What Does a Piano Lesson Cost?

what does a piano lesson cost?

Signing up for piano lessons means committing to practice, attending lessons and paying the fees on a regular basis. What should your budget be expecting to include when you sign up your child (or yourself) for piano lessons?

In some parts of the world there are music teacher organisations which provide recommended minimum rates for their (qualified and experienced) members to be charging, but no matter where in the world you are you will find a massive range of prices being charged for a piano lesson. Why?

Education and Qualification: Some teachers have spent many years studying music at a university level and have multiple degrees and diplomas in performance, piano teaching and music theory, even composition and musicology. Other teachers have never taken any kind of study toward a diploma, degree or qualification, not even a piano exam… Some teachers engage in ongoing professional development every year (attending conferences, taking courses, engaging in research) while others don’t ever bother with professional development at all.

Performance experience: Some teachers have extensive concert-giving experience, including participating in the world’s highest profile piano competitions in their late teens and twenties and performing concertos with leading orchestras and conductors. Others have extensive experience as collaborative pianists (what we used to call “accompanying”, a field that until very recently had no substantial competition track). Others have experience performing as pianists in other settings, such as providing background music in restaurants or shops, being a keyboardist in a band, or playing for church services and other religious events. And then there are teachers who never really performed much at all in any context…

Teaching Experience: Some teachers have taught hundreds of students and given over fifty thousand piano lessons. Other teachers have only had two or three students before and only given twenty lessons so far.

Geography and Local Cost of Living: Where lessons are offered can make a big difference in the price paid. As is the case with real estate, lessons in the big cities are often substantially more expensive than lessons in the country. Fees are charged in the context of the local, not national, economy. Teachers live in the local economy, and so do their families.

Demographics: Are there a lot of children in the neighbourhood? Is the local adult population demographically likely to want to take piano lessons? Do the local communities value the piano as a musical instrument of choice? These demographics have a substantial impact on demand for lessons.

Cross-subsidisation of the business: Many piano teachers don’t factor in the true cost of delivering lessons when they calculate their fees; piano teachers often have no training in or native capacity for business. The price of the lesson needs to cover ALL the costs of providing the service, but often the costs are covered under the family budget instead and this results in the service being able to be provided for less than {cost + labour}. Other teachers calculate fees factoring in the full impact of costs.

What fees cost last year: Teachers are loathe to raise fees by too much in a single year, so often the fees a teacher charges this year are largely determined by what they charged last year + 2-3%, or + $1, or maybe with no increase at all. On the other hand, if a teacher hasn’t raised their rates in a very long time they might realise they need a big jump to keep the business operational.

Reputation/Word of Mouth: Teachers who are highly recommended by the families they teach very quickly fill up with students. Teachers who are so busy they can’t fit in all their prospective students are under no pressure to not raise their fees. Teachers who struggle to attract students, on the other hand, may feel pressure to keep their rates steady or even lower them.

Piano lessons are very different to other kinds of consumer services in that they consist of a long-term relationship where the teacher is planning a learning sequence over a number of years, responding to the individual needs and interests of the student as those needs and interests appear. The lesson involves the development of physical skills, listening skills, analytical skills, story-telling, reading, writing, organising, planning and performance skills, with lashings of emotional IQ development thrown in on the side. Choosing one teacher from another isn’t as simple as selecting the brand of toothpaste you use or a restaurant for a meal, and it’s nothing at all like buying a new pair of shoes.

In a way, the price is one of the least important considerations in choosing a teacher, except for the purpose of being able to budget – you want to know what to expect.

So how much does a piano lesson cost in 2014?

In the United Kingdom the Musician’s Union recommends a minimum hourly rate of £31, while in Australia the various state Music Teacher Associations recommend rates between $A60 and $A78 an hour. In both these countries you can find lessons for less than these amounts (take it as a sign that the teacher has no qualifications and/or limited experience), and you can find lessons for a lot more (take it as a sign that the teacher has qualifications, experience, reputation, and possibly a waiting list, and doesn’t mind earning more!).

