Teachers who make house calls

February 11, 2018, 3:47 PM · Here in the Silicon Valley area (land of the $2 million "starter home" and unholy traffic), a number of the kids I know have violin/piano lessons in their own homes.

I don't think I knew anyone who did this growing up: we went to a teacher's home or studio. I'm curious: is this a 21st century phenomenon or a Bay Area phenomenon--or both?

I started wondering about this when my son's friend, describing his piano teacher, said "yeah, she's good, I guess...but she's late a lot." Our traffic issues here are non-trivial.

As a teacher, would you prefer to teach on your home turf (advantage: efficiency, access to your music library and own piano, etc.) or travel to students' homes? (advantage: no need to have studio, ability to live in less expensive community but teach in high rent district, etc.?)

Replies (36)

February 11, 2018, 3:52 PM · It's possible that most teachers in a high housing cost market have roommates, apartments, etc. and can't teach out of their home.
February 11, 2018, 4:17 PM · I stopped teaching violin and cello about 10 years ago - I had started in this, my new location ten years before that (but started elsewhere 30 years before that). Here, in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, where there were many more experienced (and probably more capable) teachers than I was I thought being a "traveling teacher" would give me a slight advantage in picking up some students who might otherwise not have the opportunity to get lessons. That did work. I did not charge more for an "away lesson" and some were within 10 or so minutes from my home - but there were a couple that required me to drive to other towns - even at rush hour and I spent twice as much time traveling to one of them as I spent at the lesson. I remember one late afternoon when the traffic was so backed up on the freeway 2 miles from my home that I could not get more than one mile from my home before the road was a "parking lot." I think that family move away shortly after that.

I also had room at home that was set up exclusively for music and lessons.

Edited: February 11, 2018, 5:02 PM · I'm reminded of a piano teacher that I had in high school. He was poor. His living was earned gigging in country and western bands. He and his wife and their baby (a lovely family all around) lived in a small apartment in the next town over. They shared one car -- a dilapidated AMC Matador. He had no piano at home -- only a Hammond B3 organ and a Minimoog synthesizer. So there were actually a few times when I drove to his apartment (ca. 15 min drive), picked him up, drove to my house, had my lesson, and then took him home. You might wonder how my parents would ever tolerate that, but the fact was that this man was a tremendous piano teacher and a true intellectual. He is the man who actually taught me -- finally -- how to practice, and who taught me most of my theory. Sometimes my "one hour" lesson would stretch to 1.5 hours because he'd be showing me how to analyze Allegros or fugues or whatever, and then on a couple of occasions he'd stay for dinner (or at least have a bowl of whatever soup my mom had made that day), and in the interval between my lesson and dinner my mom would serve him tea and he would thumb through my mom's vast collection of art books and we'd talk about the most incredible things from painting to politics (he was for Anderson in 1980). That kind of open-ended teaching seems rare these days. I've been in touch with him through Facebook and truly my lessons with him were among my best childhood memories. The moral of the story in the context of this thread is that convenience is not even close to the most important thing. The important thing is whether you're being inspired.
Edited: February 11, 2018, 5:09 PM · Would I do it? not as a regular practice. I'd have to charge 3X my fee. Just imagine the hours spent driving, the wear and tear on the car, the absolute scheduling nightmare.

I suppose if someone is willing to do it that's fine, but personally I'd say it's a terrible business model. Even if you share a house and can't teach there or something, you'd be better off renting a studio somewhere than having to fight CA traffic.

February 11, 2018, 5:13 PM · Yeah I guess back to the question, I can't imagine doing this anywhere where there is a lot of traffic, and you'd have to be compensated for travel time somehow. One of the things I am VERY thankful for is the fact that I live in a place where I just do not have to spend a lot of time driving.
February 11, 2018, 5:27 PM · To me it honestly sounds miserable. You wouldn't be in control of your space. You'd be at the mercy of traffic. There'd be wear and tear on your vehicle. etc. It's the freeway phil model of teaching. Plus there's a weird power dynamic here that I can't quite put my finger on. It seems less respectful to insist that a teacher come to you.
February 11, 2018, 5:43 PM · A lot of teachers my age (i.e. teaching on the side as a part-time job) are forced to do this, as the children's parents have a lot more control over the situation. Whenever possible we try to add the cost of transport onto the price of the lesson.

In my city most professional/adult teachers don't put up with this except for special circumstances.

February 11, 2018, 7:26 PM · I'm not a teacher, but if I were, I wouldn't want this kind of arrangement. More than time in traffic or automotive wear and tear, there's the issue of pupils' family members -- and then what about pets? Some family members and some animals, from what I've read, can be quite a challenge.

