Like most working musicians, I work a portfolio and one area of that portfolio is teaching. I teach privately, for charities and for Higher education organisations and have done so for more than a decade. It’s a great way to earn a living… this week I helped a 7 year old record a song from Moana which her dad loved to play on his phone, and helped a student with schizophrenia write a song about his life which he has found a band to play… something rewarding happens every week. I hope this gives me enough insight to help you out if you are thinking of starting to teach. One warning, though: teaching music is not an easy way to obtain cash while you actually aim to do something else. To be good enough at it for people to want to give you their money takes real commitment. If you feel you really have a commitment to teaching read on.
What Are the Advantages of Teaching Privately?
There are so many… you work with a wide range of wonderful people. You help people find their confidence and connect with others as well as learning a valuable form of self expression. You can work the hours you choose, in an area you choose. You can work towards achieving your financial goals. You get to work within the art form you love. Private teaching is much more secure than working for music schools. There are some great music schools out there but many of them don’t pay when students don’t turn up and so are basically zero hours contracts where you are not properly remunerated for your time, In private teaching, you have a little more stability.
What are the Disadvantages?
You work with people and people can be rude… no shows, having to chase up overdue payments, demanding students… you need to be able to deal with all these things. Also, any form of self employment is not as stable as having a salary. You may also have to work in the evening and at weekends.
What qualifications do I need?
You should have at least a Grade 8 in your instrument ideally, plus experience as a performer. Well, you can’t teach what you haven’t done! In the case of teaching singing, you will need to have studied the anatomy of voice and be able to detect vocal health issues such as nodules. It is also helpful to have at least Grade 5 music theory, but higher would be better.
What Skills Do I Need?
This falls into 3 categories, musical skills, teaching skills and administrative/business skills because self employed music teachers are in essence small business owners.
- Competence in your own instrument(s)
- Knowledge of music theory
- Knowledge of the relevant exam boards and syllabi
- Transposition… you need it all the time
- Performance techniques
- Skill in working with individuals and with groups
- Excellent communication skills
- Planning schemes of work
- Lesson planning
- Evaluating lessons
- Tailoring lessons to the student’s individual needs and goals
- Preparing students for exams and university entrance auditions
- Sourcing opportunities for your students
- Keeping tax records
- Setting business goals and writing a business plan
- Marketing both online and offline
- Monitoring Key Performance Indicators (i.e. measuring how successful your business is)
- Forming partnerships with other organisations
Does all that sound a bit daunting? Stress not, there is help available to master all these things or to find the right people to help. See the useful links at the end of this article, or sign up for my mentoring programme… but enough plugging…
What Attributes Will I Need?
- Patience… you need it for working with both kids and nervous adults and for building a business, which takes time.
- Friendly, approachable manner
- A professional attitude
Let’s Get to the Crunch… How Much Will I Earn?
This depends on several factors: your level of qualification in your instrument (I have a MMus so I charge more than people whose highest qualification is a Grade 8), how many students you have and what area you live in. Musicians’ Union rates are £32 per hour, but I charge £25 (or £12.50 per half hour more often) because that is a more realistic rate here in Northern Ireland. If I lived in central London the fee would probably be higher… it is important to research what other people are charging. Try not to charge too much or you won’t have many students, but charge too little and people will assume you are not very good.
It’s realistic to aim to teach for about 20 hours a week, with admin and marketing additional (but unpaid!). Most people start off with about 5 students and numbers gradually build, so you may not be able to make the whole of your living from teaching for some months.
What Do I Need to Set Up?
Ok, if you are even vaguely thinking of not taking out the proper insurance or police checks (CRB in the UK and Access NI in Northern Ireland), then stay away from teaching music. You will end up working with children and potentially vulnerable adults, using expensive and potentially hazardous equipment so please be responsible. The Musician’s Union provides public liability insurance, training on child protection and instrument insurance for £179 a year, payable annually or in monthly instalments.
You will also need to be registered as self employed with HMRC and keep a record of all your earnings and expenditure. The Musicians Union handbook details which expenses are allowable against tax, for example you can claim mileage, stationary, sheet music etc.
You will need a suitable teaching space, preferably easy to find and with good parking and if possible accessible to disabled people.
A website and Facebook page so people can find you.
Can You Help me Get Started?
Indeed I can. Check out the link to my three hour course on starting a music teaching business below. It takes a little time to grow a music teaching practice but it’s well worth it!
Sign up to my How to Start and Run a Music Teaching Business Udemy course for the discounted price of £10.99 here.
Music Think Tank (music business advice)