The Summer Holidays are coming!

Many of my students and teacher colleagues will no doubt be breathing tired sighs of relief at the prospect that they will soon be “on holiday” … a time not just for sandy beaches, but for taking a break from the routines and responsibilities that can crowd our lives throughout most of the year.

Even those of us who continue teaching in some capacity throughout July and August will no doubt enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere and warm evenings over the coming weeks, and hopefully be able to catch ourselves at least some time away from the job!

But I noticed early in my teaching career that, come September, my returning students had often all but forgotten how to play the piano! So that’s a concern…

The relaxation of August can give way to a rather depressing start to the Autumn Term. Is there any way that as teachers (and parents) we can address this common problem?

One common approach is for teachers to set students a summer challenge of one sort or another – and for those students who haven’t yet developed an Active Repertoire this might be the ideal moment to introduce the idea…

Continue reading The Summer Holidays are coming!

The Three Treasures of Musical Learning

Pathways for Teaching

We all have a “teaching philosophy”, whether we realise it or not.

Mine strongly advocates holistic, personalised, life-centred education. My model of The Three Treasures of Musical Learning is a key component to complement these values.

Paying attention to all Three Treasures – and at all stages of learning, from the youngest beginner to the most advanced professional – leads to deeper learning, fuelling progress and fostering a lifelong love relationship with music.

In this article I will explain what the Three Treasures are, and offer some tips on how focusing on them can help us develop as effective teachers.

Continue reading The Three Treasures of Musical Learning

Simplifying SEO for Piano Teachers

Guest Post by Sam Ficek

Sam Ficek has done a fine job of helping me maximise traffic on the Keyquest Music website, using basic Search Engine Optimisation tricks. Now he shares his know-how with the wider piano teaching community…

Continue reading Simplifying SEO for Piano Teachers

Simplifying GDPR for Piano Teachers

When Liz Giannopoulos contacted me about a month ago to offer a guest post about GDPR, my initial response was, “what’s that?”

It is a response that was echoed by many when Liz’s post was published here just a few days later. It quickly became apparent that many instrumental teachers, like me, didn’t know the first thing about GDPR, even though it comes into effect on May 25th 2018. I know that many are hugely grateful to Liz for her very clear introduction to the subject.

In the weeks since then, there has inevitably been a huge debate about GDPR, and no small amount of activity on the part of those of us who are concerned to run our teaching businesses on a professional and legal footing.

This post will consider some of the biggest questions teachers have been asking and – with further help from Liz and from piano teacher Joanne Snowden – will offer some updated and accessible answers to these practical concerns:

  • Do I need to register as a data controller with the ICO?
  • What do I get for the £35 registration fee?
  • Do I need to seek consent from data subjects?
  • How do I write a Privacy Notice, and what should be included?

There has been much confusion about these issues, and often the ensuing debate between teachers has seemed to miss the core value that data privacy is a basic right for us all.

GDPR is ultimately about caring for our students and clients.
It is about respecting their basic rights.
It is an act of kindness.

Alongside putting my students’ and clients’ needs first, taking time to reflect on how I use other peoples’ personal information (and why) has proven to be a genuinely helpful professional development exercise.

As piano teachers we often enjoy considerable autonomy – and don’t always welcome challenges to our independence – but taking time to reflect on our compliance to external professional standards is worthwhile in and of itself.

With that in mind, let’s now turn to some big questions that teachers have been asking…

Continue reading Simplifying GDPR for Piano Teachers

Making Every Lesson a Special Occasion

Pathways for Teaching

When I started teaching full time back in the 1990s, the best known teacher in my neighbourhood was Sidney Pope, a venerable older gentleman who tuned pianos by day and taught the local children once the schools turned out in the afternoon. Sidney continued teaching until his health finally gave out, and was a much loved and very able teacher.

I was a tuning client of Sidney’s, and when he learnt that I was entering the fray as a teacher he couldn’t have been more encouraging, referring pupils he couldn’t personally fit into his busy schedule, and generously sharing a lifetime’s advice.

This perplexingly included his list of rules for student conduct; rules which were certainly very thorough…

Teachers today tend to provide contracts that for the most part relate to parental behaviour – paying on time, not cancelling at the eleventh hour, and so on. Sidney’s rules pertained to the children themselves, outlining his expectations of practice, attitude in lessons, and even the clothing they wore.

