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The Guitarist's Guide to Being a Tutor: Part 5

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In the previous tutorial I looked at obtaining work within schools as a peripatetic tutor. Once you’ve secured such employment, I'll outline what you expect to be doing.

One-to-One

This kind of tuition will be familiar to any private tutor and is unquestionably the best kind for both student and tutor. The lesson can move at the pace of the student’s comprehension, and you can really focus on areas for improvement within their playing.

However, you may find the lesson time you’re used to becomes somewhat compressed.

As a private tutor, you may teach for 30 minutes to an hour. Within schools, half an hour is typically the longest lesson time. Depending on the school and the number of students you’ll be seeing, this can be reduced to 20 minutes, 15 or even ten.

Furthermore, this is allotted time. This assumes the student arrives and departs exactly when they’re supposed to. In the real world, it only takes them to be a few minutes late, then lose some more time getting their guitar tuned, and before you know it, you’ve lost a third to a half of the lesson.

When I started teaching for the local authority, lesson times were 15 minutes. I learned very quickly that the aim was to get each student to walk out the door having tackled one thing during the lesson. This was the best that could be achieved in the extremely limited time available.

Consequently, progress can be very slow, especially if no practice occurs between lessons. Here you have to be proactive, in that you either give students homework, or you request that the school make parents aware of the need to practice.

This kind of ‘production line’ teaching is far from ideal, so be aware of it and set your expectations accordingly.

Small Groups

If you’ve an extensive list of students to get through, you or the school may choose to ‘double up’, in that you teach students in pairs. Similarly, if the hours are short, you may see students in small groups.

This is obviously less ideal than one-to-one. A class always moves at the speed of its slowest student so be prepared to adjust your tuition accordingly. As much as you’ll want to give each student the same amount of attention, inevitably some’ll gain more than others. Try to be conscious of this, as even seemingly capable students may feel ignored.

One way to engage capable students is asking them to help with demonstrating concepts to those who are struggling. This frees you to supply more help to those who need it and gives the capable students a valued role.

Variation

Within groups you may find you need to offer different tuition to different students. If what you start out with’s proving too difficult for some, you’ll need to give them a concept they can cope with that still applies to what you’re teaching the whole group.

A simple example would be if you’re getting the group to play a chord, and some can’t manage it, give them single notes to play instead.

Classes

Here I’m referring to full-size school classes. If you’ve no experience of these, it can be carnage. It’ll be noisy, and everyone’s clamouring for your attention. This makes tuition extremely challenging. In my experience, splitting the class into small groups works best. Give them something they can work on with minimal supervision, then go around seeing each group in turn. Introducing a time limit and an element of competition can  really help, as it turns the lesson into something more of a game.

Be prepared to improvise. At the first lesson of a ukulele lesson for a class of 30, the school presented me with 30 detuned instruments. Expecting the students to sit quietly whilst I tuned them was unrealistic, so I asked them to trace the outline of the instrument onto paper, then design the most outrageous ‘dream’ ukulele they could. This occupied them whilst I got on with tuning.

Performance

Schools often expect that students undertaking music lessons should provide a demonstration of their progress at some point. This can often be at the final assembly of each half-term, or at a special event such as a music evening. It’s worth noting that parents are usually invited to such events.

The school will therefore request of you that some or even just one of your students performs accordingly. If you’re faced with this you’ll need to make some decisions weeks in advance, such as:

  • Choose students or ask for volunteers
  • Decide what’ll be played
  • Ensemble piece
  • Soloist
  • Rehearsals

Addressing these issues you can sound students out as to their interest. This assumes that the school hasn’t already nominated who’s playing.

Whilst it’s attractive to consider choosing a famous piece to be played, it comes with one significant drawback—if people know how it goes, they’ll recognise if it’s going wrong. It’s up to you but, if you can, compose a piece. The beauty of an original work is that as well as it being tailor-made to the abilities of your students, the audience won’t recognise any mistakes if they occur.

An ensemble piece is determined by what the school requests and how many students want to do it.

If you do feature a soloist, be aware of the abilities of the chosen student. Furthermore, ensure the choice made doesn’t cause issues or resentment among the other performers.

You’ll need to organise rehearsal time. This could be after school, but this may prove difficult especially if you’ve private lessons to get to. You’ll probably find lunchtimes more suitable.

As a side note, if you’re working in a private school, ensure you invoice the school for the extra work involved.

Finally, be prepared that you may be asked to perform. 

This has happened to me on several occasions. Early in my career I was contacted by one of my schools at short notice to perform at a music evening that I otherwise wouldn’t have attended. 

I agreed, as it was a good promotional tool to both potential students and their parents. Similarly, I ended up playing bass in a school rock band in order for the performance to go ahead.

Conclusion

Teaching in schools requires adaptability beyond that of private lessons. Be prepared for:

  • Shorter lesson times
  • Concise tuition
  • Teaching in pairs or groups
  • The difficulties of class tuition
  • Preparing for performance

In the final instalment of this series, I’ll look at remote tuition.

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