How Many Music Students Can You Really Expect?
Teaching capacity matters. When you’ve decided to make a career of teaching and you’re trying to figure out how much you need to charge, it’s tempting to simplify and say “I’m teaching full time, so 40 hours a week means I can see 80 students each week for half-hour lessons.”
This calculation would be great…if teaching music lessons was a 9 to 5 job! In reality, it’s more of an afternoons and weekends kind of gig, with the daytime filled with administrative tasks and the occasional lesson.
Or maybe you take a more relaxed approach and say “I’ll have as many students as I have!” When you’re having trouble paying the bills, though, that lack of intentionality makes it easy to fall into the trap of believing there’s nothing you can do about it.
Calculating Teaching Capacity
Knowing how many students you can realistically teach in a week is super helpful for establishing your rates, creating a schedule that allows you to be teach as much as you need to, and setting you up for financial success. (You have a lot of goals, but I’m guessing being a perpetual couch surfer who has mastered 342 different ways to prepare ramen is not one of them.)
These are the steps I use to calculate teaching capacity (and a spreadsheet to help you do the same!):
1. Determine Availability
Start with a table (like the one below) that shows all the times someone might reasonably be willing to come to lessons, and block out any times you have set aside for non-negotiable commitments.
I distinguish “Peak Time” (PT) hours because I can generally fill all (or very close to all) of these slots, whereas the “Off Peak” (OP) hours are harder to fill. We’ll get into this more later.
Note: Peak times vary by region and the age of students you serve. For school-aged kids, they are largely dependent on when the school day starts and ends. Check schedules for your local schools and plan on your first weekday lessons starting about 15-30 minutes after school releases.
2. Consider Your Energy and Priorities
Now it’s time to evaluate how teaching fits into your life. You might be willing to teach every waking minute for a while, but it’s only a matter of time before that leads to burnout. I’m all about building sustainable teaching studios that work in harmony with the rest of your life, so be realistic here.
Do you really want to teach every weeknight? Do you play for a lot of weddings or gigs on Saturdays that could disrupt a consistent teaching schedule on those days? Do you need a 15 minute break after every sixth lesson to grab a snack and watch a cat video?
3. Max Capacity
Once you’ve outlined your ideal schedule, count (or have a spreadsheet count for you) all the available Peak and Off-Peak hours. In this example, that’s 24 peak hours and 33 off-peak hours.
If an average lesson is 30 minutes long, that makes 48 possible peak time slots and 66 possible off-peak slots.
(A traveling teacher would also have to take into account the average travel time between lessons.)
That’s 114 students! We’re set, right? Not so fast…
4. Utilization Rate
Here we get a little nerdy, but stay with me. The utilization rate is the percentage of available slots you expect to actually have filled at any given time.
I generally don’t have trouble filling my peak hours, but to be on the safe side, I’ll estimate 90% of these lessons spots will be filled, which equates to about 43 peak-time students. (I also take into account a vacancy rate when setting my budget.)
Filling those off-peak hours is much harder. I usually consider any students I get during this time to be a bonus. Although I have 66 half-hour time slots available, I estimate about 5% of those off-peak slots will be filled, so about 3-4 students. (If my niche was teaching adults instead of kids, I would invest more time and energy in filling more of those off-peak times.)
So in total, I estimate I have about 46 lesson slots that I can expect to fill. Quite a difference from the max 114 students!
You know I wouldn’t leave you hanging without a calculator. Here’s a spreadsheet you can edit online or download to save forever.
There you have it. How to calculate your teaching capacity so you can figure out how much you need to charge and how to make teaching a viable career.
This exercise also reveals how important it is use find creative ways to make use of those daytime hours! That’s a post for another day.