If you are new to teaching guitar lessons or you want to stay competitive, it’s important to evaluate your service and decide on an hourly rate that makes sense for you and your students. Business savvy folks will tell you to simply charge as much as you can so your schedule stays full. I encourage you to think about your location, value, and your competition as you calculate your hourly rate for private music lessons.
Deciding on a rate and implementing a new fee structure may seem like a stressful guessing game but when you understand the important factors, you will feel more confident now and you will know how to grow professionally so you can increase your rates in the future.
What’s the Normal Rate?
Since you own your own business, there is no normal. Here’s a place to start: Find your community’s minimum wage, then, study the factors below and raise your rate by considering the things that add value to your teaching business.
Another helpful number is the median household income. In 2017, the median household income for Seattle was about $80,000. My observation is that many guitar teachers consider 20 hours of teaching a full week. So, if you taught 20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, you would charge $80/hour to match the median household income in Seattle. (Note that is your gross income, not net.)
If these numbers seem too high or too low, you are probably right because there are so many factors that go into calculating a rate that’s best for you.
On average, guitar teachers in Seattle charge more than teachers in Phoenix, but less than guitar teachers living in New York. Location is one consideration when calculating your rate because general income levels vary from place to place, and the cost of living varies from place to place. The median household income for Seattle in 2011 was about 15% higher than the US median income. I think Seattle now also has the highest minimum wage in the country.
Your specific studio location also plays a part in determining your rate. Are you located in the heart of the city (where parking is impossible), or are you 30 miles away from your students? Adjust your rate by looking at how your studio location benefits your students.
I have met guitar teachers who learned how to play guitar by completing the exercises in a self-instruction book. They don’t have the same experience as someone who has earned a degree in music and/or who has studied with great teachers, and that is usually reflected in their rate. More or better education generally increases your value.
Simply having a college degree allows you to charge a higher rate because a having a degree usually indicates to prospective students that you can think, communicate, and complete your work. That’s one reason why I encourage all of my young students to go to college, even if they know in their heart they want to be professional musicians when they grow up.
Guitar teachers who teach private lessons along with group lessons, jam classes, workshops, summer music camps, and online lessons have many different and useful teaching and organizing skills. Guitar teachers who have developed curriculum, written instruction books, published lesson videos, created content for podcasts developed apps, written articles, taught in schools and created other instruction materials show devotion to the field and have a set of diverse skills to show for their work.
Sometimes these teachers are stretched too thin to be effective, but most of the time their students benefit from their experiences and passion, so those teachers with lots of accomplishments in the field tend to have a higher value.
Colleagues and Competition
You want to know what other people are charging in your area so you can be in the range, or you can decide to be outside the range if that makes sense to you. It’s ok to be higher than other folks if you have the right skills, but if you don’t, that can backfire and you could feel the effects for years to come. If your rate is much lower than other teachers, you are probably either a bad teacher and you shouldn’t be teaching, or you are undercutting other teachers in your area, which will hurt you in the long run.
I know a teacher in Seattle who surveys other local teachers every few years to learn what other teachers are charging. He kindly shares that information with other teachers and I have found it very helpful. I have learned of college and university instructors who charge double or triple what the teachers who work in private studios charge, and I’ve seen online instructors with nothing more than a compelling website charge more than everyone else.
A gentle reminder: You don’t have to be friends with all the other music teachers in your area, but you should be friendly at the least. Yes, we’re all cool guitarists and we’re each running our unique businesses, but we’re also competing to attract the best students. Be careful what you share with other teachers, but also know the ones you can trust and go ahead and build mutually beneficial partnerships with them.
Years of Experience
Some teachers get better the longer they teach, and some decline due to burn out. A young teacher may have lots of energy and enthusiasm, but an older teacher may have more effective learning strategies. Typically, teachers who have been teaching longer charge more, but that doesn’t mean that if you are in your 20s and you are giving your teaching business all of your energy you should charge outside of the range of teachers in your area.
How good of a teacher you are is one of the most significant factors in determining your value. Do you teach the right concepts? Do you have a flexible system in place? Can you cater to different learning styles? Do your students have fun and see progress? Do other teachers respect your work? One way to measure this is to ask your students (if they don’t offer it up on their own). Testimonials will make you feel good and give you confidence in your work and your rate.
It’s uncommon for young teachers to have students who have become professional musicians because they just don’t have as many years in the game, and it can take a decade for that to start happening. But if you tell prospective students that you can help them play professionally, you should be able to back that up with some examples, and you can charge more for that.
I think that good teachers can get along with most people very well, but there are some teacher/student matches that are just not a good fit. It doesn’t help anyone to keep a student who isn’t a good fit because that student will tell others that you are not a good fit. When you realize the situation, be honest and recommend another teacher. Everyone will be happier and better for it. Good and honest teachers who are liked by their students are hard to find, so if you happen to be one of them, you can charge more because your skills are in demand.
Perks for Students
Have you invested in professional recording gear that you use with your students? Do you have instruments in your studio that students can use for lessons so they don’t have to carry their guitars around on lesson days? Do you rent a modern studio with heat, air conditioning, windows, a waiting room, and other amenities? Do you rent a space to offer recitals? Do you travel to folks’ houses? If you are offering more than just lessons, those are expenses and you should calculate them into your rate.
I’ve seen teachers charge more for lessons because they perform and/or tour, and I’ve seen teachers charge less because they also have a performing career. The teachers who charge more usually do so because they are somewhat famous and/or they bring a unique and helpful set of skills to their students. The teachers who charge less do so because they admit that teaching is not their number one priority and they often miss lessons because of tours, recording dates, or rehearsals. Be honest with yourself and reflect that in your rate.
Right now, if someone wants to earn a college degree in music, she/he most likely needs to have had several years of private lessons just to get into a program. That means that only students who can afford music lessons in high school will be able to study music in college. If your rates are too high, you won’t be able to help these folks. And you should also think about whether you want all of your students to be wealthy, or if you want to work folks from a variety of income levels.
General Business Expenses
Remember that to run a small business, you will need to pay for your business licenses, studio rent, taxes, phone, internet, advertising, transportation, equipment, research, office supplies, postage, etc. Don’t forget that these important costs should also be reflected in your tuition.
Ok, So What Should You Charge?
My opinion is that professional guitar teachers in Seattle should be somewhere between $50-$140/hour. Get lots of other opinions, really think hard about your value, and think of how you will sell that value.
My Teaching Rate Considerations:
- Private Lesson Instruction (1999 – present)
- Group Classes (2009 – present)
- Online Lessons: Skype/FaceTime (2010 – present)
- Seattle University Adjunct Professor (2006 – present)
- Creator of The Rock Project Summer Workshop (2009 – present)
- Guitar and Ukulele Instructor at Seattle Girls School (2016-present)
- Author of The Guitar Lesson Companion Method Book Series (2006, 2011)
- Developed 4 year Curriculum for College Guitar Lessons (2006 – present)
- Published Articles (2006 – present)
- Effectiveness and likability shown in Student Testimonials
- I stay up to date with current Guitar Gear and learning materials
- Although I perform jazz standards and original music, students are my first priority
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