Surviving the summer

Connie Sunday said: Apr 5, 2006
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Good morning:

I was talking to a young friend of mine who is a teacher, about her financial concerns, which seem to be a troubling issue this time of year. I hesitated to give her advice, since who wants to hear advice? :)

But I think that the summer months do present difficulties for private teachers: I usually lose about 1/3 of my students, some all summer, and some for one or even two months while they travel to China or India or wherever. In my experience, I think this is a problem most teachers face. I try to counter this difficulty by offering special programs in the summer, theory and chamber music, maybe some discounts for violins for families.

In general, I think it can be said that private music teaching is a genteel sort of occupation and a lot of times, teachers are not thinking like business people, which in fact they are. To succeed at this, we sometimes need to be a bit more business minded, agressive, and planning-oriented. We have to value ourselves and do some long term planning, especially in regard to finances and practice space.

For the spiritually minded, I think of Luke 10:7 about a workman being worthy of his hire. We train for years and deserve to be reasonably compensated for our labors.

Curious to know how other teachers handle the summer months, or if you have difficulties during this time?

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

Diana said: Apr 5, 2006
Diana Umile
Suzuki Association Member
Coatesville, PA
36 posts

This is a good topic for a thread. I have problems making enough income in the summer also. Last year I handed out a notice that said that I would like students to take at least 4 lessons during the summer. I outlined how this would benefit them, more time to practice, not getting rusty, not having to re-learn stuff in the fall, making faster progress, etc. Most of them continued thru the summer at least somewhat. This year I plan to offer summer camps as well. I’d like to get some ideas from other teachers as to how to run the camps—financially, scheduling, activities, etc.

Connie Sunday said: Apr 5, 2006
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts


This is a good topic for a thread.

Thanks! :D

I have a bad habit of cross-posting, and since I thought this was timely and important, I posted to ProViolin, suzukichat, suzukiUSA, string_teacher_support and piano_teacher_support. Should be some useful responses. (see for links to these lists)

Note that this is a free GeoCities page, so if it gets too many hits (as of this moment it has), it will close down temporarily. I apologize for that. Just try back in 10 minutes or so, and it should be back up.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

said: Apr 5, 2006
 44 posts

Our violin teacher has a contract for the academic year which includes 2 14 week semesters and 6 summer lessons. We can pay for the entire year, in2 payments, or 6 payments. The last payment of the 6 payment plan is in April. Therefore, by April I have already paid for all the summer lessons. He is very flexible about summer scheduling. As a parent, paying in advance certainly makes me vigilant about making sure we are at all the lessons!
Our piano teacher always has a “theory camp” in the summer. This has been very popular. It is based on tthe Theory Time books and alot of the kids can get an entire book done in one week. (The camps are 3 hours/day for one week.) On another note, this teacher always distributes her teaching schedule with students’ names, phone numbers, and emails. If we need to change a lesson, we call the person we would like to switch with ourselves. She does not have to get involved at all. She always has a couple of empty slots you can request on a first-come basis. I think this works really well.

Connie Sunday said: Apr 6, 2006
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Your response is one of the two primarily responses which resulted in a couple of good recommendations to solve this issue. One is to save the monies you make during the nine month larghess, and budget yourself carefully. A second idea is to charge by the term, based on a year of study.

If you live in a well-heeled community where students are able to come up with a large chunk of cash, several times a year, you could charge by the term. But it’s not universally workable. (Though setting aside money for yourself, from the nine month larghess, is, though it may be an exercise in extreme self-discipline.)

In my community we have a lot of minority students, and families struggle from month to month to stay afloat. While they passionately love their children and recognize the value of music study, they cannot afford to pay, several months at a time. They do well to meet their expenses every month. So the $50/month we charge and the Chinese violins @ $148 work for this community.

We do have students that could (and would) pay by the semester, say, but 2/3 of our kids could not do that. If we insisted on that, I’m sure it would result in excluding a lot of people.


Our violin teacher has a contract for the academic year which includes 2 14 week semesters and 6 summer lessons. We can pay for the entire year, in2 payments, or 6 payments. The last payment of the 6 payment plan is in April.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

said: Apr 6, 2006
 16 posts

Parent’s point of view:

Love summer lessons. It keeps my children focused and they always seem to move forward. Our teacher does take vacations during the summer. We are also allowed more flexibility. This gives us the opportunity to go to violin camps with different teachers (and an occasional institute when our pocket book allows.) this in mind, Sometimes in this forum I find teachers are extremely business minded. They do focus on their pocket books. I think some, not all, see private lessons as the only “true” source of income in the summer. I think sometimes teachers forget parents do not always have endless supplies of cash to afford constant lessons. It is nice to have a “discounted camp” in the summer, which gives our teacher (and we even go to camps with other suzuki teachers) a source of income. My child gets to review her pieces, theory is addressed, and I do not go broke in the process. I think if more teachers realized what an opportunity camp could be, they’d provide more.

