Charging for trial lessons

June 5, 2019, 5:35 PM · Another commenter mentioned that he never paid for trial lessons. I wondered if that was a common practice. I always charge for every lesson, even a trial. When I get a call for a new student, I am very upfront about my hourly rate, but I also tell potential students that the first lesson is for them to decide if they want to continue lessons with me or shop around for another teacher. I even give them a few other names if they seem to want it.

I always charge for my time, and wondered if it's anyone else's practice to give a lesson for free.

Replies (35)

June 5, 2019, 5:40 PM · If you are "hard up" you might give a free lesson as a "come on" and write it off as "advertising." But if you can take it or leave it, it's probably because you have a full schedule already and don't need it.

When I was teaching I advertised on line and at the local music store and never gave a free lesson. However if a first lesson was an absolute "bust" I probably would not have charged (but that would have been after the fact).

June 5, 2019, 6:15 PM · I'm with Andy. I think whether you charge or not depends on how badly you typically want/need another student. The single best thing for any private violin studio is a waiting list.
June 5, 2019, 6:22 PM · I’ve had 3 teachers and never had a free lesson with any of them. Not only that, but the conservatory in my town has a music program where the students going for their masters in performance can teach and they require you to pay a full semesters worth of lessons up front.
June 5, 2019, 6:30 PM · For what its worth, I always pay for a lesson whether or not it is offered for free. I can see under charging for the first lesson because often some time is spent just going through practical details, but if there is learning IMO it should be paid for. [And yes, I have paid for lessons that were offered free unless the teacher insisted.]
Edited: June 5, 2019, 7:21 PM · Huh, this is interesting. I think I have never paid for a trial lesson, and only rarely for a first lesson, and sometimes I haven't even ended up paying for one-off lessons. Note that this is despite offering to pay at the end of the lesson, the teacher saying no need, and my asking, "Are you certain? It's no difficulty," to implicitly assure them that I could both afford it and wasn't concerned about the cost. (And during my childhood, my parents would always offer to pay.) And in some cases these lessons went for over an hour -- in one case, I remember the lesson lasted several hours. This has been true both of teachers that I went on to study with (either for a summer or long-term), and teachers where it was just the single lesson.

I think in most of the cases, the teachers had pretty full studios, and in some of the cases, had a waiting list, so they had no need to give away the lesson. If anything, the bigger-name teachers were more likely to give away the first lesson for free.

Exception: I think when I enrolled in Suzuki as a kid, it was full year or at least a semester in advance. There were no trial lessons at all, just free observations.

Edited: June 5, 2019, 8:44 PM · I pay a full semester up front -- for myself and my daughters. We never had free first lessons but then again those were not "trial" lessons either. We were sure of the teachers we wanted from their reputations.
Edited: June 5, 2019, 9:12 PM · Maybe the trial lesson is to sweeten the deal for a student you really want? I don’t think I’ve ever received a free first or trial lesson.

Edited to say I did get a free 15 minutes at a local music school recently.

June 5, 2019, 9:50 PM · My son has been offered a free trial lesson with every single teacher he has ever had, even at the very beginning. Now, most of them were not full lessons -- quite a bit of talking, some playing, not too much teaching -- but every single one was offered free. I'm pretty sure his program, even in the community music school division, does it for everybody.
June 5, 2019, 10:02 PM · I can see people offering free trial lessons. I sure would feel weird asking for one though.
June 5, 2019, 10:20 PM · The studio where I work has "Discovery Lessons" which are short and not charged. My lessons at the college are of course paid in advance through the semester tuition. Outside of those, I usually do not charge for the first lesson because it is not a normal lesson; it is more of a diagnostic audition, to find out what they do.
June 5, 2019, 10:29 PM · Last year I did offer my first one free, but I also don't have a ton of students, and last year was my first year. Now, I'm more well-known by the surrounding districts, and I'm in serious need of the cash, so I don't think I'd offer one for free. Maybe half price.
June 5, 2019, 10:32 PM · I have always given free introductory lessons. It's been a nice way of helping those "on the fence" to give it a try and see if they're interested. Many adults wait years and years to just try it, and sometimes the *free* aspect makes them finally take the plunge when they see it.

Surprisingly, they rarely stop at one lesson, so it's been monetarily a positive practice for me. Very few take advantage of me.

