Leave Make-Up Piano Lessons in the Dust with these Two Pivots!

Make-up piano lessons are a hot topic for music teachers. For many, they take over their weekends, cause endless stress, and limit their earning potential.

Leave Make-Up Lessons in the Dust with these Two Important Pivots! 2

But what can we do about them? How can we stop offering them if that’s what parents expect?

Moving away from make-up piano lessons is a two step process in my experience.

Pivot 1: What Enrolment Means

Your Studio Enrolment Mindset

What do YOU think it means when someone signs up to your studio?

Whenever I hear from piano teachers that they feel it’s unfair to their students not to offer a make-up piano lesson under XYZ circumstances, it’s usually because of how they see their studio.

Their students might be paying a monthly fee already, but underneath, they still feel like their students are paying for a certain number of lessons.

They’re not.

Your students are paying to be part of your studio.

There is a massive difference there so please take note. If you believe your students are paying for 4 lessons per month or 40 lessons a year, then yes, it feels unjust not to make up a lesson that they missed because of Granny’s funeral.


But. If you think that they’re paying to be a part of your studio then that includes:

  • A weekly lesson spot which you hold for them
  • Your own regular professional development (whether that’s in-person or online like the trainings I do for members of Vibrant Music Teaching)
  • Research you do into new methods of teaching, new resources and repertoire selection
  • Recitals and other studio events that happen during the year
  • Anything else that students have access to such as iPad apps, computer stations, theory games, group workshops…whatever you have going on!

I really doubt that all you do in a week is just arrive at the lesson, teach the student as best as you can during the time, and then not even think about them until next week. Right?

I mean you’re reading this blog right now. I doubt that’s just for fun.

Write a list of everything that’s actually included in your tuition. Really think about it and you might be surprised how much stuff you do and how many facilities are available to your students. (If you need more help coming up with your list, check out this article by Wendy Stevens.)

Once you have your list and your confident that your studio is a package deal, not a direct time-for-money exchange, you’re ready to convince your piano parents of that too.

The Piano Parent Enrolment Mindset

Adjusting how your piano parents see their enrolment in your studio is something that happens in bits and pieces. You can’t give some eloquent speech or write a well-crafted email to have them see things your way.

The first and most important aspect of this is at the very first meeting. Take the time to inform your prospective piano parent about all the things you offer in your studio.

You won’t get another chance at this first impression of what your studio is and what their tuition covers.

But Nicola, I hear you say, what about the piano parents I already have in my studio? Is that opportunity lost forever?

Well, yes and no. That first impression opportunity is lost, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do.

Start by making a plan to regularly communicate what you’re doing with your piano parents.

  • Create piano parent progress updates
  • Send out emails about projects their child is working on
  • Do a newsletter and mention your own training, research you’ve been doing and exciting events

This change in the way your piano parents think about your studio can only be done in nudges. Give it time.

Pivot 2: Your Make-Up Piano Lesson Policies

This is the part piano teachers usually jump to. They ask: “What policies can I bring in that will eliminate make-up lessons?” or they ask “How can I adjust my policies to make rescheduled lessons more manageable?”

But policies are not going to do the work.

Policies are just guidelines. They’re just paper. You are still going to be the one that has to say NO.


Which is why the mindset piece of this above is so important. Once you believe that you shouldn’t be offering make-up lessons, wholly and fully, then you can bring in a policy you’re comfortable with.

And maybe that includes some missed lesson alternatives.

Other Students’ Cancellations

In my policies, I say that parents can contact me when they’ll be missing a lesson and I will offer them another available slot if I have it, such as another students’ cancellation.

This works for me because I’m strict with myself. If you think you would be tempted to put that student outside of your regular schedule, during your break time or some other such madness – do not have this policy!

I’m serious. You need your downtime and you need your breaks. Ok?

Swap List

Some teachers like to take themselves out of the equation entirely and have parents either opt in or out of a swap list at the start of the year. They can then contact other parents on the swap list when they need to reschedule.

I think this is a great idea for many teachers! I don’t do it personally because of all the different lesson format options I offer…it would just be too messy.

If you keep your lesson schedule fairly simple and don’t have buddy lessons or partner lessons, definitely consider this one.