In this regard, Sidney’s demands were crystal clear: boys’ shirts must be tucked in, and dresses or skirts were compulsory for the girls – no trousers!

Why, I wondered in my professional naivety, should girls not be allowed to wear trousers to their piano lessons in 1992?

Sidney patiently explained that piano lessons must be regarded as a special occasion, and that students benefitted from making an effort to dress up accordingly…

Continue reading Making Every Lesson a Special Occasion

It’s Time To Stop Practising & Start…?

Guest post by Roberta Wolff

Alternatives to an outdated word

I propose a new word…

The word ‘practise’ is insufficient, it provides

  • No insight into what the activity entails
  • No guidelines on how to be successful at it
  • Little in the way of mass appeal

As a teacher and writer, I am not in the habit of making up words. I find using words my students and readers already comprehend far more efficient. So, my research started with a thesaurus. Here is a summary of the synonyms listed for ‘practise’:

  • Execute
  • Knock off
  • Persevere
  • Take up
  • Labour,(eek!)

Obviously, they won’t do. There were a few others though:

  • Pursue
  • Develop
  • Create

Not bad, but still not the full picture. From this overview a realisation emerged. There isn’t a word already in existence that can update and improve on the word ‘practise’.

If I wanted a new word, I would have to make it myself.

Continue reading It’s Time To Stop Practising & Start…?

EVC @ the RAH

Pictured (from the left) – Andrew Eales, Elena Cobb, Lindsey Berwin and Heather Hammond.

We often hear of a decline in music education within UK state schools – and without doubt, over the last 25 years of teaching I have witnessed a steady but undeniable diminuendo in the musical life of local schools here, often despite best intentions.

How wonderful, then, to see buoyant evidence of enthusiasm for music among young people – as was most certainly and robustly the case when I attended the Elena Cobb Star Prize Event at the Elgar Room in London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall last week.

Here was a showcase of great playing delivered by young people from around the UK and beyond, each performing and clearly relishing music by a host of living writers, and in many cases in the very presence of those composers.

Continue reading EVC @ the RAH

Multi-Sensory Music Teaching

Guest post by Karen Marshall

Multi-sensory music teaching is just what it sounds like: using all the senses to teach and learn music. The main senses employed are visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (doing).

I would also add in reading and writing (text) as the literate nature of our world shows that many people find this useful, even those with dyslexia.

Multi-sensory music teaching can be seen in some of the most respected approaches to such work throughout the world including those of Dalcroze, Kodály, Suzuki and Orff. It can benefit all learners, including those with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia. In her key book Instrumental Music for Dyslexics: A Teaching Handbook (Whurr, 2002), Sheila Oglethorpe emphasizes this, encouraging people

“to employ as many of the child’s senses as possible in the hope that the stronger senses will compensate for the weaker ones”.

However, multi-sensory teaching shouldn’t be seen as a method to just use with students who have special needs – it has huge benefits for all…

Continue reading Multi-Sensory Music Teaching

A Free Certificate of Merit

With the generous permission of Collins Music and author/composers Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond, the Pianodao site has for some time been a host to the many creative and useful FREE resources that accompany the excellent Get Set! Piano series of tutor books.

And these have proved super-popular with both teachers and students!

So it’s a pleasure to let you know that there is a new addition to the growing resource-bank available for download here.

This certificate of merit is, according to Karen,

“… a general certificate of merit for the series which teachers can use as they please.  For some children there are some big achievements before they finish the book that need to be recognised.  The design is pretty beautiful and if put on card I think will be really special for children.”

And Karen is at pains to mention that the certificate would be useful regardless of whether you happen to use the Get Set! Piano series or not:

“It also could be used what ever method is being used – as Get Set! is a word that can simply be a general term linked with piano learning.”

So what are you waiting for? Here is the FREE download for you to save and print off:

Get Set certificate Piano Certificate of merit

Once again, it’s a pleasure to be able to share these resources on this site, and do check out the whole collection of them here!

Preparing for GDPR: A Piano Teacher’s Perspective.

I would like to thank Liz Giannopoulos for this exclusive article which will be of special interest and importance to all piano and instrumental teachers working in the UK.

