by Joy Mullen
Noah Walker was a pastry chef who quit his job to go to music school and become one of the most sought after guitar players in Vancouver. A call to sub in for a teaching shift changed his life. That day was spent with a guitar in hand, hanging out with other musicians jamming on breaks. “It was the best thing ever, it just didn’t feel like a job!” Even after 15 years of full time teaching, he still finds it energizing. A great lesson will leave him elated as if he had scored a goal. One night while playing a show he reflected on the fact that teaching all day was more fun than playing the gig he had been hired for. After the many years of teaching he can feel his lessons getting more refined, something he describes as “a bit like a one man play.”
Noah advertises through Craigslist and posts weekly ads. While many guitar lesson ads promise fame, fortune and the ability to RAWK, he keeps the tone a little less shredder dude. Having a strong website and demo reel also attract new students.
During his 13 years of teaching at Creativ Music he maintained a record of keeping students, mostly kids, for years on end. Not all of them became exceptional guitar players, but they enjoyed coming in and playing songs with him. Reflecting back on being a kid taking lessons, he was constantly playing guitar, but rarely working on the exercises given by his music teacher, instead focusing his energy on learning the songs he wanted to play. Noticing the trend that most kids today don’t have a favourite song or a favourite band, he likes to teach the classics. Kids rarely have the opportunity to see live music, so they have no context for what playing music is about.
Now teaching from his home studio, most of his students are adults with busy lives, booking lessons when they can. He doesn’t put too much pressure on them to practice, leaving that choice up to them and as long as they enjoy that hour with him it is worth it. Most people don’t have opportunities to play music with another human, so incorporating a lot of playing time into each lesson is important. He challenges himself to “teach the shit out of every lesson” which seems to work as his students keep coming back for more.
There is no penalty if you aren’t good at guitar, and it’s okay if things are going slow. Every lesson includes time for learning theory and reading, but avoiding the dry curriculum books helps to keep the lessons fun. There are a lot of songs on the same skill and technique level so finding material to learn is endless. Skills such as playing bar chords, finger picking and soloing are useful to have in your toolbox as a guitar player.
Playing his own musical projects and as a session player is a full time job on its own. This summer is booked full of festivals with “Kitty and The Rooster,” his new surf rock duo band with his partner, drummer/photographer Jodie Ponto. He points out that students like it when their teacher is successful with an exciting touring schedule and are always curious about his latest trip to Turkey, Korea or Istanbul or wherever his latest show takes him.
Sarah Wheeler loves teaching
Being a musician requires a great deal of creativity in managing your life. Time is needed for touring, rehearsing and writing, and money is needed for the cost of maintaining gear, practice spaces and lessons. This also needs to be balanced with obtaining enough funds for all the usual living expenses. How do musicians combine a flexible schedule to meet touring and performing needs as well as making sure they can pay the rent? One of the most satisfying solutions is to become a music teacher.
Sarah Wheeler is a Vancouver based singer songwriter. Working a couple of mind numbing jobs including one that involved a lot of shoveling and a brief stint at a mall, she decided to only do work that involved music. After working at a record store for years and being exposed to a huge selection of music she started teaching at Rufus Guitar Shop and has never looked back. She also enjoys hosting songwriting workshops for queer youth and for women in correctional facilities.
Sarah loves teaching! While she teaches all levels, her favorite category of student is the beginner. Seeing them getting really excited when they learn a song they love is pure magic. “Sitting next to a little kid who thinks they are just like AC/DC is like being in a room with a unicorn!” Keeping a student inspired to continue playing is key to her approach. Not everyone wants to become a professional musician, so figuring out what kind of music they are into, and what their music goals are is crucial. A good teacher is someone who can take a complicated skill that takes a lifetime to master, and break it down into bite-sized chunks for the learner.
Sarah admits that not every teacher/student combination is going to work, but she isn’t afraid to talk to students to figure out what needs to change if things aren’t clicking. Originally she was self-taught, later on deciding to continue her studies at university. This background helps her approach teaching from different angles and learning styles. She points out that it is called “playing” for a reason and feels it is important for everyone to have a good time during lessons.
When your co-workers and bosses are also musicians, everyone is willing to pitch in to cover subbing shifts. As long as the time-off requests are made far enough in advance there is flexibility for touring and playing shows. This working environment is attractive to the best professional musicians who in turn make the most interesting teachers. It is important to keep the life balance in check and she admits to getting a bit “owly” if she goes too long between playing shows and writing new songs.
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