Creating a Private Lesson Contract for Your Studio

The private lesson contract is one of the most important documents you will use in your studio and to my dismay I see so many teachers out there who fail to outline their studio policies or use a lesson contract.

If you have been teaching lessons very long, a client has failed to pay at some point.  Maybe the student quit lessons and never paid, maybe you had to “fire” the student due to lack of payment, or maybe the student had a last minute cancellation and refused to pay.  Having a clearly laid out policy sheet is the easiest way to deal with each of these situations.

Think about it, contracts are used every day in every sort of business.  If you rent an apartment, you sign a lease.  If you buy a car, you sign a contract.  If you use a credit card, you sign a user agreement.  If you use social media or update your phone, you have to click that “I agree” button.  While you may not actually read what you are agreeing to, you are still signing a contract the second you click that box and hit submit.  So why wouldn’t you use a contract in your business?

Lesson fees

This one is pretty self explanatory. How much are you charging for each lesson length.

When outlining this portion of the contract consider the following: Am I willing to travel to my students or will I require them to come to me?  If so, will my rates be different if I travel to a student’s home?  Will I charge a flat fee or calculate mileage?Will I offer a discount if a client has multiple children?Will I offer group lessons?  If so, how will I structure payment?  Will students be required to pay whether they attend lessons or not?

There is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions but you should definitely consider each of them before you begin teaching.  You don’t have to outline all of these questions in your contract but make your decisions before you start accepting clients so you will not be caught off guard when they ask about them.

Cancellation policy

This is the portion of your studio policy sheet that you must outline very clearly.  Failing to be clear with your expectations will result in you not being paid for a last minute canceled lesson. 

As you think about this section, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much notice does the client need to give me before a missed lesson? 24 hours? 48 hours?
  • What if a student wakes up sick?  Will I require a doctor’s note?  
  • How will I handle no-shows? Will I still charge for a last minute cancellation in case of emergency?  What constitutes an emergency?  Will I require documentation?
  • How should they contact you to cancel?  

Inclement weather policy

Several years ago, we had a very rough winter.  The schools had two weeks of snow days in February which meant that I missed two weeks of income.  Luckily, I have been teaching for a long time and have an emergency fund set aside for such occasions, but many of the younger teachers I worked with at the time were struggling to figure out how to make rent.  What would you do if you only made half a month’s pay?  This is yet another thing to consider when outlining your lesson contract.  My solution after that brutal year was to have lessons via an online platform (such as Facetime or Skype) in the event of inclement weather.  

Things to consider: In the event of inclement weather, will the student be charged for the lesson if they fail to show?  Will I offer online lessons?

Practice expectations

Students who fail to practice can make teaching private music lessons miserable. Often, parents do not realize the importance of at home student practice.  Outlining your practice expectations for each ability level lets both parents and students know what kind of time commitment to expect.

Required materials

This section allows you to give parents an idea of how much they will need to spend on materials.  I often find that parents and students assume that I will provide materials for the lesson.  Some teachers make photocopies for their students but I require my students to purchase their etude books, solos, etc.  Making photocopies is not only illegal, it is a big reason music goes out of print. 

When working on this section of your lesson contract, think about what materials other than music you will require such as: a metronome, pencils, lesson notebook, staff paper, music stand, reeds, etc.

Payment policy

This is the most important section of your lesson contract!  If you are teaching music lessons for a living, you want to get paid.  Outline your payment expectations very clearly.  

  • What methods of payment will you accept?  Cash, Check, Credit Card, Payment apps such as Venmo, Paypal, Cashapp, etc.
  • How often do you want to be paid?  Weekly?  Monthly?  At the beginning of the month (in advance) or the end of the month (after the lessons have been taught)?
  • Will you charge a late fee?
  • Will you send invoices or will you tell students in their lesson how much they owe?

Sending the policy to parents

Will you send a hard copy home, email it, or post it on your website? Or will you do a combination?

I post a basic policy sheet on my website and send a more detailed hard copy home. I also require a signature from both the parent or guardian and the student.  This ensure that they are both clear of all expectations.

In conclusion

If you don’t have a lesson contract for your studio, sit down and make one! Think of it like a music teacher’s “terms and conditions.” Other businesses have them so why shouldn’t you?

Feel free to copy the policy sheet I keep on my website. Tweak it to fit your own needs and keep your bases covered so you protect yourself from lost income!

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2 thoughts on “Creating a Private Lesson Contract for Your Studio”

  1. This was great! Thank you. I studied this stuff in college, but when you sit down to actually create it, you forget. This was a lifesaver!

    1. Tonya Lawson

      I’m glad it could help. Having a good contract is a must these days if you want to protect yourself financially!

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