Why perform?

I have a small studio of students that I teach music to privately.  I love the one-on-one interaction, the personalities of each student, and the unique opportunity I get to see growth and change in my students each week.  There are many people who pursue the job of private music instructor for the same reasons.  Private music instruction is incredibly beneficial for students in so many ways that I have mentioned in other posts.  Unfortunately many private teachers miss the mark in one essential aspect to musical learning:  performance.

Would an artist work hours on drawings, sculptures, photographs, or paintings only to store them away, never to be seen by anyone else?  The answer is they wouldn’t.  Artists and actors work hard on their work and are validated by sharing it with others.  Music works the same way.  Students who participate in school music programs have many opportunities to perform, but mostly only in large groups.  In these groups individual students tend to get lost among the other students and they often can feel unnecessary.  Providing opportunities for students to perform in small groups or solo gives them the chance to feel important and to realize that their hard work and practice does pay off.

In addition to giving students a sense of accomplishment solo and small ensemble performances encourage students to practice and practice more effectively.  Effective practice is more than just playing exercises and songs from start to finish, it is in depth examination of an exercise or piece as well as examination of the student’s strengths and weaknesses.  These examinations teach students to study better and teach them about themselves in ways that nothing else does.

As private instructors we have a special obligation to provide these unique opportunities to our students.  Private music teachers should take the time to plan and prepare students for at least one recital each year.  Recitals give students a chance to demonstrate the skills they have developed in their lessons and give parents the chance to enjoy the fruits of their expense.  Recitals can be difficult to plan, they take time, organization, and sometimes money, but are always well worth the effort.

Here’s a few tips on how to go about planning for a recital:

  • Try to plan for a time that won’t be stressful for your students.  In other words, don’t plan a recital during the last month of school or near the end of a semester.  Also shoot for scheduling your recitals at a time when people aren’t trying to take vacations.  I try to hold two recitals each year, one in December, usually before the 15, and one in early May or early June.
  • Check with your local city, libraries, schools, and music stores for a venue.  Many cities have community centers with pianos that can be reserved for free or cheap; libraries sometimes have a conference room, but may not have a piano; and schools or music stores have gyms and auditoriums, but these often come at a steeper price.  Make your reservations early, as in months early, since the free spaces fill up quickly.
  • If you are not a strong accompanist arrange for one.  If you don’t run a piano studio, meaning you teach voice, flute, trumpet, or any other solo instrument, find someone who can play piano for your students and pay them.  Sometimes parents or siblings can provide accompaniment, but this should be something parents can enjoy so try not to rely on them too much when possible.
  • Keep recitals short and sweet.  If you have a large studio this means one piece per student.  If you have a smaller studio each student can play a solo and a duet (or other small group piece), or you can combine with another teacher.  I try to keep recitals to an hour, hour and a half max.
  • You should plan to perform as well.  Show your students that you support them, the parents that you are worth what they are paying you, and yourself that you still enjoy your craft by preparing a piece and also performing in the recital.
  • Prepare a program that mom’s can scrapbook, students can use in a portfolio, and guests can use to follow the recital.
  • If you plan a reception after the recital be sure food is allowed in your space and check for allergies.
  • Coach your students in proper recital etiquette.  Teach students to bow, how to introduce their piece, to recognize the accompanist, and to respect their peers by staying for the entire recital and applauding appropriately.
  • Send a note home, an email, or a letter as an invitation for parents.  Also include instructions for attire, the address for the venue, the date and time for the recital, and any other instructions you deem necessary.

Give students and parents a chance to enjoy the fruits of their labors, to be validated for their hours of practice and lessons by providing students with opportunities to perform.  Even if your students participate in school ensembles recitals provide important performance opportunities that students don’t get in large ensembles.


Dear Parents,

The end of the school year is drawing nigh and you are anticipating a great summer.  I bet you have an amazing closedforsummervacation planned, probably a house project or two, sports or church camp, and maybe some summer school for the kids.  I know you want to do what is best for your kids.  You want to spend quality time with them.  You also want them to succeed in their school endeavors and their extracurricular activities, thus you enroll them in summer school and camps.  But have you given private music lessons any thought?

