How To Become A Music Teacher

author: Andr00 date: 01/21/2009 category: junkyard

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(Disclaimer:-This article will discuss how to set yourself up being a music-tutor and is dependent on your countries laws and regulations regarding this. The UK requires no licence or specific qualification for music tuition but other countries i i believe so seek further advice including advice regarding working with children regulations.)


So you have been playing for a few years playing and you are over 15/16 and want to look into ways of gaining experience and possibly some cash as a tutor? Well this was the path i took through my school who paid me for some after school lessons. I was 15 and had 2 years experience behind me (however i was grade 5 classical and electric and had a fairly extensive musical background). I am now a full-time private tutor and gigging musician and teach around 30 students at the moment.

Why Teach?

Teaching for me is extremely rewarding, as you are giving something back and it is something you experienced yourself so it is a great feeling. Additionally it also makes me a better musician because i can self-analyse myself easily which is helpful and also the money is good if you get established. There are two main ways to become a teacher..through schools or privately. I chose private tuition for my own personal benefits (work from home, i get tax relief on musical things i buy etc). I will cover private tuition here as for most of you this will be the most immediate possibility. is definitely better than some minimum wage jobs you can take at school or college!


''You have to be qualified to teach'' I hear a lot from kids ''you cannot teach unless you have a degree'' or ''kids cant teach''. It is a misnomer because it doesn't take into account what you are teaching or who you are teaching it to. Many important regular day jobs take 2-4 weeks staff have had years of practise and tuition! Are all university graduate musicians great teachers?...not at all, and not all young intermediate musicians would be. It is purely dependant on the person and their ability to relay information communicate patiently and have good understanding of a student. The 3 things you need to be able to teach well are: 01.Patience 02.Understanding 03.Motivation / ability to give confidence ''You need to be an amazing guitarist to teach'' Again a misnomer. In fact it can often hinder you thinking how great you are because you forget how hard it was for you to play that first G chord. Ive taught 250 odd people over 10 years and 95% of students were beginners or intermediates 32nd note sweep picking licks are not common, and not the level of student you would teach initially anyway. ''You need to know theory to teach'' The term theory is banded about a lot by guitarists, but the distinction should be made between the basics or reading music and theory. In my experience the basics or rhythms and reading are grossly neglected especially by guitarists so for myself personally i would recommend a strong knowledge of reading rhythms and music for teaching complete beginners, as well as intervals, triads and key signatures a bare minimum for any intermediate students (if you are about to give up tuition yourself if you are weak in these areas). ''Those who teach, don't do'' I really hate this expression, i think it is complete rubbish. many great musicians such as Paganini, Haydn, Segovia, Joe Satriani etc have all taught, wrote, performed etc. Teaching adds so much to your musical abilities (which often is lacking for guitarists compared to other instrumentalists). I play in an original prog band, run a covers band, DJ, produce, engineer etc and i was told if i taught i would lose my creativity! ''Im just a kid, no one will take me seriously'' Don't worry about it just do it. I taught from 15. As long as you are mature, act professionally and do enough preparation you will be fine:


Your Knowledge: Going back to your personal knowledge, you need to know your instrument and music in general to an intermediate degree..not so you can shred in front of a student (this is bad practise anyway), but so you can identify bad habits and faults in playing. If you were self taught i would recommend some lessons before teaching to determine any faults in your playing. I can only comment on my own experience and if you have taken lessons for a few years a lot of the way you teach will be the way you were taught yourself Your Facilities & Environment: Regardless if you are looking to teach from a school, your parents house or student halls as long as you have a professional environment you will be fine. No offensive material around and an environment uncluttered and tidy. For the student don't use a chair with arms or one which swivels and have a footstool or something to raise their feet on. Personally all i need to teach is the computer, guitar pro with files, ultimate guitar, music stand, music duplicates on paper, and blank tab paper ( if you don't have this you can just print out 6 lines x4 on a page). Guitar wise if you don't have 2 amps, you can use an amp splitter jack (i have used old broken down hifis with mic inputs in the past which worked okay). Make sure you have picks and a guitar tuner as well. Yourself: Make sure you are clean and approachable looking. You might think the black metal shirts will give kudos but the parents wont, and you need a division as yourself the teacher in authority to demand concentration and respect but being relaxed at the same time, so a dark shirt and jeans works for me smart but casual. Your communication skills need to be enhanced compared to ordinary conversation. You need to speak clearly and slowly. A lot of young teachers panic because a) they want the kids or themselves to be the best teacher/student ever, b) they are unsure or unconfident about what they are teaching and c) they are not understanding the students..''why cant they get the damn Iron man riff its so EASY!!'' See the section below regarding Patience Understanding and Motivation for more information on 'yourself'


