Teacher commission to help buy violin

July 3, 2018, 3:02 PM · How much of a commission should I expect to give my teacher for helping me find a violin. I would expect her to go with me to a shop at least 40 miles away and spend an hour or two playing for me and listening to me. Then I'm sure I would try a few at home and have her help me decide in a lesson. I might try spending about $5000. comments? thoughts?

Replies (26)

Edited: July 3, 2018, 4:13 PM · Remember - this is JUST ME. I don't want to speak for any other teacher.

I've performed this service many times for my students over the years and I've never expected to paid for it. I consider it to be part of my job.

I have received things as a thank you, mostly gift cards, and my students and their families usually take me out to lunch or something like that. But to me thats all extra.

July 3, 2018, 3:29 PM · I've never paid a commission to a teacher, and I have never expected one from a student. If your teacher is asking for that, I personally think that's not appropriate.

You could offer to pay her the usual hourly lesson fee for her time if she's driving to a shop and helping you. If she declines, a nice gift and thank you note.

July 3, 2018, 3:30 PM · If the teacher is getting a commission, it usually comes from the shop and is hidden in whatever price the shop quotes you.

I think it is more ethical on the shop's part and more straightforward for you to offer to compensate your teacher for her time at her lesson rate.

Personally I do not charge my students for this kind of assistance but I don't turn a fee down if they insist...and our local shop is five minutes away from my house so there is that. 40 miles away is quite a drive so I think it would be fair for you to offer to pay your teacher.

July 3, 2018, 3:34 PM · She hasn't asked (I haven't mentioned getting a new violin) I just want to be prepared. I thought it was the way things worked when someone helps your search.
July 3, 2018, 3:45 PM · I did this for some students for no compensation nor commission. Frankly, I much preferred to do this to having a beginning student arrive with an inferior instrument already in hand. However, if I had had a heavy teaching and rehearsal load it might have been difficult to find available time. One of my cello students was a piano teacher who had a studio of 60-70 weekly students. It is hard to imagine he could have found time to help students select instruments when shops were open had he been a string teacher.
July 3, 2018, 4:11 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen. Many teachers would not charge you, but it's fair to compensate them if it's a long drive, which it is in this case.

A fair amount would be her normal hourly lesson fee, times the amount of time required -- not just the time you spend in the shop, but the commute time also.

Edited: July 3, 2018, 4:16 PM · "I thought it was the way things worked when someone helps your search. "

Often a shop pays the teacher commission. If you are going to view an auction in the hope of bargain, of course only the student could pay the teacher. In a shop, a risk of the secret commission system is that a teacher may lean to a more expensive instrument which is no better (bigger commission).

Not that most teachers know much about violins. Of course we all know what we like.

My thoughts, for what it is worth: until you know what you want in a violin and why, be patient? After all, the relationship between quality and price is notoriously loose.

Another thought: "I would expect her to go with me to a shop at least 40 miles away and spend an hour or two playing for me and listening to me." Of course you will sound best on a violin relatively similar to the one you have, so your plan may be a way of guaranteeing that you the new violin is not *too* much better than what you have. A very different violin is a challenge. If there is an undiscovered Strad in the mix, your method of choosing will probably ensure that it is knocked out of the competition in the first round.

Tricky, choosing a fiddle! A few hundred on a setup and a good set of strings can make a world of difference. $5k would pay for a good setup, and a nice bow, which (depending on what you have) might make more difference.

July 3, 2018, 4:14 PM · As a student, I would offer to compensate for the teachers time at the same rate of lessons, and I would include travel time. If teacher offers time for free or a much reduced rate, I would remember that at holiday time and give an appropriate gift.
Edited: July 3, 2018, 9:34 PM · This has been a subject of discussion here.... In my opinion it is impossible to avoid conflict of interest unless you pay your teacher for time spent or a flat fee. I have already stated many times, do not ever disclose how much money you can spend on a violin. You are looking for violin to suit your musical needs. Violins are not priced as electronic equipment or other goods on the market, where more money can buy more features.
Edited: July 3, 2018, 6:54 PM · I couldn't agree with Rocky more. Never tell what your budget is. Ask to see violins 50% lower and up to your full budget. You will be surprised that more often than not, a cheaper violin than what you are prepared to pay for, might be a superior sounding violin than the more expensive ones. Provenance comes with a price, but it's no guarantee for a good sound.
This I have personal experience with. Most of you regulars are aware I own one of the better Guarneri Vuillaumes, in as new condition with sound to match. It has beaten numerous real Guarneris on sound. here I am bidding on a lowly Jacquot which proved to be equal to my Vuillume in sound. I paid the princely sum of 7000 euros for it.
July 3, 2018, 7:53 PM · The "fair" thing in my opinion is to pay the teacher their going hourly rate.

