Duets: are we missing the point?

I don’t know about other teachers, but I try to make use of duets in my teaching at all levels. Indeed, I’ve written an article previously about the ‘joy of duets’. In terms of their use in lessons, it’s generally two-fold: they’re ‘fun’, and they’re great for sight-reading. I’ll frequently choose a duet where one part is sight-readable by the pupil, and we’ll have a go. There are lots of benefits to this, and it can be a great way to get pupils reading music at sight, without labelling it as ‘sight-reading’.

It occurred to me recently, that in some ways, we’re missing the point when it comes to duets. Yes, they’re fun and they’re good for sight-reading, but that’s not generally why they were written. They were written so that players could play together, and perhaps for pianists this is especially important.

Playing duets is essentially about playing as part of an ensemble. It’s not always the case, but in the main, I’d say the majority of duets published outside of what we might term to be the ‘educational market’ are written with parts of equal level. That means there’s a huge repertoire out there (and I’d be the first to admit it) that’s ignored in lessons.

So, here’s my question…how can we encourage pupils to learn and play duets? I don’t mean in terms of sight-reading them for fun at the end of a lesson, but using them in the way they were intended, as ensemble pieces.

It seems to me the biggest shift would need to be in mindset. Pupils clearly learn and work at solo repertoire pieces, and this is the bulk of what, as teachers, we’re focussed on. Would a pupil be equally willing to learn one part of a duet, in the same way they might approach the learning of a solo piece? I guess that unlike solo repertoire, the satisfaction of learning a duet is found in the putting together of the ensemble rather than in the solo playing. Would pupils be willing to wait to experience that? Maybe.

If this was the case, then it opens up a huge range of learning opportunities which are often sidelined in terms of instrumental lessons. It would certainly take a shift in mindset, away from the idea of learning pieces for solo playing. But, it would open up a huge repertoire which is, in the main, left completely untapped.

Next term, I’m going to try this out. I’m going to try giving pupils duet parts to learn, and approach them in the same way we’d approach learning solo repertoire pieces. Indeed, some pupils have already expressed an interest in learning duets. But I don’t mean duet parts which are necessarily easily sight-readable, but duet parts which are of a similar level to the solo pieces they’re learning. Initially, they can learn them to play with me, but in the future, this could open up opportunities for collaborating with other pupils. I have always believed that music is something to be shared, and this could be a great way of doing that.

So, let’s celebrate the hugely diverse and untapped duet repertoire out there. Yes, let’s keep throwing duets at our pupils for sight-reading, but let’s expose them to the excitement, the challenge and the satisfaction of ensemble playing.

2016/17 Prizewinners Announced

Congratulations to our six prizewinners for the academic year 2016/17. Prizes were awarded as follows:

The Foundation Music Prize

Alex Wilson (Grade 1 Music Theatre)

The Intermediate Music Prize

Amy Cundill (Grade 5 Theory)

The Advanced Music Prize

Osla Campbell (Grade 6 Flute)

The Barbican Prize for Sustained Effort & Improvement

Diana Lundie

The Kings Place Prize for Involvement & Participation

Megan McGinley

The Southbank Prize for All-Round Achievement & Commitment

Sara Coxon

 

ABRSM Flute Syllabus 2018-2021: highlights

As many of you will know, ABRSM released it’s new flute syllabus this week to cover the period 2018-2021. Yesterday afternoon, I had the opportunity to play through many of the pieces in the new syllabus with a couple of pupils (thank you willing victims). This isn’t a review as such, but rather our highlights from the books of selected exam pieces. Teachers will no doubt be aware that scale requirements and sight-reading have also changed, and more information on those can be found here.

Grade 1

Although arrangements of Brahms’s Cradle Song (A2) and Verdi’s La donna è mobile were popular and catchy at Grade 1, it was List B which caught our eye. Roma Cafolla’s Lazy Sunday (B1) was pronounced ‘seriously catchy’ by a pupil, and I was particularly taken with Mark Tanner’s The Pelican from Heligan. Cafolla is not a composer I’ve come across previously, but a quick look at his website reveals a substantial catalogue of works, many for woodwind and related ensembles. Many will be familiar with Mark Tanner’s writing and music. His excellent book The Mindful Pianist was recently published, and I frequently recommend his series Know the Score for diploma candidates’ Quick Study practice.

