My teacher wants me to sign a contract

August 19, 2007 at 05:48 PM · I'm an adult amateur that has been studying for a little over 1.5 years with the same teacher. So far, i've been happy with our student/teacher relationship. He has other students as well, mostly under the age of 18. At our last lesson, he told me he was raising his lesson rate $6.00 per lesson (for 30 minutes). This is the third rate raise in the last 18 months. I'm not overly concerned about that but the face that I received a letter in the mail (it was sent to all of his students) requiring us to sign a contract. It was a whole 'form' that had to be filled out and the back page was a detailed legal agreement. Since i've always paid my monthly fees on time and have never bounced a check, am I just being picky or does this sound abnormal to others on this site? He stated that this is his sole source of income, so he needs to have everything in contract form, but is it my problem that he doesn't have a regular job? I'm leaning towards changing instructors. Opinions from other teachers would be greatly appreciated!


Replies (44)

August 19, 2007 at 06:02 PM · Dave, doing taxes as a freelancer can be a nightmare! The contract may just be a way to make a system and keep paperwork under control or simply comprehensible. It might also be something like a studio policy regarding cancellations and so on. Read the fine print: if it isn't locking you in, I don't understand what the problem is, other than one of principle. If you are concerned, you could mention it to your teacher. I hope you have a relationship where you feel open about discussing things like this.

August 19, 2007 at 06:56 PM · Hi Dave, My teacher is switching to this system too and I'm rather peeved as well. Particularly annoying is the fact that he is salaried full time with the orchestra here. Granted, it is fairly common for musicians whose primary income source is teaching to lock their students into some sort contract system so that they can plan taxes and expenses. If you feel that you need greater flexibility, perhaps you can work something out with your teacher? Good luck!

August 19, 2007 at 07:08 PM · I have had to sign an agreement letter with one of my daughters' teachers. I think that it is reasonable to ask everyone to sign. Your teacher is probably trying to draw attention to those people who aren't realiable or pay with bad checks.

I understand your unhappiness about signing the form... however you will find that when you go to another teacher that 6 bucks a half hour is really cheap... probably worth signing on the dotted line. : )

August 19, 2007 at 07:54 PM · My teacher gave me a pretty detailed policy form when I started and I very much appreciated her professionalism. Though I suppose we have both strayed some from the strict terms outlined, I feel it is very important to lay the groundwork, and would not be offended at all at the prospect of singing a contract (actually, now that I think of it I have in fact may done so at the start).

My teacher plays in a professional orchestra, but nonetheless lessons must form an important portion of her family's income, and in my opinion it is a good idea to approach lessons in a organized and professional manner. It shows dedication and a sense of seriousness on the part of the student, and the teacher. I take my lessons very seriously and it is good to know my teacher does so as well.

The above is as much a reply to the post as it is my reflections as a student, and is meant to provide teachers on the forum with this student's perspective on the subject.

August 19, 2007 at 07:58 PM · Dave,

What is a "regular job" ??? Non musical? Do you suppose your teacher teaches violin as a hobby?Why shouldn't your teacher earn a living (although at $12 an hour, how CAN he?)

$12 per hour is unheard of today. I think you will be grateful to your teacher when you compare rates.

August 19, 2007 at 08:09 PM · Dave, I clicked on your web site, and your Paganini 5th Caprice is just amazing. Especially for an adult amateur that has been playing violin for less than two years. I don't think you need violin lessons at all. So maybe it won't be your problem if your teacher does not have a "regular" job.

That aside, many violin teachers use written contracts for lessons.

August 19, 2007 at 08:57 PM · It seems to me that the situation is that the teacher is raising his rates BY $6/ half hr, not TO $6/half hr.

Hereabouts we pay 40-65 for an hour; pretty steep, IMO.

August 19, 2007 at 09:17 PM · Anne, the 5th Caprice that you heard on Dave's site is actually a recording of Itzhak Perlman. Yes, you are right in that anyone who could play that well would not be in need of much in the way of lessons, although we're always students of the instrument and never stop learning.

My teacher charges $15 per half hour, and I have always felt that this was very reasonable considering the set of skills she as a professional brings to the table. Think of another profession wherein you could hire someone with years of dedication to their craft for $15 per half hour. You will not find one, or at least not one you would like to hire. Of course, overhead teaching the violin is generally minimal (especially if taught within the home), thus some of the reason those in other professions may need to charge more to make it worth their time.

August 19, 2007 at 10:44 PM · You sound worried about the contract per se, but the problem is just if it obligates you to something you don't want. You didn't say anything about that. Generally in business when somebody gives you something to sign it makes them the winner and you the loser. Cross out the stuff you don't like and see what happens. If he's given himself three raises in a year and a half, he's continuously bellying up to see what he can get away with.

