An image crisis in independent piano teaching?

This article first appeared on my sister blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist

I recently ran a survey, Perceptions of Independent Piano Teachers, as part of some research for a paper I am writing to present at the Oxford Piano Group meeting at the end of this month. Originally intended to offer some insight into whether private and independent piano teachers regard themselves as “professionals”, the survey revealed some interesting and unsettling thoughts on how independent piano teachers perceive themselves generally, and how people outside the profession view them. The majority of respondents were independent/private piano teachers and it was their response to the question When you think of the typical private piano teacher, who teaches at home, what image immediately comes to mind?  which gave me significant pause for thought. See more on this below….

One of my ongoing issues is people not regarding what I do as a “professional” role, despite the fact that I adhere to many of the perceived definitions of the word “professional”: I am paid for my work, I hold professional qualifications, and I belong to several professional bodies. I also run my studio in an efficient and businesslike manner with clear terms and conditions regarding payment of fees etc, I market my studio effectively (website and social media), I participate in regular ongoing professional development, and know how to communicate and interact with my “clients” (my students and their parents). Discussions with friends and colleagues in the profession indicate I am not alone in this, and indeed this is one of the main aspects about which music teachers and musicians in general feel so denigrated: because we enjoy our work and (often) work from home, it is not perceived as “a proper job”, and as such, we are often undervalued, expected to work for low or no pay, and our job is regarded as some kind of eccentric hobby. Nevermind that many of us have undergone a long and specialist training, or have years of experience and an impressive track record of success.

One of the major problems of private piano teaching is that it is unregulated. This means anyone can set up as a piano teacher and recruit a few students. Other professionals – doctors, lawyers, accountants for instance – have their own professional/regulatory bodies, with professional exams, code of ethics, and so forth, which lends proper accreditation and gravitas to their role. Piano teachers can opt to join professional organisations such as the European Piano Teachers’ Association (EPTA) or the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), but membership is not compulsory and these bodies do not “regulate” nor inspect; they offer support, legal advice, continuing professional development, public liability insurance, busaries etc.

I would like to share the results of my survey, in the hope that this may encourage all independent piano teachers to consider how the profession is regarded and to support me in raising the profile of the private piano teacher.

Qualifications
What has the average piano teacher studied to teach in an independent studio?

Piano to grade 8 – 78%

Music theory to grade 8 – 37%

A-level music (or equivalent) – 45%

Music degree – 50%

Teaching diplomas – 46%

Performance diplomas – 43%

Piano pedagogy – 30%

These results interest me because I frequently come across the view that the private piano teacher should have attended music college or taken a degree in music, as a minimum qualification to teach. While I accept that a BMus or MMus (or equivalent international qualification) would be desirable, it is worth pointing out that not all conservatoire or university music courses offer a separate and/or specialist course in piano pedagogy; the main focus tends to be on performance, and music theory and history. Now, you might be the most talented, internationally-renowned pianist, but if you can’t communicate in both words and actions how to do it, you are not going to cut it as a teacher. Many professional musicians teach because they have to; but they are not necessarily the best teachers just because they have undergone a conservatoire training.

As an unregulated profession, there is no minimum standard qualification for independent piano teachers. Personally, I would like to see Grade 8 piano set as a minimum standard together with some other accreditation required and recognised by a body such as the ISM or EPTA.

Here is a teaching colleague of mine on the thorny issue of qualifications:

There is huge range of qualifications on offer, some of which test different things to others. I think in my experience, the usual thing, ‘qualifications do not necessarily a good teacher make’ stands true. All the qualifications I’ve done, I’ve done because they enhance and enrich my teaching rather than that they somehow make me look a better teacher. I’ve never once, in 13 years been asked about them anyway, and I find this quite common. Having worked with quite a few teaching diploma candidates, for example, it is clear which of them are using the qualification as a means to reflect on and evaluate their teaching skills, and those who want the piece of paper (and for the latter, the act of doing the qualification will have had little or no impact upon their actual teaching ability).

What are the main duties and responsibilities of an independent piano teacher?

