A Common Approach 2022

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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Originally published in 2002, A Common Approach is perhaps the ultimate instrumental music teaching manual, offering a complete curriculum and extensive lesson activities for most instruments, including separate schemes of work for piano and electronic keyboard.

Now it has just been fully revamped and made available as an updated, free online resource to support instrumental teachers everywhere. Whether working privately or in a school, all piano and keyboard teachers would do well to have a look at this extensive and superb material.

According to its publishers Music Mark,

“A Common Approach is an online resource to support music educators in their teaching practice and help develop a holistic approach to music education. Relevant to all vocal and instrumental teaching, including individual, small-group, large-group and whole-class lessons, music educators at all stages of their career can use the support and shared learning found in A Common Approach.”

Music Mark Chief Executive Bridget Whyte tells us,

“Twenty years after the original version of A Common Approach was published, Music Mark has worked with a skilled team of music tutors from across the UK to update and enhance this valuable teaching tool. Containing both universal guidance and instrument-specific content, this online resource not only provides a great starting point for trainee and early-career tutors, but also gives those who are more experienced the opportunity to reflect on their practice.”

This has particular interest to me because back in 2002, I was a member of the national steering group who put together the original version of A Common Approach which provides the ongoing foundation of this update.

It’s therefore time both to take a short stroll down memory lane, and to consider how the updated version of this milestone resource can help piano teachers today…

Continue reading A Common Approach 2022

How to Practise Music: The Handbook

THE PIANODAO BOOKSHELF
Books For Musicians, Educators & Enthusiasts

All products featured on Pianodao are independently selected by Andrew Eales.
However, when you buy something through the site’s retail links, Pianodao may earn a small commission, without affecting the price you pay.


I am thrilled to announce my first publication with Hal Leonard, described by the publishers as:

“The essential, pocket-sized companion for every musician. Accessible and authoritative, How to Practise Music is an ideal guide for anyone learning to play music. Suitable for instrumentalists and vocalists of any genre, this comprehensive handbook will give you a better idea of how to practise music, good reasons for doing so, and the confidence to succeed. “

The book is now available in both UK and US versions (Practice/Practise!):


The book is also available digitally for Amazon Kindle and Apple Books.

In this post I will give you an exclusive first look…

Continue reading How to Practise Music: The Handbook

The Active Repertoire Challenge 2022

ACTIVE REPERTOIRE PROJECT
The Music You Enjoy Playing, Any Time, Any Place.



For 2022, many piano players are ready to embrace a fresh musical focus and revitalised piano goals. Whether frustrated by lack of playing in the last year or pleased with progress made, we all want to embrace the most motivated, positive version of ourselves at the piano.

Thankfully, there is an answer…

Continue reading The Active Repertoire Challenge 2022

Teaching Adults to Play the Piano

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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There has been an interesting and persistent debate in recent months about whether adult students can effectively teach themselves to play the piano (tapping into the growing plethora or apps, books, etc), or whether there is an essential ongoing need for a teacher’s involvement. I have addressed this in my recent article Who Needs Piano Lessons Anyway?

But while there’s no shortage of arguments for learning with a “good teacher”, many seem to struggle finding one who is sympathetic to their goals and in tune with the needs of adult learners.

In this post I will therefore share some of the strategies which have worked for me over the last three decades of teaching these enthusiastic learners.

Continue reading Teaching Adults to Play the Piano

Andor Földes on being a ‘Child Prodigy’

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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The pianist Andor Földes (1913-1992) was one of the great child ‘prodigies’ of the early twentieth century, making his public debut performing a Mozart concerto with the Budapest Philharmonic in 1921 when he was just 8 years old, and entering the Liszt Academy (where he studied with the great Ernst von Dohnányi and Béla Bartók) before he was even a teenager.

Földes went on to enjoy a hugely successful concert and recording career, as well as writing several books, including the seminal Keys to the Keyboard (1950, sadly no longer in print, but an exceptionally wise and notably humane book).

Continue reading Andor Földes on being a ‘Child Prodigy’

Musical Achievement, Assessment and Motivation

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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A RESPONSE TO ABRSM

With a single Tweet, the exam board ABRSM have in the last week provoked what they have themselves described as a “passionate debate”.