Skype Lessons

If your student will be missing because they’re contagious (but not really poorly), their parents car is broken or some other such reason that simply means they can’t get to your studio; Skype or Facetime lessons are a great back-up.

I covered 4 consecutive snow days when we could all barely get out of our driveways with Skype/Facetime lessons recently. It was absolutely fantastic.

skype lesson

If you’re nervous of trying this then check out the recent quick clip where I showed this in action. It’s really not that scary!

Video Lessons

The last option I recommend you consider is a video lesson option.

This is where the student and parent record a video of their playing at any point during the week and send it to you. You can then review this during their lesson time and reply, either with another video or with text notes.

Having the video lesson option is great for those scheduled trips and commitment clashes that they know about well in advance.

Non-Recommended Missed Lesson Alternatives

I’m not here to preach at you. Run your studio the way you want and do what makes sense to you.

For what it’s worth though, these are the missed lesson alternatives that rub me the wrong way:

  • Allowing a certain number of make-ups per semester. I don’t like this because it perpetuates the idea that they are in fact entitled to that lesson time. And as we discussed above, they’re not buying your time – they’re buying into your studio.
  • Group lessons as make-ups. By all means, offer group lessons as part of your studio package. I do this myself. But encouraging parents to see these as make-ups for missed lessons doesn’t make sense to me…much better to point to them as one of the many benefits of being enrolled in your studio.

Again, both of these come back to that mindset shift above. They smack of “I think I should offer make-up lessons but I can’t handle how many I need to do”.

Resolve to Leave Make-Up Lessons in the Dust!

I hope I’ve showed you here that you don’t need to offer make-up lessons, and given you some confidence to change your policies and your actions.

Let me know if you’re going to move to no make-ups in the comments below or in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group on Facebook. You got this!

34 thoughts on “Leave Make-Up Piano Lessons in the Dust with these Two Pivots!”

  1. I have a no make-up lessons policy at my studio but I do offer to send the student a new assignment sheet for the week if the absence is due to illness, family travel, or required school event. This works for me because I type up my assignment sheets in MS Word, can view the previous week’s assignment, and send the new assignment as a pdf. I liken this to a classroom teacher at school giving the student make-up work for absent days. School teachers are NOT expected to teach the missed lesson to absent students at another time outside the scheduled class time, so I don’t think I should be either. This analogy also helps in explaining my no make-up lesson policy to parents.

  2. Thank you for covering this topic. I have been considering getting rid of makeup lessons for a while. I spend so much time in my week trying reschedule and accommodate parents, time that I could be spending in lesson prep, or spending time at home with my family. It’s akways perplexed me how parents view music lessons as a “pay per lesson” mind set, yet they have no problem paying absobinent fees for sports that have no makeup opportunities. I’m definitely going to make these changes after the Summer. I will start planting the seeds for change now, making the new changes as seem less as possible.


  3. We have one piano lesson and one group class in theory or other musical activity in our school every week. I give a missed lesson sometimes as a masterclass lesson –where the rest of the small group have a list of things to listen to. In that way the piano child has something new to practice and the other children are also learning and demonstrating things.

  4. Thx Nicola, I noticed that my Studio Policy regarding monthly fees and lesson scheduling is a bit antagonistic in language and you have given me some ideas to reshape the words in a non confrontational way. My son says I always shoot from the hip and perhaps I should think first! I will get him to proof read it, lol.

  5. I like the idea of putting two or three base lessons onto video as a substitute for make up lessons. This way, if a student can not fit into another one of the designated times throughout the week, they can be referred to additional instruction from the familiar teacher anyway.

  6. I am considering moving to this mindset, but I am curious what you do when you (as the teacher) are out. I had two weeks that I was out for a medical concern/issue.

    • I have 1 flex week included in tuition so I’m charging for 1 less lesson than is scheduled. If I don’t use this during the year we just stop a week early at the end of the year.
      If I had to take more than one day off I would reschedule or refund that lesson.
      You can also set more than 1 flex week – however many you like. I just know that generally (touch wood!) I’m almost never sick so I just need 1 flexible week to account for meetings, talks and conference.