My first teacher taught in the public school system the next town over and then came to my home after school once a week to give me private lessons. It was a good situation on all sides. She lived about a 5-minute walking distance down the street from us. She was VERY punctual. My family members weren't a problem for either of us. For 1 hour a week, my teacher and I had the living room to ourselves. The others respected our weekly time slot and left us alone.

Edited: February 11, 2018, 7:49 PM · I have one guitar student who I do this for, and it is basically a financial loss for me. I phased the others out or converted them to home students. I no longer offer this to new students.

It costs nearly $10 in fuel to get there and back, as well as taking twice as long as a regular lesson. The bigger problem is the arrangement was made when I still offered full hour lessons at a price point which now buys a half hour lesson. In the time it takes to teach this one lesson I could fill the space with 4 students from home and make 4x as much.

Because of the families location and I suspect financial situation, I won't cut them off, but I would never take on a new student with this arrangement.

That said, due to weather and other circumstances I also haven't been able to meet with this student since before Christmas, another draw back when you live somewhere where the weather can be quite aggressive.

Other, less serious problems that occurred during the past and occur now are:

Lesson plans need to be solid - you need to be prepared on the spot to have more or less advanced material ready. When at home this is easy to deal with - when you're half an hour away in the middle of nowhere and there is no printer it's less easy to deal with.

Environment can be unpredictable. I have a room at home set up just for work and teaching. It has a keyboard, extra instruments, strings, books, theory sheets, and a printer/scanner.

Pets! In the past pets have been an issue

Cancellation. Bad weather? You have to make time to reschedule or lose payment.

Last minute cancellation? you could already be out the door. Sure you can charge them for the lesson, but you'll never get the 45 minutes of road time back.

February 11, 2018, 8:10 PM · Here in the DC area, that's a pretty common model for the sorts of people who teach via TakeLessons.com and Thumbtack and whatnot. And there are some people who are willing to pay for convenience -- basically as much or more for a 30-minute at-home lesson as another teacher might charge for an hour in their own studio. Also some people have multiple kids, which might make it more worthwhile.
February 11, 2018, 8:56 PM · There is no way I would agree to teach students in their homes. I couldn't charge enough to make the time and aggravation worth it.
February 11, 2018, 9:21 PM · It is just a supply and demand issue. My daughter’s piano teacher comes to our house. There are too many pianists.
February 11, 2018, 9:22 PM · I think it very depends on overall situation. In my area ( not USA) the rent of a music studio or an apartment where you aloud to have a music lessons is so high, that for parents it would be the same price to cover travelling costs (time, fuel or tickets) and get a lesson at home as to pay a lesson, where the rent would be included. No need to say, what parents prefer, especially, when the traffic is a problem. Furthermore, having a teacher at home means to have a guest: tea, dinner on special occasions, discussions. It is in deed more than just a lesson, the bond between teacher and a child/family is stronger.

The capacity for one teacher is limited. The best teachers have long waiting lists and have opportunity to choose students based on trial lessons, as well as to stop, so students and families are more motivated, actually. My friend is a piano teacher- she has only 5 families at a time. She manage to live out of it: 60$ per hour + travel costs. Usually families combine children and different type of lessons in one set (piano individual+music theory+solfedgio) so on average she gets 180-200$ per evening resulting in up to 1000$ per week, with spent time in a families where she feels like a member.

The traffic issue is still there, but if the family already scheduled the whole evening to a music sessions- to be late even for half an hour is not a huge problem.

Edited: February 12, 2018, 1:33 AM · In the 1970's my teacher drove across L.A. to give me 90 minute lessons. I'm not sure why she preferred to do so, as she was successful and well-known, but she did. It helped that my home had a soundproofed detached studio with a Steinway D, but this teacher commuted to other students as well.
Edited: February 12, 2018, 2:18 AM · I do know a violin teacher who travels to her students. She does not want to teach out of music schools and her husband does not want her to teach at home. She doesn't teach enough students to rent a studio space of her own.

To rent a tiny sound-proof commercial space in our city, monthly rent would be at least $3,000.

February 12, 2018, 8:00 AM · I know a pro violinist who taught violin lessons/classes in three different locations in rural southwestern Virginia, commuting to each location on a separate day, for probably 5 years. I suspect the effort was supported by some university outreach funds, though. And on the "off" days he taught regular lessons out of his home and he plays in fee-for-service orchestras.

If your own home is no good for giving lessons, you can very likely rent a room in someone else's home -- there are plenty of retirees who have the room and could benefit from a little additional income. I know a cello teacher who lives in a place that is not convenient for parents to drive to, so she rents out a room in the home of one of her adult students. She's been doing this for at least three years.

$3000 in monthly rent sounds exorbitant. Churches also rent out rooms -- maybe at lower rates? With churches there may be certain weeks when your space is not available. It depends!

