How to get into music education
Our BMus Programme Leader let us in on his journey from the classroom to the stage and back again...
As an alumna, turned ICMP Programme Leader, Ben Jones has an unparalleled view of the learning journey of today's contemporary music student.
Since graduating from our BMus in Popular Music Performance, his career has taken him into the studios with some of the world's best producers, on the stages of the UK's biggest venues as well as honing his musical chops with a great array of players.
Now his career has come fall circle as he's Programme Leader of the course he completed as a student. With so much experience and with various perspectives of the classroom under his belt, we caught up with Ben to quiz him about his route into music education and his advice for anyone looking to follow in his footsteps...
How did you start off your journey into teaching?
I was studying the third year of the new BMus course at ICMP. It was really exciting but quite a stressful time as the degree was brand new and the college had just moved to Kilburn. The course has changed a lot since then but one of the things in the third year was the opportunity to study for partial qualified teaching status.
I really enjoyed it, then a chance came up to run the part time evening courses. That was my first taste of proper teaching in a real world environment. I loved it, got bitten by the bug and from there I took the rest of the course and said I’d be interested if there was anything else available.
So one thing led to another from that point?
After that, ICMP was about to launch the Songwriting Programme. This was a while ago before the course was such an essential part of the portfolio.
Sophie Daniels approached me to say the tutor who was going to teach theory had taken up on opportunity elsewhere. So she asked me if I would be interested to come on board as their replacement. I ended up doing three years on the degree teaching theory, then becoming Module Leader. That gave me a real foundation in teaching. Then the BMus programme was going through a change of leadership and I was invited back to help revamp the degree. This was about four years ago. I started looking after various modules, joined the faculty as full time staff, then eventually became a Programme Leader.
What has been most important in giving you the skills to be an effective tutor?
Well going from student to Programme Leader has given me a 360 degree of the student experience and this is at the centre of everything I do.
To be an effective leader, having empathy is so important. My partner is Swedish - in the evenings I do 15 minutes a day learning the language. It’s hard but it reminds me what it’s like to be at the beginning of the learning journey again."
It makes me think about how my teaching can be adapted to better suit the needs of my students, and is something I constantly reflect on.
How did you prepare to take your first steps into teaching? Was it a big challenge?
Yes, the biggest challenge of all was my position in the classroom. On the degree programmes I was only a couple of years older than the students. I dealt with imposter syndrome and some issues around confidence. I know I’m not the only member of faculty who has been through this which is great because I have colleagues who I can talk to about it. We all go through crisis points.
In my situation, I had to figure a lot out on the job but one of the great things about being a musician is that you’re constantly thrown into scenarios where you just need to get on with it and solve the problem. You can’t shy away from the challenge at hand. You need to think on your feet and try to find an answer. This skill has really helped me in the classroom.
How has teaching fed into other projects?
It’s definitely made me a better musician and a better person. Being a good teacher is being a good communicator - that is the heart of teaching - interpersonal skills, getting people to understand something, empathy. For me it goes deeper than just the class itself. It’s the fabric of who we are and these emotional connections are important to me and make me happy.
The more people you meet in life, the more value is added. With teaching it’s a constant flow of new people, personalities, friends and challenges. As a musician, it’s the same and you’re constantly refining these interpersonal skills - and in this industry, that’s the key to success.
In some cases, can teaching be a good addition to a portfolio career?
Yes but teaching isn’t for everybody. You’ve got to go into it for the right reasons.
As a music tutor, you will be challenged and, at times, made to feel uncomfortable. It’s not about making a couple of bucks on the side. You need to have a passion for communicating and learning if you want to pursue a career in this."
There are other pathways in the industry where you can sustain yourself if this isn’t right for you.
Are there any other essentials that should be considered when embarking on a teaching career?
Communication and empathy are important. You need to have great self management and motivation too as you will come up against people who won’t respond to what you’re doing. So you need to be resilient and capable of looking at things from different ways to respond to the needs of the classroom. The biggest thing to remember is that you don’t need to have every answer. You need to be prepared and able to deliver but you are fallible and can’t be expected to be an oracle of information.
A lot of students who go into teaching put this enormous pressure on themselves so when they stand up in a classroom, they need to be the smartest person in a room. I definitely did this but it’s impossible to be that person. As long as your intentions are good and you’re willing to be honest about not knowing something, then you will be effective. Because trust is the most important thing in learning. If your students trust you, then you’re more than half way there to becoming an effective tutor.
Visit bjonesmusic.com to find out more about Ben and his music.
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