Dinosaurs, Wizards and Clocks: Student Concert July 2019

Dinosaurs, Wizards and Clocks: Student Concert July 2019

On Saturday 6th July 2019 I held my 10th student concert.  My twice-yearly concerts provide an opportunity for all my students to perform to a friendly audience.  Because many of them don’t take formal piano exams, the concerts provide an alternative goal for them to aim for, preparing a selected piece or pieces of their choice to a high standard.  Unconstrained by the requirements of an exam syllabus they are able to select any piece that they like and, most importantly, motivates them to play!   Often they will be keen to learn a piece from a film such as Nathan, 10, who played the theme from Jurassic Park:

Daniel, also 10, chose Hedwig’s theme from Harry Potter:

Both Nathan and Daniel found good arrangements of these pieces in books.  However, Dan, 11, chose to arrange his chosen song – A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman – himself, using a few different arrangements he found online as inspiration:

Pop songs are also a popular choice for my students.  I try to discourage them from using sheet music arrangements of current songs as sometimes such arrangements can be of variable quality.  However, lead sheets – which provide only a melody line and chord symbols – can be a great way to learn the basics of a song whilst allowing for a creative interpretation of the core ingredients.  Luca, 13, used a lead sheet to create his own arrangement of Coldplay’s Clocks which also contained his own improvisations based around the chord progression:

Gabriel, 10, also used a chord progression from a famous song; but rather than use any aspect of the actual melody he used this chord progression to create his own piece.  He challenged the audience to see if anyone would be able to recognise the song but because he had changed it so much from the original (John Lennon’s Imagine), no-one was able to identify it!

There were also a couple of debut performances including this from Jago, 4, who played I Like Coffee – a wonderful and very popular rote piece.  Do make sure you check out the look on his face when he takes his bow at the end and realises everyone is clapping for him!

Sophia, also 4, was playing in her second concert and performed her version of Mary had a Little Lamb – she had worked out how to harmonise this herself:

I love to play duets with my students.  Here’s Myla, 6, and myself playing Broadway Star:

And Izzy, 11, and I playing Simple Samba:

These twice-yearly student concerts are a great opportunity for my experienced students to prepare a chosen piece to a high standard and for some, to perform their own composed or arranged piece.  For my new and very young students it’s a lovely way to boost their confidence and provide them opportunities to perform in a friendly and informal setting.  For me, it gives me a wonderful opportunity to look back on previous performances and see how my students are growing and developing both as pianists and as people.  I’ve now hosted 10 concerts and plan to host many more – watch this space!

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What a Difference Three Years Makes……Student Concert June 2018

What a Difference Three Years Makes……Student Concert June 2018

I’ve been holding my twice-yearly concerts for nearly four years now. In the earlier years, I didn’t always record the performances although I have now started doing so. It’s lovely to watch them back and see how the students have developed over the years. Luckily, however, there are some recordings of performances at the earlier concerts so I have been able to look back on some from July 2015 and see how the students have developed since then, as seen in the videos from my latest concert on 30 June 2018. For starters, here is Nathan in July 2015, then 6 years’ old, playing 2 pieces including his own composition:

And here he is three years later, age 9, playing Little Prelude in C by JS Bach……

Keiva was only just 5 years old when she played here at her second concert:

And here she is, at 8, playing the wonderful Emerald Green by June Armstrong:

Here’s Daniel playing at his first concert in July 2015 when he was 6:

And three years’ later he performs his own composition The Easter Blues:

Izzy was 7 when she played Plain Sailing by Rosa Conrad at her second concert:

And at the age of 10 here she is introducing and playing her own ‘untitled’ composition, and challenging the audience to see if they could tell what it was about!

I often bore friends and family by saying I have the best job in the world. But I really do. And watching my students grow and develop, not just as pianists but as young people, is a real privilege.

Student Concert – December 2016

Student Concert – December 2016

On 3rd December I held my fifth student concert – two years after the first concert.  Since then I’ve been having a lovely trip down memory lane looking back on photos and videos from the first concert and seeing how much the pupils have developed since then.  For example, here is Keiva at my first concert – at the time she was 4 and had been learning for just a few months:

And here she is two years’ later – poised and confident!

