Ten Things You Should Never Say to A Piano Teacher

After piano teaching, my second passion is photography, and I had a good laugh the other day when I saw a “Top 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Photographer” on post Facebook.  And it got me thinking about piano teachers and how we are often united by the same struggles, the same triumphs… and the same headaches.  

Here’s my Top 10 list of things you should never say to a piano teacher.  I’d love to hear your Top 10 additions.  Share yours by leaving a comment below :)

1.  He’s going to do his practising on his Grandma’s piano because we don’t have one.

2.  She doesn’t practice because she’s not feeling challenged.

3.  We forgot his piano books.

4.  Phew!  We barely made it.  He’s been home from school all day with a nasty stomach bug!

5.  So what do you do for work?

6.  I don’t get paid until the end of the month so I’ll bring the lesson cheque then.

7.  His Aunt is getting married tomorrow.  I told her he could learn that wedding march song in today’s lesson.

8.  He’s probably not going to like piano… but can he try it anyways?

9.  Do you do drop in lessons?

10.  We have a birthday party next week.  Just let me know when you can do a make-up lesson.

Looking forward to reading your additions to this list :)

Many of these Top 10 statements just come with the territory, BUT we can help you to avoid ever hearing number 8! The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo are comic-based piano books that will rid your studio of unenthusiastic and uncommitted male students forever!  Find out why a piano teacher emailed to say “Boys who have a hard time working on their weekly assignments learn the music for Fearless Fortissimo in a week, hands together, perfect rhythm and dynamics! I really believe Fearless Fortissimo has kept at least 2 boys from dropping out last semester!”

47 Responses to Ten Things You Should Never Say to A Piano Teacher

  1. erin ramsey says

    I would add to the list;
    ” we sometimes run late….I’m sure you could just add a few minutes on to the end of the lesson, right?”

    or “$20.00 for 30 minutes? Why do you charge so much?”

    and “I don’t understand why my child isn’t progressing”…hmmmm maybe its because you’re not making your child PRACTICE!!!!

  2. says

    “I know your money is important to you, but don’t you think I would have given the check if ‘student’ had attended his lesson? No, I cannot make a special trip into town to give you the check.”

    -Actually said by a parent to me when I very nicely asked her to bring by OR mail the check since they missed the first lesson of the month. I guess she thought I didn’t have bills to pay on time! :-O

  3. says

    (A) Did he leave his piano books here last week?
    (B) Can you give me a discount — I’m on a budget
    (C) I’m going to Wal-Mart. I’ll be back as soon as possible. (3 year old who has a 15 minute lesson was here for over 2 hours)
    (D) What? You get paid to do this?

  4. Emily Davidson says

    Once a parent really pushed and pressed to try to get me to go to her house..at the PRE-LESSON interview! She actually said, “Look, you’re done here by 7:00. You could get to my house by 7:30, what’s the problem?” I did not take her on.

  5. Dee says

    I think what is worse than saying all of these, is when someone doesn’t tell you that their child is sick, and brings them. When their in lessons, they proceed to be sick!

  6. says

    I hear this one every week…
    “I didn’t practice because we have sooooo much to do”
    And…
    “yeah…I looked at the assignment for this week, but I practiced something else…”

    Amazing!

    • says

      Yes, I get the “I couldn’t practice because we were sooo busy” all the time. So I’ve started asking “Doing what?” and they name a couple of things. I say, “There are 7 days in the week. You just told me about 2. What about the other 5?” Well, uh,…

      And “My mom (or dad) forgot my books.” Or they brought the wrong books. Really? I have to give them a bag, and explain to them how to use it – how they are to keep everything they need in their bag, so they can just grab the bag. OK, I wanted you to practice sightreading more anyway. I know some send them home, but I think some want that. So I don’t.

      And I’m going to group make-ups.

