At the end of October the first Oxford Piano Group meeting of the year focussed on discussing definitions of what 'being professional' means for the UK piano teacher. It was a fascinating discussion stimulated by the thoughts of four presenters; Lucinda Mackworth-Young, Director of the Piano Teacher's Course (EPTA UK), Nigel Scaife, Syllabus Director at ABRSM, Sharon Mark-Teggart, Founder and Director of evoco and Frances Wilson, pianist, teacher and writer.
Like many of you I awaited the launch of the new ABRSM piano syllabuses with eager anticipation! As pianists we have such a wide and varied repertoire at our finger tips that the choice is almost overwhelming so the bi-annual opportunity to explore both familiar and new pieces is always welcome.
Nigel Scaife, Anthony Williams and the rest of the piano syllabus team at ABRSM have once again selected an interesting and varied selection of pieces throughout the grades. For example, there is the gentle and evocative Canción para dormir una muñeca by Antonio Estevéz at Grade 4 whilst at Grade 7 By a meadow brook by Edward MacDowell reminds us all that there is more to this composer than just To a wild rose!
Of course, having great pieces that we teachers love is one thing but as a musician and teacher I always get excited about how I can introduce these pieces to my pupils in ways that will inspire and motivate them?'
At this point I put my creative teaching hat on and the fun begins! As a result I'm delighted to say that I have created a set of 'messy piano' resources for selected Grade 1 and 2 pieces from the new ABRSM 2015-17 syllabus.
At the next meeting of the Oxford Piano Group for teachers on Wednesday October 29th I am going to be sharing some of these resources with the teachers there. The morning will be spent introducing and exploring some innovative and imaginative ways introducing some of the pieces at these two grades.
Following my recent posts on the topic of 'Being professional' the afternoon session will focus on what it means to be a professional piano teacher. I have invited Sharon Mark, founder and Director of Evoco, Lucinda Mackworth-Young, Director of the Piano Teachers' Course, Frances Wilson, pianist, writer and teacher and Nigel Scaife, Syllabus Director, ABRSM to share their thoughts on this subject and to lead what will certainly be a fascinating debate.
During the February meeting - Wednesday February 18 - the Grades 3-5 repertoire will similarly be under scrutiny and HeartMass practioner, Su O'Hanlon will be providing players with strategies for dealing with performance anxiety.
The final meeting of the year will be held on Wednesday May 17 and will have as the focus for the day the topic of sight reading. I am delighted that Alan Bullard, author of 'Joining the dots,' will be leading a session based the books with piano teacher Janet Bullard, who also happens to be his wife. I will be presenting an overview of the research into sight reading that is currently available and there will the opportunity for teachers to discuss and debate the different approaches.
As always, each day will provide the teachers present with the opportunity to network with other teachers and exchange ideas and repertoire thoughts.
Booking is now open for this season, however, places are limited on each day and early application is strongly recommended.
I do hope you will be able to join me for more inspiring and empowering days.
Last Saturday it was the last professional development day of the year for the Oxford Piano Group; the focus was on Debussy and the influence that Gamelan had on his piano music. Three days later I am still buzzing with the thoughts and energy that were around during the two sessions so thought I had better share them with those of you who couldn't get there this time.
I had the idea to bring Gamelan and Debussy together quite a long time ago and I was delighted last year when everything fell into place! The day actually exceeded my expectations and this was mostly due to the expert facilitators, Mike Simpson from Inspire-Works and the pianist and Debussy/Ravel expert Paul Roberts. However, watching everyone taking part start to realise the connections between the two workshops was also wonderful.
I will try to share some of this with you.
The Gamelan session was led by Mike Simpson from Inspire-works; Mike is 'a man in a van with a gamelan'! A classical percussionist by training, he and his wife went to live in Bali for a year and whilst there he had daily lessons on the Balinese Gamelan. He also had a bespoke Balinese Gamelan made which was shipped back to the UK. Now, with the help of his van, it is taken to schools all over the UK so that children can be introduced to its magical sound.
