Meri’s Musical Musings

Marketting tips for Private Music Teachers

Posted on: April 28, 2009

Rules of advertising:

You have probably heard of the saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” Therefore, “S/he who advertises is more likely to get the students” . Why? Because someone else might beat you to making the decision to start advertising themselves as a teacher of a particular instrument. Besides, how are people supposed to know about your business if you don’t advertise? Think also about those music students (or their parents) who are looking for a private teacher of a particular instrument, or for new teacher for various reasons; how are they supposed to know about you if you do not advertise?

Create presence. Check that your chitz (ads with tear-offs with your name, phone/email, and what you are advertising) ads are in place at least monthly, even every couple of weeks if possible. Develop loyalties with some of the music store staff; once they know you, they are more than likely to be happy to refer students to you.

The rule of “3”: most people have to see your ad or name at least 3 times to take action.

The “new” rule: If you use chitz ads, and you see at least one has been taken, replace it with a fresh one: people are more likely to look at ads that appear new.

“Free”. One of the most effective words in advertising, yet one that many private music teachers don’t like to use. Why do you think people who advertise free kittens or free puppies get lots of people to come? And why are food samples so popular? People like to get something for nothing, especially if it’s something good. I ran ads that advertised the first lesson as no cost to the student or their parents: people like the idea of a free lesson, people get to see my work, people saw the quality of my work and liked the experience, people stayed.

People want to know what you can do for them.

People like the idea of seeing young students accomplish great things. For example, the typical starting age for clarinet is 10-12 years old. If you had a child who was 10 years old who was learning the clarinet in school, and you saw that one of the teacher’s 10-or 11-year-old students got a First Class Honours with Distinction on a recent music exam within the first 1 1/2 years of private instruction (even an early-grade one) in their brochure (which can be verified), would you not be inclined to think that your child could accomplish the same thing, and that this was a really good teacher?

Get free publicity! Especially if your student did extremely well at a competition, audition, or music exam. Local papers, local TV stations.

People often respond to emotional appeals, not intellectual ones! (Though if you want good clients, you might want to lean slightly to the intellectual ones!)

Attend your student’s school concerts. This one is mostly for non-piano teachers. Your students, or their parents, may introduce you to their music teacher, which means you have your foot in the door, especially if your student is doing a solo at their school concert. You also may be introduced to your student’s parent’s friends, who likely have children who attend the same school as your student, or who know people also learning the same instrument you teach. A variation on this idea is to attend school concerts in your neighbourhood when you don’t have students that go to a particular school, although few schools advertise their concerts outside of their school. I have gotten new students this way, in combination with running clinics.

Ask your students and their parents. They likely will have friends or family members who are learning the instrument you are teaching. Do it every 3 months or so.

Ask your friends. Do this every 2-3 months.

Ask your students and parents to ask their friends.

People, especially upper middle or upper class, want to give their children an advantage.

People are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of quality in many school music programs. Why? People want their kids to do well. That is especially true of the middle and upper middle class.

Take advantage of bad situations! Many school boards have cut music programs so that many kids do not start learning a wind, string, or percussion instrument until grade 7. That, however, does not mean that parents have to wait that long for their kids to start learning an instrument: most instruments can be learned by a 9-12 year old. I have one student who started lessons with me when he was in grade 5, even though band didn’t start until two years later. When he was in Grade 7, he was better than any the grade 9 clarinetists at his school. (He went to a 7-9 school).

Target your market! Where I live, Chinese people are big on private lessons, and some of them were looking for an alternative to violin or piano. So I had one of my Chinese students write me some Chinese/English ads. Where are the wealthy neighbourhoods were you live? Those are the people more willing and able to pay for lessons. For non-piano teachers living in suburban areas, think about the convenience for parents of children in suburban areas not having to travel downtown for a lesson, especially on instruments commonly learned in school programs.

Don’t sell to the bottom end! (Of income range) It’s typically the middle, upper middle, and upper class people who will pay for private lessons. A few lower-middle class people may take your offer as well, but don’t rely on it.

Talk about your business, and carry distinctive business cards! You never know when you’ll meet a potential client.

