“Sorry, I can’t make it – again!” (People who cancel their music lessons)


About 10-20% of my regular lessons in a week end up being cancelled or rearranged for one reason or another.  Often my pupils give me plenty of notice, but there are always those who wait until the eleventh hour…

Quite soon after becoming a piano & keyboard teacher, I discovered that when pupils cancel a lesson at the last minute, it is almost impossible fill the slot with another pupil given such short notice.  This results in a loss of income for me, which left unchecked, can build up into a significant amount.  

So, I introduced a policy for lesson cancellations.  Anyone can cancel without charge if they give me at least 24 hours notice before the start of the lesson, but after that the full fee becomes payable.  Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it?  Believe me, it’s not always that easy!


My current fee structure means that some people pay me every week when they come for their lesson, whilst others pay me for ten or more lessons in advance (for which they receive a discount).  If a late-cancelling pupil has paid in advance, it’s easy enough to deduct one of their lessons from the list, but if they pay every lesson, I have to ask them for twice as much money at the next lesson, which I never like doing.


This illustrates my number one difficulty: I don’t like asking people for money!  You’d think after running a couple of businesses for around fifteen years I would have got used to this, but I haven’t.  I suppose I’m just a bit of an old softy when it comes to the sob stories I hear.  “My child is off school ill today”, “My husband can’t get the car home in time”, “She’s going to a birthday party, I forgot to tell you” and many, many more.  The thing is, I know it’s not your fault your child is ill, but it’s not mine either, is it? I find it all rather tricky, I confess.

If a pupil has cancelled and they don’t want to pay, what should I do? Refuse to teach another lesson until they pay for the cancelled one? What if they cancel completely as a result?


So what are my options? May be I could

  • just take the hit and let them get away with it?
  • have a one-strike rule and make it clear it can’t happen again (I’ve tried this and I’m getting better at it – slowly.)
  • allow exceptions based on specific criteria only?
  • communicate my existing policy more clearly and regularly?
  • just get tough and allow no exceptions to the rule?

I confess I don’t have any firm answers.  My gut feeling is that there has to be some leeway sometimes. A couple of years ago, just before Christmas, I had a call from a pupil to say that two immediate members of their family had died suddenly and unexpectedly, so they couldn’t make the lesson. Would you have charged them? I certainly didn’t.

Be fair

When I explain my policy to new starters, they generally agree at the outset that it is very fair.  I do have some pupils who cancel last minute and immediately offer to pay for the cancelled lesson (I graciously accept).  That’s the kind of integrity I appreciate. I hope I’m like that with people, too.

One thing is certain – the more I can persuade people to pay for their cancelled lessons whilst still continuing as a pupil, the more money I will earn.

Do you have any experience of late-cancelling pupils? Or perhaps you’re a music pupil and you’ve sometimes had to cancel a scheduled lesson? What is your experience? Please leave a comment!