Ask Althea: Private music teaching advice column (no.2)

Althea Talbot-Howard
Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Althea Talbot-Howard with your private music teaching tips and tricks.

Greetings, everyone, and a warm welcome to the second instalment of this new column for private teachers! If you missed the first one (MT February, p.38, and online), my name is Althea Talbot-Howard, and I am a composer, performer and long-term private teacher (30 years and counting!) based in London.

In this month's column, we're going to explore the important concept of establishing one's expertise.

To be successful as a private teacher, one needs to be able to show potential clients exactly why one is the best-qualified person for the job. There is so much competition out there – not only from highly-qualified musicians, but from under-qualified ones, too. Therefore, it is vital to position oneself carefully in order to get the work; and it's also important to be able to justify charging more than an under-qualified teacher does. Establishing one's expertise helps to create and maintain respect from parents as well. The more of an expert they believe you to be, the less likely they are to backseat-drive!

Ability as a performing musician, level of training, and experience as a teacher are three important components in this quest. Needless to say, in order to establish our expertise in people's minds, we first of all need to become true experts! If you're an up-and-comer, make sure that you excel at university or music college, and take all the opportunities offered to you to study pedagogy as well as performance. If you're already an established private teacher, working towards a higher professional diploma exam – in either teaching or performance – can be deeply rewarding.

Paper qualifications matter a great deal to many parents, so do use your post-nominals where appropriate (MA, ATCL, FRSM, etc.). Your email signature and online advertising are two relevant places. If you teach in a home studio, frame your certificates and put them up on the wall. This creates trust, while also impressing new clients. If you travel to clients, photocopy the certificates and place them – along with references and your DBS – into a designated folder, which you can show parents when you first visit their home.

Don't forget to mention your training institution(s) towards the very beginning of your biography, because a highly regarded institution immediately confers excellence upon you. On your website and advertising, you can also add testimonials from happy parents. If you don't have any pupils yet, borrow a child from a family friend, give a free lesson in front of the parent, and ask them to write you a testimonial in exchange for the lesson fee. All's fair in love and teaching when you're starting out!

Another idea: embrace social media and start your own YouTube channel! If you don't already have one of these, when do you plan to start? YouTube videos are essential tools. Potential employers and parents can check you out, vet your performing skills, and get to know you as a person and teacher. Good videos will help them to become sold on you before they pick up the phone. You're much less likely to experience price-refusal when discussing money if parents have already made a mental commitment to engage you.

I joined YouTube back in 2009, posting oboe performance videos. Later, I posted two teaching videos: ‘Pan’ and ‘Niobe’ by Britten. In each video I perform the solo music first, followed by a short lesson direct to the camera (not to a pupil in the room). Although a professional videographer filmed these videos, nowadays I would do the whole thing myself using my phone and an additional microphone to help achieve the best sound.

You don't have to combine performance and teaching in the same video, though – you could upload them separately. Why not film a short video of some repertoire you perform well, followed by a teaching video on a topic of interest to beginners or more advanced students? Choose exam repertoire that tends to be repeated so that your videos remain relevant over the years.

Once up, the videos can be embedded wherever you want: into your own website, into online teaching directories, and as links in your email signature. If you plan to teach online, rather than in person, then a strong social media profile becomes even more important.

I really hope these thoughts will help you to increase your business. Don't forget to tell friends and colleagues about this column; and feel free to write in with any problems via the editor at Interesting and relevant letters will be printed anonymously with my thoughts and advice below them.

Until next month, and wishing you much success,