Real, Scary Stories of Piano Students and Reasons for Good Studio Policies

Sadly, these stories are all true.  For students who see me in person for one-on-one music lessons, these are the pages that follow the short explanation of the rules (full rules here).  I've included them here because so many parents have told me how much they enjoyed being appauled at what I've been through, and several non-students have asked to read them.  You can laugh.  I laugh.  Now. Before? I cried.  The stories are constantly being updated as humans find new variations of dumb and/or inconsiderate.  Most of my students - ALL of my current students - are a joy to work with.  These are the ones who didn't make the cut.  Enjoy:

Terms and Conditions

You don’t have to read any of the following.  You’ve already read more than we think you should have to for some silly music lessons.  But just in case you really enjoy lengthy policy documents or you so appreciated the beautiful prose in the terms and conditions, here are the ridiculous but true stories behind the policies.  Every rule has a name; the student who, after violating common sense rules, defended it with the sentence “I didn’t see that rule written anywhere.” We're just music teachers who just want to teach music, but sue-happy scum find a way to complicate even music lessons!  The names have been changed – not to protect them. Honestly it’s just to protect us from getting sued. We think you'll be entertained.

Disclaimer: Most students have been only a delight to work with and we're getting better at keeping only students that are a good fit for us: they like the lessons and we look forward to seeing their names on the schedule each week.  It's just the few anomalies who try to wreck it for everyone else – 1% of the people create 99% of the hassle. But as a whole, we really enjoy the people we are fortunate enough to work with each and every day. Here are the exceptions:

We can stop lessons at any time for any reason

Not all families or students are a good fit. We don't want to do this job if we're not excited about our work and really feel we're making the biggest difference possible with students who are the best fit. When, after a couple months of lessons, Emily’s very likeable child refused to attempt any notes in the lesson and openly hated playing, there was nothing left to do in the lesson except talk video games. Great kid. Enjoyable conversation. No hard feelings. But everyone was wasting their time. Sure that Emily would be upset when she realized just how wasted her tuition would be, we explained that there was no actual music happening in the lesson any longer and we recommended some other local teachers that might better inspire her son.  The next day her husband threatened to sue us for racial discrimination. We never actually met the dad, but we assume he didn’t know his son’s teacher was the same race. Plus, we’re still not sure why he wanted to sue us if he liked us so much he demanded to continue the relationship…?! To all his ex-girlfriends: it wasn’t you. It was him.

Lessons are approximately 30 minutes

Sarcastically, from the next student in the waiting room, to the teacher, as the previous student exits a few minutes late:

“Remind me - what time does our lesson start?”

“About five minutes ago.”

“Yeah! I’m not paying for that guy to take lessons! And this isn’t the first time this has happened.”

A little peek behind the scenes: traditional lessons are set up for the interests of the teacher, not the student.  There is simply no chance that all students need the exact same length lesson each time or even that the student needs the exact same number of days between lessons. But teachers need a predictable income, so they schedule weekly or bi-weekly lessons.  Ideally, lessons would always be the perfect length, as frequently as the student wants or needs. Sometimes students would have very long lessons and sometimes very short. Sometimes a student would get another lesson the next day and sometimes they might need to work for several weeks between lessons. But teachers just can’t make a living with that unpredictability, so we sell our schedules in half-hour increments.  And parents buy time in half-hour increments, even though their kids would often love music more and practice more willingly at home if they had 15 or 20-minute lessons. But they paid for their half hour and they’re gonna get their half-hour, even if it extinguishes their kids’ potential love of music. It’s stupid. Here's how we try to combat it:

1) We’re available during the week.  We can change songs, create new play-along tracks, and even sometimes meet or Skype between lessons if that’s what it going to take to keep a student from spending a week frustrated or bored.  

2) Lesson length fluctuates.  If the lesson feels like it has reached its conclusion (the student knows what and how to practice and has passed the climax of interest on the topic) we’ll end the lesson even if there are a few minutes left.  Better that the student has a fully positive experience and ends early with positive energy than we grind out every last second of the 30 minutes just to make the parent feel like they’re “getting their money’s worth”, while we demotivate the student even a little bit from engaging with music.  On the other hand, if a student has used up their 30 minutes, but they’re on the verge of a breakthrough, we’re not going to derail that for the sake of the clock. “Go ahead – try that one more time and make sure it’s really locked in before you head home to practice.”

3) We refer out students who aren’t a good fit.  Students who are concerned about getting exactly 30 minutes are not going to be very happy here.  If it burns you up to occasionally wait a few minutes while the person before you finishes up, you’ll need to find a teacher with priorities that better align with yours.