Grade 2

Probably what will become the most-played piece in the entire syllabus appears at Grade 2 in the form of David Blackwell’s arrangement of Offenbach’s Can-Can (A1). Both pupils yesterday asked to play it twice, so this is a sure winner! Another favourite will, I’m sure, be David’s arrangement of Prokofiev’s Troika (B3). Although neither pupil recognised the title, both instantly recognised imitation of the sleigh bells in the piano introduction. List C  can often be the poor relation as the pieces are unaccompanied, but ABRSM’s own arrangement of Loch Lomond (C3) was particularly special. As an aside, surely it was arranged by somebody, not the entirety of ABRSM?!

Grade 3

We found Grade 3 to be rather disappointing in terms of repertoire choices. Again, David Blackwell succeeds in writing an imaginative arrangement of The Irish Washerwoman (A2) which we found particularly enjoyable in terms of the interaction with the piano accompaniment. Although one pupil described it as ‘not exciting’ I was rather taken with Luypaerts’s Cinq Sets (B2) a typically ‘French’ piece. Again, not a composer I’ve come across, his website reveals a substantial catalogue of works: something I’d certainly explore further.

Grade 4

I’ve personally always found Grade 4 to be a bit of a oddity, mainly because the step-up to Grade 5 is fairly negligible, and many pupils skip the exam itself. In terms of repertoire, we were disappointed overall. Paul Harris’s arrangement of Malcolm Arnold’s Solitaire (B1) is nice, but overall nothing particularly of note at the grade.

Grade 5

I want to mention especially the Telemann Vivace (A2) at Grade 5, mainly because I did it for my own Grade 5 about 20 years ago! There’s no doubting it’s tricky, but Nikki Iles’s Jive Talk (B1) is a spectacular piece. Many pianists will be familiar with her Jazz in… series of books, and this piece is in a very similar style. She has the great skill of writing jazz pieces which sound like improvisations, and the combination of flute and piano here makes for a stunning performance.

Grade 6

We found there to be a number of enjoyable choices at Grade 6Tambourin (A1) attributed to Gossec is an instantly recognisable piece: what I’d describe as a ‘good play’! Many teachers and players will be familiar with Paul Hart’s City Life. No. 3 has been popular on exam lists previously, but here, ABRSM present No. 2 (B3), a much more laid-back, bluesy piece in comparison. Pupils who enjoy this should certainly be encouraged to learn Nos. 1 and 3 too. Again, List C, the poor relation, includes the especially catchy Twisted Tango (C2) by Richard Michael. Pupil describes this as an ‘upside down version of A Hint of Lime‘, Paul Harris’s solo which appears on the current Grade 6 List B.

Grade 7

So here at Grade 7, we come to the last of the books of selected pieces. Both pupils and I felt that the selection here was disappointing, and as a teacher, I immediately see far more potential on the alternatives list (notably the Berkeley (B4) Fauré (B5), and Poulenc (B8)). There’s certainly potential in Mel-Bonis’s Scherzo (B1) but perhaps not immediately accessible on sight-reading alone. Likewise, I felt that there was much atmosphere to be created in Blaž Pucihar’s Moonlit Blue (B3).

Grade 8

Of course, as has been the case with the previous two issues of the syllabus, no selected collection is published at Grade 8. It’s interesting to note that an unusually large number of pieces have been carried forward at this grade:

Devienne: 1st movement from Sonata in E minor (remains at A3)
Mozart: 1st movement from Flute Quartet No. 1 in D (A6 to A5)
Mozart: 3rd movement from Concerto No. 2 (A7 to A6)
Clarke: Hypnosis (B2 to B3)
Poulenc: 1st movement from Sonata (remains at B8)
Rae: 1st movement from Sonatina (A10 to A9)
C.P.E. Bach: 3rd movement from Sonata in A minor (C1 to C3)
La Montaine: Jaunty (C6 to C8)

Grade 8 clearly needs much deeper exploration, but good to see the inclusion of more extended techniques, especially in terms of Edward Greyson’s Fertility Dance (B5) and Christopher Ball’s Pan Overhead (C5).