Research shows that kids who do not read during the summer struggle when the school year begins (http://www.summerlearning.org/?page=know_the_facts).  When kids are not engaged in learning activities their brains atrophy and when the school year starts up they struggle to regain that lost brain power.  This applies equally to music and other learning activities (sports, bible studies, math, science, etc.).  When kids brains are not engaged in learning they lose some of what they have learned in the past and have a harder time progressing.

Unfortunately, during the summer, private music lessons are the first thing to be dropped in lieu of a sports camp, family vacation, or other activities.  I submit that music should be the among last of these to go.  I’m not saying that these other activities aren’t valuable, only that music lessons can be more cost effective and valuable than other activities.  Music is one of very few activities that engages multiple areas of the brain at once.  Music exercises the sensory cortex (muscles and touch), the occipital lobe (vision), the left frontal lobe (facts and patterns), the auditory cortex (ears), and the right frontal lobe (creativity) (http://www.pianimation.com/2012/07/23/this-is-your-brain-on-music-part-1/).  Can you think of many other activities that involve so many areas of the brain?  Practicing music also helps create stronger connections between areas of the brain, especially the corpus callosum, the part that connects the two lobes, because it involves so many different areas in both lobes of the brain.  Music can exercise skills for nearly every subject in school– language arts can be applied while reading music since music follows many of the same or similar rules as language and note names are the ABC’s, math can be applied when counting the beat, subdividing rhythms, recognizing patterns and counting intervals between notes, history by learning about the composers of the pieces kids are learning, P.E. by applying proper breathing and posture, science by learning about sound waves and intonation, even technology can be incorporated into music learning when students learn to use electronic devices to listen to music and computer programs to generate musical scores and recordings, foreign language skills are gained since most musical notation is in Italian, and, of course, art.  Can you get this much bang for your buck from a spots camp?

If you don’t think you can fit music lessons in to your busy summer schedule think again, most private music teachers are willing to work around a family’s summer schedule if you let them know about plans ahead of time.  Many will offer flexible scheduling at just about any time of the day and be open to rescheduling or cancelling to accommodate vacations and other activities.  Others will offer monthly or weekly group classes in place of or addition to individual lessons.  Some are even comfortable teaching lessons via Skype or face time to work around long vacations.  If weekly lessons through the whole three months of summer don’t feel like a good fit you can try bi-monthly or just monthly lessons, there are music camps put on by local music stores and colleges, high schools often host summer marching bands for parades, and even picking up lessons a few weeks to a month before school starts will help reactivate the brain and increase musical and academic success when the school year begins.

no-money-clipart-money-clipart-for-teachersphilanthropy--with-no-budget---zohra-sarwar-khans-blog-vnkvfabsIf cost is an issue consider this, many sports camps cost $150-$300+ for a week or two of training while music lessons cost far less, ranging in price from $10/half hour lesson (about $40/month)–$25/half hour lesson (about $200/month).  Another consideration is this, often teachers will lower their regular rate during the summer to encourage students to stay on, or are willing to negotiate payment options.  Summer marching band programs with a high school run between $25-$100 for a month or two of musical instruction and physical activity.  Music camps are often comparable to sports camps as far as cost, though duration varies depending on the host.  Finding an option for summer musical activities that fits in you budget is easy with a little bit of research that is well worth the effort.  Local school and music store websites often have lists of summer camps, activities, and teachers in your area, and if they don’t many school music teachers keep a private teacher list handy.

When you consider planning your summer think about music lessons.  Music lessons help keep the brain from atrophying in many areas by activating many different areas of the brain and keeping the mind actively engaged in learning.  Music lessons and camps can be scheduled around other summer activities and can be cheaper and more cost-effective than other summer activities.


a music teacher

ps.  just a little more information about the amazing things a musical education teaches.

Why do private music lessons cost so much?

Recently a friend shared an article about why haircuts cost so much.  It makes sense.  I’ve never really complained about how much I pay for my haircuts, but then I’ve never really paid exorbitant amounts for my haircuts.  But that got me thinking about a common question I’m asked when I quote my private lesson price to parents, “Why so much?” So let’s break it down.  I’m not going to pretend that I did a bunch of research and know a national average when it comes to these numbers, I’m just going to share my numbers (and the numbers of a few friends).

no-money-clipart-money-clipart-for-teachersphilanthropy--with-no-budget---zohra-sarwar-khans-blog-vnkvfabsLet’s start with education.  I studied music education in college, spent the better part of 5 years doing it, and that is pretty average for music majors.  College isn’t cheap, even when you go to a state school.  Tuition and fees were about $2,500/semester and books were roughly $250/semester.  So let’s add that up, 2 semesters per year, for five years at $2,750 per semester makes $27,500.  Before college, however, I took many years of private music lessons and participated in marching band, band and orchestra classes, community bands, and many musical competitions that all required some kind of monetary investment.

