“Music connects people…We all started playing, to do music we love. A bored or unhappy student isn’t receptive to learning.”
Darren Hodge teaches electric and acoustic guitar and is based in Pontarddulais, Swansea.
He’s been teaching for nearly twelve years and is described by as student-focused, talented, professional, patient and having a gift of putting pupils at ease in a wealth of reviews on his Facebook page and Yell.com
We asked Darren to tell us about his approach to teaching, how he’s encouraged students to post reviews, what he loves most about being a music teacher and how he’s marketed his teaching. Plenty to learn from, here – whatever instrument you teach.
Hi Darren – thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Who do you teach? Children, young people, adults? What’s the balance in your teaching practice between young and adult students?
Hi I’m Darren, I live in Pontarddulais, Swansea. I’ve been teaching for nearly twelve years now. I teach all ages and types of people, my youngest is five and I thought he may be too young but he really is doing well and my oldest is 70! Its roughly a mixture of all ages, I’d say the largest percentage of pupils are teenagers.
Do you teach as a private teacher, through a music hub, in a school or schools as a visiting teacher, or a mixture?
I’ve previously taught in a primary school and a Pupil Referral Unit for excluded pupils, I prefer to work from home as by the time I travel to a school and set up and return I could have taught in my studio with a lot less inconvenience.
Do you have a specific approach to your music lessons?
My approach to teaching is always the same but each lesson and pupil is unique, I always ask, “what are your favourite three songs?” before new pupils come for a lesson, then pick the most suitable song to start. I must owe Ed Sheeran a drink by now! They are free to choose absolutely any type of music they want, from the Harry Potter theme, the Simpsons, Star Wars, Super Mario to Slayer!
The most important thing is they know the piece they’re learning. I had too many tutors in the 80’s teaching me hymns and songs I didn’t know so I try to be different. The pupils already know the rhythm and melody even if they don’t know what those things are yet, also they’ll pick up where chord changes are more easily from the vocal lines. But best of all is they know if it’s right plus it’s a lot more rewarding to them, they hear the tune forming and that encourages them to practice more. I then go on to show them how knowing the theory behind the song will help them play it better as all solos and melodies are built from the scale.
I then try to encourage doing the grades to accomplish something more than songs, pointing out that the grades carry UCAS points which at grade six are A-level equivalent.
Ultimately pardon the pun, I play it by ear! If I see they’re not enjoying it I say, “right let’s do a song because that’s why we all started playing, to do music we love.” A bored or unhappy student isn’t receptive to learning.
Some pupils only want songs and I always try my best to get them to do it but others are purely here for fun. Even when they’re learning a solo I’ll go over the relevant scale to try to persuade them that all the secrets are in there rather than just learned patterns that a guitarist recorded one day.
Alongside teaching, do you perform? Do you supplement your income in other ways?
This is my full time job and I always find it funny when people ask “what’s your real job?”
Are there any teaching resources (such as books, games, or so on) you find yourself returning to again and again? If so, what?
The main thing I do is empower them too, I’m the tutor but ultimately they employed me so I tell them if they’re not enjoying the lesson we’ll do something else for a bit then return to the point later in the lesson or next time.
What do you enjoy most about being a music teacher?
The main thing I love about my job is passing on a skill, “you’re not great until you make someone else great,” I once heard. I find a lot of pupils open up to me, I’m sure I’m part counsellor which is also really great. Music connects people and I get along real well with all my pupils which really flatters me. Nearly every parent tells me their child looks up to me and wishes they could see me everyday, they draw me pictures and get me gifts from holiday young and old alike.
What, if anything, frustrates you about being a music teacher?
The main thing I get frustrated about is the “not having time to practice” excuse, we all have the same time and chose to use it in different ways. For example I ask, “if you had online access to a brand new fortnite character that the games company wanted you to review and demo, but was only available for thirty minutes a day. Would you do it? Yes? Then use that thirty minutes to play your guitar,” or insert whatever they do instead – whatever their other interests are.
Which membership institutions and organisations are you a member of?
I’m registered with the RGT@LCM –The Registry of Guitar Tutors at London College of Music.
You’ve got some fantastic reviews on the site yell.com and your facebook page. Do you encourage students to post reviews? Any advice for shy teachers who are great at the teaching side, but embarrassed to ask for reviews or testimonials?
I always ask pupils if they’re happy with my service and the way they are being taught and if they are could they do me a favour and leave me a review as it really does help my business. Most people will if you just ask.
We know you’re a facebook user – that’s how we met. Does this support your marketing, or is it for professional development, connection with other music teachers, or all of these? Do you use other social media and digital platforms like Twitter, YouTube, or others?
I’ve been asked quite a lot to do a YouTube channel and teach online but I like seeing people face to face and to be honest I don’t have the time.
Most of my work is from Facebook these days as it’s the new word of mouth, pupils will share pictures of their children having lessons or if they won the much coveted “guitarist of the day” sticker, or the even rarer “pupil of the week” certificate.
Again rewarding people makes them happy and receptive to learning, so their friends see this and my name spreads around. I have used marketplace on Facebook and their really cheap advertising, but only twice as I get most of my work from referrals.
I only wish I got on Facebook earlier as it’s a great tool for getting my name around and a lot of people these days will search for anything on Facebook first. How many times have you seen “anyone know a…Or where can I buy…?”
Overall, are you worried or optimistic about the future of music education? Why?
Music seems to go in circles the dance music comes and goes as does guitar music, any business can have good times and bad but at the moment I’m doing really well and even have a waiting list. I heard a great expression, “it’s either famine or feast.”
And how can people reach you to learn more about what you do?
If anyone wants lessons with me I do try to squeeze them in somewhere, there can be cancellations so it’s worth a try, you can find me on Facebook @guitarlessonspontarddulais or search for “Guitar lessons Pontarddulais” and you’ll find me.
Thanks, Darren, for taking the time to tell us about yourself and your approach to music education.
Thanks for your time Jamie, it’s been a pleasure buddy.
- Visit Darren’s page on Facebook here.
- More interviews here on the YMTS website.
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