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The Frugal Mom’s Guide to Save Big on Music Education

music ed.

Guest post from Elizabeth of Practice for Parents

Do you think it takes a truck-load of money to get the music education your child deserves?

Think again!

As a music teacher, I can tell you first-hand that music does not have to be expensive. In fact, time and time again, I have seen frugal parents get their kids the best results, while more well-off peers lose interest altogether.

So what do all those smart frugal parents have in common? They have a few tricks up their sleeves that help them provide maximum music education value for minimum music education cost.

Here are a few tips to help YOU do that too!

Find the teacher who fits your child and your budget.

Some parents think pricey private lessons will turn their child into the next Mozart. They quickly sign up with the teacher who charges the most money for music lessons, or they seek out the one instructor everyone else is learning from.

But no matter what they charge or what their credentials are, you always want a teacher who can connect with your child, break down tough skills, and inspire them to practice every week.

Finding the right teacher can take time. Every instructor, like every child, is different. Their personalities and teaching styles differ, too. That’s why it’s important to do your homework and see what’s out there before you commit to music lessons.

Many school and university music departments, band and orchestra directors, as well as music supply shops keep a list of local instructors on hand. Contact a few of these teachers and visit a few with your child.

Don’t feel pressured to sign up with the first one you meet! It’s always more important to find a teacher who clicks with your child well than simply “the best one money can buy.”

Learn how to practice.

Once you find an affordable teacher who works well with your child, you still need to get them to practice!

So many parents spend good money on teachers, but then never make sure their kids are actually practicing what they’re learning. Parents everywhere are throwing their money out the window by paying their child’s music instructor to re-hash the same lesson week after week.

Lessons won’t help much if your child isn’t actually practicing. That’s like buying a gym membership, but never actually going to work out. Then, feeling disappointed that you’re not becoming any healthier!

The end result? Your child is frustrated, your teacher is frustrated, and you’ve wasted lots of money on useless lessons, every week.

Instead, set them up for success by helping them make their music practice a daily habit. Good habits make all the difference and don’t cost a dime.

Start out with short, focused practices at the same time every single day. Not every practice session will be perfect, and you’re guaranteed to hear a lot of sour notes. But no musician becomes great without a lot of tough practices along the way.

Go to those free concerts.

Kids who see musicians in concert are often inspired to advance their own skills and practice more at home. That’s why you want to take your child to see as many performances as you can. These performers are role models for them.

Worried all those great concert-going experiences are going to be expensive?

And don’t worry about the cost — there are SO many free (and inexpensive) concerts if you take the time to search them out!

There are phenomenal musicians playing in concerts and recitals all the time at your local college and university. Performing is a big part of their academic credits that go toward their graduation requirement.

These student musicians are only a couple years shy of becoming professionals, which means you’re listening to breathtaking music during every performance without paying an arm and a leg to hear them.

A music education, coupled with your great parenting, will give your child the confidence, creativity, and work ethic they’ll need to achieve just about any goal they want in life.

There’s no doubt about it: the investment in music is priceless. Luckily, giving them the experience doesn’t have to be.

Elizabeth Kane is a music teacher and writer who loves helping parents make their children unstoppable through the power of a music education. Get her free guide that shows you what to look for in a teacher, why kids really hate practicing, and what you can do to guarantee success.

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  • Christina says:

    Great post! I operate a very successful independent piano studio from my home, and I often cringe when I see articles like this pop up (as they are usually filled with things like, “Who needs a teacher when have YouTube tutorials?”). On the contrary, Elizabeth has offered up some very poignant tips here! I would only add, while the most expensive teacher is CERTAINLY not guaranteed to be the finest teacher for your child, there IS something to be said for a teacher who takes herself seriously as a professional, and is successful in doing such.

    There are exceptions to every rule, but if you want a quality service, you may have to pay for it (and, like many things, your music tuition covers far more than you may think!). Choosing a teacher who is financially successful means you are likely dealing with an educator who can focus on teaching (rather than distracting themselves with other sources of supplemental income), as well as someone who takes advantage of professional development opportunities (hint: if you ever find a teacher – of ANYTHING – who thinks they have nothing more to learn, RUN!)

