After a year of violin lessons, I’ve finally begun to recoup my costs. Every time I take out the instrument, people shower me with cash (on the promise that I won’t play it. But that’s a technical detail). It’s also been quite the experiment, trying to find a fair priced school in a (mostly) unregulated industry:
The General Pricing Policy
There is an actual “market rate” in Singapore, which most music schools adhere to. The most basic music lessons tend to be around $80 to $120 a month (four lessons). More advanced classes, or experienced music teachers, might charge about twice that.
Beyond these classes, there are schools that aim to help you launch your own album, or master musicians who can set their own prices. These classes can range in the thousands, per term or per month.
How do you get the best bang for your buck?
I spoke to former music teacher Vernon Yung, who was a music teacher for seven years before becoming a full-time musician. He has the following tips:
- Decide What You Want Before You Sign Up
- Don’t Bother Doing Every Grade
- Don’t Skimp by Picking “Short” Sessions
- Evaluate Non-Classroom Bonuses
- For Children, You Sometimes Need Teachers and Not Musicians
- Individual Lessons Don’t Always Beat Group Lessons
1. Decide What You Want Before You Sign Up
Should you pay a master pianist $800+ a month to teach you, versus a regular school’s $240 a month? According to Vernon, it depends on exactly what you want:
“If you’re serious about music as a career, and it’s going to define your life,” Vernon says, “then it’s worth learning from a maestro from the very start. Because if you don’t get the basics right, you’ll waste more time and money re-learning them later.
But if you want to play at parties and have fun, then there’s no need to pay thousands of dollars a month. Because if you’re not the sort who’s driven enough to wake up at 6am to get extra practice, the differences between regular classes and being taught by a master are not that great.”
On the other hand, you might have started playing for fun, but now want to get serious. In which case, Vernon suggests you stop your current classes, and immediately find someone who can take you further.
“It’s an equal waste of money to pay for classes that have stopped developing you.”
2. Don’t Bother Doing Every Grade
You need to pay fees for music exams. That can amount to quite a bit, if you go through all 10 grades (Also, you’ll have to pay to take the tests again if you fail).
Vernon’s suggestion is that you “Skip a bit. Tell the instructor you’ll just do grade 3, grade 5, grade 8, and then go for the Diploma. Don’t bother paying exam fees for every grade.”
3. Don’t Skimp by Picking “Short” Sessions
Some music schools offer unusually short sessions, lasting only 30 minutes. These are extremely cheap ($60 to $80 a month).
Vernon says that “It’s assumed most students will find 30 minutes to be too short, so they will book multiple slots back-to-back. For example, booking three lessons in a row and effectively getting 90 minute sessions.”
As tempting as it may be to rely on 30 minute sessions (so cheap!), Vernon warns that it could be money down the drain.
“In 30 minutes you get shown one or two new things, and you’re guided in playing a short new piece. There’s seldom revision on last week’s piece. For a beginner, it’s very hard to progress this way.
Also, the lack of revision means its hard to prepare you for exams. And you fail the exam, you pay to do it again. In the end, these short sessions are an illusory savings.”
4. Evaluate Non-Classroom Bonuses
Does the school organise concerts? Provide free tickets or discounts to watch performers? How about discounts when purchasing instruments?
“There’s a value add to some schools,” Vernon says, “Where the syllabus includes a lot of opportunities to perform in front of an audience. It’s valuable exposure, worth much more than endless practice sessions in classrooms.
And if you haven’t bought an instrument yet, check out the discounts. You can save money by picking a school that also gives students discounted gear.”
Vernon adds that you’ll need the experience of live performances. It’s not just for professionals – in many cases, a concert is a requirement at later exam levels.
5. For Children, You Sometimes Need Teachers and Not Musicians
“Be honest about how motivated your children are,” Vernon says, “Because not all good musicians make good teachers.
If your children are unmotivated, don’t aim to spend money on the best musician. Aim to spend money on the best teacher, who will have the skills to interest and engage them.”
Vernon suggests you don’t worry too much about switching instructors. Go ahead and switch the school / instructor every few months, until you find one that makes your kids smile.
Some schools and instructors will claim that this constant switching is unproductive to learning, but “it’s not more unproductive than leaving children with an instructor they hate.”
(Also, that’s something bizarre about spending money to make your children cry.)
6. Individual Lessons Don’t Always Beat Group Lessons
Pricier individual lessons, versus cheaper group lessons: Are they worth the money? The answer depends on your level of experience.
“If you are a total beginner, don’t worry about group lessons,” Vernon says, “In my experience most beginners progress at about the same pace for the first year, whether they have group or private lessons. And you will get a sense of where your aptitudes lie compared to others, from group lessons.”
Individual lessons are worth the cost after you have some experience:
“You should start paying for individual lessons after you have the basics*, and use individual training for specific reasons. For example, you might want to get a specialised instructor for a particular genre of music, like Blues, Jazz, Flamenco, and so on.”
(*An exception exists. See point 1. If music is going to be your profession, get private lessons from from the best musician you can find, from the very beginning.)
“I guess in the end it goes back to the first thing I said,” Vernon says, “Don’t base your decision solely on testimonials or the teacher’s reputation, base it on whether it meets your specific needs. Otherwise, you can end up paying a lot more for very little gain.”
How do you save on music lessons? Comment and let us know!
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