For more videos, head over to my Facebook Page:


During the month of December I am posting a different video every day as part of an ‘Advent Project’.

Finally, here is a wonderful photo of all my performers showing off their home-made, personalised biscuits!



12 Reasons why student concerts matter

12 Reasons why student concerts matter

My students and I are currently preparing for our next student concert.  As well as practicing their pieces in their lessons, we are also working on their wider performance skills – introducing themselves clearly and then finishing their pieces with style and taking a bow.

Whilst formal piano exams may not be right for all students, taking part in regular student concerts really does benefit every student – not just in terms of refining skills by preparing pieces to performance standard, but also in developing wider skills and confidence that will see them through many aspects of their future lives.

Teaching colleagues of mine, Andrea and Trevor Dow from TeachPianoToday, compiled this great list of reasons why student concerts (recitals) are so vital.  This list is written for parents and I am grateful to them for allowing me to share it below.  I’ve also included some photos of my past student concerts.

1.  Recitals provide a tangible goal to work towards. In having a set date and a pre-planned performance selection, your child learns how to manage their practice time and what it feels like to polish and perfect a piece.IMG_6970

2.  Recitals provide an opportunity to feel successful. Learning the piano requires many, many hours of solo practice. Performing gives your child the recognition they deserve for their hard-work.

3.  Recitals provide an opportunity for you to show your child that you value their involvement in music. Setting aside time in your busy life to attend a recital supports your children and their peers and shows your child that your family values music.IMG_6963

4.  Recitals provide a chance for your children (and you!) to reflect upon where they’ve “come from” when watching beginning students.  Progress at the piano can sometimes feel slow, but watching younger students perform reminds your children of the gains they have made and motivates them to continue to progress.

5.  Recitals provide a chance for your children (and you!) to see “where they’ll go” when watching more advanced students.  There are few things more motivating to a piano student than watching their peers perform. They get to hear pieces that they will enjoy playing in the future, see more advanced technique first-hand and experience the pride that comes from becoming proficient at the piano.Edward

6.  Recitals provide a chance for your extended family to be involved in your child’s piano education.  Athletes get all the glory… everyone comes to watch soccer games but no one really heads over to watch a piano practice session! Involving grandparents and aunties and uncles in the recital audience gives your child an opportunity to share their hard work with the ones they love.

7.  Recitals provide a chance for your child to experience nervousness… and to realize that those feelings are okay. We like to protect our children from feeling uncomfortable, but in “real life” these feelings are part-and-parcel of being human. Early experiences with successfully conquering nerves gives children confidence.


8. Recitals give you the opportunity to provide genuine and heart-felt praise. Bring on the photos and videos and big hugs and flushed-face smiles.  Clap enthusiastically.  Let your child know just how much you recognize their efforts and watch their commitment to piano lessons soar.

9. Recitals provide a chance for your child to practice public speaking and to gain confidence in front of a group; two skills that will serve your child well in many other areas of his or her life. Speaking and performing in a safe environment means that your child gains important experience in front of a crowd. The earlier these experiences happen, the easier it becomes for your child as they enter adolescence and adulthood.Me with all the performers

10.  Recitals provide an opportunity for your child to get to know his or her peers who are also taking lessons. Making these connections helps to build community within a studio and helps your child to feel as though he or she belongs which results in increased interest in lessons.

11.  Recitals give your children the chance to hear live music. Young children rarely attend a lot of live concerts… and piano recitals are a wonderful place for your child to hear a wide variety of music. Nothing can replace the “live music experience” and when your child is an active participant in the event it’s even more rewarding!photo (14)

12. Recitals provide an opportunity for you to sit back and marvel at the pride-inducing sight of your own child making beautiful music! Piano practice is often done amongst a busy household with siblings, pets, vacuums, dishwashers and doorbells.  It’s rare that you have the opportunity to focus only on your child and the music they are making. These moments matter.IMG_0732

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Never Give Up!

