Charging for trial lessons
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
Huh, this is interesting. I think I have
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.
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.
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.
I can see people offering free trial lessons. I sure would feel weird asking for one though.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe I should give a little background.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am in NYC - I have had three teachers and each one charged for the first/"trial" lesson.
I've been teaching a long time, and my attitude towards free trial lessons has changed.
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.
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.
"In fact, I'm thinking of charging MORE for one-time trial lessons." (Scott)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I bet the teachers are eating that.
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.
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.