But in the United States there are no associations permitted to recommend minimum rates, thanks to a local quirk of the  the US Federal Trade Commission. So I’ve done a bit of a search, and am in the process of collating data from all over the USA, rural counties, major metropolises, north, south, mid-west and coastal…

Roughly speaking, in cities like New York and San Francisco you will be looking at rates starting around the $100 mark and quickly heading north, if you are wanting to learn from someone with qualifications, experience, and great word of mouth, and there’ll certainly be a premium attached to that figure if you want lessons in your own home. Utah seems to be the state most notorious for insanely cheap piano lessons (think $10-15 an hour) from people who really can’t play that well themselves and have absolutely no training (no offence intended, Utah!). But in most places you will find that lessons cost somewhere between $40 and $75 an hour for a well-qualified teacher who knows what they are doing and has a track record to prove it. It’s important to note that in the US different state-based taxation regimes can create hugely differing conditions for running a business – so comparing these prices as a guide to the piano teacher’s take-home pay would be a mistake!

A follow-up post (coming very soon!) will detail the mosaic of pricing that is the state of piano teaching in the US.

If you’re a piano teacher from anywhere in the world and interested in sharing data from your local area please feel free to contact me via my facebook profile (I’m the only Elissa Milne there, and my profile is public). There’s a huge value in sharing information about ourselves with our colleagues and with the public, and I’m delighted to facilitate a little of that exchange!

23 thoughts on “What Does a Piano Lesson Cost?

  1. Hi Elissa,

    Thanks for your post! It’s amazing how you’re doing all this research. It’s fascinating to learn about the figures, and to put into consideration ALL the factors you listed.

    Whilst my general rates are within the recommended range you listed, I admit that I do give in when I see a student who’s very eager to learn, but explains to me about my fees being unsustainable.

    Recently I did this for a young adult female student, and charged her 33% less than my general rate because she was very keen to learn, but found my original rate unsustainable. Would love to hear your thoughts (and other teachers) about how you might handle a case like this.

    Thank you for this post!

    Sandra

  2. Yes, you are spot on with Utah! I’m one of those pesky no-experience, non-performing, not-educated (in music) piano teachers. Sorry! There are lots of qualified teachers as well, though.

  3. Thank you Elissa for doing this!
    I do have to mention that I suspect that one of the reason Utah seems to have an abundance of less-prepared teachers in the field is simple economics (supply and demand); my understanding is that there is a huge demand for piano lessons in Utah from all socioeconomic levels and that many of those families aren’t so interested in helping their children become great pianists as they are in having their children play proficiently enough to play for church services. My guess is that the increased student-to-credentialed-teacher ratio combined with many families’ lack of desire for a ‘top-quality’ teacher creates openings for teachers of all sorts to fill the need. Why should the grocery store cashier find enough extra in their budget to pay a teacher $70 an hour if they are satisfied with the progress their children are making with the teenager down the street at $15? I believe that if other areas of the States had a similar culture of expecting nearly all children to take piano lessons we would see similar patterns elsewhere. I don’t know if that’s good or bad; I’m in favor of increasing access to music education everywhere, but I also recognize the problems that are more likely to occur in students of unprepared teachers.
    It would be interesting to see if the credentialed, experienced teachers in Utah are adversely or positively affected by the glut of low-cost teachers. I could see it going either way – and I would assume that one bonus of being a higher-rate teacher in a market inundated by low-rate ones would be that the students you did have would be more likely to be committed than that those you might attract in a different area.

    • This has been my experience living (and being raised) in Utah. I wonder, too, how all these “neighborhood” piano teachers affect the credentialed teachers. I am already frustrated by the lack of commitment that the students and parents have, and I’ve just begun teaching.

