Should online lessons be cheaper?

Should online music piano lessons be cheaper?

Please read this pre-blog disclaimer:

There are lots of studio families who have been caught up in the financial nightmare of COVID-19. I know many teachers, including myself, who have been helping these families by teaching students on scholarship or for free, as needed. That is not what I am talking about here.

This blog is about how we value our expertise, and whether it makes a difference in how that expertise is delivered. It’s about how we choose to charge for our time. It’s about whether we should choose to (or agree to) automatically discount lessons that are delivered online, regardless of the financial situation of the student.


A friend of mine has a daughter, who I will call Jane, who is a maths tutor. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and when Sydney started its lockdown, Jane notified all her students that she would be teaching them online, and that she was reducing her prices.

I asked her why she decided to reduce her prices by default, without anyone asking her to. Her reasoning was that she thought the lessons would be less effective online. (Note: it was nothing to do with trying to help people out financially.)

When I asked her why she thought the lessons would be less effective, she said it was because she had never done online teaching before, and surely it wouldn’t be as good as being in the same room. It didn’t occur to her that she was still offering the same expertise, the same experience, the same service…. albeit through a different medium.

I have been thinking a great deal about this, because my own situation is different from Jane’s. I had moved all of my teaching online, yet not made any announcement about discounting lessons. It has taken me a while to sort through my thought process on this, and articulate and justify things in my head… but I think there are three basic reasons why online lessons should not be discounted.

Reason no. 1: It sets a precedent

Imagine a contractor, doing a project for a big corporation, automatically discounts their fee during COVID because they can’t attend in person. When the COVID crisis finishes, the contractor once again attends in person and restores their rates accordingly. It is no surprise when the company then says to the contractor, “actually, we will just stick with online consulting, since we’ll save money that way”.

I fear this is what will happen to Jane. In 3-6 months’ time, when all face-to-face teaching has resumed, many of Jane’s students may opt for the ‘cheaper’ online version of the lesson. These students will have detected little if any dip in quality of online lessons vs in-person lessons, and will simply opt to continue in a way that saves them money. And Jane will then be stuck on a lower income.

By automatically discounting lessons simply because they are online instead of in-person, teachers are making a rod for their own back. It will be very difficult to reinstate ‘normal’ lesson rates later on1. If it makes a difference to their bottom line, parents may end up asking to stay with these ‘cheaper’ online lessons.

Reason no. 2: Online lessons are not cheaper to run

The second reason I would not reduce the price of online lessons is because they are not cheaper to run. They are actually far, far more expensive to deliver, due to the cost of the equipment and the extra time spent preparing and following up. Parents are not aware of the money teachers have spent on equipment, subscriptions and PD to make it all run as smoothly as possible.

Since it is MORE expensive and MORE time consuming to teach online, the price for an online lesson should actually be HIGHER. By keeping rates the same, we are in effect already giving students a discount.

Reason no. 3: It sends the wrong message

And finally, there is a third and very important reason not to reduce prices of online lessons. By automatically discounting this mode of delivery, teachers are sending a message that their online presence is less valuable, and that is not a message we want to send.

None of us wants to be teaching wholly online, but we have no other choice. We are all getting quite good at it, and we are doing a fantastic job of making the most of this difficult situation.
The vast majority of studio parents do not understand the particular skills, activities and focus points that we have morphed in order to conduct successful online lessons. They do not know of the hours we have spent on webinars, doing courses, in social media groups, trying to cram in as much tech knowledge as possible, learning effective ways to reach students. We are in fact becoming MORE valuable as teachers, because we are adapting, understanding and delivering piano lessons in the best way possible for this environment.

So, in summary, should online lessons be cheaper?


(I guess this blog post could have been much shorter.)


Post-blog disclaimer:

Just in case you didn’t read the first bit, this blog is NOT discussing whether or not we should help families in financial need. Of course we should, where we can, and I know that the majority of us are doing just that. This blog is about the value of online lessons as compared with the value of in-person lessons.

