V.com weekend vote: Should a teacher charge for a trial lesson?

June 7, 2019, 2:21 PM · If you are considering a violin or viola teacher, do you expect to take a trial lesson, and do you expect to pay for it? And if you are a teacher, do you charge for trial lessons, or not?

student and teacher

It's been a while since I was a student, but I can say I never had a "trial lesson" with a teacher, so I never paid for one. I chose my teachers based on a number of factors - their reputation, talking with their students, etc. For at least one teacher, I auditioned, but this was in the context of university, so there was no extra charge.

As a teacher, I have gone back and forth on this issue. On one hand, I do think teachers should be compensated for their time. One should be paid for giving someone an hour-long lesson.

On the other hand, I find that, if someone simply wants to take lessons from me and doesn't feel the need to take a trial lesson, I actually have an interest in meeting with that student and parent before they join my studio. I require that we meet and talk in advance, and if it's not a beginner, I'd like to hear the student play. So does one pay for that?

It would seem that the "business model" for lessons has certainly changed over my lifetime, and it's a bit of a moving target! What has your experience been, with the idea of "trial lessons"? Do you expect to take one before signing on with a teacher? Do you expect to give trial lessons? What are your policies, if you are a teacher, regarding payment for trial lessons? Please participate in the vote and then share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Replies

June 7, 2019 at 07:47 PM · If you’re building your studio, no way. You want to put as few barriers between potential students and you as possible.

If you’re established, then yes. You can be a little pickier and stricter.

I think it depends on where you are in terms of your numbers and your goals.

June 7, 2019 at 08:34 PM · Your multiple choice is normative. It doesn't provide a meaningful range of options, thus will provide a biased/meaningless response. If the teacher requires the trial, then the answer is 'No'. If the student requires the trial, the the answer is "teacher's choice". For anecdote, by far the best teacher I had offered a free trial.

June 7, 2019 at 08:55 PM · Personally, I'm in that weird place where none of the families of my students can actually afford private lessons, so I don't charge for them. Then again, I only train them through third position (Doflein Book 3)and then, with a bit of luck, get them scholarships with one of the local professional teachers who like the foundation that I teach.

Should a professional give a trial lesson gratis? That all depends on the teacher and how much of their time they can give away. If my teaching were paying my bills, I might give discounts instead of free lessons (that's what the professionals do for my students and I do require the parents to put aside what they can afford in a fund for their young musician's future).

I think that occasionally giving some of your time away for free is a good thing and who knows where that free lesson might lead.

June 7, 2019 at 09:38 PM · I agree that the choices are not complete for a meaningful vote. My answer would be, "whatever both parties want." Not "in some but not all cases." This doesn't quite have the right sense.

June 7, 2019 at 09:51 PM · I have never paid for a trial lesson and have had plenty. I believe they should be free. It is like a test drive. There should be no cost for the student until they have enough information to make an informed decision about what they are buying, and it just wouldn’t be possible without interacting actively with a sample of their teaching. Just think if you got charged for getting an ice cream sample at an ice cream shop, or a perfume sample at a department store.

June 7, 2019 at 10:27 PM · But you aren’t buying ice cream or perfume, you are buying an enormous time commitment. It is a bit different. “Test drive” is interesting. There was a time when a teacher would administer a battery of pitch-matching and dexterity tests to a student to see if they were worth teaching!

June 7, 2019 at 11:18 PM · Someone had to not only come up with the list of ingredients for the design ice cream and perfume, but it also takes labor to produce these products, package and store them properly, market them, etc., and it likely was done by multiple people in multiple locations. They don’t grow on trees. But one often gets to try before they buy. One compromise I could see is a teacher offering a free trial lesson which is shorter than the length the student would have if they decided to continue, and/or the chance to observe another student receiving a lesson.

June 8, 2019 at 12:08 AM · I voted "Yes." My real position on the matter is "Yes" but with reduced rates in some special cases.

I'm not a teacher; but if I were, I would follow the plan I use in my own business. Initial phone consultation and my initial feedback are at no cost or obligation. I tell the customer whether or not I feel the project is doable, clear up any questions I might have, tell them what I propose to do, and give a definite price quote. If they opt not to go ahead with it, no loss. There are always other jobs in the pipeline.