100% of respondents stated that “teaching piano” is the main duty/responsibility of the independent piano teacher.

Preparing lessons – 87%

Collecting fees – 59%

Scheduling lessons – 73%

Preparing students for exams – 80%

Writing student reports/appraisals – 34%

Marketing the studio – 41%

Administration and recording keeping – 61%

Encouraging students – 91%

Keeping up with one’s professional development – 81%

I was interested to note that “collecting fees” did not receive a higher response, since conversations with colleagues, and my own experience, suggest that this is one of the more time-consuming (and irritating) aspects of the private piano teacher’s role, along with other general admin. Additional comments in response to this question included: dealing with parental expectations, keeping abreast of the current writing/thinking in piano teaching and pedagogy, taking lessons and playing/performing oneself, learning the music that students choose to play, informing students of interesting/relevant concerts and encouraging them to listen to music.

What non-musical skills do you think an independent piano teacher should have in order to teach successfully in a home studio?

Administration and organisational skills – 87%

Computer skills – 53%

Business skills – 57%

Knowledge of learning styles and how to accommodate them – 86%

People skills – 95%

An ability to challenge and motivate students – 96%

Patience – 96%

A sense of humour – 84%

Communication and writing skills – 71%

The responses to these three questions above suggest that independent piano teachers have a clear idea of what the job entails, and what skills are necessary in order to fulfil the role.

In response to the question Do you consider private piano teaching to be a “profession”?  91% agreed with this statement, while 7% did not. 2% responded “Don’t know”. When asked to qualify their responses, the following comments were made:

It’s a hobby, even if a full-time living, and never feels like a ‘real’ job. It’s up to the teacher to be self-motivated and conscientious if he/she wants to do a good job of it, though, but it’s increasingly a peripheral and quaint thing to do in life.

No [it's not a "profession"], in that there are no recognised entry qualifications, no regulation and no career progression.

It doesn’t command any respect, people think it’s a hobby, not a vocation.

Depends on qualifications

What attributes and/or qualifications do you think define a private piano teacher as a “professional”?

Qualifications (e.g. music degree, education degree, performance or teaching diplomas) – 95%

Experience – 80%

A career as a professional performing musician – 25%

Ongoing professional development – 71%

Self-motivation – 50%

Good business skills – 36%

Additional comments in response to this question:

Success in motivating, teaching and helping students grow – not just musically, but personally, as well

I am constantly baffled as to why some piano teachers are not part of a union or professional body

Understanding of child development and basic psychology (we teach adults too)

A ‘professional’ attitude to practicalities such as studio policy, having insurance. Planning lessons

An ability and willingness to perform up to something resembling professional levels, but not necessarily having a professional performance career.

When you think of the typical private piano teacher, who teaches at home, what image immediately comes to mind?

It is the largely negative responses to this question which have given me most pause for thought. Remember, the majority of respondents are independent piano teachers – these comments are their view of how our profession is perceived by others:

Probably an older, rather eccentric female

Someone who is probably not properly qualified

Old lady next door, cardigan, cats, musical erasers

Someone who is not really up to the job- who isn’t fully trained or a professional musician and has realised they can make a quick buck teaching piano. Someone who is kind and nice to the children and parents but ultimately unaware that they are teaching bad technique often and not aware of the rigours of quality music-making

Not a profession but a religion!

Someone who is keen to develop people in their creativity and understanding of music. They love what they do, and teach it because they themselves love to play and be creative.

A mum who used to play…..has kids and needs a bit of extra money

I divide it into two types: Those that live and breathe the piano, and those for which it is a “nice little hobby”.

Someone who has Grade 8 or Diploma in performance. Teaches pupils for the exam they are working on, leaving ear training and background knowledge until the week before the exam. May be a great performer.

It used to be a woman in her 40s or 50s sitting, slightly seriously, beside a wide-eyed child at an upright piano. Things have moved on now and I know teachers across a wide demographic.