  1. Not to mention the awkwardness this could create in the future when offering online make-up lessons, for example if the student is slightly unwell or out of town. Parents may end up asking for partial credits for these lessons.
Samantha Coates

Samantha Coates is a professional pianist and teacher with over 25 years experience in both private and group tuition. She is the author and publisher of BlitzBooks, the music education series that has captured the imagination of students across Australia and transformed the teaching of music theory, sight reading and general knowledge.

35 thoughts on “Should online lessons be cheaper?

  1. Urvi Drummond says:

    Spot on Samantha. I have kept my prices the same. No parent has asked for a discount. Of 50 students, 10 have left. 7 are repatriated to their home countries and 3 have left out of disinterest. No one has left because of the online experience. Everyone (students and those parents attending lessons) has commented that the lessons are more intense and that they are working much harder during them. Practicing has increased and progress is noticeably better. Attendance is 98% leading to fewer makeup lessons. Prior to online lessons attendance was about 70%. I know what I prefer!

    • Samantha Coates says:

      Wow Urvi that is a fantastic outcome and I hope things stay just as good when we return face-to-face!

  2. Tristan Lauber says:

    You forget one of the most important reasons :the incredible convenience of time saved from not having to leave their homes. In some of my students ‘ cases it saves them a two hour commute!

    • Samantha Coates says:

      My goodness Tristan, they must really value your teaching to travel so far! Fantastic! What will your approach be if they request to continue with online lessons?

  3. Adrienne Fiacher says:

    I totally agree with you. I find also that certain things have even worked better with the online lessons – for instance I find my use of time is much more directed and I get more done at the lesson without sacrificing quality.

  4. Cynthia D says:

    Hey Samantha you are spot on.. and just to mention another cost.. data!! I had 100gb per month which was ample in the past but when I went full time online it cost me an extra 10gb for the last week🤦‍♀️@ $10 a gb😳(I have since change my plan but it could have been a huge $disaster) 🦋🎶

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  6. Frances M says:

    I agree with not discounting lessons but I have a question along those lines.
    I have a family that chose to pay for the whole semester (Jan thru May) however, when the stay home went into effect i offered on line lessons (which i have to say my students are loving and doing really we’ll at …they seem more focused). Not all my families went with the on line lessons but they pay monthly so it was ok. However, all that being said, I am wondering if I should refund the family that paid ahead but would not accept on line lessons, or give them a credit if they return when we can do in person lessons or just let it go? They had the opportunity for the lessons they chose not to accept them. What are your thoughts?

    • Samantha Coates says:

      This is a tricky one Frances. I did not offer any option in my studio, I simply informed students that all lessons would take place online until further notice. I think however that if you made it optional to take up online lessons, a refund seems appropriate.

  7. Antonina Marriott says:

    Couldn’t agree more to not discounting online lesson! I moved all of my teaching to online during lockdown, only 1 family enquired if lessons would be discounted. They decided as I was not discounting my time that they’d put their lessons on hold and use a piano app instead. Face to face lessons have resumed all those who continued with their tuition online are doing fantastically, no time lost, the family that choice to use an app are back to where they started in Term 1.

  8. Catherine Davis says:

    In addition to extra setup time and allowing time for unwanted technological mishaps I spend significant time creating practice recordings for students as well as marking up scores with fingering and emailing back. All in all I think I spend at least 25-50% more time than I’m paid for per lesson. However, it’s been worth it to see more focus and engagement from some (the disinterested balked and walked at the first hint of online).
    I agree with your concerns and conclusions Samantha though I can see why in the desperation to keep students some would reduce prices.

    • Samantha Coates says:

      Yes Catherine the need to incentivise students/parents to stay via a discount is certainly an issue. Such a shame that people ‘balk and walk’.

