area!) are starting to combine Suzuki and note-reading, rather than taking a strictly-Suzuki approach. Suzuki has much to recommend it, including group playing (easier with violin than piano!) and a loving and nurturing atmosphere. These are aspects any "traditional" teacher can incorporate. Do you think everyone is sort of moving toward a common pedagogy?!

My mom always interferes in my studio. She tells me my advertising should bring in many students with just one [newspaper or magazine] insertion. She doesn't know anything piano and business. She makes nasty comments about my business and tells me I should find another job. We live together, and I must respect my parents. I wish keep at a distance from her, but how? How can I get her to stop interfering with my business? (You also should know that she has always looked down on me and never supported me in whatever I do. She makes fun of me in front of her friends. Almost every day as a girl, I heard her negative words, such as, "You won't be able to do that" and "You donít deserve your achievement". I donít understand why she has never appreciated me, whereas I have tried to be a good daughter.)

You have several problems.

First, the interpersonal ones. Two statements:

(1) The problems are not yours. They are hers. I don't know what they might be, however. Maybe she is angry at herself because she didn't achieve goals she had set for herself as a young woman. Or, she might have been treated this same way as a child. She "learned" that this is the way for a mother to relate to her daughter. Therefore, this is what she's doing to you. At any rate, she is abusing you.

(2) You can't change her behavior. You can change only your reaction to her behavior.

I suggest you get some professional help from a counselor to help you cope and manage your reaction to what she says.

Second, business ones. You don't say whether you teach out of your home. I'm going to assume you do because that's a "worse case scenario." Some ideas:

In the end, you may have to be very blunt, "Mother, this is my business. I am pleased with what I am doing and my success. I won't discuss my business with you further, so please do not ask me anything or make any comments because I won't answer you." Note that you said nothing about your not wanting to hear her comments. Just that you won't respond anymore. Be polite and respectful, but be firm.

Your mother still thinks of you as a child, not as an adult and certainly not as an adult running her own business. She will treat you as she has only if you allow her to. It will take vigilance on your part not to respond to her comments. You will have to be on your guard constantly, expecting her to make remarks each time you are together. Have a statement prepared that you will repeat to her, no matter what she says. Something like: "Mother, I will not discuss my business with you." No matter what she says, repeat the same comment. Answer me! [same statement] You are disrespectful! [same statement] (If she starts in on your personal life: "Mother, I will not discuss my personal life with you.")

Finally, I repeat my advice of moving out of your parents' home as soon as you can. If you have to scrimp elsewhere to have the money to do this, do it! Taking charge of your life and keeping out those who seem bent on being a negative influence is necessary for you truly to become an independent adult. And also, find some counseling to help you deal with this situation.

I need information on how to handle a difficult and noncompliant student (12 years old), who is learning piano under sufferance. Now, before you say, "Don't teach her," let me explain. The student has had four previous teachers and unfortunately was handled badly. This led to very disappointing relationships and very unsatisfactory music choices, such as pieces that were inappropriate and that she didn't like; and being forced into exams unprepared, etc. The parents are both doctors, and I work with the father who is in charge of the intensive care unit. He has been asking me to teach his daughter plus his other two children (who are delightful) for the last three years, but I have been unable to until now. The child is very good at recognizing notes but has no musicality, and I am trying to backtrack and give her interesting pieces and encouraging her to explore the sounds and nuances she can get out of the piano. I have stopped all her scales (thanks to reading your advice) and have started her on simple five-finger exercises, etc., but last week she came to the studio with a bad attitude. She entered the room and proceeded to talk over me and instruct her sister (the student I was finishing with). I asked her firmly to be quiet (this has happened before, and I had asked her pleasantly), but this time I was firmer. She then proceeded to come to the piano without her books and said she couldn't find them. I waited quietly, and she, of course, found them. She proceeded to unpack her bag very slowly. Once she sat down, I spoke quietly and calmly about respect and attitude. She, of course, was mostly unresponsive except for loud sighs of exasperation. I tried to continue with the lesson, but she was not compliant. At the end of the lesson, I said that her attitude needed to change and quickly if we were to be able to become friends; and that she had to trust me and know that I had her best interests at heart. My question is - - finally - - should I proceed with some sort of discipline which includes her parents (such as, "Attitude today was 4 out of 10, and therefore you need to exert some sort of disciplinary action, e.g. no TV for the week" or "Attitude today was 8 out of 10, and she deserves praise and perhaps a double dessert")? I not sure what else to do, and your advice would be gratefully received.

I had to chuckle that you wanted to head me off at the pass about 'don't teach this child'!

It seems to me, based on what you have told me, that this child's problems go beyond a bad attitude in piano lessons. (I am assuming she is recalcitrant about home practice, too, though you don't mention this.) Perhaps her busy parents do not have one-on-one time for her, but my guess is that she lacks boundaries (perhaps because she's a strong-willed child and, again, her parents may lack time to spend with her and to set the boundaries, particularly since she has two siblings who also need attention). While I applaud your calm, patient, and gentle approach, I do not think this will work with this child right now. She needs to know exactly what you expect of her and what will happen if she doesn't pony up.

The first thing to do is to call the parents that very evening the next time she is argumentative and otherwise obnoxious. I assure you they will not be surprised to receive your call or hear the contents of it.

You say, "My primary focus with Hillary during her lessons has been trying to give her music she likes and improve her practice techniques so she can learn music faster and enjoy it more. I also have worked to build up her confidence. How has it been going at home? Have you seen any changes?" You wait for them to discuss home practice. "I see. Is she cooperative about her chores at home? What about school? Do you have any feedback from any of her teachers about her participation and cooperation in class? Does she do her homework at home without a hassle?" The parents answer. If you have not addressed what happened in her previous situation - - and you should have at the phone query point, ask what didn't work for the child and what did. Ask what the other teachers suggested to the parents (surely they conferred with the parents!). Finally you say, "I do want to undo any damage that has been done in her previous study, but I can't do it without her cooperation. Would you speak with her, please?"

Then you wait until the next lesson. If no improvement, then as soon as she behaves in the way you have told her is unacceptable, do the following, with no advance warning ("If this happens againÖ."). Immediately tell her, "Look at me in my eyeballs."

Tell her what the boundaries are in piano lessons. For example, "When I am talking, you do not talk. When I am teaching your sister, you do not talk. I will not allow you to be rude to me and to your sister. I expect you to sit on the waiting chair until it is our turn to have fun together. When I speak to you during your own lesson, I expect you to answer me. If it's a question and you don't know the answer, say so. It's ok not to know something, and I won't be angry. When I am asking you a question it's so I can find out what you don't know yet so I can help you learn it. I would like to teach you to play the piano. I know you can do it. I also know you had other teachers. Perhaps they made you feel as though you couldnít play, but I know you can. I can teach you if you will let me. When you [here you list the other particular things she does that impedes progress during the lesson], it makes it impossible for us to have a lesson. If you change your behavior, I will be able to teach you. If you don't, then I cannot teach you. Not only that, but I will not try to teach you if you continue to act this way. And...I will tell you parents that I can no longer keep you as a student. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Sullen posture, silence. "I told you that I expect you to respond when I ask you a question. Now, then, do you understand what I'm saying about the need for you to change you attitude and behavior or that I will dismiss you?" Mumbled response. "I couldn't understand you. Please repeat what you said." Wait. Keep waiting. Eventually, she should answer.

If, for the whole rest of the lesson she says nothing, so be it. If there is no answer in five minutes, get up from the piano bench. "I'm going to do some chores right now until you decide you want to answer me. Just start to talk, and I'll stop what I'm doing immediately to listen to you." You get up and do whatever needs doing within a few feet of her. File music, do paperwork. (Be prepared with some tasks, should you need them.) Do not leave the immediate area.

She must sit on the bench (like a time out!) until she answers. Or, until her lesson is up.

If she gets up, say, "Please sit down so we can talk. I'm listening....." No response? "I'm going back to my chores, then. You must stay put. I'll listen if you want to answer my question about [recap - - she has probably forgotten the details!]. Otherwise, just sit there until your lesson is over."

The moment you back down - - "Come on, honey. Talk to me!" or "Let's try this song." - - she knows she has won. Don't cajole. Toe that line -you- have drawn in the sand!

Then you wait for improvement at the next lesson.

If there is none at the next lesson, call the parents again. "I'm calling you about Hillary's lesson today. I did not notice any improvement. Last week, she and I had a very blunt talk. I told her what I wanted her to do [here you list the specifics - - you and they have discussed these in your last phone call], as I mentioned to you last week. Today I told her that she had one more chance to do these things, starting next week, or I would not be able to teach her any more. She knows that she must change her behavior at the next lesson, or next week will be her last lesson."

You and the parents explore together what else they might do during the coming week. Reiterate that the behavior must change at the next lesson.

Now suppose it's the next week, and there's still no change and not even any effort you can discern. When she leaves the studio, you tell her this was her last lesson. "You did not do as I asked last week about [fill in the particulars; don't just say "your attitude and behavior"], so this has been your last lesson. I will call your parents to tell them. Perhaps another teacher will be better for you. I will tell them this, also."

Follow up with a phone call to the parents that very evening.

Cringe! But who's going to do this besides you? If you don't run your business, others will run it for you - - but according to their preferences!

You cannot have the child to deliver the news that she has been dismissed with no follow-up from you.

"We have all worked hard to try to bring Hillary around, but there is no change in her attitude or her behavior. I am not the right teacher for Hillary [you soften the dismissal and allow the parents to save face, even though they will be able to read between the lines]. You should look for another teacher if you would like her to continue in piano lessons. I told her that today was her last lesson."

You do not say she's incorrigible. You do not comment how effective or ineffective the parents' actions have been. You don't say why you cannot teach the child. You state your position and offer nothing with which they can take issue.

If the parent comes in for the child after the lesson, say the same thing. Prepare these remarks in advance and practice them a couple of times so you don't stumble over your tongue. This will be a stressful situation.

If you have another student waiting, say nothing. Do not say you'll call that evening. Just call later. Whether the child says anything about lesson events on the way home, you have no way of knowing, but my guess is that she'll say nothing, hoping that you really didn't mean what you said, as has been the case in the past.

If you dismiss her, you may lose the other two children, granted, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

I am virtually certain this is one reason why you have not dismissed her before now. And this is a very valid reason! (Are you sure you need the income?")

The other reason you probably have not acted is because this student's father is a colleague. You will continue to see him daily.

While these lessons are being monitored, you will be seeing the father at work. You might ask him how things are going "this week at home."

Ok, let's move on to the worse case scenario. You dismiss the child, also lose the other two, and the father is more than cool to you at work. You can't do anything about the way he feels, but you can make an effort to be pleasant. This shows you are a professional and have no axe to grind with him (even though you suspect part of the problem is the parents). Your dismissal was predicated solely on the child's behavior and attitude. "Good morning. How are the girls? Please tell them all I said hello." If there is overt hostility, just smile and say nothing more than "hello" and what your professional medical interaction requires. He'll calm down in a while. He might not ever be friendly, but I think you will be able to deal with each other satisfactorily in the same ICU. Don't grovel or continue to seek his "absolution." Don't try to "fix it."

It is very difficult to teach colleagues' children, neighbors, etc. Any unpleasant situation is bound to color the non-piano relationship. Although it is tempting to respond positively to requests from friends and colleagues to teach their children, do not mix business with pleasure. This touchy situation may be enough to warn you off teaching the children of other friends/colleagues in the future. You have an unpleasant situation now, but unless you want to continue with it the way it is, you must take the initiative to change it.

I'm glad to hear that eliminating the diatonic scales worked well for you.

We have accidentally spilt a flower jug of water onto the keys of our brand-new Yamaha piano. The wood beneath the keys is soaking wet, and the levelness of the keys affected is becoming distorted. Please help soon.

Call a technician post haste!!!! Ask when she/he can make an emergency call and ask what you can do while you're waiting. If you don't reach your own tech, call others; call the piano store. I have never heard of this problem, but this is what I'd do with my piano.

One of my student's mother always wants to keep me on the phone (to talk about things that have nothing to do with lessons or even with music study in general). For example, I just want to let her know that I have an opening for a make-up lesson, and I can hardly get off the phone in less than 15 minutes. I'd rather use this time for something I need or want to do, but I don't want to offend her or seem ungracious. On the other hand, I don't want to encourage her to think of me as a bosom buddy. Can you help me, please?

First, congratulations on your decision to keep business and pleasure separate. This is hard to do sometimes. This seems to be one of those times. For whatever reason, this woman feels a kindred spirit in you or just needs someone to talk to. You, on the other hand, want to establish some professional distance as well as not get "caught" in a non-music conversation that steals your precious personal time.

The best defense is a good offense, as the old saw goes. Therefore, when you call, if you don't get their machine, preface your conversation with her with something like, "I won't keep you because I know you're busy, but I just wanted to let you know that Friday at 3 p.m. is open for Roscoe's make-up lesson." She'll say ok, and you say, "Thanks so much. I'll see you on Friday!" Then hang up. Another opening line is, "A student is late, so I thought I'd dash in and call you to tell you...." This line is especially good since she knows -you- have the time deadline. You close by saying, "I hear my student now, so I'll see you on Friday."

My studio policy permits lesson rescheduling without advance notice ONLY in the case of illness. I suspect that one of my students is abusing this policy, as her parents tend to call me the day of the lesson on a major holiday (such as Labour Day, Easter, etc.) to tell me that she is sick and unable to make her lesson. These frequent reschedulings are an inconvenience to me as well as the other students whose lessons I have to rearrange to accommodate hers. As her mother claims illness to be the reason for her absences, I am obliged to abide by my studio rules and make up the owed lessons. I'd hate to refuse a rescheduling. She is preparing for exams, and I feel she needs all her lessons. What can I do?

You are right in that you must abide by the policy you set, so you're "stuck" unless you revise the policy. I think, however, that there is a solution that will not require a change to your policy (such as limiting the number of sick days - - though this is another option for you).

A couple of questions for you: Are you actually teaching on those major holidays, or, as I think you mean, this child's lesson is scheduled for the day or so prior to these holidays? And you suspect it's convenient for the parents to extend the long weekend by moving the girl's lesson but don't get their act together in time to reschedule within your 24-hour rule (or don't want to take the trouble to abide by it)?

If you are teaching on these holidays, you might consider not doing so. Surely the other students on those days need reschedules, too. Since you don't mention anything about how you handle other students for those holidays, I'm going to assume the situation in the previous paragraph.

I urge you not to ask other students to move around to accommodate this student. It sounds as though you have done this on at least one occasion. You need to deal with this family independently and not cause disruption in other students' schedules.

Now on to the solutions.

First of all, you can dismiss the student if her reschedules are too much of a disruption. This eliminates the problem altogether.

Second, you can express "distress" the next time the student's mother calls. "What is wrong with her? I am so worried because she needs so many reschedules for illness." Then wait for the mother to fumble/mumble around coming up with an ailment: she has a very bad sore throat. "What does her doctor say?" She hasn't seen the doctor. (You're catching the mother off guard, causing her to come up with further fabrications without time - - presumably without time, unless she is quite diabolical! - - to work out a plausible story in advance.) "Really? She seems to have this cough so often, that I wondered what the doctor had to say about it. The next time she is ill, please let me know what the doctor says. Perhaps she is allergic to my [bird/wool carpet/whatever]. Ok, let's see about a make-up time." You put the mother on notice, subtly, that you are skeptical about the large number of illness reschedules since there doesn't seem to be any professional action taken on the daughter's chronic problem (or very weak constitution, if there are several "diseases"). You sugarcoat your suspicions by suggesting you would like to know in case there is something you can do alleviate the "condition." (Actually, you are concerned about the child - - as all teachers are about their students - - so this isn't a lie. You are just using how you feel to get a point across to the mother.)

Third, when you do set the make-up time, offer her times that are undesirable, such as the after your last lesson on Friday or a very late weekday night (or before the first lesson on Saturday morning - - if you teach then). Yes, this is somewhat inconvenient for you to meet the child at these times, but your purpose here is to break this family of its bad habit. It will doubtless be more inconvenient to them than to you, so hang in there! "Yes, those are the only times I have available for the next three weeks, too. We'll have to go ahead with one of those times for this makeup. We'll try to do better next time you need a make-up."

Fourth, when you send out your next studio memo, address the problem in a general way: "[Holiday name] is coming up soon, and I know that some families will want to vacation on this long weekend. Please call me right away so we can schedule a make-up time if you need one for this reason." This might push the family into awareness that they need to make their plans a little more in advance. They may be clueless, though it is a long shot. Or, perhaps they will recognize themselves and decide they will do the right thing this time. You make sure to praise them: "I'm glad you called so early. It will be easy to find a make-up time since I have so much warning." No mention or veiled reference to the student's "sick days."

In the future, do not put this in your memo, as it invites make-ups with other students that perhaps were not entirely necessary and thus causes more disruption and inconvenience to you. This is a one-time announcement for this family only. You could call the family instead of placing this notice in your memo, but that would mean giving extra latitude to this family, which they would interpret as your willingness to continue to cater to their spontaneous travel plans.

Fifth, when the mother calls back for the next reschedule, ask again what the doctor said. She hasn't been to the doctor. "Oh, my! I thought surely you'd take her this time!" Again, offer the wretched make-up time. The second time through this dance ought to cure her.

If none of these works - - or if you are tired of the inconvenient times, too - - dismiss the child. The family does not value what you are teaching enough to be courteous to you. (Yes, I know you are grooming her for an exam. Which is more important? The evaluation or the on-going disruption her family is causing you and your family? If you can't bear to dismiss her prior to the exam, do it afterwards. It will may a little strange to the family if she did well - - which I think you expect - - that you are dropping her after the exam, but because of their behavior you should not care what they think.)

Do not offer any reason for dismissing her. This is your business, and you don't have to explain yourself. In a most pleasant tone of voice, the next time the mother calls for a suspicious reschedule, say you are unable to teach her daughter anymore. Or, say you'll have to get back to her on a make-up time and then send a letter, mailed that very day so there's no chance it won't arrive before the next lesson date. Time the dismissal such that all the lessons taken are paid for. If not, wait until all lessons are paid for and then dismiss. If you hold tuition and do not care to see out the term of the payment, in your dismissal letter, send a refund check for lessons not taken. See the file on dismissal and also the several responses earlier in this file about dismissal.

I have a similar problem in my studio, and your idea of limiting the number of sick days intrigues me. How many sick days do you think I ought to allow?