Edited: June 6, 2019, 8:41 AM · No trial lessons normally available around here (Finland). Normally one pays up front for a semester. In the last term there is testing whether or not the child can get into the music school or a free observation to a non-state funded music school.

In the beginning of the next year I will be in a tricky situation as I have to contact a teacher in pre- conservatory program see whether she wants to start teaching my girl or not so it is quite different It will be hard to figure out shall I write asking for a paid trial lesson or just offer us to come to see her. Offering to pay might also be considered offending here in such a situation as deference is sometimes valued more than money. Because it is not for the money that she will see us. Also taxes make many things more complicated as it is a lot of a bother to register a small sum from a student when you normally get a monthly wage. Sometimes people just pay something without using the tax system, but that doesnt really work for strangers as one is not supposed to do that. So its a tricky social situation.

Also I would think that it also depends ont the talents of the child, which I suspect has been Lydias case. Teachers sometimes invest more of their time and efforts in very talented children. But to assume this or say it out loud is not deferential or good manners. Good teachers are not money motivated here in general at least.

June 5, 2019, 11:20 PM · My experience is that trial lessons / first lessons are often pretty intense. The teacher is, to some degree, figuring out whether you're going to be a good student for them -- seeing whether or not you can quickly adapt your playing based on the feedback they're giving you, the way you ask and answer questions, etc. And the on-the-ball teachers generally give you, on the spot, some good feedback about exactly where they want to focus on first, or alternatively, where they think they can make the most impact if they're only seeing you once.
June 5, 2019, 11:32 PM · Maybe I should give a little background.

I am an adult who was intermediate level returning to the instrument. As such, I wasn't looking for a pre-conservatory teacher, or a professor at a music school, or anything like that. I don't any aspirations other than maybe shredding with friends and becoming better.

I did 3 trial lessons within the same 2-3 week period. None were charged.

The first teacher asked me to play something for him, and having not touched the instrument in 10 years, I attempted to play something I knew that was slow, and of course played poorly, and time was spent on intonation of double stops (fine, I still suck at these, but it felt counterproductive at the first lesson).

The second teacher had a better structured lesson. We talked about goals and what I wanted to play, and I sight read some Mozart 5, which I hadn't played before. However, he was a Suzuki specialist at the studio and either still in music school, or maybe a music minor with a regular day job that was good enough to teach (I forget). Given his background, it turns out what he had played and was playing was not "THAT" much higher than the stuff I wanted to play (he was working through Tchaikovsky, had done most of Bach but not all of it etc...). Pretty good fit, and he had played Mozart 4 and 5, so good for Suzuki teaching, but it would be a problem if he hadn't played the rep I wanted to play.

The third teacher had me sight read Bach that I specifically hadn't played before, then we sight read Beethoven Spring Sonata while she played a little piano, then talked about goals. She was a little older, but a better overall player i.e. she did all of solo Bach, even the hard ones, she's played most of the standard concerto rep. Also, she was pretty up-front about her own technical limitations (i.e. if you ever get to the level to play Brahms, I will find you a teacher who can get you through Brahms).

So 3 pretty different approaches and results. These studios had all required to pay upfront for a quarter of lessons, so I think offering a free trial before I drop thousands of dollars is fair. Again, adult returner, so maybe if I had been looking for a teacher to get me into conservatory the results would be different. In any case, I feel doubly not-guilty because the studio, at the end of the day, is paying the teacher, not me directly.

Edited: June 6, 2019, 4:11 AM · I don't get the luck (?) to try different teachers on trial. I remember having a hard time finding a teacher at the beginning, because the teachers I like either have a full studio, moving house, giving birth (for real!) soon. I had a feeling that some teachers didn't like to take me because I was an adult beginner, but no one say that out loud.

In my teacher searching journey, I did get a free 30 minute trail lesson once. However, I offered to pay in full at the end. The teacher offered discounted was just graduated from music school for a year or so. I feel a bit uncomfortable to take the discount because I have a stable job when she was doing multiple side jobs while auditioning.

The teacher usually try to know me in the first lesson, so there was a lot of talking. In the extreme case, I have one teacher spent almost entire hour asking me about my past history with learning music (not just my instrument) through out my life, my goal, what do I listen to, how I usually practice (down to exactly what I do), what problem I ran into with my previous teacher, what I want from her, etc. She typed notes into her computer while we spoke.

