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8 Tips: How to become - and stay - a percussion coach (in schools)

I loved my years as a percussion coach in Toronto and Montreal. I was lucky enough to work with some amazing educators and students at Havergal College and the Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts in Toronto, as well as at Rosemont High School and Royal Vale Elementary in Montreal. Each school and student had their different needs, and while I am confident to say that met them (or at least most of them), I have learned a lot along the way to share with budding percussionists who are interested in getting some freelance work as percussion coaches.

Here are my top 8 tips for getting that cool coaching gig and keeping it:

1. Get involved with your local band directors' association

It's not always easy getting your foot in the door, especially if you live in an area with a lot of competition or with very few schools. I volunteered to play for a conducting workshop for band teachers (a complete one-off) and it immediately paid off with a steady, well-paid gig at as a percussion coach at a great school. I also played occasionally with some community and amateur ensembles and found myself connecting with educators from the local music community. This also led to work coaching sectionals during retreats or leading up to concerts.

2. Connect and stay in touch with your fellow classmates in the music education stream

If you are a performance major it can be easy, especially in the bigger music faculties, to spend most of your time with the other performance majors (and in the practice room!). But the students majoring in music education have a lot to offer: they are usually well-rounded musicians who are interested in learning more about everything - and they might just be the people you will need to know for future school gigs. Why not see if you can share some percussion basics with them? Maybe in return, they can school you in all of the latest pedagogy trends.

3. Begin building your teaching experiences while you are still in school

Most percussion coaches are graduates from university or conservatory music programs. If you find yourself reading this article and are still in school, I would suggest to start getting experience as a private percussion or drumset instructor - even if it's just for one student once a week. There are a lot of skills involved in becoming a good teacher (not just being a good musician yourself) such as communicating, making students feel at ease, and knowing how to help them get to their next level.

4. Make sure to add those experiences to your CV!

School budgets for coaches are not always enormous, so if an educator is going to leave you alone with their students, they want to make sure that you have what it takes to help their students (and their program) grow.

5. Get a police check

Speaking of being left alone with their students, you may want to show future employers in the education field that you know what's going on. Many schools around the world now require police checks for anyone working with their students (teachers, volunteers, freelance coaches) because of child protection policies. You might want to check out what is needed for your target area with the local school board.

6. Start designing your own curriculum

What does sequential percussion learning look like to you? If you were hired for 16 weeks, how would you begin and how would you end the year? There is a lot to cover for us percussionists in a year. If you find this tip particularly overwhelming, a good place to start might be to go onto the website of the school board where you are interested to teach. Usually they have their own curriculum and learning outcomes for each subject listed on the website. This can help you gauge where students are expected to be in any given year.

7. Be willing to listen to the needs of the school's music director/teacher.

It's great to come prepared with your own ideas about how to start a percussion program in a school setting and many teachers will appreciate your own efforts in this regard. That said, some teachers and directors are hiring you for a very specific reason. They come to the table with their own needs and usually have to deal with many outside demands. It makes a lot of sense to listen to these needs and to incorporate them into your coaching.

8. Drop the university baggage

Yikes! This may be an unpopular thing to write, but I have found through my own transitioning, as well as later experiences with freshly graduated performance majors, that as music school graduates we are coming from some pretty intense places with some pretty intense expectations and ways of interaction. This style may not always be conducive to the learning environment, needs, and settings typical of most middle and high schools, especially if not arts-focused. I would recommend getting a sense of your students and school. Some students may not be as motivated as you were and you will need to find ways to connect with them and help them connect with their music.

I hope you have found these tips helpful. I wish you all the best as you enter the enriching world of percussion coaching. Your efforts, enthusiasm, and knowledge make a difference to the students teachers with whom you work and play. Happy drumming and teaching!

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