The Piano Teachers’ Course

Currently in its 13th year, the Piano Teachers’ Course UK (PTC) is the longest-running course of its kind in this country, specifically designed for pianists and piano teachers who wish to enhance their professional teaching skills, come together for inspiration and become part of a motivated, supportive musical network.

Having previously visited several residential course weekends as an observer and guest tutor, I have been hugely impressed with the professionalism with which the one-year programme is run, and by the expertise and dedication that the PTC personnel offer.

I have also seen that the PTC shares very similar values to those that I espouse here on Pianodao. Those who have studied with me, who come to me for mentoring, or who simply enjoy reading my articles here will most likely feel very at home on the PTC course.

As the course continues to diversify its offer to include online access and an international reach, this seems a good time to catch up with the course’s founder and International Director, Lucinda Mackworth-Young, and UK Course Director Masayuki Tayama for a cup of tea and a chat on Zoom.

A Shared Vision

It’s great to catch up with Mackworth-Young and meet relative newcomer Tayama, who clearly shares her enthusiasm, making an excellent and fitting foil. Even though the interview is conducted “remotely”, there’s a tangible sense of both Mackworth-Young and Tayama’s positive energy and dynamic commitment and of the positive friendships at the heart of the course team.

Summing up her feelings about the course, and perhaps concerns about how it might be perceived from the outside or those thinking of signing up, Mackworth-Young tells me,

“The course is at the cutting edge, but I don’t want people to feel at all frightened by that.”

Emphasising the point that this is an accessible and inclusive course for any piano teacher, from any background, she goes on to explain,

“We fully understand the way that most people will have been trained, which is piece after piece, grade after grade… and at the end of the day you can’t play anything apart from around the few weeks when you are taking that grade. We think that this is so profoundly wrong. We are training people to be able to play the piano that’s there in the room, to sit down and play it at any time, whether or not they have their books with them.”

Chipping in to enthuse about the Pianodao Active Repertoire Project, which exemplifies Mackworth-Young’s point to a tee, she agrees,

“Exactly! That’s exactly what it’s about!”

The Piano Teachers’ Course is instrumental in helping piano teachers change their mindset through reflection, and by experiencing a more positive alternative…

“Let’s start where pupils are, and teach piano in a really relevant way, making it more and more inviting, even though that would have been very different to how our student teachers would have been trained themselves. So it’s an exciting venture, but we do not neglect the very best technical and stylistic considerations of the whole repertoire, so we are doing better than was done by us, and we are providing a more accessible way in.”

Developing a Complete Course

The origins of the PTC go back to the 1990’s. At that time, Lucinda Mackworth-Young began running a summer course called Music, Mind and Movement.

At the same time EPTA (the European Piano Teachers’ Association, of which she was a member) began a course which ran from January to June, fortnightly on Sundays. The aim of this course, too, was to enable piano teachers to come together for professional development.

In 2007, when Mackworth-Young was invited to become Director of the EPTA course, she wanted to merge these initiatives, with her core loves and values at its heart.

She recalls,

“There had always been, on the course, a wealth of different tutors bringing their own different expertise into piano teaching. But what we did was, we distilled the essence of this and formatted it into a course which was very logical in its progression, where teachers considered their own teaching from the very beginning, and watched themselves teach on video. That was a very important thing. And gradually, working with terrific colleagues such as Heli Ignatius-Fleet, Sally Cathcart, Graham Fitch, and more latterly Masa, Ilga Pitkevica, and Beate Toyka, we have put together this wealth of expertise, a great big boiling pot of it!

The PTC as it exists today evolved over many years, and continues to evolve. Mackworth-Young goes on to explain,

“The course has been refined, and has only been in its current form for about six years, but we began making it into its current form when we moved to the Purcell School. The big change was the move to the Purcell School, whereby it wasn’t a course that happened every other Sunday, but a course that happened on three residential weekends and several further study days throughout a whole academic year.”

Having outgrown and left EPTA, the course has opportunities for growth that would have been unlikely in the past, as Mackworth-Young confirms,

“We are now totally independent, and have our own body of Directors of the PTC UK Ltd. So we are a limited company, but we also founded a charitable branch because piano teachers don’t often have an awful lot of spare income to spend on their own professional development, and we feel incredibly strongly that professional development is crucial in piano teaching. So we started The Piano Teachers’ Course UK Trust to help raise funds and to be a charitable body to which people can donate, and thereby help more and more teachers train”

I have no doubt that Pianodao readers who are committed to supporting music teaching will want to contribute towards this wonderful cause, and at the end of the article there will be a link to the PTC site for further information.

A Robust Programme

So what can those signing up expect from the course? As a relative newcomer to the team, I wonder what Tayama considers to be the PTC’s key distinctives?

He tells me,

“I think one crucial element is the very robust timetable. We really do cover everything related to piano teaching, but always evolving! We have two modules, Module A which is more aimed towards teaching, in the first half of the year, and Module B, which is more focussed towards the teachers’ own performing.

