Your Story: Christopher Norton

Your Stories

New Zealand-born, now Canadian-based composer and pianist Christopher Norton is known the world over for his best-selling educational music, including the MicrojazzConnections and Preludes series.

Here he reveals how he discovered music in his youth …

Continue reading Your Story: Christopher Norton

Hey Presto!

Interview with Marcel Zidani

Marcel Zidani’s Hey Presto! is billed as a “first piano lessons” book for older beginners aged 11 and upwards.

The subtitle – pedal your way to piano perfection– reveals something of the book’s unique approach, and like many I was intrigued when it first appeared a couple of summers ago.

Reviewing Hey Presto! at the time, I found much to love about Marcel’s method and music, while noting a few minor concerns. Since then, Marcel has responded to the feedback received from teachers and is now back with a thorough reworking of the concept and a brand-new edition of Hey Presto!

So what better time to catch up with Marcel for a chat, find out what motivates Hey Presto! and ask how he has improved on the original publication…

Continue reading Hey Presto!

Strong Foundations for Playing at Sight

Guest post by Liz Giannopoulos

Over the past few months I’ve undertaken the challenge to improve the sight-reading ability of my students and help the tutors in the Encore Music team to find new and creative ways to teach sight-reading.

As most of our students are children, this research – and this article – is child-centric but much can still be applied to older learners.

Continue reading Strong Foundations for Playing at Sight

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

Piano Tales for Alice

World Exclusive Preview:  Sheet Music Review

The rise and rise of EVC Music Publications as an exciting and innovative music publisher can’t have escaped the notice of any player or teacher active on social media, and like many I have watched their emergence over the last three years or so with growing interest.

I have previously praised a number of EVC Music’s publications. The Jevdet Hajiyev: Piano Collection 1 was particularly enterprising, and I am enthusiastic for Andrew Higgins’ excellent Birds: Études-Tableaux and the recent reissue of Graham Lynch’s wonderful Sound Sketches series. And I was delighted to report that the EVC Music Star Prize Event at the Royal Albert Hall last month was such a resounding success!

With the publication of Piano Tales for Alice – a brand new collection of easy pieces by acclaimed jazz performer and composer Nikki Iles – it seems to me that EVC Music has unequivocally arrived as a mature and significant force in music publishing.

Building on their activities thus far, with this publication EVC Music has hit the jackpot, bringing to market a genuine classic.

Let’s take a world exclusive preview look …

Continue reading Piano Tales for Alice

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…?

Alison Mathews’ “Doodles”

Sheet Music Review

Alison Mathews’ excellent collection Treasure Trove has proved a big hit with my students who have been working through it, and I’m delighted that publishers Editions Musica Ferrum have now brought out another collection composed by her: Doodles.

It is very clear straight away that this publication explores very different terrain to Treasure Trove however.

So what is the concept here, and do I think it works?
Let’s find out…

Continue reading Alison Mathews’ “Doodles”

ABRSM “Piano Star”: The Review

Sheet Music Review

ABRSM’s three Piano Star books (published Autumn 2016) have been a huge and well-deserved success, appealing to children and their teachers alike.

So I was thrilled to hear that there would be two more additions to the series (which have just been published) – Piano Star: Five-Finger Tunes, and Piano Star Grade 1.

According to ABRSM:

The new books, Piano Star: Five-Finger Tunes and Piano Star: Grade 1, are packed with a wealth of useful teaching material which children will love to play.

The Piano Star series is part of ABRSM’s commitment to producing a wider range of early years resources and aims to inspire young pianists and help them to develop their musical skills. The five Piano Star books are designed to take young pianists from the end of their first tutor book to Grade 1 standard.

The series now offers over 120 new compositions and arrangements from leading educational composers and are brought to life with imaginative titles, eye-catching full colour illustrations and fun activities.

Let’s take a look at each of the two books, and see what they add to this popular series.

Continue reading ABRSM “Piano Star”: The Review

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

Child’s Play: Why do parents send children to music lessons?

Guest Author: Simon Reich

There we sat in the dark. My Mum and I had been looking at the local Church hall for half an hour now and nobody had arrived, the building still in darkness.

I could tell my mum was getting more and more upset as the minutes ticked by. But to understand the full gravity of the situation, we now found ourselves in, we need to go back in time a little bit.

Continue reading Child’s Play: Why do parents send children to music lessons?

Returning to Learning

September 2017 Reflection

What can piano teachers learn from stepping into the shoes of the beginner and taking up a new skill or pastime? Quite a lot, in my experience…

Like many adults, I periodically look to introduce a new discipline or hobby into my life. And as a teacher, it is always fascinating to put myself in the position of student.

The latest activity to find its way onto my list of exploits is Pilates, the exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates and often mentioned in the same breath as Yoga (though I think, quite different!)

This lot are learning Pilates too. They look happy, don’t they?

Pilates-1

And certainly I was hoping that I would find Pilates enjoyable – and hopefully beneficial for my health and fitness too.

And inevitably I also hoped that putting myself in the shoes of the complete beginner, there would be teaching parallels that I could reflect on, and which would give me fresh insight.

In this post I am going to list a few observations I made, followed by questions which make connections to piano teaching – these are for self-reflection only.

Continue reading Returning to Learning

Personalised Learning

Every aspect of music is personal.

A good performance depends on the player’s personal interpretation of the music. Enjoyment, for the listener, depends on their personal response to the music. Which in turn is informed by personal musical taste and experience.

And in the same way, learning to play a musical instrument is a highly personalised experience. In this post we’ll consider why that is true, and what it means in practice.

Continue reading Personalised Learning

A policy for the use of touch

The hottest potato on UK Piano Forums within the last couple of weeks has been the issue of using touch in our teaching.

