Teacher is charging too little

January 13, 2008 at 04:15 PM · I have a minor dilemma which I'm hoping some of you can help me with. I recently acquired a new violin teacher here in Tucson; she plays in the Tucson Symphony and is very good. My problem is this: She only charges $30.00 an hour, and I almost feel embarrassed to pay her so little; there are lesser teachers in town charging $35.00 and up (usually up) for that same hour.My last teacher charged $40.00 per hour. I know she does extra gigs for money, so it isn't like she's doesn't need the money. I can easily afford to pay more, but on the other hand am I running the risk of her feeling like I'm, as they say in Texas, 'Horning in on her Business' if I bring this up to her, or just start paying more? This is in part a boundaries issue,and I don't know if I should just let sleeping dogs lie,or what the right thing to do here is. Help?

Replies (31)

January 13, 2008 at 06:18 PM · I think that telling her that you think her fee is unjustly low would be received as an expression of your appreciation of the fine teaching you are receiving, and of your concern for her well being. I suppose one never knows how various individuals react to various statements, but I find it hard to imagine that what you say would be taken as anything other than a kind thought.

January 13, 2008 at 08:13 PM · You could try offering her a tip after each lesson and see how she reacts.

January 13, 2008 at 08:22 PM · We recently thought my daughter's piano teacher needed a raise, so at a certain point we just started making the checks out at a higher rate without even discussing it with the teacher.

January 13, 2008 at 08:42 PM · I think your teacher may not be in it for the money. I mean it is nice to have some extra money around once in a while. But some teachers like yours do it more for enjoyment than for money.

One of my tuba teachers actually charges about $50 an hour (which for his teaching is pretty undercharged). Though he tells me, and all his students, pay what you can. I won't refuse to teach anyone just because they can't pay my rate.

That, I think, is the sign of a true teacher. Yours is probably like him.

January 13, 2008 at 08:53 PM · well this is how I see it, i had a Russian teacher once who stuggled a great deal, she lived in a small apartment and spoke a little bit of english. She owned a Guarneri Del Gesu, and Strad (but only handed down from her mother) but still only charged 30 dollars and hour. This was in Denver, but here in Philly and New York, lessons can go up to 250 an hour. So it's pretty much how advanced your playing is, and how advanced of a teacher you need.


January 13, 2008 at 09:09 PM · Gary Foote wrote: "am I running the risk of her feeling like I'm, as they say in Texas, 'Horning in on her Business' if I bring this up to her, or just start paying more?"

In my earlier post I didn't address your idea about paying the teacher more than the rate. I would advise against that. Everything I said above, but no tipping would be my take on it. It might make the teacher uncomfortable. You'll be able to give her more if she takes your advice about raising her fee.

January 13, 2008 at 09:57 PM · Some teachers enjoy teaching more than earning the money. So who knows, maybe she just enjoys the teaching so much she doesn't care much for the money

January 13, 2008 at 10:40 PM · Just put your lesson fee in an envelope with the greater amount, sealed. :)

January 13, 2008 at 10:50 PM · IF americans can afford $250 an hour than everyone should move there! Thats more rent than my house.

January 14, 2008 at 12:39 AM · Tiet...You've never been to NY or Philly, have you?

January 14, 2008 at 03:15 AM · $30/hour is low. we pay any where from 30-80 for lessons and the 30 is embarrasslingly low. Assuming she's not impoverished, complaning about her standard of living or giving you short shrift at lessons, It's up to her to decide.

January 14, 2008 at 03:35 AM · I'd be careful about what you say to your teacher. You need to avoid the assumption that you expect to get something extra from your teacher, for example, canceling at the last minute and not paying for the lesson. I suggest telling her that you believe that she is undercharging, especially for her quality as a teacher, and that you'd like to pay her more.

January 14, 2008 at 03:59 AM · Wow, that is lowish. My teacher charges $45 for 45 minutes but I'm very happy with her. :)

January 14, 2008 at 03:57 AM · I think you should pay your teacher the raise and tell why you have done so.

I tend to set my rate and then keep it as long as the student stays with me. (I think of it as "grandfathering-in" the ol;der students). But several students have raised the rate over time as they were satisfiec and knew what other teachers were charging.

I do charge higher rates over time for newer students - so that over time my rates (on average) keep up with cost-of-living changes.

January 14, 2008 at 04:34 AM · I have the same "problem"---my teacher, who is phenomenal, charges $40 in a town where the going rate is usually $65 and up. I don't tip him every week, I just bring him stuff all the time. Bottles of wine, organic fruit, cds, things for his kids, etc., anything that doesn't cost a lot so I can act like it's no big deal. I'd say 2 out of 4 weeks I do this. Then on my year anniversary with him I gave him a set of strings, and on Christmas I gave him 2.5x the fee---the whole idea of tipping seems to make him feel awkward, but on Christmas I feel I can get away with it. Plus I thank him at every lesson, and he knows how much I appreciate everything he does---and I practice a lot too. Just try to be a really good student, and your teacher will be happy.

