How are music lessons approached in your church? Are musicians encouraged to use the building to teach?

How are music lessons approached in your church? Are musicians encouraged to use the building to teach?

Can you use your church building to teach music classes?

One of our regular contributors and guest bloggers asked us recently to pose a Friday Facebook Question that he was keen to get some opinion on. This was:

“How are music lessons approached in your church? Are musicians encouraged to use the building to teach?”

Whilst a lot of people have clicked through to see the “answer”, we’ve not actually had anyone offering much of an answer so I thought I’d tackle it here and see if you might perhaps like to share your experiences as a comment.

What I am about to write is, I imagine, quite UK church centric so please do bring your own perspectives to the discussion.

So let’s consider music lessons in church.
What might these look like?

  • Weekly choir or worship band rehearsal (normally led by either a paid or volunteer choir leader/worship director)
    I would suggest that these are very much rehearsals – whilst learning will take  place, a rehearsal is a very different thing to a music “lesson”
  • Musician that goes to the church (possibly even employed by the church in some capacity) teaching one to one or small groups in the church building
  • Summer or weekend “school”, often run by musicians in the church for young people to learn instruments and have a jam (we’ve been involved as guest tutors at something called “Guitar Church” in Calgary, Canada. Guitar Church is a franchise music school which runs on midweek evenings or Saturday mornings. Its run by a Christian guitarist and open to the local community. Beginners through to intermediate guitar players attend and are taught by resident or special guest musicians. Students pay a fee each semester. The church typically sees it as a form of outreach ministry. I’m not sure if the church is typically paid any rent for use of its building
  • Musicademy-style worship focussed courses. A number of churches in the US, UK and South Africa have used our DVDs to teach in small groups. We have developed a series of workbooks which break each DVD into 10 1-hour lessons. The beauty is that the teaching is already tried and tested, and the group doesn’t have to be facilitated by an awesome musician – just someone who can help support the teaching in the DVDs. Typically students are charged a small fee – the facilitator and/or church takes this and a small license fee is paid to Musicademy for the right to use the DVD in this way


What are the benefits of music lessons to the church?

  • The building is used at times when it would otherwise be empty
  • Many more people are brought physically into the church building than would otherwise access it (we’re assuming that these lessons are open to people beyond the local church members). That use of a scared space has, in itself, given rise to many interesting conversations at least in our own experience of teaching Musicademy classes.
  • It demonstrates the importance the church places on musicianship and its role in serving the church in worship
  • By providing a space for lessons, it honours its musicians who spend many hours serving the church and its members
  • It may be possible to raise some money as rental (but this can sometimes get ugly – see my note below)

What are the benefits to the musicians teaching the courses?

  • Musicians find it very hard to scrape a living together. Even if music is their “day job”, they are frequently asked and expected to play for free (charity gigs, birthdays, weddings etc etc – the bridge may have blown thousands on a balloon arch & elaborate table decorations, but there’s not budget left for the band). Teaching is a way of enabling musicians to earn income.
  • The tutors could well be church interns – well known for having little funding. Some income for teaching can make all the difference
  • Having a base from which to teach frees the tutor up from driving door to door – all of which takes considerable time that could be spent teaching
  • Access to instruments and sound equipment that is already set up (especially important for instruments like drum kits) and for working with a band
  • Access to a proper “performance” space – really helpful if the student is ultimately going to be leading worship, or fronting a function band
  • Teaching is a great way of learning yourself – its very hard to teach something you haven’t already mastered. And teaching will help you unpack parts and reflect on your entire musical approach. I would say that Andy (my Musicademy co-founder) is a better teacher than he is a player. That’s not to criticise his playing at all – he’s just a superb teacher. And its great that in Musicademy he has found a place where that particular skill can be used. You will have some great teachers in your congregation and worship team – encourage them to find their voice

Years before we created the Musicademy DVDs, we ran a local music school. At its peak we had some 250 students learning guitar, bass, drums, keys and voice with us. We taught in groups of 5-10 students delivering a structured curriculum. Some classes focussed on rock and pop songs (you can access the guitar lessons here) an others were focussed purely on worship music. We often had non church goers at the worship classes (because the time suited them) and vice versa. It was a great way of connecting people through music.

But what happens when money gets involved?

The answer here is “It depends”. Over the years we’ve had vastly different experiences of teaching in churches. Some have been so challenging that we’ve ended up hiring community halls and school buildings instead. This has brought us great sadness. A few stories:

  • One church, well used to renting out its space to dance classes, scouts etc were very keen to support what we were doing. They loved the concept of our courses and were keen to host our students. We agreed a reasonable weekly rate and taught there for many years. A number of their own members joined our courses, and a lot of people who would not otherwise have known about the church went through its doors each week for a lesson
  • Another church decided that it was just too complicated, too inconvenient and, despite having ideal (empty) practice rooms, would not consider even one to one teaching (delivered in this instance by one of their own congregation – someone whose giving over the years would have contributed to the building in the first place)
  • Some churches are less than happy at the prospect of rock & pop music being taught, preferring us to focus solely on worship music. Not a problem – we know that theologically we connect with people from across the spectrum
  • The most disturbing experience was a church that had recently spent a small fortune on a new building which was lauded in the local newspapers as being “for the local community”. Many people had given sacrificially to this project. The building was indeed being used by some larger wealthy community groups, but the church was charging about four times the rent that we were used to paying elsewhere. The rent was so high that we couldn’t actually run our small classes viably. We suggested that in lieu of these high rental fees, we teach a number of their congregation for free instead. Unfortunately the powers that be failed to agree so their rooms stayed empty, their musicians received no training, and their local community had to travel elsewhere for their lessons.

As you can see, this subject is treated very differently depending on the church. We’d love to know what happens in your situation. How does it work when fees are charged? What are the problems and opportunities you have faced?