Piano TRACKS in Practice

In this guest blog post, Barbara Kennedy, creator of the Piano TRACKS Project, shares three pupil case studies which demonstrate how the framework can be applied in practice. We hope this is useful not just for existing users of the Piano TRACKS materials, but also for those who’ve not yet explored this fantastic resource for piano teachers.

The piano TRACKS (pT) project provides piano teachers with a formal, but flexible way of assessing their students, along with tools to help support their development. In this blog post I will be focussing on how I, the creator of the project, use the pT checklists to maximise student attainment. 

Our checklists provide a way to identify progress as students develop at the piano. They are based on the pT curriculum which has been designed to break down learning into manageable chunks. The curriculum has eight progressive levels (Stages A – H), and for each stage there are two checklists, one for skills development and one for knowledge acquisition. This helps students to build on their theoretical and practical skills concurrently. These eight stages take students from the very beginnings of their piano journey through to intermediate level (approximately Grade 5 standard). 

There is no right or wrong way to use these checklists, and teachers are encouraged to use them within their preferred approach to teaching, in a way that best supports the learning styles of individual students. Students are likely to span several levels of the curriculum at once, as they develop different skills at different times. The project is designed as a framework that teachers are encouraged to adapt, adding or removing items of learning that they feel are necessary. 

In the next section of this blog I will present some examples [real names omitted] of how I have used the checklists, and the wider programme.

1. Seven-year-old: shows potential, but lacks motivation.

I expect I am not the only teacher with a young student who has plenty of potential, but finds it difficult to concentrate in lessons, rarely practises at home, and often forgets their books. I have been teaching this particular student, Katie, for two years, and progress has been somewhat slow, although the student enjoys lessons. I thought the checklists might be a good fit for Katie as a motivational tool. It can take a long time for students to reach the level where they are preparing for a graded exam, but with the pT checklists there are three pre-Grade 1 levels which can fill in that gap. There are also certificates free to download from our website that can be presented to students when they complete a stage. 

Piano TRACKS checklist for Stage A knowledge

When I first introduced the checklist book to Katie, she could see almost all of Stage A was completed. Together, we agreed that there were some terms relating to the stave that she could be more confident of, and I sent her off with a worksheet (from the pT range) to practice the names. The following week she was able to name all the elements required to complete Stage A, and proudly left the lesson with her certificate

Since then, Katie has been more confident about her abilities, and more focussed in lessons. As a teacher, I have been able to get a better idea of what she is capable of. I have been impressed by the things she will now do independently because she knows she can, and what she is willing to try. 

2. Transfer student: who, what, and where? 

It can often be difficult to ascertain what level a transfer student is truly working at. Often, the student isn’t clear themselves, even if they have previously taken exams. Robert, 11, recently came to my studio from another teacher. He was playing pieces from the first Up-Grade book, so I estimated him to be around, or approaching, Grade 1 level. For the first term of lessons, I used different activities, games, and repertoire to subtly ascertain Robert’s knowledge and practical capabilities. This was an interesting process as it highlighted that he was able to work at a higher level than we had previously realised. 

As a teacher, I also found that the checklists helped me to plan lessons in a structured way, to inform progress. It allows me to easily identify what areas a student needs to work on, giving me quick ideas of what to include in a lesson. For Robert the checklists provided a crucial turning point, as he had been held back by working on material that was too easy for him. Being able to methodically assess Robert in this way meant that I was quickly able to see his real level of ability. 

For planning and logistical purposes, I keep hold of students’ checklist books. Robert will sadly be leaving me at the end of the academic year due to the family relocating. At this point, I will give him his checklist book to keep and to pass on to his next teacher. I hope that the next teacher will be able to use it as a starting point for Robert’s future lessons. 

3. Adult beginner: enthusiasm and pacing. 

The final student I am going to talk about in this blog post, is an adult beginner who recently started having lessons with me. In my experience, adult learners are some of the most committed and ambitious learners. They often sprint through the beginning stages of learning and then reach a plateau which can leave them feeling discouraged. I think this can often lead to adults giving up lessons quickly, which is a real shame. 

Piano TRACKS curriculum

I introduced the checklist to my adult student, Jamie, within the first few lessons. Jamie is a dedicated learner and his enthusiasm for the piano shines through at every session. The checklists gave Jamie a truthful insight into how much there was to learn from the start of his piano journey. 

