How to Take Vacation AND Retain Students in Your Music Teaching Studio

Music teachers, do you need a vacation?  Like all  of you, my fellow self-employed music instructors, I NEED vacation.  When late June rolls around, I’m ready to sit on my patio with a cocktail for 2 weeks.  Ditto for December 26 –minus the patio since I live in Minnesota. And yet, when we work for ourselves and run our own businesses, it’s really hard to actually take time off.

We worry that our students will lose motivation and quit.

We worry about relaxing in our marketing efforts to find new students.

Most of all, we worry about money.  There might be no money coming in when you’re on vacation–but your mortgage still needs paying, your studio is still sucking rent, and you still have to eat (and have cocktails).

You don’t have to fear and regret your vacation. You NEED time off. You can set up your studio to give you vacation, keep money coming in, AND retain your precious students.

Why We Take Vacation (or Not)

You are a better teacher when you take time to recharge.
You are a better teacher when you take time to recharge.

Before I took my two week vacation in July, I had a 9 year old student ask me, “Why do you take vacation?”  Seriously.  To my credit, not a single expletive exited my mouth.

There is a reason why big employers have a “use it or lose it” rule with accrued vacation.  Well, actually there are two.  (I know this because I worked in Human Resources for 10 years.)

  1. Vacation balances often have to be paid out when an employee quits
  2. Employees are more productive and experience less burnout when they take enough time off.

#2 is the big one for us, folks.  You are a better  music teacher and you experience less burnout if you take enough time off.

Here’s what keeps most private music instructors from taking enough real vacation: You don’t get paid when you don’t teach your music lessons.

The Secret to Making Money- Even When You’re On Vacation?

All you need to do is set up your music studio, your calendar, and your fee structure so that the money keeps coming in even when you are not teaching.

For instance, here is how my fee structure works: I charge for my music lessons on a monthly basis, payable before the month begins.  The monthly rate is the same whether there are 4, 5, or occasionally 3 or 2 lessons in a month. I calculate my monthly music lesson fees by figuring out how many lessons I’ll teach each year, figuring out the total lesson cost for that year, and then dividing it by 12 months.  My monthly music lesson fee is essentially prorated based on the entire year’s worth of music lessons.

So if you are teaching 45 weeks a year, that’s 7 weeks off (52 weeks in a year).  If your per-lesson rate is $40, then $40 x 45 = $1800.  $1800/12 months = $150/month. (This is just an illustration with round numbers – you’d have to figure this out for your own music lesson fees.)

By the way – don’t scoff about 7 weeks off.  I know at least two talented and successful teachers that I adore and respect who take 11 weeks off each year!  I’m working my way up to it right now – some years, instead of raising my fees, I take another week off instead.  When I was in HR we used to figure that giving someone a week of vacation time amounted to about 3% of their annual salary.

How Does a Flat Monthly Rate Help You Retain Students?

It incentivizes long term learning!  A student gets more value out of you if they take lessons for a whole year or more, especially if they started in a 3 week month with a holiday on their lesson day!

If you want your students to have a vested interest in learning for a long time, you can set up your music teaching studio to support long term learning!  And remember – long term students means steady, predictable income and lower marketing/recruiting costs. It’s a win-win for everyone!

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One thought on “How to Take Vacation AND Retain Students in Your Music Teaching Studio”

  1. “We worry that our students will lose motivation and quit” completely agree with you.
    I believe that, They taught you how to conquer your fears. Auditions are just as nerve-racking as asking someone to the prom but if you give it your all then they can’t possibly say no!
    I like this so much 🙂 🙂 🙂 I’m currently working on the f# minor nocturne! they’re beautiful pieces.
    Don’t get me wrong, you have to be strong and confident to be successful in just about anything you do – but with music, there’s a deeper emotional component to your failures and successes. If you fail a chemistry test, it’s because you either didn’t study enough, or just aren’t that good at chemistry (the latter of which is totally understandable). But if you fail at music, it can say something about your character. It could be because you didn’t practice enough – but, more terrifyingly, it could be because you aren’t resilient enough. Mastering chemistry requires diligence and smarts, but mastering a piano piece requires diligence and smarts, plus creativity, plus the immense capacity to both overcome emotional hurdles, and, simultaneously, to use that emotional component to bring the music alive.
    Before I started taking piano, I had always imagined the Conservatory students to have it so good – I mean, for their homework, they get to play guitar, or jam on their saxophone, or sing songs! What fun! Compared to sitting in lab for four hours studying the optical properties of minerals, or discussing Lucretian theories of democracy and politics, I would play piano any day.

    But after almost three years of piano at Orpheus Academy, I understand just how naïve this is. Playing music for credit is not “easy” or “fun” or “magical” or “lucky.” Mostly, it’s really freakin’ hard. It requires you to pick apart your piece, play every little segment over and over, dissect it, tinker with it, cry over it, feel completely lame about it, then get over yourself and start practicing again. You have to be precise and diligent, creative and robotic. And then – after all of this – you have to re-discover the emotional beauty in the piece, and use it in your performance.

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