Dear Alma, I can’t get a studio in college

Dear Alma, I can’t get a studio in college

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

August 11, 2023

More frontline advice from our agony aunt:

Dear Alma,

I taught private lessons in high school but cannot seem to start a studio in college. Any advice for finding students that doesn’t involve paying for an expensive website domain?

seeking experience

Dear Seeking Experience,

One of the greatest skills we have as musicians is the ability to generate income with teaching. It’s lucrative, can be done in any country, and it’s flexible and fun. You don’t need any capital to start to teach, not even a website.

Let’s break it down a bit. You need to find students, and carefully – if you take a student from another teacher that is bad form and will backfire on you quickly. You have to decide where you will teach (your place, rental space, or traveling to a student’s home). What will you teach? Just your primary instrument, or can you also teach theory, composition, or a secondary instrument? Do you speak a second language (bassoon lessons in French, anyone)? What do you offer beyond lessons? Group class for children ages 3-5? Adult chamber music coaching?

Next, I would find the students.

Reach out to all of the local teachers teaching your speciality (including your own teacher). Have references from the parents of your former students and a resume ready. Explain your situation and see if they can offer any advice, possibly sending overflow students your direction.
Make a tear-off flyer and post on boards throughout your university or any other university in town. Not just in the music area. The Professor of Linguistics might have an 8 year old wanting to start harp! Also post in all coffee shops and music stores in town, or anywhere where there is high-flow traffic.
Reach out to the public school teachers. Ask to be put on the their “recommended teacher” list, and offer to come give a free demonstration to their class at their convenience, leaving flyers behind for potential students.
Get on social media, joining any local teacher’s groups or youth orchestras. You can spread the word that you are accepting new students!

It might be slow going at first, but once you have a student or two, those families will be your new megaphone. Enjoy the creativity of the process, and soon you will be reaping the rewards of your new private music studio.


  • fierywoman says:

    Sometimes the people/shops who rent instruments have lists of music teachers in the area — very helpful!

  • Tony, Miami beach says:

    Great advice and very helpful also

  • Elem Eley says:

    Thanks for the pic of Westminster Choir College in Princeton NJ. Where did you get it?

  • Teacher says:

    Great list. Could be useful to anyone wanting to set up a studio.

  • Hans Zimmer says:

    Studios are utterly overpriced.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    -very useful, thought-out information. Studying privately is more widespread in the US than in Europe though. Only piano and voice teachers seem to do this full-time in Europe.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Reach out = contact.

  • JW - daughter of an Alma grad says:

    “Dear Alma” is confusing – did you know there is a College in the city of Alma, Michigan that is called “Alma”? If you mean Alma College, say that; if you mean someone’s Alma Mater, say that. Thanks!

    • SVM says:

      Not at all confusing; Alma is a moderately common given name — a notable person with that name being the wife of Gustav Mahler, for instance. A lot of given names also double as the names of institutions/localities or as common nouns (whether in English or another language), but the context of a salutation in a letter makes it abundantly clear that “Alma” refers to the /nom de plume/ of the agony aunt. The only mystery is whether the agony aunt goes by the same name in other contexts…

  • SVM says:

    Some interesting ideas, although I am sceptical on a few points:

    *making a basic website need not be expensive, provided you keep it simple and do it yourself (there are even providers that enable you to create a genuinely free website, albeit as a subdomain under their own domain) — the important thing is to keep in mind that anything you put on the world wide web is potentially immortal, so think carefully about your choice of words;

    *personally, I am not in contact with my direct competitors (i.e.: others who teach the same instrument in the same local area, with a couple of exceptions), and I struggle to see why that would be beneficial;

    *whilst flyering has some value, saturating an area with your flyers may come across as somewhat desperate;

    *abstracting a student from a another teacher is only “bad form” if you have solicited the student proactively and he/she had a competent teacher (in the UK, there are a lot of people out there who offer instrumental tuition but who are severely deficient in their technique, musicianship, and pedagogical skills) — where a student approaches you unsolicited, you have every right to accept the custom (a lot of my pupils came to me because they are dissatisfied with their previous teacher, and, after a lesson or two, it often becomes very clear why).

    And the very important question Alma has not addressed: how does one determine which chargeable or commission-based advertising channels are worthwhile? (There are a lot of directories, agencies, advertisers, &c. who claim to be able to get you lots of business, but want payment up front or a massive slice of commission. Some of these operate on a “freemium” model, whereby you can create a free listing, but are promised better results if you upgrade to a “premium” or so-called “professional” option.)