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Repertoire: beyond exams

Instrumental teachers know how easy it is to become trapped on the exam treadmill, learning a few pieces, sitting an exam, then moving to the next grade. Encouraging pupils to play repertoire beyond the exam syllabus can be challenging. I think there are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, I’ve inherited a good number of pupils from other teachers. They’ve prepared three or four pieces for an exam, sat the exam, then started on three or four pieces for the next grade. They know no different. I’ve inherited two pupils in the last year who’d been working on the same three graded exam pieces for 18 months: one at Grade 3, one at Grade 6. The idea that they should play anything else is totally alien to them. Both were flummoxed by being asked what they’d like to play.

Secondly, some pupils (and indeed, parents) are surprisingly unwilling to invest in new music. This is despite the relatively low cost of sheet music (and I’d say it’s come down in price quite a lot over the last 10 years). In that sense, it’s easy for the teacher to become trapped in the same pieces for too long.

With that in mind, I’ve consciously, over the past year, been trying to make sure my own pupils play as many pieces as possible between exams (and indeed, if they’re not working towards exams too). Here’s an example:

This pupil sat the LCM Step 2 exam in December last year. Following the Christmas break, I’ve logged 13 pieces which we’ve worked on, in addition to continuing work on developing a wide range of other musical skills including improvisation. We’ve also worked on previous pieces in preparation for school performances. Last week we began to look at Grade 1 pieces. One of these has been learnt almost note-perfect within the space of a week:

You might say that 13 pieces in the space of six months is not many, but I’d say that’s a pretty good number in addition to the development of other skills.

One huge advantage has been using the MyMusicStaff software to track repertoire. As well as tracking pieces ‘completed’ and ‘in progress’, we can record what level the pieces are if they appear on an exam syllabus. Again, being able to see your repertoire list build up is hugely motivating. Pupils are also finding it useful when considering Andrew’s idea of ‘Active Repertoire’.

Of course, it’s not all about exams. It’s also interesting to see the repertoire building up for more advanced pupils. Although I’ve indicated the level of the pieces learnt, the pupil has no intention, at this stage, of sitting an exam:

I think this also illustrates the wide range of styles and genres being covered.

These days, fewer pupils are interested in sitting exams, and I think this makes it even more important to give them a sense of achievement in terms of building up their repertoire.

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Music Lessons and Revision

We’re just entering exam season here in the UK. The bulk of AS and A-Level exams begin this week, and GCSEs soon after. Virtually all 16-18 year olds are affected in some way by this, and it can be a stressful time for everyone.

The trouble is that music lessons are, rightly or wrongly, being increasingly affected too. The impact of school exams on instrumental lessons appears to be on the increase, and I believe that this is a conversation we need to have going into the future, especially as the arts subjects are ever-increasingly squeezed in society.

As I say, exams, and revision for exams can be a stressful time, especially at an age when young people experience many stresses, far beyond those of school. When I was studying for my GCSEs and A-Levels just under 20 years ago, it was stressful too, but I didn’t miss any of my music lessons; indeed, I did my Grade 8 Flute at the same time as my A-Levels. I might have been an anomaly, but I loved my lessons so much, I wouldn’t have dreamed of missing them. If someone had suggested I should miss lessons in favour of revision, I suspect there would have been serious outcry!

Not only did I love my lessons, but they were a welcome relief from the revision itself. Balancing the demands of revision and exams, with health and wellbeing is something which we all have to learn to do. It’s a good age to learn it, but it needs support from parents and schools too.