For jobs I agree to take on, I require payment on completion -- right before delivery. Then, if the customer needs tweaks or revisions and I still can't satisfy them after three tries, I refund half the fee. In my 23+ years as an independent contractor, I've had to do this only three times.

With students, retirees, and people laid off or, for some other reason, out of the regular workforce, I do the work at a 20% discount rate.

June 8, 2019 at 12:21 AM · For the first lesson, I add about 15 minutes to a half-hour lesson as "getting to know you" time. This is free of charge. However, I also offer a 50% discount by charging half the fee in an alternative currency (L.E.T.S.) for home-schooled students, and all the beginner children at school get 66% discount. When they are more advanced, I will increase the fees. I live in a rural, isolated area and there is hardly any interest in playing classical music.

June 8, 2019 at 02:29 AM · If a teacher is going to turn a student away, he or she might not want to charge for the "audition." I don't have an ethical problem with charging for a lesson with a student one refuses to teach further, but in the interest of maintaining a reputation in the community as someone with good will, it might be helpful.

Otherwise, I have no problem with teachers charging for trial/first lessons. Most professionals charge for a consultation.

June 8, 2019 at 04:22 AM · I don't do trial lessons. I don't think a student or teacher should be judged on one meeting. I let them sign up for a month, minimum.

June 8, 2019 at 05:41 AM · Read the ‘piano teachers’ forum on PianoWorld. You will find a lot of comments about ignorant parents and unmotivated students.

If a student (parent) is not even willing to pay for a trial lesson how will they go with a series of lessons? Some research and a short conversation for free, sure.

The dropout rate is so high a teacher might as well be paid for all lessons - these hours mount up.

Does your doctor give free first treatments?

Terry

June 8, 2019 at 06:08 AM · If it is a full hour, working lesson, then yes. I do charge for the lesson and have never lost any potential students that way. However if it is more of a getting to know each other session, then I would not charge. I have recently had a couple of students come to me, and after the first few minutes it was clear that it was not a good fit. So I just told them so, recommended a couple of other teachers and did not charge for the interview.

June 8, 2019 at 08:06 AM · I am a teacher who offers prepaid trial lessons, for a fee slightly higher than the cost of a prorated monthly lesson. If the student starts lessons, the weekly lessons begin within 1 week, they are monthly prepaid lessons consisting of weekly 1/2 hr lessons are 4x or 5x monthly depending on number of weeks in the month. Makeups at discretion of teacher. If I need to cancel for professional engagement I always offer a makeup lesson. Teachers should be paid for services rendered. Have never been able to get a plumber, doctor, electrician, mechanic, or landscaper to give a trial service. If teacher wants or needs to provide someone free scholarships to underserved neighborhood students or adults for whatever reason, fine, that is an individual choice. But it undervalues our collective values as professional artists/teachers to not charge for that initial get acquainted or trial lesson, as it often is harder work than subsequent lessons.(my 2 cents)

June 8, 2019 at 12:40 PM · I voted "in some cases" because I think individual teachers' situations will differ. I think the idea of discounting the lesson if the student joins the studio is a possibility. There are lots of ways to think about it, such as "test drive" or "audition" or "preliminary consultation" and such. Lawyers do this all the time. As far as I have experienced, doctors never do.

Note that there is an active discussion link on this right now.

https://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=3030

June 8, 2019 at 01:05 PM · I don't charge specifically so that if I don't like their attitude I can ask them to leave!

June 8, 2019 at 01:18 PM · I don't think the question entirely makes sense. This is not an ethical dilemma its a marketing one, thats all. If the market allows you to charge for the lesson, you charge. If the market in your area means you have to run 'specials', do 'free trials', etc then thats what you do. And 'the market' does not mean everyone, it means *your* brands market, which is a combination of whether your market is good because you personally are in demand, or your area has a surplus of students or a deficit of teachers, or your market is bad for the reverse of any or a combination of those reasons.

