The following is reprinted by permission from the Winter 2001/2002 Issue of String Notes.
In researching the article on Instrument Trials, the topic of Undisclosed Teacher Commissions came up. An Undisclosed Teacher Commission is a payment, often a percentage of the purchase price, that a shop makes to a teacher when the teacher’s student buys an instrument. “Undisclosed” means that the student doesn’t know during their instrument search that their teacher is going to get a cut.)
The MNSOTA board has passed a resolution opposing undisclosed teacher commissions because we believe they are against the best interests of students.
When a shop routinely gives a percentage commission to the teacher, that cost of doing business is built into the price the student pays. When commissions inflate the purchase price, students will find it difficult to recover their purchase price when they sell their instrument or trade up. We prefer that shops no offer commissions but instead offer the best possible prices.
In making an instrument purchase, parents expect each shop to be proud of their work and have a “we’re the best” attitude. Students usually need a knowledgeable, trusted guide who is not party to their transaction to help them choose. That guide is usually the teacher. If a teacher accepts a secret commission, they have a conflict of interest between their own self-interest in obtaining commissions and their duty to the student in giving advice.
The trust guilt up between the teacher and student is powerful and should not be abused. If a student finds out about a secret commission after a purchase, their trust in teacher will be broken; the student and parent may wonder how honest the advice really was. Where the teacher is legitimately representing the shop, it should not be a secret. If the student knows that a commission is involved, they can decide if they want to find someone else outside the transaction to advise them.
To be sure, teachers should be paid for the time and effort they put into advising students. We need to take lesson time to train students to audition an instrument or bow. We need to teacher students how to discriminate the differences in sound and feel, projection, tone color, playability. We need to help students develop their own preferences. When students are comparing instruments, many teacher schedule and charge for extra lessons devoted to that comparison. Some structure their lesson fees so that extra time for advising is already built in. In all these cases it is appropriate that the student receiving the advice is paying for the teacher’s time.
While the MNSOTA board strongly opposes undisclosed teacher commissions, board members had more wide ranging opinions on gifts from shops to teacher. (Some shops occasionally give gift certificates or thank you baskets or other token gifts to teachers.) As shops and teachers work together for the good of the students, it is always nice to have effort recognized and appreciated. Good will and good relations make all our jobs easier. It’s always nice to say “thank you.” If a shop wants to give an occasional nominal gift that does not affect the price of the instrument and does not create a conflict of interest for the teacher, the gift is not necessary, but most teachers appreciate it. If the gift appears to have the expectation of special favor or appears to be an attempt to influence a teacher’s objectivity – that’s not OK. Teachers who are uncomfortable receiving gifts if they happen to be offered can always give them away, possible to the student.
MNSOTA is proud that traditionally shops in Minnesota have not offered teacher commissions. We appreciate the good working relationships that we have with the many fine shops in our state and we look forward to continuing to work together in the best interest of our students.
– MNSOTA Board