Recently there has been an article circling around on the Internet, posted by a disgruntled mother, who complained about the high costs of enrolling a child in music lessons.
She states that the current going rate for a piano teacher is about $1 per minute, or $60/hr.
Loggers make on average $16.83/hr, Physicists in university settings $40.15, performing musicians and singers $31.13/hr.
She assumes that piano teachers are “out-of-work” musicians, who make more than professional performing musicians.
According to her calculations, if a piano teacher worked 40 hr per week, they would earn $120,000.00 yearly!
Furthermore, since most kids are not interested in lessons after a few months, why pay a teacher so much money to “identify a few notes and bang a few chords”?
Here’s why piano (and other qualified music) teachers deserve every penny.
1. The cultivation for a love of music is priceless.
Learning music is not, and should not be about grooming the student to be the next Glenn Gould, or Vladimir Horowitz, or Lang Lang. A tiny percentage of students go on to becoming great, professional musicians. Most students stop by the time they reach grade 8 piano, if not before due to increased homework and pressure to do well in school.
Were those piano lessons a waste of time and money?
Music appreciation is a result of understanding the culture and history of the arts. It is about humans experiencing and expressing their lives and we are immeasurably changed through learning about music. Music comforts and speaks what we cannot in words. It rejoices with us and wallows in misery with us. It is a spiritual experience. Music making and music enjoyment is part of our humanity, and no value can be placed on this.
This leads to my next point:
2. Music is a part of life
Exposure to music is unavoidable. The creation of music is a direct consequence of life events both personal and localized, and universal. As in life, we repeat many of the same actions daily (ex. Brushing teeth or cooking dinner), yet we need challenges and the unexpected to keep from feeling boredom. Music is also full of repetition and patterns, yet can surprise us with creativity. Music and life imitate each other. Furthermore, music is in such a deep place in our memories that simply hearing a particular song can trigger an elderly person with dementia and Alzheimer’s to remember and become temporarily lucid (thus the employment of music therapists at many senior care facilities). Music teachers expose students to different styles and genres of music, and teach the students to access their feelings, thoughts, and experiences to produce the desired musical effect. Learning how to creatively and constructively express ones emotions is a life skill that many adults are never taught.
3. Music teaching can only happen within a small timeframe of the day.
The author stated that if a piano teacher were able to teach 8 hrs a day, at $60/hr, they would make approximately $120,000.00/yr. Unfortunately, unless the music teacher can find enough adults or homeschooled kids, the average music teacher only teaches about 3-4 hours per weekday. Music lessons can only begin once the kids are finished school, and before bedtime (around 4-8pm).
More hours are available on the weekend, but this also means they do not get to easily go away for the weekend because they will lose the pay from their most full workday.
Most music teachers simply cannot acquire sufficient number of students, so they must rely on working for other music studios/businesses. As a result, they can teach more students, but only receive 35-50% of the lesson fees.
I currently teach 45 students, 3-8 hours per day. This is a full teaching schedule. But this averages to $15.93/hr if I were to work 8 hours per day, 5 days a week. And unless I acquire more adult students during the day, I simply don’t have time in my schedule to add more students. Many of us are advised, therefore, to take up other jobs on the side. But what company will hire you only to let you off before 3pm so you can get ready to teach for a few hours?
4. Music teachers don’t have job security
We don’t get paid for not working. That is to say, we don’t get vacation pay, maternity leave, or sick days. If a student doesn’t show up, we don’t get paid. Some studio policies state that they will charge students for not notifying the teacher within a certain timeframe (say 24hrs), or for going over more than 3 missed lessons. But most parents do not like to pay even if they know about the policy.
If we work during holidays (ex. Remembrance Day, Thanksgiving) we don’t get paid any different. We try our best not to get sick because although we can try to ask around for find a substitute teacher for the students, we don’t get any pay. We try not to take many breaks (for washroom, snacks etc.), even though most teaching happens over dinner time because we don’t get paid for breaks, and when the parent pays for the time, they expect the teacher to always be completely present.
5. Music lessons are rarely 1 hr.
It may seem like having 45 students is a lot. But nearly all my students have 30 min lessons. A few of the older students or those studying for theory exams have 45 min lessons. This means I teach on average 23-24 hours a week. But adding in driving time (I also teach in-home lessons), and that’s an extra 9-10 hours on the road per week.
So I get paid for 23-24 hours by working 32-34 hours. And this is not even taking into account all the extra prep work teachers do before the lesson. We research pieces, analyze and listen to them, practice them so we become proficient at them, mark theory homework, make up games and buy/create our own materials for those games, plan the students’ goals and skills we want them to learn for the lesson, organize recitals and musical events, look up and acquire popular pieces that students are interested in learning, and make sure out studios are stocked with art supplies. We attend workshops and seminars and conferences to learn about the newest teaching materials and to network with other music teachers. We consult other teachers when we come across a piece we have not taught before, or teach a challenging student and need some other ideas on how to teach him/her. And on top of that, when we have students who are about to write or play at an exam or competition, we must be able juggle our scheduled to offer extra lessons in case they need it. I have even opened my house up to a student so that he could practice on an acoustic piano (he only had a small digital piano at home that was unreliable).
So yes, we teachers do work approximately 40 hours a week. But we only get paid for about half of that time.
And there you have it! Teaching music is a complex and long process, that requires strong cooperation among the teacher, student and parent. But learning music develops the student into a more learned, cultured, human. Teachers try their best to encourage student progress and learning but must take it upon themselves to acquire the knowledge and creativity and materials to achieve that. We teach music because we are passionate about it and the reward for us is seeing a student light up when they finally “get” something or when they get excited about music. In the end, it’s all worth it.