Defending their stance, ABRSM have subsequently confirmed that these are the words of their Chief Examiner, John Holmes, quoted from his presentation at this year’s Music Education EXPO event in London:


In the context of his talk, Holmes will no doubt have made many other points, adding balance and nuance to his position. That said, his view of a “virtuous circle of motivation” was surely not made up on the spot. We must accept this as his well-rehearsed position on the nature of and relationship between musical achievement, assessment and intrinsic motivation.

Discussion of these important concepts must be welcomed. As teachers it is our basic responsibility to question ideas, absorb good material, develop subject knowledge and promote better understanding. I should add that we also have a duty to confront that which might genuinely harm our students.

These issues are of course also of interest and importance to the parents of any child learning to sing or play a musical instrument. In contributing this response, I hope my thoughts might be considered both by teachers and by parents who are rightly keen to understand their childrens’ progress.

Together, let’s begin to unpack some of the many positive ways that we can all celebrate our childrens’ and our own adult achievements.

Continue reading Musical Achievement, Assessment and Motivation

The Future of ABRSM Grades?

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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In the last couple of weeks I have come across two well argued letters in the music press, the first by Alex Aitken and published in the September 2021 issue of Music Teacher magazine, the second by Pauline Carter and appearing in the October issue of the BBC Music Magazine.

Both letter writers lament a perceived decline in music education, singling out ABRSM as being uniquely responsible for this malaise. Their charge is probably unavoidable, and not without merit bearing in mind that ABRSM are in their own words,

“…the UK’s largest music education body, and the world’s leading provider of music exams.”

The diametrically different solutions each of the two propose points to the serious challenge ABRSM now face in charting a path that reconnects with all of their stakeholders, wins wide support, and restores confidence in their ability to (as they put it) “inspire musical achievement”.

It is certainly beyond doubt that many in music education are reflecting anew on the role, relevance and value of music exams:

What is the future of ABRSM grades?

I am coming to the view that it’s time to focus on a live performance assessment and scrap divisive “support tests” and other prerequisites from grade exams. Done well, this could raise a bar which does seem to have been steadily slipping in recent years, while better matching the real-world priorities of the 21st century.

When ABRSM announced their “Performance Grades” a few months back, I admit that I was skeptical. But having listened carefully to a range of opinion, I now believe that making the performance of music the whole focus of graded assessments could prove unifying, and makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. Let’s consider three of particular significance…

Continue reading The Future of ABRSM Grades?

Which Piano Exam Board 2021?

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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Taking grade exams on the piano has for many been a rite of passage, and many teachers and parents convey an expectation that they are an important landmark in any pianist’s journey. Whatever one’s view of this, it is no surprise that so many of the questions, comments and requests made on internet forums concern the different exam boards available.

Five equally accredited boards operate internationally from a UK base, giving rise to endless comparisons and discussions, often generating more heat than light. This article is a sincere attempt to offer the latter, providing a level playing field for each of the five boards to present themselves in their own words, outline what they offer and their recent developments.

The following pages, one for each board, will supplement this information with links to Pianodao’s independent syllabus reviews, and a representative sampling of the customer feedback users of each board have generously provided in response to the recent Pianodao reader survey.

Continue reading Which Piano Exam Board 2021?

Musicians Who Teach

THE PIANODAO BOOKSHELF
Books For Musicians, Educators & Enthusiasts

All products featured on Pianodao are independently selected by Andrew Eales.
However, when you buy something through the site’s retail links, Pianodao may earn a small commission, without affecting the price you pay.


Faber Music’s latest publication is a slim book called The Essential Handbook for Musicians Who Teach.

Written by singing teacher, researcher and lecturer Dr. Kerry Boyle and Diane Widdison, formerly National Organiser for Education and Training at the MU, the book is aimed at any musician teaching in the UK, whatever the context, and offers a wealth of generic advice covering the many practical aspects of earning money from instrumental/singing teaching.

I’ll look at the content in detail, and let’s find out whether this new handbook is indeed “essential”….

Continue reading Musicians Who Teach

The Piano Teachers’ Course

ANDREW EALES in conversation with LUCINDA MACKWORTH-YOUNG and MASAYUKI TAYAMA of the PIANO TEACHERS’ COURSE UK


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.

Continue reading The Piano Teachers’ Course

The Post-Pandemic Piano Player

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over.
But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

As I write this, we are starting to consider and look forward to the relaxation of lockdown rules in the coming weeks, with a hope that schools will resume in March and most other activities by Easter. Being cautious, I had anticipated the probability of a return of face-to-face lessons by mid-summer, but it now seems possible that life will begin returning to some-kind-of-normal sooner. Hooray!

