Why Give Piano Lessons?
For those of you who have children, the reason to give your child piano lessons is quite obvious. To better their future, of course! While music may not be a lucrative career for everyone, it will provide more opportunities to make friends. It will give your teenagers something to do in their free time. Music can also be used more creatively. When I was 15 or 16, my sister and I got into writing parodies. She would write the words, and I would provide the music. We used parodies for everything from memorizing information to selling 4-H cattle to giving reports in college. Later on, I played in several bands and doors opened in that way. I actually met my husband through a music group I was involved in. !!!
Free pianos are everywhere, if you are willing to move them. This is a good deal, financially speaking, except that acoustic pianos (the kind you don't plug in) will require tuning once a year, more or less, for a cost of $75.00-$150.00 depending on your area. It might be more frugal to buy a $50.00 used keyboard for your beginning students, and maybe upgrade to the real thing if they still show interest in a few years.
For those of you who don't have children, but still have some musical ability, giving lessons will allow you to pass on your love for music, and make a few bucks on the side. To be honest, giving beginner lessons is quite easy for the money you make. In our area, you could make $20.00-$30.00 per hour giving beginner lessons, without any sort of degree or training. If you don't have a nice piano at home, you can always do lessons at the student's home, using their instrument.
Understand What Motivates Students (and Parents)
When you are giving piano lessons, it's important to realize that you are in the motivation business, not necessarily the teaching business. Of course you will do some teaching sometimes, but the lesson book will do most of the actual teaching. You are there to reinforce the teaching, answer questions, and provide motivation and encouragement for the student. Different aged students require different forms of motivation:
1. Young Beginners (ages 3-8): teaching young beginners will be a slow process. Unless you are working with a prodigy, this is the hardest age group to teach. You will spend the lesson trying to 1) keep their attention, 2) entertain them, and 3) reinforce whatever you taught them last week. I try to keep lessons very short for this age group- 10-20 minutes- because they have a short attention span. If the parent insists on more time, you can fill it up with games or fun things. It is really useless to try and have a five-year-old sight read for 20 minutes straight.
Most children are coming to lessons because their parent made them or convinced them to. This makes it harder because you have to please the child by making the lesson fun, but you also have to please the parent with decent progress in learning. Sometimes parents don't understand that you can't force a child to learn, but even if your student is not learning as much as Mom would like, she will probably not make him quit (or change teachers) if he enjoys coming to see you every week. So you need to focus on pleasing the child first.
2. Older Beginners (ages 8-13): this age group is easier to teach because they will pick up musical concepts quicker and be more apt to practice. However, like the younger group, their motivation is not necessarily to get better at their instrument. Some good motivators for this group are 1) competition and 2) prizes. Though a 10-year-old may feel good after completing a piece, adding a real tangible reward will help reinforce that feeling of accomplishment.
3. Teenagers: I would say that teenagers are the easiest group of beginner students. They understand rhythm, harmony, melody, and note reading very easy. Oftentimes they have their own motivations for taking the lesson (especially if they are paying for it themselves) which include 1) learning a new skill, 2) being able to play with their peers, or 3) impressing the opposite sex. Number three is a real motivator for boys, especially. A teenager should not really need a prize after finishing the piece, because that will be reward enough in itself. It is a good idea to let teenagers pick their own song. If they need help deciding, suggest a piece from their favorite movie. What is cooler than playing a song that all of your friends can recognize?
Tips & Resources
Below are some things I have been using to help motivate my students, and some things I've done to keep them on track.
1. Play a new piece every week. Sometimes a student doesn't practice at all and really needs to do the piece two weeks in a row, but try hard to get them on a new piece every week. I can remember as a student being very bored and discouraged playing the same piece week after week.
If the piece is too big for your student to play well in one week, you can 1) break the piece into lines or pages, or 2) lower your standards of completion. Try to focus on one element of a song (rhythm, correct notes, dynamics, etc.) instead of insisting that everything be perfect. Remember, the five-year-old can't even comprehend what a perfect piece is, let alone perform one.
If you want your students to learn how to sight read well, it is very important that they play a new piece every week, regardless of how well they played it. The point is quantity, not quality.
2. Have a game at the end of the lesson. There are a million gazillion music games out there for free on the internet. Sometimes I feel cheated because, as a student, I NEVER had games during my lessons. Some of the games I've picked for my students are "the high/low game" (i.e. aural training) where they close their eyes and guess if a note I played is higher or lower than the first; flash cards; matching printed keyboard sections to the piano keys, sight-reading crossword puzzles, and note-matching games. Like I said, there are a million out there. Find an area your student needs to work on, and then find a game that fits.
3. Have a "prize box". This is just a small plastic crate full of odds and ends that I picked up at the Dollar Tree or garage sales. Fake jewelry, stickers, notebooks, candy, or whatever else I think will be interesting to my students. At first, I would randomly have "prize box day" every other month or so. On prize box day, the students got a prize for how many songs they could play me, how many flashcards they could memorize, etc. Now I have a sticker chart, and when they reach a certain amount of stickers, they get a prize. This works better because it keeps them motivated every week (getting to put a sticker on their chart after every task) and still keeps the prize box idea going.
Getting prizes and stickers and a new song every week will help keep your student interested, which is really the most important thing when you are teaching someone under 10 years old. If you are looking to make money, young beginner students are the easiest to get because every parent wants little Johny or Sally to take music lessons. Therefore, knowing how to motivate young children is essential. A slow, but excited learner is better than an overwhelmed learner who quits altogether.
Starting a Music Studio
If you are thinking about giving lessons to earn money, there are some things you need to decide. I am not a "kid person", so I have chosen to keep my student number relatively low. I don't give lessons to kids that I know will misbehave or be difficult. Life is too short to dread giving a music lesson every week, even for $30.00 an hour. So...
1. Select your students carefully. Don't forget that when you select a student, you are also selecting a parent. Your student may be brilliant, but if they are late every week or don't pay, that can become an issue. And the issue is probably with the parent, not the child.
2. Set a price. As a student, I remember paying between $12.00 and $15.00 for a half hour lesson. As a teacher, I would decide a price based on what people are willing to pay and how bad you want the client. I would rather give a $5.00 lesson to a good student than a $15.00 lesson to a bad one.
3. Decide if you host lessons at your home or do house calls. I figure that if someone wants lessons bad enough, they will be able to come to my house. It is less time and gas money for me that way. Plus the students will be less distracted and better behaved.
4. Invest back into your students. I like to take a portion of my earnings and buy nice things for the prize box and/or make up birthday gifts. If you see a piece of music that you think your student would like, buy that as a gift. $60.00 per month for one or two students is a lot of money. Don't you think $5.00 spent on prizes every month would be worth keeping your clientele? I certainly think so.
Most of the information I shared today was gleaned or pilfered from other fantastic resources. Isn't it a beautiful thing that work has been done for you? Here are some ideas:
Teach Piano Today Podcast
Color In My Piano (fun worksheets and games) colorinmypiano.com/printables/?dl_cat=4
Hoffman Academy (free online piano lessons)
Good luck and happy teaching!