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Shopping around for a music teacher

Posted By LaurelS 741 days ago on Education -

Shopping around for a music teacherSometime last year, a friend of mine who’s a wedding coordinator was telling me about the most common issues she runs into with new clients: Many couples think they don’t need all her services or that it’s too expensive to be worth it. They assume they can just take care of things themselves and it will come out just fine.For example, one bride-to-be was telling my friend that she planned to go to the LA flower district a few days before her wedding and buy everything to make all the bouquets and arrangements herself. My friend told her two major reasons why she should not. First, it’s a time-consuming task that would cause a vast amount of stress at a time when there will be many other things on her mind, and it’s not worth it to save a few bucks. Second, and more importantly, flower arrangements would need to be stored in a huge refrigerator for the couple of days between when she makes them and the hour of the wedding. Does she have access to huge refrigerators? She does not. I’d add a third thing that one couldn’t tactfully say to a potential client: There’s no way homemade flower arrangements are going to look as good as professional ones. NO WAY.My friend offers services that are costly but extremely high in value. You might be able to go to someone else who will charge you a lower dollar amount, but you will not get the same services. When her potential clients shop around, often as not, they come back to her after discovering that coordinators who charge less don’t offer as much bang for your buck as she does. (Send me a message if you want her contact info ;) )People shop around for music teachers in the same way but with a few differences. For one, unlike when shopping for other services, people are usually uncomfortable mentioning that they’re seeking quotes or consultations with other teachers before they commit. Second, whereas a wedding coordinator works with you for an extended period of time but with a clear end date, a working relationship with a music teacher is generally open-ended. Third, couples choosing a wedding planner do a lot of thinking and discussing about what they want to get out of the deal, how much value they place on every aspect of the services offered, and how much they are willing to spend; people looking for a music teacher often have not thought much about exactly what they’re getting for their money. And, like the would-be DIY florist, often they lack sufficient information to value a professional’s offerings appropriately.Let me address the first and third of these aspects of teacher comparison-shopping.I don’t find it insulting to know that a client is considering other options. I wish people would be up-front about this and ask me questions frankly! What ends up happening is that people make mistaken assumptions about how and what I teach. Without complete and accurate information, how can you properly compare two teachers? Now and then, I’ve had clients leave, or not choose to work with me, because they believed another teacher offered something I didn’t… except I did. Which might have affected their decision if they’d known! It’s better to ask than to assume.As for the value of music lessons, it’s a big, multi-faceted issue, and it’s different in each individual situation. But it’s really important for people to understand that not all teachers offer comparable value in their instruction. Actually I can’t emphasize that enough: Music lessons aren’t basically equivalent in value across the board. To be blunt, you get what you pay for.Teachers vary widely in the level and type of music training they’ve received, their training and experience as teachers, their personalities, and their teaching philosophies. And that’s just scratching the surface. Some offer their students tons of performing opportunities, some offer opportunities for testing and competition through national organizations, some offer neither. Some give a formal course of instruction, others offer a la carte lessons. Some emphasize music reading, some emphasize playing by ear, some emphasize theory and improvisation. Some focus only on solo performance, and some train musicians to work in ensembles. Some only present classical repertoire, some only jazz, some only pop, some offer a variety.And that’s just the music! There are also practical concerns. Teachers might or might not have a location convenient to your home, be willing to travel to your home to teach, have a convenient time available for you, require commitment for a certain period of time, require prepayment, offer discounts or incentives, charge cancellation or late payment fees, offer books and materials for free, be available for text/email/phone consultation between lessons, permit rescheduling or cancellations, offer make-up opportunities for missed lessons, teach during summer vacation …. again, I’m just scratching the surface here.Beyond even business matters like the ones I’ve listed, there’s a personal aspect. You have to spend a little time with someone to be able to evaluate their demeanor and their professionalism. You have to wait and see how the student and teacher get along, whether their communication styles are compatible. An excellent teacher will pay attention to how a student learns and adjust their communication and methods to get through to the student effectively. Some teachers offer trial lessons or trial periods before you commit to a regular schedule - ask about this option and take advantage of it!I can’t tell people what to value (well, I can, and I do, but I can’t force anyone to agree), so I’m just pointing out some of the sources of value in music lessons with a particular teacher. It’s really lack of information that prevents potential clients from being able to think through their choice of teacher in a useful way. If you didn’t realize that everything mentioned above is something a teacher might - or might not! - offer... well, now you know. It’s up to you to decide how important any one of those aspects is to you and how much you’re willing to pay for it.So, how much are you willing to pay for lessons?Oh no, it’s time to talk about money! The biggest factor in your decision about signing up for lessons will probably be cost. I understand. Most folks have a limited amount of money available for discretionary spending, and music lesson shopping might give you a little bit of sticker shock. You’ll probably be tempted to search for whoever offers the lowest price.Here’s the thing: Don’t be a cheapskate. The most inexpensive lessons are likely to be low-quality; more expensive teachers have good reason to charge more.You might think that music teachers have a sweet deal hauling in cash with their fun, easy side-hustle. Not at all. No one does this for fun - it’s a business. Teaching is hard work and takes a massive amount of emotional energy. You’re paying for so much more than your 45 minutes of face-to-face interaction in your lesson. Teachers have to plan lessons. They have to find, buy, and create teaching materials. They have to answer their emails and plan their schedules. They have to buy their own insurance and pay taxes. They have to do their own marketing. Private teachers running solo businesses don’t get paid holidays or sick days. If you’re allowed to cancel or quit at any moment, your teacher has extreme income insecurity; that’s not only hard to budget for, it’s immensely stressful. Oh, and their training probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars over decades of lessons and schooling and practice. If a teacher doesn’t charge much, it’s probably because they haven’t invested much.Think about this: Could you teach lessons? How long would it take you to do enough job training to teach music lessons competently? If you trained even for just a couple of years, how much would you think your time was worth?I hope this makes you realize that teaching music is a profession that should be paid many times more highly than it is. Market value for music lessons is pretty low, really. Honestly, most teachers charge as little as they can, because they don’t want lessons to be out of reach for people of more modest means. But we have to charge enough to be able to make a living, or otherwise expert professional music instruction couldn’t exist.Rates will, of course, be affected by regional cost of living, and teachers who are more experienced or more highly trained will charge more than those who have limited experience or only teach beginners. Some teachers who work with professional or pre-professional musicians charge $250/hr or more. In America, you can expect to pay, at the very very least, three times the amount of hourly minimum wage in your area. In California, that would be $39/hr. No competent, qualified teacher would charge less than that. You’re better off adjusting your budget, rather than looking for a rock-bottom price.If you want to learn music, definitely shop around! Choosing a music teacher is a big and complex decision. Don’t look for the lowest dollar amount, but focus on finding the best value. Think about what you want from your lessons and communicate clearly with any teacher you’re considering working with. Find out what types of instruction they do and don’t offer, ask about their studio policies, and get a feel for their personality. Finding a teacher whose offerings are a great match for your personal needs is the first step in a rewarding learning journey.

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