4 Ways for Instrumental Teachers to Avoid ‘Resource Overwhelm’

I don’t know about anyone else, but one of my jobs over the summer is to make some attempt to sort and reorganise music, organise resources and generally tidy up my teaching studio. I’d say there are now an overwhelming number of teaching books, resources, websites and methods available, not to mention sheet music targeted specifically at the educational market. It can be completely overwhelming to know where to begin.

What’s clear is that none of us have either the time or the funds to explore or acquire everything that’s out there. It’s just not possible, and in some ways, why would we want to? In this blog post, I want to share some practical actions you can take to help avoid feeling totally and utterly overwhelmed by the resources available.

1. What’s your teaching philosophy?

  • What matters to you most in your teaching?
  • What is the knowledge and skills you’d like your students to develop?
  • Which things would you like your students to experience in their lessons?

These are important questions, yet many teachers feel unsure when it comes to their teaching philosophy. It’s easy to become enveloped in everyone else’s philosophies, and let’s be honest, it requires a certain amount of confidence to develop our own. With the teaching diploma candidates I mentor, this is something the think about a lot as it affects so many other areas.

‘Philosophy’ is a scary word, but start by thinking about what you want your students to get out of their lessons. You may find it helpful to reflect on your own learning – how might both the positive and negative teaching you experienced affect the way you teach now?

When it comes to choosing resources, having an idea of what’s important to you can help to sift the wheat from the chaff. If you believe that your students should be good sight-readers, you may choose a method book which develops note-reading in a pattern- or interval-based way. If you want you students to have good technical skills, you may choose a method book which develops technique from the very first lesson. If, like me, you’d like your students to develop the independent learning skills required to take ownership of their own learning, you may rightly be cautious to choose resources which do not rely too heavily on rote-learning.

Tip: think about what you want your students to get out of their lessons. What is your teaching philosophy? How do you think the resources you currently use facilitate that? Are there gaps to be filled or even resources to be retired?

2. Know your students.

As a teacher, you know your students pretty well. As time passes, you know what makes them ‘tick’, what interests them, and which skills they most want to develop. Inevitably, the books and resources you own, and those you seek to acquire will be in response to the needs of particular students.

There are many excellent resources out there, and hundreds I would recommend. I don’t own them all though. Fantastic as many are, they don’t suit my needs either as a teacher, or those of my students. Simply because I neither own nor use a resource, it is not necessarily a criticism of it. Rather, I have selected resources which best align with my teaching philosophy and with the needs of my own students.

Tip: if you’re looking to buy new books and resources, think about which of your students you will use them with. However wonderful the resource, if you’re struggling to decide which students you might use it with, maybe it’s not for you.

3. Set aside time to explore.

We are all busy, and time is inevitably limited. I suspect I’m not the only one who suddenly finds themselves hunting for a particular resource on the day of the lesson. It’s worth putting aside some time, maybe once a term, to evaluate the resources you already have and to see whether there are any gaps you might need to fill. Maybe you could get together with other teachers to share resources and ideas, either in person or online.

That said, you will never be able to own or use every book or resource which comes to the market, nor should you aspire too. Similarly, don’t discard books and resources because they are ‘old’. Some of the tried and tested approaches are still the most effective. When you evaluate your resources, think about whether those you use still meet the needs of you and your students. If they do, then that’s great, you shouldn’t feel obliged to replace them.

One word of caution though: if you’re using the same books and resources without considering alternatives, then I would encourage you to explore what else might be out there.

Tip: try and set aside time specifically to evaluate the resources you own, and to see whether, in consideration of your teaching philosophy and the needs of your students, whether there are any gaps to be filled. Also, consider whether you should be budgeting for new books and resources. Nicola Cantan has written a blog post here about budgeting in the teaching studio.

4. Do your research.

I’ve written previously about the need to do your own research and I feel quite strongly about this. When we become overwhelmed by the volume of resources out there, this often comes as a result of comparing ourselves to others. We see other teachers using things and we feel that we need to join them in order to keep up. It’s easy to feel that if we’re not using the latest method book or the latest app, we’re not keeping up.

What suits one teacher, and indeed, one student, won’t necessarily suit the next. There have been several instances over the past few years where certain resources have been pushed online as being the ‘must have’ in your teaching studio. They aren’t (or at least, they may not be). They’re just another resource in a long line of resources to hit the market. The temporary excitement will fade and the latest fad will pass. In 18 years as a private music teacher, I’ve seen this time and time again.

Once you’re clear about your teaching philosophy, you’ve considered the needs of your students and you’ve set aside time to explore, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do your research. The internet has made this easier than ever. Not only can you explore books and resources online, but you can ask about and discuss them with other teachers. You can read online reviews, of which there are many (although, you should be cautious here, as not all online reviews are independent). Ultimately though, you need to make the decision. Just because everyone else seems to use a particular resource and even if it has glowing online endorsements, you can still walk away in favour of something else.

Tip: when choosing a new resource, consider, (a) how does it align with my teaching philosophy; (b) how does it meet the needs of my students; and (c) have I researched it independently. Not only will you build a library of books and resources which suit you and your students, but you will probably save money in the process.

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Pinterest graphic: 4 Ways for Instrumental Teachers to Avoid Resource Overwhelm

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.

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.

By investing in yourself…

If you put money into a savings account, chances are, you’ll get back, with the addition of 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.

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?