Jobs 101: Cajón trainer

No, the cajón is not a chair, it is actually an instrument.

Cajón trainer Jovin Tan first played the cajón (pronounced ka-hone) only as a hobby. Little did she know that it would become her passion and, eventually, her career.

Today, Jovin teaches other music enthusiasts how to play the box-shaped percussion instrument. She also trained other cajon performers for BOX'OUT 2016, the largest cajón festival in Singapore.

On top of being a cajón trainer, Jovin regularly performs at events. In 2015, the bubbly 24-year-old performed at the Istana for former president Tony Tan at the President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award Ceremony.

Who: Jovin Tan, 24
Occupation: Cajón trainer
Studied: Diploma in Business at Temasek Polytechnic

Tell us more about yourself!

I used to be a dancer when I was in secondary school. That's when I really fell in love with music.

Unfortunately, I sustained an injury and couldn't dance anymore. I found the cajón as an alternative for performing and showcasing my talents.


Jovin (right) with Arthur Choo, the founder of BEAT'ABOX Group. 
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ WINSTON TAY

How and why did you become a cajon trainer? 

I first became interested in the cajón after meeting BEAT'ABOX Group founder Arthur Choo at an interest group. He invited me to perform at a showcase for youth. I had just graduated and did not have any plans so I thought, 'Why not?'.

Arthur gathered a group of us and taught us a basic performance piece. From then on, I started participating in more performances and fell in love with the cajón.

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At first, it was all voluntary and I was just having fun. Eventually, our co-founder, Elizabeth Tan, approached me and asked me about my plans for the future. I had planned on becoming a dance instructor, but since I was not able to anymore, I did not really have a plan.

That was when she offered me a job as a cajón trainer at BEAT'ABOX Group. I trained under another instructor, observing her workshops and learning from her. Soon enough, I moved on from just being a performer to assisting in workshops. Now, I teach my own classes.

I never expected this to become a career. It was and still is a passion of mine.


Today, Jovin (second from right) teaches her own classes.
PHOTO CREDIT: JOSHUA PWEE PHOTOGRAPHY

How long have you been doing this, and how has the industry changed? 

When I first started in 2013, no one knew what a cajón was. Some people even asked me if it was some type of weird chair.

It has become more popular in recent years, though. Since 2015, the cajon has become more popular, with many using it for gigs and busking.

The standard of playing has also improved a lot. When I was first introduced to the cajón, most people just played basic rhythms on it. Now, there are lots of accessories that are used with the cajón, like brushes, splash cymbals and shakers.

It's almost like having an entire drum kit in a box with a few extras.


"I didn't have any musical qualifications before, nor had I ever played any instruments before this."
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/WINSTON TAY

What's a typical day at work like for you? 

I usually start my day around 2pm and do some administrative work, form new classes and complete daily operations like allocating studios to specific classes and even cleaning up the studios. Classes start from about 6.30pm and I teach until about 9.30pm.


Jovin teaching a senior class in one of BEAT'ABOX Group's studios.
PHOTO CREDIT: BEAT'ABOX Group

What are some of the memorable experiences you had as a cajón trainer? 

One of my most memorable experiences as a cajón trainer was teaching in Ang Mo Kio Secondary School. I spent 14 hours a week there teaching in the mornings, on top of my regular hours at BEAT'ABOX Group. I worked about 12 to 13 hours a day for six weeks.

When I saw the kids playing and performing, it was the best take home for me. I've done this for the past two years, but this year was the most memorable because the kids were so hungry to learn.

Seeing my students go from not having any music background to reading scores, identifying beats and even solo performances is very rewarding.

What advice would you give to youths considering a career as a cajón trainer? 

Practise, practise, practise. Expand your music knowledge and explore other genres. Don't give up. Everything takes time and there is no shortcut to success, especially in music.

Educational requirements: Qualifications are not as important as having a background in music. Qualifications from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music are preferred.

Qualities needed: A passion for music and teaching is important, as well as responsibility and a willingness to learn.

Salary range: Basic salary starts at $1,500. With more experience, the salary increases, ranging from $2,000 to $4,000.

Working hours: Five hours a day, depending on class schedules. Classes usually run on weekday nights and weekends.

Career prospects: You can advance from a trainer to a master trainer.

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/WINSTON TAY