Looking ahead, we will be revisiting our Active Repertoire List in preparation for recording favourite pieces after the half term break. This is always one of my favourite activities - a chance to revisit, refresh and improve favourite music as well as sharing it with others! Over the next few weeks I will be asking pupils to look back at the pieces we have learnt recently and also any they have enjoyed in the past.
There will also be an opportunity to perform a favourite piece in a summer concert, organised by Surrey European Piano Teachers. Dates are not confirmed as yet, but I will let you know once I have been notified. After the success of the Spring Concert I would encourage all pupils, especially those who were unable to join us, to consider having a go!
Finally, I'd like to share a recording created by a pupil of mine, along with my eldest son Luke. Lucy finished lessons just before Easter to concentrate on revision for her upcoming A Levels. During her final term we undertook a rather unusual project! Lucy has developed into a talented singer song-writer and I was very keen to develop this! We decided to record and arrange one of her songs. Lucy sang and played the original piano version of her song, whilst Luke wrote and played the bass, guitars, synth strings parts and programmed the drums. It was all recorded during lessons and engineered and mastered by Luke. Here is the result!
It may be cold outside but spring is just around the corner! A Spring Concert is planned for pupils at the historic St George's Church in Esher. This will be a lovely opportunity to share pupils Active Repertoire and enjoy an afternoon of music making with a very encouraging supportive audience. There are so many benefits to taking part - a sense of achievement, hearing a variety of music at different levels, experience of performing in a safe environment, and of course, the instant gratification of enthusiastic feedback from the audience which makes the nerves well worth it!
One final thing - a thank you to all my pupils, who over the past two years have had an active part in the development of my new book "Doodles". Almost all of you will have taken home sheets of mini pieces to read and help develop musicality. I'll be working on a second and third book so more sheets will follow! Pupils have also been trying out pieces from a series of music anthologies I am writing for. The success of these, which will include repertoire for grade 1 right up to grade 8 across 5 volumes, relies partly on actually teaching the material and having pupils feedback, so another thank you!
Back in May 2017, I spotted an article on Andrew Eales's website Pianodao that immediately caught my attention as it is similar in intention to something that I have been doing with my pupils for years. During the summer term of each year we would usually review the repertoire learnt and choose a favourite or two to revisit, record and share by uploading to soundcloud. It enabled pupils to review their progress, re-engage with music they particularly enjoyed and very importantly share it with other pupils, family and friends.
Whilst reading the article, I was struck but the value of including favourite pieces all year round as a natural part of my pupils learning - of always having an "active repertoire". So, in Autumn term, I began by emailing parents and pupils a link to the article and a brief outline of how it would work in lessons. I printed off the excellent pdf included in the article and pupils began to fill it in. Over the course of the term, pupils played one piece (or more, depending on how many they had chosen), not in every lesson but every couple of weeks or so. This gave time for pupils to improve fluency or memorisation or consider interpretation.
The appeal for me is on various fronts. The goal that all pupils should have a selection of loved, fluent music to play at any given time is wonderful and achievable! Throughout my teaching career there have been many times when pieces are put aside and forgotten. The focus is so firmly on what is new, making progress and moving forward. Unfortunately, this implies leaving something behind - it really doesn't need to be that way and shouldn't be that way. The Active Repertoire project encourages a celebration of the whole learning journey, not just what is the newest or latest piece. The other appeal lies in the fact that it is within the pupils control - it is their choice of pieces, without any judgement from me or any limitations. There is no specific time limit, it is something that is ongoing, with the scope to rewrite or enlarge the list with new pieces.
As we headed towards the end of Autumn term, I decided to add the goal of recording and uploading pieces to a dedicated playlist on soundcloud.
The intention of recording was not to create a time limit, unlike working towards an exam or a recital. It was to create a focus, keep a record of progress, provide a sense of achievement and hopefully inspire each other. Not everyone contributed to the list - pupils chose to if they felt they were ready. They will have opportunities throughout the coming year to contribute or add a new piece.
One lovely consequence of this, was the recording by Lucy who played "Thinking about You", which she composed, performed and sung herself. This caught her parents completely by surprise as they were unaware of her talents or quite what she'd been up to until I sent a link to the recording! Another was Max, who only began lessons with me during Autumn term, but took the plunge and played and sung one of his favourite songs.
As the new term began this week, my very first pupil came through the door with her Active Repertoire sheet on top of her pile of music books. She'd spent the Christmas break practising, improving memory and fluency and was keen to share the results! The lesson began with a lovely mini-recital, which was such a "feel-good" and tension free way to begin! Later, a pupil who had been polishing one of her pieces asked if we could record next week. Another came in, immediately sat down and without hesitation played through one of her pieces to wam-up up and settle down. It has been a very positive start to the new term indeed.
A final note - although the project and recordings are primarily to benefit my pupils, their learning and musicianship, I find that listening to my pupils pieces, whether it be the recordings or during lessons is hugely reaffirming of my role as a teacher and gives me immense pleasure!
On a final Christmasy note! Some pupils have started learning Christmas music. I have a pile of books that pupils are very welcome to borrow should anyone wish to. I also have a selection of sheet music from all the John Lewis adverts back to 2012!
Looking towards the new year, if anyone is interested in winter music, my new book, Capturing the Joys of Winter, is now available! Written in collaboration with the composer Barbara Arens, it is suitable for pianists at grades 4-6 level. By the way, if you order a copy through me, I get a composers discount! The price of the book including discount is £8.40.
Lessons have begun again and I am looking forward to all of the wonderful music we will be learning and creating over this term! To start things off the best possible way a reminder about a very important subject - practice! Here is a very good article for parents along with an infographic which has excellent advice.
I expect on average 5 days of practice, with 3 as a minimum. An ideal would be every day! Completing weekly goals will ensure progress and success. Using a notebook is very important for this and I am ordering some practice planner notebooks. However, if you just remember this quote from the renowned music educator Shinichi Suzuki, you won't go wrong!
You don't have to practice every day
We will also keep a running total for the whole studio. I'm included in this as I'll be taking part in a 40 piece challenge with teachers from all over the world. Watch out for my recordings on youtube!
The final thing to mention is performance! There will be an opportunity to enter Woking Music Festival which has a wide range of classes to suit all ages and levels as well as non-competitive. From beginners, exams, classical, popular, there's even a Christmas or Humour class! The Festival runs from November 13th - 28th with the closing dates for entry October 1st. I will be chatting to pupils during lessons about this and will email details individually. As it is at the start of term it can be difficult to feel confident of having a piece to play well and perform so there will be more opportunities later in the year!
Alison is a classical pianist, teacher, and composer running a thriving piano studio in Surrey, South East of England.