• But what will we all have learnt in the last year?
• How will we have changed in general, and as piano players?
• And in what ways might the teaching and learning of the piano have been fundamentally and permanently altered?

Continue reading The Post-Pandemic Piano Player

Returning “…from Chopin’s Land”

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

MUSIC FROM CHOPIN’S LAND
In 2020, I was commissioned by PWM Edition to record five films showcasing Polish piano music. I was captivated by new musical discoveries, asked to see a wider selection, and have subsequently continued to independently review and introduce this repertoire to Pianodao readers…


At the start of this series I gave an account of my surprise 2020 visit to Poland, and in subsequent articles I have discussed some of the best piano music I discovered on my trip, together with the tutorial films that I and a team of international colleagues created to showcase this music to the piano teaching community worldwide.

As the series draws to a close, I would like to share a couple more books that were featured in the PWM promotion, as well as a series of three special collections which actually bear the project name, Music from Chopin’s Land.

And then the punchline! I will end this final post in the series with a short reflection on the lasting lessons I have learnt about piano pedagogy following on from my visit to Chopin’s land…

So, firstly, a few extra reviews and videos for your interest and enjoyment…

Continue reading Returning “…from Chopin’s Land”

Making Peace with your Inner Musician

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
Setting Our Piano Journey In Its Living Context.


At time of writing, many around the world are celebrating Diwali, the festival of lights which signifies victory over darkness, and a beacon of hope that speaks to the heart of our present condition.

Digging out and dipping into my copy of the Bhagavad Gita, one of India’s most important sacred texts, the following verse jumped off the page:

“Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do.”

Bhagavad Gita (2.48)

This set me wondering: to what extent do ‘results’ cause anxiety in my own life?

Continue reading Making Peace with your Inner Musician

Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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“If we begin to think about our goals in life as destinations, as points to which we must arrive, this thinking begins to cut out all that makes a point worth having.
It is as if instead of giving you a full banana to eat, I gave you just the two tiny ends of the banana – and that would not be, in any sense, a satisfactory meal”.

Alan Watts: What is Tao?

Over the many years I have been teaching the piano to children, one of the most common enquiries from parents is this:

“What goal can my child be working towards?”

More often than not, it turns out that they would like me to move their child onto an exam-driven footing rather than simply allowing them to wander more freely in the meadows of musical wonderment.

Interestingly enough, far fewer adult learners make this point. We should really consider why this is, and how useful goal setting might really be…

Continue reading Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

16 Attributes of a Good Teacher

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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With these striking words, the contemporary Daoist author Deng Ming-Dao invites us to consider how our personal qualities can help us be the best people, and by extension, the best teachers that we can be:

“Those who follow Dao believe in using sixteen attributes on behalf of others: mercy, gentleness, patience, non attachment, control, skill, joy, spiritual love, humility, reflection, restfulness, seriousness, effort, controlled emotion, magnanimity, and concentration. Whenever you need to help another, draw on these qualities.”

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations, 188 (Harper Collins)

So let’s be clear from the start: what is on offer here is the secret of how to be successful in helping others, in any context. A lot of us will devote much of a lifetime to discovering the answers which are presented right here. But how about applying this directly to our work as piano teachers?

In this post I am going to look at each of these attributes in turn, briefly exploring the powerful links that exist between a teacher’s character and the quality and effectiveness of their teaching…

Continue reading 16 Attributes of a Good Teacher

Discovering MTB Exams (part 2)

In Part One of this major feature, I interviewed Music Teachers’ Board Chief Examiner Mark Kesel. The article certainly generated a lot of interest, and as a piano teacher I am myself very excited by the innovation and stimulating vision promised by the MTB.

For one thing, the idea of being able to take a graded exam any day of the year is a real boon for those of us who don’t want to spend months working on and listening to the same three pieces ad infinitum. I feel that this simple innovation could revolutionise teaching and learning, providing scope for students to develop better momentum, engagement, and to progress far more quickly without being held back by the schedule of an exam board

Combine this with the no-fuss ability to take graded exams using a simple app in the lesson, and the fact that the MTB allow candidates to play any three pieces of their own choice so long as they are appropriate for the grade, and here is an exciting opportunity for learners to move away from an exam-driven mentality and embrace their own personalised piano journey, without losing the benefits of independent, fully accredited assessments along the way.

