The Small Teaching Budget: Ways to Make Music Programs Work When Money Is Tight

Posted on: 14 September 2015


If you're a choir or band teacher, you know one of the biggest obstacles you face when planning your yearly curriculum is the budget. Instruments, repairs, and trips to concerts and competitions bring in staggering costs that eat up a lot of your budget (if not all of it). So, when it comes to the smaller things, you need to find a way to cut down on classroom costs. One the ways teachers do this is by having students pay for some costs themselves—but this is not always an option for low-income families who still want to benefit from a music program. Here are a few ways you can save money and make money for your classroom this year.

1. Simplify the uniform.

When you give concerts or perform at competitions, you want your choir and band to look professional and unified. However, choir robes or matching outfits for each group add extra costs. Help your students to look like a unified, professional group by investing in some cheaper options. One of the best ways to do this is to provide screen-printed t-shirts through resources like in a neutral color that students can wear with simple black pants or blue jeans. These t-shirts cost only a few dollars per student, and if they are printed with the school logo, they still look official.

In many ways, this route is better for students and the music program because you don't have to worry about students turning in their robes or ruining more expensive or elaborate uniforms. At the end of the year, students can keep their shirts for memories, and you can order a new batch the following year.

Other ways to simplify uniforms include having students purchase a plain white t-shirt to wear on concert days, or instructing them to wear coordinating colors using clothing they will already have in their closets.

2. Barter your music skills for clinicians.

One of the best ways to help your students improve in skill is to have visiting musicians and talented performers come into the classroom to work with them. These visits can cost a program extra, and so they (sadly) can be one of the first things to go when you are trying work in a small budget. However, you have value that you can barter in order to avoid using budget money to pay for clinicians. You might offer a month of free music lessons for the children of one of the professionals, especially if you specialize in a different instrument than they play. You could also trade off. You could do a visit to one of their classrooms (if they teach), or serve as a panel judge at a music festival as payment.

3. Put your students' talent to work.

General choral or band students may not feel comfortable as solo performers, but there will always be a few students in your classes who have special talents you can share. Consider hosting a "solo night", where students can sign up to perform for a group of patrons. Set the ticket price higher than your would for standard school concert, and have each student audition for a spot in the solo night.

Plan to perform a number yourself, along with other staff who have marketable music talent. You might even provide refreshments as an added incentive to buy a ticket. Have student sell tickets to friends, family members, or parents' co-workers. After a few years, you can make solo night a tradition that the community can look forward to as way to have some great entertainment and to support the music program. 

Working in the music program on a budget is a challenge for any teacher, but with a few budget cuts here and there, along with clever fundraising, you can make it work.