How to monetize your musical skills

So, you play an instrument, and would like to see if you could earn income by teaching music lessons.

Teaching music can’t be a blast, but if you don’t set things up right, it can be way more stressful than it is fun.

There are two areas that you need to map out:

  • How to teach your music lessons
  • How to set up your music teaching business

Both of these areas are important and to be successful and happy while you teach you need to have a plan for each area. This article will first talk about deciding how you will teach, and then we will talk about some principles for designing the business side of things.

How To Teach Your Music Lessons

Define Your Niche

music genres

Who would you like to teach? Do you enjoy working with kids? Or would you prefer to only teach teens and adults?

Do you have any particular areas of interest? Are you into classical music, contemporary music, or jazz? If you have a particular style that you especially love and would like to focus most of your teaching on that genre, go ahead and let people know that is your specialty. This will allow you to attract people who share your same interest, and both you and your students will enjoy music the learning process more.

Also, do you have any special training or special skills? If you are great at doing guitar riffs from world famous songs and you think there are people in your area would like to learn to do these as well, you can make “world famous guitar riffs” one of your teaching specialties. If you play the piano and have had special technical training, such as forearm rotation, you can choose to make technical skills one of your specialties.

Select Music for Your Lessons

To keep your students engaged, it’s critical to select music that is relevant and interesting to them.

I remember that when I was in high school and started learning the drums, my teacher handed me a big fat book full of nothing but 16th notes with the accent on different beats. I started trying to work through the book, but it didn’t take long before I was bored out of my mind.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for technical exercises. But the point that I really want to emphasize here is that most people who get really good at an instrument do so by spending time playing music that they enjoy.

how to strum a guitar

There are so many piano students who dropped out after only a year or two because their teachers never give them anything but boring simple songs and technical exercises. In contrast, I know so many people who are now amazing guitar players because they started looking up guitar tabs and YouTube training videos for famous riffs. They would practice the fun music that they wanted to learn, get good at it, and then find a new guitar tab or a new riff to learn. And because they enjoyed it, they spent a lot of time on the guitar. And now they are really impressive musicians.

So please, choose music that is interesting and relevant for your students!

If you work with kids and want to use a method book, be sure to choose a book that has colored illustrations and imaginative songs. And, no matter what age of student you teach, don’t be afraid to throw in supplementary music. You can frequently ask, “Is there a song that you would like to learn? Let’s see if we can find a version of the song that’s at your level.

Teach Music Theory

Teaching music theory go help your students better understand music so that they can learn pieces faster and come to understand “how music works.”

Teaching music theory does not have to be boring! I do like to use a good theory book with my students (my favorite series is Just the Facts), but I also like to play games that teach theory concepts, use fun worksheets, and teach the application of music theory–especially through improve and composition. I’ll talk more about improve and composition later in this article.

Games and Incentives

If you’re teaching music lessons to kids, it’s pretty much essential that you throw in some fun games to keep them engaged during their lessons. If you’re working with older students, they also like an occasional break to do some fun activities. Susan Paradis has a ton of fun music games for kids.

For older students, you can give them a “two-minute challenge” where you ask them to see how many notes they can name before the timer goes off. Or you can use a pair of dice to randomly select chords to create a chord progression, and then jam with the new chord progression. If you use the dice, just select a musical key, have the student roll the dice to get 4 numbers, and write down the numbers they rolled. Each number corresponds with a scale degree. If they rolled 1, 6, 4, 5 and you’ve chosen the key of C, the chord progression would be I, vi, IV, V (C major, A minor, F major, G major). Students of all ages love this activity!

If you’re teaching kids, practice incentives with rewards and practice logs can be helpful.

Ear Training

Your students will forever thank you if you include ear training in your music lessons. With a well-trained ear, students pay more attention to what they are playing and play more musically.

But what’s really fun, is when they can learn how to play their instrument by ear. It is so fun for a student to be able to hear a song that they like on the radio, and go sit down with their instrument and figure it out.

One trick for learning music intervals is to associate each interval with a song. There are a ton of apps out there that will help with recognizing music intervals, and I’d encourage you to check them out.