said: Apr 6, 2006
 44 posts

Well, I am a physician. I love what I do, but I don’t do it for free. I have to run my practice as a business. Music teachers are professional, too, and the bottom line is just as important for them as anyone else. That said, the summer months are the only time our family can get away to visit relatives or have a long vacation. Kids need a break from the school year routine, as well. It is the perfect time for teachers to try something innovative for their students like camps or workshops to stimulaqte students’ interests. We always come back from Institutes completely jazzed up and ready for a new year.
I really think charging by the session rather than monthly is a good idea. Not tying the payment to a certain lesson prevents people from saying, “Oh, we are only having 2 lessons this month because of Christmas, so I only have to pay for 2 lessons.” Instead, you have 2,6, 10, whatever, equal payments for the year. Even if you did a 10 payment plan, you could work your summer charges in without creating too much financial strain on families.
We ourselves are in a very well-heeled studio, but most of us, including me, choose the 6 payment plan. I would go for 10 if that was a choice.

said: Apr 6, 2006
 38 posts

I normally charge by the month. Last year, I attempted to have lessons regularly schedulued as normal throughout the summer months and it was a mess. I was at Insititute for teacher training, and people had vactaions, and it seemed like I spent half my summer on the phone with people scheduling lessons and stressing out about how many lessons so and so had, and if everyone had four lessons that month.

So this summer, I’m trying different, which is along the lines of the terms that other people have mentioned. I’m having everyone who wants a spot in the fall pay for two moths lessons up front in June, and then everyone gets eight lessons scheduled individually for the three summer months. (I am working with those that it would be an extreme hardship for.) We’ll see how it actually works, but I think it will give me a chance to still make some income, whilce committing the students and the parents to still taking lessons and practicing during the break, while still giving time for vacations, teacher trainings, institute, etc. I let my parents know about this months ago, and very few have said anything about it, and those that did are those that are really struggling financially. I’ll probably have them pay for one month, have four lessons, then pay for the next month.

said: Apr 6, 2006
 122 posts


Sometimes in this forum I find teachers are extremely business minded. They do focus on their pocket books. I think some, not all, see private lessons as the only “true” source of income in the summer. I think sometimes teachers forget parents do not always have endless supplies of cash to afford constant lessons.

I believe learning an instrument is a year round commitment both timewise and financially. The muscle memory needed to play well, in addition to the brain memory, quickly fades when a student stops practicing. And practicing rarely happens in the summer without private lessons.

My student’s tuition during the summer (they choose from a 6 or 8 week term) is MUCH less than the school year since there are no group classes or other special events they are charged for. I require tuition in full at the first summer lesson unless a family is having a hard time financially, which then I would let them make two payments. Financially I can only have students that take lessons during the summer-I have no other income and no spouse, but have the same bills in July that I have in April.

The students who only take 6 lessons barely maintain their level of playing over the summer and rarely advance much, but this does allow 7 weeks off for vacations, camps of all kinds including institutes, and other fun summer stuff. The kids that take 8 lessons tend to be in town more often and practice more, and they do tend to advance during the summer months. My main goal over the summer is maintaining the level of playing and not having to spend the entire fall regaining what the student learned the previous spring. My students often like to learn music (chamber music, fiddle music, klezmer, etc) that we don’t have time to learn during the school year.

I spread out my school year income over 10 months and then stretch summer income over 2 months. Next year though I will attempt to spread the school year tuition over 12 months and use summer term tuition as retirement savings and a health care fund. I’ll let you know at a later date how this works!!! I’m not interested in offering summer camps just for the money I can make. There are plenty of good camps in my area and a wonderful institute. If I ever see a need for a camp that’s not offered I’d consider offering one, but I try not to make what I offer educationally based on money. I’m trying get make my income/tuition/bills set up in a way where I’m not panicing about money, rather I can focus all my time and energy on teaching.

Yes, I agree there are a lot of business related discussions on this forum. Please take into consideration musicians RARELY get any business training either as part of our Suzuki training or part of our music degree, and many musicians have a really hard time with this aspect of teaching. Many, many, many musicians are at or below the poverty level, and once we have kids, face a medical or legal emergency, or realize one of these days we really should have a retirement fund, we have to face either getting better at being a business person or change careers. Rare is the person who can make a living at a music school since the school takes a big cut of tuition. Even rarer is a musician with health insurance and retirement benefits. I have two close teacher friends who had to declare bankruptcy because they had huge medical bills (think $50,000+) and didn’t have health insurance.

We have to educate ourselves how to make a living at this career, which is you’re seeing many posts on this subject. Musicians-both performers and teachers-choose their living out of love, dedication, idealism, and passion for what they do, not for the money they can make.

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

Melissa said: Apr 6, 2006
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

We all like to have summers off, including me!! But regardless of the financial part of it (I will address that later) I truly worry that my students will fall behind without any lessons for a good 2 months (I teach through June.) And luckily, most of my parents are eager for me to teach through the summer because of this.
I think what another poster recommended, which I may impliment next year, is to charge for a full year (including summer lessons) for a set amount, paid in equal installments over a 10 month period, Sept. through June. This way parents won’t feel burdened with summer lesson tuition, and teachers will have their yearly income.

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