21 Things I Learned From Teaching Full Time While Touring With a Rock Group

I originally wrote this back in 2012 when my ska-rock band, The Sidewalks, were actively gigging and touring eastern and central Canada but never published it. Much of the observations and “advice” here is very tongue-in-cheek but may help you in your decision to pursue this or not. Or maybe you are already doing it!

21 Things I Learned From Teaching Full Time While Touring With A Rock Group | Have you ever been in this situation or are close to being in it? You should consider these 21 "tips" when touring with your rock group on weekends and during the summer. Even if you are looking for a little bit of humour to brighten up your day, this post is for you. Check it out!

FLASHBACK TO 2012

Being a K-6 music teacher during the day and a touring musician by night is pretty interesting. Based on my actual experiences, I compiled this list of helpful hints and advice to guide anyone already in the beginning stages of a similar situation or thinking of taking on a touring band gig in addition to their full time teaching job:

  1. It is possible to fall asleep at a very loud rock show in Moncton on a Friday night because your school is a 40 minute drive from where you live and you were up at 5:45 that morning. Your bandmates will not understand but it just needs to happen.
  2. It is rather insane to think that you might get some prep work done on the road. Having a “touring musician lesson” on where you went for the tour is a great cover-up for not having done any prep over March break. This being said, I had made up an entire Beatles unit while driving between Hamilton and Ottawa with my Blackberry (I was one of the last to hold onto this piece of Canadian history) at my side. It is just what needs to be done sometimes.
  3. To many teachers, be there at 8:15 means be there at 8. To other teachers, it means be there at 8:15, and to others still it means 8:30. To touring musicians, be there at 8:15 means we might get started if everyone is there at around 9:30. There have been many times where I have shown up early to a rehearsal or a load-in and no one else is there until well after the time we all agreed on being there. As well, load in and sound check times are planned anticipating that the band will be late. Never show up on time.
  4. 10:30PM on a week night is not late for touring musicians – but it is for you.
  5. Doing a show on a week night means that your students will hate you the next day. I always have to warn my students that if I get unreasonably upset because I am running on little to no sleep. Some kids get enough flak from home and the last place they need it is at school and especially for no good reason. This helps in reminding them how awesome you are for being in a band. This being said, warning the students before-hand can cause them to be really tense throughout the lesson. Use your judgement with this.
  6. There are some really terrible bands out there. Being a music teacher, I am rarely impressed by bands but some just don’t make any sense. It makes me feel really good when “real” musicians don’t play as well as my elementary school rock band.
  7. Your students will think you are a real rock star until you tell them that you play the trombone.
  8. Many people have no idea what a trombone is. There are so many times where I have told someone that I play the trombone in a ska band only to have them ask me if that is the one “with the three buttons.” This even happens at shows where I have just played a set. It made me want to pursue a personal mission to make sure every one of my students knows what a trombone is.
  9. Drinking coffee is a basic survival skill. This is true for both teaching and a touring musician.
  10. Burping loudly while teaching and trying to ignore it is a bad idea. Burping with touring musicians is encouraged. Both of these get the same reaction.
  11. Disguising an opportunity to play your music for your students as a “freeze dance” game is ingenious. So is using album give-aways as an incentive for good behaviour.
  12. Trying to explain what ska music is to students is annoying. First you have to explain that it is “sped up reggae” then you have to explain what reggae is. Finding time to mention the band every once and a while lets the students remember how awesome you are.
  13. People in Belleville Ontario are nice. It is the kind of town that makes you want to be a much more generous and kind teacher.
  14. Long & McQuade is a life-saver and the one in Toronto is like heaven. I have never seen so many trombones in one room in my life. There were trombones I had never heard of and it even included a mini S.E. Shires custom shop. (nerd)
  15. March Break is really a tour break. Conversely, so is summer. I am lucky to have band-mates who respect what my schedule is and only plan tours when I am available. While they took three weeks off from work during the summer for touring, I didn’t have to book anything off. If I did not have such understanding band-mates, there would just be no way I could be in the band.
  16. Flying into Toronto from Charlottetown just to play a gig and telling your students makes them think you are AC/DC until they ask what instrument you play.
  17. There is a good chance that if you stay at a hotel on tour you will run into one of your students at an “off island” wrestling tournament. Of all places, it happened in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. When I got back on Monday after that festival show one of my students said that there was a band playing outside in the middle of the night so she couldn’t sleep. Little did she know that it was my band keeping her up.
  18. Being a teacher on tour, you are generally up before everyone else. There have been countless times where I have gotten up, had breakfast served, and three cups of coffee before anyone else has even come downstairs from the hotel room. This is normal, you are not a psycho.
  19. You are kidding yourself if you think that sleeping in a hotel is normal on tour. There were many times you will sleep on a cement floor or in the van only to awkwardly realize that you just slept in a parking lot of a daycare centre in a van with 4 other guys.
  20. Weekends don’t actually exist. You may think that Friday means you get to relax the next day but if you are in a touring band it means that you will be getting picked up after teaching all day and going to Halifax to play a show and then a playing a show in Saint John the following day. All of Sunday is usually spent driving and stopping for long breaks to eat for some reason.
  21. If you play ska music, chances are that people in Montreal already know your music and will sing along to your music at the first gig you have in that city.

FLASH FORWARD TO 2017

When I look back on how busy and crazy this double life became, I am very thankful that I did it.  I would do it all the same way again if I was given the chance to start over. The skills I learned, the friends I made and the stories I have from touring with this band have been invaluable. Many of these skills I was able to translate into my teaching career to help benefit my learners in the classroom. Working sound, strategies for improvising, and writing original music are all skills I learned while being in this band that I have used with my students. We had broken up for a period of time because it became too much of a chore for a good chunk of us. The fun had been sucked right out of it. Now, we are playing together again and being really choosey about our shows we play and taking our time writing some new material. We are all in different places in our lives and since then have gained an additional member and half of us are now full time teachers!

If you have the opportunity to live this double life, I say do it. Just keep these 21 “tips” in mind.

Have any of you tried doing this? Tell me your story!

Happy Musicking!

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