How to handle piano student vacations, exams, birthday parties and other reasons for missed lessons

The reasons parents cancel piano lessons may seem endless:

  • Ball practice
  • Sports games
  • Birthdays
  • A divorced parent who doesn’t support lessons and refuses to bring his kids, if their lesson falls on his day. 
  • Numerous vacations and holidays, especially in December.
  • High school exams.

Diana from Indiana says, “Some schools in Indiana are on a year-round schedule. 9 weeks on, 2 weeks off. Many parents take the kids somewhere every break. To me, this is my income. Parents see it as a luxury that can be cancelled if they decide to take a road trip. Then they feel they don’t have to pay. I am searching what other teachers do.” 

Do you feel pressured by parents who ask for a couple of weeks off, who ask you not to charge for those weeks?

Or, do you try to make up lessons, but resent giving your extra time because you feel last on the priority list?

Have you ever struggled with missed piano lessons, what to do about make-up lessons or where to draw the line on your policies?

This blog post is a roundup of my best ideas on earning your full income, protecting your spare time and yet offering a high level of flexibility to your piano families.

1. Charge per month instead of per lesson

In my blog post Piano Teachers: The #1 tip to simplify rate raises and make-up lessons, I introduce readers to one terminology adjustment to your piano studio policy that has the power to take the pressure off missed lessons and make-up lessons.

I recommend reading the full article (click here). But in short:

  • Set up your lesson year to have a beginning and an end.
  • Calculate the year’s tuition based on the number of lessons you teach in the year.
  • Divide your tuition by the number of months you teach into equal payment instalments.
  • Charge the same amount for each month (or term) regardless of the number of lessons you teach in that month/term.

In my experience, parents who pay an even amount per term or per month are less likely to ask for make-ups or weeks off without paying.

Imagine earning the same amount in December even with a break. Imagine explaining to parents that you can’t make up lessons for family vacations — and them accepting it. Yes, it is possible.

After reading the above blog post, one of my readers contacted me with the following message:

“At the beginning of the summer, I was prepared to close my studio. I was burnt out. Most of my families were prioritizing huge summer travel after not being able to for 2 years — meaning that my usual steady summer income was going to evaporate. And, I was going to see all of the travel posts on social media. 🙂 

“I found your blog, and your suggestions for how to structure the lesson year and make up policies. It kept me from sending out my closure email. I thought about it over the summer. I decided to significantly increase my rate. I sent out an email a couple of weeks ago. None of the families balked. I’m completely full, with a huge raise, significant time off and no make-ups to schedule until next summer, at which point families can choose make-up lessons or take vacation. Regardless of whether this is my last year teaching or the first of many, many happier years, I feel once again as though this is my vocation. Thank-you for sharing your ideas. I have shared your blog with a couple of colleagues already and plan to do so this year in my local MTA group.”

~ Johana St. Clair

2. For kids in exams, offer ‘Vacation Lessons’

In my blog post Piano student motivation: How ‘Vacation Lessons’ work for summer and for kids who struggle, I introduce one solution for piano teachers when studio parents ask for a break for their busy, stressed kids.

Teens in high school exams certainly qualify as kids who are struggling. Exams are very stressful, after all.

I recommend reading the blog post (click here), but in short:

  • Offer compassion, moral support and understanding on what they’re going through.
  • Offer ‘vacation lessons’ during the exam period.
  • This gives the student a break: while still attending piano lessons, you won’t require them to prepare or practice at home.
  • The lessons are designed to offer enriching musical experiences and possible stress relief. You could even help your student study for an exam by turning information they need to memorize into catchy, memorable songs with lyrics. No need to compose — use familiar folk tunes!

It’s a win-win. The student is given a break and you are able to maintain your schedule with the income you depend on.

3. For other conflicts and activities, offer switch lessons

In my blog post Piano Student Attendance policies that avoid teacher burnout, I outline how a studio-wide switch list offers flexibility to students and studio families when occasional scheduling conflicts arise.

I recommend reading the post (click here), but in short:

  • Give studio families the option to opt in to your switch list.
  • They give you permission to share their contact information with other families for the purpose of switching piano lessons.
  • All families are given your schedule.
  • If a student wants to attend a birthday party or sports game, their parents can ask someone else to switch lessons with them.
  • The parents make the switches, not the teacher (it isn’t possible for you to know when families are able to switch).
  • Your teaching stays within your regular schedule.

When exciting opportunities arise for kids, like a sports game, a chance to go shopping or attend a birthday party, a switch list gives them the freedom to say yes and still keep their piano lesson, too!

No more asking for make-up lessons that eat into your spare time, refunds or applying the lesson’s fee to the next month.

Ready to set up better policies?

If you’ve read this far, you’re one of the ones I’m aiming to help with this post.

Take your time and read each recommended article. Each policy strategy is designed to give you peace of mind, and to offer your studio families the most professional piano lesson experience possible.


Because with good policies, you’ll be in top form mentally, you won’t be stressed over losing your free time or income, and you’ll be able to focus on the most important aspect of your profession: the music.

Do you like this post and want more? In the side menu click “follow” to get notifications of my posts in your inbox.

I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤

Rebekah Maxner, composer, blogger, piano teacher. Follow my blog for great tips!

Video of the Week

Valse de Noël (Intermediate, Level 5), is a dreamy and slightly spooky Christmas waltz, inspired partly by Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Features I and V7 broken LH chord patterns and shaped phrases in the RH melody. The challenge is to keep it delicate at all dynamic levels. Available as the studio-licensed Valse de Noël eSheet!

Listen to Valse de Noël on YouTube!

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