The Costs and Price Of Music Lessons

"How much do you charge for piano lessons?" This is probably one of the first question you’ll ask when shopping for a music teacher. Budget is certainly a major consideration. Essential living expenses take priority for obvious reasons; music fits into that disposable income category. But there’s more than just the financial side to think about. Your desires, reasons, time available, goals, etc. will help determine whether it’s worth pursuing. What’s the real value in this for you? Figure this out, then you’ll know if it’s worth paying the cost and the price.

Cost, of course, is the financial side. The long term financial costs must be taken into consideration. By Price, I mean those things related to sticking to the task, going the distance, staying on purpose. In a word, commitment-the price you’re willing to pay in spite of and regardless. You can estimate how long it will take you to reach your goal, but you won’t know until you’re “there” what the final cost and price will be. Reaching that elusive place called “there” depends on several things; and only you will know when you’ve arrived.

When you get a teacher on the phone, I suggest having a baseline from which to provide specific information about what you want to accomplish. The teacher might also have questions for you. This will help both of you have a better idea of where “there” is.

What are you reasons for wanting to learn to play the piano (or other instrument)? There are many people of all ages who want to play for personal enjoyment with no desire to play in front of others. This could be accomplished with just a few months of lessons.

Another reason is self expression. You have this innate love of music, a God given talent that must be pursued and developed. What you’re wanting to express will dictate the level of skill you’ll need to pursue and develop. How long will it take? Hmm. Good question.

Sometimes younger kids are forced into lessons by their parents. The physiological, cognitive, problem solving, intellectual benefits of learning the piano have been well documented. I won’t go into any of that here. Search it out; it’s fascinating. Parents who know this will enroll their children specifically for this purpose. They care less about whether the child becomes a great pianist or not. It’s all about what it does for the mind.

Other questions and considerations: 

-What are your goals? (songwriting, composing, join a group, perform, get rich and famous) 

-What style(s) of music do you want to study? (pop, rock, blues, jazz, classical) 

-How much time do you have to practice every day? 

-Are you willing to make time every day to practice? 

-What’s your level of desire on a scale of 1 to 10? (this may be more important than anything; you could get “there” sooner than later) 

-For Parents: are you willing to make time to drive to and from lessons? To monitor daily practice? Make certain that assignments are completed? Communicate regularly with the teacher to assess your child's progress? Do you really need one more thing in your already busy schedule?

Let's put a common scenario under the microscope. A typical beginners' approach involves assigning 2 to 4 pages per week from a piano method book series. There can be three to seven books per publisher, approximately 40 to 50 pages per book, produced in graded levels of difficulty. Sight reading is the norm. Ideally, a 50 page method book could be completed in about two months at one page per day. Each subsequent book expands on the concepts of the previous one. Thus each book should be “mastered” before proceeding to the next. All activities (family, homework, sports, etc.) must be balanced to make sure everything gets done so as to stay on task regarding cost and price. Are you with me?

Costs are based on half hour or hourly rates with fees ranging from $20 to $60 (or more). An example: at $25 per half hour in a 4-week period, that's $100 per month or $1,200/year. Based on the “ideal”, this is an investment of about $200. On the other hand, if a student remains in Book 1 after 15 months, that's $1,500. I’ve seen it happen, and is why it’s mentioned additional thirteen months and $1,300 to get through the same amount of material! True story, believe it or not!

As with any investment, a return is expected. The “investor” expects the student to yield a "return", to make progress. The ROI depends on balancing life activities previously mentioned, among other things. 

A one-on-one meeting every day isn’t financially feasible for most people. Even so, at just 2 pages a week, a 50 page method book could be completed in 25 weeks, approximately five to six months, $500 to $600 versus $1,300. In schools, students are graded on tests and homework assignments. Yet many music students fail to complete their music assignments week after week. 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.

Let’s revisit the question, “how much do you charge for piano lessons?” The issue, as you’ve seen, isn’t only how much the lessons cost, but how committed the student is to pay the price, to make progress cost effectively over the long term! That’s the real issue! It depends entirely upon the student, and parental involvement where applicable. The amount of real value gained depends entirely upon the amount of time and effort you put into it. How much time it takes 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 your intended goals.

A higher level of commitment shortens the cost/price path immensely. A lower level of commitment creates a longer path by default. You may need only a few lessons, “get it”, and continue to learn on your own without the assistance of a teacher or coach. Online video tutorials of advanced concepts and songs you want to learn then become easier to follow and understand.

It might take you while to get a clear idea about which instrument “flips your switch”. A certain middle school student comes to mind. He started with sax. I also taught him basic piano (which is very helpful in general). Sports 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”. He practiced real hard to make up for lost time, progressed quickly, which resulted in getting all the sax solos in the school band! He went on to blaze trails in high school too, venturing into improvisation and jazz.

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 to play soccer, for example. From that perspective, music lessons are priceless! When you reach a certain level, costs may be reduced, but you’ll keep paying the price to improve your skills because making music brings you joy and fulfillment. It's no longer the struggle it was in the beginning. And if you perform in public, you will then share that joy with others!

The method book approach provides structure, a basic foundation for understanding melody, harmony, rhythm, sight reading, fingering, etc. The other approach is knowledge based, or what some call Music Theory. I prefer to call them Principles; reading music may or may not be involved. Depending on your teacher, the two paths could be walked simultaneously. Either way, there is a cost and a price to pay.


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