Teaching Piano Lessons

Are you ready to be an entrepreneur?

Are you thinking about teaching piano lessons and starting your own full-time teaching studio?

Or perhaps teaching out of your home for a bit of extra money, evenings and weekends?

Becoming a piano teacher can be an excellent way to share your love of music and earn an income! It also involves lots of "behind the scenes" work, since you are starting a business of your own.

I started out teaching for a music store and the moved on to owning my own piano studio, and I learned a lot -- from good experiences and wonderful students, to big mistakes and disappointments. 

If you're just starting out, or thinking about teaching, I'd love to help you get started!

Success at music teaching definitely takes skill beyond knowing how to play piano!

As you think about teaching, whether full or part time, ask yourself the following questions.

Be honest!

You can learn to do everything you need to do, but it's important to know what your strengths and weaknesses are at the beginning.

Is teaching right for me?

piano lesson books

Do I want to be an entrepreneur?

Teaching piano lessons involves much more than teaching! It helps to have an entrepreneurial spirit to handle all the other details. You'll be: 

  • Marketing yourself and your teaching 
  • Collecting payments and handling financial situations with students and parents 
  • Working with an ever-changing schedule 
  • Doing lots of customer service/problem resolution 
  • Starting a business entity in your state, and filing the appropriate taxes 
  • Carving out time for lesson prep and planning 
  • Creating your studio policies and learning to firmly (but kindly) enforce them

It's important that you decide your teaching method and your studio policies right at the start. Will you use different methods with different students? What is your policy on cancellations and reschedule requests? What will your students' practice requirements be? Will you have parents present in lessons, or not?

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching piano is dealing with misunderstandings with parents because they simply don't understand your policies -- or, worse, choose not to follow them and expect you to be OK with it.

For instance, canceling at the last moment and expecting not to pay for the lesson. Of course, you won't have a full studio of students right away, so you will learn as you go and as your number of students grows.

Tackle these details right away and stay organized so you can stay ahead of payment issues and taxes.

Self-employment is empowering and it's wonderful to be in charge of your own schedule! Just make sure you treat your teaching seriously as a business right from the beginning.

Am I self-motivated?

Being an entrepreneur also means that the motivation needs to come from you!

Lesson preparation, balancing bank statements, paying taxes, creating advertising... usually these things will end up getting done on weekends or in the evening. You will likely be giving up some free time to keep up with paperwork and preparation.

Many self-employed people I know often end up working late nights, or weekends, especially when getting the business off the ground. Will this work for you? It's much different than a traditional job, where you clock out and you're done until your next shift. There's not as much separation between work and free time as there was when I worked 9 to 5.

It's up to you to get things done that need to be done. There are no coworkers to help out, and calling in sick means rescheduling every student on the schedule that day!

Self-motivation helps so much to get the details out of the way so you can focus on teaching. If you're a procrastinator, it's time to be face it! Are you willing to add some organization and self-motivation to your life?

Am I afraid of confrontation?

OK, time to be real.

piano keys on an antique piano

As in any business, when teaching piano lessons, there will be customers that require confrontation.

Whether it's a parent who keeps "forgetting" that lesson fees are due (and conveniently leaves the checkbook at home)… or an adult student that has a tendency to cancel at the last minute, and then expects not to pay for lessons.

You need to be willing to have the 'hard conversations.'

This was the most difficult lesson I had to learn as a new teacher.

Some students will frankly just not work out, for various reasons. With young ones, I had parents who treated piano lessons as glorified babysitting, showing up late to pick up their children and never helping them learn to practice.

I had adults who wouldn't follow instructions and insisted they knew a better way to practice and learn. (They didn't see much success!)

It took over 2 years before I realized that I was close to being burned out -- not because of teaching, but because I felt as though I was consistently being taken advantage of (I was).

I have two recommendations for beginning piano teachers:

  • Spend a good portion of your first lesson talking with parents and students about your policies. Have them sign a copy and make sure they understand payment and cancellation terms
  • Explain the kind of practice you expect and enlist parents to set a time each day and sit down with their kids to provide encouragement and motivation. Also explain that starting piano lessons is a process, and private teachers develop a relationship with students. If at any point either the student/parents or the teacher feels it is not the right fit, the other party will respect that decision and move on with no hard feelings. (Yes, I have let students go on very rare occasions.) 
  • Be willing to confront problems immediately. Lack of payment, consistent lateness or cancellations… these issues are disrespectful of your time and preparation work. The longer they are left, the worse they become.  

Of course, as you gain experience, you will start to be able to tell when meeting students and families who will be committed, sincere, and willing to follow your policies. I'd much rather have a smaller number of committed students. It makes teaching a pleasure.

In order to teach piano successfully, some confrontation will be necessary. If the idea of enforcing a payment and attendance policy leaves you shaking in your shoes, seek out a business mentor who can help you. It's very possible to be polite and firm at the same time!     

Am I comfortable promoting myself?

Think about your answer to this question: "Why should I choose you as a piano teacher?"

Whenever you get a phone call, or an email, inquiring about your services, you'll essentially be answering this question, even though people are rarely that direct. Or, you'll be at a dinner party and someone will find out you teach, and ask you about what books you use or what age you start beginners.

Your answers to all those questions are self-promotion! Speaking confidently about your teaching is absolutely the best advertising -- but it can be challenging to answer questions directly and confidently. Self-promotion may feel like bragging to you. Or maybe it's simply uncomfortable.

But it's completely necessary! You are your teaching business. This is going to sound a bit silly, but I recommend actually working on this skill with a friend, or even looking in your bathroom mirror.

Practice answers to common questions until you can respond confidently and without that nervous feeling in your stomach. Practice your responses to statements like:

  • "I took lessons as a kid. I sure wish I'd stuck with it!" 
  • "My daughter keeps asking me for lessons, but I thought I'd just show her at home." 
  • "I'd love to take piano lessons, but I'm just so busy." 
  • "I hated piano lessons when I was younger!"

Can you answer these statements in a positive way, that encourages, but also stirs them to consider lessons with you?

For instance, to the first statement, you could respond, "You wouldn't believe how often I hear that. Really. One of my favorite things is to teach adults who look back and wish they had stayed with piano. Why don't we get together for coffee and talk about it? It's never too late for you to learn to play, and you can learn by playing music you love. Here's my card! Are you free Thursday evening to meet at Starbucks?"

Get in the habit of talking about what you do and how you can share the dream of making music with others. Carry business cards everywhere!

Hand them out when people express interest, or when you get into a conversation about what you do. Also take down their contact information -- and follow up. Most people won't make it a priority to call you back, even if they want to.

You can do it!

I hope these questions and stories have helped encourage and inspire you as you consider becoming a piano teacher!

Teaching piano is really such wonderful work.

I have such amazing memories of times with students, of celebrating victories in learning to play, and of moments of friendship. Laughing so hard that tears rolled down my face. Planning and researching to help a student overcome an issue or break through a plateau. Seeing a student's face light up with joy after playing something she never thought she'd be able to play.

If you would like some more ideas as you consider teaching, here are more pages for you to check out:

Tips for Teaching Piano Successfully

More Ideas for Your Studio

Teaching piano lessons is fun, rewarding, and you can certainly make a good living, even if you're in a small town like I am.

It could be the perfect choice for you!

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