This number depends on how many sick days you think are legitimate for one year. Do you live where it's very cold and children get lots of colds because they're all inside so much of the time and have a greater-than-average opportunity to share germs? This would impact your choice, I think.

Six, maybe? That's about one every two months. Four? One a quarter. (Four sounds good to me.) I certainly wouldn't have as many as one per month.

Mr. A called me and said his colleague (Mr. B) would like to have his daughter (age 20) take lessons in my studio. Mr. A is the mediator between Mr. B and me. Mr. B and his family came to China two months ago. This family asked Mr. A to call me because they speak Indonesian. I told Mr. A my tuition fee, and he agreed but said, "If Mr. B asks you how much the fee is, you must say it's "X rupiah." This is more than my actual tuition fee. Mr. A said that this added money is to reimburse him for bringing Mr. B's daughter to my studio (about 1.5 hours away). I don't know why he doesn't ask Mr. B for the transportation money. Maybe he doesn't dare. Yesterday at the lesson, Mr. B asked me about the fee, and I said as Mr. A asked. After the lesson, Mr. A gave me the fee. Mr. A forbids Mr. B to pay me directly. The daughter has to give the fee (in the amount of X rupiah) to Mr. A, and then he gives me my actual fee. I am thinking, one day Mr. B will find out about this "game." Mr. B could ask me, "Why can't I pay you directly?" If this happens, what do I say ? I could lie and lie again, and one day it will be a big trouble and I really don't want that to happen. I really am sorry to have followed Mr. A's game, although I can understand that he needs transportation cost. Nevertheless, I don't want have trouble with Mr. B. What do you think about this case? Do you think my tuition fee should come through a mediator, or is this a mistake? If so, what I should say to Mr. A if I don't want to follow his game anymore? To avoid another problem, I have an idea: Mr. B will pay me directly (in the amount of X rupiah). Then I give the transportation cost to Mr. A. He can come to my studio at a different time than the Mr. B's daughter's lesson. Do you think is it the good idea?

How nice that you have the opportunity to do Mr. A's dirty work! That is so kind of Mr. A to assign you the part of lying directly to your student's family.

You need not act as a go-between or a banker! Let Mr. A deal directly with Mr. B about transportation fees.

You are not required to do this for Mr. A. Let Mr. A do it for himself.

You must have a discussion with Mr. B and make the following arrangements with him in the week between the daughter's last lesson and the one coming next week.

Do you speak any language Mr. B does? English? French? German? Ask his daughter what languages her father and mother speak. If you find a common tongue, call him directly.

Suppose there is no common language with the girl's parents. You -are- able to communicate with the daughter, right? If so, at her lesson, give her a letter to give to her father and ask that she translate it. Do not give the letter to Mr. A! Tell the daughter that this letter is to go straight to her father and that she should not show it to Mr. A or even mention it. Place the letter inside one of the daughter's books so it is not visible to Mr. A when he takes the daughter home.

In the letter, tell Mr. B what is going on with Mr. A. Ask that Mr. B pay you directly, rather than giving the fee to Mr. A. Tell him what your normal fee is. Tell him that Mr. A had added his transportation expenses, which is why the fee he has paid is actually more than your fee. Apologize to him for being part of the scheme and say that you will no longer carry on Mr. A's deception.

Tell Mr. B also that you will call Mr. A and say you will not longer be a party to this deception. And that he probably will get a call from Mr. A, who probably will blame you. Mr. B may already know that Mr. A deals with shady plots, so he may not be surprised and will know that this was not something you thought of.

It may well be that Mr. B becomes angry at Mr. A, whereupon Mr. A will refuse to transport Mr. B's daughter.

Mr. A will threaten you with this, I think. Or, at least yell at you about it on the phone. If this happens, you tell him that you will not discuss the matter with him further. Then hang up.

If he comes to the door and you can see who is there without opening the door, refuse to answer the door. He will call you.

If you must confront him in person, do not let him inside your home. Hold the door open only far enough to show your face. Keep your hand on the door and be prepared to close it immediately. Again, tell him that you will not treat Mr. B and his family the way Mr. A asked you and that you refuse to discuss the matter further. Shut the door immediately and lock it. If Mr. A pounds on the door, do not answer it.

Do not worry about what Mr. A says to Mr. B about you. Mr. B will find a way to get his daughter to her lesson.

On the other hand, Mr. B may be angry with you and wonder why you went along with Mr. A in this game. You should apologize to Mr. B and hope that the family will forgive you for hiding Mr. A's transportation fee in your tuition fee. They may not, however, and will withdraw their daughter from your studio.

I agree that you should not lie and help Mr. A defraud Mr. B. Mr. A is not going to change the situation, so you must do it.

True, you may lose a student, but now you know what to do when something like this happens again!

After all is set with Mr. B, immediately call Mr. A and give him the news. Tell him that you will no longer participate in this scheme. You refuse to defraud Mr. B. Also tell him he must work out transportation costs separately - - directly with Mr. B. You have worked out tuition cost directly with him already. Then hang up! You do not need to listen to a harangue from Mr. A, and he will be ready to roast your ears! If he calls back, you will recognize his name. No matter if he is talking, you simply say the same thing: that you will no longer defraud Mr. B. Then hang up! Eventually Mr. A will get the message.

Mr. A will contact Mr. B then and tell him whatever he will - - blaming you, most likely.

Deal with Mr. A as described above if/when he yells at you.

Then you must wait and see whether you lose the daughter. It will be a shame to lose the student, but since you are partially to blame, all you can do is hope for the best and remember not to tread this road again!

I am in the process of going through a divorce and don't know whether I want to continue teaching piano. Maybe I want to do something different, even though I love teaching and think I'm good at it. I'm also afraid that perhaps I cannot support myself and my 16-year-old son. If you have any thoughts or suggestions for a woman in my situation I'd greatly appreciate your advice or insights. I am 44 years old.

These are normal fears. You're not alone in having them. Many women who free themselves from unhealthy marriages later see that they should have done it sooner, had they only had the courage to go it alone on their own income. Good for you for acting now rather than suffering longer and being in the same position when are older than 44.

You can do it, but you'll have to be careful how you do it.

First, figure out how much money it would take you to live the way you want. Probably that is at least as well as you are living now!

Calculate what you earn now, based on your current fee and current teaching load.

How far apart are they? Note: Once you and your husband are divorced, your tax status will be as "head of household" if your son lives with you, so your tax rates will change. Probably they will go up, which results in less take-home pay for you. Seems unfair. Write your Congressperson.

Now think of ways you can "increase your income" - - including reducing what you spend - - without changing your current studio situation.

Some ideas:

You have a general idea of how much it will cost you to live as you'd like, how much it will cost if you make major and minor changes in your spending habits, and how much you currently make as a studio teacher.

Likely, your present income won't be close to either of the above projections. What to do?

Here are some admin tasks you should undertake:

So, if you don't want to teach piano - - or think at this point you don't want to - - go look for other jobs. Then compare all the features of each option (piano, piano plus part-time, full-time-non-piano).

Sad note: Despite all the pious head-nodding of agreement to the ethical reasonableness of federal law against ageism in hiring, the unfortunate reality is that most employers prefer younger folks to middle-aged people. They don't have to pay them commensurate with their experience and education; and they are "malleable" to the company line. Your age (44) may be a problem for full-time employment. I hope not! But, as noted above, better at 44 than at 45 or more.

Now suppose, after you've surveyed the possibilities, you can't find anything else that's a good fit for your skills and/or that will compensate you as well as teaching does - - or can, if you raise your fee and increase the size of your studio. Well, then, stick with teaching piano! You're experienced at it, and you're good at it. Supplement studio income in other ways.

In the short term while you build your studio, you may find you don't earn enough to make ends meet. Do you have any savings you can fall back on? Perhaps a family member could make a loan if you don't have ready cash? Or maybe alimony plus child support will make up the difference during this transition period? Alimony plus part-time work for you plus your son's part-time job plus child support?

This is a terribly stressful time for you personally, as well as professionally.

What to do professionally in the face of a divorce and need to support oneself and a child is a daunting task. And is one reason, surely, why women stay in marriages that clearly are unhealthy for them. All you can do is take it one step and one day at a time and be methodical and well-informed about all the choices out there.

And do remember that it takes an incredibly strong woman to leave a marriage. And a stronger one to do it when she has the additional responsibility for one or more children. Pat yourself on the back!

This has turned into a short primer on how to deal with divorce, and I probably have told you more than you really wanted to know!

There is light at the end of the tunnel. And though you may fear that there may not even be an end to the tunnel, there is one. And there's light there. You'll like yourself so much better at the end of the divorce journey. Whatever you lose will be more than offset by what you will gain: you'll gain your self. Best wishes to you. You can get through this divorce and upheaval successfully.

Please give me some information on how to make a studio brochure and what to put in it.

Studio brochures (and a whole lot of other things!) are covered in my file on advertising.

I need some help in planning food for my recital. I'm a new teacher, this is my first recital, and I don't know how to plan how much food to have (I'm making it all) or what to serve. Can you help? You seem to have answers for everything!

Here you go! Best wishes! Also see an answer 96 below.

I understand I can deduct part of the cost of things like my piano on my taxes. Is this so? What about something I owned before I started to teach?

Yes, this is so. See my file on this, but also check with your accountant. I'm not one!

I have problem with reschedules. My policy is "Students must call a minimum of a day before the lesson for a reschedule, except for illness or emergency, in which case they can call me on the lesson day." I went to a student's house for the lesson, but when I arrived, the servant said, "There is nobody at home except me." Then in the evening, I called the student's mother. She said, "We had an emergency. I called you this morning about 10, but nobody answered your phone!" I did not receive a phone call on either of my phone numbers, and my parents said they did not either. I don't know if she lied, but I think she did. I can't say this, but I am forced to make up the lesson, and I'm angry about it because the mother took advantage of me. (1) I have plan to update my policy, as follows: "There will be no reschedule if the cancellation message is not received by the teacher." Is this the right policy? I hesitate to apply this policy because the parent could say my telephone was not working. But what if their telephone wasn't working? (2) How do I know if the parent is lying? I really can't prove it. I can only suspect.

(1) This is -your- business, but you are letting someone else run it! Take control of your business. If you don't do it, your families will, by dictating when they will and when they won't pay for lessons they do not take!

Right away, get a telephone answering machine that has a time and date stamp. Then, if no one is at home, the machine will pick up. If this woman truly wants to leave you a message, she will talk to the machine. If she doesn't (why would she not?) or is telling a lie, then you will know because there will be no message.

If the machine isn't turned on all the time, make sure you turn it on any time you leave the house, when you are teaching, or otherwise when you can't get to the phone. If not, you won't be able to say "there was no message on the machine [or, the message arrived at xxx, and my studio policies state that for your lesson time, I must have received the message by yyy]. I'm sorry, but I can't reschedule you. I must abide by my studio policies and be fair to everyone."

If you have a question about your phone being in error, go to your second phone and call the first one to make sure the machine is working. Do this every time you leave the house or sit down to teach. Then you are assured it is working fine.

Even better than an answering machine is a voicemail system. Does your telephone company offer this? I'm almost sure they do. This is more reliable than a home answering machine. Get this if it is offered. Monthly payments are probably deductible; check with your accountant.

With a telephone company voicemail, the parent can never say that your machine wasn't working. Or say that she left a message but she supposes your machine wasn't working and that's why it wasn't recorded.

Don't worry about their phone being in error. That's their problem. (If it were, how could the mother call you?!)

As to policy change, there's no way for them to ensure you got the message, so this isn't a good thing to put in your policy. It also puts them back in the driver's seat.

Instead, say you now have an answering machine and that it has a date and time stamp on it, so "there will be no problem with my receiving your message about student illness, and we can reschedule. My studio policies state that reschedules for other reasons are only with 24 hours' notice." Consider adding: "Thanks for your cooperation and understanding." This takes the sharp edge off.

Do NOT say anything about "receiving your message about emergencies" because people will take advantage of you with this!!!! Illness of the student only! (Note: do not say "previous day" in your policy. What does this mean? Say 24 hours and give an example right in your policy: "For example, if you have a lesson on Tuesday at 4 p.m., I must hear from you no later than Monday at 3:59 p.m. if you want to reschedule. Otherwise you must pay for the lesson even if you don't take it. If you have a question about by what time you must notify me for a non-sickness reschedule, as pertains to your lesson time, please get in touch with me right away."

Stress "for student illness only" in your next studio newsletter and in your new policy. I would advise you to add "for illness of the student only." You should not have to take responsibility for illness of other people in the family, so you write something like, "I will reschedule for student illness only. I cannot take responsibility for illness of others in the family. Even if the person who brings the student to the lesson is ill, other arrangements for transportation must be made or the tuition will be forfeited and no make-up allowed. I do make-ups only for illness of the student." Note that this is a change in your policy. State this VERY plainly in your newsletter/letter/whatever and give a concrete example with time of day.

Specifically mention the person who brings the child, as you will have a parent say, "I am sick and can't bring him."

When you get a phone call saying the parent is ill, you say, "I'm so sorry to hear that. What's wrong?" Parent says something. You are sympathetic, "I see. That doesn't sound good." Then you add, "I hope you'll be able to make other arrangements to make sure he can have his lesson because I hate to see you pay and get nothing." This tells the parent that he must pay unless he can make other arrangements, miraculously gets well, or feels up to the drive. Of course, the parent will squawk. "I am sorry you are ill, but my studio policies say I will make up only if the student is ill. I specifically state that I cannot make up a lesson because of parent illness. Perhaps you'll feel good enough to drive him over? You could rest in the car during his lesson."

You'll have to stand firm on this, or people will walk all over you. If you think you won't be able to be firm, print out my example and keep it by every phone. Just read off the card when parents call. Eventually, you will not need a script.

(2) You can't know if the parent is telling the truth. At some point you must trust the parent to be honest.

Does this parent have "emergencies" often? If so and you are angry enough, dismiss the student.

If you need the tuition and really can't dismiss the student, you might say something like, "You have a large number of emergencies. I think a change in lesson time will help. I have these openings: xxxxx. Which one will be best so you can work around your emergencies? Your son is missing too many lessons." Say nothing about your lost income.

This will tell the parent that you are suspicious that all the "emergencies" are just excuses, but you never say that outright. Then, rather than asking if a change in lesson time will help, you state that it -will- help. You take charge of your business.

If the parent does not choose another lesson time, you say, "That's fine. We'll keep the current one. I am concerned about these emergencies, however. You have many, many more than anyone else in my studio. My definition of an emergency is a death in the family or someone in the family is hit by a car and hospitalized. I am thinking that perhaps we have a different definition of emergency. What sorts of things do you call emergencies?"

If the parent says, "When my younger son is ill, that's an emergency." You say, "This is an illness question, not an emergency. My studio policies state that I make up the lesson only if the -student himself- is ill, not his brother or sister and not the person who brings the child to the lesson. Tomorrow I will mail you a copy of my policy for your records and send one home with your son at his next lesson. That will give you two copies! You can refer to it if you have a question; or call me. It is important that I treat all my studio families fairly, as I'm sure you understand, so I apply the same policy to everyone."

The parent makes some response like, "Ummmm."

You state, "Let me summarize. I make up for illness of the student only. If you or your younger son is ill, you must make arrangements for someone to get your older son to his lesson. If you can't do that, then you must pay, anyway, and your older son will get no lesson. My policies state that I make up for student illness only. As for emergencies, it is only for a death in the family or if someone is suddenly hospitalized. Do you have any questions?"

No, I have no questions, but this isn't fair! "I understand how you feel, but this is my studio policy and I must treat all families the same way." You're not listening! This isn't fair! My younger son was sick! That's an emergency. "I understand how you feel, but this does not alter my studio policy. It specifically mentions what happens when a brother or sister is ill and I do not receive 24 hours' notice from you that your older son will need a make-up lesson. Your son has a lesson on Tuesday at 4 p.m. This means I must receive notice from you Monday at 3:59 p.m. or before. The date and time stamp on my new answering machine [voicemail] will ensure that I receive your notice accurately."

Now then, since you go to the student's home (you really ought to consider having the student come to you - - or teach someplace not at the student's home, such as a church or a community center), say that if you arrive at the home and the student is not there, it is the same as your not receiving 24 hours' notice. There will be no make up, but the lesson must be paid for.

Last, if the student's parent balks at your new policy, you know........dismiss him! You do not have to put up with people like this!

I've read your advice about adhering to studio policy and believe in it. Today a parent was irate when the 24-hour notification of absence was enforced. She was hurtful and rude, and I said, "You seem upset by this policy, but this is my policy. Perhaps I am not the best teacher for your needs at this time." And after numerous other insults she continued with "but my daughter likes you so much" and eventually talked herself back into piano lessons. I must have suggested a new teacher and situation at least four times. I hate to see a child put in the middle like this. Any suggestions?

First of all, congratulations for standing firm on your 24-hour policy rule. You handled it perfectly!

If the mother treats you in this manner again, you should tell her, "Mrs. X, I enjoy teaching your daughter. [She is bright/has so much talent/whatever.] I run my business in the way I see fit, however. One of those things I do is to set my make-up policy. This is 24 hours' notice, as you know. In the past, you have indicated your displeasure with this aspect of my policy. I respect your right to feel that way about it, but I will not allow you to treat me disrespectfully. I refuse to be treated the way you have done, in this phone call and in the past. You must stop this behavior immediately, or I'll dismiss your daughter. It would be a shame to have your daughter stop lessons, as you indicated she enjoys studying with me, but I will dismiss her before I allow you to insult me. Please think about this and let me know if you wish her to continue study. If I don't hear from you, I'll assume you agree to abide by my policies."

Now suppose the worst. The mother doesn't call, but the child doesn't show up for the next lesson, either.

You write a letter (and post it the next day so it arrives well ahead of the daughter's next appointment) and say, "Although I did not hear from you regarding our phone conversation about studio policy last week, since X was not at her lesson today, I am assuming you have decided to discontinue lessons with me. Thank you for the privilege of teaching your daughter. She is a delight/whatever. Please give her my best wishes for continued excellence in piano study." Sign it, "Cordially....."

Again, congratulations on your superb handling of an unpleasant situation. It'll be easier next time, too!

What do you usually do about piano books? At this moment I only have the one copy that I keep at home. Should I always keep a double copy so that I can sell it to the student, or should I recommend that they go down to the store themselves?