  9. Tara Williams says:

    I didn’t reduce my fees for online lessons, however, not all of my students opted to have lessons online. For those who didn’t, I promised parents I would credit any outstanding lessons to their next invoice. As all of my students returned to face-to-face lessons three weeks ago (I am in a regional area), the maximum number of lesson credits per student is four. Yes I have lost income over the last three months, but on the flip side I have not lost any students. In fact, I have gained several students since resuming face-to-face lessons. I am continuing to offer online lessons in the event that a student is ill and unable to attend in person, which means fewer make-up lessons. Win-win!

  10. Jill Kuhn says:

    Definitely no discount. The knowledge and wisdom required to teach is no less than it is when sitting beside a student. My students happy to pay. One bonus I found was the students seem to concentrate more when looking at the camera. And it was good to see their home conditions. Ie height of chair.

  11. Glennis Carter-Varney says:

    I totally agree Samantha.
    I always enjoy reading your comments and advice for teachers.
    Your books are great.
    My website is undergoing change and a new format at the moment. Not quite finished yet.

  12. Jan H says:

    I agree we should definitely not be discounting. Students are paying for our time and our expertise. That does not change whether we are face to face or online.

  13. Angelina says:

    I did not reduce my prices for online lessons as I had to update my iPad / buy new headphones and set up a whole area to be internet compatible ! The students and I still found our learning was just as focused and rewarding on our online lessons but there was an eagerness also to return face to face – which we have now done ! However , enjoyed the adventure and now have an alternative to in person teaching !
    I did lose some students but thankfully they are returning Term Three !
    Happy Music Making everyone 🙂
    Cheers Angelina 🙂

  14. Carol Veldhoven says:

    Lovely to read all those comments in response to your thoughtful blog, Sam. It helps me to feel more connected with my colleagues and less isolated from the world in general. And what a variety of tech devices, tech skill levels and and internet speeds we have encountered with our students! Cheerfully, Carol

  15. Laura Dickey says:

    I had 2 families (3 students) drop at the beginning of the shut-down, then they came back when it became apparent the shut-down would be longer than 2 or 3 weeks. One of the moms “casually” mentioned that the kids’ drum teacher was only charging half the normal rate while online and wondered if I was giving a discount. I was a bit taken aback, but said that no, online lessons were a lot more work and preparation for me for the same value for the kids. She didn’t say anything more about it, but she did just let me know that she was giving the kids a summer break after June & wasn’t sure they would return in the fall if we’d still be on Zoom. But since I’ve had issues with that mom in other areas, I won’t be too upset if they don’t return! In the meantime, I have 100% of my students online and have added two new ones.

  16. Lorraine Preston says:

    Ok, what about make up lessons? You raise a very good point. I have always struggled with offering them, but felt I needed to in order to keep relations smooth. I am thinking from your comment on this that you do not offer them? Would you consider writing your thoughts on this please…greatly appreciated.

    • Samantha Coates says:

      I think that’s a good idea, I should blog about make up lessons! I don’t offer them if it’s simply that the student cannot attend due to another commitment. I still dedicate the time to them – I encourage them to send me recordings in advance.

  17. Franklin White says:

    I like how you said that a lot of music teachers are getting good at teaching online. I want to learn to play the piano while I am stuck at home all day. I’ll find an online piano teacher and see if they can teach me for a decent price.

  18. Suzanne Palmer-Holton says:

    In my opinion, I have found that despite the fact that we can’t play together, the overall results during online teaching have been a spectacular improvement.

    Parents have been aware of what is happening during the lessons and the children have obviously been encouraged to develop a much more regular practice routine.

    I have had to allow 15 minutes between lessons for organising the following lesson, and as a result as I became more proficient, most students have been receiving extended lessons.

    Also I have been scanning music and sending it to the students – also extra time.

    There is also the expenses incurred using of our technology and power etc.

  19. Grace says:

    Unfortunately I don’t agree with you at all from a student’s point of view. If I wanted to take online piano lessons, I have many choices from the teachers who teach remotely. The very reason that I take in person lessons is it is “in person” i.e. face to face. In person lessons are NOT the same as online lessons. It is the fact.

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