  7. Stephanie says

    Another favorite is parents coming 15 minutes early for their child’s lesson unannounced and then saying “I need to talk to you and didn’t want to take away our lesson time. You’re not busy are you?” Not at all, interrupting the student who is currently having their lesson is perfectly fine as long as you get extra time, or no, I didn’t need this time to finish preparing for the start of my teaching day because I wasn’t epecting you yet. Please phone first!

    • says

      I HATE when people come early! It’s almost worse than coming late! I find it so rude.

      I also get the “I/he/she couldn’t practice because we were so busy” as well. I explain that if they don’t practice at home, they will practice in lesson. And then, lessons will be extremely boring. So it’s in their best interest to practice AT HOME.

  8. Stephanie says

    My other one is “We are so busy with activities. When exactly do you expect us to practice?”. The look of shock I get when I mention that many students successfully practice in the morning before leaving for school is priceless.

  9. Noreen says

    “Guess what Ms. W., I was home SICK from school today!” (thanks for sharing the this information with me, and also your bugs!)

    “I couldn’t practise this week, because our dog peed on my piano books.” (unfortunately this was true)

    “You don’t make my child practise enough.” (Gee, I never knew I lived with you!)

    “My child has a play-date during her piano lesson. Perhaps you can fit her in during your free time?” (Sure, how about during school hours, or maybe after my last student leaves at 10:00 pm).

    “My ex-husband won’t allow my child to practise during ‘his’ time with our daughter.” (Argh, separated fathers, don’t get me going on them!)

    “I was sooo busy this week that I couldn’t practise because I had a 1-page science paper to due” (I responded with “Oh really”, and held this student’s notebook, in which I’d written 1 full page during his 30 minute lesson).

    “Sorry, Mom couldn’t get me here on time. I know I’m 20 minutes late, but Mom says it’s okay if I stay 20 minutes longer” (Yep, during the next student’s lesson-time)

  10. Hope Noar says

    Our room is being redone so the piano is covered and cannot be used. Or……after trying to reschedule a number of lessons, even offering to pick the child up, ignoring my e mails to try to reschedule the lessons, saying: “We need to talk about a refund.” I lost so many weeks, trying to make up the lessons, holding the slot, changing the student who comes after her, etc. and I don’t deserve to get paid?

  11. Jeanne says

    My son has _______(soccer, play practice, doctor appt, playdate….) during his lesson time this week. I would like him to come Monday at 4:00. Some people just don’t understand that I actually have a schedule which is set in place and that I am not just open and available at any time for them :/ One particular parent has had to be told many times that 1. Your son’s lesson time is reserved for him and I do not offer make-ups. 2. I have other student’s scheduled for the time you are requesting!

    • says

      I am dealing with this today. I had a parent ask (at noon) if she could bring her son at 12:30 instead of her booked time of 1pm. I said, no, sorry, I can’t do that. Then she asked if she could bring him at 4 because church was done early and she didn’t want to wait around for an hour (although she lives just down the street). So I said, okay, he can come at 4 for today because I happen to have that open. What do you know… it’s 4:30 and I still haven’t seen any sign of them. Texted and called her and left a message explaining that when she makes an appointment, she needs to make sure he’s here for it. I of course got no answer/response. I think they’re going to be cut off my schedule. Unacceptable.

  12. says

    The frustrating refrain in my life is the “rescheduled missed lesson”
    How about a call I got in late May “I’m calling to reschedule that lesson I missed the day before Good Friday”. Or the high-school senior who constantly calls me to say “I forgot my lesson tonight, so I’m calling to reschedule”.

    I even had one mom call to say that due to a Friday school holiday her kids’ Greek classes had been moved to Thursday (our lesson day) – I was surprised the next month when she just took off one week of lesson fees. Before you groan about a per lesson fee, I charge by the year, but she did the math herself & took off one lesson’s worth.

      • says

        Happened to us over $30. End of the term the parent quit both her daughters and has never spoken to us again, after having tutored both her daughters for years!!

        • Jan says

          Ouch. Have they any idea how much time and care we invest in their children? At the very least we give priceless undivided attention lacking in many other extra curricular activities.