Interestingly, when I asked two professional pianists who also teach (one privately, one in a university music department) how they are perceived by their students and parents of their students, I received the following replies:

I find that my students and parents treat me as ‘highly professional’ due to the calibre of my performing engagements. This is completely unrelated, however, to any ability I might or might not possess as a teacher. The latter comes from studying and working in the field for over thirty years, from discussions with psychologists and other instrumental teachers – and trial and error.

I find that generally (with a few exceptions) teaching within an establishment [a British university] one does get the appropriate respect and indeed, as instrumental teachers, most of the students treat us as being on a par with the other academic staff. The only private teaching that I do (at the moment) is on a consultation basis, so people (generally parents of talented late teenagers or sometimes young professionals themselves) approach me because of what I’ve done or because they’ve actually heard me in concert. I guess that generally means that one has already overcome the hurdle of being respected and the people involved do therefore treat one as ‘professional’. But this is less about qualifications/prizes won….

Do you have any memorable anecdotes about the perception your students, their parents, or someone outside the profession has had about the independent piano teacher or the job of teaching from a private home studio?

Parents of new students think often of piano teaching as a simple, stress free and lucrative job. Parents of older students realize it’s a profession, that requires knowledge, competence and constant learning on the part of the teacher.

Thinking I’m a part-timer. – Believing I deserve less professional respect. For instance: paying me late, assuming I want to babysit their kids, wanting to switch times when a plumber/electrician wouldn’t put up with their crap. This might be a bit controversial, but I think part of the problem lies in the fact that as a profession, there are very little “benchmarks” or “guidelines” to guide absolutely everybody in a uniform fashion, even within unions and professional bodies. For instance, there are some piano teachers who may put up with late payment because they feel they don’t have a choice, or other teachers who allow pupils to switch times and cancel at the very last minute. This makes others believe all piano teachers are the same. I think this freedom and flexibility to operate is a positive, but if you compare to say, the GMC (General Medical Council) or BMA (British Medical Association), they are a lot more stringent and dogmatic about what their members should and should not do as professionals.

“What do you do for a living?” (Parent couldn’t believe this was my job)

Once a mother pulled her son out of lessons because I was getting too skilled and teaching too much and she just wanted him to read notes. I told her I was allowed to grow too

As organizer of a local piano competition and representative of a teaching union, I sat down to check a piano was in tune and the stool was at the right height at the start of the competition day, only for a parent to ask “so you actually play the piano then? Like properly!” Made me smile for hours.

One piano parent asked me and my colleague Claire “So what do you want to be when you are older?” whilst she was sat in my private piano teaching practice which I rent and run as a business.

I am troubled by these largely negative comments and the recurrence of the word “hobby” in relation to piano teaching. The perception, expressed by teachers themselves, that the role is not valued nor regarded as a proper professional job is very evident in these responses. While the stereotypical view of the private piano teacher as a little old lady down the road is fading, there is a still a strong perception that the private piano teacher is doing the job for “pin money”, or because they can’t get a “better” job. I find this view deeply depressing: I take my job very seriously and adopt a professional attitude to every aspect of my work (the fact that I also enjoy it a great deal is an added bonus). How do we change this attitude into a positive perception of piano teachers as highly skilled and professional people? I believe that the impetus must come from within the profession, from piano teachers themselves, and from professional bodies such as EPTA and ISM, who should be actively promoting private piano teaching as a recognised and respected profession.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in my survey and also those pianist and piano teaching friends and colleagues who responded to more specific enquiries from me.

In a later post, I will explore professionalism in private piano teaching in more detail.

Please feel free to leave comments or to contact me directly via the Contact page of this site.

Less is More

One of my students, Harrison, arrived for his lesson last week and confessed he had not had much time to practise. He told me he had “loads of homework!” and extra-curricular activities every day after school, apart from Thursday, the day of his piano lesson (“this is my only day off!” he sighed). In addition to homework and sports activities, he also has to fit in choir rehearsals and trumpet practise.

This is not an uncommon scenario for many of the young people whom I teach: all my students have now moved up to senior school, and many are finding the volume of work and activities associated with school quite burdensome. Fitting in piano practise amongst homework, after-school clubs and sport can be hard, especially if students feel obligated to practise for a set amount of time every day.

