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He taught in a music store in a strip mall near my place and I had just signed up for a block of lessons. His big, long, permed hair practically filled the room. Mr. Perm held an 80’s coloured Ibanez and it was obvious this teacher was into hair metal bands with flashy, fast guitar playing.
He made his introductions, played a bit and then asked me to play something . . .
So I grabbed my classy tobacco sunburst Paul Reed Smith. Mr. Perm was probably thinking I was one of those annoying spoiled kids from the ‘burbs with a nice guitar.
“Cool, man! Let me give you a scale to work on,” Mr. Perm said.
That week I figured I should practice The Scale. So I sat on my bed with my guitar, looked at the scale and played it ...once. I immediately went back to practicing some Rush.
The next week Perm asked if I’d practiced. Like most students I hadn’t, but can you blame me? A scale vs. Rush? With a sigh of disapproval, disappointment and frustration Perm let out a strong, “Aw, man!”
Sadly, the lessons didn’t last long. He had great hair, though.
If giving music lessons strikes fear into you for this very reason, or you’re teaching now and see a striking similarity between yourself and this teacher--except for the permed hair--you’re not alone. For most of us it’s a rite of passage while we get our performance careers off the ground, and it pays the bills.
The question is, how can we make teaching music fun, rewarding and fulfilling? Over the years, having taught everywhere from the little music schools to colleges, I’ve found 4 ways to make it a great experience for the student, teacher, and parents.
1) Get organized - Okay, administration can be like licking sawdust, I know, but it’s necessary for running a well-oiled music lesson business machine. If you’re offering lessons out of your home or through a school during the day, attendance sheets, make-up lessons sheets, invoices/receipts, contracts, and getting a police check are the necessary tools that help you look professional and gain the trust of the student and parents.
2) Use method books - I first started using method books at a music store I taught at where the owners made it compulsory for students. I realized just how smart and professional it was. I wished Perm had used one, explained why I needed it and how it would help me play Rush better. A method book is good for both the student and the teacher:
- the teacher doesn’t have to prepare something new every time, and can supplement when desired.
- the book has everything written out professionally for the student to use at home.
- it’s a tangible way to show progress as the student works page-by-page thorough the lessons.
- the book is a series of lessons laid out systematically helping the student learn effectively.
- if the student moves to a different teacher, he/she can show where the previous teacher left off.
3) Don’t stress if they don’t practice - This gets many teachers really exasperated, and it used to frustrate me. But I’ve learned to get over it because it doesn’t matter. Bottom line: Don’t get stressed if the student doesn’t practice. If you’ve done all you can to make the lessons challenging, enjoyable, and rewarding, and you’ve received great feedback on your teaching skills, fuhgeddaboudit! It’s not your problem. Some students want to learn, others don’t want to, and some don’t know what they want.
4) Teach during the day - It’s my firm belief that teaching in a music school in a strip mall is the worst and teaching in a school is the best. Contact principals at local public and private schools to see if you can offer lessons during school hours. If you do, get organized (see number 1) and then make contact.
The following is a chart outlining the differences between teaching in a music school/store, home, and grade school / college.
I’m still wondering, did teaching guitar cause Perm’s hair to curl?
Note: Paul Gilbert was not my guitar teacher, but Perm looked a lot like him. No hair was permed in the creation of this blog.