I was chatting to the mum of 4 of my pupils on Friday (yes, she has 4 children between the ages of 3 and 8 and I teach them all piano).   First ‘piano’ day back after the long Summer was a bit of a struggle as all of the children were reluctant to go to their lessons.  (Although, once there, every one of them did great!)  But she shared with me that it was really tough getting them to practice (particularly her younger son, 5) and sometimes wondered if it was worth it.   I remembered this great video and blog from Dana Rice a few months ago, who taught her own son the piano.  In the blog she describes how she also had difficulties with her son but now – as a teenager – he loves it and the video shows exactly what he can do.  I really like the ending where he improvises and really demonstrates his musical ability.

So this one is for Antonia, and any other mums out there who struggle with getting their children to practice.  As Dana says -Never Give Up!

Link below:

Never Give Up!.

Debussy, Jingle Bells, Elephants and Dogs……..or a comparative study of 2 piano lessons.

The-piano-lesson for July BlogScene 1:  Adult student arrives to piano lesson.    Nervous as she is due to perform her new piece.   She had been working on it very hard and was able to play it fairly competently at home.   She plays the piece for her teacher. More mistakes that she would have liked, but also better than she had thought it would be.

Teacher:   So how did you feel about that performance?

Student:  Ok, but I can play it much better at home.   But I thought it may have gone worse.  I wish I hadn’t made all those silly mistakes though – and I really thought I had ‘got’ those bars (pointing to page)

Teacher:  That’s ok, you haven’t been working on it for very long, and those bars are tricky.  It’s common when performing in front of someone that the weakest bits are those where there are problems.

Student:  But I had worked on them so hard – hands separately, very slowly, even with my eyes closed.  I really thought I had got them.

Teacher:  Ok, let’s have a look at a few more suggestions….

Lesson continues with some insightful tips given by the teacher and the student returns home feeling pleased overall with her performance and keen to get back to those tricky bars and try the new suggestions…..

Scene 2:  Adult student arrives to piano lesson.   Nervous as he knows he will need to play the new piece he has been working on this week.   He arrives at the lesson:

Teacher:  Hi, how has your week been?  How have you got on with the new piece?

Student:  Not too bad but the last bars are really tricky, I can just about do them but I find them really hard.  I think I may have some sort of mental block about them.

Teacher:  Ok, well let’s hear the piece and then we can work through anything we need to

Student plays piece.  It doesn’t go too badly, but – as he feared – he slips up on the last two bars.

Student:  I’m frustrated – I thought I may just be able to get those last bars right – I got them right when I played it at home this morning.

Teacher:  That’s ok, it’s often the way that you play in front of someone.  And you played the piece very well overall.   In fact, those last bars are really tricky – I think the composer may have done that deliberately to trip you up!   Let’s break it all apart and really look at them.

Lesson continues – teacher demonstrates a few tips which can be used to avoid the slip-ups.   Student plays through again with definite improvement.   Feels overall pleased by the end of the lesson and keen to get home and try out the new tips.

Despite the similarity of these 2 conversations, the students in question are very different in terms of their experience.  The first student is playing at a fairly advanced level and the piece in question was Debussy’s First Arabesque – a piece selected as part of a ‘Quick study’ project set by her teacher, Graham Fitch. The second student is an adult beginner, and this conversation took place in his third lesson.   The piece in question was an adaptation of ‘Jingle Bells’ in the Alfred Adult Basic Piano Course.

You have probably already guessed that in the first conversation I was the student, and in the second I was the teacher.    I am lucky enough to be able to study with Graham Fitch who is an international prize-winning pianist, teacher and adjudicator.   (In fact, he writes about the ‘Quick Study’ project in his excellent blog ‘Practising the Piano’ here).   I am often surprised and interested to observe how some of the issues I have as a relatively advanced student have parallels with my beginner pupils.   The most common probably is “I play it so much better at home!”   (I’m still not convinced Graham believes me when I tell him this….)   I often find myself adapting a piece of advice, an exercise or practice tip that I have received from Graham and distilling it for one of my beginner pupils.  In fact my pupils probably don’t realise how lucky they are to have a bit of Graham Fitch thrown into their lessons for the price of one Rebecca Singerman-Knight!