August 19, 2007 at 10:47 PM · I worked as a teacher and it was rather difficult to deal with students and their parents. I admit, that most of the time I had no problems, but there were also times where I had to threaten legal action when students didn't pay. I also had to turn students away from the studio who would not bring checks or abide by reasonable things like calling to cancel lessons etc.

If I were to be unhappy it would be the MULTIPLE increases. I might have been old fashioned but I actually kept the students who had been with me at the old fee and the new students came in at the higher fee. I figured if they had stayed with me THIS long there should have been SOME benefit

August 19, 2007 at 10:44 PM · I give my students a contract of sorts to read over and sign before beginning lessons. I call them the lesson "guidelines" and I make students/parents sign it so that six months down the line when they whine and moan because they get a fifteen dollar late fee for not paying me by the beginnin of the month, I can go back and say.." see, its in the guidelines which you signed and acknowledged". I have found it to be very helpful as far as making my expectations clear to have it in written form. It also lays out what the student can expect from me. I have had students not show up for lessons and then expect me to credit the amount back to them the following month. My guidelines make it clear to them that they are not paying by the lesson but rather are "renting" a time slot, in much the same way someone rents storage space. This way, if they don't show up they know or at least acknowledged that they knew at one point that they don't get a refund for lessons they miss or cancel. If you have problems with the contract, talk it over with the teacher. Chances are as an adult the contract was sent to you more to be fair to everyone than anything else, but I've had some adult students who actually end up being the most unreliable about their committments. I guess it depends upon the person. Also, the fact they they teach private students shouldn't be thought of as something they are doing just because they don't have a "regular" job. I know a teacher who is so successful at her private violin studio that she makes more money per year than her husband who works in the computer industry. She has a master's degree in education and is very good at what she does. Personally, if you were my student and that is what you thought of the time I was spending with you I would probably ask you to leave.

August 19, 2007 at 11:13 PM · Hi Chris, Dave's recording does sound remarkably like the great Perlman's. Doesn't EMI still hold the copyright?

P.S. I still like to take lessons too :)

August 20, 2007 at 12:11 AM · Anne, yes I am sure that EMI still holds the rights to the recording, especially seeing how I just bought the CD a couple of months ago! :)

And, I'm afraid I'll be taking lessons from someone the remainder of my capable life also :(

But, hopefully some day I'll rise to a level of ability that will allow me the freedom to roam the world of the violin on my own from time to time :)

August 20, 2007 at 06:30 AM · I have a policy form that I email to all new students or their parents. I haven't had them sign it, but I think I should. That way everybody is clear about the rules. I advise you not to take it as a personal insult. If I have one student sign a contract, I'd have all my students sign it.

August 20, 2007 at 12:39 PM · I used to have some printed 'guidelines' that I'd have a new student sign. I haven't done that in a long time, and may or may not go back to that. But I don't see what there is to worry about, and I wouldn't take it personally. Your tacher may have been having disappointing experiences with other students, apart from the reason he gave you.

August 20, 2007 at 01:44 PM · If this is the third rate raise in 18 months and you are now paying $6,00 for 30 mins what on earth were you paying before? and how much does your poor teacher have left after tax?

August 20, 2007 at 02:19 PM · Hi,

I wouldn't worry about the contract thing. The legality of the system maybe so that the teacher can have the appropriate documentation for his/her taxes and the IRS. There is a crackdown on undeclared money, and if this is his sole means of living (i.e. teaching), then he needs all of the appropriate documentation for his accountant and for the IRS in case of an audit. In this case, the teacher's contract does the same role as that for a consultant - i.e. an understanding of the an hourly fee for a service rendered and any conditions applying to the rendering of the service thereof.

On a more emotional level, I wouldn't be concerned either. If you are a good responsible student like you say, then the contract is just a formality. It may also protect him/her from having lesser responsible students and parents, like the kind that cancel lessons left and right for no reason, the ones that decide to suddenly leave and not pay up a balance due, etc. This one happens more often than we think.

Hope this answers your questions.


P.S. Something that I find curious: I don't understand why if for every profession on earth contracts are the norm and this is acceptable, why people expect something vastly different from music teachers. Music teachers are professionals that need to earn a living too - with all the same rules applying as for everyone else doing something else. This puzzles me...

August 20, 2007 at 02:35 PM · After hearing me practice my contractor wants me to sign up with another teacher.