But I’m not one to simply jump on every latest trend or fad; ABRSM have been a friend on my musical journey for more than 40 years and I have used their exams almost exclusively with my students. Were ABRSM continuing to meet the needs of my students, I wouldn’t lightly make a decision to switch board.

When looking for advice and support, the Pianodao Tea Room is the natural place to ask, its members always willing to share their experiences in a friendly way. I knew several members had tried MTB exams with their students in recent months, and several were willing to share their experiences…

Here then are four teacher interviews I arranged, which answered my own questions and will, I hope, help you find answers to yours…

Continue reading Discovering MTB Exams (part 2)

Discovering MTB Exams (part 1)

An Interview with MTB Chief Examiner Mark Kesel

For music teachers and students struggling through the last five months, with the UK in lockdown, there has been a significant preoccupation with the problem that music examining boards have been struggling to adapt to the situation.

On the social media platforms and forums where I am active, I have seen regular and very significant complaints about all three of the traditional boards here in the UK. But throughout these challenges, one fully accredited music exam board has stood out from the crowd by a country mile.

Many teachers hadn’t even heard of the Music Teachers’ Board at the start of the year. But this changed overnight with the appearance of effective targeted advertisements online trumpeting a bold claim:

“MTB’s Grade 1-8 exams are to continue without disruption during this difficult period.”

The progression from intrigue to full commitment has been startling, many teachers who were formally loyal to ABRSM or one of the other boards posting online to praise the MTB Exams having tried them out and had hugely positive experiences.

Determined to get to the bottom of this, I tracked down MTB’s Chief Examiner Mark Kesel for this remote interview. And in a second feature I talk to some of those teachers who have tried out these exams with their students, asking them about their experiences.

So buckle up and enjoy the ride…

Continue reading Discovering MTB Exams (part 1)

ABRSM Piano Scales 2021

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
Supporting Your Teaching • PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING


With the publication of their 2021-22 Piano Syllabus (reviewed in full here), ABRSM have given their scales requirements a significant overhaul, also publishing new scales books and resources.

In this review I will consider three main areas of this development:

  1. The new syllabus requirements
  2. The new ABRSM Piano Scales & Arpeggios books
  3. Scale Explorer for Piano – a new series of five graded books written for ABRSM by Alan Bullard

Let’s get straight to it…

Continue reading ABRSM Piano Scales 2021

Adapting to Change

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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Change sometimes takes us by surprise, a bolt from the blue, and in the early months of 2020 we have all experienced a jolt to our way of life as countries around the world quickly followed each other into lockdown.

As the dust settles and we try to adapt to “the new normal”, many are now wondering how these changes will continue to affect us, and what they mean. We are feeling uneasy about the future, and unsure of our footing.

Here in the West, we sometimes assume change is a linear process, an ongoing narrative in which we continually face the unknown, but with no going back. We measure our success in terms of our annual growth targets, believing that unless we progress “onwards and upwards” we will fail.

For the Daoists however, change is cyclical, often understood in the natural context of the turning seasons and the rotation of day and night. There is similarly a natural expansion and contraction of all things, seen for example in the ebbing of the tides, the wax and waning of the moon.

I believe that these metaphors are really helpful; they can give us hope. They encourage us to accept life’s “ups and downs”, pliably and positively adapting to them. In contrast to western materialism, Daoism teaches that there is a rightful time to contract, consolidate, and rest: all of which are necessary for our well-being.

In this context, there really is no “new normal” because we are all on a continuing journey. Nothing in the universe stands still. But at the same time, it certainly seems that history has a peculiar habit of repeating itself. Fixed plans and linear growth targets only succeed when all else is essentially in a state of entropy, but this is historically rare and actually a bit weird.

The upheaval of 2020 presents us with a unique opportunity to reflect on this. How then can we “go with the flow”, “roll with the punches”, and adapt to change?

In this article I will consider this question primarily from the point of view of a pianist and teacher, but beyond my thoughts on how to adapt our playing and teaching, there is much here that equally pertains to our living.

Continue reading Adapting to Change

Piano Teaching and the Art of Criticism

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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“Advice is like the snow. The softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon and the deeper it sinks into the mind”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

One of the key roles of a piano teacher is to help their students make direct improvements in their playing. To do this we must identify the priority areas that need attention, hopefully without turning into the scolding teacher in the photo above!

In this article I will share some suggestions on how to offer helpful criticism, encouraging positive progress and enthusiastic learning.