Improve and Composition

Your students will have even more enjoyment at their instrument if you teach them not only how to duplicate the music of others, but also how to create their own music.

At my recitals, I now have students each perform one song they learned, and one song they created. Which songs do you think get the most enthusiastic responses from the audience? And which songs do you think the students are the proudest of? It’s almost always songs that the students created themselves.

I promise that teaching improve and composition can be one of the most rewarding things you do for you and your students. If you’re not sure where to start, just pick some simple activities and then build from there. For example, if you’re teaching piano lessons or flute lessons or violin lessons or any instrument where you’re teaching notes and melodies, you can ask students to create a simple melody. Choose a scale that the student knows well and ask them to compose a short melody that uses the notes of the scale and ends on the tonic (first note of the scale).

If you’re teaching guitar lessons and primarily focused on chords, show your students how to create their own chord progression and then ask them to create a strumming pattern with that progression.

It’s during improve and composition that music theory can really come to life! After you introduce a new theory concept, ask students to compose a song that incorporates that concept. Doing this will really help your students internalize the theory you’re teaching, plus composing and improvising are fun!

How To Set Up Your Music Teaching Business

game music for child

Planning out how you’ll teach is usually a pretty fun process. Most new teachers are so excited to get started that they jump right in and start taking on students without first putting much thought into the business side of teaching music lessons.

But many experienced teachers will tell you that, if you don’t have a plan for your business, it doesn’t take long before things start getting out of control.

You’ll have students who will cancel their lessons at the last minute, and then want you to refund the amount for the lesson. And when this starts happening a lot it can significantly reduce your income. You’ll have requests for makeup lessons at times that aren’t convenient for you. You may even have more demand for lessons than you really want to teach and before long your business is robbing you of your life, rather than bringing you fulfillment.

The Big Picture

So, before you start taking on students, it’s important that you first take some time to map out the “big picture” for how music teaching fits into your life.

How many hours a week do you want to teach? What days of the week do you want to teach? Are you willing to teach at any time that works for a student, or do you want to reserve evenings and Saturdays for personal and family time?

Studio Policies

After you’ve mapped out your “big picture” you can start creating your studio policy. Your studio policies should be clearly defined and typed out and given to your students when they begin lessons with you.

You can include anything you’d like in your studio policies, but some topics you’ll probably want to cover include:

  • How do you want tuition to be paid?
  • What happens if a tuition payment is late? Will you charge a late fee?
  • How will you handle student absences? Will you offer makeup lessons or tuition adjustments?

You can choose how flexible you’d like your music lessons to be. Many music teachers start off quite flexible, but then later find that they need to tighten up their policies when their studio grows and it gets more challenging to manage more students.

Because changing policies can be awkward, it’s best if you can map out how you’d like things to run and implement those policies from the beginning.

Marketing to Acquire New Students for Your Music Lessons

Just because you’ve opened up shop doesn’t mean that people will immediately lineup outside your door.

Don’t just sit and wait for students to come to you–you might be waiting for a long time! You’ve got to go out and get in front of people.

There are lots of ways to market your music lessons, and it usually takes trying a few different approaches before you find something that really works well in your area. If something isn’t working–stop doing it! Don’t waste time and money on things that don’t work.

If you’d like to read about my marketing mistake that took way too much effort and got me zero phone calls, you can read about it here, along with some ideas for things that did work in my area.

One easy way to get started is to talk with a local music store. Many music stores keep a list of teachers and will gladly give your info to anyone who asks about lessons.

Social media, done right, can also be a great way to get the word out. Create an awesome video of yourself playing something cool and then announcing that you teach music lessons. In your video, be sure to include info on how people who are interested can contact you and to mention your niche/specialties. Then share and promote your video like crazy.

You can do it!

If you feel like teaching music lessons is something you’d like to do, I encourage you to go for it. It may seem a little intimidating at first, but the only way to gain experience as a music teacher is to actually teach music lessons.

To help things go smoothly, take the time to define your niche, specialties and areas of interest and also to map out the “big picture” for your business and design your music studio policy. Then open your doors and start marketing to acquire students. Before long you’ll look back and realize that you’re successfully teaching music lessons and enjoying the ability to share and profit from your musical talents.