August 20, 2007 at 03:02 PM · i wonder if the contract was wanted from the students' parents.

ie: "you can't just raise your price whenever you want. i want to see a contract for a year with a price"

August 20, 2007 at 03:02 PM · Is it really only $6.00 per 1/2 hr.lesson or was that a typo? If it is, then you should hold on to your teacher! Although, I can't imagine that it's that cheap- you can't make a living off of that. Even in Ohio, which I believe is where you live, where the cost of living is lower than in many othr parts, is that a steal. I'd say most teachers charge at least $20 for a half hour.

I also think a contract is an excellent idea. Sure, it may feel awfully official to you when you've not had to sign anything for your lessons. Also, as an adult amateur, it's sometimes hard to imagine how business oriented the industry has to be. For you, it is clearly just your love of violin that has driven you to take lessons. For us, it's our love of the violin AND a need to make money at it! I say you sign the contract and stick with the teacher. This is only making your teacher's life easier. And you already had an oral contract with the teacher (I'm assuming that you knew the consequences for missing a lesson or not being prepared), so this just provides it in writing.

Good luck on your violin studies!

August 20, 2007 at 03:38 PM · Just so everyone knows, my teacher does not charge $12 per half hour. He has raised his rates $12 per lesson in the last months. I will be paying $94/month for lessons at his new rate, but some months only have 3 lessons (and one month only has 2!).

My website audio is not myself playing. It is Perlman playing the 5th caprice of Paganini. I just put it up there because I like it! Hell, if I could play anywhere near that well after not even two years of playing, i'd probably be on 60 Minutes!

And probably my main gripe is that he has raised his rates three times in the past 18 months. This month I only had two lessons since he is on vacation but I had to pay the full $88 for this month. I will have a 'trial' lesson with a teacher that is much closer to me. He charges $25 per lesson and I can pay 'per lesson', and not get screwed when my teacher takes time off. This new teacher is a professional player and his resume is quite impressive. We'll see how things go with my trial lesson today.

August 20, 2007 at 04:47 PM · My teacher charges 400 dollars a month, or 100 dollars a lesson (hour). My teacher does no contract though, we pay in advance. Lucky people...

August 20, 2007 at 06:33 PM · Dave, ok since you've now clarified the situation , here's my opinion. I'm an adult amateur violinist and have children who study violin. I presume that you are paying your teacher privately and not through a music school. Since you are being asked to sign a contract, it goes both ways. I've never heard of a monthly fee without specifying the number of lessons or hours. It is otherwise reasonable to have an agreement. Lesson fees vary considerably based on the expertise of the teacher and the location. for a 30 minute lesson somewhere between 20-45 dollars per lesson is the range, unless your're at conservatory level. Hope this helps.

August 21, 2007 at 02:35 AM · Hi,

Dave Osburn - now I understand better. I guess that this is quite different and a little odd from what I expected (hence my first post).

Good luck!

August 21, 2007 at 02:38 AM ·

August 21, 2007 at 04:09 AM · Dave,

Whether you stay with the current teacher on not, contracts are in fact a good thing because they can protect both students and the teacher if the terms of a contract is fair. Nothing is more frustrating than working with someone without clear agreement and not knowing exactly what each gets from the relationship. What sometimes people don't know is that when they get a draft/written piece of work called 'contract', that is in fact only an offer no matter what it says on the piece of paper you are given to sign. You don’t have to accept it. Before signing it, you can make a counter offer after you have read the offer carefully and have an idea how to make the terms fairer to both of you. A good final contract should be one that both you and your teacher can live with. I’m not saying that a person draft a contract isn’t being fair, but it is usually from the drafter’s one point of view and with your input or some negotiation, both you and your teacher will likely to reach a more reasonable contract that you both are happy with. For instance, you could suggest a term that if lessons are paid monthly in full, then missing lessons that are not at the student's fault should be made up at a next mutually convenient time or the portion of fee should be refund. You could also add some terms regarding fee increase: how much and how frequent is acceptable.

I hope this helps.

August 21, 2007 at 05:17 AM · Good teacher are not always good business people. This teacher sounds like a poor communicator too and not very professional. I'm not a teacher, but I would look for a new teacher who can communicate a clear schedule and isn't setting up a "parking meter" studio. I had a teacher like this and things became a bit strained because it was always about her studio and cash flow, her time, and not the students etc. Ironically, when we left, she was pretty upset and seemed oblivious to how amatuerish the whole thing was getting. She also raised her rates and averaged out the lessons over a whole year to even out her cash flow or something. Really, cash flow is the teachers personal issue and need not be your concern. Our teacher finally became so expensive that the value was just not compelling enough to accomodate her. I felt the same way, and thought she was always making her money issues my problem. I found a better teacher, who charged less and is such a pro!