Jamie has found the checklists useful because he has been able to visualise his progress. During weeks where he has felt that his achievement has been less than usual, we have been able to look back at how much he has already grown as a musician, and it helps us to concentrate on the road ahead. 

With all my students, I have found that the checklists increase motivation in students in a meaningful way. They like to have specific, bite-sized, goals to work towards (alongside their ‘bigger picture’ aims). It saves me time when lesson planning and helps me to plan solid activities and select appropriate repertoire that truly aids all-round musical development

I think it is fair to say that assessment within the creative arts is a tricky business. Questions are often asked about the appropriateness of current systems in popular use, or whether we should use assessment at all. I believe that the right kind of assessment, at the right time has a positive effect on student progress. These checklists provide a flexible, tangible, and meaningful way of showing achievement. 


You can find out more about the Piano TRACKS Project here, and read more about Barbara on her website.


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below:

Why Take a Teaching Diploma?

For those teaching privately in the UK, there is no requirement to possess any kind of qualification; however, every year, thousands of teachers choose to work towards a teaching diploma in order to, amongst other things, achieve an accredited qualification. In addition, many instrumental teachers in schools and colleges choose to work towards a teaching diploma, even when they’re often also not required to do so.

So, why do teachers choose to work towards a teaching diploma? Why do teachers commit time and money to something which they essentially don’t need? Having talked to a number of instrumental teachers who are both working towards or have taken their teaching diplomas, I wanted to share some of their reasons.

If you’re thinking about taking a teaching diploma, maybe reading some of their reasons will inspire you and aid your decision-making process? Their reasons fell broadly into three categories:

  1. To improve teaching and be more confident teachers;
  2. To have a goal to work towards;
  3. To gain professional accreditation and validation.

Let us think further below about each of those categories:

1. To improve teaching and be more confident teachers

The primary reason teachers cited for choosing to work towards and take a teaching diploma was to improve their teaching, something which they saw as beneficial to both themselves and their pupils.

Some candidates said that working towards a teaching diploma allowed and encouraged them to explore new ideas, and to develop their existing knowledge and skills. Some felt that going through the process of working towards a teaching diploma would allow them to reflect on their teaching approach and philosophy, and by consequence would empower them to be better teachers as a result.

There was also a sense that some teachers were curious to see whether they could achieve a teaching diploma, and virtually everyone said the process had increased their confidence as teachers.

2. To have a goal to work towards

A number of teachers said that the teaching diploma had given them something to work towards. One said that whilst they could have gained new skills and increased their knowledge without the framework of a qualification, they felt that working towards the diploma gave them an end goal so that the study they undertook had purpose.

Connected to this was the sense that working towards a teaching diploma allowed you to bring together various ‘pots’ of different training courses, events, workshops and CPD opportunities. Whilst these things didn’t necessarily exempt you from elements of the diploma, they could be drawn upon as part of the preparation process. Whilst each ‘pot’ may not have, in itself, led to a qualification, the collective knowledge and skill gained could be counted towards their diploma.

3. To gain professional qualification and validation

Whist this was by no means the primary reason for most teachers, candidates recognised that working towards the diploma gave them an accredited and professional qualification. For some, that meant having post-nominal letters after their name. Others felt that having a qualification reinforced their credibility as a new teacher.

Other teachers had worked towards a diploma because they felt it increased their professional standing when it came to applying for teaching work in schools, often on a self-employed basis. It was recognised that in an unregulated marketplace, having a teaching qualification was often a means of standing out from the crowd.


I think what these experiences show is there are many different reasons why teachers choose to work towards a teaching diploma. Above all, I think they present a challenge. They allow teachers, often working in fairly isolated circumstances, to reflect on, evaluate and validate their teaching.

Whilst the end result is to have achieved the qualification, the process and journey of exploration and reflection is as, if not more important.


If you’re considering working towards a teaching diploma, I offer a popular and bespoke online mentoring programme. The programme offers one-to-one mentoring for the DipABRSM, DipLCM(TD), ALCM(TD) and ATCL diplomas. I seek to empower teachers to approach their diploma preparation with confidence, and to take them on a journey of reflection and validation of which they can be proud.


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below:

DipLCM(TD): Delivering an Effective Demonstration Lesson

In this blog post, I want to share some thoughts about planning, rehearsing and delivering your demonstration lesson as part of the DipLCM(TD) teaching diploma. The advice given here is equally applicable at ALCM(TD) and LLCM(TD) levels, and may also apply to other qualifications which require similar.

