Approaches to teaching


Approaches to teaching

Approaches to teaching

 “The Virtuoso Teacher also needs to develop a broad range of teaching strategies. Often, those who simply teach by reacting to their pupils’ (often poor) work end up becoming frustrated and bored. We must develop other approaches.”
Paul Harris, ‘The Virtuoso Teacher’.


While teaching piano I notice certain trends in children’s learning. Most notably which concepts the children are able to understand, and which they struggle to understand.


Consequently, I find using different approaches at different times makes teaching fun for both teacher and pupil. However, these approaches should always be used alongside other approaches and not in isolation. Renowned teacher George Odam also suggests this approach is beneficial, in order to avoid using a singular approach as a “crutch”.


Talking through musical patterns with the children has proved to be one of my most successful approaches. It is useful to make links and connections between audio and visual learning, and learning in this way also starts to develop the pupil’s ability to analyse music.


Teaching by rote (copying) and kinaesthetically are other successful approaches I use.  Improving muscle memory is the main method used when teaching kinaesthetically, which is also closely linked to the memory approach.


Odam says that, “musical memory is strengthened by repetition.”


Learning through repetition or copying is a very natural thing for children to do. Learning by rote and kinaesthetically allows the child to play before they read music notation. As Knerr and Fisher say:


Most children have been exposed to complicated music since birth, and they are capable of playing more difficult music than they can read.”


The last approach I use is encouraging children to play from memory. Once the music is learned from memory, the child is able to concentrate on other musical concepts. There is significant research about the importance of music and memory. Hallam discusses some research:


When required to recall items in an order different from that in which they are presented, for example backwards, musicians also outperform non musicians when words or numbers are presented aurally (Parbery-Clark et al., 2011; Strait et al., 2012). Overall, there is a growing body of evidence that musical training stimulates aural memory.”


Odam also says that,


Children’s memories are so extraordinarily efficient at primary age that it is verging on the criminal to set them immediately upon a path that leads them away from musical memory and binds them to the crutch of notation for ever.”


Find the right teacher


When looking for a piano teacher, it is important to ask them which approaches they prefer to use. They may say that they use the Kodály, Dalcroze, Orff, Suzuki or Intervallic approach and so on. But ultimately, they are just different titles for the approaches that I have summarised briefly here in this blog.


Spotlight Student


Jake Hicks is this month’s Spotlight Student. I was impressed by Jake’s ability to memorise several pieces from the tutor book Piano Safari Repertoire Level 1 and to understand the landmark note, Treble G. Jake’s favourite piece in the tutor book is Ode to Joy because it is Romantic. His favourite genre of music is contemporary because it is “funky”. Jake says “It makes people happy hearing me play” and playing the piano “makes me feel experienced”.


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Don’t forget to like, share and comment on the blog. Check out the references for further reading. Feel free to ask Ijeoma questions about piano as she has had over 20 years of experience in piano playing.



Hallam, P. S. (2015). The Power of Music (p. 47). International Music Education Research Centre (Imerc) Press. 

Harris, P. (2012). The Virtuoso Teacher The Inspirational Guide For Instrumental And Singing Teachers (p. 8). Faber & Faber. 

Knerr, J., & Fisher, K. The benefits of rote teaching. Retrieved May 13, 2019, from 

Odam, G. (1999). The Sounding Symbol (p. 24, 52). Nelson Thornes. 

Uszler, M., Gordon, S., & McBride Smith, S. (2000). The well-tempered keyboard teacher (pp. 4, 50 and 1-79). New York: Cengage Learning.

Teaching children

Teaching children


How to make scales engaging to students via phonology


How to make scales engaging to students via phonology

How to make scales engaging to students via phonology 



mass noun

  • The system of contrastive relationships among the speech sounds that constitute the fundamental components of a language.


Oxford Dictionary



Whilst talking about phonology, esteemed musical educator Paul Harris said that, “a concern for sound and for learning to listen to it musically and intelligently will connect with all things we understand as ‘aural’”.


For me, this includes scales. Scales should also be listened to with a concern for sound and aural awareness, even though they are not as obviously classified as aural compared to other piano playing activities.


Having said that, during aural tests, candidates are expected to be able to recognise scales and arpeggios and sing them back as part of short bursts within melodies. Therefore, teaching scales and arpeggios through singing before applying it to piano playing is recommended.


Many teachers recommend the sing then play approach. Solfa and songs that make intervals explicit are useful when learning scales and the intervals and tetrachords that they are made up of.


I have always found the phonology of scales to be beautiful. In my early years of piano playing, I was particularly drawn to minor scales. These helped me to connect with the sound worlds depicted in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, the Bach Inventions, and Rachmaninoff’s Preludes. The minor scales even helped me to connect with mellower sounding pianos than the brightness of the Kemble that I play today. As I progressed in my piano playing, I would fall in and out of love with minor and major sounds. These, days I have learned to appreciate many sound worlds in addition to those in which I learned about during my own professional development.