As well as issues surrounding the performance of pieces in lessons, another area of commonality is around the development of ‘muscle memory’ in working with difficult passages.   I am currently working on the second movement of Schubert’s D850 Sonata and there are some tricky passages which just didn’t seem to be ‘sticking’ – a combination of some complex chords in the left hand and flighty ornamental-type passages in the right hand.   Graham advised me to really focus on the left hand but – rather than play it on its own – ‘mime’ the right hand at the same time so as not to forget what the right hand needs to do, but to allow the left hand to fully sound and therefore better embed itself in my memory.   And so far so good, the passage is improving!    Similarly I often encourage my students to really focus on getting the left hand solid – whether playing just chords as an accompaniment or more tricky harmonies and counter-melodies etc.

On the subject of chords, Graham has some great exercises for working with these and encouraging the hand (and wrist and arm) to ‘remember’ quite complex chord positions (there is a video of him discussing this here).   My adult beginners are working through the Alfred Adult course which introduces  tonic and dominant 7th chords very early on.  They often find the hand position of the 7th chords quite uncomfortable, particularly when they involve the 4th finger as that is the weakest, and not a finger that many non-pianists are used to using.  Adapting and simplifying the tips I have received from Graham, I encourage them to work on exercises to get their hands comfortable, not only with the 7th chord, but also with the transition between the tonic and & 7th so that they are set-up for many of the pieces they will learn in the early stages of their learning (as well as being able to play almost every pop song ever written!)  These exercises are also a good opportunity to encourage a good and relaxed and posture and to use the whole arm – flexibly, not stiffly – in their playing.

As readers of my blog will know, as well as working with adult beginners I also specialise in early years’ teaching.  Even with three and four years-olds I have noticed some parallels between my own development as a pianist and the very early stages of piano learning.   Like in so many things when working with very young children, when encouraging good posture and arm / wrist technique at the piano, the best way to communicate is through the use of metaphor.   Graham is a great believer in metaphor in his teaching, and one of his that I have adapted for my early years’ teaching is that of the elephant trunk – i.e. a pianist should use the arm as an elephant trunk – strong, yet flexible.   (I write more about this in my guest post on Frances Wilson’s teaching blog here).

I can only stretch the parallels so far, however.  Most are between my own lessons and those of my adult beginners – rather than the early years’ children.   I have yet to turn up to a lesson and have Graham ask me to find all the dogs on the piano…….

“That’s not a sharp sign, it’s a hash-tag!” – teaching music in the digital world

“That’s not a sharp sign, it’s a hash-tag!” – teaching music in the digital world


Me as a child. Complete with pink ribbon. Honest.

Browsing in Chappell’s the other day I found myself transported back in time by nearly 40 years. I found a copy of John Thompson’s ‘Teaching Little Fingers to Play – A Book for the Earliest Beginner’ – revised and updated many times. This had been my first piano book which I used when I graduated from sitting on the piano stool with my father and playing a few rudimentary tunes, to ‘proper, big-girl’ piano lessons (at the age of 4). Looking through the book I saw it had been modernised to some degree but still contained the same songs I remember learning, together with some of the same illustrations!

Remembering back to my own piano education made me realise quite how fortunate I am to be teaching today. As a young child I had a wonderful teacher and I was lucky that music came relatively naturally to me. I also had great support at home, particularly from my father who is also a pianist. But I remember so many of my school-friends starting the piano and giving up months or years later. And, as I write about here, so many adults today tell me that they wish they had kept with the piano into later life.

But (nearly) 40 years ago teachers were limited in their options of teaching materials and other resources – they either had to rely on tutor books or create their own resources, which would have been laborious and manual. And although it has always been possible to make learning fun, and create games out of practice and theory, this would have required a lot of imagination, time and effort.

These days, for the cost of a few hours browsing on-line, (and sometimes just a few pounds) it is possible for a teacher to find some fantastic fun and educational resources which pupils love to use – particularly when it means they have a great excuse to play with mum or dad’s ipad!