As part of the DipLCM(TD), the London College of Music’s first-level teaching diploma, candidates are required to teach a 20-minute lesson to a pupil, live in the exam. In exceptional circumstances, candidates may ask to submit their lesson in video format; however, the advice here still applies.

Based on the current (2019) syllabus, a few points to bear in mind:

  • You must have been teaching the pupil for at least six months;
  • The pupil can be any standard from Grade 1 to Grade 8;
  • The standard of the pupil used for the demonstration lesson will form the basis for the whole exam;
  • The lesson will concentrate primarily on repertoire pieces (which can be exam pieces or otherwise);
  • You can include the teaching of pieces chosen for your presentation (Component 2) in your demonstration lesson;
  • You are expected to also cover other areas teaching, such as sight-reading, aural skills, technical exercises, theory etc.;
  • If your lesson runs over 20 minutes, the examiner will stop assessing it.

Many have argued that classroom teachers in schools have been subject to regular and routine lesson observations over a long period of time. Whilst this is true, I think there’s a subtle distinction to be made between an ‘observation’ and a ‘demonstration’. Generally, in an ‘observation’, another teacher or outside course mentor will observe one of your ‘normal’ lessons ‘in progress’. For the DipLCM(TD) demonstration lesson, you will be required to effectively deliver a one-off lesson, out of context, in front of one other person, and at an unfamiliar location. Because of that, I often say to people that the demonstration lesson is inevitably artificial, and I do think the examiners realise that.

The first thing to say is that you need to have a plan. I’m not saying you need a fully-fledged and written-up lesson plan, but you need an idea, particularly with such a tight time constraint, where your demonstration lesson is heading. I often find that candidates haven’t thought about lesson planning before, so if you’re one of those, check out the following resources (some piano-based, but they can be adapted):

3 Useful Styles of Lesson Plans for Piano Teachers (Nicola Cantan)
Lesson Plan Templates for Piano Teachers (Tim Topham)
Simultaneous Learning Practice Map (Paul Harris)

For a more conventional approach, there are also some lesson plan templates in ABRSM’s The Music Teacher’s Companion.

I particularly like Paul Harris’s Simultaneous Learning approach to lesson planning, that is, by identifying a piece’s ‘ingredients’, this helps make links between repertoire and other skills such as scales, sight-reading, theory etc.

20 minutes is not a long time, and in that time you need to give a good overview of your competence as an instrumental teacher. Remember, although this is a standalone lesson, it needs to have context, even if that context is invented. The pupil will have come from the previous lesson, via practice at home, and they’ll be going on from this lesson to practise at home once more, in preparation for the next lesson.

One of the biggest criticisms of candidates’ demonstration lesson is that it is focussed too heavily on repertoire without reference to other areas of learning. I think it’s useful to be working on a piece with which the pupil is already fairly familiar, because it seems a waste of the demonstration lesson teaching basic notes and rhythms. Assuming the piece is already in progress, which areas might the pupil be finding tricky, and how could you cover these in the demonstration lesson?

Photo of the LCM Grade 2 Piano piece, The Somersault King mentioned as an example piece in the blog post about preparing an effective DipLCM(TD) demonstration lesson

Let’s take The Somersault King on the current LCM Grade 2 Piano syllabus, List C. The piece is in C major. Could your lesson begin with revision of the C major scale, arpeggio and/or broken chord? Could you introduce the lesson with a warm-up improvisation in the key of C major in which you ask a pupil to improvise as if they were somersaulting? These things provide a link with technical work, exercises, aural awareness and interpretation. It may only take a couple of minutes, but it adds another dimension to your lesson. These things also help set your piece within a wider context of learning.

When you’re preparing for the demonstration lesson, make sure you select a pupil who is not only willing to take part (and may also have willing parents), but one who won’t freeze when required to ‘perform’ in front of the examiner. There is nothing to stop you ‘rehearsing’ the lesson in advance, and I would encourage you to do this. This component is about demonstrating your competence as a teacher in a one-off exam, not a periodic observation. You cannot show in your next observation, that which you forgot to show this time.

It’s easy for me to say, but try and relax as much as possible. The examiner is a silent observer in the demonstration lesson, so as far as possible, you should just ignore them.