As we approach exam season, I’ve already lost one pupil for four weeks who wishes to concentrate on revision, and another pupil has given up completely due to the demands of school work. On social media, other teachers report similar issues:

‘I’m having a cull of those who aren’t interested. (Missing lessons because of gcses.. Really? no-one revises all day & night or shouldn’t).’ @nikkiw650 on Twitter

‘Highly irritating. If you haven’t paid attention all year 4 weeks of cramming & neglecting everything else won’t help.’ @SusiejeanLow on Twitter

‘I get cancellations this time of year due to exams as some students feel they need to concentrate on their revision which is fair enough!’ @willhaypiano on Twitter

‘That’s the summer term for you! Frustrating, isn’t it?’ @ScaleBoxApp on Twitter

On the one hand, there’s a business consideration as a self-employed private music teacher. Pupils wishing to miss lessons due to revision generally expect you to keep their slot open for their return. This means than unless you can fill the slot temporarily, or you charge a retainer fee (which I feel uncomfortable with), you can lose that income. This month, I shall be down £180 due to this. But, one also has to remain sensitive to pupil needs too. Exam season is stressful, and entering into a battle with pupils and/or parents about missed or cancelled lessons can add to that stress.

Another important consideration is that music lessons can and should provide a welcome break. It’s unhealthy to be revising all day and night. Balancing various demands on one’s time is a useful skill to learn.

‘I believe music should be a nice break from the revision. I’ve had several pupils get all A* and not miss a lesson for public exams.’ @nikkiw650 on Twitter

‘I told my students to regard music as something enjoyable & relaxing.’ @CrossEyedPiano on Twitter

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s different for everyone, and there are other issues at play too (travel, for example); I certainly don’t want to ‘get’ at anyone in this post. I think we all accept that even for those who carry on with lessons during school exam season, practice might be reduced. But, I too have had past pupils get strings of As and A*s and not miss a lesson.

I wholeheartedly believe that music lessons should be see as a positive part of that revision and exam process. A welcome distraction, light relief – call it what you will, but rather than push the enjoyable things to the sidelines in favour of wall-to-wall work, we should embrace all that music can offer our mental and physical wellbeing.



Teaching Diplomas: which one should you choose?

When people ask me about mentoring them for their teaching diplomas, they’ve generally already decided which diploma to go for, but what if you’re not sure? I’m going to focus here on the three first-level diplomas: the DipABRSM, ATCL and DipLCM(TD) and hopefully offer you some of my own thoughts on each one.

The first thing to say is that all three of these diplomas are accredited at the same level (Level 4, i.e. the first year of an undergraduate degree). ABRSM‘s new entry-level performance diploma, the ARSM, has slightly confused matters as this is also accredited at Level 4, even though the requirements are lower than the DipABRSM.

The primary consideration when thinking about teaching diplomas is twofold: firstly, what do you want to get out of taking a diploma, and secondly, which skills and areas of knowledge do you wish to be tested on. It’s worth remembering that it’s perfectly possible to acquire skills and knowledge without being tested on them. It’s also important to state that in the case of all three diplomas, they are not a course of study. There are no written materials provided and candidates prepare and enter themselves (either with or without assistance) for the diploma.

A few practical considerations should also be taken into account:

  • Availability of a centre locally at which to sit your diploma;
  • The pre-requisite qualifications the diploma requires.

These apply whichever of the boards you decide to sit your diploma with. Here are a few thoughts individually on the diplomas:

DipABRSM

This is probably the most popular of the teaching diplomas. It consists of three sections:

  1. A 1,800 word essay submitted with your entry, on one of the topics prescribed in the syllabus;
  2. A viva voce exam based around three current ABRSM Grade 6 pieces chosen by you, in addition to general teaching issues;
  3. A quick study of around ABRSM Grade 6 level (the same as for the performance diploma).

The DipABRSM offers a good balance of practical and written materials. It’s primary focus is on the Grade 6 pieces chosen, so the ability to teach and demonstrate confidently at this level is a bonus. Although no prior teaching experience is necessary, I think it’s useful. The quick study often puts people off if they’re not confident with sight-reading. The written submission can also feel overwhelming, especially if you haven’t written academically for a while.

ATCL

Trinity‘s ATCL is, in the main a written-based submission, and I’ve always been in two minds about it. The requirements are:

  1. A written submission totalling 4,000 words consisting of an analysis of your experience as a learner, observations of other teachers, case studies of teaching experience, and original teaching resources;
  2. A practical exam consisting of a presentation, initiative test of teaching skills and a viva voce.

