Skip to Content

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
Summer lesson and camp policies
Piano lessons for busy adults policies

Policies updated July 2019 for 2019–2020


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 2019–2020

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 USC faculty and staff for most programs above, except for Recreational Music Making and programs for USC 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, USC or the USC School of Music will NOT assume responsibility for your child should an accident occur while they are unattended.

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 anytime during the academic year, pending availability (tuition will be prorated).

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.

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.

USC schedule and closures 

At times, USC 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 USC campus or the School of Music is closed due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances, all activities in the Center for Piano Studies are cancelled. Parents and students are notified via email, and closures are posted on university websites. In this situation, classes and lessons will not be made up.

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).

Facility for classes and lessons

All group classes are taught in the state-of-the-art Group Piano Lab at the USC School of Music. The lab is equipped with digital pianos, a Smart Board and projection system, and many other technologies and teaching aids. In addition, a grand piano is used for performance and demonstration in the group lab. All lessons and repertoire classes are taught in classrooms at the USC 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.

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. Summer 2019 Contract

Any lessons not completed by August 10, 2019, 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 USC 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.