Whilst the advice above can be applied alone, don’t underestimate the value of having someone to mentor you for your diploma. A mentor can empower you to reflect on your teaching; go into the exam with confidence; and come out with a qualification which validates your teaching skills. If you’d like one-to-one help and guidance for all aspects of your DipLCM(TD), or indeed any other teaching diploma, I offer a bespoke online mentoring programme which offers you support with all aspects of your chosen diploma.


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below:

By investing in yourself…

If you put money into a savings account, chances are, you’ll get back in interest more than you started with. You might not get very much, especially at the moment, but you’ll likely end up with more money than you started with.

Different banks offer different interest rates, and occasionally different incentives to encourage you to deposit your money with them. I’m sure I’m not the only who opts for the easy option and sticks with what I have, rather than trawling the internet for better deals. But, you know as well as I do, the old adage that you get out of it what you put in.

Last year, I signed up for something in the hope it would both unpick and develop some areas of both life and business (though, as we well know, the boundaries between the two are very blurred).

I’m not going to tell you what it was, but it cost money. It cost a lot of money (by my standards). A sum not far short of four figures. I had to think very carefully about spending that amount of money, and by spending it on that, I had to allocate the money in a different way to how I might normally have liked.

Money is a constant background issue for freelancers and the self-employed. We don’t like talking about money. For all it offers, money can often be as much a hindrance as it is a help. I think that those who work in the music industry, and music teachers in particular are especially conscious of this, and by consequence, are often reluctant to spend money. There’s perhaps a whole side issue here about music teaching and business, and how teachers perceive themselves as business owners, but that’s for another day.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) comes in many different forms, but in most cases, engaging with it costs money. In the past, I’ve been one of those teachers who was reluctant to spend money, but over the past few years I’ve made a sizeable shift in mindset when it comes to this.

You see, one of the things which we often forget is that by engaging in CPD which we have to pay for, we are making an investment. We’re making an investment not just in our business, but in ourselves. Just as when we invest money in a bank or similar, we’re investing in the hope of getting back more than we put in. Sometimes we might look for short-term gains, and other times, we might look for longer-term gains. We often adjust our investments accordingly.

So far for me, engaging in CPD hasn’t necessarily been about making more money. This may, in part be because of the ‘complicated’ relationship status I have with money anyway, but I’m not necessarily spending money in order to make more money in the future as a direct consequence of that CPD. Above all, it’s about investing in myself, and as a consequence, in my business.

Remember the thing I invested in last year, that cost a sum not far short of four figures? Well, since I did it, I’ve made back the cost of that investment almost 10 times. I never set out to do that. That outcome was purely unintentional. I say that not to show off, but to make the point that the results of our investments are not necessarily measured in monetary terms and can often manifest unexpectedly. I got far more out that thing than could ever be measured in pounds and pence.

In the online mentoring work I do with teachers working towards teaching diplomas, people are often reluctant to spend the money. In truth, as I often say, it works out at less than the price of a cup of coffee per day, but nevertheless, money is often the sticking point. We immediately see the total sum and label it as ‘expensive’.

Spending money on CPD such as that is seen in terms of parting with money rather than investing it. I think there’s a subtle difference. If I buy £5.00 worth of apples, my money has been spent on fruit. Logic says that the intention is I will eat those apples. I won’t get my £5.00 back, and after I’ve eaten them, I won’t have the apples either. I don’t think CPD works like that if we see it as an investment, but this requires a shift in mindset.

As a private music teacher, how do you look at spending money on CPD? Do you view it as a necessary evil? Do you see it as parting with your hard-earned cash? Do you see it as an investment? Do you think about the value you might gain from that investment?

Above all, I believe that it is by investing in yourself that you invest in others…and that goes beyond any kind of monetary investment. Next time you look at a CPD opportunity and rile at how expensive it is, consider its investment potential. It’s a potential investment not just in you, but in others.


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below:

Myths of Private Teaching

Over the past 18 years, I have come across many myths surrounding the nature of private teaching as a professional occupation. Sometimes these myths are perpetuated by those outside of the profession, but I’ve come across plenty of occasions where they’ve been perpetuated from within.

I can only base this on my own experience, and on that of others I know. Everyone is different, but nevertheless, let me try and dispel some of those myths!

ONE
You only teach children…

Quite the opposite in fact. I currently teach pupils who range in age from nine to 75. 60% of my pupils are aged 18 or over.