4) Warning - this one might sound like an ad: The ideal situation would be either a student has a tutor who follows them around every day, looking for the opportunity to impart a tiny bit of direction or inspiration, OR a teacher has a couple hundred people paying a nominal fee, and they drop in whenever they want or need to check in and get as short or long a lesson as they need.  And although these music lesson utopias break down almost immediately for many reasons including the insane cost of a music tutor or the massive wait times for drop-in lessons during peak demand hours, something similar is possible if the lessons are online. We created Klopol Piano Academy for exactly this reason. You don’t physically touch your teacher, but everything else stays pretty much the same as you submit videos and get feedback on your playing, at a nominal fee.

Lessons focus on accomplishing goals and creating relationship

Before each lesson ends, it should include encouragement, direction, inspiration, and some level of achievement or success.  But we also believe people usually learn the most from people they respect, and even more from teachers with whom they also have a relationship.  That’s why so many dudes can learn to play well just to impress girls, and that’s why all your most influential teachers or favorite teachers from school were the ones you best interacted with.  You likely remember very little about what exactly they taught you, but you remember what kind of person they were or how they treated you.

The goal of music lessons is to encourage musicianship, but learning happens most efficiently and effectively when the teacher is (1) respected as highly skilled in their field, (2) regarded as an honorable person, and (3) observed to be at least an interpersonal enigma, if not a friend.  The amount of each component will vary with the age and personality of each student, but those are at least the excuses we make to take an interest in our students and their other extra-curricular activities and spend at least some portion of each lesson engaging with the humanity in the studio, and not just the music.

It's cheaper to use auto-pay

We just want to teach music. Not chase down payments. It costs us way more to chase down delinquent payments or lose the money and, more importantly, the relationship when otherwise normal people get multiple months behind, get embarrassed and just stop showing up or returning our calls. We hate that. We didn't think they were bad people. We just want to teach music.  Plus, driving to the bank and waiting in line to deposit a single check multiple times in a month is lost opportunity cost. Did I mention we just want to teach music? Too many examples here to list. You can imagine what happened during the very short stint where we allowed students pay at the end of the month! Not good. We hate what money has done to some otherwise great relationships!

We charge by the month and don't refund student-cancelled lessons

We stopped charging by the lesson when we started bringing in other teachers who were trying to support their families with this job.  They couldn't ask their families to eat less when Sue decided her son was too tired from soccer practice to have a lesson. And since she consistently waited until the last 24 hours to cancel, her son's teacher didn't have time to fill the spot with students from the cancellation list.  When we explained the teacher’s situation to her, she explained her son “didn’t handle stress well” and his disability made it illegal for us to demand payment for a lesson he was unable to attend. She seemed less sympathetic for the stress the teacher’s kids might have from the lost income or ability to make money during her son’s weekly slot.

When a teacher cancels, students can accept the prorated refund on the next payment or bank up to $75 of credits to be used for additional mid-week lessons, but not for their normally scheduled slot.

Every 6 months or so when Jenny’s teacher had to miss a lesson, she always responded by texting back some version of “It’s okay no need for a refund. You deserve a break every now and then.” 3 years later, Jenny informed us “...things are tight right now, so I can’t afford to continue paying for lessons.  Fortunately…” get this: “...I went back and it looks like you still owe me 24 lessons for holidays and cancellations, so we can just start using those credits. Thanks! I’ll see you Sunday :)”

Well, Jenny - 9 of those cancellations were you cancelling.  Also, we’re not penalizing our teachers for taking off Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.  That’s right - they have the gall to spend the whole day on those three days with their families every single year! As for the remaining 6 teacher absences - you want this teacher to hold a spot for you that they can’t sell to someone else and just not get paid for 6 weeks!? ...or 24 weeks by your calculation!  Apparently Jenny wouldn’t see a problem with her employer saying “Jenny, things are tight right now for the company, so we want you to come in and work the next 6 months anyway without pay and just consider it payback for all that vacation we said you could take before.”  No thanks.

Now if we cancel on a student, we force the student to take the money back immediately. And for students who really would rather just get the value in lessons: no banking tons of lessons worth that we might end up having to dispute years down the line, and no using it on a regular, weekly slot, disabling the teacher from making a living during a portion of their week.

Students may choose to purchase instruction time at $50 per half hour for individually-scheduled lessons.

