Music Teachers: Get Paid for Your Time, On Time, Every Time

Every business encounters customers who don't pay their bills, but private music teachers  who have solid tuition policies in place can protect themselves and focus on what they do best: teach music.

The Business of Teaching Music 

Music teachers sell blocks of their time to individual students. There are a limited number of lesson spots in a day, and lessons are scheduled in advance. Once a teacher schedules a student, she/he cannot offer that time to another student. Regardless if the scheduled student attends the lesson or not, the teacher pays rent for the teaching space during that time. 

This Might Not Be For You 

I meet teachers who don't feel comfortable creating and implementing tuition policies with students, and I meet students who don't want to take their lessons so seriously. That's cool, but if you're a teacher who would like to be paid on time for your time, I encourage you to adopt an appropriate policy. And if you're a student who appreciates the consistency that a clear policy offers, look for a teacher with a policy that matches your values. 

#1 Policy Consideration: Single Lesson Payment or Monthly Payment?

I remember feeling worried when I used to ask students to pay for each lesson at each lesson. I had very little security because my income depended on all my students showing up paying me each week. If someone didn't show up, I was stuck.

When I switched to monthly tuition, my mind felt much more at ease; I could plan my finances for the month and I could focus more on teaching, rather than worry about getting paid each week.

#2 Policy Consideration: Pay At the Beginning or End of the Lesson?

I remember feeling uncomfortable asking for lesson payment at the beginning of the lesson, but then I would worry that the student might not have the money on them. At the end of the lesson, we would often feel hurried to complete the payment transaction while my next student watched us and the clock as it ticked away into their lesson time. Not cool! 

Now, I email students the morning of the day their tuition is due, and I ask them to pay me at the beginning of the lesson. I point out how they can make better use of our lesson time by having tuition ready when they walk in for their lessons. I usually say something like, "Let's get the business out of the way first so we can focus on the music." If a student takes 5 minutes to write a check or count cash, at least that time didn't eat into the next student's lesson.

#3 Policy Consideration: Pay At the Beginning or End of the Month?

If students are asked to pay you at the end of the month for the lessons they took with you, it can be a real gamble. 

If students pay you at the first lesson of each month, that can make it easier for you to keep track of your income, but you may have students discontinue lessons at the last minute, and you are left with an opening that you don't have time to fill.

I have students pay me in advance, at the beginning of the last lesson of each month. That way, if they will not be continuing with me, I have a full week to fill their spot.

#4 Policy Consideration: Should monthly tuition be a flat rate, or determined by the number of lessons (weeks) each month?

I know teachers who charge a flat rate, regardless of the number of weeks of lessons in the month. This system makes it easy for teachers and students to plan their finances each month. It also makes it easier for teachers to take vacations because it's calculated into their monthly rate. If you adopt this policy, share your vacation calendar with your students before they sign up.

I determine monthly tuition by the number of lessons in the month. This method keeps my hourly rate consistent, which makes it easier for me to calculate tuition for single lessons.

#5 Policy Consideration: What Happens When Students (or You) Miss a Lesson?

When I need to miss a lesson, I give students as much notice as possible and I try to reschedule the lesson. If I cannot reschedule the lesson, I credit the student for the following month. 

Students miss lessons for many reasons, and sometimes, it's completely out of the students' control. Sometimes students give me weeks of advanced notice and sometimes they just fail to show up at their lesson. I agree that it sounds so harsh to have students pay for their lesson, no matter what, but while it may not be the student's fault for missing the lesson, it's not the teacher's fault either. Students book the teacher's time, and if a lesson time cannot be used by another student and the teacher is already paying to rent the teaching space, I don't see an option for teachers other than to charge for the lesson time the student signed up to take. In order for good teachers to be able to make a living through teaching, this needs to be understood and respected. 

How I bend it: If I have time in my schedule later that week, I may offer that time to the student. 

#6 Policy Consideration: How to Make Sure You Are Paid for Your Time, on Time?

I ask new students to fill out a questionnaire and sign a contract agreeing to my lesson policies before I schedule them. The questionnaire helps me understand their current strengths and weaknesses and it helps me remember their goals. The person who is responsible for lesson payment signs the policy agreement, and this helps them understand that my teaching studio is a real business.

I also require students to pay for the lesson before I put them in my calendar. PayPal is an easy way to bill students and receive payments. I don't hold spots for students until they are paid for, so I can keep offering the time to students until someone buys the spot. 

 The Contract My New Students Must Sign and Return: 

  • I expect you to be prompt and prepared for each lesson. 
  • Tuition is paid in advance and it includes a specific number of lessons on a predetermined day and time. There are no refunds, no credits, and no make-ups if you miss your lesson(s).
  • Emails are sent on the last lesson day of each month to remind you that tuition is due that day for the following month’s lessons. If payment is not received on time, your lesson spot will be assigned to another student. 
  • Please use cash, check, or PayPal, and have your payment ready at the beginning of our lesson so the following students’ lessons are not delayed. There is a cash/check discount.
  • Students must give one full week’s notice when discontinuing lessons.

The Importance of Honesty and Consistency 

When you decide on your policies, it's important to share them and use them with all of your students. (It's also easier to remember them that way.) Some students may not feel comfortable with your lesson policies, and there are other teachers who may be able to fit their needs better. You need to work with students who understand your business as well as your lessons if you are going to be a successful music teacher.