TWO
You only teach after school…

I currently teach Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. 50% of my teaching currently takes place before schools finish. Mondays and Tuesdays I teach from 2pm to 8:30pm, Thursdays from 11:30am-7pm, and Fridays from 10:30am to 6pm.

THREE
You have day job…

No, all my income comes from freelance work, the bulk of it from teaching. Over the past 12 months, my income was roughly apportioned as follows:

  • 70% – Teaching
  • 11% – Consultancy
  • 8% – Diploma Mentoring
  • 6% – Composition
  • 4% – Other
  • 1% – Accompanying

I don’t have a spouse, partner or ‘other half’ with a day job either!

FOUR
You only teach beginners…

On the contrary, I currently have very few beginners. I currently teach a whole range of ability levels from beginners right through to those working at diploma level.

FIVE
You teach because you couldn’t be a performer…

Strangely enough, performing never much interested me. I’ve always been happy to play to other people, including in public, but I’ve never felt any urge to become a performer. Remember that saying, ‘those who can do, those who can’t, teach’? It’s not true. There are many excellent musicians out there who have dedicated their lives to being performers. Equally, there are many excellent musicians who have dedicated their lives to being teachers. We need both. Teachers are not automatically failed performers.

SIX
You teach privately because you couldn’t get any peri work…

I have been teaching for not far off 20 years, and in that time, I have never attempted to get any peripatetic teaching either directly in schools, or through music services or hubs. I have always taught privately and don’t have any desire to change that. There are many excellent peripatetic teachers, just as there are private teachers. We need both.

SEVEN
Private teaching is easy…

There is a myth that teaching one-to-one lessons is easy, and that as private teachers we somehow have a ‘cushy’ existence. One-to-one teaching is often compared to classroom teaching, the suggestion being it is much easier to teach one person than a class of 30. Personally, I don’t look on it like this: they are just different. I personally find that one-to-one teaching is pretty intense. You have to be 100% present in every lesson, 100% of the time. It’s tiring, exhausting sometimes. The hours are often anti-social. It’s very different to a lot of other occupations, but it is by no means ‘easy’.

EIGHT
One day you’re going to get a ‘proper job’…

No. Just no.

Have you come across any other myths? If so, share them in the comments below.


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below:

Age-appropriate: why teachers should be honest about their skillset

When I started teaching, as I’m sure a lot of us did, I’d teach anyone who came my way, who was interested and who was willing to pay. My first five pupils included two adults, two primary-age children, and one of secondary age. The longer I’ve taught, the more I’ve come to realise that my skillset as a teacher is best suited to some age groups rather than others. But, it’s taken me a long time to accept that, and to get over that sense of failure at not being a great teacher for all ages.

I think that as instrumental teachers, we’re often expected to be everything to everybody. If you take my Thursdays for example, my youngest pupil is 9 and the oldest is 75. They range from beginner to post-Grade 8 levels. As teachers, we have to quickly adapt our skills to meet the needs of a whole range of individuals of differing ages and ability levels, and I’m sure that many of you would agree, that as much as this can be challenging, it’s a rewarding part of the work we do.

I’m going to be honest, I’m happy to start taking pupils from the age of around nine, with no upper age-limit. This may surprise some people, for we so often see pictures of small children learning instruments, and of course, all of our national ensembles are geared towards children starting as early as possible. As one choirmaster once said, “We like them out of the cradle singing the B minor mass”.

That’s not to say that those younger than nine shouldn’t learn an instrument. On the contrary, I started piano lessons just before my seventh birthday. Over the past 18 years that I’ve been teaching, I’ve come to realise that my skillset is best-suited to those age nine and upwards, predominantly adults and teenagers. There are many teachers around whose skillset is far better suited to younger children, and hats off to them.

With this sense that we should be everything to everybody, I think we can feel ashamed to set parameters such as the ages we teach, maybe even feel a sense of failure. It could be perceived as a weakness in our teaching ability if we exclude a certain age group. I don’t think this is the case at all, and actually, I think we should be more upfront about where our skillset best lies.

It’s not always easy though. I’ve had enquiries in the past from parents whose children are younger (often considerably so) than my lower age-limit. Explaining to them that I don’t teach children that young, but that there are plenty of teachers that do, can be challenging. There have been at least two occasions in the past when I’ve been shouted at down the telephone because the enquirer feels that it is a slight against their child that you won’t teach them.

Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I’m being honest with them, knowing that there are teachers out there who will serve their child better than I ever could. The temporary inconvenience of having to enquire to another teacher is surely superseded by long-term benefits?

I’ve always believed that it’s right and fair to be honest about what I can, and can’t offer, as a teacher. I think more teachers should do this, and I suspect they would feel far more satisfied and fulfilled for having done so. If you’re teaching privately, you’re in charge of what your business offers. Maximise on the strengths, and let other teachers pick up those pupils for whom your skillset is not best-suited.


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below:



The Critical Art of Choice

As instrumental teachers, we are overwhelmed by choice when it comes to teaching resources and materials. New books, websites and subscription sites appear on an almost daily basis. There is more available to us now, than at any time in the past.

Having access to such a wide range of resources is, essentially, a good thing.  Rather than being stuck with one book, which doesn’t suit every pupil, we can now tailor what we use to the needs of individual pupils.

There is though, a danger, that when choosing and using resources, we become uncritical. Often, we let someone else do the work for us. Once an eminent music educator or organisation recommends a resource, it is taken up by teachers with great enthusiasm and is quickly implemented in their teaching practice. In some ways, this isn’t a bad thing. There are plus-points to books and resources recommended by someone else, often someone knowledgeable in their field, who has previously researched and critiqued them. But, does this mean teachers should rely on others to do the work for them? I would argue that the more resources there are available, the more critical we need to be as teachers.

As many of you know, I mentor teachers for teaching diplomas. The DipABRSM requires a Written Submission of 1,800 words on a topic of the candidate’s choosing from the syllabus. One of the most popular topics is:

‘Discuss your choice of material for use with young beginners and/or adult beginners in the first year of learning.’

For most teachers, this means a discussion of tutor books (though of course, you are encouraged to discuss the whole range of materials you use). If we take piano for example, the market is overwhelmed by tutor books: Piano AdventuresPiano SafariGet Set! PianoPiano TimePiano WorksMe and My Piano, Piano Junior to name but a few. New piano tutor books appear on the market at an almost alarming rate. As teachers, how critical are we in our choice of tutor books we use?

When I read essays which seek to answer the question above, they invariably follow the same format. The teacher has a preferred tutor book which they use, and they unknowingly use the essay to ‘sell’ the book to their reader (the examiner). There’s nothing wrong with having a preferred tutor books, and indeed, most of us have them. But how did we arrive at our decision to use them? Unfortunately, writing in your essay that you use those books because they were recommended to you doesn’t really cut it with the examiners. Candidates, and indeed, all of us, should demonstrate a more critical approach.

As a starter, consider the following questions:

  • How does the book fit in with our wider teaching philosophy?
  • How does the book align with our curriculum and pedagogy?
  • How does the book enhance the musical learning of our pupils?
  • Why do you use this book in preference to others?
  • How does the book fit into a wider progression of musical learning?

No one book is perfect, but these are all important questions, and they require teachers to think critically about the materials they are using. The answer to all these questions cannot wholly be that we use a book because it was recommended to us.

To even pass the DipABRSM Written Submission, teachers need to submit an assignment which is:

‘Adequately argued with some evidence of structural control and flow of argument [and an] acceptable level of literacy and grammatical accuracy, and some evidence of relevant research.’

So, by all means, seek the advice, views and recommendations of others, but  above all, be critical yourself. With the ever-increasing number of resources available to us, it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon. Some of those bandwagons turn out to be good, but some turn out to be only a passing fad. Think about the books, materials and resources you use in your teaching. Can you critique what you use, and answer the questions above?


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below:



Putting the ‘social’ into ‘social media’

I’ve just been having a clear-out of people I was following on Twitter. Don’t worry, it’s not anyone whose tweets I read and interact with, it’s people who’ve obviously stopped using the platform. Some accounts hadn’t been used for several years and I couldn’t even remember some of the people.

It reminded me that at the very heart of social media is the notion of being ‘social’. I think it’s quite easy to forget that sometimes. I frequently see people and businesses who are new to social media simply using it as a loudspeaker. In this ‘digital age’ it’s easy to get online, and I can see why people are drawn to using social media as a means to promote themselves and/or their business.