          • Geneva says

            What I find AMAZING is that there is never a spoken word to the sports directors about refunds for missed lessons AND I never hear of children missing their sports lessons and events. WHY does piano take a back seat to everything?

  13. Anna Hill says

    1. “Johnny has had discipline problems at school so for punishment he can not come for lessons the next month.”
    2. “Do students have to know how to read music to take lessons?”
    3. (After a month of lessons….”Suzy still can not read music.”
    4. “Can we reschedule piano PRACTICE to accomodate ball practice?”

  14. Dee says

    Just had one thing that you never say! Here it goes. I want someone to teach my son/daughter, for less than what you charge! That is not the way into a teacher’s heart.

  15. Marnie says

    I had a student who missed a lesson. When I called to set up the new month and be sure we going to continue (because he had missed the previous lesson as well – that one was planned) the mom said the dad was supposed to call me to tell me he wouldn’t be there. The dad response was “I was going to tell her at next week’s lesson.” I didn’t offer to reschedule that one.

  16. Erica says

    I travel to my students homes and on more than one occasion I have gotten to one of my student’s house and her mom has said, “She’s not here today, so I figured you could do a lesson with Teddy instead.” …The 2 year old brother

  17. says

    When I reviewed a child’s lesson with their parent after the lesson, I told them that I was teaching them about phrasing. The parent said:
    “Isn’t she too young for that? I wouldn’t have understood that at 6 years Old.” …..
    Okay, then. I will just teach your child notes and not music….as your previous teacher clearly did.

    • Geneva says

      I’ve heard it too! Actually one adult student admitted she found out that what I said was true by “watching” a “professional” pianist play and noticing that the “professional” pianist did what I had instructed. I didn’t know if I should be happy or miffed!

  18. Lynda Tracy says

    1. What? We have to PAY for the books?

    2. Teacher to student who has no bag and no books: “Where is your music?”
    Student (boy, 11 years old): “Right here”, as he pulls PAGES OUT OF HIS POCKET!!

  19. Lynda Tracy says

    And another one just remembered:
    Second lesson of new term; I have sent home with the student at the first lesson a set of lesson book, theory book, technical exercises, etc., with a statement of how much to pay for the books.
    Student comes back to second lesson, “My mom says she will pay for this one (lesson book) but she won’t pay for that one or that one (theory and technique).”

  20. Carole says

    I had a student that would skip lessons here and there. Eventually it became more and more of a habit. The parent never paid me for the full amt due for the month either. So I wrote a sweet note on her child’s assignment book explaining the “real” amount due – The mom called me and said “Oh, my! I didn’t realize that I had to pay you for missed lessons. I thought I only paid for the lessons my child actually had.” I didn’t even have the luxury of teaching out of my own home at that time – I was teaching at my church. So I travelled all the way there I guess to sit and wait on who showed up? Oh yeah…the mom never called ahead to say that her daughter would be missing a lesson either.

  21. Melissa says

    I asked a student about her piano at home in her 2nd lesson, and this happened:
    Student: We don’t have a piano at home.
    Me: Oh, ok, your keyboard then.
    Student: We don’t have a keyboard either.
    Me: Oh, um, whatever you practice on, then.
    Student: (Looks confused)
    Me (to parent): Where does she practice?
    Parent: (Also looks confused)
    Me: I mean, if you don’t have a piano or a keyboard at home…does she practice at school? Church? A relative’s house?
    Parent: Oh, we just thought we’d bring her to you so she could learn piano.
    Me: Yes, of course, but where does she practice?
    Parent: Well, we thought she would learn piano in here.
    Me: Yeah, she learns piano in here. But where does she practice?

    …it took me a comically long time to “get it.”