Comparing to perfume and ice cream, or even a test drive of a car are all false analogies - in every instance you are talking about a product. In the case of violin lessons there is no product, it is a service. In that way it is more analagous to a doctor, a therapist, or a lawyer. When was the last time your doctor gave you a free trial visit? Likely never, because the market supports them charging due to lack of alternatives. However, the market for therapists and lawyers are more competitive and so you will often get a 'free consult' to get you in the door for either of these services.

June 8, 2019 at 01:19 PM · btw - I meant no offense by the comment the question didn't make sense for me! I love violinist.com, thank you Laurie

June 8, 2019 at 02:38 PM · I feel that if there is already a conversation happening between the teacher and student prior to the teacher agreeing to meet with said student, then it is fair game to charge for a first lesson insofar as there is actual teaching happening. But, I live in NYC where nothing is free.

June 8, 2019 at 05:57 PM · My teacher charges 50 percent of his normal fee for trial lessons, which I think is both fair and reasonable. There is a lot going on in trial lessons: With students who had lessons before the teacher has to assess their playing, work on a some aspects and lots of things more. And with beginners, both children and adults, first lessons are not trivial either, on the contrary. First lessons are demanding in any case and I don't see why the teacher shouldn't be remunerated.

June 8, 2019 at 07:06 PM · My answer was yes. Here the details. I have never hd a trial lesson myself. My first meeting with two of my teachers (the first two were assigned to me--no choice for me nor for them either) was what I would call an audition. I played something; there was conversation about goals, practice habits etc., then about the price for the lessons, followed by an agreement to start working together. Total 15 or 20 minutes. Free of charge.

If however a real lesson is administered to the student (where the teacher is being "auditioned" as much or more than the potential student) which gives the student the chance to actually learn something it ought to be paid to the teacher.

June 8, 2019 at 10:08 PM · I am a parent of a violin student (advanced player.) We have had a few studio changes over the years and by far the best meeting situation has been--First, an email exchange with a video(s) to pre-screen for the teacher to decide if they might be interested in taking on the student, then, if it is of interest to the teacher....a meeting can be set up as a trial or meeting where the student plays for the teacher and the teacher has something to say of value to the student....at no charge (or very little because it should be like a meet and greet) and then if both think that they might have a fit....a trial month should be set up with fees but, a final decision to be made to continue after the month.

Honestly, this is easiest for both teacher and student to decide if they are a good fit--with no hard feelings at the end of the month if they feel like they are not. We know of situations where decisions were made too quick and the month would have come in handy to leave the studio.....This is really not for beginners but, it is a big decision to take on a student or hire a new teacher....I think if both sides give a bit then trust is built. It is not all about money--but, it is still a business for sure and that is okay!

June 9, 2019 at 02:22 AM · My first teacher did things a bit differently. She expected payment for the first or "trial" lesson. Then, if at the end of the lesson she decided not to take you on, she returned the payment--cash, check, whatever.

If she said "yes", then she kept the charge for the first payment. You could walk away, opting not to take lessons with her, but you paid for her time. If you scheduled another lesson, the first "non-trial" lesson was free. Her way of encouraging people to take lesson #1 seriously, but making it into a kind of de facto free trial.

At the end of the year there was also a "free" group recital that she set up with other teachers.

That said, she had only been in town a couple of months when I met her and was in need of students. Still, she was one of the top two or three violinists for 80 miles in any direction, didn't want slackers, and figured that she'd wind up with a full schedule fairly soon anyway. She did.

June 9, 2019 at 05:55 PM · I voted "yes" but I wasn't convinced. I thought previous commenters had very thoughtful things to say. I have had three teachers. The first two times, I wasn't very aware of the process. We did have preliminary phone conversations to make sure it was the right fit, and then I started taking lessons. Neither teacher had a contract or payment plan. With the third teacher, we had a detailed e-mail conversation because I had a lot of specific ideas about what I wanted to get out of my lessons. I went to my first lesson intending to pay for it, but by the time it ended, I already had made up my mind that I would continue so it was included in my 1-semester pre-payment.

