Private teaching - pros and cons

March 5, 2009 at 02:42 AM ·

Does anyone know if it is possible to exclusively make one's living on private teaching? I have been exploring many career options, since I am at that stage of my life, and I'd like to find the best lifestyle possible, both financially and family-wise. I'm looking for the most steady source of income possible with the best hours - something we musicians tend to never have. Is it inevibatle that I will have to make painful comprimises, such as giving up my weekends and/or evenings at the expense of my future family?

Replies (17)

March 5, 2009 at 04:00 AM ·


I suspect you have answered your own question. (Certainly in Japan, private teaching is a very poor financial option.)



March 5, 2009 at 04:33 AM ·

I have 34 students and a youth orchestra.  With the exception of a few homeschoolers and adults, the bulk of my lessons are after 3:30 on school days.  (I work M-TH).  Orchestra rehearsals are Saturday evenings, aproximately every other week, but many of the in-between weeks are concerts for the 2 orchestras I play with.  In addition, there are seasonal things, weddings, gigs, etc...almost all of which are on weekends. 

So, if your concern is for evening and weekends off, prob. not the best job choice...:). 

March 5, 2009 at 05:56 AM ·

From an economics standpoint - lets say you are making what an "average starting teacher in Houston" makes (since that's a number I'm actually quite sure of) - which is about $40,000/yr gross.  Lets assume you take 1 week for spring break, 2 weeks for christmas, and the week of Thanksgiving off - leaving you with 48 weeks of work.  Assume you charge $40/hr - that means you would have to work 25 hours/week.  Now you can divide that up any way you want - 5 hours/evening, weekends off, or cram in 10 hours on the weekends and then teach only one weeknight.  Clearly, charging more or less and vacation time will change the number of hours you work.

Now, I'm not sure about your family situation - if you have a wife or what she does, but I would like to bring up that outside childcare is extremely expensive and can be quite "variable" to put it kindly, so the fact that you would be home during the day to take care of your kids, while still earning some money later in the day or on the weekend can be a real benefit.  Plus, if she goes to work there's additional income to look at.

Unfortunately, with being self employed you are on your own for health insurance, IRA, taxes and things like that - so you may want to talk to a CPA before you start out full time teaching - it may be well worth the money to discuss that sort of thing with them for an hour.

Now back to the cons - teaching is also a recruiting business.  You have to find new students and keep them.  And they will have scheduling conflicts, or get sick, or need a make up lesson, so you will have to be really flexible.  So, if you're looking for stable it may take some effort, especially as students graduate or lose interest, and when you're not particularly well known to a community yet it can be hard to get a steady flow of new students.

Although a tough decision, also keep in mind that if teaching makes you really happy, you should try to go for it.  You may want to be flexible about where you teach - maybe a school orchestra director might be an option.  Best of luck to you - I hope you find what makes you happy but still keeps the lights on!

March 5, 2009 at 11:21 PM ·

March 5, 2009 at 01:44 PM ·

I don't teach private lessons because of the cons.  I don't like to work nights because I need my evenings and weekends for performing.  I know too many people who begin to build studios and then over time give up playing  altogether in order to meet the demands of their studio.  The worst part of teaching private lessons (for me) is to sit there with one kid at a time, who will probably not be practicing anyway.  I don't enjoy the energy of a private lesson and if one is going to depend on it financial then one can't be too choosy about students especially in the beginning.

Have you looked into teaching for a public school?  Or teaching private lessons through a private local music school or conservatory prep program?  I think it's easier to begin by being linked to an institution or being in a unionized program. 

No matter what I say many teachers build reputable and profitable studios but it takes time to do so.  If you plan on having a family in the near future it is best to start immediately and make sure you have a sound business plan.  Consult with successful private teachers in your area, set up a meeting with them and pick their brain about how they make it work (but don't try to steal their students haha!)

Best of luck to you.

March 5, 2009 at 02:07 PM ·

"Consult with successful private teachers in your area, set up a meeting with them..."

not sure about violin teaching field, but in many other fields, the rapport may not be there since a new comer is viewed as competition.


March 5, 2009 at 07:11 PM ·

Jodie says:

" You will be considered self- employed which means the govt will take 50% of your earnings for that year."

That is a false and misleading statement. The IRS does NOT take 50% of earnings from a self-employed worker!

In fact, being self-employed gives you the ability to consider more of your costs as business expenses. They have to be legitimate, but the point is that many costs that would not be deductible for a worker, are deductible for a self-employed worker.

