Musicians Who Teach

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Faber Music’s latest publication is a slim book called The Essential Handbook for Musicians Who Teach.

Written by singing teacher, researcher and lecturer Dr. Kerry Boyle and Diane Widdison, formerly National Organiser for Education and Training at the MU, the book is aimed at any musician teaching in the UK, whatever the context, and offers a wealth of generic advice covering the many practical aspects of earning money from instrumental/singing teaching.

I’ll look at the content in detail, and let’s find out whether this new handbook is indeed “essential”….

An Overview….

The Essential Handbook for Musicians Who Teach is a slim 112-page book with a soft glossy cover, smaller than A4 size, in a format that matches Faber Music’s excellent teacher guides by Paul Harris, Murray McLachlan and others.

As with those publications, the insides are printed in black and white with an attractive layout that uses boxouts and shading to emphasise the different sections within each chapter. Open the book anywhere and you will see straight away that the publisher has nicely spaced out the material, signposting content effectively and breaking up the prose to produce an easy-to-follow format.

Subtitled A practical guide for instrumental and singing teachers, the book is set out in the following eight chapters:

  1. Who is the teaching musician?
  2. Settings and workplaces
  3. Getting business ready
  4. What is good teaching?
  5. Keeping safe
  6. Health and well-being for musicians
  7. Equality, diversity and inclusion
  8. What next?

The emphasis is firmly on the practical, legal and financial aspects of professional teaching, and browsing the subheadings within each chapter further confirms that the book sets out to give authoritative answers to so many of the questions that I see teachers asking on Facebook and other forums pretty much every day. I’m therefore confident that this is a book that I will find myself recommending again, and again, and again…

Digging in…

The first chapter is a short one that muses on changing roles within the music profession, and the importance of being ready and able to teach as part of a broader career in the sector, regardless whether one sees teaching as their main creative vocation or part of a portfolio career.

The authors go on to discuss Settings and workplaces, clarifying the different contexts in which singing and instrumental playing are taught in the UK: music services, hubs, schools, private teaching, community music and online work are all covered and explained with helpful precision and brevity.

I am pleased to see the up-to-the-minute section covering online teaching, which includes positive insights about both the benefits and challenges of this style of delivery which I personally found helpful and well-considered.

The third chapter, Getting business ready (should this be hyphenated?), digs deeper into employment status, rights, rates, holiday pay and benefits, before also considering working through an agency or co-operative. The author’s grasp of the music education landscape and insight into how to navigate it effectively is bang up to date, and second to none. The teacher who absorbs this material will doubtless avoid many pitfalls that I have seen others fall into.

The chapter also includes helpful advice about self-promotion, some guidelines about the effective and safe use of social media, as well as thoughts on financial planning, indemnity insurance, and (inevitably, given Widdison’s background) the benefits of joining the MU.

Chapter 4, What is good teaching?, is the only chapter which more directly considers the actual work of teaching itself. Within its 20 pages it covers a lot of ground, from a brief foray into philosophy of music education, more detailed considerations of lesson planning and musical content, to tips about effective delivery and communication.

By the middle of the chapter the authors are considering such academic-sounding topics as the “development of metacognitive skills”, but those with an aversion to scientific jargon need not panic; the latter part of the chapter comes back down to earth with solid advice about the differences between teaching beginners, intermediate and advanced students, group teaching, and exam preparation.

Inevitably, much of the material included in this fourth chapter is brief, and covered in more depth elsewhere. But the summary here does a fine job of raising important pedagogic and ethical issues, so should not be missed.

In chapter five, Keeping safe, the material circuits back around to the legal aspects of music teaching. This chapter (which, interestingly, is almost as long as the preceding one) covers safeguarding in exhaustive detail, with case studies on physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and emotional or psychological abuse. Detailed advice is offered about current child protection legislation, working with vulnerable adults, the impact of abuse on child development, allegations against teachers, and safeguarding training.

The chapter on health and well-being is similarly comprehensive and broad in its view, taking in musculoskeletal health, vocal health, mental health, performance anxiety and hearing issues. It’s worth noting that Widdison is also on the board of BAPAM (The British Association of Performing Arts Medicine) so is again well placed to offer expert advice.

Wrapping things up, the last two chapters are somewhat shorter.

The chapter on Equality, diversity and inclusion covers its topics with insight, but at times perhaps lacks nuance. The section about learning styles risks being rejected as simplistic or dated; this is such a rapidly evolving area of understanding. The introduction to technology-assisted learning and adapted instruments is interesting however, and I would have preferred to read a little more about this.

Finally, What next? explains the importance of ongoing CPD, accreditation and best practice, neatly rounding off what has generally been a breakneck and hugely useful overview of the music teaching profession. On that point, it is also good to note that throughout the book, each chapter includes useful lists of resources, further reading and contact organisations.

Closing thoughts…

For those looking for an introduction to these important topics, The Essential Handbook for Musicians Who Teach immediately establishes itself as a uniquely helpful and valuable publication.

There are plenty of excellent books about how to teach; this book complements that literature by delivering a thorough, sensible and concise overview of the many important aspects of how to teach professionally.

If the content perhaps sounds a little daunting, dry or dull, rest assured that the easy-going writing of the authors makes potentially difficult subjects accessible. The writing throughout is engaging, relevant, clear and thought-provoking; I can’t imagine any teacher reading the book without picking up a wealth of informative, wise and useful tips.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book as an essential primer that should be required reading for all who teach singing or a musical instrument in the UK. Buy it, absorb it, and be guided by it. It’s a book which brilliantly fills its niche and is instantly indispensable.

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.