One practical consideration with the ATCL is ensuring that you have access to other teachers in order to complete the observations. To my mind, the ATCL is especially good if you’ve not yet started teaching, or are in the very early stages. Keep in mind that if you aren’t yet teaching, you will need to be working in some kind of support capacity in another setting in order to complete the case studies. Whilst the ATCL is useful, if you’re already well into your teaching career, you might prefer the practical nature of the DipABRSM or DipLCM(TD).

DipLCM(TD)

To my mind, the DipLCM(TD) offers a good balance of requirements. For this first-level London College of Music diploma, you’ll need to:

  1. Teach a live 20-minute demonstration lesson (or in exceptional circumstances, submit this on DVD);
  2. Perform a piece of Grade 6 standard or above;
  3. Give a presentation and demonstration of how you’d approach teaching a selection of repertoire pieces;
  4. Engage in a discussion with the examiner about all the above, and a range of other teaching-related issues.

One benefit of the DipLCM(TD) is that you can tailor what you do to the kinds of ages and levels of the pupils you’re teaching. The syllabus offers a range of options depending on the level of pupil chosen. One practical consideration is the need to have a willing pupil for the demonstration lesson, and probably to be able to access a centre within easy distance of them. The DipLCM(TD) is very much a practical exam, and unlike both the ATCL and DipABRSM, there are no written requirements.

"It's worth remembering that it's perfectly possible to acquire skills and knowledge without being tested on them."

There’s much to think about here, and I’m always willing you answer any questions you might have and advise further: please contact me. You can find out more about the mentoring I offer for teaching diploma candidates here.

Should we care about the copies we play from?

In the days of yore (well, let’s say 20 years ago), when I wanted a piece of sheet music, I really had two options: either I went to a music shop and bought it, or I went to the library and borrowed it. We frequently went into Whitwams in Winchester where Stella, the lady who ran the sheet music department, would have either found the book or looked it up in the publisher’s catalogue on the microfiche reader (yes, this was really only 20 years ago!).

Nowadays, we’re not so lucky in respect of music shops, certainly outside of London, and libraries rarely have significant sheet music sections anymore. Despite this, we now have this thing called the internet, and like everything which is available online, the distribution of sheet music is both positive and negative.

Before you all switch off, this isn’t I blog post about illegal photocopying; most of you know my views on that. Increasingly, as a teacher, pupils present me with pieces of music which they’ve got off the internet. Quite often, they are downloaded from sites such as IMSLP, and are works which are perfectly legal and out of copyright. Generally, these are seen as ‘free’ copies (though unless you play from a tablet computer, you do pay for ink and paper). Overall, there are a lot of benefits to getting sheet music in this way, but we do need to be and encourage our pupils to be discerning about accessing editions in this way. Let me share with you two stories:

Firstly, I recommended to a pupil that she would enjoy one of the Liszt Short Pieces; it was available on IMSLP, she downloaded it, printed it, and brought it to the next lesson. We looked at it, then she took it away to learn. She brought it back he following week saying she’d had trouble with the rhythms; I found this quite surprising and asked her to play it. True enough, a relatively straightforward mixture of basic rhythmic patterns had been turned into a series of cross-rhythms and sounded like it might have come from the pen of Bartok.

It took me a while, but on closer inspiration, I discovered the problem: there were certain bars where the right hand was not aligned with the left hand making it look far more complicated than it actually was. This edition was one which had clearly been re- typeset and uploaded to the website for free download.

IMSLP website

Secondly, a pupil wished to play one of the Mendelssohn Songs Without Words. Again. a copy was found on IMSLP and printed off. This was a scan of an original publication rather than a version which had been re-typeset. In this case, the problem wasn’t with the notes themselves, but with the layout. What I have in my printed copy as five pages, had been condensed to three. It was small, cluttered and out of proportion; in this case, I suspect not only was the original edition larger than A4, but that in the scanning process, the aspect ratio had been changed.

As my pupils would tell you, I’m a dinosaur and haven’t yet been converted to these downloads; I still like to have the printed copy in front of me and a book to file in the shelves. Don’t get me wrong, there is much of use in a site such as IMSLP; I frequently use it to look up a piece to assess its suitability, sometimes before buying it.

