Meri’s Musical Musings

Don’t put all your (musical) eggs in one basket!

Posted on: August 24, 2013

Time and time again, I have seen music students and professionals devote their entire, or at least 80-90% of their training or career on one instrument or one means of earning money through music.

In terms of music education, this seems to be encouraging students to focus on learning one instrument exclusively or almost exclusively, most often the piano, sometimes the violin. And this instrument-based learning is generally learning to read from written music, with little or no instruction in arranging, composing, or improvising.

In terms of a musical career, this seems to be most often focussing mainly on teaching a studio of 20-30 students or more, especially among the piano teachers I know.

First, let me discuss the part about diversifying your income while still working in music. On some instruments, competition for students is very high, with teachers often resorting to teaching for babysitter’s wages, or less! Technically a private teacher can work full time for measly earnings and be below the poverty line in many places, if that is their only or main income source. Frequently too, students come and especially go in droves, often with little or no notice, sometimes, if not often, owing money to the teacher.

However, a teacher who also earns income from performing, such as performing as a music director in a church, selling compositions, selling arrangements, selling recordings, performing in senior’s centers, performing in festivals, selling music education products that aid in learning, tuning and fixing instruments, performing for weddings, performing for social functions, performing as an accompanist, writing about music, (as I am doing here, in fact, one of my blog posts from a few years ago I’ll be signing a book deal in a few weeks, and I am being paid to have my articles reprinted on other sources) can make around a middle class income and sometimes even be in the top 10-15% of income earners. So even if I or my husband have a fallout of income, most likely to happen in a sudden loss of students) there are still several other streams of income. But, as he sometimes is a very busy accompanist, partly in the second half of the school year with exams and college/conservatory auditions, he has made double or triple what he could have made teaching for the same period, as high caliber accompanists who can sight-read difficult concertos easily are hard to find.

For students, this “putting all your musical eggs in one basket” means focussing ONLY on playing from written music, on performing, and mostly on one instrument, usually the piano but sometimes the violin.  It has gotten to the point that in recent years that piano teachers, and even some parents of piano students telling the students to not learn an instrument in school via band or orchestra, or piano teachers accusing band and orchestra even pulling away their piano students, because they have to practice their other instrument. It has led to some, if not many, piano teachers avoiding arrangements of great music, especially if they were not originally written for piano (such as well-known themes of symphonic repertoire) and using only works that are written for the piano, even though the pedagogical pieces rarely inspire students to practice and the works of the great masters do!

Not only that, but learning a second instrument, particularly with private study on that second instrument, gives students options for arts middle and high schools (which some, if not most, do NOT allow students to major on guitar or piano), and for music colleges and conservatories, the second instrument, particularly if it’s one that’s in demand by the colleges and conservatories the student applies to, will give students more choices for their major ensembles, a backup instrument if they do NOT get accepted as piano majors, and a greater chance of earning scholarship money for music, particularly on less-commonly played instruments, but even on more commonly played ones, there’s still a far better chance of getting free money if you play really well, because there are simply fewer players on instruments other than piano that play really well, particularly certain wind instruments, most often horn and bassoon, but sometimes oboe and even tuba.

It’s also doublers who are most needed in most musical theatre, usually woodwind, reed or brass doubling, and musical theatre jobs often pay better than orchestra jobs, and especially better than teaching lessons.

In addition, learning an additional instrument or two gives the teacher more potential students, and more variety in the teaching day, because, frankly, some teachers find teaching only one instrument boring. Even on more common instruments, non-piano teachers can charge higher fees and students are more likely to stay longer with the same teacher, because there is less competition, and far fewer teachers producing the top students in exams and competition, so students are less likely to go to another teacher on other instruments simply because they are closer or cheaper, which happens often with piano students! On certain wind instruments, you often have to travel 30 min or more by car one way to find a good teacher, and sometimes 1 hour or more, while with piano teachers, in most cities most neighbourhoods have at least a half dozen piano teachers. In fact, I’m trying to find a private oboe teacher for someone I met at a music camp who lives two small cities west of Toronto proper for the last couple of months after exhausting all my sources, and they would prefer not to travel outside of the small city which they live; in fact, that small city has very few good teachers on most wind instruments, and almost none or none on a few of them!

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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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