A day in the life of a ukulele teacher/author/performer.
As a full time classical ukulele teacher, author and performer I thought you might be interested to know what my average working consists of : what are the good points and what are the bad points.
Today, a Wednesday, is a pretty average day so I'll talk you through it.
My teaching day always starts at 9.30 am, straight after the school drop off - and that all important cup of tea. I teach from home in my studio which is a converted garage) Today's morning session consisted of four lessons all of thirty minutes each. I leave 15 minutes between lessons so I can prepare, get books ready and have (another) cup of tea.
Lesson One was a classical ukulele lesson with a 40 year old man, who is studying for Grade 5 (VCM syllabus). The grade 5 pieces are surprisingly tricky so I usually try and run through them prior to the lesson) but he is doing really well on them. We are at the stage of adding dynamics to the pieces and checking for small errors.
Lesson Two was classical guitar with a student around the same age. He is a good electric guitar player but wanted to learn classical (and to read music) so we are doing relatively easy pieces concentrating on improving his music reading and 'rest stroke' on the guitar. We are currently doing a piece by Carulli.
Lesson three was a beginner on ukulele and we are currently doing single melody lines such as 'When the saints'. I spent some time explaining about Tab and alternating fingers.
Lesson four was a quite advanced ukulele player. Although he has not been playing long, this 30 yeah old is already attempting some challenging pieces such as 'Raindrops keep fallin' on my head' where you play lead and rhythm at the same time. We spend a fair amount of time concentrating on muting notes and adding rhythmic elements (such as tambora) to the piece.
That was the morning session over. Only 2 hours teaching spread across 4 lessons, but this takes 3 hours. You have to leave a bit of time between lessons (for many reasons including lateness, cups of tea, preparation and sanity) so to teach for two hours actually takes a fair bit longer than two hours. 12.30 to 1.30 was reserved for lunch.
I was meant to start teaching again at 1.30 with two lessons booked. One had already cancelled and one 'forgot' to turn up. Students not turning up or cancelling at the last moment is probably any teachers biggest gripe. I state in my T&C's that I charge for any lesson missed without 24 hours notice. I do this because I am very lucky and currently have a waiting list of 5 students - so if someone lets me know they cannot make it I can easily fill their spot.
Luckily the hour off today really suited me. I am presenting a 45 minute seminar at Olympia next week as part of the 'Music Education Expo' and spent the time working on my seminar. It was an hour well spent checking power point slides etc. It also gave me time to do 30 minutes practice on the ukulele as I am playing 6 classical pieces at the seminar in London and wanted to have a run through them.
At 2.30 pm I had lesson six which was classical guitar. This young student is currently doing grade four so we were working on smoothing out those pieces.
I always leave 3 - 4.30 pm clear as this is when I collect my daughter from school (something which I see as a real perk of the job).
My evening is quite light today as I only have 4 lessons, taking todays total to 10 lessons, an amount which is fairly average. Some days I have as many as 14, some days less.
Lesson seven was classical ukulele but with a young child so much of our focus at the moment is on learning chords, via songs and nursery rhymes.
Lesson eight was another classical guitar lesson. This student is fairly advanced and we are currently learning a drop D piece called 'Sons de Carillhoes' on which he is doing very well.
Lesson nine was back to classical ukulele. This student is doing RGT grade 4 currently so we are working on 'Greensleeves'. Again we were focusing on alternating fingers and trying to get the best tone possible from nails.
Lesson ten, the final lesson of the day was at 8 pm and this was classical guitar. This student is right at the beginning of his playing so we were focusing on playing rest stroke with the right hand.
So, there you have it, a fairly normal day. It started at 9.30 am and ended at 8.30 pm. It seems like a long day on paper but get quite a few breaks which is great.
Once I had finished teaching I was able to spend some time working on my new book. I am currently writing a book on teaching ukulele within schools. I need about 10 original songs for it so I popped round my colleagues house who I am currently the songs with. Alex is a professional drummer so we laid a few tracks down and worked on some lyrics. I finished there at about 10.30 and then it was home time.
So, what are the good points about being a music teacher/author. Well, I am doing what I love - playing ukulele/guitar and helping others to do the same. I am master of my own destiny and within reason can arrange my days as such. The writing is a wonderful thing to be able to do and I really enjoy this. Classical music on the ukulele is still relatively unexplored and being able to contribute to this growing area is a real privilege. The book I am currently writing is coming together slowly but once the London show is out of the way I will step up the amount of time I send on it. Another great point is seeing students grow with their playing. Many of my students have been coming to me for years and some are quite advanced now and its a real honour to watch them learn. Seeing someone who years ago could not even play a note when they first arrived, perform something complicated - and perform it well, is truly rewarding.
What are the bad points about teaching ukulele/guitar. If I am honest, there are only two bad points - students that fail to turn up (this happens a lot !). The only other bad point is students who don't practice. Again though, you have to try and turn this into a positive and see it as your job to inspire them to practice. If you can inspire someone to play/practice and enjoy the ukulele or guitar, its a wonderful thing.
As for writing, there is not one thing that I do not find enjoyable about it. when you see your book in a shop, or your CD in someones hands its very rewarding. One of my students once said she cried when she listened to my version of Concierto De Arunjuaz on my CD. Thankfully it wasn't because it was so bad either. Her comments really meant something to me and were so gratefully received.