    There is a wonderful guide to music tuition here:

    If parents are interesting in further resources, here is another helpful article about finding the right teacher:

    Thanks for sharing! I also downloaded Elizabeth’s guide, and thought it was quite good. I am blessed to be part of a wonderful community of independent teachers! Happy music-making, one and all! 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed my post *and* my guide, Christina! It means a lot coming from a fellow teacher 🙂

      I’m also weary of articles that disregard the importance of a teacher’s expertise. Although tutorial videos can help, there’s nothing like the guidance of a real teacher who can give regular and consistent feedback as you’re learning. And there’s absolutely something to be said for a teacher who’s charging what she’s worth. In my experience, many great teachers end up charging much less than they could for a variety of reasons (myself included at one time!). Some of these teachers are diamonds in the rough, and could end up being some of the best instructors for a child.

      Happy you signed up on the list – I look forward to speaking with you more over at my site!

      • Christina says:

        Thanks, Elizabeth! The more I look over your materials, the more things I realize we have in common! 🙂 (and, yes, tutorial videos certainly have their benefits; they’re just not going to offer a very comprehensive music education long term!)

        As for “diamonds in the rough”, ABSOLUTELY! There are many teachers out there who are charging less than they could/should (just like the opposite is true!). I’ve been in the same boat, but now with two small children and a husband who works for a non-profit organization, it’s important I run a profitable business, or my time spent away from my children is simply not worth it to us (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my students and their families and try to take VERY good care of them; I just place a very high value on my mommy time as well!).

        I’d love to encourage anyone who has a wonderful teacher (especially if they do not charge their worth!) to take good care of them! Compliment them, bake for them, send them gift cards (if even anonymously) in the mail, remember them at Christmas/Teacher Appreciation/Valentines/Birthdays, nominate them for community awards, give them shout-outs on social media, offer to pay for a subscription to their favorite music journal…the list can go on and on! Regardless of occupation, we all do better when we feel appreciated. I am blessed with a treasure trove of families who express their gratitude frequently, but I know many quality teachers who do not receive the same warmth.

        Very best wishes for you on this journey! This is clearly a passion project for you! 🙂

  • Joan says:

    I’m also a music teacher – these suggestions are right on! In addition, some teachers are willing to barter for a reduction in tuition rates. I’ve done this myself a handful of times when I knew the student would work hard and excel but the family couldn’t afford regular lessons.

  • Great article! I have children who have a wonderful music education through their private school and now they both play piano and one plays trumpet and one plays clarinet. They’re affordable and I feel so fortunate to have that resource at my fingertips.

    A few other venues for free or low-cost concerts: high schools, churches, public theaters (local bandstands and amphitheaters, for example), and historic sites.

    If you have elementary or even Jr high students, the high school’s orchestra or band may be a great place to start without being intimidating.

    We have a local church that hosts an outdoor concert series every summer featuring local artists (Jazz quartet, violin solo, opera singer, etc.) and another that has both a marvelous bass quartet and a marvelous string quartet that play for various holidays during the year.

    A local historic site hosts string concerts (free with admission) during December and January and another hosts a free 4th of July concert each year (bring a blanket or lawn chairs) and then fireworks.

    Even attending the recitals of more advanced students can be very inspiring!

    Thanks so much for you article,

    • Thanks, Lea! Glad your children are in good music programs – looks like you all could start a band! 🙂

      And great suggestions for more music concert opportunities. Outdoor performances are a lot of fun, and I loved watching older students during my recitals.

  • DuckyandBike says:

    This post was very helpful to me, I have been feeling guilty because we are having a hard time deciding what to focus on with our kids. Another question for you, or any of the music teachers out there. What is the ideal age to get started?
    Thanks !

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the article! As far as age goes, the sooner the better. Some music programs, like the Suzuki method, specialize in beginning music education at a *very* early age (as young as 2 years old). Other teachers like to wait until they’re 5 or 6.

      With that being said, primary school or even early middle school is still a good place to begin lessons. This is one of those, “It’s never too early to start, but it’s also never too late to begin” things, especially if you’re excited about learning the instrument and willing to practice.

      Go get that free guide I’m offering – I think it’ll help steer you in the right direction!

