PopRock Blog

The Real cost of Piano Lessons

By Paul Kwo

Recently I came across one of the most ignorant articles on piano teachers and suggesting that there's no reason to pay piano teachers $60 an hour. Here's the link to the original article if you are interested. http://parentingsquad.com/the-high-cost-of-music. [UPDATED: Feb. 4, 2014. The article has now been taken down. Hopefully for good.] Normally I see an article that I don't agree with I just kind of ignore it, cause there's a lot of people out there that are just silly and clueless. But this one hit a bad nerve on me. So I just had to respond to this. I emailed both the website and the author on how completely ignorant that post is.

Here's my main problem with the whole article. It's comparing the rate a person pays a piano teacher (pre-expenses) to the rate a physicist or hospital psychologist makes (post-expenses). And even worse is that the author uses the US department of Labor stats for the other occupations and fails to use their number for music teachers. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251121.htm The actual number for music teachers who do not teach at a accredited school or University is $57,240. If she's going to use those numbers on the labor board, she should do her complete homework.

So the real thing is we study music and we teach music because we love music. We didn't start this journey to make a ton of money. We didn't go into this thinking teaching piano will make us millionaires. The fact is we just want to do this cause we want to spread the joy of music. That's all there is to this. It saddens me to see how some people think we are out there to steal them of their hard earned money when in fact we are barely surviving. We love what we do and we just want to spread the joy of this love.

But here's a breakdown on what that author doesn't know about piano teachers in case if you are interested.

The author suggests that piano teachers make $120,000 for a 40 hours work week charging $60 per hour. Here's the reality of it:

Most schools get out at 3pm ish. Most piano teachers (or any other private music teachers) can't start teaching until 3:30pm in the afternoon. There are no clients available in general before 3:30pm for the most part. Most piano students are between the age of 5 and 17. And so at the latest, piano teachers may be able to teach till 8:30pm. That's if they are REALLY REALLY lucky to find students who will come in at 7:30pm. Even that's hard. But I will give that to Lain. So that's 5 hours a day on week days that they can work. Making it a total of 25 hours a week. But that's ONLY if they literally have a back to back studio that can be maxed out. And I know most teachers can't do that. People's schedules don't always work out. Usually you take out about 30 minutes from each day to compensate. So that's 2.5 to 3 hours gone. We are looking at around 22 hours of weekday teaching if the teacher is really popular, established and has a full studio. Then on Saturday, they can teach around 8 hours, 9am to 5pm with an hour break in the middle. So that's a total of 30 hours of maximum teaching hours for a teacher. Which is about right based on what I know from all my friends who are ACTUALLY piano or music teachers like me.

Bear in mind that doesn't mean a teacher doesn't work for 40 hours a week. The other 10 hours go towards studio maintenance, administrative work (scheduling, rescheduling, calling new clients, preparing for events such as recitals, running recitals and other events, continual training, networking, marketing etc.) They all add up. A teacher can easily work over 40 hours a week but only gets paid for 30 hours.

So what does this mean? It means the GROSS, not NET income for a piano teacher is $93,600 a year for a 52 weeks cycle. Of course teachers can't work 52 weeks a year. We have to take some sort of vacations too cause we are human and we deserve some time off every now and then. So let's just go with a 2 weeks vacation a year cause we are just that dedicated. $90,000 a year of GROSS income.

Now comes the FUN part:

Piano teachers who run their own studios are a business, and with every business there IS a cost. Piano teachers doesn't get to keep every penny that comes in. Lain apparently thinks that piano teachers are the exception to the rule.


Yes there is rent. Just because a teacher teaches from their home doesn't mean there's no rent. If a teacher doesn't have to teach at home, they can rent a smaller space, or an apartment instead of a house, or something that's cheaper and doesn't have to be in that better part of town because they know some students wouldn't come to them if they were there. So YES there is a COST! So let's even be conservative about this. The cheapest rental I can find in my area of town (which $60 to $65 per hour for piano lessons is about the going rate) is around $1000. I know there's no way I could have my piano studio at that kind of a place. I would have to rent at least a $1800 place in order to house my grand piano and attract enough students to have full 30 students studio studio. So that extra $800 a month is really attributed to my work. And in actuality I pay way more than that cause I have a commercial location for my piano studio. But I am going to go with that amount just to help Lain in her argument. That basically comes out to $9,600 of money I have to spend to be a teacher. So that brings down the NET to $80,400.


