Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Sheet Music Review

The name Melody Bober may be a new one to many readers here in the UK, but in North America she is well known for her popular Grand Solos and Grand Duets for piano series, among others, published by Alfred Music.

And based on her latest series of collections, Solo Xreme, perhaps it’s time for her to gain wider recognition here too!

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Are You a Fanatic?

The Fermata Series

“If you’re invited for tea by a connoisseur of Pu Er (tea) in Yunnan, be prepared to deal with a fanatic, for Pu Er inspires a zealous devotion among its advocates, who, like missionaries of a mysterious cult, will try their best to coax you away from your own acquired taste in Chinese tea, and persuade you instead that Pu Er is the high and mighty lord in the entire pantheon of Chinese tea.”

Daniel Reid
The Art and Alchemy of Chinese Tea (Singing Dragon, 2011, p78)


I can think of several parallels in the world of the piano, where advocates of a particular approach or style present themselves as zealots for their cause.

It seems to me that there’s nothing wrong with such passion, so long as we each remember to show respect for one another, and present our views and ideas with dignity, generosity and grace towards others.

I have been, and remain, a fanatic for many musical and other causes. If something works for me, there’s a good chance it will equally work for others, and I am happy to share my experiences and insights if they might help.

But what works for one, although it may work for all, need not do so.

We are, each of us, unique. Each must find their path, and few of us like to feel coerced or pressurised into accepting a rigid model stipulated by another.

Experience ultimately always triumphs over dogma. As the saying goes,

“The older I get, the less I know.”

So let’s keep the fires of healthy fanaticism alight, but in our passion we must remember humility, keeping our hearts and minds open. Above all, pursuing kindness.

Fermata Series

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.

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100 Inspiring Ideas!

Book Review

The work of the independent piano teacher can be as varied as it is rewarding, and this throws up innumerable challenges on a regular basis.

Every student is unique, and each lesson different from the previous or next one. Holistic teaching requires not only a deep subject knowledge combined with pedagogic expertise, but also psychological insight, access to multiple teaching strategies and resources, tactful diplomacy and administrative efficiency.

It’s little wonder that many piano teachers struggle to be equally adroit in all these areas, or to have well-honed skill-sets to meet all these varied demands. And while answers to many of the questions we face – and situations which arise – are probably to be found in our previous knowledge, experience and common sense, it is nevertheless a huge asset to go through each day prepared for what may arise, and thoughtful of the ways in which we can improve as well-rounded teachers.

Help is at hand in a recent book written by Penny Stirling and Karen Marshall, and published by Collins Music.

Continue reading 100 Inspiring Ideas!

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

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

Your Stories: June Armstrong

Your Stories

June Armstrong is a piano teacher and composer of educational piano music which focusses on the promotion of technical development whilst engaging the imagination and encouraging the exploration of interpretation.  She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Here’s her story…

Continue reading Your Stories: June Armstrong

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

Musical Afterthoughts

That, Not That, And Other Musical Afterthoughts…

Guest post by Roberta Wolff

Teaching offers ongoing opportunities to reflect and learn. For me this is one of its great attractions.

We learn how to present what we teach in easy-to-recall, bitesize chunks. We learn about our students and ourselves, and we learn about learning. As well as enjoying watching my students develop their skills, teaching has made me a better musician.

The key to maintaining our learning lies in reflection.

In this day and age, with “information overload” and countless media vying for our attention, it is easy to forget that we often learn more by looking inward.

Instead, we are distracted by a near-constant stream of external input, and as a result it is becoming easier to overlook the importance of reflection in the learning processes of ourselves and our students.

This results in the development of reactive tendencies rather than considered responses. It also inhibits progress and self-knowledge.

Continue reading Musical Afterthoughts

Get Set! Practice Chart

Guest post by Karen Marshall

Here is the Get Set! Practice Chart   DOWNLOAD

“… for student, teacher and parent partnership …”

The Get Set! Practice Chart is a simple practice record designed to support communication between students, teachers and parents. I’ve used it for over two years now, and it’s been the most ‘filled in’ chart to date!

As a teacher I have gained some excellent insights into what my students have enjoyed and found challenging each week, and it has really helped me to focus lessons on their needs.

The chart includes:

  • practice focuses for the week ahead
  • a daily practice log for students to fill in
  • a list of questions for the student to complete during the week
  • comment spaces for teacher and parents
  • two staves to jot down any musical notes

The practice chart is free for anyone to download. I hope you find it as helpful as I have!

And remember – there’s loads of other FREE Get Set! Downloads available here.

Very best wishes, Karen Marshall

Karen, Heather and Collins Music want to thank all teachers for their support for Get Set! Piano and apologise for the delay in getting this out to you. Many thanks also to Andrew Eales for hosting this on the Pianodao site!

A Weekly Smiling Face

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

A few weeks ago when I arrived at school I was given an envelope from the secretary.

One of my pupils (she’s only 5 years) had given her the letter to save and give to me on my next arrival. The envelope was beautifully decorated with some of my catch phrases written all over it.  I was a little stunned but very touched. And then I opened the envelope.

Not one letter but three, each about how much she loves the piano, is excited about coming to lessons, and is always greeted with a big smile!

Gratefulness spilled from the pages, I was truly humbled by the generosity of this little girl, but also very aware of the power of my words (repeated by her in the notes), which had all been absorbed and responded to.

Continue reading A Weekly Smiling Face

How to teach scales effectively

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

As a young pianist I really struggled with scales.  In fact, I only passed the scale element in my music exams in Grade 1 and 8 and it wasn’t until doing my associated diploma (over 400 scales) that I fully mastered some patterns!

Because of my own struggles, I have spent a huge amount of time developing a wide range of activities for teaching scales.  My own students don’t struggle like I did.

It appears my weakness in learning scales has helped me develop some helpful techniques to teach them.  I share them here to provide some new ideas as we all embark on the new academic year trying to help our students master those repetitive patterns!

Continue reading How to teach scales effectively