Guest post by Liz Giannopoulos

Continue reading Preparing for GDPR: A Piano Teacher’s Perspective.

The Pianist’s Motivations

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

  • What is it that motivates us as pianists?
  • Why did we start learning to play the piano? ..
  • And why do we continue to play?
  • What are our piano goals for the future? ..
  • And how do they excite us?
  • How can we motivate and inspire our students?

Ask these questions to a hundred pianists, and there’s a good chance you will hear a hundred different answers – but some common themes will most likely emerge.

In this article I am going to consider the many and complex motivations we all experience in life, focussing in on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and how each pertains to our piano playing.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Motivations

Working Positively with Parents

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

Pushy Parent Syndrome

Is this something you are experiencing in your studio?

I recently attended a teacher meeting where a teacher was relaying her recent experiences with a very difficult parent of a young 6-year-old student. As I pondered the topic I realised that ‘pushy parent syndrome’, luckily, has not been something that I’ve recently encountered as regularly as in my young teaching years.

I felt it may be helpful to share some practices I’ve developed which have certainly made my teaching life far easier.

My approach is partly a conflict resolution one.  I would add its a “work in progress” – I would never claim to have all the answers and I’m still learning constantly after over 25 years of piano teaching!

I say conflict resolution because a relationship between a teacher and parent has potential for conflict, simply because the parent purchases the lessons and the child receives them. The relationship is a triangle – if anyone has ever had a dotted line with two managers you will know first-hand the problems that can cause.

  • The parent’s needs may be different to the child’s – conflict.
  • The parent’s expectations may be different to the abilities of the child – conflict.

Before you know it, you are jam-sandwiched between the child and the parent. So, what are the practical things I try to employ to make things easier and – most importantly – best for the student whilst maintaining good professional practices?

Continue reading Working Positively with Parents

Fancy Footwear?

My wife Louise and I recently visited my cousin and her husband for a delightful evening meal. At some point in the evening, conversation turned to footwear, and my cousin was appalled to learn that I often wear slippers when teaching in my home studio.

Inevitably, I was quickly ganged up on, the object of much mirth. To be honest, it was a bit harsh. Jibes included:

“How old did you say you are again – 87?”

Followed by,

“Do you wear pyjamas and a dressing gown too?”

And even …

“Are you trying to look like Hugh Heffner?”

Now I ask you, what kind of question is that?

Gamely, I tried to defend myself with:

“…but slippers are really comfortable when playing the piano…”

But of course this quickly led to:

“So do all your pupils bring slippers to wear too?”

Which got me thinking …

Continue reading Fancy Footwear?

Get Set! Piano Characters

Collins Music have just made available a brand new FREE resource to accompany and support the Get Set! Piano series, written by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond.

The latest additions to the stunning range of materials are a set of “Character” posters featuring the books’ popular Louis Legato, Suzie Staccato, Patrick Piano and Francesca Forte, as wonderfully illustrated by Julia Patton.

Each poster can be printed off as an A4 sheet to display in your teaching studio and use as a teaching and learning resource.

The complete set comes as a PDF file which Collins Music are generously offering on their own site, and by special permission, right here via Pianodao:

DOWNLOAD LINK.

Enjoy!

And many thanks indeed to the creators of Get Set! Piano and the lovely people at Collins Music.

You can also still find the full range of the Get Set! Piano downloads here.

And my review of the method books is here.

The Playful Piano Teacher

Are you a piano teacher? If so, let me ask you a question:

Do you enjoy your work? I mean – really enjoy it, all the time?

I’m fairly sure that most of us, if we are honest, will recognise that while we love our work in general, there are times where fatigue, impatience, distraction and even boredom can set in, even very fleetingly. And while we may feel a little guilty or inadequate in those moments, the reality is that in any job – however wildly fulfilling – we all experience “off days” and times when our heart isn’t quite so far into it as usual.

To counter the negative feelings that this can produce, I invite you to consider this wonderful quote from Buddhist teacher Haemin Sunim:

“Those who work in a playful, relaxed manner
tend to work efficiently and creatively;
Those who work non-stop, driven only by stress,
work without joy.”

Haemin Sunim, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down (2012)

In this post I am going to consider what it might mean to “work in a playful manner”, and how this could make all the difference for our students.

