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School of Music

Center for Piano Studies Policies and Tuition


The Center for Piano Studies provides members of the Columbia area with excellent musical instruction at the piano. There is a place for all learners, from age 5 to all ages of adults, and at any level, from beginners to advanced players. Our programs include private and group study and a variety of performance opportunities. The instructors are highly qualified pianists and teachers, each seeking an advanced degree in piano pedagogy or performance.

General policies
Guidelines, expectations and signed waivers: COVID-19 related precautions are here.
Summer lesson and camp policies
Piano lessons for busy adults policies

Policies updated July 2020 for 2020–2021


Tuition is collected online via credit card at our payment website. After completing the order online, a confirmation is sent to your email address. Your credit card may not be charged immediately. There may be a delay until the interview is complete or until class enrollment is finalized. Please direct any errors or issues to Payment via check is possible; contact Dr. Sara Ernst at to arrange this.

Tuition table of rates 2020–2021

Tuition is billed by semester and is due prior to the start of classes. If the multiple payment plan is chosen, tuition payments are due on the dates listed below.

See Summer Piano page for costs of summer programs.  

Fall Semester

Spring Semester

Prior to first lesson / class in August / September Prior to first lesson / class in January
October 1 March 1
November 1 April 1

For your convenience, email invoices are sent prior to each due date.  Overdue accounts are assessed a $10 late fee ten (10) days after the due date.


A $15 discount is available for senior citizens and UofSC faculty and staff for most programs above, except for Recreational Music Making and programs for UofSC students, which are already discounted. For families with more than one student enrolled in the Center, a $15 discount is available for each student enrollment. Discounts are applied to the first payment of each semester. Only one discount is accepted per enrollment. 

General policies

Parental supervision

Students under the age of 18 should not be left unsupervised within the School of Music building or outside grounds for any reason at any time. The Center, its teachers, UofSC or the UofSC School of Music will NOT assume responsibility for your child should an accident occur while they are unattended. During this time of COVID-19 considerations, there is no public waiting in the School of Music. Parents are required to attend lessons with their child.

Enrollment and interview

All new students will have an interview with the Director or Administrative Assistant to familiarize parents/students with our program and to discuss goals for piano study. Students with prior piano background will play a brief audition to ensure proper placement in our program. Beginning students will be given a mini-lesson to assess readiness. Students are accepted at any time during the academic year, pending availability (tuition will be prorated).

Mode of lessons and class delivery

Private lessons may be taken face-to-face or synchronously online, depending upon the University's operating status, the student/parent’s choice and the teacher’s availability. Teachers may offset some online instructional time with the use of asynchronous videos, both those submitted by the student and created by the teacher.

All group classes (until further notice) will be taught synchronously online. Group classes may utilize some asynchronous content to provide students with the opportunity for self-paced learning and multiple views.

Online classes and lessons are equivalent to face-to-face meetings for all curricular and policy matters.

Technology for online learning classes

See the attached set-up guide for online lessons and classes. The minimum equipment needed includes: a device/computer with a webcam and microphone (positioned near the piano), a piano/keyboard, and an internet connection. Teachers will recommend an application for tele-conferencing from the following: Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, and FaceTime. Parents and students are asked to limit distractions (no eating, pets, or background noises). The following policies exist for the use of online technology:

  • For students under the age of 18, the parent/caregiver must accept or initiate the call with the teacher. The parent must also close or hang-up the call with the teacher.
  • For any student age 7 or under, the parent must be present and active during the lesson to facilitate interaction and help the child follow teacher requests. For any student age 8 or older, the parent must be within listening distance for the duration of the lesson.
  • For students under the age of 18, the parent/caregiver must receive all documents and assignments via their own accounts (email or file sharing). For children ages 13 and above, parents can give the teacher permission (in writing) to share emails, files, and folders directly with the student; in all cases, the parent must be copied to emails or included in the sharing options. 

For the safety of all of our students (for the current time of COVID-19), all group classes will be taught online using Zoom. Parents and students are provided set-up information to ensure an effective home, online learning environment. All teachers are trained in security measures for use of technology. 

Facility for face-to-face lessons

All lessons are taught in classrooms at the UofSC School of Music. Each classroom has a grand piano, a digital piano, teaching aids, and educational technology. No food or drink is allowed in our piano classrooms. Please refer to the section directly below for complete information on COVID-19 precautions.

Guidelines, expectations, and signed waivers

See the linked documents for complete information on COVID-19 precautions, guidelines, and expectations for face-to-face lessons. All students (minors and adults) must have a signed document (consent, waiver, photo release) on file with the Center for Piano Studies. The forms needed are dependent upon the lesson delivery as indicated below. Please read these documents carefully.