Now, let’s be clear, I’m no social media expert and I’ve had no training in social media. I do use it though…a lot! For all its faults, it offers so much. I often joke that I wouldn’t have any friends if it wasn’t for Twitter, and maybe, this isn’t that far from the truth. Perhaps one of greatest joys in life (for me anyway) is meeting people in person whom you know online. I’ve met so many wonderful people over the years, and I count many of them to be my closest friends.

But, if you’re new to social media, it can be daunting. It’s hard to know where to start (and where to stop), so I thought it might be useful for me to share, from my own experience, some tips and ideas to help you navigate social media if you’re just starting out and would like to use it for promoting yourself and/or your business:

ONE

Setting up your account is the easy bit, it’s then the hard work starts. Setting up is easy, but now you have to manage, grow and run your account, and that’s a whole new challenge. Try and do a bit of planning before you make your accounts live;

TWO

Whatever platform you’re going to use, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, use it regularly. Particularly if you’re going to use it for promoting yourself and/or your business, I personally think you need to be doing something most days. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break from it occasionally, and it doesn’t mean you have to be on there 24/7, but I think that a regular presence is necessary;

THREE

Don’t expect people to follow you back just because you follow them. These days, I’m quite picky. I tend to follow people back only if I’m interested in their posts, or they’re clearly interacting (or are going to interact). Trust me, it’s by being social, by chatting to other people and getting to know them, and by interacting with what they post that you’ll acquire followers (and hopefully friends too);

FOUR

Don’t just use social media as a loudspeaker to promote you and/or your business. Some people say that you should apply an 80/20 rule, that is to say only 20% of your content is advertising. On busy platforms such as Twitter, even 20% can be a lot. Take the time to be social first because from experience, I know that will reap rewards further down the line if you want to use social media for promotional purposes;

FIVE

It’s a slow process. It’s a very slow process. I believe that if you really want your social media content and interaction to be high quality, it might take years. I’ve been on Twitter for just over eight years, but it was probably four years before it really took off for me. But again, make the most of the social interaction, because I truly believe this will be the thing which grows your following;

SIX

I’m a firm believer that you and your content should be authentic. Some people choose to use their account just for business, others use it for a mix. I guess that I don’t have that clear divide between work and leisure (I like to think I just have ‘life’) so you get a bit of everything from me. I personally think that’s a good thing because it shows I’m human, and let’s face it, most of us would rather interact with other humans than faceless machines;

SEVEN

Take your time. Think before you post. Remember that even if you go back and delete something you’ve posted, it’s probably already been archived somewhere, and it’s dead easy to screenshot these days. Maybe sticking to the mantra that you shouldn’t post anything online which you wouldn’t say to someone’s face isn’t a bad idea;

EIGHT

Remember that what you post reflects you and/or your business. That includes things you share/retweet/repost. Again, think before you post;

NINE

Don’t correct other people’s spelling and grammar. I try my best to check the spelling and grammar of my posts, but even then, mistakes happen (we’re all at the mercy of autocorrect too!). When the odd mistake creeps through, I really don’t need this pointing out to me (either publicly or via private message). You won’t make friends online by trying to score points;

TEN

Enjoy it! Sometimes, the best way to approach social media is to just enjoy the journey. Don’t expect too much from it, and again, don’t expect too much, too soon. Tread carefully, be yourself and above all, be social.


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below:



“When can I do Grade 9?”

Please remember to check the current edition of the syllabus as these change regularly, and marking allocations can be amended. 


You’ve passed Grade 8. What next?

As we well know, there is, alas, no Grade 9 in the UK. So, what are your options for post-Grade 8 examinations and assessments?

I’m lucky at the moment to be working with several musicians who have either recently passed Grade 8, or who are already working beyond that level. I’ll state now, as I always state, music is for life, not just for exams, and it’s perfectly possible to learn post-Grade 8 repertoire without ever taking an exam. That said, in this blog post, I want to consider some of the options available to learners post-Grade 8 level.

In this post, I’m going to concentrate on five options, leading to the first-level diploma exams offered by ABRSM, Trinity College London and the London College of Music.

Now, you may be wondering why I’ve arranged these five exams as I have. Firstly, Trinity’s Advanced Certificate is pitched at the same level as Grade 8 (Level 3), although it’s often seen as a step beyond because of its nature as a recital exam, in comparison to the standard three pieces performed at the highest grade.

