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Guidance on choosing where to learn

Finding the right teacher, school or music group to help you learn your instrument can be daunting- Scotland has a wealth of highly trained, experienced, committed, and caring music education professionals- but sometimes the breadth of choice can make it difficult to know where to start. 

The path you take will probably depend on a few different factors: cost, location, availability and ultimately, what YOU want to get from your music education. 

While searching Part One of the companion can point you in the direction of teachers, music schools, local authority instrumental services, community hubs and national companies, as well as the growing wealth of high-quality instrumental resources and practice aids available online, it is still up to YOU to decide who to trust with your music education, and this includes the large number of small, independent and self-employed music teachers who do brilliant work all over the country who might not be listed at all in the companion. 

We will first look at what different types of instruction available, before looking at what you should consider when choosing both the path, and the specific provider. 

Types of instruction

Local Authority Instrumental Services

If you are still in school, you should investigate the provision of instrumental lessons available in your local area. All 32 of Scotland’s Local Authorities have an instrumental service, and since 2021, these have been free of charge for learners to access. 

The instrumental services work in addition to compulsory classroom education- by providing schools with specific instrumental specialists who regularly visit the school a day or two a week to deliver high quality one-on-one or group lessons. Available instruments vary by local authority, but you can generally expect to have provision in a range of string, brass, woodwind, percussion, Scottish traditional and rock and pop instruments wherever you are. 

There will also be opportunities for you to join bands and ensembles within your local authority music service. Your school music department should be able to tell you more.

Private Music School

Scotland has a number of private music schools, many of which are listed here in the companion, but many are not. These are generally privately run businesses set in specific geographic areas like Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow etc. These private music schools offer a range of one-on-one, group and even online lessons. While these private music schools won’t be working within the mainstream curriculum provided in schools, they can offer a rich complement, and often provide the opportunity to work towards a graded syllabus such as ABRSM, RSL or Trinity, setting goals and opportunities to obtain qualifications as you learn. These graded exams can also provide UCAS points for undergraduate application. 

Fees and teacher experiences can vary greatly, so why not use the map tool in the companion and explore what is near to you. 

Private Tuition

Private teachers are generally sole-traders or self-employed musicians who deliver one-to-one or group tuition in their own homes or studios, come to your home, or deliver online. Unlike music schools, you will have a greater knowledge of the specific individual who is teaching you, and private teachers should generally be chosen specifically because you want to learn with that person. Private teachers often also work in both private and local authority music contexts, are frequently professional musicians, or may work in further or higher education simultaneously. 

Private tuition affords you a huge amount of autonomy in tailoring your chosen teacher to the type of learning you seek. However, it is frequently the most expensive option, due to the level of attention and expertise. 

Community Music

Stay local! So many of Scotland’s brilliant community centres, church halls, arts hubs and music venues host music projects, which can range from songwriting, bandwork, music technology, orchestras, drumming groups, choirs, and yes, even instrumental tuition. Community music projects often receive public funding, so charge very small fees- if any- to ensure they are accessible to all. Again, resources and expertise vary, so be sure to ask around and do your research. Fortunately, many community music projects are participatory, and therefore allow you to have a more informal approach to attendance, or try a session before committing to more long-term projects. 

Youth Music Initiative (YMI) 

The Youth Music Initiative (YMI) is run by Creative Scotland, and ensures that every child in Scotland has access to high-quality music tuition. Rather than being a distinct way of learning music, YMI provision overlaps with lots of local authority and community music work. If you see that something is receiving YMI funding, you know it has been approved by a funding panel at Creative Scotland, and there is a degree of accountability and quality assurance. 

National Companies Creative Learning/Outreach 

Scotland’s national companies, such as National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCOS), Scottish Opera (SO), Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) and Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) have considerable creative learning programmes that are worth investigating. While many of these are intended to be the next step for learners who have existing instrumental or vocal tuition, and are looking to take music much more seriously, there are many other projects that are more participatory, and work for those with additional support needs, or through referrals from local health boards or instrumental teachers. 

Volunteer run/self-organised groups

Scotland has a vast network of bands and orchestras (and choirs) who are learning, rehearsing and performing in their communities – pipe bands, brass bands, concert bands, symphony orchestras, choral societies, samba bands, community choirs, guitar and mandolin orchestras and more. There are groups in every area of Scotland, who are self-organised, usually run by volunteer members of the group, and funded mostly by membership fees, performance fees and ticket sales rather than public funding. Some groups welcome total beginners, have structured teaching programmes and can help learners to access the instruments they need. Others are groups for players at a higher skill level and you may have to be able to read sheet music, play to a certain grade level or be asked to audition. You will usually have to pay a fee to be a member, although many offer financial support. All groups perform in their communities, some tour and some take part in regional and national competitions as part of networks like the Scottish Brass Bands Association. Groups like this can provide an access route into playing or singing, or provide valuable experience of playing in a large ensemble and of live performance even if you are learning to play an instrument or sing elsewhere.