Once you have your own knowledge up to speed and you are prepared in the other ways mentioned, you can look for pupils. Your main areas of teaching are through your school, friends, local clubs, local advertisements, Internet advertising etc. If you are concerned about getting strangers contacting you get your parents to take the call and explain your age qualifications experience, hourly rate and availability. Admin problems are often the downfall in keeping pupils with you so make sure you do this right and take lots of information/phone numbers etc. You will also determine the persons ability level, they may be vague and underestimate their experience so ask what chords/songs/riffs they know etc. An initial consultation of 10/15 Min's may be best not a full lesson in order to establish this and also to let them go away with a riff on the thick e string to build motivation. What to teach: Personally i teach a mixture of popular band songs (keeping motivation up and also it is easier for beginners if they know a song), as well as my own compositions which i have made as simple but as good sounding as possible as well as being very practical eg a 12 bar blues riff. If the student isn't using guitar pro provide sheets and wav files on CD (many people have issues with computer access/working out mp3 etc especially young kids to parents). You will learn through experience what works, in my case boulevard green day, eye of the tiger iron man etc all work well because they are popular sound good and i simplify the songs Who to teach: As discussed your level of experience, qualifications e.g. guildhall/a level music (UK) etc and knowledge or practical and theory will determine your abilities. Regardless of this start with absolute beginners because you will be unconfident and will no doubt fall into some of the pitfalls listed below. Once you gain some confidence over several months you may be able to move on. Seek help from an established experienced teacher and they will be the best guide for you. How to teach: Simplifying This is absolutely crucial to keeping students coming, giving motivation and not giving yourself stress! If you pull out smoke on the water from U.G. because you think its the first lesson, then it will fail. You need to understand many pupils will take time to get a tuner and cant use their ear well to tune at home (and the guitar will be off poor quality most times). Teach single string melodies and riffs (thick e string is good to start with) so if it is something you know on a few strings transpose it yourself onto the E for example 7 nation army. In addition to the smoke on the water example, the tabs are often long and complicated structure wise. Provide a riff sheet and put x4 etc to save pupils reading everything. An aid to this is putting fret numbered stickers on the top of the fretboard beside fret have to look at music, guitar neck, picks and the teacher is impossible so this helps. A mirror can help enormously as well, e.g. a shaving mirror pointing to the guitar neck. For young kids try to provide half sized chord shapes..either 2 finger power chords or thin string chords eg
G major

If you are teaching a 7 year old they may not have the ability or stretch for full size chords so bear this in mind and when teaching a popular song change the tab yourself to 1/2 sized chords (and try to identify frets which could be changed or replaced eg a fret 5 for an open string on a higher string) Every student is different but for kids under 10-11 or any complete beginner the above works very well for me. One of the things i didn't do when teaching initially was simplify enough so i wasn't understanding the students needs and ability, therefore found it difficult to instill confidence because the could play and i couldn't motivate them because they were stuck on basic stuff for too long. Lesson Plan: I have a very general lesson plan, because no two lessons or students are the same but they are all similar. Tune up Warm up Exercise, Revision of Previous Tuition, Ear test/note finding/checking tab understanding/, introduce new melody/riff/chord progression small break..maybe show a cool guitar video on YouTube Ear test/note finding/checking tab understanding, introduce new melody/riff/chord progression Make sure you have more than enough to teach..if you run out you will have to provide ill prepared things which make it stressful and are not effective at all Student Retention: Its essential to any teacher to retain pupils, some i have had for many years and establish long relationships with parents and students, which all comes down to preparation, good execution and the 3 things it takes to be a good teacher..patience understanding and motivation. If you don't prepare correctly you may lose students through not having the resources or not being ready to give a good lesson. It can often come down to personal comfort in a very closed situation..if you look hungover and stink of beer then you will lose that pupil. If your execution of the lesson is inadequate due to providing unrevised songs or trying to push the pupil then they will lack motivation due to your lack of understanding. Common Pitfalls
  • unprofessional surroundings, untidy or unapproachable teacher..this can be a huge factor as one on one tuition is so personal and intimate especially for a young student. when i went to my first teacher the reason i went was because he had a great ibanez and impressions count and appearance matters
  • bad administration and timekeeping..always make lessons on time don't run late always give time to pack up etc. wrong lesson times and bad cancellation policies can be deadly! Ensure telephone contact with parents in first instance..emailing 10 yr old kids can be unreliable.
  • general attitude and communication skills..if you are a very self confident young shredder, you may resent the fact that this kid cant get smoke on the have to change this attitude or teaching isn't for you and you wont progress. If you are not open and friendly this can be as big a problem..maintain eye contact, use the students name, give fair but firm tuition in a friendly way.
  • pushing pupils too much...not every pupils wants to be Yngwie Malmsteen, but many beginner teachers are intense shredders and want to push everyone the way they learned. don't do it. one hour of one on one intense pressure for a student can put them off so you can let them practise something while you tune up or send a song to them via email etc, Slow communication required always.
  • lack of is sometimes hard to tell someone they are doing good when they take really struggle with something or they don't practise. you have to be balanced in your motivation. for example if they are flying through tuition and exceeding everything you want..don't tell them this because they may be too confident and relaxed. Alternatively if someone is completely de-motivated and struggling relate to them tell them how you messed up on stage one time and compare how much they have progressed.
  • teaching too many songs/pieces..if you don't revise songs or go into great detail/or the student gets fed up and moves on you will run out of stuff to teach (especially with today's facilities making it so easy to learn). Make sure you revise songs after warming up and do so even when the song is good (we all play stuff we learned when we were kids to mention this). Average of 1 melody 1 riff 1 exercise, 1 chord song some music reading or other exercises will make a lesson go smoothly
  • pushing too hard.... many want to just strum chords for their own enjoyment. take the lessons easy for all beginners and adjust according to interest/ability and goals-try to open student to new music but have the understanding of what their abilities are and what their goals are. (e.g. a 10 year old iron maiden fan will often be influenced greatly by you, try very hard to be just like you etc and a 21 year old singer songwriter will be their solely to learn chords and how to learn rhythm guitar in the style he/she likes)


    Teaching isn't for everyone, however there isn't a perfect teacher, just as there is no such thing as the perfect student. You could be a mature, open and communicative 15 year old and your skill and teaching ability would exceed some 30 year old virtuoso graduates i know . Give it a go even try out on friends for free using the guidelines. I took a music performance degree but i was already teaching for 6 years when i did that so i was experienced, and it just takes experience and maturity in my opinion. I used to work in regular jobs and hate my life but i enjoy the work and everything now so hopefully this inspires some UGers to give back to fellow musicians, add to their own abilities and avoid working in slave labour-like jobs for peanuts!
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