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Hey all, I have a few questions about full-time piano teaching. My wife currently works, but we plan to start a family soon and she wants to quit her job when we do. I'm still building up my studio and hope to be able to support us by the time a baby comes along.

If you rely on teaching for your income (or for a large portion of your income) I'd love to hear your thoughts on the following questions... It's a lot of questions, so don't feel like you have to answer all, even thoughts on one is appreciated!

(And I know we could go into a lot of specifics about my particular situation, like how much I pay for mortgage/rent, insurance, how much I charge, and all sorts of things, but I really mostly need help with the below. Thanks for understanding!)

Answer as many as you like...
1) What is the most difficult thing for you about teaching piano for a living?
2) What is your average teaching week like?
3) What do you think is a good target income for a family of three or four? (I know this will differ a lot depending on location, cost of living, personal expenses, etc. - but just say for your area and spending habits.)
4) Do you have alternative sources of income? (teaching in school, group classes, performing, etc.)
5) Other thoughts...

Thank you!


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Hi Kyle,
From your other post it sounds like you are a new teacher just starting out. Most people find those first couple of years are the slowest. Personally I had under 6 students those first two years. Then all of a sudden I had 20. Those first few students and their families will be your best advertising... if they feel that they have something good to advertise (and if they are the kind of people who like to share such things with others.)
I have been lucky to live in a perfect location: small town with low cost of living, high interest in arts and culture and education, not too many other piano teachers and lots of kids.
Other musical work really helps build a studio too. The more you're out in the community making music, the more people get to know and enjoy your playing and then they're more likely to think of you when their neighbor is wondering out loud if there are any good piano teachers around. (Once in a while the teaching connections lead to gigs too.)
I probably wouldn't have been able to consider teaching full-time until about the 5-year mark. I probably won't ever only teach. I happen to really like performing and accompanying and I adore my church job. But I'll also be the first to say that other than my church job, performing/accompanying is much less steady and lower-paying work than teaching.
And for teachers who are in a more competitive area, they can be very excellent and very highly qualified teachers and just never be able to find enough students.
So I guess do your research about who is around you and whether your locale needs another piano teacher.
And make sure you are doing your very best work with 100% of the lessons with those first few students.
Regarding target income, it seems the important formula for you is: what is the minimum income to allow my wife to quit her job. That sounds like a question for you and your wife to answer together smile

Last edited by hreichgott; 11/16/15 11:00 PM.

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Disclosure- I am not a full-time or experienced music teacher but...

..have you considered working other part time jobs until you see how you make out as a piano teacher? For example, I think being a church organist pays about $100 (maybe more) per church service in my area. This adds up to another $400+ per month. If you join a band, and its a successful working band you might make $50-150 per gig. For bands, the real money is usually found in private events like weddings where you might make several hundred per gig. Also, maybe you might consider working in a music store too, but you would probably be paid a relatively low retail hourly rate for that. Still it is something, and you might be able to arrange for complimentary hours to your piano teaching. Or you may want to work a part-time job in a completely different field unrelated to music, to provide your supplementary income.

The benefit to working these other music jobs is it will help round out your general music skills and knowledge and also get yourself known in the community, which eventually could help bring in students. But just as important, provide more income while you may not have a full studio of students yet.

It sounds to me like you are at a pivotal moment and trying to make a life decision whether you are "all in" as a piano teacher or not, based on whether you can make a decent living at it. There are so many variables it may be impossible to forecast. My recommendation is to try to diversify your income stream across other music areas so in the meantime you can try the piano teaching out for a while with a few students. After a couple years, who knows, you may be so successful you may be turning away students.

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Kyle, even if eventually you are able to earn a living for yourself via independent piano teaching, your wife simply *has* to work throughout your marriage, since she will always be the principal wage-earner. You and she need to understand that your income will only supplement hers, and so part of your goal should be to make sure her job is secure, or that she is always employable.

Also start investigating subsidized daycare now.






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I try to be a little bit more optimistic than Mr. Mose here. If you work hard enough and if you happen to live in a wealthy suburb of Salt Lake City (Sandy??), then it is very possible to make a living and support a family of four. The cost of living must be considered.


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Originally Posted by Peter K. Mose
Kyle, even if eventually you are able to earn a living for yourself via independent piano teaching, your wife simply *has* to work throughout your marriage, since she will always be the principal wage-earner. You and she need to understand that your income will only supplement hers, and so part of your goal should be to make sure her job is secure, or that she is always employable.
The economics are different in different parts of the world. Even small geographic distances, such as 20 miles, could make a big difference.

I disagree with Peter on this one, although I realize what he is saying is probably true in some/many places throughout the world.

In my region, you need to run a fairly large studio (40-60 students, depending on your rates and business expenses), but if you do you'll be at or above the median household income. You won't get rich doing it, but it's plenty viable.

And answering one of your questions:
I have other work. I am a music director at a church. I enjoy the artistic outlet. It gives a venue for my own playing.


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
I try to be a little bit more optimistic than Mr. Mose here. If you work hard enough and if you happen to live in a wealthy suburb of Salt Lake City (Sandy??), then it is very possible to make a living and support a family of four. The cost of living must be considered.