      • The age of the electronic devices has made attention spans even shorter. At the onset the student, parent (if applicable) have to understand that learning any musical instrument is like learning a language. It takes time and practice. Also, one never “arrives” in studying piano. There is always more to learn! I love it when the student is absolutely HUNGRY for more. Unfortunately these are few and far between. Best wishes and happy playing! ♫

  4. These vast variations in price must happen everywhere we are unfortunately working in an unregulated profession unlike doctors who have to qualified anyone can just decide to be a piano teacher with no training of any type and parents wanting their child to learn piano often choose the teacher by price I charge $82 per hour in Brisbane Australia but just had a parent pull their children out from my lessons after 4 successful years of lessons and first class honours in all their exams to now learn from their unqualified inexperienced 17 years old cousin This is the industry we work in. I have 7 qualifications and 35 years experience and a waiting list so students pulling out is not a problem Very interesting reading your information Elissa.

  5. An interesting article about the rates for piano lessons offered across different places. This is often a touchy subject and I agree with all the factors that you have listed in terms of what determines the price. However, I think people need to also be careful about how you interpret your results since you are only collecting data in a non-systematic manner (facebook) and it’s not a representative sample of teachers in that area. You are getting a select few of teachers who have facebook accounts and wish to share their data with you which can also represent outliers (it’s very biased sample!!!) I would definitely include a disclaimer in your results because it lacks a large degree of rigour in terms of your methodology.

    • Viny, thank you so much for sharing your concerns!

      You might want to save your worries until you see how the data is finally presented, however. 🙂 There are all kinds of ways that data can be collected, selected, compiled and represented. People with training in collecting and reporting on data have a better chance of knowing what they are doing, and it’s sounds to me as if you have scant hope that I’m one of those people. 🙂

      Self-reporting can present problems where bias is not possible to tease out from the results. In this case teachers are reporting their local area, a range of rates attached to qualifications, experience and demographic. Each of these pieces of data is 100% valid in and of themselves (these are the prices of lessons under these conditions in these locations by these teachers), but even more valuable is having sufficient inputs for each geographical area to represent the higher and lower ends of the pricing spectrum. Because a community cannot sustain more than a handful of piano teachers it is quite possible to obtain statistically significant data through a general call-out for self-reported rates, if sufficient responses are received.

      In addition, I’ve been supplied with some great data from researchers who’ve explored this same topic in specific parts of the US.

      Please rest assured that your assumptions about the validity of the data, its collection and reporting, are unfounded!

  6. Here in NM (USA, so US$) I’ve seen rates as low at $5/lesson (a generous woman who couldn’t afford lessons as a child and wants to give back) and as high as $60/hour (a woman with a doctorate in piano pedagogy who rents studio space). I charge $35/hr, don’t have a music degree, played in bands (jazz, rock, blues), churches, and as an accompanist for 20+ years (including college), and teach out of my home. I also have a good “day job,” so “music teacher” is not my primary means of support. As you indicate, there are a lot of variables, but the ones that seem to matter most are geography and parental expectations–the folks who want their little Johnny or Jane to graduate from Berklee will probably shell out more for the degree-holding teacher than the parents (I dare say most of the parents) who just want their kid to be a well-rounded individual who appreciates music. Good luck with your survey!

  7. Surveys on business practices in piano teaching are valuable. Very glad you’re undertaking this project, Elissa! In Arkansas, I’ve conducted a survey on business & pedagogic practices in piano teaching at a 10 year interval (first in 1998, then in 2008). In 1998 it was labor-intensive. Postage, photocopies, envelopes, and then tabulating results in an Excel spreadsheet. In 2008, with the aid of SurveyMonkey, it was simpler to administer and summarize, all online. As a member of the Arkansas State Music Teachers Association, I was able to share the results with colleagues, and with students in my piano pedagogy class at the U of Arkansas at Little Rock. And now, Elissa is able to reach out globally via her blog! This is just tremendous!

