Are Music Lessons Worth It? Hidden Benefits May Tip the Scale

Photo: Jesse Gardner

We have our 7-year-old enrolled in piano lessons. He's been at it for a little over a year now. There were various reasons for starting him off, but he's taken a liking to it, and I can envision him sticking with it for several years. Since his recital was this weekend, I was taking inventory of the costs and benefits of his lessons to date and thought it would make for a good discussion. (See also: The Vital Need for Music Education on Parenting Squad)

What Do Piano Lessons Cost?

We did really luck out with a great piano teacher around the corner who teaches for $25 per 30 minute lesson. Granted, at face value, that would equate to about $50/hour, which for a full-time worker is about a six figure salary. But the reality is, she only gives a few lessons at night since kids are in school all day, and she probably makes a few hundred bucks a month doing it. So she's not getting rich teaching piano, despite some common complaints (read The High Cost of Music for a contrary opinion). I've seen lessons for anywhere from $30-$50/lesson elsewhere, so I feel we're getting good value for our time and efforts.

Here's how the full cost of the lessons breaks down, including time and travel.


At $25/lesson and about 40 weeks a year, we're talking $1,000 per year out-of-pocket for the lessons themselves.


It's a couple miles from our home, so I figure at 40 trips x $1 in gas round trip, that's $40 a year in gas.

Time Value

Then there's my time. It takes about 45 minutes a week round-trip, plus the time I spend practicing with our son. On one hand, one might try to equate this to time I could be earning money or something, but since this is during daylight hours and I do most of my freelance/blog work at night, it's really just time spent away from the other kids, so I can't assign a "cost" to that. I just make it up by doing other stuff with them.


Incidentals like additional music books, an annual recital, etc. probably add up to another $60/year.

Total Cost

So, the annual cost of piano lessons is about $1,100/year.

I don't know how many years he'll take lessons. Kids go through phases and come in and out of various interests. If I assume he plays through high school (highly unlikely), we're talking 10 years x $1,100 = $11,000 for 10 years of piano lessons.

What Benefits Are Derived From Piano Lessons?

While the much-maligned Tiger Mom proponents may seem over the top in banning their children from sports, social interactions, and "fun" to focus solely on schooling and hours of music practice per day, they may be on to something with the music benefits. This recent study lends further credence to the impact on the brain of those who play music. My son's already learning fractions, a new language (reading music is not intuitive and very different than reading a book), and discipline — how to practice, budget time, overcome stage fright, and more. These are all skills that he wouldn't be learning in front of the Wii, and to some degree, things he wouldn't be learning in school either.

I used to play guitar as a kid, and I definitely see the corollaries with math. As I was trying to nail 16th and 32nd notes to master a Metallica solo, I was training my brain to interpret and become comfortable with complex, fast calculations. I didn't have a particular affinity for math as a young child, but right around the 8th grade when I got into guitar, I started excelling at math in school and ultimately prospered through a Chemical Engineering degree in college. I'm not sure there's a causal relationship, and my case may be more anecdotal than anything, but in retrospect, I always had a sense that intense practice and musical performance "awakened" my math potential in some way. More recently, the study above demonstrated there's the science to prove it.

Can You Measure the Value of Music Lessons?

It's tough to put a financial value on such a quantitative topic. So are there any guarantees that my kids will do any better in school because they took piano lessons? Are they guaranteed to get into a better college or get a scholarship? Of course not. But for the equivalent of just a single year of private school that so many parents spend their money on, I can give each kid 10 years of music lessons. Aside from an appreciation for music later in life and being able to "relate" to other instruments and musicians, they'll be more well-rounded and, perhaps like our current piano teacher, they'll have an extra way to earn money on the side as an adult!

Do you think music lessons are worth it?

Average: 3.5 (8 votes)
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Guest's picture

Absolutely worth it.

Music has helped my kids learn to see patterns. They can see the benefit of practice as they learn songs and improve proficiency. Over the longer term, they are learning about a topic that will improve their cultural literacy and make it easier for them to fit in with a more cultured class as adults.

Guest's picture

Absolutely! You have to expose your kids to many things to see what excites them. It teaches them, learning the piano, discipline, dedication, results, possibly a life long skill, appreciation of music, and, yes, math. You begin to see a correlation between music and math, and they both begin to make sense. Sometimes it is not the "result" that benefits but the journey to get there.

Guest's picture

Probably 1% of all students who begin piano lessons at a young age will continue studying music through college (not even necessarily as their major emphasis). Parents who look at music lessons with the expectation of their child becoming a "musician" will probably be disappointed. That being said, I think music lessons are absolutely worth it. I think one of the biggest benefits of music lessons, actually, is discipline--and sticking with something that is HARD and that requires hard work to become proficient. For kids who already do well in school, piano lessons can be a bit of a shock when they realize regular practice is a requirement, not a suggestion. For kids who are struggling in school, they can take the practice and attention techniques they have learned in piano and apply them to their school study.

Pattern recognition is also a big part of it...I believe learning to read music is a lot like learning another language. Notes are letters, intervals are words, phrases are sentences, a song is a story with an overarching structure. It is as much literary as it is mathematical. Children also learn how to learn, how to deal with mistakes, and how to perform under pressure.

And finally, ensemble music (school choirs, bands, or orchestras) gives children a place. A kid might look kinda funny or say all the wrong things, but music gives them a place to be expressive, to be excellent, and to interact with their peers in a very successful way. Children are so used to being performed at, that the opportunity and skills to create one's own musical experiences are very special.

Guest's picture

I'm kind of a cheapskate, so I'd rather use all the lesson money towards music material. And with all the resources on the internet, the small difference would that someone is personally telling you what is being done wrong. On the other hand, violins are really tricky and a beginner could easily break a string trying to tune it.

Guest's picture

I am part of that 1% someone mentioned, who studied music all the way through high school. In fact, I went on to receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree. There are a lot of private music teachers who teach from their homes & have minimal musical training, but there are those of us who have put years & years into studying the art of music & who could be considered "experts" in the field. I think this is a very important factor to consider when you're looking for a teacher or come across a one who charges $30-$50 per lesson. With a degreed professional, not only would your child be getting all the benefits of learning music & a musical instrument, but they would have the added benefit of being taught by a highly trained teacher who is passing off their lifetime of study in the field to your child. I understand that that amount could be a lot for some families to pay, but there is that adage, "you get what you pay for."