One good thing to come from the discussion has been the reminder that some UK professional associations advise teachers to obtain written permission from parents before using touch with students under the age of 18.

This post considers how we can create such a policy, and why it is actually useful to do so.

Continue reading A policy for the use of touch

Does piano playing make children ‘smarter’?

Responding to a new research study.

In recent years a succession of academic papers, blog posts and media articles have pushed the view that learning a musical instrument can have the knock-on effect of essentially making children “smarter”.

One line of thinking is that many of the skills fostered through learning to play and practising a musical instrument have “transfer benefits” in other areas of cognitive development and academic attainment.

However, that view is now challenged in a research paper by Giovanni Sala, a PhD candidate in cognitive psychology, and Fernand Gobet, Professor of Decision Making and Expertise, both at the University of Liverpool, and published in the Journal of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI), February 2017.

One difficulty in responding to Sala & Gobet’s findings is that alongside their strongly evidenced research paper they have also written a short blog post with the eye-catching title,  No proof music lessons make children any smarter, which is aimed at the general reader, and is now being widely shared online via social media.

I am grateful to my friend Mark Polishook for sharing it, albeit with the disclaimer, “Don’t blame me – I’m only the messenger” – a sentiment I would very much like to echo in sharing this research here!

That said, there are just so many great reasons for learning to play a musical instrument that I’ve never felt the need for spurious ones – and if it turns out that the notion of “transfer benefits” is such, then I hardly think musicians and educators need to lose sleep over it. Better to know the truth – and to focus on genuine benefits when extolling the tremendous value of music education.

Continue reading Does piano playing make children ‘smarter’?

Initiating Practice

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

Download FREE Resources to motivate students to initiate their own practice sessions…

Here we are at the start of a New Year!  There is a general sense of buzz and purpose as we all set about getting back into our usual routines and perhaps starting new ones…

This post is about helping our students harness this enthusiasm and turn it into regular and habitual practising time which is entirely self-initiated! Parents will love this and will also benefit from this article.

The free resources below will help you start a studio wide practice challenge. To Download and save, simply click on these links:

  1. Initiating Practice – student chart
  2. Initiating Practice: Teacher chart (master-sheet)

Continue reading Initiating Practice

My Practice Palette

Author of several great resources, Roberta Wolff here discusses the value of teaching students How to Practice, and introduces her latest publication ”My Practice Palette

Guest post by Roberta Wolff

Question:  “Why should my child learn the piano?”
Answer:  “Because it will give them the opportunity to learn how to practice!”

What Our Students Learn

This is what students learn when we teach them How to Practise:

Continue reading My Practice Palette

A Voyage of Discovery

Guest Author  Paul Harris  explores how lessons might best unfold.

A lesson is a journey.

A lesson is a journey. But a rather special kind of journey: more a voyage of discovery. And we, as teachers, are both pilot and guide, working alongside our pupils, sometimes planning the route together, with the ultimate intention of teaching them to guide themselves. And what makes each journey – each lesson – so exciting, is that we don’t necessarily know either the route or exactly where we are heading … until we get there! But, crucially, we need to ensure that the journey is both enjoyable and productive.

As a wise man once said – you may be able to predict the teaching, but you can never predict the learning; so, even though you might have some idea of where you want to go, the lesson may wish to go somewhere else!

We do of course have a certain amount of control over a pupil’s progress through a lesson. So let’s have a look at how learning really should work.

Continue reading A Voyage of Discovery

Time to rethink Practice Notebooks?

Educational Resources

As a child learning the piano, almost all of my teachers used a notebook to write down practice instructions, and more often than not included messages to parents and assessment of progress.

As a teacher I have generally adopted a similar practice, asking each student to bring a simple shorthand pad (or more special writing book) to their lessons. Whether or not they read my notes (and in most cases I doubt it!) the notebook has always been a useful reminder during the lesson itself, and make it easier to track progress towards specific goals.

Quite apart from whether pupils read their notebooks (according to Paul Harris, research indicates that 85% don’t) the use of a basic writing pad can be problematic. I often find that student practice notebooks have been used for other purposes, with pages missing, doodles, shopping lists, inexplicable messages and stains of unknown provenance.

On one occasion a child even brought a notebook that included his mother’s sums working out the cost of her next cannabis order!

So the case for using a special bespoke notebook is a strong one – especially if it incorporates additional information to help students…

Continue reading Time to rethink Practice Notebooks?

Parenting a Piano Player

Peter Walsh’s new book The Non-musician’s Guide to Parenting a Piano Player seeks to offer valuable advice to parents – but does he strike the right notes?

Guest Reviewer: Roberta Wolff

Peter Walsh is an experienced pianist and educator. His work includes running a large studio for young pianists, teaching workshops, holding masterclasses, recording and performing in both Australia and Europe.

Drawing on this diverse experience Peter writes this, his first book, ‘The Non-Musician’s Guide to Parenting a Piano Player’. The book provides practical and insightful advice for parents about to embark on piano lessons for their children.

Continue reading Parenting a Piano Player

Confessions 5: Student listening tastes

Guest Author: Simon Reich “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student“, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions. In this series he shares their answers…

Question 5

This question was born from an ugly personal experience I had as a child. At a local monthly musical society concert, a classical guitar teacher had found out his most gifted pupil had bought an electric guitar and was dabbling with it in his own time. Admittedly the guitar teacher was an older man, but he publicly tore strips off his prized student and humiliated him in front of the whole crowd. He then banished his pupil and told him not to return to lessons until he’d given up the electric guitar.

It’s in this context, I asked the following question.

“What would be your reaction to a student confessing they played synthesizers in a simple dance music style of playing? How would you feel about them listening to electronic music or heavy metal style genres?”

Continue reading Confessions 5: Student listening tastes