Case study

Instrumental tutor — Tom Bates

Find out how Tom has developed a successful professional career in music, teaching in schools and as a private guitar teacher

How did you get your job?

I began teaching privately while I was studying for my degree, after being approached by friends of friends who wanted to learn the guitar. Playing in local bands and networking with other musicians and music teachers made me more visible in the community, which helped with getting more pupils.

After graduating with a BA Hons in Modern Musicianship from the British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM) in Brighton, I applied to the local authority music provider Brighton & Hove Music and Arts (BHMA) to see if I could work with them delivering individual and small group lessons in local schools.

What's a typical working day like?

First thing in the morning I manage my emails and schedule for the day and make sure I have all the necessary plans and resources for my lessons. I spend from 9am to 3pm in school teaching.

After school I mix teaching from my own home studio with visiting other pupils at their homes to deliver lessons. Finally, I make notes for new resources and lesson plans based on the lessons I've taught.

What do you enjoy most about teaching guitar?

From a practical standpoint I enjoy the variation, from visiting different schools and pupils' homes to the range of musical tastes and goals of my pupils. These allow me to learn about many different styles of music and adapt to the uniquely different challenges each pupil encounters on their journey. Ultimately, I enjoy sharing my passion for music with others.

What are the challenges?

Anyone working in a freelance setting must be prepared to organise themselves in terms of time, finance and even transport in order to make things work, especially if you're working in several different areas in one day. As a private teacher I'm self-employed and don't have the luxury of a salary, paid holiday or paid sick days, so I have to keep an eye on my earnings each month - they can vary due to seasons, school holidays and so on.

You may find yourself picking up extra work ad hoc to get you through the quieter months, especially in the early days while you're building up your teaching practice.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree taught me skills related to music as an art form as well as a source of employment. It also provided me with knowledge related to the culture and evolution of popular music genres, which is particularly useful when teaching in order to provide pupils with meaning/context and history around the music they are learning.

I recently completed the The Teaching Musician PgCert at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance alongside my professional work, which has further developed my knowledge and skills in music education and helped shape and broaden my career prospects.

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

My role as an instrumental tutor has largely remained the same. However, I've made closer ties with the community, organising local gigs for up-and-coming bands in the area, as well as leading band workshops and masterclasses in both primary and secondary schools.

Looking to the future, I'm interested in completing the final two modules of my Masters and potentially moving towards a career in curriculum development or assessment at further education level.

What's your top tip for choosing a Masters?

Try to identify an area of interest early on, so that you're already researching it in earlier assignments. This way, when you come to completing your final assignment you should already have a clear understanding, with references, of the up-to-date literature that exists in your chosen field. You'll be in the best position to propose new theories and ideas, which is where the high marks are.

Any advice for those interested in a career in private music teaching?

  • If you're interested in working with young people, get a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate as this will allow you to work in schools and youth clubs.
  • Network with other musicians and music teachers in your local area. An experienced music teacher working in one area may have pupils that they don't have space for, and may be willing to send them your way.
  • While it's important to be proficient and experienced on your instrument, remember that enjoyment is at the heart of any good lesson. If you can create an atmosphere where pupils have fun and walk away with new knowledge, you should be able to build a long career in private teaching.