Private Lessons: Common Questions

100_2801So you’ve decided to enroll in private trumpet lessons. You’ve asked around and found someone who might be a good teacher. Here are some of the questions you should be ready to answer when you contact this person, and some that you might want to ask in return:

Before you call to schedule a lesson, ask yourself…

  • Would you like half-hour or hour-long lessons? Beginning students usually sign up for half-hour lessons; older students usually need an hour. Some teachers also offer 45-minute sessions. Lesson length depends primarily on work ethic–I’ve taught hour-long lessons to ambitious beginners yet struggled to fill even a half hour with high schoolers who didn’t practice. Determine how much lesson time you want based on how much practice time you’ll contribute at home.
  • How often would you like to have lessons? Some teachers can accommodate families who want to have lessons every other week; others insist on weekly sessions. In rare cases, I have taught the same student twice each week. Don’t confuse trumpet lessons with math tutoring–a tutor will meet with a student on a near-daily basis to go over each new concept from class, whereas trumpet lessons are contingent upon the student’s willingness to prepare assignments without the teacher’s supervision. Lessons should be spaced far enough apart to allow time for this process.
  • Do you need/want to maintain a consistent lesson time from week to week? Some teachers (particularly college students) are too busy to commit to lessons at the same time every week; others are meticulous about sticking to the same schedule. If consistency or flexibility is important to you, ask about it up front.

Before committing to long-term lessons, make sure you know…

  • How does your teacher prefer to be paid? Cash? Check? At the end of each lesson? In monthly installments?
  • What is your teacher’s cancellation policy? Some teachers are very strict about this, and if you cancel without enough notice, they will charge you for their time even if you didn’t show up. If this seems unfair, remember that your teacher is most likely a busy professional who may have turned down other students or paying gigs to hold your spot.
  • Where will lessons take place? Many teachers conduct lessons at music stores, and are bound by the store’s hours and policies. Others are willing to travel to the student’s school and hold lessons during band (with the director’s permission); make house calls (sometimes for an extra fee); or teach out of their own homes. Make sure you are comfortable with the environment and understand any scheduling constraints that may go with it.

What about the obvious question? How much should you expect to pay? (Or, the question I often hear from younger teachers, how much should you charge?) Teachers set rates depending on their own expertise and the demographics of the area in which they teach. For this reason, realizing that readers in California will encounter a different set of parameters than those in West Virginia, I am not going to offer an estimate here. But I will suggest that an honest teacher will price his or her lessons according to the following:

  • Number of degrees earned/years in school (a graduate student has every right to charge more than an undergrad, particularly if he/she holds a teaching assistantship)
  • Professional playing experience (a teacher who earns a living as a player can afford to be selective about students and will set rates that deter the ambivalent)
  • Outside factors (i.e., a music store or teaching program might demand a portion of the teacher’s lesson fee in exchange for promoting the instructor)

In the fourth and final installment of this series, I’ll offer some tips to help you get the most out of your first few lessons.

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