I recommend you send the student to the store. Several reasons. (1) It's less hassle for you. You don't have to stock the books (which also means accrual accounting, the resulting tax complications, and finding storage space in your studio). You don't have to worry about collecting the money. You don't have to worry about setting up a tax account with the city/county, collecting the tax, -and- doing the paperwork for submission. (2) The store appreciates your sending them business. The owner knows it's you who is doing it. Tell your students to tell the staff they're your students: "Be sure to say you are my students, and they'll take special care of you." The store will be happy to oblige you when you're hunting for something unusual because they see you are generating money for them. (3) When the students go to the store, they might see something else they'd like. The added sales will keep the store in business, which is a great convenience to you and all your students.

Some teachers do sell all the materials to their students. True, you can buy the items at a [slight] discount and sell them at full price, thus generating some income. The hassle, however, -far- outweighs the income, in my opinion, however.

As to what to keep at home, I'd just keep the one book (your copy) in case the student forgets his. Or, do something else that day that doesn't involve a book. Set a poem to music as a special song for only that child? (Use one the child knows or write on. A silly poem will be especially appreciated!) Circle of fifths? Arpeggiation? Structure? 12-bar blues? Have some "evergreen" topics in your bag of tricks to pull out just in these cases.

If the child does not have a piano bag of some sort, ask the parent to find out. Even a plastic grocery bag is superior to no bag at all! Tell the student it's her job to pack her bag.

I am thinking of making the interview a mini first lesson. A student who has some experience can bring me a favorite piece to play. One who is brand-new can bring some ideas of music they love. I guess the purpose is to see if we will work well together. What do you think?

I don't give a mini lesson at the audition as a matter of course. I give one only if I'm not sure I want to take the student, even after the qualifying phone call and in-person meeting. Sometimes I'll say something if it's pretty glaring that I just can't pass: "Where's the melody? Shouldn't that be louder? Can you play that hand louder than the other one?" If the student tries and can't or thinks she is unable to do it, I add, "That is something we will learn together [implication: if you start lessons]. Don't worry. You can learn it."

I have a student (child) who calls me by my first name. I don't want to be addressed this way. Should I say something to the child? To the parents? If so, what? This is not the first time this has happened, but, finally, I'm so aggravated that I'm going to do something about it. I'm counting on you to help!

Easy solution! When the child first comes for the interview. Greet him first. Add something else other than hello. For example: "I'm Mrs. Brown. I'm so glad you came to see me, Ryan!" Then greet the parents: "Hello. I'm Sally Brown. Please come in." The child knows right away what to call you. Sometimes the parents will ask how you wish to be addressed by their child. You can reinforce the door greeting if you say, during the telephone call, that, "Students call me 'Teacher Sally [Mrs. Brown/whatever]." Be in charge of your business!

Now let's suppose the child addresses you as Sally. You respond, "I'd like for you to call me Mrs. Brown." Why? "Because I am your teacher." Oh. Ok.

Now let's suppose the child persists in calling you Sally. You suspect this is how you are mentioned at the child's home ("Tomorrow is the day you go to see Sally. Make sure you have your books packed."). "Remember when I asked you to call me Mrs. Brown? You still are calling me by my first name. Use Mrs. Brown from now on, ok?" I have trouble remembering. "I'll help you at first if you really need help. Very soon you'll be able to remember by yourself!"

OR: My family calls you Sally. "I see. Well, *I* want you to call me Mrs. Brown." You then call the parents and tell them this conversation and the previous one and ask if they would "reinforce" your request that the child call you Mrs. Brown. "I feel there must be a student/teacher relationship. The child's calling me by my first name breaks down that relationship." Usually this call will clinch the deal. If not, continue to remind the student at the lesson, and whenever you call the family home, introduce yourself on the phone as Mrs. Brown: "Hello. This is Mrs. Brown. Is Mrs. Jones there?" When Mrs. Jones answers, you introduce yourself as Sally Brown. Be sure to thank her for her help in the child's improvement in addressing you properly.

I foresee two more questions, here, so let me address them right away!

When may a child stop calling you Mrs. Brown? Answer: When he graduates from high school.

What if you have a long and/or hard-to-pronounce last name? Shorten it: Mr. K, example.

I have a ABRSM Grade 8 certificate. How does this compare with a bachelor's degree in the U.S.? If my Grade 8 certification is not comparable to a degree, how should I market my credentials?

As to the equivalent, I'm sorry I can't help you. Contact the ABRSM people or a university music dept.

Parents judge on several things, including their perception of the teacher's credentials. My concern, and probably yours, is that "Grade 8" will not mean much to them because they are unfamiliar with what was entailed to earn it. I'm not sure how to circumlocute, however. "Grade 8 Diploma" is not really equivalent to a degree, so you can't ethically say, "Degreed teacher." Maybe you could say, "Credentialed teacher"? When someone asks exactly what that means, you can tell them in what ways Grade 8 stacks up against a U.S. bachelor's degree in music. (Have you read my advertising file? If not, you should for more detail.)

Recently I dismissed a student (and her sister) because the one student was making no progress. I had spoken to her parents and mentioned she needed to bring (all) her books and do her written homework. I noted that she still could not identify many notes (after two years). Finally, after one lesson, I felt extreme anxiety. When her father picked her up, I suggested a new teacher would be a good idea for the child because I could not make progress with her. I did not want him to pay tuition if I could not make progress with his daughter. He thanked me and said they would do that. I was greatly relieved. (It had been a looooong two years). A few days later, the mother called and said she'd found out her daughter had a learning disability (which explained a lot). I did not offer to take the student (and her sister) back, however. The whole thing had caused me a lot of stress over the two years. A week later, I received a scathing letter full of insults and terrible remarks. I was stunned since I believed I'd been quite honest about the situation. I wrote a note back saying I was sorry any hurt had been caused. The note was only nice, super nice. (I did not mention any idea of taking the girls back, especially after such an insulting letter.) I should mention the girls loved taking lessons from me, but I found it agonizing. Have you experienced angry parents like this?

Yes. And I, too, had bent over backwards to explain why I was dismissing the student. With her mother sitting beside her in my family room (!), the child wrote on my needlework with an orange marker and then lied about it. Into the bargain, the child was disrespectful during lessons. I had tried and tried but made very little headway because of the child's attitude. The orange marker was the final straw.

I wrote and said that I "could not teach" the child anymore and explained why: "The reason I am dismissing her is because of vandalism to my property. While waiting in my family room before her lesson last week, she took an orange marker and made three long marks on a piece of my needlework-in-progress. I know it was Jane because (1) I stitched on the piece Monday night and sat down to stitch on it Tuesday night and discovered the damage; (2) Jane was the only student who waited in my family room that day; (3) Jane has shown great interest in the markers before, and I have seen her use them on magazines which I have lying on my coffee table. Why she chose to write on my needlework rather than a magazine I do not know, but I do know that I can no longer teach her if she has such little regard for my possessions."

I got a phone call shortly thereafter! I spent an hour on the phone with the mother explaining myself and then suggested teachers she might contact for the child.

I subsequently got a vitriolic letter saying that the child had only drawn a carrot on a piece of paper she was resting on one of my magazines. The mother "apologized" if the ink had seeped through to the magazine cover. Also, that it was my fault (!) that the needlework and marker were in plain sight! (Really? I thought it was the parents' responsibility to teach their children good manners! Such things as not to use things that don't belong to them without asking; and not vandalizing others' property.) The child was always truthful. She respected the things in their home. They had "white carpet" and "many fine antiques and works of art." Bully for them! Her self-esteem had been damaged by my dismissal (and, presumably, my letter).

At this point, I'd had it.

I wrote back: "I am in receipt of your letter. I will now be blunt. Jane did draw on my needlework with an orange marker. The evidence points conclusively to her, and you confirmed it in your letter. What color is a carrot? Although you try to place the blame on me for having markers in my family room, no culpability is mine. It is yours. You did not train Jane to keep her hands off others' belongings. Nor did you monitor her activities while you two were waiting in my family room. While my home may not be as expensive or fine as yours nor do I have white carpet and priceless works of art in it, nonetheless it is mine and I treasure my possessions. Although you may have trained Jane to respect her own possessions, you have not trained her to respect others'. I have gone beyond what I am required to do in this situation. I could have written a one-sentence letter dismissing her. Instead I explained why so that you could address this problem. I spent nearly an hour on the phone with you. I gave you the names of colleagues I thought would be appropriate for Jane. I am now answering your letter. Your daughter's self-esteem has not been damaged. If any distress has been caused, it is by her guilt. It is time that she learns that she must be held responsible for her actions. You may choose to ignore this incident, or you may choose to see a problem and set about solving it. The decision is yours. I now consider this matter closed."

So, yes, I have had a run-in like yours. Luckily, it has been only one time. I hope yours is, too!

I guess I don't have to tell you that this incident was very early in my teaching career before I figured out that I didn't have to (and shouldn't) justify to anyone how I run my business!

You did just the right thing. Stand your ground. You aren't required to deal with parents who are abusive. Don't respond further to anything from the family. Throw away letters unopened. Do not return voice mails or e-mails. If you are "caught" and pick up the phone and it's a call from the mother, state: "I regret that I can no longer teach Jane. I consider this matter closed." Then hang up gently. Do not get embroiled in a conversation. Don't try to justify yourself [anymore]. Make your statement and hang up, even if the mother is still talking and you must talk over her. Prepare yourself for such a call (that probably won't come) by writing down the above statement (or one of your own) on a card to keep by the phone. Make a card for each phone so you are not caught unprepared. My guess is that if you don't hear anything within a week (two max) you won't hear anything ever again, so tear up the cards. Good luck. You can do this!

Sometimes my students get the hiccups. At first it's funny, but after a while it's hard for the student to concentrate. Drinking a glass of water quickly and breathing into a paper bag don't work. Suggestions?

This is a fun one your students won't believe but which works like a charm: a spoonful of white sugar followed by a glass of water. (When I collect data on my new student - - address, etc. - - - I always ask about diabetes just because of this hiccup cure!)

A respected teacher is retiring and asked if I would take as many of her students as I can. She has many. Should I compensate her for giving me a portion of her business that she has spent years growing?

You may if you'd like, of course, but the traditional practice is to pay no "roster purchase fee" because the time will come when you "give" your students to someone else (you move, retire). Closing a studio is not the same as selling a law or medical practice.

I would, however, give her a very nice gift and take her to lunch at a nice restaurant. And then continue to be in touch with her every so often (2-3 times a year) and maybe take her to lunch once a year to update her on "her" students. You might also invite her to attend your recitals so she can hear how her former students are doing.

What job code do I use on my Schedule C? Nothing on the IRS site seems to fit, and I can't find the information anywhere.

My accountant uses 812990, but you need to check with your own tax professional.

Here's what the IRS has to say (in 2003):

"Personal service providers include: barber shops, beauty shops & nail salons (812111-812113), other personal care services such as weight control and dieting centers (812190), funeral homes (812210), cemeteries and crematories including cemetery sub-dividers and developers (812220), laundry and dry-cleaning facilities: coin-operated (812310) except coin-operated (812320), linen and uniform suppliers / industrial launderers (812330), pet care services except veterinarian (812910), see photo finishing (812920), parking lots & garages (812930), other personal services (812990) such as bonding service, service for reporting lost or stolen credit cards, dating service, psychic services, renting coin-operated lockers, shoe shine parlors, and singing telegram service."

Nothing that is a very good match, huh? But I love being included with psychic services, dating services, and singing telegram services (well, the last one is sort of close.....).

Please, though, check with your accountant. I'm not one!

What should students wear when performing?

See my file on this topic. It's written for students, but I think it will answer your question.

I have a question about raising my fee. I have taught piano for about 1 year. In the beginning, I charged $30/hr for this family because they were my first students. I have been thinking of raising my fee to $40/hr (since it's the going rate in town). I am planning to ask for $40/hr for future students. Recently, this family referred me to another family and told them that I charge $30/hr. My question is, when this new family calls, how do I tell that I raised my fees to $40?

First of all, you already know that everyone should be at the same rate. It is unfortunate that you have the added twist, but it's something that can be solved smoothly.

Option one:

First, implement your fee increase right away! Make a special note (phone call, e-mail) to the Jones family and tell them that if the Smiths call you, you'll be telling them that $40 is now your fee, even though they told the Smiths that it was $30. You'll be letting them know what's going on if the Smiths call them back, confused.

Second, when the Smiths calls, state, "My fee is now $40/hr." But the Joneses said it was $30! "Yes, my previous fee was $30, but now I am charging $40/hr." If they sputter a bit, you say, "I'll be glad to give you the names of some of my other students if you'd like to call them."

They'll either come for an audition or not, depending on whether they think you're worth it.

Option two:

This is a bit more convoluted and will take a month to implement. It also will mean you teach the Smiths and Joneses at your old rate for a month while everyone else is paying the new rate.

Take on the Smiths at $30 if they call right away (within a week or so). Raise everyone else (except the Joneses and the Smiths) to $40. Send that letter out now to the rest of your studio families, as above.

Tell the Smiths, when they call, that you'll be increasing your fee to $40 on ___, which is a month from whatever date you put in the letter to the other families on your roster. Tell the Smiths you want them to "know about the fee increase now." Then, in a month - - which is the time the fee increase actually goes into effect for everyone else - - send out the special fee-increase letter to the Smiths and Joneses. A month later, the increase takes effect for the Smiths and Joneses.

Another consideration: Is $40/hr really the fee for teachers in your area with one year's experience? Have you been able to gain new students at this rate? To be honest, that seems quite high to me, even for your area, for a teacher with only one year's experience - - unless you have incredibly sterling credentials: schooling at a major conservatory, for example, plus a doctorate in music. (I can tell by your e-mail addy where you live; I used to live in that area, too, and know it and its economy well!) Perhaps you will want to go to $35 for a year or two so you'll have two to three years' experience when you go to $40?

That said and if $40 really is the local prevailing rate now for teachers with your credentials and experience, go with the $40 and see what happens. Remember though, once you state $40, you can't go with a lesser amount for new students or you'll have the same problem you have now!

Also see the numerous files on fees linked from my main business page.

In one family I teach all four kids (in their home). When one is sick or unable to be there, the mother just assumes that I will teach her other siblings longer to take the place of the other sibling's missed lesson time. (I have a no refund/make-up policy for student cancellations.) The mom of these kids is just trying to make sure she gets the full amount of instruction time for the tuition she's paid, but it bothers me because she's a very controlling person and she never even bothered to ask me any of the times she's just planned out who would fill in for the student who was unable to have his/her lesson on a particular day. I guess in theory there's nothing wrong with having the other siblings fill in the time, and I don't think she takes advantage of the situation really (it doesn't happen that often). However, I do have the policy that says "no make-up lessons for student cancellations" and this is her way of "sneaking" in a make-up. In the past I've allowed it because hers was one of the families to whom I would travel to give in-home lessons. That made cancellations hard because if one student wasn't able to attend, I would have an extra half-hour in between their home and the next home so this arrangement of other siblings filling in has worked well, and perhaps that was her intent all along. This is my last year of traveling lessons and I was wondering if next year when she brings her children to my studio, if I should allow her (and other families if the situation arises) to have her other children fill in the time of the child who is absent? (I've told everyone that I'm not going to travel next year, so it's not a surprise to anyone.)

I would let the other students in the "family block" take any time made available (unexpected or by plan), even though you have a "no make-up" plank in your studio policy. I agree that she should notify you, but sometimes this just does happen. Bad manners. Assumption that it's ok. Assumption that it's the family's time to apportion however it wants. Etc.

You might ask her to let you know who is sick so you can "bring the appropriate materials" for the "extended time" for the other kids. As a controlling person, this ought to appeal to her - - the extra time is exceedingly well-spent.

When I have family pairs (or groups), if one is absent for whatever reason, the other gets the full time. It's up to the parent whether the absent one gets the full time next week. Sometimes the parents ask my recommendation, but unless a recital is coming soon, I let the family make the determination since I have no "deadline." I don't know whether other teachers have this problem or how they handle it, but that's the way I handle it. Actually it's easier for me this way, because my hassle of a make-up reschedule is avoided! The family works out the time itself, and I'm out of the loop.

Whether I get notice or not, I can wing it. Kind of: "Whoever walks in the door gets the lesson." (How do you feel about how you are able to deal on the fly with an extended lesson?) I sometimes even have different families switch, unbeknownst to me, but most often someone will call to alert me of the exchange.

I recommend you rethink that part of your policy about no make-ups in family time block. If one student is absent (for whatever reason), let the other student(s) have the time. (Do you think this would be easier for you? Maybe you don't!)

If, however, you don't want to change the way you want to handle a family time block, this is your right! You're the boss! And the change to non-traveling status is the perfect time to make changes, refine parts of your policy, or reiterate points that seem to have been ignored or "stretched" by one or more families. Whatever you do, make things crystal-clear, perhaps calling those families who are not abiding by your policy.

Help! I want to know how to greet the mother of a student. I had a "discussion" with her about make-ups with less than 24 hours' notice. (I added your make-up policy to my studio policies, and I'm sorry I didn't think of this a lot earlier!) I told her that this was my policy and kept repeating it (as you said to) until she finally gave up. I said I'd see her tomorrow, and she said ok. Assuming she does (!) bring her child tomorrow, how do I greet her? (You're right about the confrontation. It wasn't easy and I was scared, but I truly think it will be easier next time. Thanks for your encouragement!)

Glad the 24-hour-makeup rule is working in your studio. And, yes, it will be easier to confront a parent next time. Congratulations on standing firm (and repeating the same statement).

Now, then, as to your problem, I'm thinking you are uncomfortable with a regular greeting and perhaps think you need to apologize to her for your "discussion".

Don't do this!!! You have no need to apologize for your policy and how you run your business. Don't say, "I'm sorry about this, but this is the way I run my business." This is along the lines of what you were going to say, isn't it?, and you were afraid it was too stern.

Well, don't say it - - but not because it's too stern. Don't say it because you don't owe anyone an explanation about how you run your business.

Instead, greet her normally and with a genuine smile: "Hi, Mrs. Jones. How are you? [Turn your attention to the child:] Hi, Rodney! Are you ready to go with your new songs?"

When I get a voice mail inquiry about lessons, I call back right away. If I get that person's voice mail, I leave a message. When I don't get a return call (say, within two days), I call back. My question is: when should I stop returning the call? I don't want to seem desperate, but I'd like the opportunity to talk to the prospective student.