  22. Barbara Durham says

    I was taking a 8 year old boy transfer piano student for a trial lesson. His mother said to me that he did preliminary piano examination 2 years ago and got an A. Hadn’t done grade 1 or 2, but now is doing grade 3. Just brought a photocopy of a Grade 3 piece and played not one note on the score. Couln’t play any scales except C Major when asked. Mum explained that all his music were photocopies and that they had lost them.
    I gave him 2 Grade 1 pieces (one which he said he had learnt but couldn’t play to learn as much as possible for next week, mother agreed to buy grade 1 book.
    The mother cancelled the next lesson with 6 hours notice because of the dentist and didn’t expect to pay.

    I decided to give them one more lesson the next week to see if he remembered any of his grade 1 pieces I gave him.

    I made sure his mum sat in on the lessons.
    He remembered the notes but that’s about all. I said to her that he should do Grade 1 and 2 again properly before he went onto grade 3. The mum replied ‘But he is in Grade 3!!’ I then suggested that she find another teacher because I couldn’t be expected to take him for Grade 3 without the grounding of the lower grades. She replied that I misunderstood her and that she wanted me to take him though the same pieces he learnt again and correct all his mistakes. I repilied that it would be better to learn new material. …I was becoming exasperated. I gave him a lesson inspite of many red flags. Too exhausted to say anything more,

    Unfortunately she rang up and cancelled the next lesson(s): I was about to do the same

  23. Russell says

    I told a parent how much I would charge for her child for lessons: 20 dollars for a half hour and she says, “I only make 15 dollars an hour. Why do you work for 40 an hour?”

    Also, I recommended to another student he should practice 20 minutes a day to start with. Parent says, “He doesn’t have time to practice. It’s good enough just to learn at the lesson. Then I teach his brother while the first brother goes off and plays video games. aaaarrrg!!

  24. says

    Reading everyone’s posts for the first time today really made me feel NOT ALONE!!! In the short few months I have been teaching…I can say I have heard from parents and students….8 of the top 10 excuses.I was a nail tech for 32 years and recently took over my daughter’s piano students. I retired from the nail biz and my daughter had moved away and she asked if I could take over a few of her students. I thought about it and said SURE! I am a firm believer that children should take some sort of lessons in music (piano, guitar etc). Whether they choose to continue is up to (usually) the parents. Being in a ‘service’ business never means you are a servant. As a nail tech I have heard every excuse in the book for missing or cancelling an appointment at the last minute. One lady actually said her husband died of a heart attack in the middle of the night and she was late for her nail appointment because she waiting for the coroner to pick up his body! SERIOUS???? and yes…she had to wait 4 weeks for another appointment.

    Piano teaching should never be a ‘service’. It is a gift that you CHOOSE to share and be compensated for.

    I think my fave excuse was ‘The dog peed on my music’. I have a Great Dane…and there is NO WAY that he could have lifted his leg that high! if the music was on the piano. :-) or even if it was in a bag on a table. He is almost 36 inches high at his shoulders. SO???? LOL! GREAT MYSTERY!!!! WHERE was the piano music????

    To all fellow teachers out there??? SMILE!!!! It only get’s better! SERIOUSLY!!!!

  25. Carol says

    I laughed at some of the comments. I have heard most, if not all of them.
    One teacher mentioned rescheduling because the lesson time was not
    convenient due to sports, dancing, activities, etc mentioned. Why don’t you write up a Studio Policy….in it specifically just spell it out..
    write in what will be made up and what will not. sick days only or family emergencies…an idea? Also, state when tuition is due, etc. Then
    hand it to all parents to read, sign and return so you know they read it.
    If they chose to not show up then they forfeit the lesson. If they call
    before the lesson, 24 hrs. in advance, or that day if the child is sick
    that morning or afternoon, then it is acceptable to make up the sick day.
    No other lessons are made up including dental appts. other lessons, school functions(after school) and plays, etc. This should be spelled
    out and also about recitals, fees for recitals, vacations….this works.
    Hope this information helps.

