Can I teach music lessons?
February 12, 2009 5:21 PM   Subscribe

How much musical experience/ability does one need to teach music lessons?

I've played the flute for at least 15 years now. I'm no slouch. I know the repertoire and keep up with my playing even to this day. I was accepted to my college's music program, and stayed active in performing both vocally and instrumentally, but academically pursued poli sci and law school. I'm by no means a professional. But I am a very high level amateur. I am also proficient on a number of other instruments and have a decent quality Clavinova. I currently sing tenor in a semi-professional a cappella chamber choir.

I always assumed that I was ill-qualified to teach music lessons - probably by virtue of my respect for the skill of my "real" musician friends who followed the curriculum in college, and who have high level music theory knowledge, and who are now eking out a living as professional musicians by night and servers by day.

But today I find myself looking for a decent part-time job, and I'm wondering if I might actually be qualified to teach some music lessons. I feel pretty damn capable where music is concerned. But I'm not "credentialed" for it.

Can the hive mind reach a consensus here on what constitutes the skill level necessary to teach someone else music lessons? Or is it a strict matter of credentialing? Or is it somewhere in the middle where someone like me who is a fully capable musician could potentially do certain things and not others - like teach kiddos and adult beginners how to play "Lightly Row" but probably not coach a high school student auditioning for Juilliard?
posted by greekphilosophy to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You just need to stay one lesson ahead of the student!

But seriously, it all depends on the skill level that you are teaching, and most of all upon the kind of teacher you are. A kind, patient and encouraging amateur-level teacher is just as valuable as the hard-nosed Juilliard taskmaster at Juilliard, and even more so for the beginning musician.
posted by Aquaman at 5:25 PM on February 12, 2009

Or is it a strict matter of credentialing?

Are you talking about teaching at a school? Or just teaching on the side?
My mom taught piano for years, and she didn't have any sort of credentials. She had taken lessons for a long time and just knew what she was doing. I don't know if she could have picked up a job at one of the local music stores that offer lessons, as for all I know you would need a formal credential, but she did all right teaching on the side.
posted by niles at 5:32 PM on February 12, 2009

For sure. As Aquaman said, it's all about relative skill. In high school I gave some guitar lessons to little kids after I was only playing for 3/4 years. I was far from an expert, but I could teach them the basics no problem.

And FWIW, I think you are a real musician. Getting professionally paid or educated doesn't bestow a special blessing of "realness."
posted by gnutron at 5:33 PM on February 12, 2009

I think you're qualified, based on what you said, if YOU think you are qualified.

As long as your can read music, teach how music can be read, know the basics of theory, and take a student at any level they are at then enhance on it with a lesson plan you're good to go.

/I taught Tuba and Bass to some people.
posted by zephyr_words at 5:59 PM on February 12, 2009

What the others above have said.

I taught violin privately in high school, and it wasn't a problem at all. I know the basics inside and out, and I knew what the common problems & bad habits were. Based on what you've said, I'm sure you're familiar enough to be able to spot these issues as well. A beginning student is only establishing the basics and avoiding common pitfalls. Even at the intermediate level, as long as you're a few steps ahead of the student (which you obviously will be), you'll be fine. Just be honest if/when you happen to come across a student that you feel like you're not qualified to teach and pass them onto some of your music major friends :)

FWIW, I had passed the test for California's Music Teacher's Association's Certificate of Merit at the advanced level. That's basically a lot of words to say "I passed the tenth last level (but didn't try out to be one of the state's Best Musicians either)."
posted by mittenedsex at 6:20 PM on February 12, 2009

One thing I think: I'm not inspired by musicians who are like "ok, I'm at this level, and now I'm going to teach, and stay forever at this level". I think anyone who is learning things, and moving forward, can be an inspiring teacher. I think really loving and enjoying playing are really important things. I'd rather have a cool, interesting teacher who loves music but doesn't have a college degree than some spent gigger who hates everything about it.

Would you be interested in continuing your own studies and keeping working on your playing? I think that would keep it fresh and help you inspire your students.
posted by sully75 at 7:19 PM on February 12, 2009

Best answer: I teach guitar full-time. I'm sure you could pick up some students and do fine. You've been playing for about twice as long as I have. The store where I do most of my teaching requires its teachers to have music degrees, but it's just BS to impress the parents. My degree is in composition, not guitar. Teaching beginners is waaaaay more about being patient and encouraging than it is about having chops.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:40 PM on February 12, 2009

For what it's worth, my best music lessons were from a church organist and my worst were all from professional symphony orchestra musicians. I also had mediocre lessons from a college student who didn't yet have a good grasp of how to explain difficult concepts to a beginner. As several people have said above, especially for teaching beginners what really matters is your patience and your teaching ability.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:03 AM on February 13, 2009

Response by poster: I just wanted to pop in and thank everyone for your responses. On the strength of your suggestions, I now have a handful of students. It is going very well so far - it's a great form of extra income, and I enjoy it quite a bit.
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:19 PM on March 18, 2009

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