The Real Cost of Music Lessons

March 23, 2021 Barbie Wong

Does the cost of music lessons seem high? Almost scary high? As a parent, I try to keep our costs reasonable, so I pay attention to how much my kids’ activities cost. Whether my kids are involved with ballet, tennis, or theater, the costs add up, so it is important to know what you’re paying for. 

What most parents don’t know is that the time your child spends in their music lesson is not the true cost of their lesson. Music teachers are paid by the hour, but they are not like the hourly employees you see at the grocery store or cafe. That’s because once the cashier and barista clock out from their jobs, they are done with work. Once your child’s music lesson is over, however, their music teacher is not done with their job. There are many other tasks that a music teacher must do to make sure lessons run smoothly, their students are improving, and the music studio is functioning well. Those include communicating with parents, recital costs, studio upkeep and teacher training. 

Below are items included in the cost of music lessons. I also include how much I spent in the year 2020 for each item. Even though 2020 encompasses the Covid-19 pandemic, the costs seem to balance out in the end with certain costs a bit higher, like the time I spent setting up my music studio before lessons, and a bit lower, like no recital hall costs since we were not able to gather.

My music studio is relatively small. Each week, I teach private lessons to 7 students and 3 hour-long group lessons. Music teachers with a full studio are likely teaching 30+ students, so their costs in time and money will be higher.

1. Communication 

In order to schedule lessons and check in with parents regularly, music teachers spend time emailing, texting, or talking to parents either in person or on the phone. This is a part of a music teacher’s job, but they are not paid directly for this time. 

How much I spent: 15 hours 

2. Finances

Running a private music studio requires calculating tuition costs, processing tuition payments, and keeping track of expenses. I used to have my students pay monthly, and that meant I was spending time every month making sure each student had paid and writing down their payment. Since I switched to a tuition system where my students pay for the entire semester, I now only have to focus on this part twice a year. However, that also means I must plan my schedule 5 months in advance, which also takes time.

How much I spent: 15 hours

3. Equipment (computer, instrument, etc.)

Unlike being employed at a company where they provide you with the tools you need to do your job, a music teacher must purchase and maintain all of their own equipment. That includes their instrument(s), a computer and whatever else is needed to make lessons run smoothly. Because I teach piano, I pay for piano tuning twice a year, which currently costs $200. I also teach ‘ukulele, so my costs are a bit lower–only strings. I also maintain a website. I’m writing this during the pandemic, so a Zoom account and video editing software is a must for many teachers. Also, because of the pandemic,  I moved my studio to my garage in order to teach my students in person, so I purchased a keyboard.

How much I spent: $2,200

  • Keyboard so that I can teach in my garage
  • Piano tuning
  • Zoom account
  • Video editing software
  • Website

4. Memberships 

I belong to several music teachers associations and they have connected me to many wonderful teachers. This has the benefit of being able to learn from my colleagues, discover ideas for my own music lessons, and have a cohort of people who I can turn to when I need advice. Because I do not work in a company, I do not have instant colleagues. I am also on the leadership committee and the state representative for one of these associations, so I have spent time attending meetings and recitals, answering emails, and planning events.

How much I spent: 20 hours and $313

  • Music Teachers Association of California
  • Suzuki Association of the Americas
  • Suzuki Association of California, Bay Area Piano Branch

6. Conferences

How much I spent: 2 hours and $50

  • I was going to give a talk at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference in May, but that was cancelled. If I had attended, it would have cost about $800 for the conference, hotel, and airfare. 
  • One offshoot of that conference was the International Research Symposium for Talent Education, which I did attend online. 

7. Trainings

If your music teacher takes music teacher trainings regularly then you are lucky. That means your teacher cares about learning, growing, and becoming a better teacher. Most people employed by a company will receive training so that they can do their job better. Not only does the company pay for these trainings, the company also pays for the time spent taking these trainings. While music teachers are not required to take courses, I find them incredibly beneficial to my teaching. I spend every summer taking some kind of music teacher training course and my teaching has always improved as a result. I pay anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for my teacher training courses and I am not paid for my time.

How much I spent: 46 Hours and $760

  • Courses I took: Teaching Strategies, Ownership, Analyzing Resistance, The Reflective Studio Teacher.

8. Recitals

Most music teachers do not charge extra for the time they spend hosting recitals for their students. This time can include making a program, printing the program, going to the recital site early to set up, staying after the recital to clean up, coordinating the reception (who will bring what food and drinks), and the actual time of the recital. Another cost associated with a music recital includes the rental of a recital venue, which can range from $150 to $500. Every year, I spend extra time making our Spring Recital a special event. Because my students have worked hard all year long, I interview each student and put together a program that highlights their personalities and accomplishments. I also have my students play and sing a song together for the final number of the recital. Since we were not able to have any in-person recitals, each family made a recording and I edited the videos to create a cohesive performance. While this took extra time, there was no extra financial cost associated with the recital since there were no recital halls to rent.

How much I spent: 20 hours

  • Because of the pandemic, all recitals have been online, so the only financial cost was my Zoom account, which I included in my equipment costs (see above).

9. Set-Up

Many music teachers teach in their homes, and that means they must spend time tidying up the area where they teach. Unless a music teacher is blessed with a separate music studio, it takes time to clean and organize the studio space so that students can come into a clean, tidy space. This can take 10-45 minutes and this time addes up. I am currently offering in-person lessons in my garage because of the pandemic. It allows me to see the students in person which I really like. However, because my own children are home and using the garage on a daily basis, I have to spend at least 30 minutes each week getting my garage ready for my students. This includes numerous tasks including working with my children so that they put away their things, rearranging the furniture, and bringing out the keyboards, piano stools and footstools and setting them up.

How much I spent: 20 hours

  • This number is a bit higher this year due to the pandemic

10. Travel

Teachers who travel to their students’ homes may not account for the travel time, cost of gas, or cost of car maintenance. These are all costs which are real for the traveling music teacher. It takes time to travel to and from a student’s home, and to do that uses resources like gas and causes wear and tear on their car. Some music teachers will charge a higher rate to travel to your home. If they do not, then the amount you pay the teacher includes those costs.

How much I spent: 0 Hours

  • I don’t travel to teach, so I do not incur any travel expenses.

11. Prep and Follow-Up

Preparing for music lessons takes time, whether that is reviewing notes on a student’s lesson or planning for an upcoming lesson. As an ‘ukulele teacher, I also spend time creating lead sheets for my students and learning new songs, which takes 1-4 hours per piece. Since I want my students to play what they are most interested in, I have spent a lot of time creating leads sheets. Most teachers also prepare for lessons by practicing their instrument, which is a vital part of being a great music teacher. We need to take time to hone our craft so that we can better guide our students. We also need to familiarize ourselves with our students’ repertoire, and that also takes time. Following the lessons, teachers may need to write down notes, send notes or videos to students, or follow up with parents.

How much time I spent: 120 

Grand Total: 258 Hours and $3,323  

This amount is on the low side for music teachers since I only work part-time.

Music teachers do not automatically get a cost of living increase, so when they raise their rates, keep that in mind. Also, unless a music teacher is married to someone who has great medical benefits, a music teacher must pay for their own health insurance. 

I hope this gives you a clear understanding of what goes into a music lesson rate. The next time you pay your child’s teacher or when they raise their rates, remember that you are paying for more than just the number of minutes they spend with your child. You’re paying for much, much more.


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