It's more than cost of living. The predominant local culture here places a high value on the ability to "play piano at church." Large family size and relatively strong economy are also factors. So if you want to relocate, you could do worse.


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Originally Posted by Piano Kyle
1) What is the most difficult thing for you about teaching piano for a living?

I think it takes several years to fill up a studio. I also think that at first, one has to wear many other hats as well to make a living - not just teaching in your home, but perhaps also in a school in another town (where there's no issue of competing with the school), performing/accompanying, church jobs, things like that. It is very hard to support a family on one income, period, let alone supporting one on a teacher's income.

Originally Posted by Piano Kyle
2) What is your average teaching week like?

Well, as I said above, you wear lots of hats. I teach in a school 30 minutes away on Mondays and Fridays. I've just started so I only have 5 students total, but come January I should get more to fill in spots there. On Mondays and Wednesday evenings I have rehearsal at Palm Beach Opera where I sing the chorus. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturdays I teach out of my home, where I have about 15 students. I sing and play at my church (I do this for free, but if I didn't have a church, I'd definitely have a church job somewhere). We rehearse Thursday nights and again early Sunday morning. Once in a while I sing for a party or play at a wedding.

My gross income is quite low, and I am charging a good rate for my private students. I don't get paid as much for the school, but then I don't have the overhead and they recruit students for me. I don't make much at the opera, maybe a couple of thousand a year at the very most, and a church job can vary widely in pay depending upon if it's a full-time position or just getting paid per service.

Originally Posted by Piano Kyle
3) What do you think is a good target income for a family of three or four? (I know this will differ a lot depending on location, cost of living, personal expenses, etc. - but just say for your area and spending habits.)

This is really tough to answer. Even in the same country it really depends on where you live. Are you in an urban area, suburban, or rural? What's the cost of living in your area? You can google the COL for your city to find out what the median income is and the average costs of things.

Really, the most important points for you to consider are these:
1) What do I need to make to be able to support my family right now (without children, on one income)?
2) What is the average cost of having a child?
3) Are there any areas that I can cut back to offset costs?
4) Is now the best time to expand the family? Meaning, is your income stable enough to withstand the big change a child makes? Generally it takes several years to get a studio going and for things to stabilize.
5) What about health care costs? How will we pay for the child's birth and healthcare going forward? Remember, your cost for insurance will increase when you add a dependent, and children tend to need a lot of doctor visits.

Originally Posted by Piano Kyle
4) Do you have alternative sources of income? (teaching in school, group classes, performing, etc.)


Yes. Not only that, but I do part-time work for my husband's business. Honestly, if it weren't for his income and what I make from his company, I would not be able to teach, or we would live in very humble conditions.

When I first started wanting to teach, I had a full-time job at a finance company. I made really good money doing that, and my husband was an employee and made good money there. Then I started taking on students in the evenings after work and on weekends. As my studio grew over a period of a year or so, I was eventually able to afford to cut my day job down to part-time, and then eventually quit altogether. But this was with the other income from my husband's employment and later from his own business. It was a process, not a clean cut.

We do not have children of our own. If we did, we probably would have had to make the switch even more gradual than this with a lot more planning and saving for inevitable problems that arise with children. I'm not trying to dissuade you from teaching or having kids because I know many people who make it work. All I'm saying is that going down to one income and that one income being teaching is probably not going to work unless you first have a well-established business (it takes around 5 years).

Originally Posted by Piano Kyle
5) Other thoughts...

If you have another job (a "day job") that provides benefits and a steady income, keep that. Then take on students to teach in the evenings and weekends. Gradually build that up, but while you have young children, keep the day job going for the benefits. Then when you're done with the young children and they are a bit older, you can think about phasing out the job and working toward full-time teaching.


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https://motivapp.com/freelance-hourly-rate-calculator

Hi Kyle: I use above calculator to decide how much I should charge per lesson. I think it is very useful. I would suggest that you use above calculator to see how much you should charge to sustain the lifestyle that you want, then compare your $X to the ongoing market prie per lesson in your town. I am sure from there then you will know if you can support your family of 3 or 4 by piano teaching or not.
Let me know if you need more help. Good luck!


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Is this a joke?

According to the calculator, I need to charge $115 per hour.

I charge way, way less than that, and I'm doing just fine.


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Originally Posted by Piano Kyle

5) Other thoughts...

Thank you!


Okay, here's another thought, not intended to be gloomy, just leaving an area of concern open.

Every one of your questions is present tense.

But you're starting out, and probably have 4 or 5 decades of work life ahead of you. Maybe more, I've met some "mature" piano teachers.

What will the demand be in the future?

There was a time when accordion teachers made a very good living. There were accordion schools, massed choirs, etc. Now it's a niche market.

One of my high school friends went into watch repair instead of going to college. He did VERY well, for a while.

Etc.

Can any of this be predicted? Probably not, but there may be fields where it is a concern. I'm on the hiring committee at my church, and I can tell you since organ programs dried up at universities it is REALLY hard to find a good organist.