I often do this service for free if it's a good student, but I would be offended if a student *expected* me to do it for free.

Edited: July 3, 2018, 9:19 PM · I agree with Erik. Evaluating a $5000 violin is professional work. My own feeling is that teachers want to be friendly and generous about this kind of thing, but honestly many of them can hardly afford it. Nobody wants to feel like they're cheating their violin teacher.

Teachers can actually increase the comfort level of most parents by spelling out (perhaps in a studio policy document) the fees for various things, obviating the awkward conversation.

"Instrument Evaluation. I do not accept sales commissions from dealers because I consider that practice unethical. Instead, I charge my clients my usual hourly lesson rate for this service. A child's (fractional) instrument can usually be evaluated quickly during their regular lesson time so that a separate appointment is not needed. For long evaluation session (e.g., one that might exceed two hours because there are several violins to evaluate or because we need to travel to visit a dealer), a modest discount can be negotiated so that your evaluation remains affordable."

Edited: July 3, 2018, 10:13 PM · Regardless whether your teacher get a commission from the dealer or not (no need to ask her), you should get your teacher:
1. Money for 2 hours lesson rate (put it in a nice envelope), and
2. A small delicious cake to show your gratitude.

It's hard to find a teacher with this good personality (40 miles drive!) and you should reward her. Unfortunately (maybe it's just my luck) there're plenty of teachers with superb techniques but are just plain a*holes.

July 3, 2018, 11:07 PM · Great responses. Thank you. My current is about $1500 to 2000. I've been playing almost seven years. I upgraded my bow 2 years ago and found a really nice one. I want to find my forever violin and I'm an adult so "I do what I want" lol.
so I should expect to pay her my lesson rate and probably gas money. The shop I usually go to is a popular one for people in my area. I have gone several times to play and have someone else play for me so that I can decide what I want in a violin. They usually bring me the range i give them and something a little less in the bottom of the range i ask for. Then sometimes they sneak in something above but not crazy.It's good to hear instruments better than what you have so you can get compare what good violins sound like. I think I have a good idea now so when I'm serious, she(my teacher) can help me make sure I hear what I think I do. I trust her and I'm sure she'll do what's right for me. I don't care If she gets a commission from the dealer. I know them, too and I'm fine with it.
July 3, 2018, 11:40 PM · My guess is that you're not going to find a huge difference, although there'll be a slight step up, probably, depending on how good your current violin is for its price. $2k - $3.5k or so gets you the best of the workshop instruments. Then you're generally looking at $10k+ for established contemporary makers.
July 3, 2018, 11:52 PM · Numerous shops have approached me about commissions during my teaching career. One shop even flat out told me "What will it take to get your studio business? Just name your price."

I can't do it.

July 4, 2018, 7:59 AM · Given your new information, I think it would be much more efficient for you to go to the shop on your own, try out instruments, and select two or three violins to take out on approval. Bring these to your next lesson and get your teacher’s opinion. Go back to the shop, hold onto the one you and your teacher have agreed is the best out of the batch, and select one or two others to take out on approval with it. Repeat this process until you are satisfied that you have the best violin for you. This will spread the process out over a much longer period of time but it gives you a chance to give the instruments a fair trial, and it is much more respectful of your teacher’s time than asking her to make an 80 mile round trip perhaps more than once.
July 4, 2018, 9:10 AM · Mary Ellen's advice would be typical practice. I suppose driving someplace wouldn't be out of the question in unusual circumstances. I know one very fine maker who refuses to ship his violins out for trial.

I generally don't charge students who show up with several violins and want an opinion. We just make it part of the lesson. They have that much less time left for the actual lesson.

Most people here seem to agree: if driving, it should be hourly lesson time plus X amount for mileage. A typical amount for mileage is something like .50c per mile. Whether that .50c is for each one-way or round-trip will vary from person to person, but seems to be typical for in-home service professionals.

Remember, you have to account not only for the teacher's hour, but for the hour he/she CAN'T teach while driving or sitting in traffic. It's a student that can't be scheduled.

Edited: July 4, 2018, 10:53 AM · Tomorrow I will be going with my teacher to a violin shop to try some bows. I asked him to come with me during my weekly class, and he agreed, so this is the way I'm paying him.

Important fact to consider: the shop is very near to the place where I take classes with him, so he can spend almost that hour with me and still arrive in time for the next student.