Work with teachers of other instruments! I work with several piano teachers, percussion, trumpet, trombone, guitar, two flute teachers, and a saxophone teacher. The saxophone teacher also teaches clarinet, but didn’t have time to work with beginner clarinetists. I gave the saxophone teacher one student that went through; the rest had potential students that didn’t go through. The trumpet teacher also works in one of the high schools in the area I live in, who had clarinetists interested in private lessons. Then some of my clarinet students who had friends or siblings who were learning instruments my non-clarinet colleagues play had private teachers available to them if they wanted them.

Work with teachers of the same instrument who live well outside of your target market. Since proximity to lessons is often a major consideration in whether or not to take them for many people (even though almost every private teacher thinks it shouldn’t be that important of a consideration), especially if the lessons are for a child, a teacher in one suburb of a major city might want to work with another teacher who lives downtown and one who lives in a different suburb of the same city. If one of your students relocates, then continuity of lessons is retained relatively easily if you have someone you can refer them to for lessons if the student wants to continue. If someone calls you for lessons, and the distance to your studio is too far for them to travel, you can recommend someone who lives closer to them.

Work with teachers of different instruments outside of your target market.

Use your connections to well-known recent events if you have them. For example, I played in a professional production of the musical Cabaret. So I incorporated that fact in my advertising. I found a few people who had actually seen the show.

Leave brochures at the ticket booth at concerts and shows you are playing in.

Leave brochures and/or flyers at your student’s concerts.

What can you offer prospective clients that is different from the competition? This one especially applies to piano teachers. Maybe you specialize in teaching adults. Or you teach by a not-so-popular, yet extremely effective method book that your students enjoy. Or you teach in a language where the culture is big on private lessons. (Eg: Chinese) Or you teach in the student’s home.

Offer something for referrals that go through! A music store gift card or certificate is perfect, since the student is probably going to be buying music anyway. Some people will not give you students unless you offer them something in return. Also good if you work with several teachers of one instrument.

Work with the schools! This one is mostly for non-piano teachers. You could emphasize how having their school’s students take private lessons will save the school’s music program money (because instruments will be privately owned, not school-owned, most costs in school music programs have to do with purchasing or maintaining instruments, and the equipment associated with them (reeds, mouthpieces, strings)) and help them and their students enjoy their experience in the school music program more. Ask your current students if their school music teachers are interested in complementing their programs, to send them brochures, flyers, and offer to conduct group lessons or sectionals. Or even call the schools directly. Don’t forget about private schools: parents of private schools are much more likely to consider private lessons, especially on a band or string instrument, because they are aware of the importance of quality and are paying for their children’s education.

Offer special promotions.

One  idea is to offer a quality free gift, value for every person who signs up for lessons, or to the first x number of customers, or customers who join on or before a certain date.
Example: a CD of student’s playing from a recent event.

Offer the first lesson free. I know this one works.

Offer a discount on the materials. At least 20%; 50% if possible. This is most useful when music stores are clearing out their old stock, which often happens in January or towards the end of summer vacation, sometimes a couple of months before Christmas.

Help the schools out! For every student who starts private lessons in a particular month, that you will donate 10-20% of the first month’s lesson fees, and 5-10% in following months, to the school music program. You can also specify a particular dollar amount.  Since many school music programs are strapped for cash, this is an idea that many school music teachers may love. You help give them a sustained funding source, and you get students. A win-win situation all the way.

Offer gift certificates, especially around Christmas.

Do a joint recital with another teacher, with door prizes, with a couple of certificates for a few months of free lessons.

What to do to get your name “out there”:

Let people see your results. Invite music students at local schools to a student concert or musical open house.

Let people see you! Be a staff member on a music camp. Do seminars on private lessons, especially when you bring students to perform.

Let people see your students perform.

For non-piano teachers: run a clinic for your instrument near where you live, and invite students from nearby schools to attend (or do clinics at schools in your neighbourhood), giving 10-15 minute lessons to each student. Be sure to have ads that you are available for private lessons.

Advertise in your own concert programs that you are available to teach lessons, either in your bio and/or with an insert—especially student concerts.

Find out which teachers are full or have a waiting list. This works mostly with relatively commonly-learned instruments, especially the piano.