And then there’s the teaching assignments, the video assignments where the students will submit three teaching videos of their own, that’s unique. Because that spans over a period of months. For the first two videos students get informal feedback, then the third is assessed. And there’s lots of writing too, most crucially the reflective evaluation. It is just as important to observe ourselves and reflect as it is to get feedback. It’s vital, and a very unique thing because it spans over months, so there is time to reflect on and apply new ideas.

And thirdly there’s the networking. This year we’ve had to go online, but still we found that in way we were sat up close, the names and faces registered quicker and we have a lively group, coming together to spend the time on site or online.”

Tayama enthuses about how these key elements of the PTC work together, and how the core team of tutors each bring their particular expertise into the frame, equipping and empowering those on the course to become the very best teachers they can be. And it’s clear that an immense camaraderie is shared between the current tutors.

Having observed the course, my view is that one of its many great strengths is the diversity of experience and knowledge that the tutors bring: many great minds, but with a single-minded desire to support teachers, uphold pedagogic and pianistic quality and improve educational opportunity.

The PTC Team, 2021

Returning to his point about the robust nature of the PTC programme, Tayama explains how the course covers all aspects of teaching from preparing beginner materials through to working with advanced students.

The course covers stylistic periods too, with sessions exploring baroque ornamentation, classical style, the development of the instrument and repertoire. The brilliant Nikki Iles delivers a session on jazz, Mackworth-Young is on hand to address aspects of educational and personal psychology, and there’s advice about how to grow and run a grass-roots piano teaching business from successful entrepreneur and PTC graduate, Kate Cossey.

The course has also now developed from offering solely the CertPTC certificate, to include a year’s course training people towards the DipABRSM, the LRSM and the ATCL and LTCL diplomas.

And underpinning all of this, another distinctive that Tayama is keen and right to draw attention to:

“Also everyone gets their own personal tutor, which isn’t just a formality – the tutors really do get relied on quite a bit, and its another distinctive element.”

Adapting to Online Delivery

In the last year, the course has had to quickly adapt to the world of lockdown and online delivery. Mackworth-Young recalls,

“This time last year, when we were due to give our April weekend and we were all in lockdown, and the Purcell School said “well, you can’t come to us”, we were thinking “what shall we do?”. And Sally [Cathcart] just said, “come on guys, we can do this”. And within no time, because she was so sure, we had a timetable that was completely changed, and all the students on board to do our first ever online weekend.”

That 2019-20 intake saw out the rest of the academic year online, and this year’s has been completely online from the start. Mackworth-Young regrets that there isn’t going to be a chance for the students to meet in person, but sees many positives too.

And Tayama put huge efforts into setting up and developing networking and social meetings on Zoom for all those following the course since the lockdowns began, maintaining the excellent student dynamic that has been a strong feature of the PTC over the years.

Mackworth-Young continues,

“And then as a result of that of course we do realise now that we are totally international, and this year we have people on the course from New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong…”

Going Global

Prior to the advent of the COVID pandemic, the PTC was already investigating opportunities for developing its outreach in other parts of the world.

Mackworth-Young had been approached by institutions in India, Malaysia, Singapore and China for a course, flights had been booked, and Mackworth-Young had restyled her role as “International Director” to explore these fresh opportunities.

Due to COVID, plans for members of the PTC tutor team to deliver courses in India and Hong Kong had to be put on hold, but with the UK course now finding itself online, it became clear that those relationship will perhaps focus on training local instructors in delivering, supporting and assessing local students in conjunction with an ongoing online delivery.

With proof of concept established, equipment identified and ordered, and the continuing evolution of course materials, this new blend on “online” and “global” reach is a potent one.

As Tayama tells me,

“Because from September this year we opened up to international students online, we gained the choice of being able to offer people the opportunity to attend on site when that’s possible again, or online. And the online students will get extra tutorials for the same fee. And everything is recorded now. And we found that people who signed up to come onsite were disappointed, but everyone seems to have got used to the format online, and they are much happier now, especially because of the extra online tutorials.”

The PTC team has developed a long list of resources that will be used for live streaming and disseminating video recordings of the sessions to those who aren’t on-site.

And online students taking part “live” can interact directly in sessions, just as anyone attending the course on site can.

Looking to the Future

At a time of such uncertainty, it is encouraging to see the PTC going from strength to strength in its commitment to fostering excellence in music education, rightly holding onto the core value that well-trained, equipped and motivated teachers are central to delivering effective learning opportunities.

From all I have seen, I have no hesitation at all in wholeheartedly recommending the PTC course to teachers who are able to commit to it. The course is a superb investment for life.

For those interested in finding out more, attending an Open Day or enrolling in the course, please visit the PTC website here:

Readers who would like to support the training of piano teachers with a donation to the PTC UK Trust fund can do so here:

Special thanks to Lucinda Mackworth-Young and Masayuki Tayama for their time and friendship.

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.

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