June 9, 2019 at 06:36 PM · I agree completely with this person, whose post I have copied below, who posted previously. I am both a physician as well as a violin teacher. I teach chamber music every Sunday, and run a chamber music program at a retirement community as well. I have a very full studio of 33 students at this time. I often receive phone calls from parents who demand a free trial lesson. I cannot imagine ever being so rude as to approach a violin teacher, doctor, personal trainer, or anyone else, asking for or demanding that he/she provide any of his/her time and expertise for free. I politely decline every request and ask each parent when the last time was that his/her physician saw him/her as a first time appointment as a "test drive", "trial", etc. That physician spent years of time training to be an expert. So did the violin teacher. I know because I am highly trained in both fields with degrees in both fields. If after a student has come to me and has been my student, and his/her circumstances are such that he/she needs my help in some way (free lessons, reduced price lessons, use of one of my violins), I offer it as I see fit. I also created a private non-profit fund to help with these issues as well.

So many outstanding musicians and teachers are undervalued by society. It is my opinion that we should not help to perpetuate this very real problem by not charging for our services, and/or not charging enough.

A really revealing thing happens each time that a parent in my violin studio finds out that I am also a physician. All of a sudden, I am treated with more respect. I am still the same person, offering the same services. It says much more about the other person than it says about me, that the parent has more respect for a physician than for a violin teacher. An attempt to change this can be made by teachers who charge for their time, and who charge enough for their time. My 2 cents as well...

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June 8, 2019 at 08:06 AM · I am a teacher who offers prepaid trial lessons, for a fee slightly higher than the cost of a prorated monthly lesson. If the student starts lessons, the weekly lessons begin within 1 week, they are monthly prepaid lessons consisting of weekly 1/2 hr lessons are 4x or 5x monthly depending on number of weeks in the month. Makeups at discretion of teacher. If I need to cancel for professional engagement I always offer a makeup lesson. Teachers should be paid for services rendered. Have never been able to get a plumber, doctor, electrician, mechanic, or landscaper to give a trial service. If teacher wants or needs to provide someone free scholarships to underserved neighborhood students or adults for whatever reason, fine, that is an individual choice. But it undervalues our collective values as professional artists/teachers to not charge for that initial get acquainted or trial lesson, as it often is harder work than subsequent lessons.(my 2 cents)

June 10, 2019 at 04:40 AM · I charge a very nominal fee ($10) for students/parents that I don’t know or are unsure if they want to go forward with lessons. After that trial lesson, we give each other a few days to decide if it’s a go or not. That way, neither of us is committed if it’s obvious that the child isn’t really serious about wanting to learn. Or if, based on the trial lesson, it seems that it might not be a good fit.

June 11, 2019 at 11:58 PM · I make sure to give new students a most excellent first lesson where they go home having learned something useful, and want to come back next time. I charge my normal fee for this.

June 13, 2019 at 12:30 PM · I don't know how to vote because if the trial pupil doesn't pay for it, the other pupils pay for it in slightly raised fees. I think I had three trial lessons, two of which were arranged by my father in advance. I cannot imagine that he would have asked either Norbert Brainin or Mr Kenning to give me a free trial lesson. The former didn't have the time to take me on on a regular basis and the latter would have been too expensive.

Stanislaw Frydberg (https://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/2002/01/22/stories/2002012201220600.htm - Some of his story is probably true, some may have a touch of the old Harry Janos or Lieutenant Kije) introduced himself to us as a pupil of Kreisler (over the phone, dad thought his name was Professor Fried Bread), so I don't think dad would have paid him to start with. He might have been happy to take me on after the first two lessons, but we had to drop him because, when energetically, we supposed jocularly, flirting with my mum (the only person I remember my mum flirting with, by the way), he bit her ear (I think Dad would have paid him a parting fee). Just for the record, he said Kreisler told him "Women, horses, the violin, treat them all gently" (Makes a change from what a schoolmate of mine later told the class was an old Chinese proverb about horses and women).

June 13, 2019 at 03:33 PM · I read somewhere that Franz Liszt, in his later years after becoming wealthy from his concert tours, did private teaching. He did not charge anything! If you were accepted to his studio and willing to work, you got free teaching from the best pianist in the world. I am not sure if that is the best approach. Most people value what they pay for. My best lessons happened when I paid for them with my own money.

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