Here is the Oxford Piano Group playing the Warrior Dance after just a couple of hours of playing! The music is all generated from the one melody and emerges in layers and lines of sound - harmony as a concept does not exist in Balinese music.
Here are a few things to listen out for:
The sound is quite unique and cannot be related at all to the Western sense of tonality or scales.
(my apologies but this video clip does take quite a while to load. Alternatively you can find it posted on my timeline on facebook)
To suddenly hear these new sounds for the first time must have been such a revelation; Claude Debussy (and indeed many other composers) first heard Javanese Gamelan at the World Expo in Paris in 1889 and was immediately drawn to its exotic and strange sound.
Paul Roberts pointed out, however, that only one of Debussy's piano pieces directly alludes to the gamelan. Pagodas (from Estampes) has layering just like gamelan and draws out the bell like sounds of the piano with gongs whilst the melody can be heard at double speed and half speed.
With his vast knowledge and understanding of Debussy Paul was able to demonstrate how experiencing the sound of the Gamelan had influenced the composer's treatment of a piano's sonorities. Paul exampled how, in Cloches a travers les feuilles (Bells through the leaves from Images Book 2), the five interlocking parts, the wide use of the keyboard and the whole tone scale 'took music into a new realm'.
Paul has recently written a book about the music of Ravel and it was fascinating for us all to hear this music juxtaposed with that of Debussy. Continuing with the bell sounds inspired by the Gamelan, one of the participants played part of Les Valles des Cloches (The Valley of the Bells) and here the idea of having a flexible tempo was explored. Paul suggested that if the barline was in place the performer could bend what happened in between.
The feedback from the members of the Oxford Piano Group was overwhelmingly positive. As one person commented; 'A chance to try other instruments than the piano was great, because it was worthwhile to know more about different cultures, scales, modes. It has inspired me to search for different sounds at the piano'.
For the last couple of years I have been working on a developing a piano curriculum. Why - you might ask?
Well, we all need a map to guide our teaching, something that tells us where we are heading and gives the details of the stages by which we are going to get there. A CURRICULUM is just that and is an essential component of any effective teaching approach. It provides a strategy for knowing what pupils need to learn in order to make progress musically and technically. In the UK we have never quite worked out what we need to teach, when and how - maybe it is time we should start!
Of course, what we do have is the instrumental exam system represented by ABRSM, Trinity Guildhall, London College of Music and others. What they provide us with is a SYLLABUS - a selection of pieces, technical exercises and supporting tests that represent a particular level of playing. Whilst instrumental exams don't give us the map and all the details they do provide us with some stopping points on our journey.
But, a teacher at the Oxford Piano Group once asked me, 'how do I get pupils from Grade 1 to Grade 2?' and this is a common query I believe. It is this grey area, 'between the grades', that a curriculum will help to address. With a strategy for teaching firmly set out (WHAT I am going to teach) it is much easier to work out HOW to teach. I find that the more I plan, the more effective my teaching becomes. I look at my 'map' and from that work out the best, individual route for each pupil.
It has been with all this in my mind that I started to put the Piano Curriculum together. I don't pretend that it is perfect nor is it a complete document (I hope it never will be) but it does provide me with a starting point for planning my pupils' journeys.
It isn't all ready to be published yet but the time has come to share some of this with my fellow piano teachers!
So here is the Piano Curriculum for Grades 1 - 2. When looking at this please keep in mind that a lot of skills and concepts will have already been covered in the Beginners and Pre-Grade 1 curriculum and that it is a guideline only not a fixed sequence of development!
I would love to hear from all of you who read this blog what you think about this. Is it helpful? Is it something that you will use? Would you like more?
Please do leave a comment or email me directly.
In my next blog I will show how 'Messy Piano' and 'the Piano Curriculum' can be used together to great effect.
With the help of some of my colleagues in the Oxford Piano Group I have been developing some new teaching resources that we have called 'Messy Piano'.