The general rule for business phone tag is two tries to reach the person by return call. After that, you're groveling.

Here's how I handle a return call to the other person's voicemail: "This is Martha Beth Lewis, and I'm returning a call [to __, if the person left a name] about piano lessons. I'll be finished at the piano this evening at 8, so any time after that will be fine. Also, tomorrow morning before noon is fine. If you reach my voicemail, please leave some convenient times for me to return your call and I'll call you at one of those times. My number is _____. I look forward to speaking with you about lessons."

The person can call back at his convenience and hope to get me; call back at his convenience and leave me times that I can reach him by return call; can call me back at times I have stated I'll be available.

If I leave a second message ("I'm trying to get in touch [with __] about piano lessons and left a message a few days ago."), I mention the times I am available, as above. If there's no return call after the second message, I chalk it up. Maybe another teacher has been found. Maybe the person is on vacation and will find the two messages upon return and will call then. Maybe the idea of lessons fizzled. Maybe the family re-examined their finances. Who can tell? At any rate, the person knows where to reach me and also knows I made two attempts to return the call.

(1) I would like your views on what I should do when a parent asks me to "audition" for them during the interview. I've had parents ask me to play pieces on request or a sample of music that represents my current playing level. I've even had some ask me to sight read in front of them. I'm currently studying for my teaching diploma from a nationally-recognised conservatory so I don't have it hanging on the wall of my studio yet. Is this a reasonable request for me or any other teacher to cater to? (2) I also wonder if my being a current university student in the sciences/engineering, as opposed to music/the arts, contributes to these requests. Do you think this might negatively influence people's expectations of my musical abilities?

I believe you have hit the nail on the head. They probably do question your musical abilities since they probably think you play piano for your own satisfaction and are teaching "for pin money." While they might judge your playing abilities as ok without having heard them, their major concern is probably your -teaching- abilities. Which is to say, how well can you teach -based on the knowledge you have-?

Knowledge of music and literature can be demonstrated by playing. Ability to teach is something they can't measure, so they ask for data they can evaluate.

As to what to do:

1. Have one or two short pieces ready to play. Try to pick things they might know, such as Fur Elise (maybe just the theme). Play one piece. After you finish playing, take charge once again. Do not act as though you are waiting for the parents to give you their judgment about your playing (or are silently offering them the chance to ask for another piece) or to ask for an encore. Act matter-of-fact about what you did and then take charge again. This is -your- interview, after all. -You- want to find out whether you want -them- in your studio! (Do you? Does it look as if they might be a pain in the neck? It may be that they will intrude constantly to call your judgment and teaching into question. Of course, if this happens subsequently and you were unsure initially, you dismiss the child.)

To take control, you might say something such as, "Now, then, Gretchen, tell me the kinds of songs you want to learn."

If they ask for a second piece, and I doubt they will, play it. If they don't, don't offer it.

2. Judge the tenor of the first conversation on the phone. If they sound like they might be pains in the neck, don't offer an interview. If you are unsure, offer references. Many people prefer to call references before setting an interview time. This is to your advantage because it's another way to winnow out those people you don't want in your studio. It saves you time.

Note: Make sure you clear things with the people whose names you are giving. They should agree to field phone calls from people looking to join your studio. Ask them specifically to be prepared to comment should anyone ask about your teaching and musical abilities vs. science/engineering background.

When talking to a prospect on the phone, also get information on who else in the family plays what instrument. If the parent mentions extensive piano background, you'll know to be particularly watchful for unsolicited parental input since the parent may feel he knows as much about the subject as you do!

In all, though, my guess is that this is a one-time occurrence.

A piece of starting information: I am divorced. Today, a bulb burned out in my piano light when I was teaching a 2nd-grade student. I said I needed to leave the piano for a moment to get a new bulb. She said, "Why don't you let your husband fix that?" I was taken by surprise by this question and said, "I don't have a husband." Why? "I divorced him." Why? At this point, I was dug in pretty deeply. I didn't feel comfortable saying, "That's none of your business" because she is so young and didn't mean the question in an impolite way. I couldn't say he was sleeping with other people, so I said, "He was dating other people while we were married." This satisfied her, but I wonder if I could have addressed this problem in a different way. I wonder if she could even imagine someone's husband dating - - or even if she understood what dating is at all. Anyway, I think I could have said something better. What are your suggestions?

I think you did a pretty good job, actually, especially since you were caught off-guard.

Although the reason truly was none of her business, a child this age doesn't have a clear understanding of where the "personal line" is drawn, particularly since the child considers the teacher a personal friend and friends share. Also, children tend to voice thoughts that flit through their minds, without first using the filter that blocks what is polite to say or ask and what topics are personal.

Next time you might say, "He and I weren't friends, anymore" or "I don't want to be married to him, anymore."

I decided not to travel to students' homes in the future. I have dropped the students who can't go to my house and recommended my friend to teach them. One of parents said, "Yes, your friend can teach my daughters for a month, but if they don't match each other, how about teaching my daughters again? My daughters like you and wish you could teach them, not another teacher." What should I do? I really don't want go to their house, anymore. It's too far. Am I wrong if I refuse to teach them in the future? What I should say to the parents so they can understand I can't teach them, anymore?

Assuming you just don't want to travel, tell them if they'd like to study with you again in the future to call you and you'll see what openings you have. Remind them now that you no longer travel to students' homes, so they must plan to come to your studio if they'd like to study with you again. If they call later, state immediately that you teach in your studio now, in case they forgot (or think they can talk you into making an exception for them - - "Won't you come to our house? You used to do that for us. The girls love you so much!" - - "No, I'm sorry. I don't travel anymore. I'd be happy to have the girls come to my studio, however").

If you don't want to deal with the family under any circumstances, if the mother calls asking about availability, tell her that you have no openings. If she asks to be put on a waiting list (don't offer!), say you'll do that. Don't offer any guess as to when an opening might be available ("I'm sorry. I have no idea when I might have an opening." Remember that you are not required to call them if an opening becomes available! It's your studio, and you can choose whom you'd like to teach.

If I can't continue teach students for some reason and I don't want to recommend someone to replace me, what do I tell the parent when he asks?

Just say, "I'm sorry. I don't know anyone I would recommend as a good match for you [your son, daughter]." Then say no more. You are not obligated to say anything else, so don't. It will just prolong a conversation you don't want to have, though if you like, you can suggest they contact a local music store or someplace neutral like that.

Remember my friend that I recommended to teach my ex-students at their houses? Last week, she called me and said, "One student decided to quit. Her mom said she wants to concentrate on her schoolwork because she had bad school exams and also realized her talent was in modeling, not in music." I think her mom lied. I know this ex-student really loves music and enjoyed learning the piano with me. She is at the head of the class in school. She always showed me her collection of piano books and said she wished could play all of them. Unfortunately, my friend forbade her to play any of these pieces, as I told you in a previous message, but told the girl's mom, "It's beyond her ability. No, no, she can't play any of these!" Now I know why, last month, her mom called me and asked if I would take the girls back. I said, "Now, I only teach at my studio. I would love to teach them in my studio." Unfortunately, she didn't want to come to my studio and then let her youngest daughter stop piano lessons. (Her older daughter still takes lessons with my friend.) There's more. When I was sick, I let that friend teach one of my students for a month. But at the end of month, she felt that student was hers. She didn't want let the student come back to me. She told me that the student's dad had called her and asked her to continue teaching the girl, but the dad didn't say anything to me. What do you think about my friend? What does she want from me? What is she planning in piano business? "A dirty game" to find many students an easy way?

Yes, you are correct. In my opinion, she is trying to get students by stealing them. She is probably doing this to other teachers, too.

If you belong to a teachers' association, you should speak to the president of your group and alert the other members so they do not recommend this woman to anyone seeking a teacher.

Further, I encourage you to have nothing to do with this woman.

She is -not- your friend in any sense of the word. She is not worthy to be your colleague, either.

She seems to me to be an unethical person, as well as an unethical teacher.

You have no obligation to help her in any way, and after the way she has behaved toward you, I think your obligation to her, if, indeed, there every was one, is now less than zero.

She is trouble.

Refuse to talk to her on the phone ("I'm busy now and can't talk. Good-bye.") Then HANG UP! Don't let her draw you into conversation. She has proven in the past that she can wear you down and get her way. How long will you continue to let her do this to you? Only you can make it stop! If you let her draw you into a conversation, you deserve to be stuck on the phone with her and whatever she can browbeat you into doing!

Refuse to speak to her in person when you meet her on the street beyond a civil one-word greeting. ("Hello.") After you acknowledge that you see her, turn away, even if you must walk in the other direction with a false destination. If she follows you or follows talking to you, ignore her. Eventually she will leave.

Also, do not allow her to substitute teach for you under any circumstances. It is better for your students to miss lessons for the month of your illness. Or, find another teacher, ethical, to substitute.

...unless you are willing to let this woman steal your students. She seems to have worked out several methods for this.

As to the father, I'd call and say that the woman who was substituting for you when you were ill told you that he said he wanted to student to stay with the other teacher. Ask if this is so. If so, then say you enjoyed teaching the student and say good-bye.

If the answer is yes, you might say that you are recovered and want to see the student this coming week and resume your regularly-scheduled lessons with her. Mention the lesson time. If this isn't a good time at this point, the father will say so and you two will find another time in your schedule.

If the father hems and haws and sounds as though he wants to keep the student with this other teacher, say only that you enjoyed teaching the student and that you'll be happy to have her back if the father finds, in time, that the other teacher is not working out as he had hoped.

You can't make the family return to you. You can only let them know you would like to teach the student again.

What is the difference between a tax credit and a deduction?

Both reduce the number of dollars you actually pay in taxes, but there's a difference in how it's calculated. This difference depends on which side of the Form 1040 you are.

Page 1 is for calculating the income on which you owe tax. Deductions, such as information from your Schedule C, are listed on this page.

Page 2 is for calculating the tax on that income. Tax credits are listed here.

Studio business deductions reduce AGI. Claim them by filling out a Schedule C ! If you are unsure whether a specific expense is deductible, contact your tax professional.

If studio income is lumped in with other household income, your business expenses are forfeited as far as tax calculations go, and you'll owe more than you are legally required to pay!

Any contributions to your retirement (Roth IRA, SEP, 401(l), etc.) are also deducted on page 1. If you possibly can, contribute.

Deductions for using your home as a place of business are also listed on page 1. They reduce the AGI, and this is why teachers claim them.

This is not, in my opinion, a good strategy. Which is more important? (1) More money in your pocket now? (2) Money for your retirement? Also note that any amount you've claimed over the years as a deduction for a business in the home is money that won't be included in the amount that is tax-free when you sell your home.

So, claiming the home business deduction not only reduces the amount of money available for a time when you perhaps are incapacitated and can't teach but also reduces the tax-free profit upon sale of your home.

It's a tough choice in tough economic times, I know.

On to tax credits.

A credit is "money" you have already "paid" toward the tax you owe. (The tax you owe is calculated, based on AGI, as you recall.)

Typical credits are for child care, etc. Claim all you can since this reduces your tax bill.

As a tax strategy, it's better, however, to reduce your AGI because your tax-calculation number is smaller to begin with.

See also the other tax articles listed on the business page of my site.

In recent years when it's come time for fall sign-up I've had so many students that I would have to have a "call-in" day with a first-come-first-served process to choose lesson times. This worked ok, but I ended up making exceptions or changing people around afterward because someone would explain that they needed to have the earliest spot on one of the days because of the parents' work schedules, or, I would have all the families signed up except one (and it would be a family of three students and there were no spots left in my schedule with three slots in a row so I would end up asking another family or families to switch around). I've thought about having a time during which all of the families come together and sign-up in person, but I don't think this is the best idea. And, in the past when I have allowed them to sign-up during their lessons, then later other families got mad because they got an inconvenient fall lesson time just because they were the last to sign up (which is why I thought the call-in/first-come-first-served would work better). Lately I've been considering mailing out my updated policy for the fall in June or July and enclosing a registration form. On it I would have them list three preferences for lesson times (in order of preference) and even allow room for an explanation as to why they need the time(s) they do or to tell me about other special circumstances they'd like me to consider (divorced parents, very young student, carpooling, ADD-medication wearing off by evening, etc.) Then, I would take those and work out a schedule that fits most peoples' needs and first or second preferences. Do you have any thoughts on that particular method of sign-up and what would you recommend, or how have you done it in the past?

I think you are making things needlessly complex. Remember that -you- are running your business in a way that makes thing easiest for -you-.

Here's what I do, developed over many years or trial and error - - everyone keeps his/her same school-year lesson time for the following fall. Those who need a change let me know. I don't call everyone and ask if they're happy with their time from the previous school year. (Why invite problems?) I have a pretty good idea who might have flexibility, and if I really need to switch someone, I'll call that family. Most of the time, however, there are never any changes because people have built their other schedules around piano lesson time, and they stay in the same spot for years and years.

If a family needs lessons back-to-back, I do my best to accommodate them. "I may not be able to give you back-to-back times right away, but I will do it as soon as I can find some people who will move around." The realistic parent knows that it will never be the case of having only one family change, but that I'll have to craft a domino-effect change. The unrealistic parent receives, "I know you want back-to-back lesson times, and I'm working on it. Are there any other times that will work for you? If there are, this will give me some more options to find you what will work for you."

If I were you, I'd issue a memo that says something like this: "For the fall, everyone has the first right to his or her present spot. If you want to change, let me know what your preferences are, and I'll do my best to accommodate you. I may not be able to make changes right away, but please know that I will be working on it until I am able to fine-tune the schedule to get you what you want. Thanks for your understanding."

I can't see why you'd want to turn the schedule upside-down every fall and have a scheduling first-call-first-pick free-for-all! Just let people stay where they are. Those who want a change will contact you, and you'll try very hard to get them what they want. Meanwhile, they'll have to sit tight, knowing that their request may not result in instant change and that you're doing your best.

If you change schedules just for the summer (long ago, I learned not to do this!), you'll have to decide whether right of first refusal in a particular time slot goes to the person who had it during the regular school year or the person in that spot for the summer. (These days in my studio, everyone stays in the school-year spot for the summer, with those needing a change contacting me.)

I'm back! As soon as I read your reply I realized I failed to mention one very important fact in my e-mail to you. I won't have the same schedule this fall as I had last fall. In fact, just about every year I've had to change my schedule because of my school class schedule. My schedule changes because I have to take classes at specific times but can't choose the times. Do you have any further advice, now that you have the full story?

I think, then, that I would offer my longest-standing families first pick. I would offer to the multi-student families next because they're so hard to place in adjacent lesson times. Ditto the other families with scheduling problems (both parents work, etc.). Also, while I would be at it, I would put the people who tend to flake at the end of a teaching day (in case they don't show, the hole is at the end of the day) or at the beginning of the day. Then fill in with everyone else. How does that sound?

I wouldn't do a free-for-all. I'd make individual calls. ("Would you like to keep your lesson time for the fall?" and "I know you really would like to bring all three kids in one trip. I'm hoping __ will work for your schedule." Don't ask if it will work! State that you hope it will!)

I have a boy student (18 years old) who has been taking lessons with me since he was 10. For the last five months, it seems to me that he has been looking at me as a man does when he sees the woman he loves. He doesn't say anything, but I get this idea from his eyes. (He and I have a 10-year age difference.) I have tried to avoid looking at his the eyes, but as his teacher, this is very hard to do all the time. Since I have started to look at him less, it now seems he dislikes and doesn't call when he has to miss a lesson. One time I called him to see why he didn't come to his lesson, and his older sister said he was "in the shower." I asked that he call me, but an hour later, he hadn't. Is this because he thought I spurned him? He didn't act like this when he was 12 or 15 - - or even 17. He has often told me about his problems at home and at school. What should I do? I thought this was just "puppy love," but maybe it is not. He is the most talented student I've ever had, and I would hate to lose him.

I think it is puppy love, as you suspect. I think you are doing the right things. If you are too uncomfortable, however, you will have to dismiss him - - even though you would hate to do this because of his talent.

If you are able to keep him, make a special effort to be business-like. (This may be difficult since you know a lot about his non-piano life. When he "confesses" any further problems at home and school, listen and be sympathetic but not overly-so or for very long, as you might with a younger student. If you are too sympathetic, I think this student will take your compassion in the wrong way.

Never touch his hands now without asking permission. Do not sit too close to him (example: don't sit on the bench with him). Treat him as you would any adult male student. In fact, he -is- an adult male.

How do I tell a parent the check bounced? And that I want them to pay the fee my bank charged -me- for it?!

How to do it without sounding crass. How about: "The bank returned your check for $[you fill in amount]. My bank charged me $[fill in the amount], so when you write the replacement check, please make it for $[total amount]."

I worry that I have bad breath. I sit on the bench with my students all day, and the idea I have bad breath bothers me. Do you know any way I can tell if I have it?

I don't know if this is actually true, but I heard that if you lick the inside of your wrist and wait 5 seconds, a sniff will tell the tale.

Of course, you also want to avoid culprits such as garlic, onions, etc. And make sure you brush your teeth (and use mouthwash) right before you walk to the piano.

If you'll be at the piano for an extended period (more than three hours), between lessons, zap to your bathroom and re-brush your teeth. Before you go to the piano at the beginning of your teaching day, prepare the toothbrush so you spend as little time in this task as possible. And don't do a "complete" job. Give your teeth a quick pass (especially on the tongue side), brush your tongue, and call it quits.

That's all I know on this topic!

I have started teaching again after I retired from a civil service job. I have a small group of children I teach, that I got from advertising in a local newspaper. I enjoy teaching so much and canít wait to fill my time with more students. I read this below from your site: "If you keep an effective ad running in the newsletters of however many elementary schools there are within a 10-mile radius of your studio, within twelve months you will be full, right up to the top and spilling over. I promise! (Probably it will be sooner than this.)" This is the perfect idea for me as I am in a small town in San Diego and there are not many piano teachers in this town. My question is how do I start contacting the schools? I donít want to start out wrong. I thought of producing a flyer and mailing it to the principal and also including a note asking them to contact me if they are looking for local businesses to advertise in their newsletters, but Iím not sure I am going about this right. Or, do I send a business card and a note to the principal saying I would like to purchase an ad in their newsletter with the same information that is on my business card? Would you be so kind as to let me know, how I approach the schools?

You will find the answers to most of your questions in my file on advertising, from which you took that quote. Keep reading! It's farther down the file.

