Tech letter for Teachers #6

Recently I was asked by a teacher to look at his piano to asses its needs. In talking with him I found out he had completed his Doctorate a few years before , preparing most of his recitals on this piano. He had also been teaching for a number of years. Needless to say the piano was well worn and in desperate need some TLC. In the course of discussing the condition of the piano, the range of possible repair options, his expectations of its ultimate performance potential, and the cost, it became clear he was not financially prepared to maintain his instrument.

Earlier this past week I had a band saw blade break, I have an expensive hand drill which will also need replacing before the year is over, the cup for my spray gun developed a leak, OK, a large gushing hole, it had to be replaced, one of my sanders hook and loop system is wearing out and will need to be replaced soon. These are just some of the items I can think of off the top of my head. The point is I have factored the cost of maintaining my shop and my equipment into the rates I charge for my services. Your doctor does no less.

Granted, as piano teachers, your cost of doing business is usually significantly less than most other professions, or is it? You have the cost of your education, not just the college part but also all those lessons your parents paid for. All of your continuing education, the guild meetings (not just the dues, but your time as well), publications you subscribe to and the time you spend reading them, all of that music in your library, (now that is a scary thought). Certainly we can not forget the maintenance of your instruments. You are all familiar with (I hope) the cost of tuning and routine maintenance, but you can not stop there. Every hour you spend practicing or teaching adds to the wear and tear on your hammers and action parts, key bushings, dampers, and strings. Even if you do not use your piano at all, every time the seasonal cycles roll by your pinblock and soundboard take a beating. The original purchase price, regular maintenance costs, and those larger and less frequent rebuilding costs must all be taken into account.

As a business person you have to plan into your budget these larger expenses. They should be a factor when determine your teaching rates. If you eat at a restaurant in a high rent district you would expect to pay more because their expenses are higher. If you teach on two large grand pianos, maintained to very high levels, you should charge accordingly.

How much should you budget? Obviously each piano varies as to its needs but let these be a guide for you:

Hammers shanks and flanges $1,500 - $3,000 depending on how thorough the work is. Every 10 - 25 years depending on use.

Actions, including hammers and wippens: $4,000 - $7,000 depending on how thorough the work is. Every 25 - 50 years depending on use.

Refinishing after 50 years $3,000 - $8,000 depending on the size and ornateness of the cabinet.

Restringing: $1,000 - $1,500 depending on use and condition of pinblock. This is not always the best thing to do, but can be effective in certain limited circumstances. It should only be done once in a pinblocks life after 25 - 35 years.

Rebuilding: $4,000 - $20,000 . . new pinblock and repair or replace the soundboard, etc.

After 50 years most pianos can be significantly improved with rebuilding and redesign.

If you are going to teach for any significant number of years it is clear that these expenses will come up. If the average teacher budgeted only $400 - $600 a year and saved all the unspent funds they would have sufficient reserves to maintain the most important tool of their profession. This would amount to less than $1 a lesson and should be passed along to your students as all other businesses pass their costs on to us.

(These costs are only estimates and in no way represent an offer to do work or a guarantee that costs would not exceed those stated here.)