“‘How can I start teaching so that when I graduate I can hit the ground running?’ was the question on my mind during my last year of music uni. Well, Alex Bruce was the 1st person to help me on the path of becoming a successful guitar tutor. I was a part of his company Bruce Music, which at the time provided guitar and piano lessons for students of all ages and abilities in London and I quickly got my 1st students through him. Since I left London, I understand that more have joined his team now covering 12 instruments and 5 UK cities! And with his ethos of being engaging, approachable, nurturing, friendly, and fun I thought he would have some useful tips to share.” – Neli
How would you describe your journey as a musician so far – where it started and how you got where you are now?
I started playing guitar when I was 14, and it quickly became far beyond a hobby, and what I thought I wanted to do with my life. I’ve been in various bands, written songs, studied, etc. And really enjoyed all of it. But really what has brought me the most success has been running the company.
What led you to create your agency, in which you connect guitar teachers and students?
I’m always keen to stress that Bruce Music isn’t one of those faceless, giant agencies, which any aspiring teacher can join. I meet the teachers personally, have certain standards I’m looking for, and want to promote a personal service at all times. I created it in 2013 – I wanted teaching work to supplement my income while studying, and although a few companies took me on and gave me teaching work, it became clear really I’d need to create my own company in order to have more control over attracting greater numbers of students. I worked particularly hard in the beginning, setting the company up, and arguably neglected my degree somewhat. However the positive aspect of that was that by the time my course finished, I had a secure income in place.
How do you match a student to the right teacher or vice-versa?
Much of it comes down to location, as the teacher needs to be local enough to easily reach the student’s home. As the team has grown, usually we’ll have a few teachers – rather than just one – who are local to a prospective student. So it becomes an issue of – which teacher can give the student the scheduling they want? Are there any stylistic indicators e.g. If the student loves jazz, or metal, or classical guitar, would one of the teachers therefore be best suited? And also – learning styles. Often parents will let us know the kinds of teachers and teaching approaches their children have historically responded well too. This further enables us to give them the right match.
What could you give as advice to a student who wants to find the most suitable teacher on their own?
Try to speak to them on the phone, as you’ll get a good sense of if you ‘click’ and if your personalities match up. Simply put – do you like them? Do you get on with them? Each student has their own concerns – for some it’s location, or price, or schedule, or the teacher’s qualifications. My advice really would be to look for a balance of all of these things. If anyone of these aspects makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably not right.
You have an insight on how a lot of music teachers are handling the situation in the world right now. How was switching to only online lessons been for you and the teachers at your agency?
Things have gone very well in that respect. I always work hard to give each student or parent individualized communications, admin, and customer service, and I think this approach helped encourage students to stick with us and try online lessons. Really though most of the credit should go to the team as many of them really took initiative in sourcing new software, diligently adapting lesson planning, and finding huge enthusiasm and encouragement in difficult times. The fact that so many students were keen to stick with them was also a testament to the great rapport they’d already built and how likeable the teachers are.
Have online lessons been effective for your teachers and students?
Overall, yes. Certainly they take some thinking about, and preparation, but with the teachers’ diligence and the students’ hard work, most have hugely enjoyed their lessons’ continuation. For many it provided routine and structure, a creative outlet, and during lockdown, frankly, something to do! Teachers and students alike embracing technology has been crucial, and those who have have found their lessons as enjoyable as their previous in-person ones (and often more convenient too – they don’t have to travel to a teacher…or tidy up before the teacher visits them!)
What other adjustments did you have to implement?
The big one was an adjustment of approach. Because, for example, when a teacher and a student/parent are in agreement on how/when/if to switch to online, or switch back to in-person, then great. But in the instances where they don’t see things the same way, it has taken some careful management. Of course, no one should be pressurized into working in a way that makes them uncomfortable. While on the other hand, customer service, and giving students what they want is the core of the business. It has been a balancing act! September has been good in that sense, as for many it had been an arbitrary milestone – when many planned to return to normal lessons.
Who is your biggest musical inspiration and influence?
I spend so much time in a guitar-based mindset that I love to listen to stuff without any guitars in it whatsoever. My favourite band is Mammal Hands – a sort of modern, jazz-ish trio from Norwich, UK. But my all-time biggest influence would be the solo work of John Frusciante. Between 2001 and 2009 he released 10 albums, basically any one of which I’ll always love more than just about anything else.
What is your favorite thing to do with a guitar in hand?
Like many guitarists, I’m prone to improvise soloing over backing tracks! But I also love playing in a kind of self-accompanying, chord melody, semi-improv style too, as that feels like a test of knowledge and ability and creativity that’s genuinely challenging, but manageable with focus. And that’s what makes it engaging and fun.
The growth of the business has enabled Alex to explore also other creative avenues too, and he has found relative success as a writer of comedy and drama. He enjoys persevering with that and currently has pitches in with various TV and radio broadcasters. He finds that a fun, and a nice non-musical outlet.
Bruce can be contcted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out also Bruce Music’s website: https://brucemusic.co.uk/