I am an advocate of regular and consistent practising, and making time to practise every day is an important habit, one which I instil in my students from the first lesson, and one which I observe myself (usually practising daily from 8am and notching up 2-3 hours over the course of the day). Practising at the same time each day can be helpful in developing good practise habits and routine, but sometimes this simply isn’t possible. Some students also find the prospect of having to practise for a set period of time daunting, especially in the early weeks of learning.

I suggested to my student Harrison that he could develop ways of practising a little at a time, aiming for thoughtful, quality practise, rather than simply note-bashing, or “going through the motions”. The phrase “less is more” seemed appropriate to this conversation and I told Harrison that it was often associated with the German modernist architect and designer Mies van der Rohe, used to describe his designs which combine functionality with simplicity and beauty. We both agreed this was a rather useful phrase to describe focused practising and Harrison declared that “less is more” would be his “motto” for his practising over the forthcoming weeks.

Mies van der Rohe’s ‘Barcelona’ chair and footstool

The idea of the pianist pounding away at the piano for hours on end to ensure he/she never plays a wrong note has less currency these days as musicians and teachers realise that quality rather than quantity leads to music which is learnt properly and carefully. After about three hours, the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in, one’s concentration will start to flag and one will be feeling physically and mentally tired. At this point, one stops doing meaningful work and it’s probably time to stop for a break.

At the other end of the scale, it’s amazing what can be achieved in as little as 10 minutes – if one knows what one should be practising.

When Harrison came for his lesson this week, I asked him how he had got on with the “less is more” approach and he told me that he had “more enthusiasm” for his practising – and when he played, it was clear the new approach was paying off.

Of course it is important when taking this approach to know exactly what one should be practising. Playing the piece from start to finish, in an unfocused and unthinking way, means mistakes will remain as mistakes and the opening of the piece will always tend to sound better than the rest of it. I will use the piece Harrison is working on as an example of how we are taking the “less is more” approach to practising:

Nurse’s Tale (Aleksandr Grechaninov, Trinity Grade 3 piano)

Nurse's Tale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bars 1-2 (and 5-6)

  • RH – Practise melody (minus the thumb on D), taking note of the slurs
  • LH – Practise the chord change, taking note of the slurs

Bars 3-4

  • RH – Practise the semiquavers, taking careful note of the slurs and fingering
  • LH – Note change to treble clef, and practise the octave jump

Since these bars take only moments to play, a great deal can be achieved in just 10 minutes work. And, as Harrison himself noted, bars 16 – end are an exact repeat of bars 5-8.

I will be repeating this exercise with other students. At each lesson, the student and I will decide which sections of a piece/s need this kind of attention and we will note down what needs to be done in practising at home. Gradually, I hope students will become better at identifying themselves what they should be focusing on in their practising. I also hope that students will find their practising more rewarding and enjoyable as they see noticeable improvements in their learning and playing. (At the other end of the spectrum, I am applying a similar approach to my learning of Ravel’s Sonatine, a tricky piece, not least for the “hand choreography” required.)

Here are some quick tips for effective “less is more” practising:

  • Know which areas need the most attention – keep a note in a practise notebook
  • Always start with the most difficult areas when your mind and fingers are fresh
  • Practise for a set amount of time (set a stopwatch if that helps)
  • Don’t deviate from the set task
  • At the end of the set time, move onto the next area which needs attention
  • Write notes on what you have achieved and think about what you need to do in your next practise session
  • Always practise carefully and thoughtfully

An interesting article from the Bulletproof Musician blog on best practising strategies

 

Dulwich Piano Festival 2015

I am delighted to be involved in the 2015 Dulwich Piano Festival once again, adjudicating the junior recital classes.

The festival was established in 2012 by East Dulwich piano teacher and harpsichordist Lorraine Liyanage and it offers a lively and enjoyable opportunity for amateur pianists of all levels to perform before an audience and receive positive feedback from invited adjudicators who are amongst the foremost piano teachers in the UK (including Graham Fitch and Penelope Roskell). When I adjudicated the beginners and junior classes in 2013, I was really impressed by the standard of playing and the enthusiasm of the competitors.