If he is worried about cash flow, he should charge by the quarter vs. monthly and have you prepay some type of deposit for lessons per month. Prepaid lessons by the month are not uncommon, and it certainly would qualify serious students if he wanted more than a month of fees. Sort of a security deposit type thing. The contract thing seems a bit over the top. What will he really do, sue you if you miss a lesson or two? No, he should probably ask students who don't pay, or don't show up to leave his studio and just publish a policy.

My theory is that it is better to have a teacher that plays out professionally versus just teaches. They teach because they want to, not just for the money. This is just my experience, but for my kids and I it has been the case. These types of teachers have fewer students I think, because teaching is something they do on the side. The downside is their schedules can be strange to due to the schedule of their gigs. They seem to be better teachers too and in my experience have fewer hang ups like the contract thing.

August 21, 2007 at 05:30 AM · how do such contracts pass the "equity" test?

August 21, 2007 at 07:35 AM · As a teacher, I have gradually been more and more thorough about my policies. I always fear that my good students will take it personally when I send out the new policy, but the truth is, none of my rules affect them in any way; they only exist to inform those who sign up for the semester of the standard operating procedure in my studio. The rules are across the board, so every student receives a copy, regardless of their previous behavior.

I charge by the lesson and divide the total lessons for the semester into monthly payments. As a student, I would also feel bitter about paying for lessons I did not receive; it's as rotten as being a teacher and having a no-show student who doesn't pay.

As far as rate changes, I've had to increase my prices the last two years, but only by a dollar per lesson each time, and this was simply to keep up with the incredible inflation we've had in utilities, gas, and just about everything else recently. A dollar doesn't even keep up, actually.

A $6 hike in such a short period would seem appropriate only if your teacher had been severely undercharging (which doesn't seem to be the case here) or if the teacher has suddenly made a big name for himself (has he?).

If your teacher is constantly booked, he may have felt he could raise rates and still bring in enough students to fill his studio. I personally don't work by this principle, mostly because I like the people I work with enough that I don't want to make it impossible for them to receive musical instruction if they want it.

One thing I would like to point out, from a teacher's perspective, is that many teachers like myself have chosen to teach as a sole occupation because we want to excel at it, and the best way to do so is to focus our efforts solely on teaching. I may teach for only 15 hours in a week, but the rest of the time, I'm making phone calls, searching for music, ordering supplies, scheduling events, studying materials, and learning more about how I can be a better teacher (not to mention practicing three hours a day). Over the years, I've held other jobs while teaching at the same time, but it is very difficult to do well.

Long story short, many teachers do nothing but teach, and it's certainly not because they can't get a so-called regular job. It's because they want to be professional, both in name and deed.

Having said that, I would like to help you understand that when teaching is your only source of income, is it too much to ask that the income be somewhat reliable? Bills are reliable. A happy teacher is one who doesn't have to worry about 15 students flaking out on payments in one week. We like to know that the bills can still be paid, that our steadfast efforts will be justly rewarded. That's why we write policies, not to make our clients lose out, not to see what we can get away with, but to keep business fair and honest on both sides. At least that's what my policy does, to the best of my ability.

August 21, 2007 at 08:19 AM · At the end of the lessons, when you find you didn't learn anything, use their contract to sue them and get your money back.

August 21, 2007 at 09:58 AM · You can't sue me just because you're stupid.

Oh wait, this is America. Perhaps you can.

August 21, 2007 at 01:43 PM · Well, yesterday I had my 'tryout' lesson with a new teacher. He is much closer than my current teacher (he's one minute from where I work). The lesson went well and he helped iron out some issues with my bow wrist, which i'm thankful for. So it looks like my decision has been made: I will leave my current teacher and begin anew with my new instructor. He is more skilled, more convenient for me, and cheaper since I can pay per lesson ($25 for 30 minutes, which I find to be very fair considering his resume).


August 21, 2007 at 04:02 PM · I'd like to reinforce something Emily said. The money you pay per lesson covers a lot of things in addition to the lesson itself. I'm constantly reading about teaching music, trying out new books or approaches, etc. Since I teach one on one, I don't use a standard method and apply it to everyone. I know my individual student's needs and goals, and I'm always looking for, photocopying, or transcribing music appropriate for each individual. I also spend time after each lesson taking my hand written notes and typing them into the computer. During this time, I can focus on the needs and progress of each student and look for more material for him. The payment for the lesson covers a lot more than the lesson itself.

