Archive for July 2010
Over the past several years, there have been a growing chorus of people saying that they are unwilling or unable to afford the cost of music lessons with a good, professional teacher, especially in major cities, where lesson fees are typically $200-$300/month per student. In response, a significant number of music teachers have significantly reduced their lesson fees, sometimes to the point where they are not breaking even and possibly have a hard time paying their own bills. There are even some teachers offering free music lessons; however, such lessons are usually extremely limited in the type of curriculum they offer. With myself being both a music student and as a music teacher, there are at least 11 options that should be considered as alternatives other than taking lessons with the least expensive teacher available. While most of these ideas are mainly suitable for beginning and intermediate students, some ideas are applicable to advanced students as well.
One alternative is to take lessons with one of the teacher’s advanced students. While some teachers will not have an advanced student who is able, interested, and willing to teach, a few teachers will have such students. (I was a student-teacher when I took lessons with my first clarinet teacher!) Such teachers usually charge about 1/2 to 2/3 the cost of a professional teacher. Student teachers usually don’t have as many expenses as most older, experienced teachers, and their main expense is most often repairs and adjustments to their instruments.
A second alternative is to take lessons with a retired, or nearly retired teacher. Some of these teachers teach mainly for the joy of it, their homes may be mortgage-free, and they usually charge very little for lessons, once in a while even for free. This idea is probably most useful for students who are studying to at least a late intermediate level.
A third alternative is to barter services for part, or even all of the lesson fees if needed. One year, I taught a student who was serious about making music her career, yet her and her mom were on social assistance due to her mom having a physical disability. For several months before that, I was looking for someone to assist me with tasks related to the functioning of my music business. After carefully interviewing her, I decided that she was the right person for the job. Some of the tasks she did included delivering/posting flyers around my neighbourhood and music stores, doing mailings for my performances, turning pages for my pianist, writing out some hand-written pieces and exercises I wrote early in my teaching career to my notation program, creating goodie bags for certain holidays and student events, and label/organize mine and my husband’s collection of sheet music and CDs, among other tasks. In exchange, she got her lessons and materials paid for at my expense, and even an early advanced clarinet exam. The results? She successfully auditioned for university music programs with large scholarships at all the schools she applied for, and got a great mark on her exam I had paid for. There are some music teachers who would gladly trade babysitting, foreign language instruction, tutoring, or house cleaning services for music lessons (I would go for the last for sure, though have no need for the first two as I do not have children) or have the student or their parents design and maintain a professional looking website in exchange for some music lessons. A student who is able to beautifully renovate parts or all of a teacher’s home is likely to also be a valuable trade, as is a trade for medical or dental services. I have even heard of music teachers trading some music lessons for a reduction in how much they pay in rent per month.
A fourth possibility is to take shorter lessons. While many teachers do not like teaching 30 min lessons, if the student is a child no older than 8 years old, a quick learner, a beginner, and the teacher is a good one this can work. Most intermediate students usually take at least 60 min lessons; however if an intermediate student is a quick learner, has strong musical skills overall, and has very few to no gaps in their musical knowledge and understanding, 45 min lessons may be a possibility.
A fifth possibility is to get financial assistance for the cost of lessons, instruments, and materials. For example, one family of 3 boys I teach not only pay for lessons for their children, but also for a cousin of these three boys. Yes, that family was paying for 4 sets of lessons each month, for 3 hours of lesson time a week. (and increasing, because of each of the student’s skill advancement that necessitated longer lessons.) Some schools may assist with the cost of lessons for a promising, deserving student, especially schools with excellent music programs. In addition, there are programs such as MusicLink in the US and recently, Canada as well, that assist students and families who qualify with loaning instruments, providing funding for lessons, and paying for the expense of student’s materials.
Sixth, see if the teacher is willing to offer smaller, but more frequent payments. Some teachers who ask to be paid by the quarter or semester may have a monthly payment plan. And teachers who charge monthly may agree to lesson fees paid in two equal installments per month, perhaps with a small additional charge for the convenience. However, few teachers allow students to pay per lesson anymore due to problems with many student’s lack of commitment in taking lessons when they choose this option.
Seventh, take lessons at the teachers studio instead of your home. Some teachers charge a higher lesson fee per month if students want lessons in the student’s home; others charge a travel fee per family. Many teachers can provide a better, more comprehensive music experience when students take lessons in the teacher’s home, because the teacher usually will have their materials on hand.
Eighth, take lessons in a smaller town or city, or a less expensive part of a major city, where the cost of living is likely to be lower. This one is usually possible on commonly studied instruments; mainly piano, violin, and sometimes, guitar; it happens less often with other instruments. Lessons where a decent house can be had for 150K are likely to be less expensive than neighbourhoods where starting prices for a similar home are double or triple that.
Ninth, students can take less frequent lessons; however, this idea is really only suitable for advanced and disciplined intermediate students. Generally this means taking lessons every other week. It is not recommended for beginners because students in the early stages of music instruction, especially younger students, need regular reinforcement of concepts and playing techniques, which good intermediate and advanced students have firmly established. And many students will practice less because of less frequent lessons since they often feel like they get a week off from practicing.
Tenth, semi-private or group lessons may be possible on some instruments, and is often available for music theory. For instrumental study, most likely you will find them for piano, guitar, and violin; they are rarely available for other instruments. (though I’ve considered offering them for beginning clarinet students!) The cost of these is usually between 1/2 and 1/6 the cost of private lessons. With group lessons, you must be extremely careful about the quality of those offered, particularly group piano classes, though your best bet is usually a group class offered by a reputable instructor or at a college, university, or conservatory department.
Finally, students and parents could cut back on several expenses to pay for music lessons. One option is to shop at a less expensive grocery store. (though be prepared for longer lineups, shorter hours, and some products not being available.) Second, reduce or eliminate cable/satellite TV services, especially since many shows are now available on the Internet. Borrow movies from the public library instead of the video store, (yes, many public library systems, especially in larger cities, let residents borrow movies) and the late fees on library items are much lower than video stores. Don’t buy expensive name brand clothes. Go to a prepaid phone service. Don’t buy the latest technology or video games. Own or rent a less expensive home. Reduce the times you eat out to one or two times a month. Take public transit instead of a car when feasible (a lot of major cities have good public transit systems); not owning a car eliminates many expenses, sometimes at least 1/2 a year’s worth of music lessons, and often more. Cut one movie night out per month at a first-fun movie theatre, which for a family of four, you would save about $100; consider going to a second-run theatre for 1/2 the cost per person and you can often bring your own snacks and drinks, and even if you buy food at the second run theatre, it’s much less than at a first-run one. Just some things you can do to find money for music lessons.