Here are answers to some of the questions I’m most frequently asked. If you have any other questions, please get in touch.
How much do you charge? Lessons cost £17.50 per 30 minute session.
How many lessons do I need a week? Usually one half-hour session is sufficient when supplemented with home practice. For more advanced students an hour is sometimes more appropriate due to the amount of material to be covered.
What happens if I have to cancel a lesson? It is usually possible to rearrange a lesson time. If less than 24 hours notice is given, other than for sudden illness, the full fee will be due.
Do you teach Grade exams? Yes. Both Associated Board and Trinity.
Do pupils have to take exams? No. Playing for pleasure is fine. However it’s easy to confuse that with playing for fun, which is a totally different concept. The idea that a skill can be fun without work and application is a myth. All pupils have to practise core skills to move forward. This is often why the exam path can be beneficial. It gives focus, an aim and a feeling of achievement.
How long does it take before my child can take Grade 1? Usually between a year to eighteen months. This will involve a regular practice regime of a minimum of ten to fifteen minutes five days a week, plus parental encouragement.
How frequent are the Associated Board Exams? There are three examination periods – January, April and September.
What does it cost to enter for a Grade Exam? The entrance fees vary according to the length of the exam, currently starting at £30 for Grade 1 and increasing by about £6 per grade.
How many exams can a pupil take in a year? This depends on the amount of practice and level of enthusiasm and application. Between Grades 1 and 5, two exams a year are often quite feasible.
How old do you have to be to start piano lessons? I teach children from age 6. Before this age concentration can sometimes be an issue, but there is no hard and fast rule – it depends on the teacher and child. The Suzuki method can start children as young as two, although this requires a large degree of parental involvement.
Do I need a piano at home? Not necessarily. Often money, space and neighbours can be a consideration. For beginners, an electric keyboard with at least five octaves is OK to begin with. Anything smaller can cause problems with hand positioning, making it harder to adjust to a piano keyboard during lessons. Touch sensitive keyboards are by far the better option, since creating variations in tone is a vital aspect of piano playing. However a piano is the best option. Bear in mind it will have to be tuned at least once a year for a cost of between £40 and £60.
How much does it cost to buy a piano? The piano market has its equivalents of the Rolls Royce and the Mini and a whole host of others in between. There are some very well made pianos from China or Korea which, for £2,000, will provide a perfectly adequate instrument. The days are long gone when these “cheapies” were poorly put together with inferior materials. For someone starting out who is playing for pleasure and wanting a smart looking piano, one of these could be ideal. Second hand pianos can be had for as little as £250 in some piano shops but these will be quite old, and the casework rather dated. However they can be a good idea if you are not sure whether your child will want to continue. Also, perhaps consider a music shop where you can rent a piano for a modest monthly fee (around £50) and, at the end of the first year, you can have the option to buy with the rental taken off. Electric keyboards or electric pianos are a final option, although you can pay as much if not more for one of these than an actual piano. It really is more a question of personal preference.
I don’t play piano. Will that be a problem if my children want to learn? It’s not in any way essential. What is more important is encouragement, and helping them to keep to a regular pattern of practice.
My child just failed her examination with another teacher and said she had never worked on sight reading. What would be your approach? Grade preparation encompasses a number of skills – pieces, scales, sight reading, and aural tests. All of these have to be addressed within the structured framework of a lesson. However occasionally some teachers don’t consistently work on these essential core skills during lessons.
Pupils often find sight reading and aural tests hard work. This is precisely why they need to be considered as equally important as the pieces and scales. There is nothing more frustrating for a pupil than to receive high marks for their playing ability only to either fail or, more often, achieve a low pass due to their poor grasp of these other skills. It is no good leaving things until a few weeks before the examination and I make sure work on all the necessary skills is included in lessons from the beginning.
How do I know if my child really wants to give up? This can be a hard one. Children want to play the piano or any other instrument for a variety of reasons eg. sibling rivalry, peer pressures etc. More usually though it is because the parents wish it. They may perceive it as a desirable social and developmental addition to their child’s education. It is less frequent to have a pupil who says “I’ve always wanted to play”! Those who are doing it for their parents can sometimes become fed up with practice after the initial novelty has worn off. This is more often due to the realization that it is not as easy as they first thought, and so no longer “fun”.
It is at this point that parental encouragement is vital in order to get over many children’s natural tendency to take the easy way out. The teacher also has an important role to play in making sure the child is able to achieve some positive result during the lessons, and that they are engaged and kept interested by a fast-paced approach which does not allow tedium to take hold. A lesson consisting entirely of repeated scales would be ridiculous. If, after all this, there are either tears, tantrums or a refusal to practice, it is usually better to call it a day. The last thing one wants is for a child to be put off music. Far better to wait for a year or so and perhaps try again with another instrument and teacher!