I will cover the following points:

  • Why Accuracy Matters
  • The Piano Teacher as “Critical Friend”
  • Golden Tips for Giving Constructive Feedback

Listening to our students play and offering suggestions for improvement is certainly not the whole of a piano teacher’s work, but in many lessons it will be a central feature…

Continue reading Piano Teaching and the Art of Criticism

The Pianist’s Resolution

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
Setting Our Piano Journey In Its Living Context.


The start of any new year or season is for many a time for making resolutions: a time for ambition, grit and determination.

Whether it’s a fresh commitment to healthy eating and exercise, or a renewed self-discipline in setting aside time to practise the piano, this is a month where many make a decision to turn a new leaf.

But how can we foster perseverance and ultimately success?

Continue reading The Pianist’s Resolution

Can we really trust educational research?

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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I recently came across an article by Elizabeth Gilbert of the University of West Virginia and Nina Strohminger of Yale University presenting their findings that only a third of published psychology research is reliable.

Another article confirms that in the field of biomedicine (the basis of so much news coverage of medical advances) less than 50% of research proves reliable when the “reproducibility factor” is applied.

And astonishingly, we read elsewhere that “just 11% of preclinical cancer research studies could be confirmed”.

We might well speculate as to why such a body of inaccurate “research” is being published; certainly there are important questions here. And let’s be clear that it is academics themselves who are drawing attention to the problem, and expressing frustration.

If psychological and medical research are this unreliable, shouldn’t we also be concerned about the “research” that underpins educational theories and methods?

Continue reading Can we really trust educational research?

Hear, Sing, Play, Read, Write?

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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Over the years I’ve repeatedly encountered the suggestion that music should be taught in much the same way as we have tended to assume language is acquired.

Advocates of this theory point out that:

  • Firstly as babies we hear words;
  • Soon we start to mimic them;
  • In time, we learn to speak fluently;
  • Later (perhaps several years later), we are taught to read;
  • And then to write.

I’m not a linguistics expert, but I suspect that this linear sequence is somewhat over-simplistic. In any case, it is adapted by some to propose this music education equivalent:

Hear  →  Sing  →  Play  →  Read  →  Write

It has long seemed to me that finding any direct or useful equivalent between musical learning and theories of language acquisition is more difficult than some suggest. And like many experienced teachers, I have observed that those taught according to this notion don’t always develop into good music readers.

In this short article I will flirt with the complexities here by asking three important questions:

  1. How do music and language seem to behave differently?
  2. How does informal learning prepare us for formal tuition?
  3. Does learning always follow the same one-way sequence?

As with the initial proposition, direct answers to such questions are elusive; perhaps it is sufficient to simply acknowledge their existence. But let’s take a brief trip to this hinterland together…

Continue reading Hear, Sing, Play, Read, Write?

Breathing with Bach

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


Lesson Notes is an occasional series of blog posts reflecting on specific lessons I have given and the particular issues that arose and were addressed.

Eva (not her real name) learnt to play piano as a child, but took an extended break in early adulthood. A few years ago she returned to playing. Since coming to me for lessons she has completed the higher ABRSM grades and gained a DipABRSM performance diploma.

Eva continues coming for a 90 minute consultation lesson once a month. Her focus is on expanding her repertoire, and at present she is working on Bach’s Partita No.1 in B flat major.

In this lesson, we address the importance of the breath in alleviating shoulder tension, using three dance movements from the Partita as example repertoire.

Continue reading Breathing with Bach

Compassionate Boundaries

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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“It’s hard for us to understand that we can be compassionate and accepting while we hold people accountable for their behaviours. We can, and, in fact, it’s the best way to do it…
We can confront someone about their behaviour, fire someone, or fail a student, or discipline a child without berating them or putting them down. The key is to separate people from their behaviours – to address what they’re doing, not who they are.”

Brené Brown, Ph.D, LMSW
The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden Publishing, 2010)


Online forums see daily requests for advice and support from teachers who are struggling with tricky pupil and parent relationships.

For piano teachers, the problem often seems to stem from a lack of agreed boundaries around issues such as prompt fee payment, lesson attendance, punctuality, respectful behaviour and effective, regular practice.

How do we balance on the one hand enforcing contractual obligations and appropriate behavioural expectations and, on the other hand, offering compassionate support, putting musical learning needs first, and positively enthusing our pupils?

I would suggest that the only effective balance here is to give 100% to both.

Continue reading Compassionate Boundaries