She is my current teacher.

June 6, 2019, 5:35 AM · As a student people are more likely to take advantage of me so I always charge, unless the student is recommended by a friend or seems extremely promising.

You don't get free trials in almost any other comparable extracurricular activity.

Edited: June 6, 2019, 7:45 AM · In my part of the world some music teachers will give a first lesson free, especially if it's for a raw beginner, but there are others who will charge. So the practice is obviously variable.

Some non-music professions, such as mine, may give a private client a free first meeting, usually limited to 25 minutes. That is long enough for either party to decide whether time and money would be wasted by proceeding further with a case that has little or no merit, or that it would indeed be in the client's interest to proceed if it had real merit.

A corporate client would be charged for that first meeting.

Edited: June 6, 2019, 7:57 AM · My situation isn't common, I'm sure, but I already knew my teacher in another context (choir director). Highly talented with over 35 years experience in playing, teaching, music director for a very long time in the local school system, choir director, etc - and the thought never crossed my mind that the first lesson might be free. Even if it hadn't worked out, and I never considered that it might not - he still used his time and effort and both have value.

I don't know how studios work, but I imagine they are paid on commission rather than some hourly rate. If someone is working with me in a professional context I expect to pay them. I would not, however, sign a contract or some other agreement similar until after that first lesson. I don't know how common that practice might be.

June 6, 2019, 9:10 AM · My context is different from James's, in that other than my early Suzuki program, all of my teachers have taught (and in most cases focused on) students on a pre-professional track. I imagine that's Susan Agarwarl's context as well.

June 6, 2019, 9:45 AM · I am in NYC - I have had three teachers and each one charged for the first/"trial" lesson.

However, they went beyond the time allotted, and there had been significant teaching involved in each first/trial lesson (especially the latter two teachers). My current (third) teacher has a very full work schedule, so I feel very privileged to be in their accomplished roster of young adult students.

I have no problem paying for someone's time, especially when my playing improves after spending an hour-plus working with them for the first time. I do not expect respected professionals to give me their time for free. Although, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that my current (and previous) teacher has tried to give me some lessons on-the-house but I've been too daft to realize it in the moment...

June 6, 2019, 10:05 AM · I've been teaching a long time, and my attitude towards free trial lessons has changed.

I used to give free trial lessons, but I've come to realize that A. students will generally chose to study with me based on what I have to say, not because I gave them a "freebie," and B. I don't want the latter.

All it is is lost income, and I don't think giving it away furthers one's reputation or garners one more respect.

In fact, I'm thinking of charging MORE for one-time trial lessons.

June 6, 2019, 10:40 AM · My private studio is full of beginner to intermediate children (over 90% from complete beginner), and it works to not have trial lessons but offer free observations (Suzuki-like). It used to be a chore finding the right student to be observed, getting the observer to match the observee's schedule, making time afterwards to chat briefly, of course there were also complications such as last-minute cancellation of the observee, no-shows of scheduled trials or observations, etc. Solution: group classes are never empty, we talk afterwards, no schedule to rearrange, no bother if someone flakes.

I just consider spending the time as "cost to acquire a customer" and it pays off if I acquire the right customer (family that sticks around for years providing recurring income, learning and growth taking place, participating in my vision, etc.).

However, taking lessons myself on my secondary instrument(s), I would absolutely expect and offer to pay for a trial/first lesson. (As an aside, I prefer to ask "what is your fee" not "how much are lessons" because of how the latter sounds like one is buying a consumer item.)

June 6, 2019, 11:09 AM · Scott - you are very correct. It is lost income. And those "freebie" based clients/students are not worth having - they, in my experience, do not take my work seriously.
June 6, 2019, 11:21 AM · "In fact, I'm thinking of charging MORE for one-time trial lessons." (Scott)
It makes total sense if you consider that a trial/new student is an unknown quantity compared to a regular student who is around for years. I don't actually operate on an hourly rate basis but if I did, why should the repeat customers get worse treatment than the one-time trial who isn't (yet) invested. Charging, or charging more, would rightly filter out the less serious.

I don't know if things are still done this way but I've been to doctors' offices that charge more for a new patient visit than for established patient visit. (On the flip side, aren't there telecom companies that give promotional rates to new customers and reward old customers by raising rates? If everyone churns, I guess it all evens out.)