As to school visits about placing an ad, you need to visit in person, particularly since you're a man. Unfortunately - - and it's reverse discrimination - - folks like to look male teachers in the eye first. If you can, get hold of a copy of the newsletter before you go to the school so you can ask germane questions.

I go in person. It's easier to get a good answer rather than on phone, where there's no face for you or for the other person. When you're looking at the person in the eye, you're more likely to get the answer you are seeking. You also miss the joy of the voicemail system and its interminable choices!

Have you ever hired teachers to teach in your studio? What do you think about that?

No, and I never will. I want to control what my students receive. My goals and standards are specific, and I can't trust that others would meet/abide by them, regardless of their training or good intentions. And then there's all the paperwork and tax stuff. And having or finding enough floor space for separate rooms. (The studio rooms must be very soundproof so another student's playing doesn't distract another.)

If you want to increase your income, which is usually what's behind one teacher's hiring a stable of others, raise your fee! A lot.

This week I received a letter from a parent stating that I was unprofessional and demanding the money back for December lessons. Her exact words were that I "did not live up to the letters behind my name." (I have a Bachelor of Education Specialization: music, Early Childhood Diploma, and a Bachelor of Music Performance.) She walked into my studio and put the letter in an envelope on the kitchen counter and ran out quickly before I could talk to her. She came at the time her children were to have lessons so in effect they skipped their second lesson. She has never complained about this before, so I believe that she is mad because I have 65 students this year and divided them up into two recitals. She wanted to come to both, and I told her there was no room. The woman is very rich. Her children do not practice much and are spoiled. They do not "like" their music. Also, she waits in the waiting room with her five-year-old, with whom she fights with constantly and loudly. I have it written and posted in my waiting room that parents and students must wait quietly for their lessons, and parents must make other arrangements for children who are not registered music students. How should I answer this letter?

This is an easy one! Ignore it altogether! She won't contact you about it again. (She ran away because she wanted to avoid conflict.)

And keep the check for the rest of December. Don't send her a refund.

Your credentials are sterling! Something's wrong at her end, and you're catching flak for it only because you're a convenient target. Forget her. And keep the money.

You don't think that I should defend my quality of lessons and point out that she is not entitled to a refund? I do have a witness to her unruly child in the waiting room.

Nope. It won't make a whit of difference to her. Anything you say will fall on deaf ears. Save yourself the trouble, even though you want to stand up and defend yourself.

She's shown herself to be (1) unappreciative of quality; (2) a coward; (3) a cheeseparer; (4) mean-spirited. Do you think anything you can say will make her change her mind about you and the quality of your teaching? No way. Do you care what she thinks of you? The family will no longer be studying with you. As you probably have read in previous answers, people like this have friends like this, and you don't care what they think because you wouldn't have them in your studio, either!

Trust me, she's not going to call you to demand the money. She hopes to get it from you by demanding it, but she is pretty sure she won't get it. Her thinking is certainly "nothing ventured, nothing gained."

If she writes again: toss the letter into the recycling bin, unopened. (Do you need more stress?)

If she does call (.00000001% chance she will), you respond at your first chance - - probably when she pauses to take a breath: "My studio policy states that there are no tuition refunds. Tell the children I said hello. Good-bye." Then hang up! Do not allow her to draw you into another conversation. This will be hard for you to do because you will want to defend your policy and your teaching ability. (You also want to be a gracious person.) There is no need to defend yourself, and, surely, you don't want to be browbeaten by this woman. If she happens to catch you again on another day, repeat the same thing and hang up again. Eventually, she'll figure out that you're not going to take the bait and that you're going to say the same thing every time.

Will she take you to small claims court? Not a snowball's chance in you-know-where. It costs many times more than she thinks you should refund for her to take you to court (the expense is all hers). Besides which, you are in the right.

But, trust me, she's not going to call or even mail you ever again. Exhale! Nasty situation is now over!

Do you think this woman might try to sue me for the two lessons to make a point? From the tone of her letter, she is very vindictive. She signed my studio policy, which states no refunds.

Absolutely not! She will not try to sue you. She's scaring you into thinking she will, hoping you'll do what she wants.

She wants to avoid confrontation with you so she left you a "poison pen note." If she took you to court, that would be a big-time confrontation.

And it will cost her several hundred dollars. I searched on the Web for small claims courts costs, and $200-$300 seems to be the average figure. (Search for the information in your state.) Even if you are found guilty, she still has to make you pay (which will require hiring someone). She's not going to take you to court! If she threatens to do this (but it ain't gonna happen!), you say, "I am prepared to go to court." Also see Question 34 for more discussion.

If she contacts you again in any fashion, I'll be surprised. If she sues you, I'll eat my [red and purple] hat!

Please let yourself relax! This trauma is over. And please throw away that letter!

Sometimes people ask me, "How many students do you have?" because maybe they think a good teacher will have many students, though, in fact, as I know, it's not always like that. My previous teacher, a principal of a music school, has more than 300 students but she was a bad teacher. For example, she said Scarlatti lived in the classical period, the same time as Mozart. She even used the wrong edition book for my friend's grade 7 exam and found her error only about a week before the exam date. I was told that in Hungary, a piano teacher is allowed only 8 students so that s/he can more pay attention to students. Is it true? If people ask me about the number of my students, I usually say, "When I was traveling, I had more students than now. Now I have only 3 because my ex-students' houses are so far from here." Is it a good answer? If not, what I should say?

It depends on who's asking. To someone who is just making conversation and is asking about your business, you say, "Enough to keep me busy!" You smile or chuckle. No one needs to hear your private business information.

If someone is prying just for the sake of prying, "Why do you want to know?" works well.

This particularly works with other teachers who are being nosy about your studio business.

If, however, the teacher is not known to you already as a nosy person and you wonder if perhaps that teacher wants to refer some students to you, you say, "Do you have extra students to send me?" If the person responds yes, then you say, "Yes, I have room in my studio for them. Please, do refer them." You don't need to tell him/her how many openings you have.

If it's a prospect, you chuckle and say, "I room for a few more." Do not mention anything about closing your traveling studio and subsequently opening a home-based one. If the caller persists, use "Enough to keep me busy!"

As to Hungary, I don't know! My guess, however, is that if there were a stricture on studio size, it is now lifted since Hungary's government is no longer Communist, and the current government probably doesn't care.

I have yet another question for your list. Have you ever, or know of anyone who has, charged a recital fee, and how did that go over? Also, could you offer some insights on recital expenses and management outside of food preparation (perhaps specific costs, but obviously that could be quite variable depending on region and current costs) and how you cover recital expenses (a budget perhaps, or separate savings account)? I would like to have a recital for my students that is truly memorable and "pull out all the stops," so to speak, but my budget will absolutely not allow for major expenses. (This is my first private studio recital, though I have done numerous recitals as I used to work for a private piano school.) Though I am enlisting family and friends to help, and my church allows me to use the facility free of charge, it does not have a grand or baby grand piano, which I think a necessity for a recital. I had considered charging a recital fee for each student participating, to help cover costs. Your opinion, advice, and experience would be much appreciated on this matter.

As to recital fee: I haven't done it, but it has been done. The trick is to "start the way you will continue." Just announce that "the recital fee will be $_." Don't justify it. Just state it.

In my opinion, there are three areas of recital expense: food/reception, programs, and hall. The food aspect I've dealt with elsewhere, and you seem confident in this area, so I won't expound upon this point here!

As to program, I photocopy on 11 x 17" paper and fold it. I put something like Spring Recital - Studio of Martha Beth Lewis and the date. Sometimes I can get everyone on the two "middle" pages. (The back cover is blank.) Sometimes, I need to use the back cover. I put the names in bold-faced print. That's the most important item in a student recital. You'll have to price your own photocopies and how your store handles "blank pages," but if you have a cover, a back cover, and two inside pages (4 pages total), I think you can easily do this for 40c per program. Depending on how many students you have, you may be able to do it on one 8.5 x 11" sheet of paper, printing on both sides. Now you're at 20c per program. Print 10% more than you have students playing, even if some are from the same family. Families will want extras to send to Aunt Tilly, and you'll want a couple of extras for your file.

As to a grand piano, I don't think it's a necessity. As you say, your church is presenting you with a free hall, so I'd just go with it, particularly since you say your budget is limited. Later, you can rent a hall with a grand.

Also consider what makes the most impact on your families. In my opinion, that's a nice-looking printed program and a festive party afterwards. It's better to spend your money on food and a program that draws attention to the children's names than hiring a hall with a grand. The families are likely not to have the same appreciation for an instrument that you do. They can judge food, however, see whether their child's name stands out strongly on the page! Spend your money where it will have the most impact.

You could ask your families to contribute something. I tend to agree with you, however. In my studio, the big spring recital is my affair to pay for. It's the "company Christmas party," with no expense spared.

Using my other file about food and your prospective attendance, calculate how much food you'll need and how much it will cost to create it. Ditto with the programs. How much of a bite is it compared to your "disposable" studio income? As you point out, it may be smart to open a passbook account and pop $50 or so in every month.

Make sure you circulate during the reception and speak to each student and each parent or grandparent. They do not always stay together so that one greeting serves all. Seek them out individually, and even when addressing a group of family members, make eye contact with all and try to tell each parent something a little different. Obviously, the other parent will hear it, as he or she probably is standing within 5 feet of the spouse! With a little one, get down at eye level and say how proud you are.

Since this is your first cruise on the SS Studio Recital, I recommend you use the church, lay out a program that gives plenty of play to the students' names, have a nice reception spread (don't forget a centerpiece), and take your bows! Keep it as simple as possible. You can give a more complex recital next time, after you have some information about what works in your studio and what's "common" in your area (ask colleagues but know that you might get an inflated answer!).

I'd leave off the recital fee. Wait until you hire a hall, if you impose one at all.

I just checked my tax return, and I spent $2500 in 2004 for recitals. That includes programs, centerpiece, tableware (forks, etc.), and food (and wine and exotic cocktail eaties for my adult recital). I also want to note the following in regard to this amount.

Being able to have a full studio has been a dream that I've had since I was 10, and now that I have received my education, I am looking forward to start my teaching career! I currently live in New York City, and finding students in this city is difficult, yet I have managed to have about 10 students. Though I read your advice about advertising, trying to place ads in NYC public schools are not as easy as it seems since many schools don't offer newsletters. I do need the income and really would like to do this full -time (About 25 hrs/wk and no side jobs!). Any suggestions for trying to "make it" in the big city?

In Manhattan, huh? You're making this tough on both of us! I'd contact music stores and any colleges/universities. Also private schools and the Y. Ask these people for referrals. Do any of the public schools print student directories? I have often placed ads in these, and they do pull, although slowly. Where do kids hang out? Karate dojos? Dance studios? Maybe these studio owners would allow you to post a notice on their bulletin boards (but maybe not since money spent on piano lesson is not money spent with them). I've never lived in a large city like Manhattan, so I'm giving you my best guesses!

And, of course, keep doing whatever it was you were doing to get the 10 you have! Have you told your present families that you "have openings" for more students and that you'd "appreciate any referrals" they "might be able to give"?

Are there any circumstances in which you would refund lesson fees? My written and stated policy when people sign up for music lessons is that they are in for the whole year. But if they quit I need one full month's notice from the end of the month before. So, for example they would need to give notice by the end of November if they wanted they wanted to quit by the end of December. I have postdated cheques (one for each coming month of the term) from everyone, and I do give them back if someone quits with notice. One woman left a message today on my answering machine that her girls are quitting music lessons because they are gone on a two-month holiday. They are home-schooled so this is possible, given the time of year. Nobody told me about this rather sudden "holiday." This woman wants me to return her call because now I "owe her money for January lessons that the girls can't take." According to my policy, I owe her no money. I can't believe this vacation came up so suddenly. How would you handle this?

I think I have refunded tuition maybe twice. Once was when I dismissed the student after the first lesson of the month. I can't remember the circumstances for the other one. So, no, I have not really done this.

As to the general cessation notice to be part of your policy, I'd recast it for the beginning of the month. For example: "If you want to suspend lessons as of Dec. 1, I must have notice on or before Nov. 1." Don't use the word quit. Using suspend lets them know you are leaving the door open to them should they care to resume. You bear them no ill will. Quit, on the other hand, has a negative implication and is also so "final."

How many lessons are you talking about in this case? That is, how much money are you talking about? Is the family likely to return to study with you? Are you likely to accept them back if they want to? If it's one to two weeks' tuition and you don't care if you never teach them again, return the money and get rid of the problem. But return tuition ONLY if the woman calls YOU. Don't call HER back, even though she asked you to!! She's not abiding by your policy, and you have no responsibility to reduce your income because she suggested it! And certainly not when she wants you to call her to say you'll follow her suggestion! If she doesn't call, don't voluntarily send her a check! Ignore her call requesting you call her back and keep the tuition.

Hi! I'm back again! There are plenty of karate or dance studios in NYC. I will look through those and see if they will let me put up ad/notices. Even though I am getting students slowly, it's looking a bit more optimistic since I moved (my location is now apparently very convenient to many). I've also continuously post free ads on craigslist. These free ads are pulling in more students than ads I paid for! Since it's a website, however, more adults surf it and therefore I have a good number of adult students.

Glad to hear things are looking up! And I hadn't thought about craigslist. Great idea! As you have discovered, location makes a world of difference!

2009 Update: Be aware that there are a lot of weirdos out there answering ads for piano lessons and other services. You might want to rethink this. Suggestions: (1) Set up a Yahoo or G-Mail account and put this address in your ad. (2) Don't give the writer your phone number in your first response to a query. Instead, ask questions such as: Do you already have a piano? or Did your son ask for lessons? or What sort of music do you/does your child want to play? Anyone who has nefarious plans usually will not bother to respond because you want detail. There are other fish in the sea. If the person responds to your set of questions, at this point, you'll have to go with your intuition. If the person sounds creepy or you suspect has plans that really are not piano study, write that you "think" that he/she is "not a good match" for what you teach. If you have any misgivings at all, decline giving your phone number or scheduling a studio interview. As your mom told you: better safe than sorry. It's a shame craigslist has gotten this way, but there you have it. (I live in a large metropolitan area. Maybe things are different in smaller communities/areas.)

She called me again. and I told her that my policy is month's notice. She said she was not aware of that. I told her to re-read her studio policy and the past newsletters. (I review the studio policy in every second newsletter.) She said that she did not have them anymore. I offered to mail her a copy of the policy that she signed. She said that she did not need one. She said that my policy is unfair. I told her it is very fair, and she could have had a full refund for January's lessons IF she had told me about this holiday by December 1st. Notice is one month. We are talking about $[x], as she had two girls in lessons. Had she apologized for giving no notice, I might have refunded half, but she demanded her money back because it is not the girls' fault they can't come to lessons. I doubt the girls will come back, as they have not been practising and their attendance has been sporadic. The mom never phoned to say they were not coming. I phoned, and the girls answered with a fake cough saying that they were sick. I don't know if I was too harsh or thoughtless and inconsiderate. I worry, but nothing has come up and she hasn't called. I am tired of people who take a new student at that time because I agreed to keep the spot open for them. Another student tried to quit this month without one month's notice. It was easier to say that March is nonrefundable, and I felt less guilty this time. I gave the cheques back for April and May, and the student has been coming regularly to lessons in March. There have been no complaints. The reason for quitting is that the parent has other kids and other things that she signed up the other children for are at a conflicting time. I listened to her and repeated my policy. The child has not even been late. If the child had been in the hospital or something I would have given a credit, but I think that her excuse was pretty weak.

You are doing beautifully! I'm so pleased to hear you are sticking up for yourself, even when she called back.

I would have not tried to defend myself with "the policy is fair," but reiterated that "that is my policy," as this takes the wind out of complainers' sails because you won't say anything but the same thing over and over. As it turned out ok, however, brava for you!

I like your use of non-refundable. Excellent term! This puts the ball squarely in their court. This word is very specific and cannot be misunderstood.

It is a fine idea to review your studio policies in your newsletter. Especially focus on problem spots: makeups and money. This is just the ticket to fend off those who "didn't know."

You're doing all the right things. Keep at it! This family actually did you a good turn. You're well rid of them.

I need some wording for parents contracts: (1) having read the studio policies; (2) knowing when and how much tuition is due. Can you help me, please?

You might consider a wording such as this (studio policy awareness):

I have received and read the studio policies of ___ Music Studio and agree to abide by them for as long as my child is / I am a student in the ___ Music Studio.

Add signature lines (one for each of you) and a date.

And (tuition due awareness):
I have read and understand the tuition and make-up policies of ___ Music Studio and agree to abide by it for as long as my child is / I am a student in the ___ Music Studio. To wit: (1) Tuition is due for the entire month, on or before the first lesson of the month. (2) If I wish to have a make-up lesson, I must contact ___ Music Studio 24 hours in advance. Late notice results in forfeiting tuition for that lesson. The exception is student-only illness.

Add signature lines (one for each of you) and a date.

Consider putting an example right in the contract. "For example, If the lesson time is 4:00 pm on Tuesday, I must receive notification no later than 3:59 pm on Monday." Obviously, you'd customize these to reflect the details of your situation. You might consider keeping only the second contract because money and make-up lessons will be 98% of the requests for exceptions to your studio policy. Skip the macros and get right to the nitty-gritty.

A graduating senior is going to give a solo recital in her church. It's a small sanctuary with a grand piano. I thought it would be nice to decorate. The mom wants to put flowers on the piano. (I think this is a bad idea.) What do you think of ferns by the piano? What do you suggest?

I think your fern idea is excellent. Especially if they're on stands so you can put them behind the piano. A florist or rental business has these for rent.

Don't put anything on the piano, as you have said. Flowers are a distraction to the performer. Just raise the lid on the piano. Suggest the mom put the flower arrangement on the stage (dais, wherever the piano is) or on the refreshment table. Another option is to place the flower arrangements beneath the piano, near the bentside.

If she puts the arrangement on the table, doesn't want them under the piano, but still wants flowers for the church, suggest she fasten nosegays of flowers (probably with some ribbon streamers) to the first pew on either side of the aisle, as for a wedding.

I teach at a small 'family style' music store that teaches a variety of music lessons. A fellow piano teacher has decided to leave for a newer store and is soliciting her students in hopes that they will follow her. Is this ethical? The store does not require any kind of a non-compete clause, so there is nothing on paper. I read your question about leaving a music store, and was wondering if you knew of any kind of fair agreement that would prevent something like this from happening in the future. Do you know if these agreements 'hold water' in court?

