What is your first memory of the piano?
Hearing my Dad playing Bach chorales and chorales he used to compose.
Who or what inspired you to start teaching?
I always thought I’d teach and I’m not sure any one person inspired me to teach but rather my love of the piano that I wanted to pass on.
Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?
The most significant teacher was a lady who taught me when I moved to the first year of sixth form at the age of 16. She helped me to understand how to phrase music and I suddenly improved when I started with her.
Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?
The most important influences on my teaching are the last two teachers I had combined with my own unique approach. Most importantly I respond to the individual pupil as I teach ages 6-80yrs!
Tell us more about your Adult Intensive Piano Course…..
I created the Adult Intensive Piano Course after I taught adults at the City Lit Institute and I could see there was a gap in the market. Adults in London want to learn new skills and learn quickly. I wrote all the music and text. It takes a complete beginner in 5 one to one one-hour lessons to playing a Grade 1 piece and playing from music. I’m a stickler for reading music! The course also suits adults who’ve learned in the past and need a refresher and I can tailor a course to the standard of any pupil.
What do you expect from your students?
I expect my students to practice often and in small amounts. I also expect them to feel at ease and happy with the lessons and to talk to me if they are not. I mostly desire that they enjoy the lessons and are progressing well. I enjoy teaching adults because they are doing it for themselves and it is great to be a part of the joy it brings and fun they have in learning and playing the piano.
With children I feel it’s very important the parents are on board and understand the importance of practice whilst I still make lessons fun. Especially at a young age the child needs a parent or someone to sit and help with practice. If the parent expects that I do all the work at the lesson, it simply won’t work!
What are your views on piano exams, festivals and competitions?
Exams, Competitions and Festivals are not for everyone. Some of my pupils take exams and indeed need that piece of paper and Grade to have their achievement validated. For others they feel they’ve been there and done that with exams over the years and the stress is not worth it! I’m happy to be flexible and usually I know pretty early on which approach is going to suit the pupil. I think the ABRSM’s Performance Assessment is a good thing: I have adults who do this and it can also be a good trial for exams.
What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?
I think it’s important to stress to both beginners and advanced students that music is fun, that it is a unifying language through which we can express ourselves in a unique and positive way. We can also learn valuable life skills such as discipline and team work as learning an instrument can help concentration and of course it is very good for the older brain….the possibilities for playing with other musicians and making friends are endless once you can play to a certain standard.
What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching?
Teaching and performance definitely are linked. As a performer one is always learning something new, even playing the same piece each time can bring up a fresh idea/something not previously seen. Having been both a performer and teacher all my life I think one can bring the performing into teaching and vice versa. We should always be learning and striving to educate ourselves also as teachers as we can always find new ways to teach, new influences and by attending courses for teachers and conferences etc…
Essentially we are always learning and then we can pass that on. Most importantly for me with music in any form, it moves me and bring me great enjoyment. This is what I try to pass on to my pupils.
Jill Owen is a pianist, piano teacher and composer based in Stoke Newington, north London. She studied piano accompaniment at The Royal Academy of Music, London, and is the creator of The Adult Piano Course, a fun and unique course for adult beginners now in its 10th year.