How to start teaching piano (or any instrument!) – a guide for anyone interested in teaching privately

Teaching your first few students can be a bit of a daunting experience! This article is aimed at anyone who would like a little advice on how to start teaching piano – from advertising (ie getting your first student) to which books to use, and my personal experience from challenges that I have faced along the way.

Advertising

A brief word on advertising – as how you advertise can determine the number of people interested in lessons, and the quality of the leads that you get. I started out by teaching a neighbour’s child and got word-of-mouth referrals from there. However, moving to a new area where I didn’t know anyone, I was pushed to think about other ways of finding new students.

Putting a business card or advert in local shops (music shops, post offices etc) can work and possibly attract new interest. However, times are changing – and I’ve found that having an online presence and using all the internet exposure you are able to get are by far the best ways of advertising. The key places that I advertise are:

  • Facebook – it’s definitely worth making your music business a page on Facebook, as you can then create ads and target people in the local area with the right interests.
  • musicteachers.co.uk – this is where I got some of my first students from. It’s definitely worth paying the nominal fee to upgrade your listing to premium, as this makes sure your name appears near the top of what could be lots of other teachers in the area! 
  • nextdoor.com – I’ve read mixed reviews about this recently – however, I have had success with putting a post on nextdoor.com. It depends on where you live, and what their views are on marketing!

Resources

There are lots of fantastic method books out there, and different ones will suit different students. Doing your research and knowing what is available will help in having the right resources for each student. My go-to method books are:

  • My First Piano Adventures – great for young beginners (aged 5-6). There is a lesson book and writing book, but also lots of supplementary resources too – including a sticker book, practise diaries and a teacher guide for the first lesson. I bought this recently for my 4 year old. Some of it is a little old for her and will be until she goes to school and starts learning to read – but she listens to the audio tracks on repeat, several(!) times a day and loves to sing along.
  • Piano Adventures – I love this series in general. It starts with a primer level, suitable for ages 6 and above. All levels come with audio tracks, and there are some great teacher duets especially in the earlier books. There is also a series for the older beginner, aimed at teenage beginners, and an adult method.
  • Piano Safari – another series that has recently become a firm favourite. Piano Safari uses a mixture of learning to read by finger numbers, by rote, and introducing reading music at an early stage. The repertoire is fun (with great teacher duets!) and gets students moving all around the piano right from the start. It is aimed at students aged 6+, and there is a new addition ‘for the older beginner’ that a couple of my students seem to really be enjoying!
  • supersonicspiano.com – there is lots of great music in here that my students really enjoy. If you become a premium member you have access to all of the resources and repertoire – which I have found is definitely worth doing!

Business

Once you’ve got your first students and have an idea of how you’re going to start to teach them, the next thing is to make sure that you’re aware of the business side of things. You’ll need to register as self-employed, and fill in a tax return. Information on how to do that is here – Register as self-employed

Having a contract that both you and your student (or their parents) sign can be very beneficial as it provides clear guidelines on what you can expect from each other. Consider becoming a member of the Musicians’ Union – they have a contract that you can use and lots of other benefits.

Keep clear records of your calendar and accounts – making sure this is updated on a regular basis can save you a lot of hassle in the long run!

Obstacles

While it is a lovely profession to have, there are lots of challenges to being a private music teacher. I love teaching. However, I will admit that I did take a break and almost give up on it a few years ago, as there were so many pitfalls and I wasn’t making a reliable enough income to make ends meet. I hate to think of money as being the main focus, but everyone has bills to pay! Taking a break and having kids made me realise that I love music and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. These are the main challenges I faced, and what I have done to negate them the second time round:

  • Students cancelling lessons at the last minute. Illness happens. Life happens. However, a cancelled lesson is a cut to a music teacher’s income. My students now pay a fixed amount each month, a month in advance, regardless of how many lessons there are in that month. This is great, as I have a reliable income coming in each month and can manage my finances. I’m not completely inflexible – I allow for cancellations and write this into my contract. However, my students are fully aware that teaching is my main source of income so I need them to be reliable.
  • People suggesting that piano teaching isn’t a ‘real job’. Nonsense. Music is a huge part of my life. I have an Undergraduate and Masters Degree in music, and spend a good proportion of my life playing or being involved in music. Without the input from my teachers at the beginning of my journey, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I love teaching, I meet lots of interesting people and get a kick out of seeing students master things they couldn’t do before. I see teaching as being a way to get others to enjoy music in the same way that I do.
  • Isolation. Unlike being in an office job, private music teachers don’t get daily interaction with their colleagues, or a chance to discuss/offload issues at work over a coffee break. It’s easy to feel very isolated. However, there are lots of chances to network and meet others in the same situation. EPTA and the Musicians’ Union, and many others, run courses where you can meet other music teachers. There are also lots of Facebook groups that can provide a good level of support.

 

I hope this has been useful if you are thinking about getting into teaching music privately, or have just started and need some pointers. Please do comment below if you think there is anything I can add or would like to discuss any of the points that I have raised.

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