Is this teacher soliciting students who are "yours"? If so, yes, this is unethical.

Do you know how she's doing this? Just "I'll be teaching at another store and hope you'll consider coming to me for lessons there?", or is she pressuring them pretty hard? If she's just "announcing" she's going to be moving to another location and asking -her- students to consider coming along, it seems ok to me.

Are these students some you hope to add to your own roster? If so, I don't know what you can do. The store might want to issue a memo to the other teacher's students to "bring to their attention" that there are "[number] fine piano teachers here" and so on.

See also Questions 104, 111, and 126.

The teacher is announcing her move to another store, handing out her card, and trying to convince students to switch to her new location. The other location has offered her an incentive to bring in students (they will not charge her a studio fee since their advertising did not bring her students). These aren't my students, but any students who don't follow her will be passed down to me and a few other teachers at the store. (She was the only teacher who had enough students for a full-time schedule: other teachers have been putting in their time to build up their studio.) I am a little surprised that this is legal, since just about every music store I have worked at made it very clear that students recruited by them remain with the store if the teacher left. I had a few students ask me if I could come to their homes and I just didn't feel right about taking on students I got from the store (no matter how much extra money I could make not having to pay a studio rental fee).

I think there is not a lot you can do about any students - - originally hers or someone else's - - who go to her new location, although this is not what I would call professional conduct.

If they are your students she is soliciting, you should do something to let her know that she is acting unethically. It's a breach of professional ethics to solicit or entice students from another teacher. (By entice, I mean "guaranteeing" them a placement in a competition, etc. By solicit, I mean asking students to leave your studio and join hers.) If she is soliciting/enticing your students, you should notify her in writing, with a copy to the store, indicating that you know she is soliciting your students (say nothing about other teachers' students - - you don't know the facts) and that you consider this a breach of professional ethics. Ask that she stop immediately. If you are a member of a teachers' group, copy them as well. And if this is the case, note in the letter that you are "notifying" the (name of group) of her unprofessional conduct and that they will take appropriate action. (You know what this action is, yes? See below. You are a member of the local teachers' group, yes?) It may be that she does not know any better and her conscience isn't kicking in, but it may be that she knows what she's doing is wrong and won't care what a teachers' group does about the situation. In which case, you've at least had the relief of venting!

Unless the students signed some kind of contract with the store, I don't think there's a lot the store can do, either. Even so, I don't know if a contract like this would hold water. (Please note, I am not an attorney. The statement about "holding water" is opinion on my part and not a statement based on case law or statute.)

I presume the store knows what she is doing. They should approach her about her unacceptable behavior. If there is a teachers' group in town, the store [also] should contact them and notify them of this teacher's conduct.

The teachers' group would then censure her and prevent any of the members from referring students to her or embracing her and her program in any professional activities (her students would be banned from competitions, master classes, etc.). This happened in my teachers' group. Not only was the teacher censured locally, but the teacher's name and pertinent information about the situation was passed along to the state office.

As to changing your own store students into private studio students, you are correct. This is not the right thing to do. If, however, non-store students approach you (suppose you were recommended to them by current store students), it is not a breach of ethics to take them on as private students unless you signed an agreement with the store that says any students who come through word of mouth of students who began study with you through the store's program must become part of the store's program. In this case, you must adhere to it.

As an aside, unless there is nowhere presently in your home or another non-store place (such as a church, pre-school, etc.) for you to teach, I recommend that if you become a traveling teacher you look right away for someplace where students come to you. This is better because you have access to your materials, save gasoline and other car expenses, etc. You also avoid all the hassles, especially when you show up and the student is not at home. More in the linked file, including how to terminate traveling status.

See also Questions 103, 109, 111, and 126.

I'd like to sell a CD of me playing the piano. How do I go about getting the CD made and then selling it?

This topic is beyond my ability to give you detailed information. I think you need to contact a recording/DVD-making studio or a sound engineer and ask what's involved in the recording and post-production. As I understand it, once you get it engineered in a master format, you burn DVDs yourself, as needed (I think you can make them for about 50c each).

Finding and reaching your market will be the stumbling points, as it is with any business. See my files on marketing and advertising. Look into selling on Yahoo with one of their merchant accounts. Also try eBay and craigslist.

As to money, get the payment first. Money orders and cashier's checks are safer than personal checks. Ask that payment be made in either of these forms. (I don't know anything about services such as PayPal. I feel certain there is a charge to you, however.) Don't mail anything without payment. And also cash any personal checks to make sure they clear before you mail anything.

See also Question 226 on my parents-and-students QA file.

A student just quit study with me, and the mom pays by the month. The child took one lesson. The mom e-mailed me before it was time for the second lesson. Naturally, I did not receive a check for the lesson the student took. I am not too pleased! What can I do to recover my money? PS. I don't think the student will return.

Nasty situation, but at least you have given only one lesson. Two ideas: Send her an invoice for the lesson. Follow up two weeks later with a second one if you have not received the check by then. If the check doesn't arrive after the second letter, don't write again. Just drop it and be happy that you taught only one lesson "for free." More info in this file.

Second option is to skip the letters and just chalk it up to bad luck.

I agree, I doubt he'll ever be back.

Tell your teachers' group about this payment problem so your colleagues know will know they should evaluate carefully should the parent call them.

My policy is if you do not take lessons in the summer, I will not save a spot in the fall. Many students did not take lessons during the summer, but I wasn't able to fill those spots with new students. So, I have the problem of whom do I take back. Also, I was wondering if I could charge more for those that did not participate in summer lessons, but I think that would have too many complications.

I think the save-a-spot policy is a good one. (This isn't the same thing as "you-didn't-take-summer-lessons-so-you-can't-have-a-spot-at-all-in-the-fall".)

If you were unable to fill a student's spot, just call and say you're making the schedule for fall, and the old spot is open (not "still open") and would the student like that one or choose another (do imply that NOT choosing is an option!). No face lost.

As to fee, I wouldn't charge more, if it were my decision.

My homeowners' association told me after a year and a half that I could no longer teach private piano lessons in my new house because my next-door neighbor complained. (He was mad because I asked him three times to turn down the music in his pickup truck that was booming into my living room.) Even though the builder had assured me that I could teach piano there, the HOA was threatening to fine me $20/day for teaching there. I rented a 10 by 13 office, purchased a digital piano to teach on instead of my Steinway grand, rented my house, and moved to another town. What would you have done, and is there any way I could have avoided this? I thought I was in compliance with the subdivision covenants since I had no sign posted and did not advertise an address. I have never encountered this before, and I am still shocked and embarrassed. The builder still says the HOA had no right to do this, but it didn't seem worth the fight with them.

The problem is that there is a difference between the builder and the homeowners' association. The HOA is the group of people who live in the homes the builder builds. The builder and the HOA are not the same entity.

Also, the builder can promise you anything (as can the real estate agent: "Oh, no, this open space is to become a park, not an airport."), an example of which is that you can teach in your home.

Any HOA is governed by their Codes, Covenants, and Restrictions [CC&Rs]. What does this document say about teaching in the home - or, more generally, having a business in the home?

This is what may have bitten you. Perhaps you legally were not allowed to teach in your home but this was "overlooked" because no one complained and the board had bigger fish to fry (such as collecting past-due monthly fees). When the guy did complain, then the association had to take action.

In any event, the CC&Rs are, in turn, governed by the city codes regarding business in the home. And on up the ladder to the county.

To be free and clear, you need a yes-go from both city (or county if city does not have final say or doesn't specify in the city ordinances) and the HOA.

Do the CC&Rs allow business in the home? If not, you are skunked unless you can get a waiver. If yes, then you're fine.

HOWEVER....

You have a neighbor who's raised a stink and is the true root of your trouble. If you are not allowed to have a business in the home, you are unlikely to get a waiver because the neighbor is angry at you. (You doubtless have to get your near-by neighbors to sign something to say they don't care if you teach in your home.)

If you are allowed to have a business in the home, then you might be able to go on teaching, in which case, you should make peace with the neighbor.

HOWEVER....

You have moved away, so it's a moot point.

I would have checked to see what the CC&Rs said about business in the home before I bought the house. If the point was not addressed there, I would have checked the city ordinances, again before I bought the house. If the point was not addressed there, either, I would have set up shop. And walked gingerly and ultra-politely among my neighbors, introducing yourself when you moved in. At this time, you would have told them that you teach piano in your home and want them to be aware of that. Your students are well-behaved. They come directly into you home, they do not wait for their rides, they do not play in your yard, and they are totally quiet and respectful of your neighbors. "I haven't ever had anyone complain, but if you have a problem, please let me know right away. I will correct the problem." Do not ask if that is ok with them that you teach or if they "have a problem" with it. They are unlikely to say so if they do. Since they have just moved in, you will have a chance to demonstrate what you say is true. (Do your students do all these things? If not, have a fireside chat.) Then you add the clincher: Specifically, I would have been proactive and would have approached my neighbors within 300 yards of my property and told them what I was going to do. Not ask permission. Tell them the plan.

"My name is Ursula, and I am a piano teacher. I'll be giving lessons from my home - - #14 over there - - on weekdays. I want to assure you that my students will not disrupt you in any way. They will park only on my driveway and will come and go to their cars quietly and directly, staying out of anyone yards and out of the street. I wondered if you had any questions you'd like to ask me? [further conversation] Please get in contact with me if you have a question or a problem. I want to be a good neighbor." Notice that you are not "asking permission." You are offering your neighbors an opportunity to ask questions and give other input. Finish with: "Since I'm home each afternoon, I keep an eye on the neighborhood. Please also tell your children that if they need help and can't get to you that they should come immediately to my house."

Every year, touch base with the same neighbors. "Are you having any problems with my students? Do you have any questions?"

Similarly, make it very clear to your students what the rules are regarding neighbors.

Watch for moving vans. You want to be in contact with your new neighbors immediately. And certainly before the neighborhood crank is!

And I would also tread with care concerning other neighborhood irritants: garage bands, mowing the lawn before 9 a.m. on Saturdays/Sundays/holidays, having parties outside after 9 p.m., letting pets run loose and/or make noise, and so forth. Do as little as possible to call attention to yourself, your family, and your business.

I think the only thing you did wrong was not trying to deal with your neighbor before things escalated. How old was this guy? How old are you? Did one or both of you have short fuses? Did he continue play his boom box loudly after you asked him to reduce? All the time? Only at some times (which, alas, happened to coincide with your lesson schedule?)? Was he generally a cranky neighbor? Did you have any other disagreements with him (branches of your tree hanging into his yard? his cat's using your flowerbeds as a litter box)? Did you object on a weekday because the sound interfered with your lessons? Or, at non-lesson times, such as weekend mornings?

In general, someone teaching from his home is going to have to put up with some irritants from neighbors in exchange for having the business there. Which is more important? "Winning" the argument with the neighbor or teaching in your home?

If you notice the neighbor's noise, close your windows. After the lesson gets started, both you and the student will be concentrating, and most of the boom box sounds will be ignored. It's a pain in the neck, and it's not pleasant to deal with nasty (and vindictive) people, but there's always a trade-off. (Is eating on a regular basis a fair trade-off to being woken by a lawnmower at 7 a.m. on Saturdays?)

Maybe this neighbor will move away. Then you can move back to your home, use your Steinway, and take up where you left off. With all the proper permits and blessings, of course.

I teach piano at a music store, and my boss recently told us that we might have to start paying sales tax on our studio rent. ($4.50 per half-hour lesson) Apparently, one of his friends was recently audited and fined a large sum of money because his teachers (independent contractors) weren't paying sales tax on their studio rent. Does this sound right to you? It doesn't seem right to pay sales tax when there is no product.

This sounds quite weird to me. Although there are some states that tax services, most states do not. (Check yours.) I have never heard of anyone's taxing rent! My guess is that the store owner's friend was speaking of paying tax on something else, such as print music sold. That is taxable. Or, maybe the teachers were not independent contractors. In that case, the owner would owe payroll taxes. Or, your store could be making up this story!

Is there another music store you can ask? (Call nearby towns if there's not another in your town.) Call under guise of wanting to rent space from them and ask about fees. Have your pseudonym ready to go before you dial. "What about taxes? What taxes will you collect from me?" (You might want to change stores, anyway!)

I have several other tax-related articles. Link to them from my business page.

Also see other questions in this file on taxes and related topics. Also look at Questions 103, 104, and 126 about working in a music store.

I noticed you don't care for piano method books, and you advise teachers to compose songs for their beginners. I compose all of my students' songs from beginner to mid-elementary level. In fact, I have created a complete piano course that I use with my students. Any advice on how to get my piano course professionally published?

Clarification first: I do not advocate that teachers exclusively compose for their students. I advocate making arrangements of masterworks of the literature (these are generally public domain pieces - - you'll have to check). Filling in with self-composed material is fine, but I wouldn't make the entire series my own compositions. The music would be too homogenized. This is one of my beefs with method series.

Having said that...!

First check out the competition. Look at all the method series out there so you know specifically how your method is different and can articulate the difference. Write down characteristics and contents of each one. Pretend this is a semester's paper in a pedagogy class or even a master's thesis. Be exceedingly thorough. The success of your query letters to the publishers depends on these data.

Second, write to all the music publishers, sending a cover letter explaining what you have done and why it's of interest to the market. Why and how it fills the need in that niche when nothing/something else does not. Include a sample or two from each level.

If there are no takers (probably this will be the case, as there are many, many piano methods on the market, as you know). The market is very full, and your method must be so obviously superb and superior to anything else out there that the publisher is dumb-struck.

BUT...it has to be something that will make the publisher money. No matter how much the publisher likes your material or believes it head and shoulders above anything else out there, if the publisher doesn't think it will sell, your method series won't be purchased. Period.

Also note that, if published, the publisher is not going to do more than a perfunctory promotion of your book(s), such as listing them in their catalog. There is other stuff in the publisher's basket, and it's likely that financial resources for promotion will be used for proven money-makers. Don't expect much support from them (yes, I know that this doesn't make sense). Plan to take a dog-and-pony-show around the city (then the state) to music stores, teachers' groups, etc. to explain to them why they should stop what they're using and use your materials instead. You'll have to give out samples (let your method sell itself). By "samples," I mean entire books, not just photocopies of some pages.

You may have to self-publish a while, until your sales figures catch the attention of a publisher. And you'll still have to do the dog-and-pony show.

I teach at a music store that has parents sign an explicit contract that states all lesson policies perfectly! Unfortunately, I don't think the parents are reading what they are signing. After a year of virtually problem-free study, some of the parents of students are sending me invoices for credit for missed lessons. (If their daughter had a sleepover to go to, etc... I have offered a make-up lessons, but they expect to be credited for the lesson instead.) What can I do to reiterate the store policy without seeming like the 'bad guy.' (I have been a pushover..... until recently.) I've had some very irate parents lately who will sign up for a new teacher at the same store out of spite. I don't want to lose too many students, but I also want to be respected as a professional who has to make a living.

I'm afraid you will have to be the 'bad guy' because your livelihood is at stake, but you can use the store as the source for your make-up policy, which is true. Make sure you mention store every time you say policy. I suggest you hand the parents the store policy and go over it orally with them, not just trust them to read it. "This is the store's list of policies.....[they read]. Please notice the store's make-up policy. If you give me notice within [whatever the policy is], I will do a make-up. If your notice is not within that window, the store's policy is no make-ups will be given. Notice also [and I hope this is spelled out exactly - - if not, get the store to change it pronto] that the store's policy states that there are no credits for missed lessons. If you reschedule within the window, a make-up is given, but there are no credits or reductions of tuition. The store wrote this policy, and since I work here, I must abide by it firmly. Do you have any questions? [No.] Fine. This is sometimes a point of trouble, and I want to make sure you know what the store's policy is and why I must enforce it, impartially, for everyone. [You chuckle amiably.]"

It seems that the store also should have some policy about students' changing teachers in the store. You could ask them, showing them some of the paperwork (I hope you kept it!) and pointing out that the parents were acting in bad faith and out of spite because you were upholding the store's policy. My guess, though, will be that the store wants to keep all the students, doesn't care with whom they study, and doesn't want to get involved in teacher intrigues. They'll shrug their shoulders, I'm guessing.

As to these parents, phooey on them. They are selfish, thoughtless people who think they are above the rules. You have lost nothing to allow another teacher the "joy" of dealing with them. Eventually, the students leave the store permanently. (They will not come back to you, even if they don't like the "new' teacher." A matter of their saving face.

I am sorry that you'll lose some income, but I think that's the way it's going to be. How does the store assign new piano students? Rotating chronological order?

If the studio policy does not address credits and refunds, speak to them and ask that they add these caveats.

Have you considered having your own studio? See the end of that file for discussion of change to your own studio. You'll have to tweak the wording, as this is a discussion of a change from a traveling to a studio-based teacher. Also see the file about marketing and advertising. You will want to get your ads out there before you leave the store.

Sometimes students come to lessons wearing wet clothing (like a not-quite-dry swimsuit under shorts). I hate to seem petty, but these wet bottoms are ruining my bench!

Yes, a common problem. Don't feel shallow that you are displeased with this behavior.

My solution may work for you: I bought a sturdy plastic placemat (kept only for this purpose, of course!). When someone comes in with damp hair (in summer), I assume there's a wet swimsuit underneath the clothes and haul out the placemat ("I'd like to sit on this to protect my bench." No further explanations, no apologies.). I even have had students come in with wet britches that have had nothing to with swimming! (Straightforward and no recriminations: "I'd like to sit on this.") And students who "couldn't hold it." (Mop up, straightforward and no recriminations: "I'd like to sit on this.")

On a sort of related problem, I keep a tea towel nearby, too, and during summer when girls and women come in wearing shorts, I offer them the towel so they won't "stick to the bench." This is merely a comfort issue, not a bench-protection issue. The towel is printed with musical excerpts and signatures from Mozart and other composers. Mozart is in the center, right where the backside would contact the bench. I have students ask, "May I sit on Mozart, please?"