    • Ann says:

      I think a lot depends on the child and the instrument they want to play. If a child has a strong desire and a good attention span (both for lessons and practicing) I will start them early. I started giving one of my daughters piano lessons early and she performed in her first recital when she was 2. She has been extremely musical right from the start and she was ready for lessons then. My other daughter is now 2. She likes to play with the piano, but she’s not ready. A good teacher should be able to help you figure out if your child is ready if you’re not sure. I’ve accepted 3 year old piano students who thrived. I’ve done trial lessons with 6 year olds and ended up not teaching them because they weren’t ready.
      It’s also important to find a teacher who loves working with young kids and is successful at doing so. Sometimes a young student will quit because the student wasn’t ready for lessons, but other times it’s because there was a bad student/teacher match.
      Piano is one of the best first instruments. It’s easier to produce a sound. It provides a good foundation. It’s easy to switch to another instrument later. My husband is also a music teacher (band instruments) and he generally won’t start students until 4th grade because there is more involved with producing a good sound. Also, sometimes the kids are not big enough to handle a certain instrument yet. (He had a trombone student whose arm wasn’t big enough to extend the slide all the way.) Some instruments just come in one size and you have to wait until the child is big enough. Other instruments (string instruments for example) come in smaller fractional sizes which is why kids can start at a younger age.

  • Sarah says:

    Don’t rule out your child’s music teacher at school! I have 3 kids in band in grades 5-8. Their band teachers rotate staying after school 45 minutes per day. The kids can come in to practice or get help any day or every day for FREE.

  • Jen says:

    I’m able to clean the music studio we use in exchange for my kids’ music class tuition. Works well in this stage of life where I have more time than money!

  • Rosanna says:

    We pay for two of our children to take piano lessons. They aren’t cheap, plain and simple, but we budget for them and make it work. I actually play piano myself, but homeschool my kids and wanted some other teachers in their lives, besides me. I am thankful for two daughters who both practice without being told.

    • Those lessons are absolutely worth it with the benefits your kids are getting. And when they’re practicing without being told – that’s when you know they’re really falling in love with the music.

  • Ann says:

    Great post–all excellent suggestions! Another suggestion with the free concerts is to not limit yourself to the almost-professional level performers. If there is a Suzuki program in your area you may be able to attend free Suzuki student concerts. The younger students may have years to go before they are almost-professional, but there is something special and inspiring about a young child watching other young children perform.
    I agree about asking to barter. I’ve had my students bring me fresh farm eggs each week for reduced lessons. It’s hard for me to cook on days when I’m teaching all day so I’d be open to bartering for dinner too. When I was a student I remember my piano teacher bartered with someone who cleaned her house in exchange for teaching her kids. Even though a teacher may be home all day it can be hard to get normal household tasks done since so much of the day is spent teaching and the teacher may jump at the chance to barter for household help.

    • Glad you liked what I had to say, Ann! And I agree – I grew up a Suzuki kid and practically idolized some of the students who were older than me. They’re not too far off progress wise from the smaller kids – it’s amazing what beautiful music they can play at such a young age.

  • Clare C. says:

    Yea for an article on music education! My husband is a band director of 27 years and music is an integral part of family life for all 4 of our children. We now have one in college, 2 in high school, and 1 in middle school, all still happily playing on their instruments. A couple of points I would add are, first of all, make sure to expose your children to all kinds of beautiful music. Our one son loves to research and listen to more classical styles of music, while his twin sister adores big band jazz and our eldest daughter likes a little bit of country and movie themes. It can really get a child excited to think that one day, they could learn to play their favorite styles. Secondly, we also recently learned with our eldest that there are some wonderful college scholarships available for participation in the music departments of many schools, even your local community college. And your child doesn’t have to be a music major to be considered for them! This isn’t a frugal tip for today but an investment for your child’s future that may end up saving money down the road.

    • Oh, I love a good musical family. And kudos to your husband, Clare! I was in my high school’s marching band – many great memories. Music directors do such great work for their community.

      Also, good point about finding musical styles and pieces that inspire kids. There’s no “one size fits all” repertoire for every child. We all love different sorts of music! Once we understand the fundamentals of music and become skilled at an instrument, we can learn to play anything later down the road and become our own teachers (that’s the idea). Glad your children are all still happily playing. 🙂

  • Brecklyn says:

    I’m not going to lie, when I saw the title of this post I was very nervous. As a professional music teacher, with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, I have spent my life learning how best to teach children the violin. You want more than someone who knows how to play. They need to know how to teach, which is an entirely different skill.

    Thank you for this helpful article, and thank you for not recommending youtube videos in the place of an experienced teacher.

    You get what you pay for, and I have many students who came to my more expensive studio after beginning with the “cheap” teacher and becoming frustrated when they still didn’t sound very good after investing years and lots of money into lessons.

    • Thanks, Brecklyn! I’m glad the article didn’t disappoint. That really means something coming from a fellow teacher. And you’re right – teaching is an entirely different skill.

      By the way, you’ve got a great website. I like what you’re writing over there 🙂

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