  7. Hi Nicola,

    I whole-heartedly agree with everything you mentioned. I travel teach and have moved to a no-makeup policy myself over the last year and have enjoyed the perks! My pivot was to include three “bonus weeks” in my studio calendar, which most families didn’t understand. Last year, with 20 students I had over 60 missed lessons (not including lessons I needed to reschedule). At a certain point, I stopped keeping track and I think my families stopped keeping track as well. Do you think it makes sense for me to say that “missed lessons are inevitable and therefore have been factored into the overall price”?

  8. Great article, Nicola! It helped me to rethink how I think about my fees. 🙂 And I found the video lesson idea very interesting! I think I will try implement that at some point. 🙂

  9. I am a traveling teacher. I recently re-worded my policy to say that “missed lessons are inevitable and therefore have been factored into the overall cost of lessons.” If parents ask (no one actually has…) I simply say that I charge less than the average traveling teacher in my area. I also did the math and realized that missing a few lessons per year really only raises the “per-lesson” price by a couple of dollars, so it’s not as big of a financial loss as they might think.

  10. Hi Nicola, so curious how you word the no make up lesson in your policy? Do you even mention when families sign up or not until they call you with an absence? Would you just say that in the case a lesson needs to be missed you can schedule an online lesson in lieu of the lesson or even use the swap list?

    • This is the text from my policies:
      “Missed Lessons
      • If a student will be missing their lesson for any reason they should inform me by text or email, with as much notice as possible so that we can organise a video or online lesson.”
      However, I will emphasise that I think teachers sometimes overestimate the policy aspect. The most important factor is the conversation I have with them at the first meeting.

  11. Hi Nicola! So, I was wondering about when students cancel due to illness, do you refund at all? Or do you only refund when YOU miss the lesson? I recently had a student cancel due to illness, and I offered to reschedule them to another time in the week, but they never got back to me. Thanks!

      • Hello Ma’am! Popped up a question on my mind?? When you (teacher) misses a lesson from monthly/semester or term plan, what amount do you refund?(meaning what percentage?and how do you calculate that?) Bcos as you cleared that you never disclose your pricing as per lesson but monthly/semester and term. Pls Guide. Thank you.

        • I don’t actually refund. I have flex weeks built into my year so that I’m charging for 2 fewer lessons than I schedule and can take these weeks off whenever I need them.

          If I did need more than those weeks I would deduct it from their next payment.

  12. How do I smoothly transition my studio over to a tuition based payment plan from a Monthly payment plan? Have you addressed that already on the site? Probably! Also, do you have an email template you offer explaining the tuition based plans?Thanks so much for guidance!

  13. I’ve been thinking about this off and on for the past couple of years, but now with almost 40 students, it needs to happen. If on the off-chance you do need to reimburse a lesson because your two flex weeks have already been used, how do you calculate that amount? Thanks!

    • Hi, Nikki! Even though I don’t charge per lesson, I do have a good idea of how much each lesson actually costs. So, if I needed to take more days off than I had accounted for in my flex time, I refund that amount. Another option I’ve done is to simply make up that lesson at the end of my teaching year.

  14. Thanks for a great article! How do you reconcile spending different amounts on students’ music/materials and charging the same tuition?

    • Hi, Charlene! I think a lot of teachers charge a flat “registration fee” each year that covers the cost of music/materials, subscriptions (like VMT:), printing, recital, etc. I’ve never had parents complain about that or ask how I was spending that money. I think they trust that I’ll wisely use that money.

      I think the same holds true for tuition. I don’t think most people would question how much you’re spending on materials and music if they feel you’re doing what needs to be done to teach effectively. I also feel that all of the money you spend for music on differing students “comes out in the wash”. Sure, you spend more on some students than others sometimes but, at some point, the ones you didn’t spend as much for will need more supplementation and the other ones won’t. Make sense?

  15. Thanks for your response! Do you keep records of how much you spend on each student, or how much you spend on materials total through the year? Just for your information or in case a parent asks?

    • Honestly, I don’t keep a close record on that stuff. I keep my receipts and, if needed/pressed, I could come up with a number. But since I use a lot of studio licensed music and materials, I still don’t think I’d be able to adequately give a “per student” amount. Really, I’ve been teaching over 30 years and I’ve never had anyone ask how much I spend per student or a parent wonder how much I spent on their own child.

      That said, Nicola has some fantastic resources/courses in the Vibrant Music Teaching library that could help you run the numbers. Are you a member of VMT?


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