So you want to teach piano? 5 Tips to Guarantee Success!

So what if you don't have a music degree? You can still be an effective and successful piano teacher. This article describes 5 tips for developing a game plan to start your piano teaching business.

So you want to teach piano? 5 Tips to Guarantee Success!

I pride myself on largely being a self-taught pedagogue. Sure I have a Masters degree in music, but even without all my years of schooling, I believe the practical hands-on experience I’ve gained through decades of working with students is what primarily molded me into the teacher I am today. Education and training are great, but just because you don’t have these things doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective and successful piano teacher. Remember we all have to start somewhere! So today I want to talk to the younger teachers out there and people who may be batting around the idea of starting to teach piano. I’m going to share my 5 tips to developing a game plan to start your business.

1. Find and define your role model

  • What kind of teacher do you want to be? Think about a teacher (or teachers) you had while studying that motivated you the most. Perhaps there are aspects of a number of teachers you encountered that you believe to be successful teaching attributes. As you start to form your own style use these as a building block for your unique approach to teaching.

  • Find a mentor. Locate a teacher who is willing to let you sit in on lessons and observe.

  • Do your research. Read blogs, message boards, books on pedagogy, anything you can to beef up your knowledge base about the teaching and business side.

  • Choose your materials. Know which instructional/supplemental books are on the market and available. Start looking over these titles and get an idea of which books appeal to you. The Piano Pronto method book series is great for new teachers, it’s easy-to-follow and easy-to-use!

2. Find your desired workplace (consider traveling to clients)

  • I teach on the road and love doing so because my schedule runs smoothly since I am not subject to the punctuality of my students. If you live in a densely populated area give this a try. It is a huge convenience for people if you come to them and will also bring in a higher hourly rate to account for commute time.

  • Starting out can be hard and it takes time to establish a good client base in your targeted neighborhoods. Be patient, teach every lesson like it’s your last, and word of mouth should start to snowball in your favor.

  • I need more students and that’s where I want to work! Half page flyers are a good bet for drumming up new clientele. Here’s how I used to do flyer runs in my earlier days teaching (Psst! it’s a great workout too!):

  1. Find your target neighborhood(s)

  2. Print out concise 1/2 page flyers advertising your services, your rate, and contact info.

  3. Leave flyers on doorsteps (never in mailboxes). I found early Saturday mornings the best time to flyer drop since people aren’t preoccupied with going to work, school, etc.

  4. You should/will get calls quickly. Return calls promptly and have a list of talking points/questions written down in front of you so you can lead the conversation. It’s a ping-pong match: once you ask some questions make sure you chime in about your experience/education and any special skills you may have (i.e. you’re great at teaching pop music, etc.)

  5. Book a first appointment on the first phone call. If they’re interested or seem interested try and nail down a scheduled appointment time to meet (either for an interview or a short intro lesson) while you’re on the phone.

3. Define yourself and your philosophy

You should have this nailed down preferably before you start taking students. But in my experience this is an ongoing process, I know I’m constantly changing! Are you going to be a traditional teacher? A teacher who can teach a mixture of styles? Will you do state testing, NFMC, National Guild, etc?

  • In my opinion you can guarantee success by defining what will set you apart from all the other teachers in the area. What is your niche? Spend your time honing your niche: be the very best at what it is that you do best.

  • People want to know why their money is better spent with you—so don’t be shy to talk about your strengths. Not every prospective client who calls will be an exact fit, but it’s better to be upfront and figure this out sooner rather than later.

4. Establish your pricing and stick to it

  • By some means figure out what other teachers in your area are charging.

  • Evaluate your skill level, possibly your degree level and price yourself just a bit below the average.

  • You need clients and at first you’re going to have to undercut the competition in order for people to take a chance on you.

  • If you price too low people will be suspicious, but if your pricing doesn’t match the experience level (I think this is even more vital than aneducational level) this can also turn people off.

  • Don’t negotiate. Your price is your price. You should have a strong policy letter that states your rates and expectations when it comes to cancellations and rescheduling.

5. Manage your expectations (Murphy is always just around the corner!)

Piano teaching is harder than you think because it is a job where you have to be “on” at all times.

  • Learning to roll with the punches is essential. Unexpected things happen every day in my teaching and as you gain experience you learn how to best deal with things.

  • Join forums, network with other teachers, and share ideas about how to handle situations professionally. We have a great forum for Piano Pronto Discussion Forum on Facebook that can offer you support!

  • Have realistic expectations about client retention and time devoted each week.

On this final point I must step onto my soapbox and stir the pot a bit: This may be a controversial statement, but I stopped worrying about kids practicing years ago. What I do worry about is progress. Of course you can link progress to practice time during the week, but let’s face it, piano is not always the priority for kids, but this doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it and take it at their own pace.

Case in point: I have one little boy who loves piano and his lessons but doesn’t practice a lot. He does however make consistent progress (albeit slower than other students), but he’s happy and joyful during lessons and never complains. Keep in mind that we as teachers may be looking for certain results and achievements but for the kids they don’t feel a pressing deadline, so let them progress at their own pace instead of imposing what may be unrealistic expectations.

Dave Ramsey talks a lot about having “gazelle-like intensity” when attacking personal goals (erasing debt in particular). But I like to remind myself that kids are kids and hobbies like the piano are part of their childhood, exploring many different activities and dabbling with them at varied levels. And you will have students who are gazelles and ones who will dabble for a while and then quit. Think about all the activities you tried as a kid. Which ones are you still pursuing today? For me, the goal is to give the gift of music as a lifelong pleasure and pursuit. But we must be realistic and realize that for many of the students we encounter the piano will be a mere chapter in their lives and that’s alright. Love what you do, love your work, and always strive to improve a little each week. While this list of tips is nowhere near exhaustive it’s a place to start! Happy teaching!

Jennifer Eklund
Written by Jennifer Eklund
Jennifer Eklund holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in music from California State University, Long Beach. She is an avid arranger, composer, and author of the Piano Pronto® method books series as well as a wide variety of supplemental songbooks. She is also a Signature Artist with with a large catalog of popular music titles for musicians of all levels.


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