February 12, 2018, 8:18 AM · Please understand that for big cities, there's no other alternative unless you are well-off, established, and/or have a big teaching studio. This is an example of the fundamental divide between places like NYC and others. It's not about "classes" (which I don't believe in, even if Society does), being a "servant", and whathaveyou. You either have to rent a space to teach, have a wonderful place to teach from, teach from a school/academy, or just conform to travel to someone's place.

As I use mass transportation and don't even drive in the City (I used to elsewhere, long ago), I don't see "any problem" or moral dilemmas in traveling to someone's place to teach. It's not "demeaning", and it can be the most practical solution for many. Whenever I see an adult with a violin in the subway, I don't often think "he/she is going to rehearsal" or "getting a lesson"-even though that may be the case-but more along the lines of "I wonder where he/she is getting to to teach."

(Of course, if you are well-established with 6-8 hours+ of students per day, the above may not apply, as traveling becomes more prohibitive even using mass transit.)

February 12, 2018, 8:33 AM · "I don't see "any problem" or moral dilemmas in traveling to someone's place to teach"

I don't think anyone suggested it was a moral dilemma. I guess it's a matter of life choices and your market.
The reason physicians don't do it anymore is simply that it's extremely inefficient.

Edited: February 12, 2018, 9:43 AM · 4 students per day (x5) at $100 per hour lesson for 7 months of the year = $66,000 minus transportation expenses. Not bad considering 3 full months off (jun, Jul, Aug) plus statutory holidays. Car expenses including maintenance + gas assuming 4 hr per day in transit (total 8 hr work day) is about $10,000 per year. Tax deductible of course. So providing a full schedule is possible, it's an acceptable business model for some.
February 12, 2018, 10:01 AM · My experience in Blacksburg suggests to me that college towns are good places to hang out a shingle if "mainly teaching" is what you want to do. Lots of professors whose kids are multi-tasking super-achievers, with money to spend on lessons, real estate is affordable and the place is easy to get around. But if you are in NYC for all of the other types of employment and performance opportunities, well, these will not be duplicated in a semi-rural place.
February 12, 2018, 11:08 AM · I was the one who may have implied that it seemed demeaning for a teacher here to travel to the student. I think it has to do with the teacher's role as respected expert vs. family employee. House cleaners, gardeners, and nannies come to the home. It is interesting to me to see the subtle shift in power that comes from a family accustomed to all of the above staff also having a teacher show up at their home. I mean no disrespect to any of the aforementioned professionals but this does to me represent the pinnacle of privilege, somehow. It values parent/nanny driving time more than teacher driving time. Of course this is culturally specific to the Bay Area. It's also immensely practical and I'm sure many of the families treat their teachers (and other service providers) with respect. I'm just...bemused by the model. I think once a kid gets serious and studies with a top-notch teacher, the dynamic reverses. In fact, my friend's 13-year-old daughter has been put on probation by her teacher because she can't manage more than 30 minutes of practice/day during the school week. If she can't turn this around within a month, she'll be fired as a student. (I'm glad my teacher wasn't this exacting!)
Edited: February 12, 2018, 11:15 AM · It is not a “social class/in house service” issue. Please don’t go there!

Our daughter’ piano teacher is a recent conservatory graduate and the spouse of a recently hired tenure-track colleague. They live in an apartment with a small child and don’t have a piano. Going to her students is her only way to build a studio.

February 12, 2018, 11:17 AM · I hear you David. I think I'm reacting to a very specific vibe that I'm picking up from parents here.

(How does a piano teacher not have a piano, though?!)

February 12, 2018, 11:25 AM · Katie, they are a young family just starting out and are kind of new to the area.
Edited: February 12, 2018, 2:18 PM · Katie, it's not the house work that is demeaning. Doctors do house calls too (if you got enough $)! It's the attitude of some wealthy idiots toward those they consider "inferior" that sucks. Always been, always will be.
February 12, 2018, 2:32 PM · . I think it has to do with the teacher's role as respected expert vs. family employee.

I think you are partly right.
Historically, at least here in Europe, upper class would give some musical education for all children for salon performances among friends by hiring a musician governor for the house. Musicians historically were lower class, leaving poor, with very few exceptions, when upper class decided that a musician is interesting enough to support him/her financially. The highest possible position - to serve in the royal palace or at the main church and get income from the highest class. And good teachers were never there. They always were dependent on parents.
However, the music teacher always were much higher than house help and nannies. The former two were indeed very low class.

On the other hand, for some classes to be a good musician or to be a good music teacher was the only one option to avoid very hard physical work. In those families parents would work hard to afford music lessons for their children and children would run even 15km each way to get lesson at maestro's place and tolerate everything hoping that it would take them out from hell...