Online entries are now open for the 2015 festival and full details about the syllabus and everything else you need to know to participate in and enjoy Dulwich Piano Festival can be found at www.dulwichmusicfestival.co.uk

Mastering the Piano with Lang Lang

Lang Lang approved image“The piano is my passion. Through the Lang Lang Piano Academy I hope to inspire today’s kids to explore the piano and celebrate the wonderful world of music. There are no short cuts to learning the piano and playing it well, but the journey along the way should be imaginative and rewarding as well as challenging. My aim in this series is to develop a more creative way to study the piano that appeals to the next generation of pianists – wherever they are in the world!”

LANG LANG

 

Superstar Chinese pianist Lang Lang is credited with inspiring some 40 million children in China to take up the piano and is a passionate advocate of the instrument and education. His sold out concerts captivate and inspire audiences of all ages, and he has now turned his charisma and passion to a new series of piano tutor books, designed to encourage the next generation of pianists.

Published by Faber Music, the books range from established elementary to intermediate (Levels 1-5 equate broadly to exam system Grades 1-5), and feature masterpieces by composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Schumann, as well as more familiar tutor book fare by Heller, Burgmuller and Le Couppey. The books also feature a selection of characterful world music, with arrangements hailing from around the globe including Europe, Africa, Asia and America, reflecting Lang Lang’s assertion that music is for everyone, everywhere.

Each book contains:

  • 8 units that develop key aspects of piano technique
  • Specially devised exercises and core studies focussing on each technical area
  • A diverse selection of piano repertoire including Lang Lang’s best-loved works
  • Beautiful arrangements of music from around the world
  • Inspirational commentary and guidance from Lang Lang himself
  • Stunning photo section of the pianist and examples of art that has inspired his own playing
  • Additional supporting materials will be available to download from the website, in addition to exclusive audio and video content.

The books also contain personal messages and hints and tips written by Lang Lang himself to accompany the sheet music, as he shares the secrets of his piano technique, along with exclusive photos of Lang Lang demonstrating at the piano. These suggestions are in place to encourage and inspire, as well as to present a more informal approach to studying the piano:

“For me, phrasing is like having a conversation. Each phrase is a sentence in that conversation – sometimes you include a comma because you have more to add and sometimes you finish the sentence.” Lang Lang

He also uses imagery to explain aspects of piano technique: for example, for good staccato he encourages the student to “think about a beautiful, very light, very naughty cat!”, and for legato he suggests imagining a gecko, whose feet are really connected to the keys. The books are well-designed with a clear, accessible layout and easy to read scores and text.

LANG LANG PIANO ACADEMY: MASTERING THE PIANO
Published by Faber Music, Levels 1, 2 and 3 (September 2014, £8.99), Levels 4 and 5 (October 2014, £9.99).

Further details at

http://www.fabermusic.com

http://www.langlangpianoacademy.com

http://www.langlang.com

Being professional – the characteristics of a professional

Many people regard piano teaching as a vocation rather than a profession, including some who are active practitioners, and I have encountered many people outside of the profession of piano teaching who regard the role as some kind of superannuated “hobby”: on one occasion the parent of one of my (former) students actually said to me: “You’re so lucky to be able to do your hobby as a job”, thus totally overlooking the fact that I take my job as a piano teacher very seriously, and regard myself as a professional within the sphere of piano teaching.

Sally Cathcart, a musician, educator, researcher and director of the Oxford Piano Group, has been exploring the issue of professionalism and piano teaching in a series of posts on her blog The Curious Piano Teacher, and she poses some interesting questions about the definition of a professional:

The characteristics that make an occupation a profession have been the subject of much research and debate and in many respects what I am presenting here and attempting to relate to piano teachers is rather simplified and is, of course, from my own perspective. Hopefully, it does provide a more rigorous context for the debate to take place within.