    If any of you are interested in conducting a survey of piano teachers in your community, you may find it helpful to use this template by Beth Gigante Klingenstein, from her book The Independent Piano Teacher’s Studio Handbook. http://snipurl.com/29j3vbp I’ve found with surveys I’ve done, that as long as I ensure the anonymity of the respondents, and design the survey so that it doesn’t take too long to complete, rate of response is good. The benefits to the piano teaching community are considerable. It’s easier to make informed decisions about financial matters when you know the range of fees common in your area, and the average fee. (My motivation in 1998 was wanting to equip my students, so that after graduation, they wouldn’t have to “invent the wheel” about financial matters as new piano teachers.)

    Looking forward to seeing the momentum build!

  8. Great work Elissa – I’ll be really interested to read your conclusions 🙂

    It sounds like it’s as much about location as qualification, at least in the US. Seems like perhaps it’s a bit more generic in Aus…

    • I have a theory developing, in fact, and while city versus rural areas is always going to be the single biggest decider in the price the same person chooses to charge as they move from one place to another, I do think there some interesting patterns in the way piano teachers price their lessons… More to come!!

  9. Elissa, Nice post …

    Utah’s one of the larger and least populated states in the US. It’s not known as a state with a surplus of fabulous music schools (like New York State or California). And while some of the universities there have great music programs they’re not competing with schools in New York or California. So in terms of low rates for lessons it’s a state that brings averages down so to speak but it doesn’t indicate anything in of itself.

    To bring another aspect of teaching into the the discussion I teach on Skype to students who are mostly around the world. My speciality is jazz and improvisation–students usually come to me specifically for those things. So maybe that’s piece that’s potentially interesting in the discussion.

  10. Hi Elissa,
    thanks for your response. I’m still unclear about your methodology and would like to see this reported when you publish your results. It sounds like you will be using self-reported data from teachers that volunteer to provide you a range of rates across their geographic area. What happens if you have two teachers from the same area providing very different ranges that don’t overlap? How are you going to decide which one takes precedence? Also, how are selecting which teacher you will collect data from? Do you have any criteria or are you just taking whoever volunteers? Sorry for all the questions, but this might be more clear when you publish your results.

    • These seem like appropriate questions for a post where data is reported and you are dissatisfied with the manner of reporting or with the methodology.

      This post is about the factors that are involved in establishing a price, with a cursory glance at recommended rates in the UK and Australia, along with a preliminary overview of price points in selected demographics in the US.

  11. Very insightful post, Elissa. I’ve just bought my kid a Piano, and have no idea how much will weekly Piano lessons cost. I’m looking for a private tutorial who can probably teach about an hour each Sunday. Do you know any online site or service that can help me find a good tutor in my area?

    • Dan – find the local Music Teachers Association for your area. These associations usually list their members – their qualifications, experience, where they teach and how to contact them. This would be where I would start.

      These associations (outside of the US!) usually have recommended minimum rates for qualified members to be charging in that geographical/economic area, so that will give you a rough idea of what to expect if you are working with a good teacher where you live.

      If your schedule is so tight that lessons MUST be on a specific day you might need to go on a waiting list to get in with the teacher you want, or you might need to travel a little further to connect with someone whose schedule availability matches yours.

      All the best with your future piano parent experiences!

  12. I am coming late to the party, but I wanted to address the question posed by Rebecca: does the large number of piano teachers in UT with low qualifications who charge much less per hour affect teachers with higher qualifications? In my experience, not at all.

    I was happy at 22 students last year and this spring and summer my studio has grown to 40 students with a waiting list. I did no advertising and didn’t plan to take any more students at all, but have had an enormous jump in interest. I have 2 degrees in piano performance and pedagogy and nearly 25 years of teaching experience and charge between $60-70 (US). My new students have consistently been willing to pay my rate without complaint and have given me great feedback about how much they are enjoying learning in my studio. And as Rebecca guessed, I have more dedicated and committed families than I ever have before. By making the choice to come to a more established studio, they are choosing a higher level of commitment and it is so much fun for me! I am having a wonderful time.

  13. Great article! I’m trying to find the “follow-up” article that you mentioned at the end of this post. Can you send me a link?

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