The "extra" tax for a self-employed worker is one half of your social security obligation: roughly 7% of your net business income. The other half of your social security obligation would be paid in any case.

Most Americans do not earn enough to put themselves past the 20% marginal tax rate. This rate is what is applied to your *taxable* income. Let's say you have a total cash flow of $100,000 and you are single, renting an apartment, and take the standard deduction. Let's say you had $2100 of deductible business expenses. Here's how it breaks down as self-employed:


 gross proceeds

2100        expense
97900    gross profit
90411   net earnings self-employed
13833    Self Employment tax (social security)
6916   Self Employment tax adjustment
90984   Adjusted Gross Income
5450    std deduct
3500   exemption
82034    taxable income
16945    Fed income tax
20.7%    marginal income tax rate
30778    total tax
031.4%    effective total tax rate


I fail to see 50% here...

  With a family of 4, you would be significantly lower:  14% marginal tax rate, and a 21.5% total tax rate.



March 5, 2009 at 02:15 PM ·

I'd say that anyone who teaches does so with the idea that they are partially doing it as a service to the community.  The rate I charge is decent, but because teaching is not steady, I can only do so because I have someone behind me who supports the endeavor.  I feel I am helping students form a basis for their lives, building discipline, endurance, positive outlook, as well as work on being a better violinist.  So I think you have to go into it with some financial flexibility. But if bills have to be immediately met, I think you have to supplement teaching with something else that seems to coordinate.

March 5, 2009 at 02:25 PM ·

Financial needs aside...people who go into the field of teaching usually do so because they enjoy the teaching process.  You need to ask yourself, are you doing it just for the money...or do you really have a passion to pass on your knowledge and skills to others via teaching?

On the 50% thing, use your head.  It's a cash situation...claim what you want. 

March 5, 2009 at 05:30 PM ·

One good thing is I give private violin lessons to  a group of homeschoolers at their location which means daytime hours.  They do have a longer summer break with no lessons though.

March 5, 2009 at 07:18 PM ·

I notice that you live in the UK.  I do not know whether or not that affects the advice.  At least in the US, teaching at a school, either public school program or a local music school or conservatory may be the best way to have steady income and regular hours.  Ultimately, however, none of these alternatives or private teaching for that matter will make you rich.  Only you can decide how to balance these considerations.  Good luck!  My profession, law, is replete with Julliard-trained musicians who did not like that life.

March 5, 2009 at 10:46 PM ·

Well, of course living in the UK will affect information about self-employment taxes.  I agree with Bill that the 50% number is a myth.  The first year I paid taxes as a self-employed teacher, I was expecting something like that.  Then I figured out that the self-employment tax was 1/2 of your Medicare.  And then I deducted.  I deducted my utilities for the two rooms in my home that are devoted completely to each business I own.  I deducted all my office supplies.  I deducted every trip to Anchorage I made for violin maintenance or supplies.  I deducted all repairs, string purchases, and piano tunings.  I deducted every trip to town for stickers and receipt books.  I also deducted every mile I drove for rehearsals and performances.   I also continue to depreciate my instruments and bows.  As an artist, I deducted my camera, every art show, and travel expenses for hiking trips in which I glean ideas and photos for artwork.

I pay 10% - 15% in taxes as a self-employed musician/artist.  If you devote your life to music the way most musicians do, you can deduct most of what you do (plus, you do fall in a lower tax bracket).  Heck, I could deduct half my meal expense any time I eat out or have coffee and discuss my business with someone, but I don't because that's a lot of work.  It's a lot of work to reclaim all that tax money that doesn't legally belong to the government.  Most people just let them have it.

In the US, you could probably start at $40 per hour and head on up to $50 if you have good credentials and build a good reputation.  You could teach all the hours after school lets out and eventually build a studio of 40 half-hour slots or 20 hour slots and earn $600- $1000 per week, teaching 3:00 - 7:00 on weekdays only.  You will not earn this much your first year.  You will have to organize a good policy.  You will have to get your name out and have good  people skills.  You will have to put up with a lot of garbage before you fill up, but once you do and you have a waiting list, you can be more choosy.  And who knows, maybe you'll be able to charge a lot more and still get a lot of students.  You have to give it a try to see what's possible and what's not.

