Meri’s Musical Musings

Do’s and Don’t for New Private Teachers

Posted on: May 20, 2013


Find out what opportunities are available for students to perform or audition for, such as arts-focussed middle and high schools, or special youth bands and orchestras for students of different abilities outside of school.

Get a copy of the syllabi for the instruments you teach, even if you don’t plan to use the exam system, this can help create a progression of repertoire as well as determine if the minimum repertoire level for an audition with the pieces a student wants to audition on is at the required level.

Teach scales, arpeggios, and other technical elements for the instrument students are learning.

Get your name out there, by assisting with school ensembles and music camps for example.

Connect with teachers of other instruments, and those you play your instrument but live a significant distance from you. I regularly refer students to a violin teacher, a trumpet teacher, and a flute teacher, and have done so at least once for several other instruments. Also have referred potential clarinet students who were too far for me to travel to one of my past students who is about to start his final year as a performance major, and a second one who wanted a time that I was completely unavailable for lessons to another college student. Also connect to other teachers if you are more focussed on teaching beginners and intermediates, and they tend to do well with upper intermediate and advanced students.

In your first 3-5 years, stay in touch with your teachers and ask them questions on how to teach something when a student of yours is having trouble.

Get some teaching tips from teachers of other instruments, many top teachers have similar tips that apply to all instruments. Consider even taking a few lessons from a teacher of a different instrument to focus on interpretation skills or how you approach performance psychologically or playing the instrument from a physical perspective. I know a cello teacher and a clarinet teacher who are specialists in various body techniques such as Feldenkrais and Alexander technique, and a piano teacher I studied with has done amazing things for my psychological performance skills, which I am passing them down to both my clarinet and piano students.

Have your students do both solos (for orchestral instruments) and chamber ensembles. Weaker private teachers of orchestral instruments tend to not teach students to play solos with piano accompaniment.

Use a method book that is designed for students in private lessons, which is not a method used in school music classes.

Teach technical elements (scales, arpeggios, chords), studies to develop playing skills and technique, AND repertoire.

Attend seminars and masterclasses, especially if they’re free or low cost. Where I live, a couple large music stores offer them a couple times a year, and the main conservatory usually offers free or low cost ones 3-4 times a year.

Provide non-food rewards/trinkets for students up to 11 or 12 years old for successful completion of weekly assignments, going beyond what is required, and more. (party favours are often loved by students)

If you teach orchestral instruments, and don’t play piano well enough to sightread with ease moderately difficult piano music in tempo, hire a regular, reliable, quality accompanist.

Have other streams of income other than teaching, from performing, compositions, music teaching products, and arrangements for example.

Host student recitals, or combine one with another teacher or two.

Have a clear unambigious studio policy, eg: “30 days notice to terminate lessons”, not “a month’s notice to terminate lessons”.


Project your fear of performing on the students; play with them and especially in concerts you host for students, unless you are physically unable to do so.

Project your own fears of exams onto the students; many examiners, especially in the early levels, understand the difficulties of performing for an evaluation and usually accentuate the positives in the elementary and intermediate level exams.

Use food rewards as incentives, as students may have food allergies or restrictions, particularly candies.

Assume that students know something they are supposed to know.

Assume that students will dislike learning scales, arpeggios, and other technical elements.

Leave sight reading, ear training, and technical elements to the last few lessons before an evaluation.

Charge for lessons by the week except for students which it is financially not possible, and even then try to get them to pay at least two lessons at a time. There is a tendency for students who pay by the week to miss lessons whenever they can’t afford it or don’t feel like it. Charge for 4-6 weeks of lessons at a time. But don’t go to the opposite extreme and ask for a term or semester’s worth of payment (though some teachers advise you to do that), you never know when things may happen to you or the student, plus many people, especially for families with more than one person taking lessons, don’t have a large amount of funds available for lessons.

Charge too little. Find out what the musician’s or music teacher’s association recommends charging for lessons (in most places it’s between $40-$60 an hour, and in cities that have a high cost of living, $75-$100/h is not unusual for a reasonably experienced teacher with a good track record) and go between 10% under the going rate (new inexperienced teachers only) to 25% above the going rate (for well established teachers producing a track record of students who do extremely well in auditions and competitions) Teachers in huge demand can go double the going rate or more.

Accept every student who comes asking for lessons, even though it may be tempting to do so. I once did a background check on a potential student several years ago, and the mother had been indicted for fraud. Especially turn down beginning students who want less than weekly lessons, or want a day and time that you have frequent performances or need to spend with family, for me, I haven’t taught on Sundays for years as I often have Sunday services to perform at, sometimes with a second performance late in the afternoon or early evening. In addition, with one exception, my Sunday students were usually my WORST students in terms of consistency of lessons and practice habits.


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  • 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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