An individual copy is needed for each minor child enrolled in the program. These must be provided as a signed PDF to If needed, physical copies can be mailed (UofSC School of Music, Attn: Sara Ernst, 813 Assembly St, Columbia, SC 29208).

Tuition, payments and refunds

Tuition is billed every semester (Fall and Spring terms) and payment is due prior to the start of classes. Payment can be made by the semester, or payments can be made in 3 installments per semester. Invoices are sent via email. Please pay correct amounts; requests for a current invoice can be submitted to Any overpayment is applied to future tuition charges or refunded, less credit card fees. Overdue accounts are assessed a $10 late fee 10 days after the due date.

Tuition must be paid in full to participate in end-of-semester recitals.

A limited amount of need-based scholarships are available; contact Dr. Sara Ernst at for more information.

If a full refund is requested before the term begins, the refund is written for the amount paid minus a $30 processing fee. Refunds may be made by university check and this can take several weeks.

Attendance, scheduling and make-up lessons

Because the study of music requires consistent effort over time, attendance at every group class and private lesson is essential. Group classes meet at the scheduled time each week and cannot be made-up. If it is necessary to miss a class, parents / students are asked to email the instructor in advance. Instructors provide the class assignments so that independent work can keep pace with the class. 

Private lessons (Fall–Spring terms) meet at the scheduled time each week; lesson times remain in effect for the duration of the semester. One make-up lesson is allowed per semester, but only when a 24-hour notice has been provided to the instructor. There are no time adjustments or make-up lessons for students who are tardy. Any lessons not completed by the end of the term are forfeited. There are no refunds or credits for lessons not taken.

For students enrolled in face-to-face lessons, online lessons may be used as an occasional alternative. Online lessons may be requested twice per semester due to reasons of scheduling conflict or illness (student or parent). Teachers must be given at least one day’s notice to ensure preparation time. If a change to online delivery is needed mid-term, please contact the director to request this change.

For students enrolled in online private lessons, students or parents can request a change to face-to-face. This will be accommodated if and when possible, given facility and teacher availability. Please contact the director to request this change.

Our calendar includes a make-up week at the end of each term. If one lesson needs to be made-up, this can easily be done during the make-up week, likely at the usual lesson time. In addition, one extra week occurs in each academic year to allow for flexibility. 

It may be occasionally necessary for instructors to reschedule lessons due to conflicts with degree-related commitments. Teachers discuss any rescheduling at least one week in advance.

UofSC schedule and closures 

At times, UofSC classes are cancelled but campus remains open (such as Fall break). In these cases, lessons can occur in the School of Music. When campus is closed (such as Labor Day), lessons cannot occur due to security and safety concerns. Refer to our calendar for complete information.

If and when the UofSC campus or the School of Music is closed due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances, all face-to-face activities in the Center for Piano Studies are cancelled. Activities may be moved to a virtual format as necessary or appropriate. Parents and students are notified via email, and closures are posted on university websites. Cancelled activities are not subject to a guaranteed make-up, as determined by the director, due to factors of facility availability and scheduling.

Materials and practice pianos

It is essential for students to bring all required materials (music, books, assignment notebooks and pencils). Instructors provide information on purchasing materials. Photocopies of copyrighted music are NOT allowed.

All students (except those in Adult Recreational courses and the Beginning Piano Camp) must have a practice piano at home with which to complete the weekly assignment. An acoustic piano is recommended, although for several programs, a digital piano is allowed (88-keys with weighted action). It is equally important to have a proper bench and foot stool (for children) and to have the piano tuned twice yearly. School of Music practice rooms are only available to students in credit-granting courses.


The pursuit of musical skill requires dedication and a regular practice routine. For pre-college students, parents must structure practice within the family schedule. Instructors give a weekly practice assignment and students are expected to complete this at each home practice session. Instructors will also provide guidance on how to practice.

All students are encouraged to practice every day of the week, but are required to practice no less than the minimum stated in the course description. The most important practice days are the day of the class and the day after. If a day is skipped, be certain to practice the next day; never miss two days in a row.

Students / parents are asked to communicate concerns with practice, assignments or success with the instructor. This type of open discussion is essential to a student’s progress. Do not wait until the next class; all instructors are available via email. The director is also available for consultation on such matters.

Recitals, events and assessments

Recitals are held in the Recital Hall at the School of Music. All pre-college students are required to participate in repertoire classes in advance of the recital to be eligible for recital performance.