    • says

      Carol…..I was going to post exactly the same thing. Additional: have your parents sign and date your contract. This acknowledges that they have read and understand your policies…..I have a sample of mine that I am happy to share, please email. When asked about make-ups, I always say: ” I will absolutely try to get this lesson in for you, even though it “technically” doesn’t qualify with our policies. I will call you with any extra times that become available.” And I do, if it’s convenient for me……after all, what’s an extra 1/2 hour? But typically, I never hear another word about the extra lesson. Also: post dated cheques, payment in full by cheque or cash are mandatory at the first lesson, if not before. Keep them in a card file. No exceptions. I also require a $20 registration fee payable with the registration form…..no fee, no time. Very simple. This at least covers the first lesson if they don’t show up, and it puts a bit towards all of the advertising, phone and email work, scheduling, etc that are never factored into nor understood by our clients.
      I also find that, as a yoga instructor, patience and tolerance are necessary. What do I know about their job? Or what policies, formalities, and intricacies are involved in a corporate lawyer’s world, janitor, union employee etc? You must not stop your education with the child, but follow through with the family……..we’re educators after all :) Peace & Harmony to all!

  26. Katie says

    I LOVE this!!! How about these

    1. My grandmother (uncle, aunt, friend) plays by EAR. (I’m supposed to be impressed)
    2. My mom etc was a concert pianist and/or prodigy!

    There seems to be a notion that “playing by ear” equals MORE talented than someone who reads music. I have to explain that if you ONLY play by ear or ONLY read music you will be limited. Learn how to do both and the sky is the limit! Of course they look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I can TEACH you how to play be ear.

    I’ve never had someone tell me their _____ was a concert pianist and it actually be true. Lol.
    The student that actually practices like I tell them to is suddenly a “prodigy” and the lady that played in church her whole life is a “concert pianist” lol.

  27. says

    I enjoyed reading all the frustrating, but funny stories… however, in my 35+ years of teaching (mostly part time while my kiddos were little) I haven’t really had a problem with parents being rude or not wanting to pay. I suppose I have just been lucky. I must admit that sometimes I am just as flaky as some of my students… so I have learned to just roll with the flow. I have studio policy let parents know what I expect but for the most part I am pretty understanding. For what it’s worth, here is what works for me:

    -Before I travel to teach a lesson, I make a quick phone call to make sure the student(s) are there and not sick. –When kids come unprepared I turn the lesson into a practice session…lots of repetition in creative ways to iron out the hard parts of their piece.
    -I encourage the parents to stay for their child’s lesson, and those that do always pay and never complain about the price, and their kids do really well. Those that don’t usually quit lessons within the year anyway.
    -I joke with the kids a lot, but still expect them to work really hard to make each piece sound beautiful.
    - Families are busy, things come up. I have found that in an average month, about a quarter of the kids have to cancel mostly for good reasons, so I plan my budge accordingly. I hate doing make-up lessons, so I just don’t do them. I suppose I would rather not get paid then to mess up my schedule.

    This might not work for everyone… but for me it makes for a happy, relaxed teacher and happy students and parents.

  28. Padooski says

    Had an adult student who seemed a little odd, but nice. He attended his first lesson and was very excited. Next week, he didn’t turn up. I got an answer phone message several hours after his scheduled lesson had ended, with him telling me “I’m a bit strapped for cash this week.” He missed the next week as well citing that he had had a bad week – his fire engine was broken! Of all things.

    Have had trouble with parents paying for recital tickets. I have arranged a recital at a very nice venue with a little food included. For the cost of the venue I have had to charge all attendees – students and guests – £5 entry. This is nothing – the venue have given me a very kind deal! Anyway, a parent said that she didn’t want to pay for student x and student z to play because they are fussy eaters and will probably have had dinner by then anyway! Not only that but they have filled their quota of 4 guests and are hoping to save a buck. It’s not mandatory to bring your great grandad and the dog! Some people think it’s all about them, wanting to bring piles of guests and music teachers from school… no thought for the poor 7 year olds performing in front of people for the first time who are only bringing one parent!

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