Setting Your Fee

What Your Fee Really Is

What your students pay you is -tuition-. It is not an hourly fee for services rendered (like baby-sitting). Each student is paying not only for music instruction, but for a guaranteed place in your schedule and your waking-hour concern for their problems and achievements. Trust me: you will not "turn off" your brain during non-teaching hours. You'll always be mulling over problems and possible solutions. Not to mention time spent hunting for just the right piece for a student, preparing special things, and so on. A student's lesson is -not- just those few minutes he is with you during the week. You are committed to him and his musical advancement full time. This takes a lot of time, as well as mental and physical effort on your part.

How Your Education and Experience Influence Your Fee

Anyone with a bachelor's degree in music should be charging at least $13-15/half-hour (this is 1997). More if you have advanced degrees and/or more experience. (If it's not 1997 when you read this, figure what the fee should be by increasing 5% per year.)

Important note: people looking for teachers place more importance on degrees than experience. This is because a degree is easy to evaluate - - either you have it or your don't - - but it might also have been 15 years since you got that degree and you haven't done a thing since to upgrade and update your skills. People don't know this, however. They just see the degree(s).

Criteria for Setting Your Fee

Set your fee in accordance with what other teachers in your area with the same or similar credentials charge.

Be guided by your local colleagues, but don't be dictated to by them. If you are worth more, charge more. If you are charging too much, you'll soon know it because you won't be able to attract students at that rate.

If you belong to a teachers' group, ask for the data from the latest fee survey.

If you don't, there is no data, or everyone is close-mouthed, be guided by your local economy. What does a month of ballet lessons or martial arts sessions cost in your area? This indicates what parents are willing to pay for enrichment activities for their children.

What Do You Want to Earn? What Do You Need to Earn?

You should distinguish between these two things. Knowing the difference will save you from stress, exhaustion, and family friction.

Sit down and figure out the answer. This will be based, to some degree, on what part your teaching income plays in the family financial picture.

Use the Same Fee for All Students

Some teachers do charge varying fees, but I believe that this is not a good idea. Charge everyone the same fee. If not, word will get around that you charge some students less, and the results will not be pleasant. If you have students at differing fees, I recommend that you bring everyone up to the same level.

Family Plan Fees

It will come as no surprise, therefore, to learn that I also do not recommend the family plan.

Is your time and expertise worth less to one person in the family than to another?

Should you charge less for piano instruction than the parent would be willing to pay to give that second child dance or other instruction?

How much of a reduction is going to make a real difference? $1? Hardly.

And, as anyone who has ever taught people in the same family already knows, it's much -harder- to teach family members than people who are unrelated. No matter how open-minded and generous the students are and how hard you try to make sure the less-advanced student feels great about his progress and abilities, there will be rivalries and feelings of jealousy and discontent. Husband and wife are a tough team to teach. So are child and parent, especially if the parent starts later and then passes the child. If anything, therefore, a "family plan" ought to be set up so the family pays -more- for the second and subsequent students in the family!!

Cash Payment Fees

You may speak to a prospective student who wishes to know if you give a discount for cash. This is an insult to your integrity! Your response: "It doesn't matter whether you pay me in cash or by check as I report all my income." (If such a prospect doesn't become a student, you haven't lost much. How can you ever trust that person to tell the truth?)

When Your Fee is Questioned

This is probably the main reason teachers are hesitant to set their fees higher than they do (or to raise them): they are afraid someone will take them to task over the amount of the fee.

Don't negotiate or justify your fee. It is what it is. If prospects complain, "That's too much!" or "So-and-so charges less," your response should be something like this: "I understand, but that is my fee."

If this griper doesn't sign on, you have lost nothing. Do you want to hassle with this person every time you raise your fee or ask him to purchase a new book? If this person is a bargain-hunter, allow him the pleasure of continuing to look for that bargain. Better that he never begin lessons with you than start, take a place on your roster you could have filled with someone who was willing to pay your fee without dispute, and then bolt unexpectedly. You don't need this disruption.

Prepare for such statements when prospects call you; rehearse your response out loud. Be firm but polite. The idea here is not to contradict the caller by saying he is wrong and you are right. The idea is to avoid that discussion altogether by simply stating your position -- and not being drawn into an adversarial conversation.

Rates for 30-, 45-, and 60-Minutes Lessons

Most teachers charge half their hourly fee for a half-hour lesson and three-quarters of it for a 45-minute lesson. This makes mathematical sense, and parents readily accept such a structure.

Some teachers charge more for a 30-minutes lesson than half the hourly rate. They feel that since they must cram so much into a short time, they should be paid more for their effort.

Rates for Group Lessons

Many teachers charge the half-hour rate for a group lesson. If the group lesson substitutes for one of the weekly (half-hour) lessons, the math is easy. If the group lesson is in addition to regular weekly instruction, add this cost to the monthly total.

Bi-Weekly Lessons

My advice: don't teach bi-weekly lessons. You'll regret it. Bi-weekly lessons upset your schedule and come with a lot of administrative baggage.

Teaching "On Scholarship"

Students taught free or for a reduced fee (hardship or merit reasons) are just that: you have made a gift of your professional services.

The IRS does not allow you to deduct - - as a charitable contribution - - any free or reduced-fee lessons you teach. If you teach "on scholarship," make sure you do it for the right reasons. Claiming a tax deduction isn't one of them.

When You Should Raise Your Fee

There are three indicators that you should raise your fee: Good teaching deserves good compensation. If your studio is full, your students are happy. Raise your rate at the next 2-year point. I doubt if any will leave. But if any do, then you'll have no trouble filling the spots, especially if, 2 months before the increase goes into effect, you initiate an advertising campaign (in the local media which pull best for you).

If you are working on a salary from two years ago, you are not keeping pace with inflation.

If other, similarly-qualified teachers in your area are being paid more, this is a clear indication that the local economy will support a higher fee.


copyright 1997-1998, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.


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