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.