Heisler (1995), having reviewed much of the literature, identifies five commonly applied traits denoting an occupation with professional status. He argues that a professional group has:

  • a specialised body of knowledge and technique
  • training courses that pass on specialist knowledge
  • exams and tests that provide certification for practice
  • monopoly to work by those with certification
  • autonomy of practice for those with certification

Read the full text of Sally Cathcart’s article here

Links to Sally’s previous articles:

Being Professional – the beliefs and attitudes of UK piano teachers

Two Stories about Piano Teachers

A new kind of practice notebook

ExpressYourself_4

Encouraging piano students to practice can be the bane of the piano teacher’s life and teachers regular seek new ways to encourage students to practice creatively, thoughtfully and intelligently. The practice notebook is usually the means by which the teacher records what he or she would like student to focus on in the intervening days between lessons, but I know I am not alone in wondering how many of my students (and even some parents!) actually read which I write in their notebooks from lesson to lesson.

The Music Me Piano Practice Workbook offers teacher, student and parent a new kind of practice notebook in an accessible and attractively-designed format. A spiral-bound A4 book, the practice workbook has pages in which to schedule practice and practicing goals, record practice notes, and cover aspects of technique and theory alongside practical piano study. In addition to weekly practice charts (which include sections on scales and arpeggios, sight playing, theory and general musicianship), a comprehensive reference section gives the student the opportunity to practice away from the piano and study aspects of theory (Circle of Fifths, degrees of the scale, note values, scale fingerings etc) which have a relevance in day-to-day practicing and weekly lessons.

The Music Me Piano Practice Workbook was created by Roberta Wolff, a Surrey-based piano teacher. In 2013 her students participated in the CLIC Sargent Practice-a-thon which encouraged her to think more closely about tailored individual practice schedules for her students, which would motivate and encourage them to practice every day to complete the Practice-a-thon challenge. The result is different to the standard A5 practice notebook such as the one produced by the ABRSM: it is a colourful, spaciously laid out book with charming illustrations by Claire Holgate. There is even a section where students can write their own notes about the form and style of pieces they have learnt, and plenty of blank manuscript pages to record exercises or even compose their own pieces.

ExpertLevelPerformanceStudents often don’t refer to their practice notebooks simply because the design of the notebook is rather dry and unappealing, and there simply isn’t enough space on an A5 page for the teacher to note down the key things on which the student needs to focus in their practising. The Music Me Piano practice workbook’s clear design, with its appealing Enjoyillustrations and cheerful, motivating comments at the foot of each page, will encourage students to be proactive in planning and recording practicing with the support of teacher and parents, and the format is such that students can plot progress throughout the course of a year of lessons (there is also a longer 42-page book).

What the book contains:

  • Set termly Targets.
  • Assess whether your student is on track at half term. Make weekly practice notes.
  • Make weekly practice plans.
  • Have parents check practice plans.
  • Create Scale and Arpeggio practice charts.
  • Draw Scale patterns onto keyboards to visualise scales.
  • Find Scale and Arpeggio fingering charts.
  • Log the scales which have been learnt on a blank Circle of 5ths.
  • Fill in intervals of the major and minor Scales and Arpeggios.
  • Chart the rhythmic patterns students have used.
  • Make use of manuscript paper and note pages.
  • Have students create their own Foreign Terms pages.
  • List Student’s Repertoire.
  • Support your teaching with short notes on The Art of Practice.
  • Use The Stages in Learning to structure practice.
  • Find helpful hints on using the book for teacher, pianist and parent.
  • Find fun and thought provoking images on high quality practice.

Sample pages

IMG_2659

IMG_2658

 

 

 

 

 

 

For further information about the Music Me Piano Practice Workbook and to order copies, please visit http://www.musicmepiano.co.uk

Summer holiday homework – music appreciation

Listen to the music extracts below and select one to write about. Answer the following questions about the music:

1. What is the mood/character of this music?

2. Is it major or minor?

3. Why did you choose this piece and what do you like about it?

4. Do you think this piece is Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern, Contemporary or Jazz? What particular features in the music make you think this?

5. Would you like to hear more music by this composer, or from this period in music history? Give your reasons why (or why not).