‘Junior’ Higher Education

Although largely confined to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), there have been other music degrees and departments in universities and colleges who have provided ‘pre-tertiary’ music tuition. The RCS runs its Juniors programme at weekends, which is audition-based and intended for young learners who are advanced for their age. Juniors provision covers Western European Art Music, Jazz, Scottish Traditional and Musical Theatre, and while fees are charged, there are numerous scholarships and funding routes available, particularly for students from SIMD 20, care experienced or other less traditional backgrounds. It is worth checking other institutions to see if they will be launching any pre-tertiary provision in either 2023/24 or 2024/25.

Having defined the types of instruction, we now provide you with some considerations in making your decision. 

Considerations in choosing a music teacher 

WMM suggest that you take the following factors into account during your decision-making process….

  • Your own aims
  • Teacher experience
  • Syllabus/material 
  • Teaching style
  • Cost
  • Location

Your Own Aims

Everybody has different hopes for how far they want to take music. Your aims may mean that one way of learning music might not be the most appropriate. We use the term ‘participatory’ quite a lot in the companion, and this is used to highlight music education that looks to include as many people as possible. In this regard- the main aim is to take part. Participatory music education is inclusive, and will look to accommodate as many different ages and stages as is possible. If your aim is to develop in a broad sense, seeing music as a social activity then perhaps you will pay more attention to community music groups, YMI activity, or find a private tutor or music school who facilitates these aims. 

However, if your aim is to take music seriously as a potential profession, it is vital that you understand the requirements for further study from a young age. This will generally require you finding a knowledgeable and experienced teacher, either through a local authority instrumental service, or through private or Juniors provision, ensuring that you are meeting regular benchmarks and expected levels required (ABRSM, Trinity, RSL Grades). It is best in this situation, that you find a teacher who has gone through the process of formal education themselves, and can act as a mentor throughout this process. 

Teacher experience

The role of the teacher as a mentor cannot be overstated. In realising what your own aims are, it is important that your teacher has undertaken the potential journey you want to undertake themselves. If you hope to be a professional musician, you would be looking for somebody who has that experience in their portfolio. If you are looking to work through grades and focus on technical aspects of playing, you should be sure that your teacher has also gone through this process and is accredited in delivering that syllabus. 

Similarly, if you are looking for more creative or open-ended approaches, perhaps ensuring your teacher has experience in songwriting or improvisation would be more appropriate. 

A music degree or a level of public engagement/musical profile is fair to expect at this level. 

Syllabus/Material 

Again, this is linked very closely to the aims you have in your music education. If you are looking to move through graded syllabus (ABRSM, Trinity, RSL), it is important that your teacher is familiar with the material and additional requirements of each level, including scales, technical aspects and aural skills. Teachers can be accredited to diploma level in these syllabuses. 

Alternatively, this may be less desirable if you are looking for something a little more contemporary, or deeply rooted within Scottish Traditional or Jazz. Frequently teachers develop their own schemes, material and syllabuses. 

Having expertise in numerous musical worlds is not necessarily mutually exclusive, and the majority of teachers will have several strings to their bow, but it is very much worth checking. 

Teaching style

Inevitably, some teachers might be quite strict with technique, whereas others might seek to highlight more individual aspects of your playing or writing. Perhaps you want a combination of the two. You should try and get a feel for a teacher’s priorities and ensure they align with yours before committing to anything too long term. 

Cost

The overwhelming reality is that the majority of your decision may be based on the cost of the tuition. Generally speaking, one-on-one tuition (outwith local authority or community settings) costs more- as there is rarely any subsidy from a local authority or organisation like Creative Scotland/YMI. It is important that costs are addressed transparently, and to be clear that the Musicians Union rates for Individual lessons and small-group teaching are £40.50 per hour for 2023/24. 

Community music, local authority or YMI activity is generally all much more likely to be free or low cost. 

Location

Finally, location is vitally important in local authority and community settings, as offerings are generally only available to specific schools or demographics. However, the world of private tuition and beyond have embraced online tuition, making location less of a barrier than it once was. Coupled with the range of online resources available, there are ways for everybody to engage and develop as a musician regardless of where they live in Scotland. 

Over to you…

This is a lot to take in, and as the companion grows and develops, there will be further integration with directories of private music teachers and voluntary music groups in particular. However, for now the best advice is to seek advice openly, and to not be afraid to ask questions related to any of the points above. Music educators are usually very passionate and happy to talk about their approach to facilitating musical learning. 

Specific questions can be asked here: companion@mepgscotland.org

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