In a situation like yours, I think it would be best to follow Mary Ellen's advice if the shop lets you take the violins with you. I've been told this is not common practice where I live, as the shopkeepers have had bad experiences by doing so. If the latter is the case, then I would simply ask the teacher, or pay her proportionally to the time spent with you, taking the price of a class hour as the base for the final pay.

And, as others have said, you can even give her a small gratitude present (I did this with my piano teacher long ago, and gave her a book she enjoyed). Of course, what to gift depends a bit on who you are giving it to...

July 4, 2018, 10:55 AM · When I took an instrument home for trial I had to execute a "conditional purchase." In other words, I effectively had to buy it using a credit card with the condition that I could return it in a specified amount of time (I think we agreed to one week). That way, if I wrecked it or stole it the seller already had compensation - although the seller already had the instrument insured as part of his MO.
Edited: July 4, 2018, 12:07 PM · I think that is a reasonable way to proceed. As far as I know, some shops used to ask just for a part of the full price. Some others just trusted the customer completely. And then, they found out that some people were serious and loyal, but some other used to take the instruments for "half the price" without paying the rest, forcing the shop to sue them, or that they returned the instrument in bad condition, etc.

This situations were common enough to make music shops stop "lending" equipment for trial periods.

July 4, 2018, 4:37 PM · Policies vary per shop. One of my local shops require you to provide a credit card and sign an agreement allowing them to charge your card if you fail to return the stuff on trial within the specified period.

For less expensive stuff, shops sometimes have those items trialed "on approval", which is effectively a purchase with a return policy.

But the norm in the vast majority of US shops, as far as I know, is either an unsecured trial (where you don't pay anything and they don't take any form of payment from you), or a trial that's simply secured by a credit card, with no money up front.

Edited: July 4, 2018, 5:04 PM · I wonder what kind of thing you are looking for? Probably a high-grade French workshop instrument, about 100 years old, at that price? A top-quality Chinese workshop instrument? Or would you hope to get an American or English master-made instrument? Not that the latter is automatically better, though they tend to be. I ask that really just to prompt getting a bit of information and thinking through what is realistic. If the violin is ugly, you might get a better sounding instrument for the money, as they are harder to sell, but who wants an ugly fiddle?

What I have done, and would do again, is buy a new or nearly new violin. Generally prices are the same from a shop or direct from the maker. You'd struggle to get a master-made instrument for $5000 in most shops, aside from an amateur, or a professionally trained maker just starting out. However, a new individually made violin may not be completely out of reach, and may be better than a high-grade older workshop (as distinct from master-made) instrument which you might expect for that price. Resale value is poor on new instruments compared with an older instrument, aside from the most famous living makers. However, the upsides of buying new is that it can often give you a better instrument for the price than an antique, and a lower chance of cracks appearing and so on, it is almost the only kind of violin where you know it is what it says on the label, and you have the satisfaction of experiencing the insturment's sound opening up (unless you disbelieve that kind of thing). It is also rather fun of course, buying direct from the maker.

Edited: July 5, 2018, 4:49 PM · John, in the situation you describe I think the price range would be usually something in the range of 10,000 to 15,000 price wise...no? Less than 5,000 I think it would either be new a new Chinese factory or old European factory instrument (which cover a wide range of price range depending on the particular instrument) . I think between 5000 and 10000 in terms of new instruments, usually not so known (that is to the western clientele ) or at least non-big name makers from eastern European countries. Young makers in the more affluent western countries might slightlystart charging at around 10000, maybe a bit less...but not around 5000.

Of course this is all too general and my suspicion but would be interesting to hear what everyone has to say.

As a student myself, I would pay for the teacher's time and for incurred inconvenience. But I wouldn't like the idea of a teacher not being impartial owing to an obligation she would have towards the shop.

July 5, 2018, 7:04 PM · If you post “Have $5,000. What should I buy?”on the other violin (making) forum, you will get offers from makers willing to sell one for $5,000.

But, sadly, the conclusion on the now deleted thread was, go to a reputable store and look for a quality workshop violin.

July 10, 2018, 4:11 PM · A piece of advice from a relative of mine in the insurance business: If you take an instrument out on trial, and something happens to it, the violin shop's insurance will reimburse the shop (minus deductable) for the value of the violin, should the shop decide to file a claim.

The shop's insurance company may however want to recoup that money they had to pay out to the shop by going after *you* for it, especially if they think there was some negligence involved.

Many assume that because "the violin is insured" that they're covered as well, but it's really the shop that is covered.

You might want to consider adding the instrument(s) to your musical instrument or homeowner's policy during the trial week(s) that you have them, so that you also are covered in the unlikely event something bad happens. For a couple weeks, the amount of money is very small, and all you need to do is submit appraisals (from the shop) to your insurance agent.

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