Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cutting Off the End of the Ham. AKA: Stupidity.

So I've been thinking about my business, lately, what with the economy and everything. And I realized: I'm an idiot.

You know that story about the end of the ham or turkey or something, and the daughter asks the mother why they always cut off the end before they put it in the oven? And then the mother says because that's the way grandma did it, and then they ask grandma, and grandma says she cut off the end because the pan was too short?

Well, about ten or so years ago, I had to convince the local piano students that a typical piano lesson is not, in fact, thirty minutes long. I was met with a lot of skepticism, so I discounted the forty-five minute lessons, and discounted the sixty minute lessons even more, to "prove" that it wasn't that I wanted more money, it was that it was better for the student.

I've raised my rates a couple times since then, but only once since 9/11. (I know, shame on me, stupid, and now it's biting me in the ass. Did I not tell MANY teachers over the years not to do that? Did I not see, time and time again, teachers regret doing that? Yes. But I evidently have to learn the hard way.)

Anyway, when I did raise my rates, I just raised the monthly tuition, rather than breaking down the math and the per-lesson fee.

Well, the other day, I broke it down.

Long story short, now that ALL my students take forty-five minute lessons and a majority take sixty minute lessons, I JUST REALIZED (AFTER EIGHT YEARS!!!!) I'M MAKING TEN PERCENT LESS THAN I WAS WHEN THE ECONOMY WAS GOOD!!!!!!!!!!

(I'm yelling at myself, not you.)

I am SUCH an idiot. I can't believe it. I remember, when I first set the sixty minute price years ago, I heavily discounted it because I had only two students at sixty minutes.

Oh. My. Gawd.

And I used to be good at math. I am completely flummoxed at my stupidity. It would be one thing if I had missed it for ONE year. No: I haven't done the per-lesson calculation for SEVEN YEARS! I just raised the monthly rate.

To make matters worse, I also realized that I have not even MENTIONED that those rates are discounted for ages! So my students are completely unaware that they're getting a huge discount!

Stupid, stupid, stupid. I'm just really astonished at myself.

I really haven't a clue what to do. When I say I discounted the sixty minute lesson heavily, I mean it's by ten percent.

I have, effectively, given myself a TEN PERCENT income decrease over the past five-ten years. So as my students have gotten better and more committed, MY INCOME HAS LOWERED BY TEN PERCENT!!!! No wonder I'm knocking my head against the wall.

I was going to try to connect this to writing. Well, the best I can do is this: if you ever work for yourself, remember to re-think the things you do. If you have a new pan and you're still cutting the end of the ham off, then...

But I'm certain I'm the only one who could be this stupid.

The common practice is to raise rates, no excuses, no need to explain. But I fear blood will be spilt as I raise my rates to what they should be. I don't know. What do you think? Explain? Don't explain?

Have you ever kept cutting off the end of the ham, long after the reason for doing so has passed?

17 bonus scribbles:

Zoe Winters 7/17/2008 07:50:00 PM  

What if you both Raised rates and shortened lessons? Like those who can't afford the higher rates, let them take a shorter time slot. Yes, 45 minutes or an hour is probably better, but a dedicated student who practices at home, can get just as much out of thirty minutes I would think. They could save money, you could save time and not lose money.

spyscribbler 7/17/2008 08:10:00 PM  

I wish, Zoe. First, we have to do scales and technique, which, if I rush and skip stuff, can be done in ten minutes. If I do it right, about twenty, sometimes thirty. Then there's sight-reading, which takes a minimum of five minutes, more often ten.

Then there's pre-learning the next assignment. They can't go home and figure it out themselves, because if they make a mistake and practice it for a week, it's an unfixable mess. So we have to pre-learn it together. That's, minimum, twenty minutes.

Then I need to hear and polish last week's assignment. Often, they took shortcuts in practicing and I have to practice it all over with them. That's twenty-thirty minutes, LOL.

And then I need to hear their memory pieces or they'll stop practicing them. Minimum: ten minutes.

Many of them really need 90 minute lessons, LOL. I won't teach 30 minute lessons at all because they're ridiculous: all I do is sit there and figure out what we can skip this week.

Just think of dance and sports: when kids practice, there's a coach for a reason. It's ridiculously out-of-whack for us to expect kids to figure out how to coach themselves in piano practice. It takes me YEARS to teach a student how to practice effectively. YEARS. Like, ten years.

spyscribbler 7/17/2008 08:11:00 PM  

LOL, Zoe. Not that I have strong feelings on the subject or anything. :-)

Mark Terry 7/17/2008 08:15:00 PM  

I find it interesting because when I taught piano it was 30 minutes, but often they went over. My guitar lessons now are 30 minute and they typically run 40. When I took piano in high school they were 30, but Don always ran long, partly because he talked a lot.

You might be able to pull off 30 minutes.

mom2brie,  7/17/2008 08:30:00 PM  

No offense to anyone, but Spy is not just teaching students who simply want to learn to play the piano for fun. She is teaching students who want to master the piano - students who may go on to study music performance at University. She studied for years at one of the best Universities in the States. So, when you are playing/instructing at this level, 30 minutes just won't cut it. I feel very confident in saying that Spy is one of the very best (if not The Best) in her region.

Spy - just raise your rates - don't explain. If you explain you give people a reason/chance to argue. You may, however, want to consider raising your rates in increments - i.e. 5 percent this year and then in 2 or 3 years, 5 percent again.

spyscribbler 7/17/2008 08:30:00 PM  

No way, dude. I'm never going back. I do more not teaching than teaching in a thirty minute lesson. I think it would work if I didn't have recitals and guild and didn't have them play classical music, didn't teach them to sight-read, and didn't teach them technique.

