Why the most motivated and inspired musicians teach – and how to find teaching work

If you’re a musician, you want to make
music. You need to make music. You also need to pay the rent (and buy, say,
guitars). Often it’s hard to earn a living from just playing or writing music,
and it’s much, much harder to get by
on just the music you want to write
or play. Even the best-paying jobs in music performance (famous orchestras,
West End shows) don’t always pay especially well, and earnings there are not a
patch on what people with far less dedication to their art and craft can earn
in the public or private sectors doing much more sensible (read ‘much less fun’)
things than music. This is partly why many musicians also teach music – a 2012
study found that 60% of professional musicians in the UK earn part of their
income from teaching. It can be very rewarding.

Teaching music, as any engagement with this
most magical art form, can – and should – get emotional. After all, if music didn’t
move us, why would we bother with it? Teaching is truly exciting if (when –
it’s inevitable) you work with pupils who devour information and develop
technical expertise with alacrity, and who push you to think differently and
work harder. Engaging pupils of varying ages with a broad spectrum of interests
and motivations, with different circumstances and anxieties, makes teaching an
exhausting and fulfilling occupation. Teaching is intense, if you do it right. It
requires you to be energetic, inspirational, empathic and humble. Plus, you get
to work with some of the zaniest, weirdest, coolest, most creative and
excitable people around. If a kid is interested enough in the trombone/drum
kit/nose flute/zither to make their parents buy one, chances are you’re on to a

One of the cool things about teaching is
that it is a highly creative activity. It provides a great income stream for
motivated, inspiring musicians; it’s a terrible idea if you’re lazy, stubborn,
or think others should be able to learn music through osmosis, simply by being
in your awesome presence for half an hour a week (which would also be nice).
Some teachers complain about how pupils ‘don’t listen’ or ‘don’t get it’; while
this is sometimes the case, the burden of responsibility lies mainly with the
teacher: if you’re in a one-to-one lesson, and little or no learning is taking
place, it’s not really fair to assume that the pupil (the one without the musical and pedagogical
expertise) is to blame!

Most local authorities in England provide a
music teaching service that farms music teachers out to schools. It is often
easier, though, to find work as an instrumental or vocal teacher if you go
directly to a school’s Head of Music, as there is less politics involved this
way for her/him. This is especially the case for private schools, which have no
access to state-funded music service provision. Alternatively, you can teach
from your own studio/back room, or visit pupils’ homes. You can typically
charge between £25 and £50 per hour for lessons in the UK. As a guide, consider
what driving instructors and lawyers charge, decide whereabouts on the spectrum
of human needs ‘cello and flute lessons fall, check out what’s competitive in
your area, and let your conscience be your guide.

Whether you’re working as a solo agent or
for a school or local authority, there is always likely to be an ebb-and-flow
to the number of pupils you see. This is, as with most self-employed work, a
double-edged sword, because it gives you, at different times of the year, both
more work than you want or can reasonably handle, and far too little. The
flip-side of this is that you can end up with quite a lot of time for creative
projects, and that students (and their parents/school teachers) are likely to
be forgiving when you have a run of festival gigs across Europe and can’t make
a week’s teaching.

possibilities for teaching music, as with making it, are pretty boundless. You
could set up a summer rock camp, start a local community choir, organize
hip-hop workshops, or convene a ceilidh collective. Let your imagination run wild!
Put in the effort, and teaching will be its own reward.

Gareth Dylan Smith is based in London, England. He drums in punk,
musical theatre, pop, and alt. rock bands. He writes for 
Rhythm magazineDrDrumsBlog, and for academic publications
The Grove Dictionary of American Music and Psychology of Music.
Gareth’s book 
I Drum, Therefore I Am: Being and becoming a drummer, was published in 2013.

Do you teach music? What do you think people starting out as teachers need to know? We’d love to hear your thoughts!