THE COSTS AND PRICE OF MUSIC LESSONS
by Allen Cook, musician
“How much do you charge for music lessons?” is one of the first questions most people will ask. But the cost isn’t the only question to be answered. In my opinion, the most important question should be answered by you: “are you prepared to pay the price?” Budget is important, but not the only consideration. There are others: your desire, reason, and purpose. Knowing your “why” will help you get crystal clear on whether or not this is the right thing for you to do at this time, if at all. Figure that out, then you’ll know without a doubt if you’re ready to pay the cost and the price of music lessons.
By cost, I’m referring to the financial side. This could be a short term agreement or ongoing, depending on your level of expertise. Price means those things related to sticking to the task, going the distance, staying on purpose. In a word, commitment, a price you’ll pay, in spite of the challenges you’ll face. It’s psychological, spiritual, self generated. No amount of money can buy that. If you want it bad enough, you won’t even need to hire a teacher. It’s just you, the instrument, and your inner drive to make it happen. With this mindset, cost and price are not even an issue. You’re gonna pay the price! It’s personal. You get what I’m saying?
If you decide to hire a teacher, you should have a good idea of what you want to accomplish. The teacher will also have questions for you which will help create a plan for your success.
What’s stirring in you to learn to pursue music?
-want to play strictly for personal enjoyment with no desire to play in front of others?
-is self expression the motivator?
-do you have an innate love of music, a God given talent you’re driven to pursue and develop?
-do you want to compose your own songs, play classical, pop, learn to improvise, play jazz?
Another question often asked is, “how long will it take?” Now that’s a good question.
...how long do you want it to take? Seriously though, on average, give yourself about a year to gain enough skills and confidence to perform in public. It could be two. I’ve seen a few students rockin’ it in six months. It’s really up to you. But understand, this isn’t something you “get” that then goes on auto pilot. You need to maintain it and constantly improve your skills. “Use it or lose it” still applies.
With that in mind, ponder this:
How much time can you realistically set aside to practice every day? Every week?
Then, are you disciplined enough to stick to your own schedule that you made for yourself? To turn off cell phones and other distractions so you can stay focused?
Maybe you’re a parent of a young student. Here’s a couple of questions for you:
-are you willing to make time to drive to and from lessons?
-how willing are you to monitor daily practice, making sure assignments are completed?
You’ll need to be in regular contact with the teacher to asses your child's progress.
Let’s put a scenario under the microscope for a closer look. A typical approach for beginners involves assigning 2 to 4 pages per week (or more, depending on the student’s abilities) from a piano method book series. There can be three to seven books per method, with approximately 40 to 50 pages per book, progressing in graded levels of difficulty. Sight reading is the rule. Ideally, a 50 page method book could be completed in about two months at one page per day. For this example, let’s just say 50 days to completion. Each subsequent book expands on the concepts of the previous one. So each book should be “mastered” before proceeding to the next.
All activities (family, homework, sports, etc.) must be monitored to make sure everything gets done so as to stay on task regarding the cost and price of music lessons. With me so far?
Costs are typically based on half hour or hourly rates. Fees range from $20 to $60 depending on where you live. For example, at $25 per half hour over a 4-week period, that's $100 per month or $1,200/year. Based on the “ideal”, your investment for lessons is roughly $150 per 50 page book, about 6 weeks. However, if a student is still in Book 1 after 12 months, that's $1,200 to get through the same 50 page book! Sad to say I’ve witnessed it.
Hopefully you can clearly see why it’s important to stay on task. If self teaching is the preferred method, it might take you longer to complete the book, but the cost of the book is the only expense since you aren’t paying a teacher. You also control your own practice schedule, whether you practice or not. The price you’re willing to pay is questionable.
As with any investment, a return is expected. The “investor” expects the student to progress. The ROI (return on the investment) depends on balancing the activities and schedules previously mentioned, among other things...you know, things like eating, sleep, recreation, etc.
Meeting one-on-one every day isn’t financially feasible for most people, nor is it practical. And most teachers I know don’t work for free or real cheap. Even so, at just 2 pages a week, a 50 page method book could be completed in 25 weeks, approximately five to six months. An investment of $500 to $600 becomes closer to $1,300. I venture to say that there won’t be much progress moving at such a slow pace as two pages per week. With consistency, sight reading should improve. If you put in the time, a 50 page beginning method book could be completed in one or two weeks. But not everyone has the freedom, nor is willing to pay that kind of price.
In schools, students are graded on tests and homework assignments. Many music students fail to complete their music assignments week after week. This adds up. For what it's worth, the “grade” is connected to the investment in spite of what the student does or does not accomplish. Ponder that for a moment (cost vs. price).
Let’s revisit the question, “how much do you charge for music lessons?” has multiple answers related to lesson costs PLUS student commitment. Think of it as sort of an incalculable cost/price ratio. That’s the real issue! It depends entirely upon the student, and parent involvement where applicable. The amount of real value gained depends entirely upon the amount of time and effort put into it. How long it will take to reach a certain skill level in relation to the investment over a certain amount of time is difficult to measure. The actual value will only be realized by the evidence of achieving the intended goals in a timely manner.
A higher level of commitment will obviously shorten the journey. A lower level of commitment creates a longer trip in cost and price by default. It could turn out that you may need only a few lessons, “get it”, and continue to learn on your own without the assistance (expense) of a teacher.
Or, it might take you while to get a clear idea about which instrument “flips your switch”.
Here’s an example. A former middle school student of mine started with saxophone. I also taught him some basic piano (BTW, basic piano is helpful regardless of your chosen instrument). Football came along. Keeping up the music became a challenge. He then switched to electric guitar, thinking it would be “easier”, but soon found out sax was a better “fit” for him. He practiced real hard to make up for lost time, progressed quickly, and got all the sax solos in the school band! He went on to blaze trails in high school too, venturing into improvisation and jazz. Commitment wins every time.
Music is something you can do for life regardless of whether or not you go pro. It's much easier to play music in your later years than football. From that point of view, music lessons are actually priceless! When you reach a certain level, costs may be reduced, but you’ll keep paying the price because it brings you joy and fulfillment. If you perform publicly, you’ll then share that joy with others.
The method book series provides structure, a solid foundation for understanding melody, harmony, rhythm, sight reading, fingering, etc. Your local music store usually stocks a variety of method books, and can help with your selection.
The other approach is knowledge based, or what some call Music Theory. I prefer to call them Music Principles. Reading music may or may not be involved with this approach. Depending on you and your teacher, the two paths could be walked simultaneously. Either way, there is a cost and a price to pay. Are you ready?