Piano teaching might be one of those areas to worry about, or it might not.

We're already seeing a trend in music instruction for Skype lessons to expand. Even my teacher, who always thought it was too limited for the way he taught, has started to embrace it.


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I teach voice, not piano, but I support my family on my teaching income. I have a two year old, a two month old and a husband who is a SAHD.

When I first started teaching 10 years ago, I was also waiting tables and substitute teaching.

Then I met my husband, who was in the Army. We changed duty stations and I didn't teach much until we moved home when he got out. I knew I had from August (when we moved home) until January (when he got his last paycheck) to get a minimum of 20 students taking one hour lesssons. I hustled and marketed like crazy and I did it.

I'm currently teaching about 30 hours a week, plus a church job Sunday mornings. I'm tired! I rent a studio and I'm generally there 12:00 - 8:00, Monday - Friday. My church job is 9:00 - 12:00 on Sundays mornings, plus another hour in prep during the week. Oh, and recitals and competitions several weekends a year...

I went back to work two weeks after my youngest was born, because no work, no pay. But I do have a job I really love and two great kids who aren't in daycare.

I grossed about $70,000 last year (including $10,000 for my church job and a paymemt for a small opera role). Net was much less...

Health insurance is our biggest challenge. The ACA has not done good things for the self employed... We paid cash for two birth center births with midwives.

Summers are slow. I currently charge tuition quarterly for the 40 weeks August - May (vacations Christmas and spring break). I budget off my payments for those 10 months (each quarter must provide for three months income and expenses) and treat June and July as bonus money.

Now that I'm really busy, I'm frustrated that my income is limited by the number of hours I'm available to teach.

My husband is starting a personal training business in the mornings before I leave for work. He has many similar challenges we face as independent music teachers.

My teenage students are generally from families with means and they tend to dress better than I do. And drive nicer cars.

My big advice is to treat it like the business it is. Read books about self employment and entrepreneurship. And have integrity because your reputation is everything.


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Wow, DivaDiDonato. Thank you so much for your transparency! It is so nice to hear someone's full story and get an idea on some of the numbers. You'd be surprised how little people talk about that. So thanks! I really appreciate it.

Thank you so much for the other comments as well. That is SOOOO much help! I think as I build my studio that I will look for an alternative source of income (that I can do during the day.) That way, if it looks like the studio is not going well enough (or I am not enjoying the crazy hours) I have another alternative to help me.

Thanks again for all the support and advice.


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Brava, Diva and welcome to this board! You have given a very graphic description of how success as a studio music teacher might go. You are in the one percent, and deserve hearty congratulations.

Just curious, are you located in a large, medium, or small metropolitan area? How much does that rental teaching space cost you, and is it as good as you would like it to be?


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Originally Posted by TimR
Piano teaching might be one of those areas to worry about, or it might not.

My suggestion: Move to an area with an abundance of students.

Originally Posted by TimR
We're already seeing a trend in music instruction for Skype lessons to expand. Even my teacher, who always thought it was too limited for the way he taught, has started to embrace it.

Again, I advise teachers who are short on students to move.

Suburban California might just be the hotbed of piano instruction.


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano

Is this a joke?

According to the calculator, I need to charge $115 per hour.

I charge way, way less than that, and I'm doing just fine.

It told me to charge close to 200. ha


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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by AZNpiano

Is this a joke?

According to the calculator, I need to charge $115 per hour.

I charge way, way less than that, and I'm doing just fine.

It told me to charge close to 200. ha


Looking at the site, I think this may be because it is considering "profit" as money not used to pay living expenses or business expenses, but left over once all is paid. So if you put your desired income on that line and also list your living expenses, it seems to count as asking for that money twice.


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Originally Posted by jdw
Looking at the site, I think this may be because it is considering "profit" as money not used to pay living expenses or business expenses, but left over once all is paid. So if you put your desired income on that line and also list your living expenses, it seems to count as asking for that money twice.

I think that calculator has other problems with it. I can't imagine a whole bunch of piano teacher suddenly charging over $100/hour.


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Thanks Peter!

I live in metro area of about 300,000 with a very active NATS chapter (National Association of Teachers of Singing), and a decent state school with a fairly good music program. All that helps. When we were stationed in Ft. Benning GA, students were extremely hard to come by (save for a handful of pageant queens).

But really, it's about busting your butt and not giving up. I'm a good singer, but I'm a great teacher. And I've become pretty business savvy.

My studio is $500/month in a building with other arts and music teachers. It's awesome. Decent soundproofing, good parking, comfortable waiting rooms, congenial "coworkers", but we're all independent teachers. I used to teach at home and it was a much bigger struggle to get people to treat me professionally. With a commercial space, people take my business more seriously. Plus, I love being around other teachers.


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
...I think that calculator has other problems with it. I can't imagine a whole bunch of piano teacher suddenly charging over $100/hour.


It is not unusual for allied health providers (PT, OT, SLP) to charge fees in that range for clients seen privately. (Certainly not mentioning any names here.) Some people have medical insurance that reimburses part of the cost though.


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