Another teacher responds: Instead of inconviencing yourself with a mat/towel, why not just make the policy be "no swimwear to be worn to lessons"? It is the student's responsibility to take dry clothing to a swim lesson and to change before coming to piano. If it is the same student who repeatedly has worn swim wear and ruined the bench, I would have no problem sending them the bill to replace it or have it refinished properly. Benches are not cheap, and it is not fair to teachers to have themselves inconvienced or furniture ruined because of inconsiderate students/parents. I had a student do this once and had no problem sending the parents the $300 bill from the refinishing, which had to be done because of the water damage. The parents were ticked about paying such a huge bill, but I didn't lose the student over it, either. I instituted a "no swimwear for lessons" policy, no exceptions. That was about 10 years ago, and it has never been a problem for me since. If we, as teachers, went to a student's home and acted disrespectfully to those belongings or home, we would be asked to leave. No questions asked. Why can't we, as teachers, exercise the same backbone? If someone quits because you ask them not to wear swimwear to lessons, so what? Who needs the abuse to their belongings and disrespect associated with it from the student for continuing to ruin the teacher's personal property? Skip towels and place mats, and just say, "No" to all swimwear. It saves headaches and hassles all around.

I absolutely agree with everything you say. "No swimwear" is certainly the best way to go and I do have that "plank" in my policy, but I like to be prepared rather than have my belongings damaged. And then there was the time a child "wet the bench," as I mentioned above.....but at least no one has thrown up all over the keyboard, which happened to one of my colleagues. (2008 Update: It has now happened......don't ask.)

I just attended a meeting of piano lovers in one piano lover's house; this person is a smoker (after an hour, I really couldn't breathe because he always smokes and smokes). This program is my teacher's idea. He wanted all his students to attend, but only five people were there - - not even my teacher because he is in Jakarta. Actually, I think the program was useless because it was only gossiping and smoke. I really donít want attend his fellowship again. I really hate the smoke in that house, but I'm afraid my teacher will be angry if I don't go. What should I say? If you were I, would you attend this fellowship? Also, my teacher said everyone who attends his program must play, whereas currently I really donít have time to master the music because I'm also working as a computer writer.

Tell your teacher that your doctor has told you not to attend meetings where there is smoking; you don't make any qualitative judgments on what happened or didn't happen at the meeting.

Or, just don't go - - and tell your teacher the above if he asks. This is what I'd do. This leaves the ball in his court.

As to the performing, as I read it, if you don't attend you don't have to perform.

I recently scheduled a make-up lesson in a spot where I have a student. I don't know what I was thinking when I chose the make-up time. So, I had one student at the piano (we had just started) and another one walking in the door. I just sort of hemmed and hawed and apologized and stumbled over my words and finally said I'd call that evening to find another time (it was a very uncomfortable phone call, as you can guess). I was so embarrassed! What should I have done to avoid it and also when it happened?

You are not the first teacher to make this mistake, nor will you be the last.

To avoid the problem. Look at your schedule every single day, at least two hours before the first student. Did you fail to write in all the students for the entire week and thought you had an opening? Did you write the makeup time in the wrong week (not having filled in all the students in that week)?

For the embarrassment: you'll have to eat it. Just as you did. And some crow besides. Say something like this. "It is my fault completely, and I apologize for the inconvenience. I feel terrible that you have made the trip. I dropped the ball; I don't know why I thought I had that place open when I've had a student in that spot for years. I would like to give you an extra half hour. May I call you this evening to find an hour spot? Again, I apologize. It is completely my fault."

Aside: If there is a problem with giving your students the full time of their lesson, offer an additional half-hour as recompense. Suppose you had to pick up the phone because of hospitalization of a family member and you were expecting a call from the doctor. If this is the case, you might say to the student at the beginning of the lesson, "I may have to answer the phone during your lesson. My father is in the hospital, and it will be the doctor. If this happens, I'd like to make it up to you with an extra half-hour." Then the student won't be surprised or upset.

How do I deal with griping parents? Sometimes, it's just general grumbles. Sometimes, it's not.

Realize first that most people just want to be heard. They want the other person really to hear. Usually, though, in the studio setting it's because the person wants something done.

Don't go on the defensive, as much as you want to explain and justify yourself.

Instead, indicate your sincere willingness to hear the parent out. Say, "Please tell me your concerns." This invites the parent to verbalize what he sees as a problem and be assured you will hear what he has to say.

It is hard to do, but you MUST listen without planning what you'll say to refute and rebut. SAY NOTHING while the parent speaks.

These are two of the hardest things there are to do: (1) Listen and say nothing. (2) Do not plan your rebuttal while the other person is talking. Just listen.

Eventually, the parent will run out of steam.

Then you say, "What would you like me to do?" It might be something like give fewer songs, show the child how to practice, show the parent how to be more supportive at home. Or, it might be to lower your fee, give a family plan rate, or something like that.

Sample response: "Thanks for telling me all this." Address the non-money things first. "As to Bill's list of practice items, has he said something to you? I will certainly talk to him and see what he says about it. If he thinks he has too many songs, we will certainly remove two of them. I don't want him to feel frustrated. In a couple of weeks, I'll ask him how the reduced number is working. I'd also like you to keep me posted on how he's doing at home. We can adjust the assignment further. As to giving you a family plan, I don't offer one. [Well, you ought to offer a family plan!] I understand how you feel about a family plan, but my students all pay the same tuition."

Sometimes it's a biggie gripe, such as forgetting lesson or double-scheduling, in which case you must do something major. See Question 115.

I have more than ten years of experience teaching piano and have both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in piano performance. I love working with children, and this is the main focus of my career. Right now, I have 27 students and teach four days per week. Three of those days are spent teaching at a private school (K-8), where I am an independent private teacher (I pay a rental fee for the space). I have a studio policy and have the parents and students sign a registration form agreeing to abide by the policy. In general, my students do quite well and I am happy with the program. I am very sensitive, however, and have a very hard time dealing with parents who do not seem to trust my abilities as a teacher or who treat me in what feels to me like a disrespectful manner. I look much younger than I am, and people often perceive me as being less experienced than I actually am, even though I state my credentials and years of experience in my studio policy. On several occasions, I have even been asked by parents whether I am a college student (I am in my early 30s). I dress professionally in the same manner as the other teachers in the school. I need the income and am not able to be as selective as I would like when accepting students into my program. Also, I feel pressure to accept and be open to all students who come to me since I teach in the school. I work very hard to teach each student on an individual basis, relying on positive reinforcement to motivate them. I also expect the students to follow directions and be cooperative with me. The problem is that I am often disappointed with the commitment level of families and, in particular, the cooperation level of parents. Although I make it clear in the studio policy that an acoustic piano is best, an electric piano is acceptable but limiting, and that a keyboard is actually harmful to a student, I still have trouble getting parents to purchase an appropriate instrument. Also, some students do not practice according to my instructions. On occasion, some parents even speak to me in a rude manner. There is one particular student I would like to dismiss because of her mother's sarcastic comments during lessons. Her most recent remarks were in regards to my make-up policy, which is very clearly stated in the studio policy. She was upset that I would not make an exception. As a said, I am very sensitive and often find myself obsessing over the tone with which a parent spoke to me or how a particular student is not doing as well as I would like, hours and even days after the lesson. I give my all at every lesson and wish I could stop thinking and worrying about how parents perceive me. I would appreciate any advice you might have for me. How do you develop a thick skin in order to enjoy teaching in spite of whether parents and students and fully cooperative? How much cooperation can I reasonably expect from students and parents? How do I deal with a parent who speaks to me in an angry tone? I really want my students to succeed, and I need to feel good about myself as a highly-qualified and dedicated teacher. Do other teachers go through this? Please help. I want piano teaching to be a lifelong career that I can enjoy and feel good about.

First off, it sounds as though you are doing everything professionally and doing it well.

Secondly, you aren't going to be able to please everybody. Some people naturally are jerks - - and you certainly should not even try to please *them*! (It takes a while, sometimes, to figure this out so you can do it for them. Meanwhile, you're making yourself crazy trying to find out what they want and do it.)

Thirdly, you are in charge of the way you run your business.

Now, specifics.

1. Looking younger than you are. "How kind of you to say so [that you're a college student]! I wish I were that young again. No, I graduated X years ago and have been teaching piano for X years, already. But I'm flattered that you think I look so young." Turn the possibly-disrespectful comment around. Act as though what they said was a compliment. It would take an unbelievably-boorish person to run the same comments by again. (If so, repeat your response without altering it an iota. Right, without altering it. You need not justify. Keep repeating if the person keeps repeating the rude remark.)

You say you dress like the other teachers at the school. How do they dress?

Here are some other things you could do to amp up your authority quotient. Adding a jacket/blazer is one of the easiest and most effective ways to do this. If you're teaching in a dress or slacks, add the blazer. (A man in khaki slacks and blue button-down collar shirt is casual; he is much more "important-looking" when he adds a blazer. If you're teaching in jeans, go to slacks. Jumpers, crop pants, etc. tend to give the impression of youth. Steer clear, even if they're fashionable at the moment. Stay away from other trendy stuff. Dial it back or avoid it. Is your hairstyle appropriate? Pulling your hair back in a ponytail with a rubber band is too youthful for your situation. How about shoes? Sandals or flip-flops? Closed-toe shoes are better. Low heels? (I don't know any woman who teaches in high heels....) Make sure your clothes don't look ultra-hip or ready for a night on the town.

Do you have your degrees framed and on the wall in a place where people coming in can't help but see them? Use photocopies; I wouldn't use the real thing in a leased studio space; make color copies if the original has color. If you have any teaching awards, put them up, too. Put up any membership certificates for teachers' groups. (Photocopies for all these things, of course.) Do you have any "I love piano" drawings and letters from students? Thank you letters from parents? How about putting them on a bulletin board? And photos of students at their pianos at home. Or recital pictures. You want to put up "happy stuff" that supports your successful teaching for all to see.

2. If parents are resistant to buying a piano, suggest they rent one. "I know that a piano is a sizeable purchase, so why don't you rent a piano?" There are other questions on this page about that, as well as other files here on my site.

3. You say the income is not negotiable for you, so you're going to have to put up with various degrees of commitment in your students and parents. Meanwhile, get your advertising program in high gear. As you add students, you can replace the lackadaisical students with good ones.

4. Don't sweat the uncooperative students so much. Do the best you can with what you have. And remind yourself that their money spends as well as anyone else's. (Even if you have to "work harder" to earn it! Remember that you'll replace these students with good ones as soon as may be.)

Also, you don't know what's going on in that person's life right now. Imminent divorce? Abuse? Alcoholism? Fired or laid off? Major illness? You could just be a "valve" for them to blow off steam. You're "safe" because they know you won't strike back. (It's mean, but they're thinking about themselves, not about how their actions will affect you or your relationship with their child.) Most of the time, people just want to be heard.

5. As to the mother who dressed you down about make-ups, you must say, "I understand, but that is how I run my business. I must be fair to all." Be prepared for a rock to land in the pit of your stomach. She'd get defensive if spoken to in this way!

I agree that you should dismiss this student as soon as possible. Is the monthly tuition generated worth more than getting rid of this mother right now?

See questions 115 and 116 for how to handle gripes.

6. Practicing at home is a learned skill, like all else in piano playing. It is a topic teachers should address, but most do not. Ensuring productive practicing at home benefits not only the student, in learning the material, but the teacher, in diagnosing what specifics should be addressed at the lesson. This file has numerous links to other files on teaching practice skills. Here's a file I wrote for students and parents.

To summarize:

Bottom line: Remind yourself what a wonderful teacher you are and that these folks may be using you as an escape valve. The longer you teach, the better you'll be at dealing with such situations. (Be patient with yourself.) And remember you can't please everybody, even though you want to and you do try to!

I would like to fill my daytime hours. My afternoon hours are full, and I have a waiting list. I do not teach past 6 p.m., as I have two small children. I am wondering about teaching home-schooled children? How would I reach them? How could I reach others who might want to take lessons before school lets out? I need the income.

Ask other teachers for their pre-afternoon overflow. Don't expect to get many, if any, students this way, as virtually all teachers are in the same boat: after school is busy but morning, mid-day, and early afternoon are not.

How well do these teachers know you? How well do they know your credentials? How are your credentials? Your curriculum? Remember, any time a teacher refers a student to another teacher, there is an implicit recommendation.

For home-schooled children, seek a "home school parents' association." Check at your local school district. Sometimes home school programs actually are run as part of the school district, such that the actual curriculum is drawn up by the school district and books are provided. If the staff cannot put you in touch with an association, perhaps they would give you "a lead."

Note, however, that it may be against policy to give out this information or to give you contact information for students because this implies the school district endorses you and your program or that you are receiving preferential treatment.

Moreover, do not expect a list of students' names. This is against the policy of every school district I've ever heard of. The policy is probably governed by state law, so don't expect to cajole the official to give you names.

Also try "continuation" high schools. In my school district, this school is for students who might otherwise have dropped out before high school graduation. The schools' focus is having their students earn a G.E.D., which is usually achieved with a flexible class schedule, specialized coursework, and individually-paced study so the students are given the greatest opportunity to succeed, as well as also having time to work at a job. The probability that these kids, who are working, would have time for lessons is probably low. I wouldn't expect much here.

"Independent study" schools (all grades), in my area, are for children who are not home-schooled, per se, though a lot of the work is supervised by the parents. This school is for children who travel a great deal of the year (on the tennis circuit, actors, etc.) and would have a fragmented and discontinuous education if they were at a "normal" public school. Pace is individualized.

Religious schools may have a home school arm. There also are some nationwide home school programs, such as Calvert School. These are favorites of families who travel and have no home base, such as full-time blue water cruisers (think "around the world by sailboat"). Whether you could find local families this way is probably quite unlikely, however, given the peripatetic nature of the families who pay for such programs. And the schools' privacy regulations.

As to other ways to increase your income:

To be honest, I think you have set up a pretty restrictive situation, as regards when you will teach.

You're going to have to be more flexible since you're having trouble filling your schedule at times other than after-school hours. Being more flexible may not be ideal, but if you need the money you're going to have to re-think things. As you see, earning more is going to require quite a bit of effort on your part just to find the students. And quite a bit more time spent on the bench.

Your current plan has a very, very low chance of success, in my opinion. I encourage you to reconsider it.

I have an adult student who needs to change her lesson time every week, as she travels on business. She does follow my studio reschedule policy, however (24 hours' notice - - thanks for that idea, incidentally). Your comments, please.

I gather you wonder whether the constant disruption to your schedule is worth the money and aggravation. Do you enjoy teaching this student? Is it easy to find an open spot each week? Do you want to fill that spot with someone who will keep this time slot regularly? Do you need the money?

My suggestion is that you propose to your student that you call her at the beginning of each week (Monday - - or even Sunday) and let her know what options you have for her that week. Say that if something opens up at other times, you'll call her about those, too, if she'd like. (She probably will.) Be sure to ask if she'd like to keep her regular time, too, of course.

Another option is to "double-up" on lessons, giving an hour-long lesson in following or preceding weeks when she knows in advance what her travel schedule is. It will be trickier if she is an hour student. In this case, your best solutions are (1) a weekend lesson; (2) two 90-minute lessons.

If someone wants her spot, ask if she would mind if, as a general rule, you used her time slot for make-ups since it is unlikely, in any given week, she'd be using her time, anyway. But you have to touch base with her early in the week to make sure she doesn't need it. Tell the other parent you have to check.

If you'd like to fill her scheduled time permanently with someone else, particularly if it's a "prime" lesson time or one that a school-age child would be able to make, ask if she will become a "floater."

She is likely to say yes to either of these, I'm guessing, as she knows it's a big pain in the neck for you each week.

Bear in mind that she really wants to study piano. Most people who have such an erratic/demanding schedule would just give up because moving the lesson around is an on-going inconvenience. Sounds as if she's probably a keeper, despite the weekly changes.

Help quick! I set an appointment with a mom (with two daughters), but she left a message on my voicemail (while I was with another student), saying, "Something has come up," and she had to cancel the interview. Then she said, "I'll call you later." Should I call her, instead? I need the money!

No, don't call her. If she's interested, she'll call back.

Something actually might have "come up," but this is a classic brush-off and I doubt you hear from her again. (In fact, be happy that she was polite enough to leave a voicemail that they were not coming. Many people just don't show and don't bother to let the teacher know they won't be coming.)

What do I say to keep parents from hoping/expecting me to stop the lesson late (so the student receives extra time)? I have one parent who sort of expects it since they're the last student of the day and I obviously don't have anyone waiting.

Say, "Oh, dear, Mr. Smith! I'm so sorry! I wasn't watching the time, and we ran over 5 minutes. I know you're busy. I'll do better next time!" Act as though it is your fault (and, of course, it is) and as though running late was a big inconvenience to the parent.

And, of course, you absolutely must watch the clock very carefully. This is evidence of disorganization. Do you want your students to think your teaching isn't any better than how organized you are? You can't make the same statement ("My gosh! We ran late again. I'm so sorry.") very often, so get it together! Do you need a large-face clock you can see from the bench?

What do I do when my first student of the day arrives really early? Such as 15-20 minutes early. To be honest, I don't want to give the student this extra time for free. Ok for 5 minutes, but 15-20 is too much. Also, the student is this early almost every week. Since there's no one here ahead of him, obviously, I could start to teach him as soon as he arrives, but I don't want the student or his parents to expect me to give him half a lesson for free. I have asked him to wait in my family room until his lesson time arrives. Am I doing the right thing? I hope that doesn't sound too stingy or nasty.

No, your wish to be paid for lessons you deliver is not unreasonable, stingy, or nasty. Nor is it reasonable to expect you to baby-sit for 15-20 minutes, though it sounds as though this child doesn't need watching.

Make the student wait until the appointed hour. Busy yourself with whatever you needed to finish before the lesson was supposed to start. If possible, busy yourself upstairs, if you have one, or in the basement (ditto). You want to stay out of sight. "You're pretty early. I'll be there at 3:30! There are Calvin and Hobbes books in the family room. Go ahead a read for a little while."

Consider calling the parent and say, "I wanted to let you know that you don't have to break your neck to make sure you get Neil here early! Two or three minutes early is just fine! We'll start at his regular time, so I hate to see rushing around." Most parents will get it.

If it's a wee one, the child will be accompanied by the parent. If you don't want to busy yourself ("You're early! I'll be done in a couple of minutes."), go ahead and start the lesson, but preface it with a question to the parent: "Do you mind if we start early and end early?" This alerts the parent that you won't be ending at the regular time if you start the lesson early. Be sure to check your watch and end when the allotted minutes are over. If you run over, the parent will expect the extra time again, as you noted.

See also the previous question.