You also have to take holidays into account, and you may not have as many students interested in summer lessons.  Honestly, I only teach 32 weeks a year.  6 weeks off for vacation/holiday, and 14 weeks for summer, when I take a job as a baker.  (Alternating jobs is great for avoinding burnout.)  My husband and I make very little by most people's standards, but we also don't "need" as much as other people do.  Personally, I think having stuff is overrated.

If you want to play with a symphony and need your evenings free, you will need to connect with loal homeschool programs or private schools and find a stash of students who can come to lessons earlier in the day.  But you will also earn money in the symphony to offset any time slots you lose.  You can easily earn pay for gigs on the side, too.

There are a lot of variables, but you get the gist.  It's a possible, but not extravagant, lifestyle.  I chose to keep things simple by not having kids.  The thought of being a musician and having kids at the same time is not appealing to me, so the sacrifice isn't a big deal.  You may not want to be busy every evening when your kids get home from school.  You might not ever be there if you had a different job, though.  At least when you're self-employed, you can have some say on when you work.  

Self-employment as a musician gives you a whole lot of responsibility and rewards you with a whole lot of freedom.     

March 5, 2009 at 11:29 PM ·

On a bit of a tangent -

I prefer taking lessons at an official studio - vs. in someone's home.

However, I'm okay with private homes too if there is a decent practice/teaching room set up.

I will not however, ever take lessons again with anyone who is also looking after small children while working from home.  It was stressful - noisy - constant interruptions - I certainly couldn't focus.  I also resented having to pay for full lessons, when I didn't get full lessons.

Just   something to consider should you end up setting up a business...



March 6, 2009 at 02:15 PM ·

All these responses are very interesting and I thank everyone for their advice...Let's now broaden the topic...How does this question apply to different kinds of teachers. It seems like there's a wide range of perspective on self-employment. Does anyone know how does this question apply to conservatory/university teachers vs. public/private school teachers? Are there pros and cons to doing self-employment vs. school-employment?

Thanks again guys,



ps - I will move back to the USA next year, so all these answers DO apply!

March 6, 2009 at 08:03 PM ·

N.A. Mohr,

It sounds like you got a bummer of a teacher.  How unprofessional!  Of course, any private teacher should have a separate room devoted to the lesson, and keep the phone in another room, and make every effort to give you full attention during the time you paid for instruction.

March 6, 2009 at 09:16 PM ·

In regards to self-employment versus school-employment: each have different advantages and disadvantages.

schedule: a school schedule is typically set and you can be home by a certain time, unless something keeps you after school.  However, it is not very flexible.  However, keep in mind you do get the summer off, so you could work at a music camp, do wedding gigs, or find other things to do during the summer.  Working as a private teacher your schedule is also somewhat set to afternoon/evening or weekend teaching, but it you can be more flexible with it especially from "semester" to "semester". 

Pay: Which actually pays more/better depends on a lot of factors, so that is hard to comment on.  Working for the school district, however, you will get health insurance for you and your family, some retirement account set up, and your taxes are already taken out.  Your pay check will be the same every 2 weeks.  Self-employment requires you to be on top of those things yourself or to hire a CPA/financial advisor to do it for you.

People:  obviously if you are a private teacher you are working 1-1 or maybe 2-1 at most.  When you teach at school you are working with a huge room of kids.  They are very social, chatty, sometimes they don't do what you want, and it is always harder to control a big group.  At school, you will also be asked to cover for other teacher who are late/absent during your off-period (possibly - this may depend on the quality of the school), you will have to go to meetings, you will have to supervise kids during national testing.  You have cafeteria duty.  So, as a teacher in a public school, your job is not simply to teach music, you are part of a team and sometimes that includes doing things that have nothing to do with music.  As a private teacher you run your own show.

Parents: This is also variable depending on what kind of school you teach at (prep vs. inner city, etc), but some parents will be extremely involved and ask you why their daughter isn't first chair, and other parents will never give you a working phone number.  In private lessons, the parents are usually accessible and are usually not asking you about why their kid got a B+ in orchestra or isn't sitting first chair.  However, I think private teaching there is more pressure on you to prepare kids for all-state or competitions because the parents know that the school teacher doesn't have time to give their kids intensive personal training.


Cheers, and best of luck!


March 7, 2009 at 01:02 AM ·

Many musicians I know from far or close often have an husband/wife with a more "money making" carrer.   Get yourself a doctor who loves violin!  Just joking of course!  But today, I find this kind of risky...  The best is something that you can live on alone. (without help of someone else).  

Good luck!


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