Ineffective advertising versus effective advertising

Effective advertising is one that produces a high return for the cost of advertising. Ineffective advertising has a high cost with low or no return.

I found that the following were my most effective advertising:

• A postcard-size business card that I made myself that came in sheets of 4 that still looked good even when photocopied. I gave to the staff at the three music stores that I deal with regularly, and carried just in case I met a potential client. Cost: 0.05/sheet of 4: Return: 2 students out of 20 ads.

• A tear-off, ad, posted in several music stores and the music faculty.

• An ad in a classical music magazine which I knew the ads were widely read, it had a large distribution relative to the cost of the ad per issue (about $25 per issue). In terms of numbers of students that went through I recruited from that ad, it was my most effective one.

• Brochures, which highlight student’s recent accomplishments and gives comments made by students, parents, and others. These I gave to school music teachers who were interested in their school’s clarinetists getting private lessons. 

• A gift certificate offering a complementary lesson

• Monthly community papers that had relatively large distributions with low classified ad costs (under $15/issue), which I found four such papers.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about my advertising was that the less-expensive ads generated the most income.

Ineffective advertising:

Generally, do not advertise in grocery stores and Laundromats—unless the grocery store is in an expensive area (in terms of the cost of homes, anywhere where home prices are above the average, or that secializes to the types of clients that tend to be interested in music lessons. I learned this by noticing I was not getting any ad calls from them, and most of those ads were taken down within two week’s time, often within 1 week.

Do not use a flyer mailbox method. Most people throw them away, and treat them like junk mail. Most people who will get them aren’t in your target market at all. I did this four times, each in relatively large distribution areas, and got one response, which fell through.

Should you include your rates in advertising?

MAYBE—especially if you are a teacher who is just starting out, or  has 5 years or less of experience. I found ad calls were much more likely when I included the rates for a 1/2 hour lesson than when I didn’t say anything about rates, or even inviting to call for them. People are more likely to see your ads as honest if you include your fees. Especially if you can justify your price based on other factors that are relevant to consumers, such as having lessons in a studio versus having them in your home, you can charge somewhat more for the latter because in-home lessons are often convenient for people.

A piano teacher I know combines these strategies. Besides having three music degrees (B. Mus, M. Mus., ARCT) and having taught privately for about 30 years, he also teaches in the student’s home. Yet he charges somewhat less than most other piano teachers with similar or fewer qualifications, and who do not teach in the student’s home. When someone sees the price he’s offering relative to his experience and qualifications, plus having the option of having lessons in your home, his fee is perceived as a great deal. (though he does charge more than the average teacher where I live!)

BUT, and especially for piano teachers: Charge a respectable fee. I recommend that no self-respecting private music teacher should charge less than $100/month for lessons. And if you have any combination of the following: high qualifications, great studio extras (such as theory or ear training classes, or even music software for student use), experience, excellent results…charge significantly more. Don’t be despised by other teachers for offering low lesson fees. You won’t respect yourself, you’ll likely eventually only give half-hearted attention to your students, you downgrade the profession, and you simply will not make a decent living. A teacher charging $200/month needs 15% fewer students to make the same amount than a teacher charging $140/month, and 50% fewer than one who charges $100/month. Higher lesson fees mean you can control quality more easily and give each student more individualized attention. Better teach 20-25 students a week at a moderate to moderately-high lesson fee than twice that number at a low one!

A few words about chitz ads.

Many people, not just private music teachers, do not do effective chitz ads. Why? Because they only leave a phone number, or a name and phone #, without including what they are advertising. People use chitz ads for everything: selling a car, a private sale of a home, university textbooks, music lessons… Since people are not likely to remember what you were advertising if you leave just a name and phone #, they will throw out the chitz ad. Some try to get around this problem by using a distinctive paper colour or a graphic in the chitz themselves, but this is not really the most effective way for people to remember what you were advertising: the most effective way is to mention what you were advertising.

Should you include your email address?

YES—if it’s a professional one or related to your business. For example, mine combines the instruments I teach. Even though you may or may not get email inquiries about lessons, people appear more likely to respond to your ad, perhaps because they perceive your ad as honest.