Continue reading The Playful Piano Teacher

The Musician’s Tool Bag

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

In my previous post, which you can read here, I considered the importance of reflecting, both in teaching and learning. As such, it was a thoughtful and ‘serious’ article. However, that is not necessarily the best way to approach teaching reflection to our students. Nothing engages the student and gets the message across like a bit of creativity and fun.

This article, therefore, is focused on incorporating reflection as part of the lesson and practice process.

The trouble with reflection is that it often seems long-winded. All the amazing advice along the lines of think 10 times play once is actually very hard to carry out. Whereas, it is very easy to get locked into a cycle of thinking with your fingers – at least then it sounds like something is happening!

In teaching students to incorporate reflection, unconscious learning with the support of tools to interrupt the spell of trial and error practice is immensely productive and enjoyable.

The Musician’s tool bag, The Box and the Language of Reflection are all ways to unconsciously build in reflection time.

Continue reading The Musician’s Tool Bag

Should we still teach students to hand-write music?

An article on the BBC News website last weekend highlighted an interesting controversy from the world of education: Do we need to teach children joined-up handwriting?

The issue is back in the news because the US state of Illinois has passed a law requiring school students to learn “cursive” – joined-up handwriting – overriding the governor’s veto.

Apparently, elsewhere in the US and in some other countries, schools have dropped the skill from the curriculum or made it optional.

Certainly some teachers and parents are concerned that the introduction of joined-up handwriting can prove to be a significant roadblock in childrens’ education.

And the BBC article points out that few adults ever use joined-up handwriting, and most of us rarely write by hand at all, except for the occasional shopping list or post-it note. The block hand-writing of a young child is sufficient for this, given that most of us use electronic devices, apps and software for any serious written communication.

And of course, the same arguments about educational roadblocks and 21st-century relevance might be made with regard to teaching music pupils to write fluent, accurate and detailed music notation by hand:  Should we be teaching students to write music by hand at all?

Continue reading Should we still teach students to hand-write music?

ABRSM Teacher Conference ‘17

EXCLUSIVE REPORT

Having been very impressed with last year’s ABRSM Teacher Conference, I attended again this year, and with high hopes – and wasn’t disappointed!

Once again, the event took place at London’s Grange Tower Bridge Hotel, a venue which itself lived up to the excellent impression made last year. The surroundings, organisation and – perhaps most importantly – the FOOD were all first rate!

As for the content of the day, once again this year there was something for everyone, although a particular focus was on the new Woodwind and Singing syllabi and resources published earlier in the year.

This inevitably led to a lesser focus on piano teaching than last time (presumably next year the piano will again be centre stage) but I found the day no less rewarding. So here’s my report…

Continue reading ABRSM Teacher Conference ‘17

The Problem with Method Books

Few topics generate as much heat online as discussion about which piano Method Book series is ‘the best’.

As a reviewer I have more than once found myself on the receiving end of some odd feedback on the subject. One teacher might chastise me for being in their view way too generous in my evaluation of a particular Method Book, while another responds to the same review as if I had just personally insulted their favourite grandma.

In this post I will explain why there will never be a truly perfect Method Book. We’ll consider a balanced curriculum, stare into the abyss of a world without Method Books at all, and hopefully come away with a better idea of how to use Method Books in a sensible, balanced way.

Continue reading The Problem with Method Books

“You Composed This!”

Guest post by Garreth Brooke

Those of us who grew up hearing stories of the young prodigy Mozart composing his first music aged 5, or Beethoven composing the 9th whilst already deaf, may be forgiven for sometimes assuming that composing is something rarified and mysterious, inaccessible for us ordinary folk.

But if the recent explosion of wonderful original solo piano compositions from the likes of Barbara Arens, June Armstrong, Alison Mathews and Nikolas Sideris and many others that have been featured on Pianodao teaches us nothing else, it is that composition is not reserved just for the transcendent few.

What’s more, there are many resources available that you can use to guide you through introducing composition to students.

These resources, combined with an encouraging attitude and a sense of humour, can make composing a really fun and educational activity that both you and your students will enjoy. Best of all, none of these resources require you the teacher to be a composer. All you need is an encouraging attitude and a willingness to experiment.

Below you will find a list of resources that will help you to introduce yourself and your students to composing, as well as some tips from Barbara, June, Alison and Nikolas.

Continue reading “You Composed This!”