January 14, 2008 at 02:06 PM · I am aware that I charge on the low side for my area. Your teacher may or may not be, since this is not something that is or should be discussed. People in some sort of school or consortium may arrive at a uniform scale, but independent contractors are on their own. There may even be "price-fixing" implications for doing otherwise. Though who would bother to mess legally with a few music teachers?? Lucky for me, as a retiree with a pension, I teach privately in good part for entertainment and mental/musical stimulation. My adult students are mostly friends, mostly a little older than I, and most work hard for their livings while I can get by w/o working. I have different rate scales for adults and kids. Some other place I might worry about undercutting, but this is an area loaded with people looking for lessons, so my rate isn't taking food out of some starving musician's mouth. If gas goes up much more, I'm adding a buck, though, since I drive to a couple of central locations where students meet me. Sue

January 14, 2008 at 05:52 PM · Once I had a student for whom I recommended other local people for her to take lessons with while I was gone for the summer. She tried a couple of them, and when I came back, the mom said: "We went to so-and-so, and she charges $10 more than you, and we didn't even like her. So I'm going to pay you as much as she charges."

I thought that was awfully nice. I explained that I have a policy of never arguing when people try to give me money :-P

January 14, 2008 at 10:46 PM · Greetings,

at the end of the day the teacher is responsible for what they charge for whatever reasons they choose. If you feel really embarassed give her/him a really nice Christmas present.



January 14, 2008 at 11:06 PM · I have always had generous teachers, which I am extremely appreciative of, since I could not always pay the price. My first teacher had a lovely young little girl. So when my teacher would have a gig, I would babysitt for free. I also cleaned her house, cooked her family meals, and gave her gifts regularly to show her how much I appreciated her.

So, basically, I am saying if you can give her more money, that is great, but there are also many other things you can do that will contribute to making her life a lot easier. I mean, I guess my teacher benefited from me babysitting her child for free during a gig, instead of her having to give that gig money to a babysitter. She could pocket it instead.

Oh one more thing. Someone suggested giving her tips. A great idea! But I would do it incognito because she might not except if you give it to her just after a lesson. I use to give my teacher extra with a gift card or something. That way, it won't seem like a tip, but more a gift.

January 15, 2008 at 05:45 AM · I had the same dilemma too. I find my teacher charging way below the recommended fee by the Victoria Music Teacher Association here in Melbourne.

The way I showed my appreciation (other than turn up the lesson on time and prepared) is to give her something as a token of appreciation. For instance, my teacher listens to vinyl records. Once I was assigned to work outstation, I came across this used book shop with heaps of vinyl records of classical music, selling $1 each. I bought 10 for my teacher (Perlman, Menuhin, etc).

At another occasion, I came across a shop with a very unusual cat figurine. My teacher has a cat and I figured she might like it. So I got one for her.

Then there are Christmas presents, usually CDs and DVDs of classical music. I got her “Back to Bach” DVD last Christmas. In the card I wrote “After a year of listening to me playing Bach, I figured you need to re-tune your ears to the real stuff!”

I’m not saying you should buy things for teacher. But this is a way to show your token of appreciation.

January 17, 2008 at 02:38 PM · I strongly disagree with tipping teachers. If you were to tip your child's school teacher it'd be completely inappropriate. Even more so with a violin teacher!!! A teacher of the arts passes down his/her expertise of skills that have been passed down to them from great masters and have often studied in conservatories with very high tuitions. Their knowledge is to be honored, not treated as hired help.

I am a violin teacher. I am not a garcon or waitress, I do not cut your hair, I do not chauffer you around, I do not deliver your packages, I do not mow your lawn and therefore I do not want a tip! I am not your employee so I do not accept a bonus!

If you would like to be my student you will pay what I ask of you, as this is my business to be informed as to how much my expertise is worth.

You want to be nice to your teacher?? Come on time, practice what I've asked you to practice, and when you feel obliged to show your gratitude give me a nice personal gift such as cookies, a CD you think I might like, a gift certificate, or a nice candle. Gift the person.

Do not insult me with strings (I can afford my own thank you) or with an envelope of cash.

Sorry to vent, but I can't imagine being tipped by a 12 yr old student for knowledge that has come to me by way of Felix Galimir or Josef Silverstein, or anyone else that has personally contributed to my education.

January 17, 2008 at 04:07 PM · Wow, Marina, tell us how you really feel! (joke)

You would really be insulted if an adult student gave you a set of strings, especially if they knew you needed them, knew exactly what kind of strings you prefer, wrapped them up in a bow, and gave them to you with a card telling you how much you’re appreciated as a teacher? You don’t believe in practical gifts? You’d rather have a candle that sits on a shelf collecting dust?

