A question for those who give lessons

9 posts / 0 new
Last post

I've been asked to give lessons, which in the past I've done for free (I may have also done them for beer). But now I'm going to get paid, and I have quite a few potential students interested.
The lessons will be learning ukulele and also songwriting, which means I can use my own songs for teaching purposes.
But I imagine I may be asked to teach cover songs, too, and I'm wondering about the legality of getting paid to do that, especially since some of the lessons may be done via video.
I remember taking guitar lessons as a kid, and the teacher showing me how to play "Take It Easy" by the Eagles, "I've Just Seen a Face" by the Beatles, and "Sitting in Limbo" by Jimmy Cliff. He just showed me how and I followed along. And I paid him (well, my mom did) to teach me.
But now in this lesson-by-video world, I'm wondering if I have to get some kind of permission or pay ASCAP/BMI to teach cover songs. (These would be private live Zoom calls or one-on-one in person, by the way, not recorded lessons.)
My daughter takes voice lessons - they were in person, and then moved to Zoom because of the pandemic. And she and her teacher worked from books and recordings they had purchased, so someone was making money - maybe the publisher of the book/recording and not the actual songwriter or artist.
But if someone wants to pay me to teach them, say "Three Little Birds" (I've taught this one to people for years for free), and if I'm going into legit business doing so, do I pay for the right to teach that song?
There's the very real possibility I'm overthinking all this, too!
Any advice?

I can only speak for in Aus but here its fine. Its all about public performance. Also our society APRA specifically exclude Most issues around “Education”. I think you are over thinking. Practically even if it wasn't excluded how would anyone know And how would it be enforceable.

dzd's picture

Yeah you're overthinking it Smile It might be different if you were recording lessons of someone else's song and then trying to mass sell those, but even then, I doubt it. and to @coolparadiso 's point, yeah they would have a whole lot of back porches/music stores/classrooms/etc forever to send in their raid teams of copyright enforcement goons to!

Look at YouTube, there are a million videos out there permanently online that purport to teach you how to play a song. It may technically be a copyright violation, but thousands are doing it anyway.

So the question is will it bother YOU to teach these songs doing video? That’s a more important question, I think.

It's an interesting question.

If you're familiar with "drumeo"... he's a good fellow been around since 2006 when offered his stuff on one LOOOOOONNNNGGGGGG single internet page Smile funny to think back. Did/does the freedrumlessons stuff too still.

So, anyway, -- all his stuff has to be "his" music or has to license it, in that context. He only uses his music.

If a kid shows up with a "fake book" of hit songs and you teach it; well, s/he owns it, s/he's playing it and you are explaining it. There's a point of fair use. Why otherwise sell/buy/use the book. You're not making a living, so to speak teaching/performing that book with recorded/distributed/dedicated curriculum as if an agent for that publisher or songs. Actually, you're teaching the "Chords", theory under it, in that configuration for it's purpose of personal use. Also, you're not photocopying the book pages for lessons to then sell.

So, that's the way to "think" about it. I do. And, my explanations are on my own paper that I draft for explanation that collates to other material. (I don't modify their "copyright", then photocopy "that". My "lessons" are -- mine. Content, examples, -- theirs.)

However, "me", I would not have a YouTube series on how to play those songs in full and could just likely get flagged and blocked. (It happens to that guy on "what makes this song great" on occassion.) However, again, I think (as you'd know as former "teacher"), even then, it's a Chunking issue. At what point does an artist say, "no don't teach my sheet music to anyone unless you lic it first"... what license? Are you performing it? No. Are you recording it? No. Are you copying and distributing "it" in any way? No. If you want to teach the Am arpegiation that sounds like "stair case to weaven" Wink what would they get a stop order for?

Well, to me, what I say is clear and a way of thinking about it, -- however, as usual Wink it may not be to you or others. Correct me if wrong is there a "License" to teach my song license? Smile

Start shrink wrapping lessons for sale and distribution, streaming and printing out, like our good friends can Nada Wink and you'll likely need at least two that I can think of in the moment.