Additional events are included in the tuition, and these include the Fall Festival, CMTA Achievement Day or SCMTA District Auditions, and outreach performances. Fees for the Music Development Program performance assessments are included for all Young Artist Programs. Those in other programs are encouraged to participate but are responsible for assessment fees. Event and program fees are nonrefundable.

Teacher assignment and student records

The director assigns all incoming students to teachers. To ensure a successful teacher-student relationship, new students are assigned based on factors of personality, prior study and student goals. Whenever possible, returning students continue with the prior teacher. The Center keeps detailed records of student progress to facilitate assignment and transfer to a new teacher. Parents/students may consult the director when a new teacher is assigned; requests are honored when possible.  If parents/students seek a change of teacher, a written request must be submitted to the Director outlining the need for a teacher change.

Enrollment, withdrawal and exit procedure

Adult group classes, adult private lessons: Enrollment in the Center for Piano Studies is for the duration of the program, by semester or session (Recreational courses). No refunds of fees are provided after the first class.

Children group classes and private lessons: Enrollment in the Center for Piano Studies is for the duration of the academic year. A four-week notice of withdrawal must be submitted to the director. Tuition is assessed during the notice period. A refund is given for any remaining tuition beyond the four-week notice. No withdrawal is accepted after April 1.

Under certain circumstances, it may be necessary for a student to discontinue study during the academic year or semester for any of the following reasons:

  • Excessive absenteeism
  • Non-participation in group class
  • Recurrent lack of preparedness
  • Non-payment of tuition
  • Behavioral and/or academic concerns

A refund is given for any remaining tuition (if applicable).

Rules of engagement for classes and lessons

All students are asked to abide by:

  1. Treat teachers, students and classroom materials with respect.
  2. Participate fully in class and lesson activities.
  3. In group classes, use proper school etiquette, which includes hand raising, speaking quietly, and managing personal space.
  4. No food or drink in the classroom. Please eat and drink on your break in the hallway or in the School of Music lobby.

In situations where behaviors need to be modified, the following step-by-step procedure is in place for subsequent classes and lessons.

  1. Student is given a verbal warning in the class or lesson outlining the behavior and the expectation.
  2. Student is given a second verbal warning in the class or lesson, which is followed by communication to the parent / guardian regarding the behavioral concern and what happens if the issue continues (step 3). 
  3. In group classes, student is dismissed from class that day to a parent or guardian who must be available to pick them up. In private lessons, a parent / guardian must sit in and observe the lesson.
  4. In group classes, student is removed permanently from class for the remainder of the semester. No refunds are available for this student. In private lessons, parents must continue to sit in on lessons until behavior is corrected.

Parents and teachers are encouraged to discuss any behavior related concerns with Director Dr. Sara Ernst, at any time.

Summer lesson and camp policies

Camp attendance

The day camps meet at the scheduled time each day and cannot be made-up. If it is necessary to miss a day, parents are asked to alert the instructor in advance. When applicable, instructors provide the student / parent with the class assignments so that independent work can occur. There are no refunds or credits for missed days.

Private lesson contracts and scheduling

At the start of the term, the teacher and parent / adult student establish a schedule of dates and times for all 6 lessons to occur. Parents and students are asked to schedule summer lessons carefully around travel schedules, other camps and activities, and summer events. The lessons may be spread out through the months of May through August. Additional packages of 3 lessons can be purchased. The parent / adult student is asked to sign a contract of agreement for all dates and times of lessons.

Any lessons not completed by August 8, 2020, the end of summer term, are forfeited. There are no refunds or credits for lessons not taken.

One make-up lesson is allowed during the summer, but only when a 24-hour notice has been provided to the instructor. There are no time adjustments or make-up lessons for students who are tardy. If the instructor must cancel a lesson, it is rescheduled.

Substitute teacher policy

For students who were enrolled during the academic year, it may not be possible to continue with the primary teacher over the summer months. Substitute teachers may be assigned for all or part of the summer to allow for continuation of piano study. The primary teacher provides the substitute with guidelines to ensure that summer study is geared to the current needs and interests of the student. In all cases, the student returns to the primary teacher at the start of the Fall semester.

Piano Lessons for Busy Adults policies 

All 3 lesson dates are determined at the time of scheduling and must be completed by the end of term. Lessons must be either 45 or 60 minutes (as purchased). Missed lessons cannot be rescheduled and are not refunded.

A $5 discount per package is available for UofSC faculty and staff, senior citizens, or family enrollments.

Approval from Dr. Sara Ernst is required to enroll in this program. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.