Meri’s Musical Musings

Exactly why do music lessons cost as much as they do?

Posted on: July 22, 2012

Like everyone else, private music teachers need a place to live, need to eat, sleep, and pay their bills. But there are several additional expenses that music teachers have, and this is NOT based on the unpaid time teachers used for finding new materials, creating new materials, purchasing them, and creating plans, but the actual expenses that teachers can and often have to incur, which will hopefully help people understand why the prices of many of them, especially established ones, may seem quite high to some people.

First, the teacher has to either live in a home that has a suitable space available for teaching and practicing, or they have to rent out space, such as in a church or school music room, which for the latter they may have to shell out a few hundred dollars a month, unless they are a musical director of the church or school. A home suitable for teaching private students usually involves a moderately large mortgage or rental payment, usually at least $1500 a month, but sometimes $2500/month or more, though in some cases this expense is shared with another person, most often their spouse.

Second, the teacher ideally must have professional quality instruments, with most instruments, a professional-level instrument costs several thousands of dollars. Many professional piano teachers will own two or more professional level pianos. Teachers of most other instruments ideally need at least one (typically at least two) professional level performing instruments (typically for music in different keys, such as professional clarinet teachers usually owning at least two clarinets, one pitched in B flat and the other in A, which the latter is often used in orchestral music and some chamber works) as well as a quality piano.

Third, teachers have to maintain their instruments to a high playing standard, for themselves and for their students. Pianos with a lot of use need to be tuned about 4 times a year, plus regulation and voicing (adjusting the action of the keys and the overall sound of the piano), which in major cities costs about $100-$150 (2012 figures)  most other instruments need minor repairs or adjustments 3-4 times a year with moderate use, usually costing about $100 each time for a combination of repairs and adjustuments, as well as a complete overhaul every 2-5 years, which costs $500-$750 depending on the instrument and location, which involves putting the instrument in nearly new playing condition.

Fourth, those instruments often need to be replaced after several years. This is especially true with wind instruments, which many pros replace their instruments every 5-10 years, because they experience something known as “blow-out” which the tone quality and tuning of the instrument becomes consistently unstable.

Fifth, the additional equipment that those instruments require often cost a fair bit for good quality ones. Violin strings for decent brands start at around $50 here and go to $150 a box or more; a box of 8-10 reeds for single reed instruments (clarinets and saxophones) costs $30-$50 per box for a quality brand, and one oboe or bassoon reed costs $6-$10 or more, depending on the maker. Many musicians buy a few to several boxes of reeds at a time as well. Not to mention costs for ligatures, replacement cases, humidifiers for wood instruments, reed cases, cork grease, key oil, rosin, and more.

Sixth, the collections of sheet music that most good and excellent teachers have adds up to a several hundred per year, which means that many teachers have thousands of dollars worth of sheet music. While piano, violin, and guitar music is usually not that expensive at the elementary and intermediate levels (since there is a large market for them), anthologies or even a single piece for other instruments typically cost $20-$40 or more, especially if there is only one publisher for a particular piece.

Seventh, many teachers have spent large sums of money to finance their education, first in earning a bachelor’s degree, and some by earning post-graduate degrees, which some teachers, especially grads in the last 10 years, are many thousands of dollars in debt, which means they have relatively large loan payments.

Eighth, there are musician and music teacher associations to join, which cost anywhere from $100 to several hundred per year to join.  These associations often provide a yearly gathering of members, most often in the summer, which to attend usually costs several hundred to a few thousand to attend, depending on the location of each year’s gathering.

Ninth, most students are only available for lessons between 3 pm and 9 pm; a few adult students and homeschooled students are able to attend before the major teaching time begins for most students, and students, except for some high school students, rarely want to have a lesson later than 7:00 or 8:00 pm.

Finally, many excellent teachers are investing in technology and computer software to enhance student learning. Modern studios often incorporate at least a laptop computer and digital camera, and more and more teachers are adding camcorders, or even tablet computers. Teachers who have Iphones sometimes have ear training or music theory software on them.

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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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