Is It Time to Teach?

Saxophone LessonsThis is a guest post from saxophonist and educator David Erato of

You’ve taken lessons for a few years or more. You have basic knowledge of music theory and proficiency on your horn. It may be time to share your knowledge with others. But to what degree? Will teaching be your main source of income, or will it be for extra reed money as you go through college? Or it might not be time to take on students at all. I’ll address each scenario below.

When Not To Teach

If you are a musically talented high school student, you may be asked from someone in your neighborhood if you can give lessons to their little Sally who is just starting the saxophone in the 5th grade. While I do think you may serve as an important role model in Sally’s musical career, you shouldn’t engage in regularly scheduled weekly lessons and accept money from Sally’s mom. Absolutely become Sally’s mentor and show her things you’ve learned (and feel free to accept baked goods from time to time in exchange for your time), but be sure to refer Sally to your local teacher. The student-teacher relationship is very unique, and there are lots of pedagogic principals to consider that require careful study and a mature mind. There are acceptable musical relationships you can have with younger students in your neighborhood, but the student-teacher one is not recommended unless you are trained in that field.

Another situation where it may not be right to accept money in exchange for music lessons is when you are not teaching your primary instrument. There are many intricacies to the saxophone that need finessing during points in a student’s learning track (like the embouchure, alternate fingerings, etc.). If you haven’t spent more than a semester in college mastering the instrument you shouldn’t be teaching the instrument in a long form (30 minutes weekly) private lesson situation. There are a few exceptions. One is if you are the only music teacher in a rural area, and are really the only option that student has of learning music. Woodwind ‘doublers’ are also exempt from the primary instrument rule if they have the mentality that they approach each instrument as a primary instrument. Eddie Daniels couldn’t explain that approach any better than in this clip.

As a Side Gig

Being a music student in college can be a great time to start picking up a few students. You get to be active in a field you are pursuing a degree in, see if you really like teaching, and maybe make a few extra bucks for reeds. You may even be able to use the practice rooms at the school for lessons free of rent. Your teacher may even be able to pass some students to you. It’s a great time to start getting experience and hone your craft. I know I am a very different teacher now than I was when I had my first student.

Alternately, you may have a full time job (either in music or another field), but are interested in taking on some students on the side. The first thing to do would be to contact some of the local band directors in the area and let them know you’re looking for students. You should even make a flyer for the director to post. Word of mouth may spread and one student may turn into three pretty quickly. Be sure to know the good lesson teachers in the area as well. They may be booked solid and could pass some off to you and you may recommend students to them as well.

Since these lessons are on the side and not a primary source of income, the lessons can be more informal. By that I mean you don’t need a written policy or write invoices. You still may want to collect on a monthly basis, and reschedule missed lessons as they come, but that is up to you.

As a Primary Source of Income

One thing they usually don’t teach you while studying music in college is that you can make a living teaching private music lessons. Granted, it’s not a glamorous living by any means, but if you get enough students you can make a career out of teaching. Location is going to be key, especially for how you get your students and how much you can charge. It may be easier to fill a studio in an urban and suburban area than a rural area.

Your best location for making private teaching a career is to be connected with a music store or conservatory. You may also be able to teach lessons at a local school, be a traveling teacher and teach in homes, or teach out of your own home. The latter may require the most leg work in recruiting students. Write a bio, put up a website, update your resume, make a poster, and hit the streets. Visit music stores to see if they have any space to rent or positions available, and spread your name around to local band teachers as well. The more people you know the better chances you’ll have gain students.

Expect your hours to be after school, since most of your students most likely will be school aged (between ages 10 and 18, depending on when they start band at schools near you). You will probably have to teach 4 to 6 days a week in order to make a “full-time” wage, however the actual hours teaching per week is usually much less than full time for a “normal” job if you can charge enough. Full time salary for part time hours can be very nice. That gives you extra time during the week to practice and play gigs.

Be aware though, that you will be working many hours outside of the studio time spent with students, especially if you have a large number of students in your studio. Things like scheduling, re-scheduling, billing, preparing, picking out music, researching, etc. should be considered part of your job and consequently part of your pay as well. I will go more into detail on organizing and maintaining a large studio in a future guest post.

At the end of the day, teaching music needs to be motivated by the love of music and your need to spread the knowledge around – not about money. It is wonderful that one can make a career out of teaching music, which can also help support a performance career. But never forget what you love about music, and why it is important to help others acquire what you have discovered.

Photo by woodleywonderworks