The Art of Teaching - Allegro
The latest issue of Allegro, the union paper for the AFM Local 802, features a piece titled "The Art of Teaching." I shared my approach to finding students and teaching guitar along with the thoughts of many other musicians. You can read the entire article on www.local802afm.org, and below is my contribution. [dropcaps_dark] I [/dropcaps_dark] taught my first private guitar lessons when I was in middle school, to a classmate who wanted to learn. His mom offered to pay me $20 a lesson, so I took it! I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I figured out that teaching is as good for the teacher as it is the student. Ever since I’ve taught private students on and off as supplemental income.
My mom was a choreographer and taught dance classes when I was young, and I started taking dance classes before I ever played music. The way you piece together steps and movements in a tap class is basically the same way you work out playing a piece of music. That approach has always been in my mind. I also had an amazing drawing teacher in high school who broke down art to its most basic building blocks; he could literally teach anybody how to draw. I’ve used his metaphors and pedagogical approach to teaching for years.
Recently, though, I’ve found the hustle of tracking down new students, dealing with constantly changing schedules, cancelled lessons, and all the other headaches involved was not really worth my time. But because I enjoy the kind of methodical approach to playing that comes from teaching, I started writing short lessons on my website (www.CameronMizell.com). Most of these lessons are very basic and accessible, and just introduce ideas or techniques that I’ve explored in my own study.
As it turned out, a lot of people started coming to my site for those lessons, and some of the most motivated people have started taking lessons. These students are very engaged, excited to learn, and have never flaked on me, even if we just schedule one-off lessons every now and then. The other advantage to having students find me through my site is that I’m not limited to NYC residents. I have students in California, Texas, Florida and elsewhere.
Once I was teaching a Skype lesson to my California student. It was 10 p.m. for me and 7 p.m. for him. A few minutes into the lesson, he’s playing something for me and I reach towards my desk, my hand leaving the frame, he looks up and sees me hesitate for a moment. He stops playing and says, “Go ahead!” while reaching off screen to grab his glass of wine. So I grabbed my glass of whiskey, we had a virtual toast, and continued the lesson. We had a lot of good breakthroughs that night!
The two downsides to teaching lessons via Skype are that you can’t physically touch the student to adjust their hand or technique, and you can’t play at the same time. But I’ve found that many students, especially those that come to me for lessons, are accustomed to learning from YouTube or other lessons online. They are used to mimicking what they see on the computer screen and playing along to a pre-recorded tracks. Over time I’ve created lesson materials that can easily be e-mailed before or during the lesson, including my own backing tracks for exercises, and I can just observe the student play.
Ultimately, what I’ve learned is that by sharing my approach to teaching and studying guitar on my website, I attract only the kinds of students I want to teach. It’s made private lessons a steady supplemental stream of income without any headaches.
My advice to new teachers is to listen to your students. Adult students almost always want to know why they have to learn something. I guess they’re short on practice time, especially in NYC. If you can’t sell major scales to them, then maybe you need to figure out a better approach. This is especially true for guitar students, because they usually just want to be able to jam with their friends.