How music teachers and musicians can avoid burnout

vdrums mixed users

Article written by Magesh for Roland Australia

I’ve taught music since 1998. In high schools, in music stores, from my home studio, and now online. 

The one thing I’ve noticed as a music teacher is, that we have to constantly learn music. Not just for gigs or concerts we are performing but also for our students. 

The difference between teaching now as opposed to 20 years ago is the amount of information there is to learn as well as the type of technology we need to be versed in. 

Around 10 years ago I found myself burnout not just playing music but also teaching.

Here are the five things I do to avoid burnout

#1 Set a realistic Workload

There is an old saying if you want to get something done, give the task to the busiest person you know. 

Busy people simply have a way of getting things done. 

There was a stage where I was teaching 5 days a week at a high school. On 2 of those days, I would have rehearsal and do gigs on 3 other days. 

As you can imagine it left little time for anything else. I had started with half this amount of work but kept saying yes to every situation that came my way. It was simply a case of quantity over quality. 

This took a toll on my mental health as I felt exhausted going from one thing to another. I ended up teaching 4 days instead of 5 which gave me time to recharge my batteries physically and emotionally. Make sure to cut down your workload as soon as you feel fatigue kicking in.

#2 Set boundaries with your students

I’ve had parents of students text me at 12 o clock at night asking if we could change their lesson time.

I’ve also had students email me asking for help with sheet music or help them with transcribing songs days after their lesson.

I set a rule that I can only be contacted up until 8 pm. Also, that certain things can only be discussed in their actual lesson. At the end of the day, a music teacher is providing a service just like any other professional.

I don’t text my mechanic a month after he has serviced my car and ask him if he can let me know why my car is making a weird rattling noise.

I understand he has specialized knowledge which I should pay him for.

There is no difference between asking a mechanic and a music teacher for free advice.

#3 Have hobbies and other interests

When I went through my period of being burnt out I simply didn’t want to have anything to do with music. 

This was initially hard for me to understand as I’ve always loved music. 

I realized all I was doing was learning music, teaching music, transcribing music, rehearsing music, talking about music, and practicing music. 

There was no time when I was away from my instrument. I decided to take up drawing. This helped my mental health in a variety of ways. It gave me time away from my instrument giving me a fresh perspective. 

Drawing also helped me focus and made me relax in a way that playing the drums never could.

Probably the best part of my new hobby was finding inspiration in an art form I knew very little about. 

Playing drum

#4 Choose the work if you can

I understand many musicians have to take any gig to keep the lights on.

Although there are ways to keep your life balanced depending on your situation.

Once I had my first child I found it incredibly hard to do a lot of late gigs and get sleep as my baby boy would cry all hours of the night.

Teaching helped my new lifestyle and supplement my income. This in turn meant I was able to pick and choose the gigs I wanted to do. 

#5 Remember why you started playing music in the first place

Whatever instrument you play, I’m sure you did it because at one stage it was fun.

It’s easy to lose sight of this when we get bogged down with learning music for exams, playing in various bands, and grueling rehearsal schedules.

I recently started thinking about the most fun I’ve had playing music. To my surprise, it wasn’t playing stadiums with number 1 artists.

It was being a 14-year-old kid playing along to my favorite songs in my mother’s basement.

I purposely put time aside now just to play music just for fun. There is no hidden agenda. Just me trying to play cool patterns on the drum set.

Final Thoughts

I say all of these things speaking from experience.

Getting burnout as a music teacher or musician does affect your mental health and quality of life.

Setting boundaries with your students, having hobbies outside of music, setting a realistic workload, and having fun playing music are great ways to avoid burnout altogether. 

You can check out my new online drumming class ‘How to play the drums -beginners to advanced’ here

About the Author

Other Articles by Magesh
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Magesh has been a music teacher for 23 years. He has also worked as a session musician for some of the world’s biggest pop stars, including Lionel Richie, Ricky Martin, Rhianna, Nelly Furtado, Chris Brown, Kimbra and Vernon Reid (Living Colour).  Magesh was ranked one of the ‘Top 20 Millennium players’ by ‘Drumscene magazine and appeared in ‘Modern Drummer’ (U.S.A), Rhythm (U.K), Percussion (Italy), and ‘Newsbeat (Canada) magazines.

Magesh currently teaches students all over the world. 

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