Secondly, ABRSM’s new diploma, the ARSM, whilst accredited at the same level as the DipABRSM (Level 4), includes a mixture of DipABRSM repertoire and Grade 8+ repertoire. I have therefore illustrated this as a stepping stone from Grade 8 to the diplomas themselves. Finally, I have included the three first-level diplomas: DipABRSM, ATCL and DipLCM.

That may all seem fairly straightforward, but of course, each exam is made up of different components and each can be weighted differently when it comes to the marking. Whilst for the Advanced Certificate, ARSM, DipABRSM and ATCL performance diplomas, there is only one option, the DipLCM can be further subdivided into the standard, recital and concert options. We can see illustrated below the very different ways each of these exams is made up:

Broadly speaking, the ARSM and DipLCM concert option offer the greatest degree of performance with, in both cases, 100% of the marks being for the performance alone. That said, the Advanced Certificate and ATCL are not far behind as 90% of the available marks are for the performance, with a further 10% for presentation skills. Shortly behind these are the DipLCM recital option which offers 80% of the marks to the performance and 20% to sight-reading, and the DipLCM standard option which offers 70% of the marks for the performance, and 15% each to the viva voce and sight-reading. The exam with the least marks offered for the performance itself is the DipABRSM offering just 60% of the total, with 25% for the viva voce and 15% for the quick study (sight-reading).

So maybe the first question to ask yourself is what do you actually want to be examined on? As is the case for the graded exams, it’s perfectly possible to acquire skills such as sight-reading without being tested on them in an exam.

Then there’s the repertoire itself. It’ll come as no surprise that there is a good deal of repertoire overlap across all five of these exams. Another option to consider is whether you wish to include own-choice items, and if so, how many are allowed. Similarly, will your programme require pre-approval? Also, don’t forget that in some cases, you can offer a portion of your programme on a related instrument (for example, a flautist might offer a piccolo piece).

What surprised me most when writing this post is that the DipABRSM which is so often seen as the ‘gold standard’ in fact offers the fewest marks for the performance. This is something else worth bearing in mind.

Above all, talk to your teacher about your options, but also, where possible, talk to those who’ve already sat these exams. If you know someone else also working towards a post-Grade 8 exam, it can be good to ‘buddy-up’ and work together, even if you don’t play the same instrument it can still be good to share the experience.

As with all exams, you get out of the experience what you put in. Enjoy and value the journey as much as you do the result.


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below:



The Exam-Life Balance

I’m aware that a number of students across the UK are now fast-approaching their GCSE, AS and A-Level summer exams. I know how important these exams are and how stressful they can be. The pressure to succeed in them is immense. As I wrote in a blog post last year, I am, however, a firm believer that music can be a fantastic way to relieve some of that stress and provide a welcome break from both exams and revision.

Each music teacher will approach this differently, but with the above in mind, here are some guidelines  which I’ve offered my own students affected by these exams this summer:

  1. Personally, and I’m sure this will apply to other teachers, my 48-hour cancellation policy still applies: lessons cancelled with less than 48 hours’ notice will be charged for;
  2. We understand that with the stress of the school exams, practice will inevitably be limited (or non-existent). Please don’t let this put you off coming to your lessons though because there’s still lots we can do and enjoy;
  3. If you feel you have an especially busy week of exams coming up, or a heavy revision period, you might want to cancel the lesson that week. Remember though, it’s much better if you can shift the lesson to a different day or time, or maybe double the lesson length the following or previous week rather than missing the lesson entirely. The lesson could be that welcome break and breather you need;
  4. If you’re not in school during the normal school day, why not change your lesson time to a free daytime slot? There are always a variety of free slots available each week. My pupils can see these, book and switch easily just by logging on to MyMusicStaff;
  5. Above all, don’t let school exams eclipse everything you enjoy doing, especially music. There’s so much research extolling the benefits of music in terms of health and wellbeing. This is all the more important in times of stress;
  6. In the past, pupils have asked if they can take a complete break from lessons during the school exam period. I know that other teachers have been approached with similar requests, and sometimes, this ‘break’ can last up to eight weeks. Whilst we understand the pressure to do this, I don’t encourage it as I believe that there are always ways to work around the exams to keep music part of your life. Personally, with quite a long waiting list, I am not able to keep lesson slots open for pupils who wish to take such an extended break over this period.

I wish you all good luck with your exams, and I, like other music teachers, look forward to working with you to achieve a good exam-life balance in such stressful times.


To get news, updates, new releases and blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to my mailing list below: