A 2012 study found that 60% of professional musicians in the UK earn part of their income from teaching and it’s hard to say who benefits more, these teachers or their students. Like making music, teaching is a highly creative activity and is uniquely compatible as an income stream for working musicians – and here’s why:
Working musicians have an unstoppable desire to make music.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But think about it – many talented musicians create and perform music without compensation for years, simply for the love of music. This kind of passion is precisely what makes a student want to engage with subject matter, after all, can you think of another industry where people are that driven about unpaid work? As a musician, it’s also extremely motivating to work with excited students who devour information new to them while constantly pushing you to think about music differently. If “life feeds art,” a work-life involved in music education is an amazing way to feed yourself as an artist – both figuratively and literally.
Working musicians know how to hone their craft.
Ask any professional musician the first song they learned to play or the album that made them want to be an artist and they can tell you, simply because all working musicians have had the shared experience of being a young musician developing their skills by trying to recreate their favourite sound. In fact, the way we teach music today had been significantly influenced by the immersive learning practices of modern popular musicians. This is where working musicians-turned educators connect with their students the best: teaching them how to play, sing, listen, improvise, and compose along with their own favourite artists. Working musicians know firsthand how to perfect a piece by ear, promote via social media platforms, perform in ensembles, or present a solo show, so who better to learn from?
Don’t just take our word for it, though; recent studies show that in schools habitually teaching these methods, the take-up of a music curriculum is four to five times higher than the national average — the learning experiences of real world musicians has revolutionised music education!
Working musicians can roll with the punches to command an audience.
Versatility is the name of the game with a working musician – we need to be able to perform all kinds of music in all kinds of environments, so we are very well versed in handling people and situations. Not to mention, if we can deal with rowdy crowds screaming “Play Freebird!”, there isn’t much a room full of 12-year-olds can do to rattle us.
Working musicians know how to maximise time.
Often, we have to fit our art around life’s more mundane responsibilities, so there are times when we only have a few moments in a day to indulge our creative sides and play music. These skills come in handy in making the most out of a 45-minute classroom session; we don’t waste time! Additionally, time spent teaching music is great for re-energising one’s artistic focus, as spending time on our lives outside of performing can lead to great rewards within our musical lives. Finally, there is a true logistic gain for a working musician teaching music education, and that is quite a lot of time for creative projects. Summer festival tours, holiday concerts, and spring ensembles are just some of the times of year a school schedule accommodates seamlessly.
Working musicians are in good company.
The last argument for working musicians as music educators is the tradition! You’d be part of a long line of professional musicians who feel like teaching is an organic part of learning and growing musically. Before becoming known as the electroclash artist Peaches, Merrill Nisker taught music to preschool- and kindergarten-aged children for the better part of a decade and credits the spontaneity she used in her classroom as the key to her eventual creative success in the music industry. Rock star Sheryl Crow also spent time as an elementary music teacher before starting her career as a world-famous singer-songwriter. There are also plenty of working musicians who become involved in music education even after hitting the big time: for instance, instructional website masterclass.com features dozens of incredibly comprehensive classes from huge industry names like Christina Aguilera, Deadmau5, Hans Zimmer, and Herbie Hancock.
If we truly want to give students access to the best music education possible, we should be providing them with educators and instructors who are the most passionate – who’ve most prioritised music in their own lives.
In this case, those who can, teach.