What am I really saying in this blog post? I think it’s really to say be discerning when using sites like this. Free can so often be a false economy, not just in terms of cost but in terms of time too. In both the cases outlined above, the pupils went out to buy the books with the pieces in.

DipLCM in Performance (Piano Recital): My Experiences

DipLCM in Performance (Piano Recital): My Experiences
DSC_0006I almost subtitled this post: ‘Anyone can do a diploma if I can, three days after coming out of hospital, and minus my gallbladder’…

As I think everyone knows by now, I recently sat and passed the DipLCM piano performance diploma (recital option), so I thought it might be of interest to share my experiences with you…it’s a kind of interview yourself type post…

Why did you decide to do a performance diploma?

I guess, there was no ‘need’ to do a performance diploma. Nothing nor nobody requires me to do one, and it won’t directly increase business in any way. I guess that for me, it’s a personal challenge. My education has followed a similar course: I take a course or work towards an exam and expect that to be my limit. I then finish it and pass it, and am curious as to whether I could manage the next level. That’s what happened when I’d finished by undergraduate degree: could I study at postgraduate level? Then, when I’d done that, could I go further…now I’m studying for a PhD (I think that has to be the limit!). I’d done my Grade 8 Piano, and I’d done the DipABRSM in Piano Teaching, so a performance diploma was, I suppose, the next step.

When did you decide to do a performance diploma?

I’ve been looking at performance diplomas for several years, and have had various programmes worked out; as ever, other things (usually ‘life’) get in the way and have to take priority. Then, in March this year, and with encouragement from some good friends, the time seemed right. I promptly entered and paid my fee on the basis there was no pulling out. Then, as ever, the best laid plans went pear-shaped. I spent a week in hospital during the Easter holidays and was left with the prospect of surgery in the next few months which was likely to clash with the exam period. So, the dilemma: do I pull out? I could have withdrawn and entered again next session for half the fee, but I came to the conclusion in the end that I might as well leave things as they were. The date for the diploma came first, the 24th June, then the surgery date for the 19th. I should have been in and out of hospital on the 19th but I ended staying overnight. I literally had no idea until the day of the exam whether I would be fit and pain-free enough to do it, but at least I had three days for final preparations!

How did you decide what to play?

For the DipLCM recital option, you have to select pieces from the syllabus (which is short compared to similar diplomas), but you are allowed one own-choice piece. In addition, one of the pieces had to have been written after 1945. The time allowed was 25-30 minutes. I ended up with the following programme:

1. Debussy: Prélude (from the Suite Bergamasque)
2. Mendelssohn: Duet (from Songs Without Words, Op. 38, No. 6)
3. Jenni Pinnock: Captive (post-1945, own choice)
4. Kabalevsky: Sonatina in C, Op. 13, No. 1 (1930)

I initially had one of the Bach Preludes and Fugues too, but it was pushing the time limit a bit. We forget when programme planning that time is needed between pieces and movements for practical things like changing books over, finding the right page etc.

Generally, I felt my programme was balanced, although it didn’t include the traditional one piece from each musical period. I think at the end of the day, I selected pieces I liked playing!

How did your preparations go?

One of my weaknesses is that I am (not wishing to show off) a pretty good sight-reader. This, as people will tell you, means I can make a pretty good stab at most things and they sound reasonably convincing. This is fine, but clearly not OK when there’s an examiner listening to every note, and who also has the music in front of them. The challenge for me was to really perfect the difficult bits rather than just glossing over them with some invention, extra pedal and improvisation! I have to say, I found this both incredibly challenging, frustratingly dull, but eventually, infinitely rewarding. About two weeks before the exam, I was at the stage of playing the programme through in full about once a day (OK, maybe every few days, and on neither of the days I was in hospital!). Personally, I found this the best way to get it together in the final stages; I think it gets to the point where no amount of working on it will change it at that stage! It was great to have a diploma buddy too (more on that at a later date, as my buddy hasn’t had their diploma yet!).

How did you find the exam?

