Topic: Music teachers

Music teachers, the good, band and plain crazy…

I’m a big fan of ongoing musical development and over the years have employed the services of many music teachers for ukulele, guitar, vocals and other instruments. To say that I have had extremes of service is an understatement and this particular blog tells some of my experiences.

Firstly I have a massive respect for anyone who decides to offer teaching services and without doubt in my opinion music is a truly wonderful exploration with all kinds of benefits. I live in Leeds which has a music college, so many folks would expect to find a wide rage of accomplished individuals as clearly there’s a big potential market, especially as there’s a thriving music scene. 

Great skills, but…

One of my first experience of hiring a music teacher was back in 1990s when I found John, a local blues musician. As with many teachers he ran lessons from how house. He was extremely knowledgeable, but also a chain smoker and his house was a good reflection f his own chaotic thinking. To say that he was unpredictable would be an understatement. In terms of playing local gigs he would often cancel at short notice due to anxiety issues and this drove his band mates crazy. In terms of lessons one of my most memorable recollections was after arriving for a one hour lesson one day he commented

“Shit, I’m out of fags. Wait here and I’ll be back in a while”

He then proceeded to leave me in the house by myself, drive off and return sometime later with a packet of twenty cigs. Like many music teachers he had good music skills, but terrible customer care skills and failed to appreciate how many opportunities slipped through his fingers as often he simply wasn’t paying attention to his clients most basic needs. 

In recent years I have looked for good vocal teachers as most of my musical explorations these days involve writing and singing. Again I find a similar pattern where some tutors have great skills but are completely unreliable in terms of any ongoing assistance. Yes I get that being a music teacher is probably not going to generate a substantial income stream, but reliable teachers will generate much needed predictable income, which is especially helpful in these touch economic times.  I had one vocal teacher who also had anxiety issues and often would not turn up for lessons. In the end she stopped doing lessons “to attend to other life issues” Another one in Headingley had extensive online advertising for his services. I rang him up, spoke to him and arranged a lesson. The first thing he tried to do was to reduce the hourly rate to make it more affordable for me as an intro lesson. I insisted on paying the full rate up front and said I could guarantee 4 hours a month each and every month on an ongoing basis. One day before the first lesson which had been booked for a month he decided he was going to focus on his music and would no longer be teaching.! I respect anyone making such a choice, but it shows poor regard to customers and can create a terrible reputation. As someone who trains people in customer service, here’s what he could have communicated that would have helped both our interests and left his reputation in tact

“Hi Nick, I’m sorry that due to changes in circumstance I can’t offer ongoing help. However what I can do is offer some limited time on an agreed basis if that works until I can hand you over to somebody suitable. Then at least you won’t be left high and dry as I know you have a number of recording dates coming up which you talked about. Does that work for you? Once again apologies for the change of plan”

Not complicated is it? However as my old communication mentor would remark in my other work

“Lower your expectations…”

Some good news…

OK, if you are not totally depressed at this point lets talk about some great examples of music teaching. Three years ago I employed the employed the services of Jessica Bowie to learn about the uke. She is the person who first encouraged me to start singing and I am forever in her debt. Over the years our initial teaching has now morphed into a songwriting partnership and I am delighted to pay for her time on a weekly basis. She has excellent skills and I regularly recommend people to her. She is also a founder member of The Small Change Diaries and has become a really good friend as well.  She also teaches my wife who adores their weekly lessons and Jessica has both the manner and skills to really help people. The world is better for such individuals.

Two other superb teachers are Martin Simpson and Phil Doleman. I have been seeing Martin for a number of years now and have over 100 hours of recordings from our sessions. He is a genuine professional and brilliant musician. He has also become a good friend and its great to know him. His new album Trails and Tribulations is just out and its fantastic. Phil is also a 100% reliable professional with tremendous musical knowledge and wonderful skills. He teaches 1 – 1 and by Skype. He has also been invaluable in my musical development.

I recently had a percussion lesson with a very well respected London musician, Sam Gardner. I approached this with some trepidation has I have zero experience of this. In one hour he managed to take me from a total novice to actually being able to play along to a track. Again he has the excellent and most welcome combination of great skills and great manner to teach students. Pete Wraith my dobro teacher also deserves a mention. This was another new instrument and Pete coaxed me into being able to get some really great sounds out of the National I bought off Martin Simpson. Pete is also a superb musician and great guy to know.

Conclusion

These are some personal observations from over the years. Many teachers can be highly skilled but lack good personal skills. Even more teachers lack good organisational skills and miss the importance of the big picture in building a professional reputation. The music business is somewhat mercurial and its smart for any performers to have many sources of income for purely practical reasons. Not every teacher will be a great match for every student, but some basic common sense communication will ensure that all parties remain satisfied. I suspect that there is a big gap in the market where I live in providing such services in these times.