A fun thing to do, that I love to do when have questions like this is, call the Source. So, I'd seek a "license to teach" Smile to keep it simple/short and see what the Source says not what a bunch of folks in a songwriting forum like this. Like the copyright questions... just go to/call copyright.gov -- it's all there and keep a record of response.

Reasonable fair use done reasonably, I have never seen to cause anyone an issue. "Drumeo", well, it's *Context and a corp. with global distribution crosses that line.

(If Jimi Hendrix want you to know how to play his songs, he'd do it or endorse, pay someone to do it or sell the right to be the "official" JH song teacher... like good 'ole Hal and all his books that specifically are sold. Hahhh, remember "Guitar Player" whatever magazine and the in total in tab, notation songs they used to publish every month. So, it's a great question if only to just discuss it. I know I like to get paid for my work.)

-- What I know never got me into trouble, however, may not work for you Smile I know what I know, Uno? So, derUgo!

So, yet another uselss opinion that may or may not be confirmed by the Source Wink Smile All the best with this, -- I'd take lessons from you if in Florida! But, I'd only pay in Beer.

Thank you for the input!
The uke lessons are somewhat tied into the yoga studio my wife and I own - some student crossover and some shared online platform. And we have a reputation as ethical and responsible.
Even in the non recorded one on one sessions that students may want, the main focus would be advanced technique, either playing or songwriting, so the issue of cover songs would be peripheral, I think.
(I am, of course, by no means an authority on either uke or songwriting. This idea came about because people asked for it.)
@ustaknow - I will continue to give lessons for beer. I have a good lanai for it, too.

@Chip Withrow yes, I see that and why I wrote what I did.

Part of what a student will then ask, "what about copyright?" -- and you can even have a "group" lesson "fieldtrip" to the cr .gov site. Or, if the number still works, call and put on speaker phone. As well, with performing another persons work, "context" is everything, however, "even" "Churches" pay a lic fee in bulk to use ala carte, or use the Pub Dom Hymnal, (or not Wink ... and what does that "say").

So, I think (for me) it'd be great to say, "well, I called the CR holder for these and asked as well as the various collection agancies and they said "...".

You'll be a rare bird who does not advise, going to a song forum and asking what "they" think or know Wink hahahahahah... since, as I said, "what I know, I know and does not get me into trouble", -- but, it may not work for you; so ask the source.

Me, -- as no secret, never did cover music. Now, hahhh, unless the Venue had an appropriate lic, like e.g. the "Churches" do to ala carte have "work for hire" do live covers, me, I'd not be doing them there. But, again, that's just me, and I have perfectly good original stuff ready to go Smile If I choose to at "Larry's Bar" on 4th and Main do a set of mixed stuff 1+1, my interpretation of it (not a full band with pyro in tribute)... well, I'm okay with that, -- call me "immoral" if you like Wink (We all know, what's out there and who's doing what..., no need to list it.)

Bottom line, "this" is what this place is for... hopefully simple, correct, non-harmful direction, if not supposition. I'm glad to hear you may have a class-following, -- fortunate community, "lucky folks" knowing the alternatives. It'll be great fun, of that I am sure, and the best instruction a beer can buy.

At worst, can one just pay the ASCAP/SOCAN/(insert your country's organization here) fees & fit that into the lesson price as part of the cost-of-doing-business? You could go that route, I suppose… (if you had a large slate of students) but again, I think fair use covers teaching - as long as you're not selling recordings of said lessons, I guess. Then, it's back to ASCAP/SOCAN/etc… fees.

Just my 2¢'s (from someone only casually versed in copyright law)…

See You In The Shadows…

@Chip Withrow

So... whadyado?

What's your curriculum?

What's your teaching statement?


Interested minds, well, they just wanna no!


(In my area 15 consistent per week is a respectable "magic" number... they say... fyi', just fyi' if wonder'n. Pending "tuition" that's an "extra" ? Smile $750 "cash"... ish, ish...)

(Hahhh, and depending on your politics Wink hahhh... could just be an "extra" $350 or so... kidding kidding kidding ... )