Now, the money issue, I can understand. Still, I gave my teacher extra money at Christmas, again, with a card that thanked him for being such a wonderful teacher. If you can explain to me the difference between that and a gift certificate, I might do it differently next year.

Just fyi, I have a friend who is a Juilliard-trained pianist who makes her living as a teacher and she says she doesn’t mind gifts at all, including money at Christmas. So I think that not all teachers have the same attitude.

January 17, 2008 at 04:20 PM · Pay $30 and practice like a (intelligent) horse.

January 17, 2008 at 04:37 PM · Good answer, Mathias.

When I have a student who works hard, I never find myself thinking "I need to raise my rates..." I only think that during the bad students.

January 17, 2008 at 04:53 PM · LOL!

Hmmmmm...makes me wonder what my teacher is thinking during my lesson.

January 17, 2008 at 05:09 PM · T Netz, me too. (eek)

January 17, 2008 at 04:51 PM · I've watched this thread go by for a while and been curious because it would have never occurred to me to question and/or disagree with what a teacher was charging, except if I couldn't afford it--and even then all I would do is look for a teacher who charged less, or maybe rebudget my own finances if I decided I was willing to pay the going rate for someone who was worth it. That's what I ended up doing for my current teacher. She teaches through a music school, they handle the billing, and I pay the school's rate for an advanced teacher/student, which is a bit steeper than would be ideal for my budget, but I like my teacher, I get a lot out of the lessons, the music school is conveniently located and well regarded, and I think overall it is worth it. I like that the billing is handled separately from the lessons, it takes anything personal out of it and during the lesson we can just concentrate on the music.

In US public schools, teachers by law are not allowed to accept gifts from students or parents--monetary or otherwise--above a very low value ($20? It may be even less, I'm not sure). The point there is that there are students from all different backgrounds, many of whom cannot afford gifts, and it is important that all the students are treated equally in the eyes of the teachers. In that situation, teachers appreciate personal notes and thank-yous from the students, those are hand-made and cost next to nothing. Private schools can be different. I've heard of some pretty over-the-top holiday and end-of-year gifts to private school teachers and as a parent, I view the public school law as necessary and as a welcome relief.

But all that being said, I don't understand or accept that there is anything *insulting* about money or tips if they're not against the law in your particular situation. Those things are offered in the spirit of kindness and generosity--why not take them as such and reduce the amount of umbrage in the world? It's not as if the music world has a shortage of offense taken . . .

January 17, 2008 at 05:59 PM · Among the Xmas cards I received were a few in which the student or student's parent gave me sincere praise, usually for being patient. I've learned a lot by knowing who appreciates what. The hand drawn pictures by the kids are priceless. If you can thank your teacher by telling him/her what you really appreciate, don't wait for Xmas. Write a thank you note any time of year.

January 17, 2008 at 06:36 PM · My daughter's piano teacher used to charge a ridiculous 25/hour. And this in in Phila area, where our violin teacher charges more that 3 times that ammount!This year she moved to Princeton and because my daughter LOVES her, we decided to make an arrangement with another girl she teaches in our area and the parents take turns weekly in picking her up and driving her back home after the two lessons( she is older and doesn't drive). We took this opportunity to say to her that we appreciate the fact that she is willing to take extra time out of her own and this way increased her lesson fee. This way she didn't feel offended and we could pay her closer to the value of her teaching.


January 20, 2008 at 04:04 PM · Shailee,

How would a student know that I really need strings? What would make them believe that I couldn't afford them myself? Even if I couldn't afford strings my ego would never allow me to express a financial need to a student of all people.

Tipping and gifting are 2 different things. You tip your waitress, you don't give her a gift certificate correct? That's the difference. Someone who earns tips is in a line of work where they make their salary partially through tips. I am in a line of work where I charge for my time and expertise. Gifts are welcome any time of year, but I have a real issue with someone tipping me as it makes me feel like someone's employee.

Maybe it's just my own personal problem but in general I don't like cash gifts whether they're from a student or anyone in my life actually. They're impersonal. A gift is supposed to be thoughtful. I'd much rather have a student go to the store with their parents and pick a gift that the student would think is perfect for me rather than to tip me.

No offense to teachers out there who expect tips though haha. Seriously though I don't know respectable teachers who like that.

January 20, 2008 at 07:10 PM · Typically, it is considered bad form to tip a business owner. It is proper to tip a business employee that is providing quality service. For example, I tip the paper carriers, but not my self-employed plumber (although I doubt he is standing in the Free Cheese Line...) I also think it is good form to accept gifts graciously. I like the cards the best myself, but will never turn down chocolate.

The guy I have been taking lessons from is woefully undercharging. When I previously broached this subject, it made him uncomfortable. I think I am going to start paying him more anyway...

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