Now let’s look at instruments.  For a music teacher these are as vital as a computer programmer’s computers or a hair stylist’s scissors.  I play the flute, piccolo, and piano and teach all three.  The flute I play on most often cost $3,000, my spare was $200, and my piccolo was $900 plus I have a yearly tune-up done on my personal instrument for $35.  My piano cost about $1,600.  So total instrument value is $5,700 with an annual maintenance cost of $35 plus additional repair expenses that occasionally come up.  (I also own several other instruments, but let’s just factor in the ones that I teach.)  I’ll leave you with this, flutes and piccolos tend to run on the cheaper end of instruments, so my equipment expense is on the low side.

I personally teach out of my home, so I don’t pay any rental for studio space, but others choose to rent a space.  I asked a few friends who rent studio space and the average cost for them is, it runs between $100-$200 per month.

A vital part of musical learning is performance.  Some teachers are lucky enough to have space in their home to host recitals, or to find free recital halls.  Others, however pay for a recital space.  Price for recital spaces varies from $50-$300.

Music teachers also keep LOTS of sheet music and music books on hand that they allow students to use.  If I were to guess how much money I have spent on sheet music and books that my students use I would say that my music library holds at least $700 worth of music.  This doesn’t include the recordings I have purchased that I use to help my students, music software, notebooks that I give my students, metronomes, tuners, and other miscellaneous equipment that I use for private music lessons.  Let’s just say that in all of this miscellaneous equipment I have spent at least another $300.  Also consider that I am continually buying new music books, sheet music, recordings, and other “tools of the trade” to keep up with my students’ needs.

Some of the the best teachers are certified.  To become a certified teacher there are tests, continuing education, and certification fees.  The test I had to take cost $150, licensing fees in my state are $75.  To maintain that certification teachers are required to participate in continuing education and pay license renewal fees every 3-5 years. These classes and the re-certification all cost money too.9c4jLbocE

So let’s add this all up– $34,525 in initial higher education, supplies, technology, and licensing expenses (not including the expense of years of expenses prior to college).  Then at least $535 in annual expenses for studio space, recital halls, license renewal, continuing education, and equipment purchases.  That is why private music lessons cost so much.  You aren’t just paying the teacher for their time, but for their education, equipment, maintenance, licensing, and so much more.  You don’t often question or complain about how much you pay a doctor, dentist, or mechanic for their services.  So next time you’re thinking about private music lessons consider all that the teacher has spent to share their knowledge with you or your child and reconsider questioning the cost.  Also consider that you should expect to pay for what you get, just like with everything else– a better teacher who is certified or studied music in college is going to cost more than a high school kid who is just trying to make a few dollars to support a movie theater habit.

Proper Care and Feeding– Music teachers

At Christmas you send a treat to school for your kids’ teacher(s).  At the end of the year maybe you send a gift too.  But what about all the other days?  Sure, some schools have teacher appreciation week, and that’s great, but that is only one week out of nine months.  Teachers have a lot to do between writing lesson plans, keeping up with grades, parent teacher conferences, any extra curricular activities that they may run, etc., etc.  On top of the regular things many teachers have to do music teachers also have to keep their music library organized, run logistics for concerts, write up concert programs, plan trips and festivals, manage their specialized classroom equipment, and more.  A little “proper care and feeding” can go a LONG way to helping a music teacher. Below find some suggestions of ways you can properly care and feed your music teacher:

  • Create a booster group of parents.  The most effective booster groups I have seen have had a president to delegate responsibilities and the support of vice presidents or committees to run things such as transportation, uniforms, music library, equipment (stands, chairs, amps, tuners, etc.), instruments, chaperones, concert logistics, fundraisers, and anything else the music teacher is willing/able to delegatPiano keys with hande.
  • Volunteer to help with accompaniment.  Choir teachers especially need assistance with this.  It is incredibly difficult to teach from behind a piano.  If your choir teacher is willing to let you help out and you can play the piano volunteer to do so.  It takes a huge load off the teacher  when they don’t have to learn the piano music to performance quality and when they can teach without having to hide behind the piano, it is much easier to manage students when you are directly in front of them
  • Volunteer to chaperone.  Most music programs attend festivals and in high school go on trips or travel with sports teams.  Often school districts require a certain ratio of adults to students and it is incredibly helpful to have a pool of parents to choose from rather than having to hunt down chaperones at the last minute.
  • no-money-clipart-money-clipart-for-teachersphilanthropy--with-no-budget---zohra-sarwar-khans-blog-vnkvfabsHelp with fundraising.  School fundraisers can be obnoxious, who wants another roll of wrapping paper or a giant tin of stale popcorn?  Help your music teacher come up with creative ways to help raise funds whether they be to help your child pay a fee, for a trip, or to purchase new equipment.  Also, be willing to help with any established fund raisers– sit at the football concessions stand, take your kid’s third cookie dough order to work, sell those coupon books to your poker buddies…  It shows the music teacher and your kid that you care.
  • On that note, be an advocate for the music classes in other parent organizations and meetings.  If the PTA has recently put on a fundraiser and is trying to figure out where to use the money, suggest the music program.  Music classrooms almost always need something, instrument repairs, piano tuning, music stands, music, chairs, new instruments… the list goes on.  Advocate for the music program and it will certainly pay off with a better education for your kids.
  • Attend concerts!  If your kid is in a sport you’d do anything in your power to attend their games, you should do the same for performing groups.  Also advertise for concerts, musicals, and other performances, brag to your friends, family, distant relatives, and coworkers about the hard work your kid (and their teachers) have put into this and encourage others to attend.  Lastly, when you do attend be the best audience member you can be– put your cell phone away, applaud loudly, and let the kids and teacher know that you recognize their hard work, no matter how young the kids may be (and how difficult the concert may have been to sit through).  Your kids will thank you and the teacher(s) will too.
  • Get your kids to lessons and rehearsals on time!
  • Enroll your kids in private lessons.  Most music teachers have their hands super full!  Think about it, music classes are often larger than a regular class, plus orchestras and bands put noisemakers into those kids’ hands then ask them to only make noise with them when instructed.  Managing that situation is HARD WORK!  Unfortunately many kids struggle and that one teacher doesn’t have the time or resources to help each kid with their individual struggles, they can address general issues, but that often doesn’t help.  The number one reason kids quit music classes is because they struggled with it, it is hard, they don’t find success, and then it isn’t fun.  Even a once a month one-on-one lesson with someone who specializes in their instrument or voice can make a hug difference in the amount of success a child has in music.  If you think private lessons aren’t something you can afford call a local teacher and talk to them, many are more than willing to work with whatever you can afford or fit into your busy schedule.  (to show their appreciation for you enrolling kids in private lessons most teachers offer some kind of incentive for them, such as extra credit, or letter points)
  • If you have a problem with the teacher take it up with them personally.  So much can be misconstrued over Parent-TeacherConferenceemail or phone.  Set up a meeting with the teacher and keep the meeting.  Be civil and realize that you (most likely) didn’t study music education in college nor are you aware of the specifics of the classroom environment, school and district rules, and other factors.  Don’t accuse a teacher of making mistakes without first investigating the situation or being willing to help come up with a solution.
  • Make your kids practice!  You wouldn’t allow your kids get away without doing their math homework, or science homework, or history homework, so why do you let them get away without studying for their music class?  Having your kids practice tells your music teacher that you appreciate and value the subject and knowledge they are trying to impart to your kids.
  • Visit your music teacher during parent-teacher conferences.  Chances are they don’t have a line because most kids get a decent grade in music and if they aren’t parents just don’t seem to care as much.  But chances also are that the music teacher knows your kid better than their other teachers and can probably give you insight into why your child is failing math or sluffing Spanish, plus it will relieve their boredom.

Music teachers are people too!  Just like everyone else they have a lot going on, but unlike most other teachers they have more to manage than lesson plans and a classroom.  Give them a hand and you will see the immense benefits in your child’s musical education and experiences.  There’s always something you can do to help support your child’s musical education, if you don’t know what you can do just ask.

Thank you to all my friends who helped me write this post.  If you are a music teacher and don’t see something that has helped you here share it in the comments!