Thoroughly enjoyable; I was disappointed it ended so quickly. Annoyingly for everyone else, I don’t tend to get nervous on these occasions, and this wasn’t really an exception. I don’t consider myself a performer, and performing doesn’t particularly interest me, but I have always enjoyed playing to other people. The examiner was very friendly and supportive throughout the exam, so it felt relaxed. It wasn’t the very stiff ABRSM response of “Thank you” after each piece, but rather she felt at ease to say things like “Gosh…that must have been exhausting”! This, coupled with the local rep, who was so supportive all the way along made the experience all the more enjoyable.

DSC_0008Would you do another one?

Well, I rarely say “never”, but I’m in no hurry to do another performance diploma. I shall enjoy exploring new repertoire, adding to my 40-Piece Challenge, and I expect, eventually, enjoy going back to playing the exam pieces (I’d like to learn the second Kabalevsky Sonatina)!

If you’ve got any questions about my DipLCM experience, I’d be more than happy to answer them. Drop me an email, a Facebook message or a Tweet!

Managing the cost of music tuition: practical advice

Managing the cost of music tuition: practical advice
Girl playing the fluteSome of you may have seen this BBC news article/report this morning. To my mind, the article completely fails to offer any practical advice about budgeting towards music tuition at all, so here are my thoughts…

Lesson Fees

Teachers should be up-front about lesson fees from day one. Mine are published online and are therefore in the public domain: everyone pays the same rate and there are no hidden costs. Teachers should also be clear about when fees are due, how to pay them and any payment plans (e.g. block booking) they offer. Teachers should also be clear what their cancellation policy is so that parents/pupils know what/if they’re expected to pay if they miss or cancel a lesson. Being up-front about what the fees are is hugely important in enabling parents/pupils to plan for the cost of the lessons.

Fee Increases

As above, teachers should be clear and up-front about any increase to fees. I review my fees annually in the summer, and a month’s notice is given for any increase which takes effect from the 1st September. I’m sure all teachers would agree that it is an agonising experience deciding whether or not to increase fees. It requires an awful lot of soul-searching and research to weigh up the various factors. Fees don’t automatically go up every year, and they don’t simply increase for the fun of it. Teachers will have done a good deal of research before making any decision. Again, prompt advance notification of any increase allows pupils and parents to plan ahead.

Lesson Materials

Again, teachers should be clear about who pays for the lesson books, music and other materials. If the teacher supplies them, then parents or pupils should be aware of the cost before the teacher orders them. If parents or pupils are to buy them, then it is useful for the teacher to give some estimate of the cost. An estimated cost of the materials required each year is useful and it allows pupils and parents to factor this cost in on top of the lesson fees. I always keep a box of secondhand music and pupils are free to take (and add) what they want from it. Alerting pupils and parents to sources of secondhand music (e.g. charity shops etc.) is also useful, as is providing information about where to buy any books required.

Musical Instruments

Teachers should be providing advice on buying or hiring suitable instruments. There is no denying that instruments often require an initial outlay, but they are an investment. Luckily, there are numerous schemes which allow pupils and parents to hire and then buy an instrument (e.g. Just Flutes and All Flutes Plus). These schemes can be very cost-effective and allow pupils and parents to spread the cost over year or more. Other schemes such as the government’s ‘Take It Away’ scheme also help with the cost of purchasing an instrument for those children who qualify. Teachers should continue to provide advice about looking after and maintaining the instrument. All these things help to prolong the life of the instrument allowing the player and parent to get the best possible value from their investment

Exam Fees

If you or your child wants at any time to sit an external exam or assessment, there will be costs associated with it. There will be the exam fee itself, and possibly a fee for an accompanist. Again, teachers can make it clear from the outset what the fees will be. If an accompanist is involved, their fees should also be known before the entry is made, not two weeks before the exam date. Each year in my newsletter, I calculate how much pupils will need to save per week/month for an exam. This really helps spread the cost through the year; for example, saving just 50p a week can make a big difference when the exam comes round.

Funding

It is also useful for teachers to be aware of sources of funding (e.g. Paul Harris Foundation and EPTA fund) and also of scholarships for local schools.

 

The BBC, via the Musicians’ Union suggests five bullet point suggestions for keeping cost down. I’m not convinced that any of these really help!