My income is down dramatically this year (isn't everyone's?!), and I don't want to make my complete estimated tax payment due in January (#4 for tax year 2007) because I need the money now and am likely to get a refund for tax year 2007. If I pay less (or none at all), what penalty will I have for doing this?

I put this question to my accountant, and he said to figure on 6% per year. Any shortfall you don't pay in January will accrue at about 6% interest. In April, you'll have to pay the shortfall amount plus the 6% on the shortfall.

Please, however, speak to your own accountant before you pay less than the estimated amount due.

Yes - wouldn't it be nice if we could tote up what we made the previous quarter and pay taxes on that amount? Write your Congressperson. Whoever wrote this part of the tax code has never had a business, I feel sure!

I am buying a poodle and am wondering how to deal with the puppy stages. I am not too concerned about the puppy when I am teaching in the afternoons in my studio because my two daughters, ages 9 and 14, will be taking care of him, but I am wondering how I am going to handle him when I am teaching in the mornings. One day a week I teach for two straight hours to four home-schooled students. My studio is very quiet when I teach - - in fact, the mother (who has a number of other children) told me she loves the peacefulness of my studio while she waits for all of her children's lessons - - and I don't want it disrupted by the puppy barking or crying. Since my front door is unlocked for students to enter while I'm teaching (my studio is in the front of the house with windows so I can see who is entering the house), I plan on having our new poodle fenced off in the kitchen where he can see the students, but not run out the front door. If you have suggestions on the best way to handle our new pet with my teaching situation, I'd love your advice.

A poodle pup! (Lucky you!) The best dog there is!

As you have stated, you can't have your dog making noise during teaching. I suggest that you crate-train him from the get-go. Dogs are den animals and like to sleep curled up. The crate is "his den," where he is safe to sleep. He will not consider it a punishment or a removal from the family's activities to be put in his crate, though this seems backwards to us humans. Your breeder may send you home with a towel or toy that smells like his litter/dam. Put this in the crate. (Ask in advance that something be 'pre-seasoned' for you to take home with the puppy.) An added benefit of crate-training is that it's the best way of all to housebreak the pup. There are lots of articles on the Web about how to use the crate for housebreaking. (Basically, you keep him in the crate at all times and take him out first thing in the morning, 30 minutes after he's eaten any meal, after romping and playing, and before bedtime. After one mistake, the puppy won't foul his sleeping area. Make sure the crate isn't so large that he can sleep in one part and still have plenty of room to potty in the other part!)

When you bring your pup home, locate the crate in an out-of-the-way place (not a bedroom, not the kitchen) where the pup will not see people passing by, whether they are family members of students. (I have mine in the upstairs hall.)

At night, have him sleep in the crate (not in anyone's bed). He will be fine; he won't "need company." Keep a light-weight bath towel on top of the crate. When the puppy is inside, drop the towel over the mesh "front door" to make it dark and cozy for him and easy to fall asleep.

When it's time to teach piano, put him in the crate without ado. No, "I'm sorry, little puppy!" Just matter-of-fact. Piano playing = happy snooze time, safe and cozy in his crate.

The girls can play with him after you're finished teaching. (Note: At first, the girls may have to let him out to relieve himself. They should put him right back in his crate, though, without playtime or statements of regret. When he's older, he'll be fine for the afternoon.)

Here is specifically what I do with Chocolate. I bought a Kong toy (tubular-shaped strong chew toy, hollow in the middle) and put some aerosol cheese in it (about 2 t for a pup; Chocolate gets 1 T now). My vet suggested cheese. I understand dogs also like peanut butter. When it was time for me to teach, I call to him, "Chocolate! Time for cheese!!" and he comes running lickety-split and dived right into his crate. After I latch the door, I cover the crate with the towel. It takes quite a little while to get all the cheese out of a Kong. Therefore he is not paying attention to anything going on in the house. After the cheese is extracted, he dozes off to sleep. He knows that when it is "time for cheese," it is a good thing: he gets to go into his den for a yummy snack, followed by an uninterrupted snooze.

And, since he can see no one, he isn't reminded there are other things going on. He is used to his crate as a place to sleep, so he doesn't consider it a "punishment" or "being penned-up." Since cheese is involved, this is a good place to be.

If you start this way, he will accept it as the way it's done. (Dogs do best with a routine.) You're the Alpha Dog, after all! As you know, poodles are smart - the smartest dogs there are (border collies just run faster) - and will run your house as they want to (yowling during teaching, etc.) if you let them. You can't let them. You have to start in charge.

You are absolutely right that you can't have your pup running around, possibly escaping outside, and making noise while you conduct lessons for which your students pay. The crate, a towel, a Kong, and aerosol cheese will solve the problem.

I am a piano teacher selling a small grand to a private party (we are getting a Steinway - yay!!), and suddenly the question comes up regarding whether or not I need to charge sales tax (8.25% in Texas) and what to do with the tax when I get it. If we set a price for the piano, do we add tax to that or tell the buyer that we have figured tax into the price? Obviously we would like to add the tax and keep the sales price, but we quoted them a definite price. Will they be expecting to be paying sales tax? Also, do I, since the piano is used in my business, have to declare the income from the sale? If so, where? On Schedule C, that is income from teaching. Do I use Other Income on the 1040?

Per my understanding of the tax code: (1) do not charge sales tax; you paid sales tax on the instrument when you bought it; (2) do not declare the money as income - you are disposing of your own property; what you do need to do is to note the sale of an asset on your tax form (I don't remember the form number, but if you look on Schedule C you'll probably find a pointer to it; it's something like "sales or purchase of assets used in business" and has to do with basis and depreciation deduction). Let me add that I am not an accountant! You should check with yours to verify!

I've been teaching from a music store for many years as an independent contractor, and every so often, the man that runs the store tries to get me to give up teaching out of my home and to do menial labour around the store when I have a no-show student. He treats the other teachers this way, all except one, who is a lady who teaches piano and teaches at home four days a week. I'm scheduled to have a meeting with him soon. I outlined a contract saying that: I'm an independent contractor, I only provide music lessons, I maintain the right to teach for other clients, and I will continue to bill him for 50% of what he charges for lessons. He is raising tuition this year and wants to give me less than 50%. He also seems interested in getting me to sign some sort of non-compete clause and a contract that will put me to work around the store if a student doesn't show up. Is there anything else I could put in my contract to protect myself?

1. You do not have to give up your home studio, and he can't force you to not teach for his competitors. He may not want you to do either of these things, of course, but he can't force you to stop. Deal with this by pointing to your current contract. (You are very wise to have one with this man. It sounds as though he'd step on his grandmother to get to the biggest ice cream cone.)

2. He cannot force you to clean bathrooms, etc. when you have a no-show. He can't force you to do these things at any time unless your contract says this is part of the agreement you made with him when you began teaching there. Deal with this by having something to do on hand for any no-shows - something to practice, a piece you're arranging, etc. You can say that you are busy (I'd phrase it as "not available," as that also covers what you are "available" to do, per your contract). Or, just leave the store and go for a walk.

3. Do not agree to take less than the fee you have now. You do not owe him more money. It sounds as though things are getting a little tight for him and he's trying to tie you down to his situation so he gets [the major part of] all money you earn.

4. Do not back down. If you do, he'll take you for a pushover and keep shoving until you have zero.

This all raises the question: why don't you teach at home full-time?

How do you get students? You find them - and basically use his place as somewhere to teach them? Or he finds them and gives them to you - which is why you are obligated to teach there? If the former, you are not obligated to teach them at his place. You can teach them wherever you choose, including Central Park. Which also means you don't have to pay him part of your fee or clean toilets in free moments.

Another option: agree to pay him a fixed sum per week for X number of hours rather than a percentage of your fees. For each hour you occupy the room, you will pay $10 (or whatever). This reinforces you are an independent contractor. (PS. Get a receipt from this ogre for tax purposes. Studio rent is tax-deductible.) Also, if you raise your fees, he doesn't know about it. Your ability to attract more students and keep them, even at an increased rate, does not benefit him. Except for increased and better-heeled foot traffic through his showroom.

You might find specific help on a DIY contract book (such as one from Nolo). Also you could query a site such as allexperts.com to see what you can turn up about contracts. You probably won't find an attorney who will do free consults there, but you may be able to turn up a paralegal who can give you good guidance. I would query all the Experts, but one at a time only! Don't submit your question to all of them at once, as this is very poor form and will anger them! Asking all of them will give you the broadest range of answers.

Bottom line: Stand your ground. You're in the driver's seat. Why would you reduce your fees or take on chores that are not your responsibility because he wants you to? He's scared. Look him in the eye and say no. And start looking for somewhere else to teach. This jerk has little appreciation for your long-time business association. You'll be way better off without him for a number of reasons!

See also Questions 103, 104, 109, and 111.

Follow-up to the previous question.

(continued from Question 126) I've had to stand my ground many times. The owner is raising tuition by $2 an hour. This year I made $X, which is 50% of what he charges students. Now he wants to give me $Y, which is only 19% of what he charges! He claims I don't deserve the 50% because I'm not exclusive to him and because I won't do labour for him during no-shows. He says that since he's paying me $X already I should stay productive and do things like call students to remind them of their lessons, cleaning, etc. He was after me because I took a 5-minute phone call from a concert promoter while I was waiting for a student (who never turned up for the lesson). That's a good tip about staying busy and being unavailable. I should adhere more to that. As of right now, I don't have a contract. That's why I'm writing up my terms of service to clarify our business relationship. He's been asking all the teachers questions about how many home students we have, etc., and, of course, I don't divulge the information. He wants us to bring our home students to the store - - so he gets half the money, I am sure! As to how I get students, he finds them for me, and I teach them at 50% of what he charges them. The students I find for myself, I teach at home or their home. Thanks for the links. I've been reading up on them. I've been teaching at this store and at home for over seven years, and I see no reason to give up my rights as an independent contractor. I'm considering working at a different store if things get bad. I'm the only teacher who's been with him since the start, and he left me out from his ads while praising the other teachers. He said that was because I had a small advertisement on a bulletin board at a different store. I've been looking up contracts and learning more about the law regarding independent contractors so I'll know all my rights.

I definitely think you should pull up stakes. Fast! He's treating you the worst of anyone, it sounds like! Stand your ground. Don't tip your hand that you're looking. And present him with a contract, for sure. Try to get something else lined up before the contract talk, however. If necessary, stall until you have your new place lined up.

The problem will come when you move to studio teaching full time. If he found the students for you, you must "leave" them at the store. They may choose to quit because you're gone (and then find you and come to you privately), of course, and there's nothing he can do about it.

What you shouldn't do is invite your store students to study with you privately. That is unethical. If they want to, they'll do it on their own by quitting.

I think what you ethically can do is tell them you are leaving the store "effective [date]" to teach at your "private studio" (not "home studio"). Meanwhile, you have enjoyed working with them at the store and wish them the best in their piano studies. You also must convey that "this letter is not a solicitation" for them to study with you. You can't say this bluntly, so you dance around the specifics
- - you know their new teacher will be "competent and experienced"; and that their "piano studies at the store will continue to be a lot of fun". Close with, "Best wishes for continued excellence in piano, and I know I'll see you name in lights someday." Some such closing. Keep it jolly and light-hearted. Parents will put two and two together and contact you if they wish. This letter is just what it appears to be - - a charming good-bye.

Such a letter is not the same as a letter that says: "I'm leaving the store. I'll be teaching you at my home studio from now on. Come there. Here's the address." This will get you into trouble!

Put your letter on letterhead stationery (your name, your studio name, address, phone, e-mail addy at the top of the page), thus giving them contact information. (You can be sure the store owner isn't going to give them your contact information!)

When you craft your letter, take special pains that it does not sound as though you're leaving the store for any negative reason or casting any stones on the store situation or the owner. The owner is sure to see the letter, of course, and you want to make sure that everything you have written is bland and non-accusatory and golly-gee-I-sure-have-loved-working-here and slippery-clean so there is nothing specific the owner can use to take you to task.

Even if the owner were to accuse you of "stealing his students," he'd have to take you to court to make you pay him. And he's not going to spend any money to do that. He'd be trying to bluff you. But don't worry about this. It's not going to happen.

Some teachers give a percent discount to parents who pay by the term, instead of by the month (or week). Some give a discount if tuition is paid in cash. What do you think of these two ideas?

I don't think much of either of them. The former shaves the teacher's income, and the latter implies dishonesty.

I have trouble with a mom who doesn't bring her child to the makeup lesson at the time we agreed upon. Then she claims I "owe" her another makeup because it was my error. She "came at the correct time." Please help me with this problem. (It's not the first parent I've had this go-around with, either.)

Whether you set the makeup day and time by phone or face-to-face, follow up with an e-mail:
This is to confirm Becky's makeup lesson is Friday, Feb. 7th, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. This is a makeup for her lesson on Tuesday, Feb. 4th, from 4:00-4:30 p.m.

When you speak to the parent, say that you will follow up with a confirmation e-mail. This way, the parent knows the information is coming.

Send this very detailed confirmation when changes are made via e-mail, too. Everything is date- and time-stamped, and you have a copy in your outbox with these specifics.

I hate sports season/s. There are always conflicts with practice. (Not to mention extra practices; and games...and games that were changed.) In the past, I've just refunded the tuition. Is this what you advise?

Well, you know that answer, already! I'd advise: no! Emphatically!

In order to keep the income flow, you must "be flexible" and move lessons around until that sport season is over.

Here are some options:

I encourage you not to refund the money.† Once you do that, you open the floodgates to refunds for other reasons. Then parents will expect refunds and push you for them.† Stop now before it happens again! Otherwise, your goose is cooked, for sure!

Here I am again. You mentioned a group makeup lesson. The idea appeals to me, but I only give private lessons. I wouldn't know how to begin to choose content for a group lesson! Help!

Here you go!

How long should I run a display or classified ad? I got zero phone calls the first week. Should I pull the ad?

If you pull it after only one week, not only will you have gotten zero phone calls, but you will not have gotten any information that will help you place a more productive ad.

I advise no fewer than three *consecutive* placements. Three placements will give you a feel for whether this ad is reaching the people you want. If you receive calls but no students, you know the placement is good. The problem is you don't teach what the parent wants, you live too far away, you cost too much, you're not the right ethnicity, etc. Another problem could be the wording of the ad; see my long file on advertising for more information on ad content. (Also see my file on marketing.)

If you get no calls after only one insertion, you have learned nothing that will help you fine tune the ad content or the placement. I know it's hard to think of the cash register dinging away for what appears to be no positive result. This is why in business "it takes money to make money."

While you're waiting on your print ads, do you have your referral network cranked up full speed? (See the advertising file, above.)

Should I reduce my fee because of the bad economy? I am having trouble adding students. In fact, I am having trouble retaining them. What are other teachers doing?

There are two areas to consider: reducing tuition to current students; stating a reduced fee to those who inquire about lessons. I don't know about other teachers. I haven't and never would. A teacher would have to reduce the fee substantially, such as from $50/hr to $5/hr (or less), in order to get people's attention to start lessons. Anyone who is in financial straits is not going to want to pay anything, as even spending $5/hr tuition is not a good choice when they are living on the edge of solvency. $5 buys food for at least a day for a family. A $45 tuition reduction makes an impact on parents; a $5 or $10 reduction does not. Instead, the teacher just loses income and doesn't add to the roster. To the teacher, a loss of $5-$10/hr. is a substantial impact, taken as a whole, across the studio.

I have a wonderful preliminary grade student who is 9 years old. She practices every day and is so very enthusiastic. It's her mother who is so very unsupportive. She does just about any and everything to sabotage the lesson. She refuses to purchase a decent piano; she is currently forced to practice on a keyboard....this is despite my requirements to have a piano or a digital piano purchased after the first 3 months of tuition starting. It is now been 18 months. Also, she doesn't show up to lessons; the mother fails to tell me she won't be coming. The mother refuses to pay fees on time. The father is very supportive, and I only get paid because of him. He knows how talented his daughter is and always brings her to lessons, but it's the days when he is at work that the mother steps in. She talks loudly on her mobile phone and brings her toddler son, even though I've told her not to and that it's against my policies. The final straw came when they entered the daughter into a local competition, including a duet. I made them sign a document that said they agreed to the duet's extra practice lessons and associated fees. They then took a family vacation to Malaysia and didn't tell me they were going until it was too late to cancel the duet, causing the other child to have learned her part and the other family making a time and financial commitment to the duet! The whole situation is very frustrating, I am not an inexperienced teacher; I've been teaching for 17 years and have never had such a family. I have 42 other students and feel like this one is wasting my time except for the lovely little girl stuck in the middle of it all!! She just wants to learn the piano - and I just want to teach her!! Any advice would be much appreciated.

Oh, dear, oh dear. What a mess. Although the father seems a good egg, the mother is a horror. You do not have to put up with this!

I know you hate to do this to the child - who sounds so eager and dedicated - but my advice is to drop the student. Not only is the family (mother) inconveniencing you and not abiding by your studio policies, but she caused another studio family to make time and money commitments that the girl's family negated (surely the father knew about the duet!).

Here's what to do: send a letter (not an e-mail or text) the day after the child's most recent lesson so that it is sure to arrive before the next lesson day. In it, you are very brief and to the point:

Dear [father] and [mother],
This is to notify you that I am unable to teach [child] anymore. [Date] was her last lesson. She is a talented and eager learner, and I hope you will find another teacher for her right away.
Sincerely,
[you]

If they call - and there's a only 1% they will - you say, "I'm sorry you feel that way, but I cannot teach [child] anymore. Good-bye." You hang up.

You owe no explanation to the family. Do not let the caller harangue you. Stand firm!!! If the person takes off before you can hang up, repeat your sentence, talking over the parent if needed; don't wait for the parent to take a breath! Then you hang up immediately.

Make a card and keep it by each phone - including fastened to your cell phone! - so you are ready with your one-sentence statement.

Yes, this will be hard. Yes, this will unpleasant. Yes, you hate confrontationsÖ.BUT you own your business, and therefore you make the rules and enforce them as you please. You please to follow your studio policy!

That said, there is a 1% chance (or less) that they will call, as I mentioned above. The parents likely don't want confrontation, either. Plus, they will be embarrassed and angry, however, they will know by the directness and brevity of your letter that you are not going to change your stance.

Dismiss the child. It is a shame for her sake, but you don't have to allow yourself to be ridden over roughshod. If you continue to teach her, you will be.

Pluck up your gumption and do itÖ.OR forever be treated this way. You can do it!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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Last updated on Aug 8, 2013.