What’s Your Definition of Success as a Music Teacher?

Success is entirely subjective. But, if you’re not careful, you can fall into default definitions of success as a music teacher rather than defining what success means to YOU.

If you chase those default definitions of what it means to be successful you might just wake up one day with the high income, the big house or the massive music school and realise…this isn’t good for you. This isn’t what you wanted, after all.

That’s why I want to challenge you to write down your own meaning of success today.

Create Your Post-it Note

Take out a post-it note and write your answers to each of these questions as you read this article.

How much money do you need?

Well, a million a year would be nice…

But would it?

Think about what making 1 million euro (or dollars or pounds) would really mean. It will probably answer some of the questions below before you’ve had a chance to even ask them because you’re unlikely to make that much teaching 10 students out of your front living room.

So, instead of just naming a nice fat juicy number, I want you to come up with a figure that would let you do everything you want to do. (And, unless you really want to own helicopters and horses, it’s probably not 1,000,00, is it?)

How many students do you want?

Too often, I see teachers cramming as many students as possible into their schedule. They assume that maxing out their time must be the goal, without pausing to think about whether it’s the right goal for them.

Most teachers could do with raising their rates. And if you’re teaching 40 students and you raise your rates by 5%, then suddenly you only need 38 students to make the same amount…while teaching less.

So, what’s your ideal student number? It might be less than you thought.

Do you want a team of teachers?

This is where we enter really potential harmful territory if we don’t understand our own definition of success as a music teacher.

Once you hit a certain level with enrollment and start to get a waiting list, the logical next step is to hire other teachers, right? Otherwise, we’re just leaving money sitting on the table!

Well, yes. But maybe you want to leave that money on the table. Maybe it’s not the right money for you.

For more great advice and guidance on business topics for your piano studio, check out my centralized hub about establishing and managing your Studio Business.

Here’s the thing about hiring other teachers: it’s a different job. If you want that job, the position of studio owner/manager, then great! But if your favourite job is “teacher” and you loathe the idea of more admin, hiring and managing people – then this isn’t the position for you.

In short, if you would never consider applying for this job if it were advertised to you, then don’t create it for yourself.

Let me be crystal clear. I’ve got nothing against big music schools or teachers with this ambition. But there is this idea floating in the ether that this is what it means to be successful as a music teacher, and I want to tell you that it’s also perfectly fine to just want to stay a one teacher studio.

So, write the number of teachers on your ideal team on that post-it note. Even if it’s 1. 🙂

Do you want a commercial space?

There’s another vision of a successful or “serious” music studio hanging in the air, and that’s the image of a commercial space.

But maybe you like teaching from your living room. Maybe, you’re like me and love not having to commute anywhere, ever.

There are advantages and disadvantages to commercial and home studio locations, and whichever side you come down on is right for you. So, write it down!

Where will you stick your post-it?

I’d love to see some pictures of your completed post-its in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group on Facebook, or hear about your definitions of success in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “What’s Your Definition of Success as a Music Teacher?”

  1. I think quality is better than quantity. You can achieve more with
    less students. I had 18 students a couple years ago. Now I have
    only 5. I think I am a better teacher than ever with less students.
    You are able to give it your all!

      • For me success as a Music Teacher is not measured in the amount of grades achieved or the number of students on the books but rather in seeing their confidence & passion for music ignite and awaken little by little with each lesson.
        The majority of my time is spent teaching students to believe in themselves over the difference between a crotchet & a minim. Teaching students that with hard work & dedication anything is possible. Ultimately, to be a Music Teacher is to journey with a student through their high & lows, successes & failures without giving up. I am always mindful that the student in front of me could be the next Mozart or Beethoven and it’s my responsibility to draw out this talent for the benefit of all.

  2. Just what I needed to hear Nicola, thank you. Just because we could expand with other teachers doesn’t mean we should. I for one need to learn when I’ve reached ‘enough’.

  3. Thanks Nicola- some interesting food for thought. May I add a couple via my responses?
    1. I worked this out a while ago and it’s paying fruit. Mortgage paid. Affordable conferences and an annual holiday and put enough into superannuation (Very important as the hours creep on space!). Other nice life things and living. This question is also a highly personal one as I only speak for myself, not the innumerable situations of peers in music.
    2. 25 (hourly sessions) is manageable and less is fine. More equals an exhausting week but is not unheard of. The hourly amount of teaching per week does not include work on administration (someone has to run the practice), and development of marketing.
    3. A team of teachers takes a while to develop. Keeping records to see if you firstly have capacity for another teacher (then more) is the initial and needed task. The system you apply to hiring is another step.
    For many teachers in today’s connected world they already manage ‘staff’ through their use of outsourcing tasks- e.g- bookkeeping, SM admin, and other.
    Rather than viewing staff as a management approach I do like to think of it as leaving a legacy for good teaching and love of music . Slightly different but worth a thought.
    4. The varieties of commercial space are endless. I’m developing a spreadsheet of networks regarding this question as I will, sooner rather than later, need to find new commercial space.
    Just some ideas to toss about . Cheers

  4. My idea of success is somewhat related to these questions, but not entirely. Here it is:

    Happy families and Happy students.

    My students stay with me for a long time. At least 80% of my student base has been with me since they first started lessons. Some for over six or seven years! (As long as I’ve had my Oregon studio open!) They’ve stuck with me through two moves (one was completely across town and caused many families to double or triple their commute time!) They’ve stuck with me through going — and staying — 100% online through COVID. They’ve stuck with me while I’ve raised my rates quite a bit — AND quite a few times — over the last five years.

    My families refer me all the time. I have a huge wait list and most of it is from referrals from current families.

    My students love their lessons (both in-person and online), they are achieving great things, and they are HAPPY playing music.

    That is the best measure of success for me.

    All the other stuff, yes, of course. But happy students? That’s the best marker of success for me. 🙂


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