why I don't teach private lessons

One question I get all the time is whether I teach private piano lessons. I still have one kid in elementary school, so there are plenty of parents of young children who, once they find out that I'm a professional musician, ask whether I'm taking students. 

The answer, alas, is no. I do have a list of about a half dozen teachers in the area that I give to anyone who is looking for a teacher. These are people I know personally, either from my days in grad school, or from the short time I was a member of the piano teachers' organization, or various other connections in town. 

In a way, it's killing me because given the number of inquiries I get, I could probably have a full studio in a few months' time. Also, I love teaching and I'm good at it and I have a bona fide graduate degree in piano pedagogy and a bunch of experience so I'm not just shooting from the hip here.

I have my reasons, though, and I thought I'd articulate them here.

  1. Scheduling. Unless I worked exclusively with the home-school/unschool community, prime teaching hours are from 3-8pm on weekdays. Those hours are, of course, when I need to be generally available for my family to do things like run kids to and fro and make dinner. It just doesn't work.
  2. Space. I live in a small house with a little upright piano in the living room. While this is fine for my own practice time and occasional rehearsals with high school kids, it's totally inadequate as a teaching space. To teach at home, I would really need a separate studio with a baby grand piano. And just where would I be getting the money for that? The piles of cash I make as a freelancer? LMAO.
  3. Pay. You might suggest that I look into teaching out of a larger studio in town. Those places take so much overhead for commercial leasing and administrative fees that the pay really isn't worth it, unfortunately. I have a good friend from grad school who owns a local studio. She told me I could work there any time I want, but even though she pays as well as she can, it's still only half the hourly rate of what my colleagues who teach out of their homes can charge. It's just not worth it, especially when it would suck up all of my evening time (see #1).
  4. Competition with sports. Often, kids who excel in music, or whose parents insist that they take music lessons, also play competitive team sports. In a busy season, guess what gets priority? Regular piano practice or soccer games? Hint: it's almost always the latter. The last piano student I had canceled more than half her lessons during soccer season, and the lessons she did have weren't so much piano instruction as teen therapy. 
  5. Competition with other instruments. Piano study is on the decline nationwide. I've heard this from several people in several states. Fewer students entering college are choosing to major in piano performance (not just because of dwindling job prospects, as historically these kids would often double major in pre-med or something similarly aimed at high-paying careers), and in general fewer kids are studying piano at the pre-college level. Piano can be an isolating experience, and I suppose talented young people who are also busy with sports and academics, when pressed to choose an instrument, will choose to be social, and join an ensemble such as a youth orchestra or concert band. I can't say I blame them (even though I still think piano is the best.)
  6. Competition with academics. For high achieving students, school is much more rigorous these days than when I was in high school. I work with HS kids all the time for spring contests and auditions, and these kids are loaded down with AP and honors classes that are pretty demanding academically. They don't have enough time to get a proper night's sleep, much less practice. 
  7. Equity. I'm increasingly less comfortable with the idea of teaching private lessons, knowing that the opportunity to study music privately is only available to those who can pay for it and whose parents are even aware that music study is important. Some teachers in town take students on scholarship, but they tend to be exceptionally talented. What about all the rest who would almost certainly benefit from the opportunity to take lessons, but who aren't all little Mozarts? I know I can't really change this reality, but I'm not sure how fully I can participate in a system that is so dependent on privilege. If I could somehow do teaching and coaching in the schools, where any kid could have the opportunity, I'd be all over it. But the day public schools have enough room in their budget to provide individual instruction to interested music students will be the day hell freezes over and Donald Trump learns the meaning of humility and grace. (Ain't gonna happen).
So there you have it. The reasons I don't teach private lessons.


Popular Posts