Alex wanted Thursday lessons at 3:00, but not every week.  When new students wanted to schedule the Thursday 3:00 slot on a weekly basis, it was difficult to explain that, while schedule said it was open, it was taken this week and three weeks from now, but it would be open semi-regularly starting in a month, depending on Alex’s schedule.  When we finally scheduled a regular lesson in the slot, Alex was less than forgiving. For all we can tell, disgruntled clients are happy to claim any random fill-in-the-blank discrimination, and even multiple ones when the first don’t stick. Make up your mind: is your teacher a racist or sexist or do handicapped-ist?  If it’s all of them, cool – just start with that. We can’t follow your whack-a-mole discrimination accusations, but we pity the other guests at your Thanksgiving table. For a dead-on impersonation of this client in action, google “girl you wish you hadn't started a conversation with at a party”

When a student moves or cancels a lesson in advance, that time slot is made available to other students without compensation to the original student.

Jenny cancelled her lesson a week in advance because they'd be out of town. When another student we’ll call Adam had a dentist appointment and needed to reschedule, we offered him Jenny's spot.  When Jenny's plans didn't work out, she demanded her spot back. We offered her 5 other spots and tried to find another spot for Adam, but when no one could budge, we gave it to Adam. We never got the promised phone call from Jenny's brother, who she said was a lawyer.

If a student decides to stop taking lessons before the end of the month, the remaining pro-rated credit will remain on the account for future use.

We don't sell multiple months of lessons at a time because we want students to feel free to leave whenever they're not getting what they want out of the lessons.  Since we want teachers to be able to budget for the month and not ask them to pay part of their paycheck back at the end of the month, we guarantee they can keep the money they're paid as long as they agree to provide the amount of lesson time they promised.

Milestones teachers do not teach on a few holidays.  Membership fees are not affected.

We only take off the holidays that students historically cancel on any way.  We hate to have our teachers cancel their own family holiday celebrations if only 1 or 2 of the students are going to ending up showing up. Since each student picks up a 5th lesson every few months, students actually save money throughout the year by paying the same amount each month regardless of the number of lessons.  So the students get to save money and the teachers get to keep a consistent income and the accountant doesn't have to calculate a different rate for each student for each month. Win win win!

All students, siblings and guests under 18 must be accompanied and very closely supervised by an adult at all times in the same room as the minor.  

So far, this is actually less because of law suit threats and more for actual safety.  Unbelievably, the following are all true stories: A student choked on a peppermint before his lesson while being "supervised" by the parent who was busy watching TV. Another kid interrupted his sibling's lesson because he was choking on a handful of marshmallows he had stolen out of his teacher's pantry.  Of course, he had also taken plenty of other food taken that wasn't Heimlich-ed out while his mother was busy on the phone. Another student had a sibling who caused water damage in the kitchen by leaving the freezer door open after rummaging through the kitchen while her parent checked email on the iPad. A few different "supervised" students and siblings have been found playing in a teacher's kid's room with their toys and marking in their books and other toys and walls.  

An adult must accompany the student in the studio at least before and after the lesson. The adult must also remain on the property for the lesson unless the student is able to transport him/herself during or after the lesson in case of emergency.

Aside from all the reasons listed for parental supervision, we've also had issues with parents dropping off students just before the lesson, running errands, and picking them up shortly after.  For example, James, after returning to the studio from the grocery store, was upset to discover that his child was "allowed" to eat handfuls of candy after the lesson while in the waiting area. There is also free wifi for student iPods/tablets and even a computer for students.  While your child may be savvy enough to avoid the more deplorable offerings of the internet, neither you nor we know what the people will be surfing in the waiting room before and after your child’s lesson. It’s probably best if you’re there to enforce your standards for your kids.

And then there was Joanne, who sent her son with a relative who was available to wait in the waiting room since he was out on probation.  While we’re not allowed to say what brought his charges, we can say we found out later that it wasn’t insignificant. We only vet the other adults as harshly as we vetted you: not at all.  We have no idea the background of the people who will be in the waiting room when your student arrives.

There have also been situations in which a teacher has gotten news of a family emergency in the middle of a lesson and had to leave immediately.  If the student’s parent had just run to the grocery store really quick, the teacher would have had to choose between (1) the safety of leaving the student outside and (2) the importance of the family emergency.  Our teachers may really care about their students, but we don’t recommend you bet their love for your kid’s safety against their love for their own.

All videos, pictures, and products produced at Milestones Music are property of Milestones Music.

Jacki seemed excited to be able to share her progress with her family through the Milestones YouTube page, but when she decided she was going to become famous by starting a vocal career she said we had to remove the videos unless we wanted to face a lawsuit for "exploiting".  As far as we can tell, that's not even a thing. Apparently she felt she could sue for any random verb...? We shouldn’t have to, but we would have been happy to remove the videos even without the drama. Sheesh!

Milestones Music reserves the right to record video and/or audio of all lessons.

Recording videos allows students to share their progress with friends and family around the world and recording the whole lesson allows students to review throughout the week what was said in the lesson.  Plus, those recordings, along with notes on each student, have protected us legally on more than one occasion.