June 6, 2019, 12:00 PM · Libertarian have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too philosophy is infecting more and more of the economy, trying to Uberize and Groupon it as much as possible. You are offering a real service and real time and I think you should be compensated for it.

When you are giving lessons at the Amazon Music Academy, you will have plenty of time to give your work away for nothing.

Edited: June 6, 2019, 12:51 PM · Psychotherapists often will charge a sliding scale based on income once you are an established client. But the first session is usually their full price, no matter what your income, if not more. (It would be more if it is diagnostic.) But we're talking a range from $200 to $400 dollars in US metropolitan areas for a credentialed doc with a MD or PhD. Scott's idea to charge more for one-offs makes sense to me.
June 6, 2019, 1:57 PM · I appear to have kicked quite a hornet's nest here, and I apologize. I did not have any pretense when saying I was not charged for trials.

To be clear, these lessons were all through a studio, so when I said "it was a free trial lesson", I mean "the studio did not charge me for the time". This does not mean that the teacher was not paid for their time. Studios have admin/marketing/maintenance budgets that will cover this kind of thing.

If it makes you feel doubly better, I get the feeling that free lessons may not be offered for adult beginners. Lydia I believe you had similar experiences with trial lessons, and you were also not a beginner when you went back to lessons. I can't speak from any personal experience since I don't teach, but maybe adult beginners are more likely to quit shortly after starting due to difficulty or flake out because they have no skin in the game.

June 6, 2019, 3:11 PM · To be honest, most of my students come in not even knowing that the first lesson is free, but I give it to them anyways. It's a nice way of establishing friendliness early on. They are more likely to respect my flat monthly fee later on without resentment. I can totally understand why many others want to charge for the intro lessons, though. It's just that it's worked well for my particular business strategy. Then again, I get a lot of very casual clients, and some might not want that.

Last thing: whenever someone contacts me and *specifically* mentions the "free" part, I know it's very likely they're going to quit early, or not even show up for the free lesson. I should really start using that as a filter.

June 6, 2019, 4:05 PM · James, I had problems getting past the "hello I'm an adult returnee interested in lessons" phone conversation stage, but no issues with the the trial lessons. I took a trial lesson with my eventual teachers, in both cases, and I think both said no charge to my, "What do I owe you for this lesson?" query at the end of the lesson. (I am sure one said no charge, and the other I recall less clearly, but I think it was also a no-charge.) I did not ask their hourly fee prior to the lesson. I'm guessing that given that I was an advanced student, they assumed I knew what I getting into, price-wise.
June 6, 2019, 4:47 PM · Yeah I didn't have to explicitly ask for a free lesson. The studios/teacher just basically said "we can schedule you for a 30 minute lesson free of charge". How they deal with getting paid for their time is frankly between them and the studio.
June 6, 2019, 5:56 PM · My local large community music school does a 15-minute meet-and-greet kind of "trial lesson" for free, or you can pay a slightly discounted price for a full-length trial lesson. I have no idea how teachers get compensated for that.
June 6, 2019, 7:25 PM · I bet the teachers are eating that.
June 6, 2019, 8:49 PM · I don't think there's any right or wrong answer. If you teach privately, you're your own boss. You can do as you wish. Personally, I don't teach on nights or weekends. Some people do. Some people demand a month or a semester's worth of tuition up front. I don't.

Certainly some professionals give initial consultations. For example, a lawyer might see you for free before you decide whether you want to hire him to sue someone.

As a piano technician starting out, I was in similar spot: how much do I charge? Am I worth anything? Should I do freebies and lots of discounts? After talking to lots of other techs, I raised my fees. Significantly. It hasn't hurt business. If someone wants the cheapest tech in town, I'm not that person.

June 7, 2019, 9:28 AM · I could see a possible marketing strategy for a music studio that charges tuition (monthly, semester, package) fees to be: first lesson fee is paid up front then discounted to be "free" IF the student signs up for the studio within X days.

There's a local climbing gym that does that, and I think it is great marketing. Their requirement, at the time I was looking, was take two intro classes and the sign-up fee was waived and the first month's membership was also slightly discounted. It made the two classes "free". That gym is always packed.

My teaching situation is that I pay per lesson - as an avocational adult player ( ;) Rocky, better for me that way.

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