Well, research shows that learning rarely happens in a straight line; rather, each individual has different strengths or weaknesses and, as we all know well, two pupils can have completely different problems when learning the same piece. As teachers we should be able to respond to both situations than teaching every pupil in much the same way.
In the book 'Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners', the authors, Gilbert and Ryan, point out that: 'Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon'! (p. 76). What's more they say that: ‘Inspirational teachers have always recognised that effective learning requires deep thinking. In short they recognise that children have to think hard to really learn’. (p. 75)
So the idea behind 'Messy Piano' is to nuture independent learning in pupils whilst providing piano teachers with a variety of stimulating and holistic ways of teaching pieces. The resources are designed to encourage pupils to become independent learners, to be motivated, engaged and appropriately challenged by their piano lessons.
It is important to recognise however that the resources are built around specific musical concepts and pianistic techniques. They encourage a creative and imaginative approach to lessons and provide support for the exploration of new, engaging ways to teach and learn the piano. Significantly, all the ‘messy’ learning takes place within a structured and carefully planned curriculum.
The eight main principles that lie at the heart of a 'messy piano' approach are:
I will be publishing the first set of 'Messy Piano' resources in the next few days. In order not to miss this and subsequent posts why not subscribe to the Curious Piano Teacher blog?
I am delighted to announce that booking for the Oxford Piano Group - Teachers' Edition for the forthcoming year is now open!
The Oxford Piano Group - Teachers' Edition has become firmly established over the last four years as a vibrant and forward thinking community of piano teachers. The beautiful setting of the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, at St Hilda's College, Oxford (see photo), and the use of a Model D Steinway provides the backdrop for teachers from all over the UK.
This year I am particularly excited about the prospect of the Gamelan Orchestra followed by a workshop with Debussy expert Paul Roberts on Saturday May 17!
That aside there is the opportunity to study some Schumann and Bartok in more detail and share best practice for fee setting, studio policies and developing a teaching practice.
Early application is recommended, especially for the May meeting, as places are limited (click here for application form).
Wednesday October 30 - half-term
9.30 Arrivals and coffee
10.00 Spotlight on: Schumann's Kinderscenen
the session will give participants the opportunity to become better acquainted with this beautiful collection and become better acquainted with their teaching potential
11.45 Group work
The benefits of working with groups of piano pupils.
This session will include the observation and discussion of a group lesson (either ‘live or via video’)
1.45 Sharing Best Practice
Setting fees and developing a comprehensive studio policy are often contentious issues for piano teachers.
Existing studio policies will be examined in order for best practice to be established
3.45 Feedback on piano Music Medals trials and exploring duets and trios for the festive season
Wednesday February 19 - half term
9.30 Arrivals and coffee
10.00 Spotlight on: Bartok's For Children
The session will focus on some of the pieces in the two volumes of For Children.
11.30 The Lazy Piano Teacher
Often we work too hard in piano lessons. This session will explore ideas for how doing less as a teacher motivates pupils more
1.45 Sharing Best Practice
setting up and developing a teaching practice
(presented by Catherine Cossey)
3.30 Getting to know the new ABRSM assessment criteria
(presented by Nigel Scaife) with opportunities to assess and mark
Saturday May 17
9.30 Arrivals and coffee
10 - 1pm Gamelan Orchestra
During this introduction to Balinese music led by Inspire Works, participants will find out about the meaning of music in Bali, about the instruments, structure of the music and the playing techniques.
Everyone (max 25) will be part of the Gamelan orchestra.
(There will be a coffee break during this morning session).
1 - 2pm Lunch
2 - 4.45 Lecture/workshop with Paul Roberts.
World-renowned Debussy/Ravel expert, Paul Roberts will be leading a workshop where we will have the opportunity to understand, amongst other things, the influence that gamelan had on his music. There is space for a limited number of participants to perform in the workshop.
4.45 Departures (please note that this time is currently incorrect on the website!)