I'd rather work at a gas station than do that, LOL. Plus, I don't know a single teacher who's graduated with a music degree who teaches thirty minute lessons. (There are, it's true, others who teach thirty minute lessons, LOL.)

I took hour lessons growing up. I think I had one teacher that did forty-five minute lessons. My very first teacher spent hours with me. She was my next door neighbor, and she would teach me for two hours for a measly five bucks. I'm pretty sure that was supposed to be a thirty minute lesson. :-)

I teach piano like they teach math in school: I insist that no doors be closed. I give them the education that if they wanted to go into music, they could. If they didn't, they still have a great music education. Just because a child is not intending to have a career in math doesn't mean he/she should skip most of the math classes. :-)

spyscribbler 7/17/2008 08:33:00 PM  

Oh, mom2brie! You are so sweet. :-) I get rather hoity-toity about this, don't I? Well, sheesh. We all have our areas of expertise, LOL. Mine are few, and since it's the only thing I seem to be able to do anymore...

Since you're my best friend, I can ask: CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW STUPID I WAS? I cannot believe I gave myself a ten percent decrease over seven years!!! I am completely astonished! I just can't get over it!

Edie 7/17/2008 08:40:00 PM  

Spy, don't knock your head against the wall over this. We all make mistakes, whether it's business or something else. At least you weren't an awful parent, like a relative of mine, messing up his child's life. Now that's something to knock your head against the wall about.

spyscribbler 7/17/2008 08:42:00 PM  

And it's just not me being any good or bad teacher. The standards for piano are SO high. Even guild auditions, which are meant to be for average students, call for 24 perfect scales, cadences, and arpeggios, and seven pieces learned flawlessly AND WITH musical expression.

It is not a whole lot to ask for a year's work, but it's nearly impossible for them to work up that kind of program on thirty minute lessons.

The standards in the piano world, even for little kids, are really high. For a ten-year old to learn to play a Schubert Impromptu, perfect notes, memorized, with the artistry of an adult... it's difficult.

Every year they push the edges more: the younger the kid playing the most advanced piece wins the competition, often.

Honestly, ALL the kids in these competitions would have been called PRODIGIES a hundred years ago.

In piano, with the memory and the need to have correct notes and correct rhythm, AND these advanced pieces at a young age, it's just SO difficult to keep up.

I really don't know. Sometimes I feel the standards have gotten too high. On the other hand, if you don't get the kids to specialize early, then they don't stick with it. And where are you going to draw the line? How many incorrect notes are okay? How badly is good enough?

Most of my students won't go on to major in music, but they sure learn a lot about bringing out the best in themselves. :-)

spyscribbler 7/17/2008 08:45:00 PM  

Oh, Edie, I just had a conversation with someone about that. I remember, when the kid was twelve, they asked me what I suggested so the kid wouldn't get made fun of at school anymore. I couldn't say anything, because they'd brought him up that way years ago. (Kept him at home, had him play the same "innocent" games and watch the same "innocent" movies as his little sister.) It was way beyond too late.

Heather Harper 7/17/2008 09:01:00 PM  

"But I'm certain I'm the only one who could be this stupid."


I would have done it, too.

But only because I hate math. Or math hates me. Have not figured that one out yet. ;-)

spyscribbler 7/17/2008 09:43:00 PM  

LOL, Heather, you're sweet. You know, I used to LOVE math. I signed up for Honors Calculus in college for fun, and met my best CIM buddy because we would pour over her theorems and charts and stuff I can't remember. I'd go to bed at 5am; she'd wake up at 4am. We'd spend an hour "playing" math together in the dark.

That said, I've lost ALL of it. ALL of it! I can't even add in my head anymore!

spyscribbler 7/17/2008 09:49:00 PM  

PS: Mom2Brie, I love your suggestion. Here's the problem: the proportion of my rates are out of whack. The sixty-minute lessons are really getting the equivalent of a month or more of free tuition.

Do I leave the proportion out of whack? Or not raise the forty-five minute price but raise the sixty? Or raise it enough so that the out-of-proportion doesn't matter?

To be honest, I can't continue to make this business work with this ten percent problem.

Yikes. I made a BIG mistake.

Eric Mayer,  7/17/2008 11:41:00 PM  

I think we all understand that prices have to go up sometimes.

But I am totally inept at both math and music!

Robin 7/18/2008 10:47:00 AM  

Spy: I think you should just send out a letter that rates are being raised as of.... Raise 45 minute lessons to what is a fair going rate, and the same with 60 minute lessons. You don't have to give a reason. No one is appreciating the discount now. As my husband likes to say "no good deed goes unpunished".
I agonize over raising rates,and when I do (rarely), no one says "boo".

Melanie Avila 7/18/2008 11:59:00 AM  

Spy, I agree that you should raise the rates. I don't know how many new students you get, but that's obviously the place to really raise them. If people raise a fuss, you can deal with it case by case; if someone can't afford, maybe they only get a slight increase. I don't know - ultimately you need the money and from the sound of it, they aren't going to you because you're the cheapest teacher.

mom2brie,  7/18/2008 02:26:00 PM  

Spy - I don't see any problem with raising the 45 minute lessons a certain amount and raising the hour lessons a much higher amount. If someone asks about it, you can give the math details to that specific person. I wouldn't send a letter out with both of the new rates though - send one with the new rates to only the 45 minute people and a different one to the hour folk.