August 21, 2007 at 05:37 PM · Pauline,

I understand your comments and would like to add something from my experience with my 'past' teacher. About 4 months ago he said he was going to put together a small group of beginner/amateur players to get together twice per month and play some pieces together. Much of this time would actually be practicing the pieces since most of the members had different skill levels. He said he would keep it at $10 per session ($20 per month), and each session would last one hour. He said that the fees would help offset him finding suitable and different forms of music for the group to play. To make a long story short, in that four months of playing we played exclusively out of a duet book that contained numerous small pieces all in the first position. I had this book, which my teacher and I played out of a few times during my private lessons. I felt short-changed since the fees I was paying were not used by him to find suitable (and numerous) pieces for us to play, and he was using material that I paid for myself for the group (he made photocopies for everyone). Last month I left the 'chamber group' partly because of this (and because the other members rarely ever showed up, so the two of us just played out of my duet book, which I had done tons of times by myself and did not feel challenged by the difficulty of the pieces). I basically feel that I was not getting my money's worth because I could play the same pieces at home by myself and because my fees were not being used as promised.

August 22, 2007 at 07:28 AM · Yuck. Regardless of his good intentions, he failed you there.

August 22, 2007 at 12:32 PM · I've heard of parents signing policies and such, but a legal agreement sounds as if the teacher is AR....maybe.

Regardless, if you have no problem with the fine print, I would go ahead and sign. Maybe it's just for the teacher's peace of mind?

September 10, 2007 at 04:59 PM · Regarding the contract--I think most teachers (myself included) have their students sign some kind of "policy form." However, I do think that it's extremely unfair of you to pay for lessons when your teacher takes time off. I require my students to pay for lessons monthly only for days that I am there. So if I take one week off to do a gig or visit my family, I don't charge them for that week. If the student has a conflict one week and lets me know about it at least a few days ahead of time, then I'll reschedule.

September 10, 2007 at 06:15 PM · I take mine through the university here, so I have to "sign up" for them in blocks. Fifteen per semester for spring and fall sessions, and six for summer sessions. They average, after registration fees and such, $21.00 per thirty-minute lesson...about the cheapest I've been able to find anywhere around. I wish I could find $6.00 lessons! I'd GLADLY sign a contract for those! :)

As for his suddenly changing his modus operandi, I'd tell him that you'd rather not do it, just on principle, if you really don't want to sign such a thing. If you've been a good student who always pays, and you're reliable, surely he wouldn't want to lose you over such a thing. If he would, though, then he obviously doesn't trust ANYONE, and those who trust noone often can't be trusted themselves. In that case, I'd look for a new instructor. ;)

September 11, 2007 at 04:48 PM · As a teacher, don't take any kind of "contract" personally. I've had to do that in the past, as I've had 1 or 2 students who pay late or not at all, and it's better to make one policy for everyone in your studio than to try and emabrass someone by singling them out.

Good luck with the new teacher!

September 11, 2007 at 05:12 PM · When I taught lessons "on the side" in addition to my regular job, I was very lax about requesting payment, since my income didn't revolve around it. All of my students paid, some weekly, some monthly, and I didn't require payment for missed lessons.

If teaching were my only main source of income, I would absolutely use a contract. But it wouldn't probably be quite as formal (i.e. the legal stuff on the back) as what you're describing. My friends who teach privately for their livings use contracts. It outlines how many lessons come in a package (like a semester of school), how to handle cancellations, expectations of time/practice, etc.

What's the price of the lesson now with the additional six bucks? That seems like a large hike, too, especially if it's the third one in such a short time.

September 11, 2007 at 06:18 PM · Oh, crap. I misread your post that he raised his rate TO $6.00/lesson, not BY $6.00/lesson. I hadn't had my coffee yet. ;) I'm usually not quite THAT stupid (though close, I admit). *blush*

September 12, 2007 at 05:14 PM · That's the way I read it, too. :) I had a response typed up then had to go back and change it.

September 12, 2007 at 05:23 PM · Hi Dave,

I am a piano teacher, not a violin teacher. However, perhaps I can reassure you that Im sure that your teacher was not directing his new policy of having you sign a written contract at you personally. He has probably had some problems with other students who cancel out at the last minute or don't pay on time and he is trying to protect himself just as any other business might do. It is a common thing for teachers to ask their students to read and sign contracts showing that the student understands and agrees to abide by the teacher's policies.

With all due respect, teaching IS a regular job.

September 14, 2007 at 01:35 AM · If he makes you sign a contract, then just look it over. If you don't like how it looks then just go talk to him. If it really is his only source of income then he only does this because he is trying to keep his income safe. There shouldn't be anything to worry about. But if you still don't like it then just tell him(or her).

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