For help with question 4, please read my blog posts on music history:

Baroque

Classical

Romantic

Modern

Extract 1

 

Extract 2

 

Extract 3

 

Extract 4

 

Extract 5

 

Extract 6

 

Students’ Concert at the 1901 Arts Club

This year my annual student concert was held at the 1901 Arts Club, a beautiful, intimate venue in a former schoolmaster’s house (built in 1901) close to London’s Waterloo Station. The venue boasts a lovely Steinway C grand piano and an informal, convivial atmosphere, thanks in no small part to the very welcoming personalities of the people who run it. I use the venue for the South London Concert Series, an innovative series of concerts which I organise and co-host with my friend and piano teaching colleague, Lorraine Liyanage. I felt the small size of the venue (it seats just 45 people in a gold and red salon redolent of a 19th-century European drawing room) would enable the young performers to feel less anxious and to relax into the special atmosphere of the place.

The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club

The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club

I cannot stress too highly the importance of performing, at whatever level one plays, and I have written extensively on this subject on this blog, my sister blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and in my column for Pianist magazine. Music was written to be shared – whether in the home or the salons of other people’s houses, or in recital rooms or concert halls. But on another more important level performing builds confidence, not just in the sphere of music but in many other walks of life, and equips people (of all ages) with an important life-skill.

When I was the age of my students (9-14) I had few opportunities to perform for others. My then piano teacher never organised concerts for her students, not even small-scale events in her home, and as a pianist at school I was always rather sidelined (a solo instrument being deemed the epitome of showing off!), so my only real performance experience was either in the orchestra (where I played the clarinet) or in the choir, both instances where one’s performance anxiety is tempered by performing with others. One of the many decisions I took about my piano teaching when I established my practice in 2006 was that I would give my students performance opportunities. And so from little house concerts (with obligatory tea parties!) to the event this week at the 1901 Arts Club, the annual student concert has become an integral part of my studio’s activities.

Preparations begin many months before the actual date – and I know from my own experience as someone who has come relatively late to performing (in my late 40s) that preparation is everything. Being well-prepared is one of the best insurance policies against nerves and will enable one to pull off a convincing, enjoyable and polished performance on the day. Good preparation, including practising performing in less stressful situations, also means that any slips or errors in the performance on the day can usually be skimmed over and will not upset the flow of the performance.

DSC_4266

Many of my students chose to perform exam pieces – music which they had already played in an exam situation and with which they were therefore very comfortable. It’s always interesting to play exam repertoire after one has put it before the critical ears of the examiner: when I revisit my Diploma pieces (as I am now, in preparation for a concert in January) I notice a distinct sense of relaxation in the music – and my students have commented on this about their own pieces too. Some selected new pieces, and we also had solo clarinet and saxophone performances (it is so gratifying that a number of my students play other instruments – saxophone, trumpet, clarinet and cello – or sing in school choirs).

I always perform at my students’ concerts as well. I think it is important for them to see their teacher performing and to understand that I do my practising and preparation just as they do; also that I am also engaged in ongoing learning of new repertoire or revising previously-learnt music.

DSC_4287

The event at the 1901 Arts Club was really lovely. The young performers all played beautifully (no visible nerves whatsoever, though a number did say to me afterwards that they were really nervous!) and we had a lovely range of music from Arvo Pärt and Einaudi to Bartok and ragtime. Despite knowing my students pretty well now (some have been learning with me almost as long as I have been teaching), I am always amazed at the way they step up to perform with such poise. I don’t know what I do, but maybe by assuring them that their performance will be wonderful, they learn to trust me and this gives them confidence. Each performance was greeted with much enthusiastic applause by family and friends, and at the end of the event another piano teaching friend, Rebecca Singerman-Knight, awarded prizes for Star Performer (Tom Driver) and Most Enjoyable Performance (Eli Hughes). The children were presented with boxes of chocolate grand pianos (which I doubt lasted the homeward journey!). I have had some lovely feedback, from students and parents, and I think the general consensus is that this was a really enjoyable and inspiring event. I certainly felt so!

More about the benefits of performing:

On performing

Performing in a safe circle

Going into the zone

Strategies for coping with performance anxiety