Here I write about a few of my favourite digital resources and their uses:

note squishNote-reading: There are numerous apps designed to help with note reading. One of my favourites is Note Squish – iphone app (69p). Like the fairground game ‘bash a mole’ the child has to read the notes on a stave and then bash the mole bearing the right letter. Great fun, and also some good options so you can set difficulty levels . Young beginners can be tested on just a few notes at a time (as little as two) whilst more advanced students can be tested on notes with numerous ledger lines. There is also an option to work in ‘Sol-Fa’ (do-re-mi) but unfortunately this currently is in relation only to the C major scale so does not teach the concept of ‘relative’ sol-fa. Still, I have left a customer review on the App Store site so hopefully they will rectify this in a future release!

Ear-training: As I write about here I believe that ear-training is a fundamental part of all music education and should be taught accordingly. I have to say that this was the one area where my own education fell short – it was restricted to exam time where we had to practice the dreaded ‘aural tests’. I am passionate about incorporating ear-training into my piano teaching from the very beginning (hence my use of the Kodaly-inspired Dogs and Birds approach) and it is so much easier these days with so many great apps on offer.


So much fun it is frightening…..

I have just discovered the marvellous ipad app ‘Blob Chorus’ (free). It has wonderful graphics and animation and is aimed at children, but frankly I have spent at least an hour today playing it myself and laughing out loud at the expressions on the Blobs’ faces (just before they burst) when you make a mistake. It can be used with the earliest beginner – with just 2 different tones to distinguish between – to more advanced learners who need to identify notes from the whole scale. In fact, I introduced it in a lesson today and both me and my pupil spent 10 minutes in fits of laughter – not sure what Mum thought sitting in the other room!

For slightly more formal aural training, an app simply called Ear Trainer, has a comprehensive range of exercises (even on its free ‘lite’ version) which are progressive. This is a more sophisticated option and will be suitable throughout a learner’s education. I use this myself now.

Rhythm training – I love the ipad app ‘Rhythm Cat’ (free). The learner has to tap along to a rhythm with or without a backing track. Rhythms become progressively more complicated and introduce more types of beat, and after a certain stage the backing tracks are eliminated which makes it even harder. This is great for very young beginners who often struggle with the concept of pulse or the introduction of notes with different timings. I have found a noticeable difference with some of my youngest pupils in their understanding of different rhythms as a direct result of playing this game.

Scale practice – whether or not exams are taken, the knowledge and practicing of scales is vital to the development of all-round musicianship. The ‘scale-box’ app is specifically designed with ABRSM Grade 1-5 exams in mind. It is a simple app, one which tells student which scale to practice (according to the exam syllabus) but what I like is that it really encourages the student to be self-reflective and rate their own performance – which means they really need to listen to their playing and consider what aspects of their playing constitutes a ‘good’ performance (not just getting the right notes, but evenness of tone, pulse and clarity of sound)

forscore-ipad-sheet-music-1As well as games, the digital world brings many efficiencies when it comes to selecting pieces to learn. Whilst a good tutor book remains critical to the development of learning – and the very best ones are invaluable – it is always a great idea to mix things up and introduce new concepts, styles and – of course – new mediums. And I have to say my pupils love it when I place my ipad on the music stand with a beautifully rendered copy of a piece I have found on line (legally and for free) and selected just for them. The days of managing folders of photocopied manuscripts are certainly behind us.

And finally – Spotify and Youtube. For little or no cost it is possible to find numerous performances and recordings of absolutely anything that may help with developing a real interest in, and love for, music. I am currently compiling my own You Tube channel of favourites (click here) inspired both by my teaching and personal passions. One warning however – a student should never watch or listen to only one version of any particular piece. The danger is that they will come to believe that it is the only way to play the piece and not be open to different interpretations. When I recommend a recording or video to a student I try, wherever possible, to recommend an alternative – and very different – interpretation of the same piece (see, for example, the comparison of Lang Lang and Horowitz both performing the Mozart B Flat Major sonata on my You Tube channel. It is probably difficult to find 2 more contrasting pianists and performers!)

So – back to the title of this blog. Has a pupil ever said this to me? I have to admit that – no – they have not. I just thought it was a bit of a clever title. Because ultimately I think that the digital world brings endless positive opportunities for music teachers and learners to make learning fun, creative, beautiful and fulfilling. And for that I would not turn the clock back 40 years.