Music Teacher | Youth Central

Justin, 43

What does a music teacher do?

Justin teaches harmonica (harp) privately, at TAFE, and at his harmonica school in Geelong. He also runs workshops at festivals and plays gigs, mainly around Melbourne.

Even though it's a freezing Melbourne day, Justin is back from a dip in Port Phillip Bay. "I have to do exercise to keep motivated," he says laying kindling on the open fire. "I like to feel energised when I'm teaching."

Justin's teaching room is chock-a-block with instruments. There's a keyboard in the corner, a drum kit, guitar, mandolin, violin, a care-worn case holding around 14 harps and a four-track recorder set up with a microphone. "I'm not qualified in the sense that I've got my Dip Ed. My teaching qualifications come from my experiences in live playing, recording and touring," he says as the fire crackles into flames. All the instruments are used as teaching tools and after a lesson Justin records live music on tape so the student can practise at home.

What's a typical working day involve?

"My days change a lot. On a day that I'm teaching at TAFE or Geelong I practice my own playing." The evening, group-format teaching sessions at TAFE and the harmonica school run for two hours. "I'll also spend time organising publicity for the Geelong school and chasing work."

Another typical task involves researching tunes for students. "All my private students are at different levels and I have to find tunes that are in the students' reach." Justin teaches around two to three students a day, usually Monday to Friday, but sometimes on Saturday.

What are some of the pros and cons of the job?

"Seeing people get excited about music and teaching people with a good nature is good fun and a good vibe," Justin enthuses. He lists the challenges as being students who don't put in the effort to learn, and lesson cancellations. Another niggle is that sometimes festivals can be disorganised. "It's frustrating when the person who's booking you doesn't understand what you need and their disorganisation impacts on how you do your job. You need to be really persistent and negotiate a way around it," Justin says.

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

"Patience," he says without hesitation. "And to be passionate about music." Justin says that it's important to create a comfortable learning environment, which means turning off the mobile, "no full ashtrays or empty beer bottles lying around", and to being generous with information. "You also have to be really diplomatic about the way you word criticism. And to be encouraging and acknowledge that students are doing something right," he emphasises.

How did you become a music teacher?

Justin's career started with a plumbing apprenticeship. "I was gigging on harmonica and doing my apprenticeship but it was too hard to start work at 7.30am after getting home at 2am." He took the plunge, left his apprenticeship, and focused on music. "I was in a successful band for a couple of years. They were pretty wild," he laughs, "It's lucky I'm still alive!"

From playing live and touring Justin started running harmonica workshops at festivals and taking on private students. "It was great because I was able to carve out a niche business for myself."

Are there any tips for getting a job as a music teacher?

Justin's advice is to be really familiar with the instrument that you're teaching and to be comfortable with your own playing. "Get lessons yourself," he says, "That way you can identify what's a good or bad lesson and understand it from the students' point of view."

Find out more about a career as a music teacher

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