Tutors, Mentors and Why You Need Both
by the BDMA Tutors
1. a person employed to instruct another in some branch or branches of learning, especially a private instructor.
1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
What is the difference between tutor and mentor, and why do we need both as musicians?
From the dictionary definitions, we see that tutors focus on the learning aspect whilst mentors go more towards the side of guidance.
Obviously, when learning an instrument it is a must that a tutor teaches you the ins and outs of what you are playing. They need to cover the technique and the theory, the repertoire and the rules.
Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to play.
But if you talk to the majority of professional musicians and get them to reminisce on their past tutors, yes some might say
“My second teacher really sorted out my technique”
…but what is more likely to stick with them is how a tutor supported them or inspired them.
This is the mentor aspect of music teaching. Mentors are there to guide through difficult decisions, push you to the next level and inspire your creativity.
The combination of tutor and mentor is what pushes students to be the best they can be. With this in mind, we’ve had our tutors share some of their experiences.
We know that music is so much more than learning the notes. So your teaching experience should represent this – learning the theory is important, but understanding the depth of music, being innovative and creative and finding constant inspiration is when music lessons move to the next level. My favourite teachers have been the ones that have thoroughly taught me the technique of the instrument but spent an equal about of time guiding me as a musician. This might have been telling me anecdotes, giving me life advice or asking how the rest of my studies were going, generally taking an interest in my whole musical life, not just when I had a clarinet in my hands. I want to replicate this with my teaching – music should be an experience that goes past just simply playing and I strive for my students to understand the whole picture, and love it.
I have never been someone to express myself through anger or particularly through silent treatment/sadness. It has always been through music and my first singing teacher, Lesley, made the link between personal and musical inextricable. To be able to do what we do and sing or play in front of people, we have to be so sure of ourselves as people as well as performers, otherwise it is all too easy for nerves and fear to get the better of us. We are all human and having encouragement and FUN when learning and performing is so important (whether it be to family in your living room or in front of lots of people.) Mentors bring out the human in us and give us enough confidence and self-assurance and tutors teach us the skill of our instrument. You need both to be able to fully enjoy the process and reap the limitless benefits of music.
I’ve found throughout my musical journey that it has been invaluable to have both tutors and mentors. For me, my tutors have helped me to develop the foundations; good technique, a comprehensive repertoire, harmonic knowledge and so on. As you develop, you select your tutors based on a problem-and-solution basis. But a mentor is someone who really inspires you and takes you under their wing – a kind of Harry Potter and his wand type, special relationship!
My first mentor was an incredible musician called Liane Carroll; the woman who inspired me to start singing. I found myself at her gig by chance, and was in awe from the moment she opened her mouth – so I followed her EVERYWHERE for a good year before approaching her. I went on one of her summer schools and she took a personal interest in my singing and my musical journey. She has since let me join her on stage at gigs and we make an effort to hang out whenever she is in town and we are both free. The inspiration, advice and support that she has bestowed upon me has become an important part of who I am, and I am very lucky indeed to have her as a mentor and friend.
There is nothing to say that a tutor cannot become a mentor. For example, I developed a great learning relationship with my History of Jazz tutor, Malcolm Earle-Smith, whilst at Trinity Laban. When I reached my final year, I really struggled, both emotionally and creatively. Malcolm went out of his way to support me and gave me all the help that I needed to stay inspired, finding innovative and new ways to teach me things that I was struggling with and encouraging me along the way. He has become an invaluable mentor and dear friend.