Managing the cost of music tuition: practical advice

Some of you may have seen this BBC news article/report this morning. To my mind, the article completely fails to offer any practical advice about budgeting towards music tuition at all, so here are my thoughts…

Lesson Fees

Teachers should be up-front about lesson fees from day one. Mine are published online and are therefore in the public domain: everyone pays the same rate and there are no hidden costs. Teachers should also be clear about when fees are due, how to pay them and any payment plans (e.g. block booking) they offer. Teachers should also be clear what their cancellation policy is so that parents/pupils know what/if they’re expected to pay if they miss or cancel a lesson. Being up-front about what the fees are is hugely important in enabling parents/pupils to plan for the cost of the lessons.

Fee Increases

As above, teachers should be clear and up-front about any increase to fees. I review my fees annually in the summer, and a month’s notice is given for any increase which takes effect from the 1st September. I’m sure all teachers would agree that it is an agonising experience deciding whether or not to increase fees. It requires an awful lot of soul-searching and research to weigh up the various factors. Fees don’t automatically go up every year, and they don’t simply increase for the fun of it. Teachers will have done a good deal of research before making any decision. Again, prompt advance notification of any increase allows pupils and parents to plan ahead.

Lesson Materials

Again, teachers should be clear about who pays for the lesson books, music and other materials. If the teacher supplies them, then parents or pupils should be aware of the cost before the teacher orders them. If parents or pupils are to buy them, then it is useful for the teacher to give some estimate of the cost. An estimated cost of the materials required each year is useful and it allows pupils and parents to factor this cost in on top of the lesson fees. I always keep a box of secondhand music and pupils are free to take (and add) what they want from it. Alerting pupils and parents to sources of secondhand music (e.g. charity shops etc.) is also useful, as is providing information about where to buy any books required.

Musical Instruments

Teachers should be providing advice on buying or hiring suitable instruments. There is no denying that instruments often require an initial outlay, but they are an investment. Luckily, there are numerous schemes which allow pupils and parents to hire and then buy an instrument (e.g. Just Flutes and All Flutes Plus). These schemes can be very cost-effective and allow pupils and parents to spread the cost over year or more. Other schemes such as the government’s ‘Take It Away’ scheme also help with the cost of purchasing an instrument for those children who qualify. Teachers should continue to provide advice about looking after and maintaining the instrument. All these things help to prolong the life of the instrument allowing the player and parent to get the best possible value from their investment

Exam Fees

If you or your child wants at any time to sit an external exam or assessment, there will be costs associated with it. There will be the exam fee itself, and possibly a fee for an accompanist. Again, teachers can make it clear from the outset what the fees will be. If an accompanist is involved, their fees should also be known before the entry is made, not two weeks before the exam date. Each year in my newsletter, I calculate how much pupils will need to save per week/month for an exam. This really helps spread the cost through the year; for example, saving just 50p a week can make a big difference when the exam comes round.

Funding

It is also useful for teachers to be aware of sources of funding (e.g. Paul Harris Foundation and EPTA fund) and also of scholarships for local schools.

The BBC, via the Musicians’ Union suggests five bullet point suggestions for keeping cost down. I’m not convinced that any of these really help!