Meri’s Musical Musings

Sources for finding a private music teacher

Posted on: April 25, 2009

Lessons in a music store

Advantages: Tends to be the least costly for the consumer.

Disadvantages: Distractions from the retail section of the music store. High turnover of teachers, because the store usually takes a cut from lesson fees, which are already often below market price. Some won’t let teachers take their students with them if the teacher quits teaching at the store. Quality of teachers is often lower. Because of extremely limited hours, there is almost no flexibility in rescheduling lessons, let alone scheduling addtional lessons shortly before an exam, audition, or competition. Private teachers may be encouraged to sell the products the store sells, especially if the products are inferior. Very limited hours for lessons. Private teachers may be asked to teach instruments they have no business teaching. Sometimes have a registration fee. Often studios are tiny, have poor air quality, and may or may not have pianos in the studios.

Lessons at a music school

Advantages: Relatively inexpensive, and the school will often provide other special programs, such as a chamber music program.

Disadvantages: High turnover of teachers, because most teachers cannot afford to teach at the rates most music schools will allow them to teach at, and some will not allow teachers to take students with them once they leave the school. Teachers often cannot plan lessons around other commitments, such as working as an accompanist, their own concerts, or performing in a musical.  Somewhat limited hours of operation: often only after-school lessons are available, and they are often closed during traditional school breaks.  Rarely any flexibility in when you can start lessons: your only options are usually September, January, and July. Often weekly lessons are required, which is often not necessary with advanced students, and not desirable at certain times of the year, such as summer. Often little flexibility in payment options. Not usually suitable for adult students, who often need flexible scheduling. Little to no flexibility in rescheduling or planning additional lessons. Not usually suitable for intermediate and advanced students, as they tend to focus on child beginners. Quality of teaching is often lower than at a conservatory or when the teacher teaches in their home. Often have registration fees, usually in the range of $60-150, though it can be as high as $200 or even more—some are one-time fees, others are annual. Private teachers may be asked to teach instruments they have no business teaching. Sometimes teachers have no choice in the method books they use to teach students. Often studios are small and have poor air quality. Little flexibility for the teacher in planning their own vacations or attending professional development sessions, especially those that are out of town during the school year.

Lessons in the teacher’s home

Advantages: The teacher has easy access to their personal music library. Flexibility of lesson times, since they are not limited to teaching according to the hours the store or music school is open. The studio is
often well-equipped and is comfortable for the students and teachers.
Good flexibility in rescheduling lessons or planning additional lessons before exams, auditions, and competitions. Especially if the teacher owns their home, chances that they will not be moving to another city any time soon, so you will probably not be changing teachers for a few years. Quality of teaching tends to be somewhat higher than when students take lessons in a music store or music school. Good flexibility of payment options. Lots of flexibility of when you want to start lessons. Teachers can plan lessons around other commitments, such as accompanist work, personal concerts, or performing in a musical. Teachers can plan their own vacation dates more flexibly, and have greater freedom to attend professional development sessions, particularly when they are during the school year and outside of the city, town, or county they teach. Sometimes no registration fees. Some idependent studios have software for student use, such as theory, composition, CD-ROMs, maybe even accompiants for solos and duets!  Teachers have the freedom to choose the method books, based on needs and interest of particular students.

Disadvantages: On most instruments, you will probably have to travel a significant distance to lessons. Somewhat more expensive than lessons in a music store or a music school.

Lessons at a conservatory

Advantages: Students often get access to practice rooms and a music library. Some flexibility in lessons. Wide range of courses available.

Disadvantages: Per lesson, it is the most costly option, and payment options are usually very inflexible—payment is semester or yearly, and it is sometimes difficult to get a refund if the student withdraws from lessons or is ill for an extended period. Some teachers at conservatories are not all that interested in teaching, and many do not like teaching beginners. May be a significant distance to travel, especially for instruments other than piano, violin, guitar, or voice. High registration fees, usually in the $125-300 range; but in some conservatories, unlike regular music schools, they are usually one-time, and you do get a lot for your registration fee, such as a significant discount on sheet music, discounts on other courses offered by the conservatory, and free or heavily discounted tickets to arts events, especially concerts at the conservatory. Since you are purchasing sheet music anyway and if you had already planned to attend two or more of the conservatory concerts, it may be worth the registration fee.

Lessons in your home

Advantages: Some young teachers start out this way, because they have no other choice (eg: the teacher lives with their parents and their parents say no to  teaching in their home, and cannot afford to rent a
home, or they rent a place but are not allowed to practice/teach there), and don’t like the idea of teaching in a music school or music store. You get to see how the teacher teaches the student. Some flexibility of
lesson scheduling. Good flexibility in rescheduling lessons or planning additional lessons before exams, auditions, and competitions. Usually no registration fees. Teachers can choose the method book to meet student’s needs.
Disadvantages: May be slightly more expensive than lessons in the teacher’s home, but usually less than the conservatory. Difficult to do beyond a certain number of students (usually more than 10-15). Difficult to do if there are a lot of distractions in the home. May have to take a slot that is convenient for the teacher in terms of the travelling distance for the teacher (ie: you live in an area that one or two other students of that teacher live).

Your best bet is to go with an independent teacher. This minimizes the
chances of turnover and gives you the best chance at finding a high quality teacher. When you factor in the registration fees at music stores and music schools that charge them, your per-lesson cost is usually equal or greater than the cost of lessons with an independent teacher, without necessarily the quality of teaching or the extra things that independent teachers are more likely to do—especially if the registration fee is an annual one. Not only that, students coming from independent teachers seem to achieve better overall results at auditions, competitions and exams, and often the top marks as well.

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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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