Most beginning piano teacher doesn't do it, but a full time teacher with 30 students will most likely take some sort of insurance policy to protect themselves from the enormous amount of students coming out. That comes out to around $1000 to $2000 of insurance total a year depending on the policy. But we can go with the more conservative side and say $1000 a year. Now we are at $79,400.


Speaking of insurance, guess what, unlike a physicist who enjoys the University providing a wonderful coverage of health benefits, a piano teacher gets to pay their own bills in its entirety. So we are looking at $100 to $500 a month. Let's meet in the middle and say $200 a month. That's a $2400 bill that a physicist with a lovely health benefit package from their research facility or a hospital psychologist which a full medical coverage program at their work doesn't have to pay, or pay very little out of pocket. But I will add some out of pock cost so the company only pays half of it. $1200. So now we are at $78,200.


Phone bill $40/month. Piano tuning $100 a quarter. Books and teaching material $500 a year. Office supplies $200 a year. Just off the top of my head that's $1500. I'm sure I've missed other things here and there. But now we are down to $76,700


A good teacher continues to get training. Take a master class with a master visiting town. Join the music teacher association. Do a teaching workshop. Learn some new marketing technique. So on and so forth. But fine, I will give it to you that everyone trains, so we won't even count this amount. $76,700


Recitals doesn't just happen. There's rental involved. You might get lucky and find a free place. But chances are a teacher has to pay a few hundred for each recital. That's $500 to $1000 a year depending on what they end up finding. Not to mention they don't get paid for the event. Let's just go with $700. $76,000


Piano studios are a business. And it's an easy target for IRS. So having a good CPA, not the one at your local H&R block, is important. A good one for a business can run $1000 to $2000 a year at tax season. Fine Most people spend $200 for tax purposes. So we will use the lower rate and take out the $200 that you normally would spend. $800. So now we are at $75,200

Yes teachers get a lot of students through referrals. But that doesn't mean they don't need to go and do some advertisements still. Most teachers who do have a 30+ studio have done some sort of ads on some level and networking etc. Around $1k a year. That's $74,200


$74,200 is on the really conservative budget of a teacher who happened to be able to find all those students without having to spend a whole lot and finding the perfect insurance policy etc. But that's never the case. The more realistic number is $65,000 for a full time teacher with 30 hour of lessons a week. You may not be charging everyone at $60/hour. But whatever. We will keep the original rate. Now keep this in mind also, this $74,200 still is before tax, EMPLOYER, not EMPLOYEE. The teacher has to pay BOTH employer and employee portion of the tax. That's an extra $6k to $10k the teacher gets to pay that your University physicist or Hospital Psychologist doesn't have to. That brings down the number to $65k. So a REALLY SUCCESSFUL piano teacher who has a big studio can make this money and they are really is making $32.50 an hour before employee tax.

But here's EVEN MORE.

A piano teacher has to BUY a piano ($3000 to $20,000+) depending. If they are charging $60 per hour, chances are their piano is in the $10k range. Then they have to make sure their studio space is presentable (any necessary remodeling) so parents will feel comfortable to send their kid there. A physicist just shows up to their work.

So the author is completely out of place comparing a private piano teacher with people who work for a company. The $60 per hour cost covers the teacher's time as well as the operation cost, similar to a physician who runs their own practice. If a psychologist run their own practice, I can guarantee you that their rate isn't going to be the $46.12 per hour cost. The last time I checked if I had to book an appointment with a psychologist, it sure isn't that rate. It's in the hundreds.

So before you post an article wondering why piano teachers are being paid $1 a minute, as you walk your child up the mile long marble pathway in front of your piano teacher's home to your child's next lesson, and preach some misconstrued idea of how a piano studio work, at the expense of all the multi-millionaire piano teachers out there...oh wait...THERE AREN'T MANY OF THOSE OUT THERE...I rest my case.

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