Case study

Instrumental tutor — Gemma Ashcroft

Gemma has a busy and diverse career teaching at a music hub, in schools and privately to individual pupils. Find out her top tips for succeeding as a private music teacher

How did you get your job?

As a student, I volunteered at various music education events and workshops which led to an offer of a few hours of teaching a week alongside my studies.

When I graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), I wrote to local music hubs asking if they had any vacancies and advertised my teaching online. Nowadays, I rely on word of mouth and networking to get my name known to potential students, schools and parents. I also sometimes post job adverts online.

What's a typical working day like?

I work for lots of different people and organisations so no day is the same. Lessons in school often start around 8am, in which I teach a range of individuals, small groups and whole classes of primary school children.

After school there are music centre ensembles to run and more pupils to teach. There can be some late nights if there is a concert, and I often work weekends but try to take a day off in the week. I take some time off over the summer too, but often help teach music courses during the holidays.

What do you enjoy most about being an instrumental tutor?

I love the variety of the work I do and interacting with lots of different children throughout the week. It's really special to watch them perform in concerts when you know how hard they've worked and how much it means to them.

What are the challenges?

There's a lot of travel involved as I'm never in one place for more than a few hours. I have to be really organised and make sure I have everything I need with me, including spare instruments, sheet music and backing tracks. The days are tiring and I often only have a few minutes to grab lunch.

How is your degree relevant?

As my undergraduate degree was specifically focused on the double bass, I have a high level of subject knowledge. This means I can teach pupils of a more advanced standard as well as beginners.

I began studying for The Teaching Musician Masters degree at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance when I already had a few years teaching experience, and this has given me a deeper understanding of learning theories and how they can be applied to my practice.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I began with just a few cello students on one afternoon a week but have built up my timetable over the years to include over 20 double bass players and 7 whole class strings sessions, where I lead a team of people in each school. I work for a music hub and three private schools, as well as the junior department of RNCM.

I hope to one day move into a management role in a music hub, as long as this allows me time to still work with pupils in schools.

What's your top tip for choosing a Masters?

Make sure it's relevant to what you want to be doing. A Masters degree is the time to be more specific about your specialisms, so look through the course outline and prospectus carefully and ask lots of questions before committing.

What's your advice to others wanting to become private music teachers?

  • Get as much experience as you can. Volunteer at music education events, approach music teachers and ask to shadow some of their teaching. You never know when someone will need an extra pair of hands for a project, or a teacher to cover some maternity or sick leave. Music hubs (or music services) in your area often have opportunities for enthusiastic teachers.
  • Hone your skills on your instrument, and any other instrument you want to teach. Get to know the key repertoire for every level of player and think about creative ways to bring it to life.
  • Stay current. Things are ever-changing in music education. Attend music education events (try the Music & Drama Education Expo, held annually in London) and attend courses and training in your area to broaden your skills and meet other music teachers. The internet is a valuable source of information about jobs, but also about best practice in music teaching.