Chitz ads for music lessons need a strong graphic message to bring the point across. The image needs to enhance what you are advertising, on the body of the chitz ads. Most suitable graphics are those of the instrument you teach.

Should you have a website related to your business?

YES, and get one developed if you don’t. You would be surprised at how often people will check out your website before they call you about lessons, or soon after. You may even get a few students from your website alone: that’s how I got my first two students, through the mailpage section I had on my site.

Should you include your website address?

In classified ads, NO; it’s too much info, and it’s a waste of space. In chitz ads, YES, if you have the room for it and it’s related to your business. In display ads, YES, if it’s related to your business.

Should you include your location?

It depends. If you are a piano or guitar teacher, or a teacher of any instrument who lives downtown, NO.

However, if you are a suburban teacher of most instruments, and your target is the suburban market (remember that many suburbanites don’t like the idea of travelling downtown for lessons every week, especially if the lessons are for a child) then it’s YES, if you are advertising in a local paper, TRY IT for local chitz ads (it did not work for me, however) and brochures at local schools, and NO for all other ads.

Piano and guitar teachers may want to mention the neighbourhood they are teaching in local ads.

Location: Where you live

Where you live may also put you at an advantage…or disadvantage. If you teach your lessons in a apartment that you rent in an area that’s considered unsafe, people may feel unsure about their or their child’s personal safety. If you live in (or are considering) a home  that’s on a “quiet court” or “quiet crescent”, think about its accessibility in the winter or the greater difficulty in finding your location. Your best bet is a home that’s on or within a 5-minute walk from a main road.

There are six other clarinet teachers I know of. Five of them live in a location that follows the above principle; the last lives on a street where you have to enter three other streets just to enter the street to access his home.
Another point of where you live: living in high-demand versus low-demand areas. The reason many piano teachers can make a good living in most areas is because of extremely high demand, even if two or three live within walking distance of each other. The same is true for teachers of most instruments living downtown; in fact, I know of three clarinet teachers who live downtown, living in a space of less than 10 km. All are making a decent living. Whereas if you live in a small town, it’s going to probably be difficult to attract students from either your town or neighbouring ones, because often neither the population density or demand is there.

How far should you go to attract students?

This depends on the instrument you teach and where you live. Because of high demand, piano, guitar, and maybe violin teachers should be able to fill their studio using a 10 km radius, and sometimes even students living within a 15-20 minute walk. Teachers of other instruments, especially in suburban areas, may want to take a 20-30 km radius, due to less likelihood of overlapping territory and a smaller potential market.

The experience angle

Do not mention how long you’ve been teaching. Personally, if I had to choose between a teacher with only 2 years experience, yet who is clearly building a strong reputation in terms of their student’s achievements at exams and competitions, has interesting teaching methods that work, and their students like them, to a teacher with at least 10 years experience yet whose students don’t do so well and who doesn’t seem to have any creative approaches to teaching and the same old methods do not work I would pick the former? My first teacher was 15 years older than I am; my second and third were only 5 years older. My own students think the idea of having a teacher who is way too young to be their mom or dad  is “cool”.

First and last name or First name only?

TRY it both ways in classified ads. I personally recommend first and last name. In tear-off ads, use first and last name. But with common names, consider adding your middle initial(s) if you have one. It’s the trustworthiness factor.

Rules for Tear off (Chitz) Ads:
1) Use Colour (I strongly recommend using it in the ad itself, as opposed to coloured paper)
2) No Photocopies
3) Include: at minimum: name, what you are advertising, phone and email
4) Have someone evaluate your ad. I’ve seen some teachers advertising for years with unprofessional, handwritten ads.
5) Good quality paper
6) Graphic or picture pertaining to your business (1 please!)
7) Strongly recommended: Get it printed at a print shop

Final Words:

Get a cell phone, because you will often get inquiries when you least expect them!


1 Response to "Marketting tips for Private Music Teachers"

Great post! Most music teachers don’t have much of a “business mind”, so getting out of our comfort zones and spreading the word about our studio is something many of us struggle with. Most of my students have come from word of mouth because of this, but I could have a lot more if I advertised more. I also got my studio website setup for free by Music Teacher’s Helper ( It’s been great for me, and my students love it too. Thanks for your helpful tips!

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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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