If to transpose this to a current situation, SFB is the richest area of the richest country, so people do value their time higher than teacher's time. The same at my suburb here in Denmark, families live in big expensive houses, while music teachers in small apartments. For parents,it is easier to pay extra, and get a music lessons in their salon, than to organize all the travellings to teacher's studio.
However, children from getto consider my friend's apartment as a palace from dreams and travel to her 40 min each way by public transport and I am sure they never will invite her to their house.

Thus, a teacher is both 1) expert for one class and 2) family employee for another.

February 12, 2018, 3:39 PM · As a piano technician naturally I have no choice but to work in the client's house. So I know what it's like to travel constantly. But I think it really comes down to this:

Are you charging what is necessary? I don't care what people think of me or whether they consider themselves "above" me socially.

The only thing that counts is that one agrees to the terms of the job, and that you feel it is worth your time.
If you do travel to teach and you constantly feel that you aren't getting what you deserve, then restructure your fee.

If you're getting paid well but you still feel as if you're a servant, then chose another profession.
The whole idea of being in business for yourself is that you get to chose how to conduct it.

February 12, 2018, 6:55 PM · We have three kids and do home lessons. The teacher comes for 1.5 hours, and she's been kind enough to basically work with us on which kid/when/for how long. The teacher is a good violinist, but her main instrument is piano. She does piano with daughter and violin with two sons, and daughter also sometimes plays violin with a brother. It works here because weather isn't an issue, there's great public transport, and we're very flexible on schedule also.
February 12, 2018, 7:48 PM · "4 students per day (x5) at $100 per hour lesson for 7 months of the year = $66,000 minus..."

LOL...weeping a bit...LOL...Not in my experience

I think the standard for most places is $50 an hour. So cut that income in half. (If you can charge $100 an hour, you also have significant student loans and an expensive instrument) Then take off for weeks the parents flake and forget the lesson, the kid is sick, etc. Also, take off Friday, because most parents don't want to cart kids to lessons on Friday night. Then add in the period when one student leaves and you don't find a new one until the new month. See where this is going? It's not particularly stable income.

Edited: February 12, 2018, 7:51 PM · "4 students per day (x5) at $100 per hour lesson for 7 months of the year = $66,000 minus..."

LOL...weeping a bit...LOL...Not in my experience

I think the standard for most places is $50 an hour. So cut that income in half. (If you can charge $100 an hour, you also have significant student loans and an expensive instrument, or are a highly skilled professional at the peak of your career) Then take off for weeks the parents flake and forget the lesson, the kid is sick, etc. Also, take off Friday, because most parents don't want to cart kids to lessons on Friday night. Then add in the period when one student leaves and you don't find a new one until the new month. See where this is going? It's not particularly stable income.

Edited: February 12, 2018, 10:42 PM · Theres nothing demeaning to do housecalls, whatever the profession. Im sure none would consider a music teacher a cleaner here. What an idea, it would be totally impossible here in the north of Europe. It wouldnt even cross anyones mind. Ive done housecalls in my job and never ever would I have been considered less for that.

The problem is that in non equal countries tha riches get into the head of the rich and there comes a lot of problems for that. It must be a sad area where things are so bad that a professional music teacher is considered a servant, but it is the problem of the society not a problem of the business model

February 12, 2018, 11:29 PM · It’s been a very long time since I’ve taught a student in his or her own home, and I will not do it, not just because it is an inconvenient and money-losing proposition, but also because I think it is important to have a special place for lessons, a controlled environment, if you will. I find students (and parents) get very casual and passive when the lesson is at their home. Also all of my music and materials are in my studio!
February 13, 2018, 1:13 AM · I think it's mostly only viable for teachers who can't teach out of their place due to roommates and such. I guess they could teach through music schools instead, but most take 50% or so from the hourly rate of their teachers, so it's still probably more cost-effective for some to drive to the house of the students than to do it through music schools.
February 14, 2018, 5:20 AM · I've seen a few good teachers specialize in making house calls in a "bedroom community" here where the maximum drive is like 15-20 minutes with moderate traffic to reach most of their students. There is a critical mass of students and it's one of the things that sets those teachers apart.
February 26, 2018, 11:54 AM · I used to do it in London, but only for the very wealthy. I charged a serious hourly rate plus travel. There was never a shortage of students who were the children of heads of investment houses and banks. They, in part, funded my violin collection.

I had some interesting experiences. One room I taught in had a Monet, a Dali, and a Picasso on the wall. A maid in uniform would bring me a coffee on a silver tray in antique porcelain. Another young student was bought a violin for ONLY £50,000 because they weren’t serious...

Now I live in the real world and charge normal fees, and my students come to my studio.

Cheers Carlo

February 26, 2018, 12:40 PM · I know of a violin teacher in my region who does house calls for pupils who are unable to get to her studio regularly. She charges a higher rate for the house calls to reflect the non-earning travelling time and vehicle use.

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