I advise teachers to help their students understand scales through their sound worlds as this then makes scales fun. Activities that help students improve their coordination, finger independence and stamina while playing scales can also make this activity more enjoyable.

I will explore co-ordination; finger independence; and stamina when playing scales in a separate blog in the future.


Spotlight Student

Timothy Sellers, who recently gained a distinction in his Grade 3 ABRSM piano exam, is the Spotlight Student highlighted in this blog. Timothy says that, “getting a distinction has made me more confident not only in playing the piano but also more confident in myself.” What Timothy says here, echoes what Susan Hallam says about The Power of Music.


Hallam, P. S. (2015). The Power of Music (p. 93). International Music Education Research Centre (Imerc) Press. 

Harris, P. (2008). Improve Your Teaching Teaching Beginners A New Approach For Instrumental And Singing Teachers (p. 8). Alfred Music Publishing. 

McLachlan, M. (2014). The Foundations of Technique (p. 16). Piano Professional Series.

Moonlight Sonata

Moonlight Sonata


Where to position your hands at the piano?


Where to position your hands at the piano?

Where to position your hands at the piano?

I receive recurring ‘frequently asked questions’ as a piano teacher. Today I want to focus on one of the most common questions: Where do I put my hands?


Students should, first of all, improve their understanding of keyboard geography and orientation. That is, finding your way around the piano’s keyboard. Next they should find the landmark notes. For teachers and students who use the Piano Safari Tutor books, the landmark notes are Treble G, Middle C and Bass C and should be learned by rote. The locations of these notes are shown via diagrams within the book.


Tip: I advise using the groups of two and three black notes to find your way around the white notes.


From the landmark notes, you can read intervals of steps, skips and jumps, lines and spaces as well as contours. It is not necessary to understand all of the notes within music. In fact, there are so many that it is almost impossible for these to be learned in such a way, even by the most experienced of musicians. Students should be able to get through Piano Safari Repertoire Level 1 quite comfortably as a result of knowing the three landmark notes mentioned here.


The Piano Safari tutor books show you where to put your hands for some, but not all of the pieces. Students are expected to listen to their teachers who ween them off the finger numbers and hand positioning diagrams when they feel it is time to do so.


Tip: As tempting as it may be, parents who write in the finger numbers for the children are not helping in the long run and should instead help their children by giving them confidence to take risks and try new things. No spoon-feeding please!


Spotlight Students


The winners of the practice competition for this month are Leonardo Thomas and Jael Asante. They practiced little and often which is what most musicians recommend. In addition, they also adjusted their lifestyles appropriately to include more practice. Well done Leo and Jael.


how i incorporate worship into my work with vivace music


how i incorporate worship into my work with vivace music

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How I incorporate worship into my work with Vivace Music

Ever since childhood, church has played a big part in my life. I have increasingly felt its presence during my adult life – probably as a result of making my own decision to believe in faith, free will, forgiveness and redemption.

It is completely natural for me to include worship music as part of the services that Vivace Music provide, and many of the students who come to me are religious. They come to me for piano lessons with a view to playing for their church during worship. As the founder of Vivace Music, my experience within the worship music scene has proved invaluable to many students who have their hearts set on playing the piano for their church.

The most important challenge I help children overcome through lessons and workshops is overcoming the misconception that worship music is too complicated for musicians in training. I arrange worship music to specifically match the ability of each student, and I assess the ability of the child or worship team through bespoke workshops tailored for your church needs.

The services that Vivace Music can provide your church are special because they can be traditional or contemporary, as well as being appropriate for the atmosphere of the church service.

When writing my own music, I write songs that have simple melodies and meaningful lyrics. My worship songs have been sung by congregations at Coldharbour Lane Baptist Church (CLBC) in Middlesex and I owe thanks to CLBC, King’s Church in Orpington and St. Mark’s Church in Bromley for the training in worship music that they have provided.

As a believer, I invest in my own spirituality by attending church, home groups, and Christian conferences. I am thoroughly looking forward to attending a Christian Women’s Leadership Conference in Brazil in 2019 with Women Arise Ministries.





How skills learnt during piano lessons affect more than just musical performance

The end of year summer concert was a great chance for pupils to show how they had progressed during their weekly piano lessons.

It was good to see that the children had practiced and taken on board what I had told them during their lessons, auditions and rehearsals. Some of them managed to execute their abilities a little better than others, but I put that down to nerves, excitement and adrenaline.

The main takeaway for me was that all children showed they had potential as they performed fluently at the piano. They had learned how to take ownership and responsibility for their own learning through a fun activity such as playing the piano. While the children performed duets and solos, they showed they can work independently, and communicate well with others. They also used their musical skills to enhance cross-curriculum activities such as counting.

Although some of the children made mistakes, they recovered well and didn’t let the audience notice them. They didn’t let their mistakes affect their confidence, and they learned from them quickly. Through performing, they have learned that it is normal to make mistakes and to find strength to work through them. They didn’t let their mistakes define them.

To help calm the children and support them through the concert, I sat beside them as they performed. This meant that I was able to position their hands in the right places, and find the pages in their piano books. Most of the students were independent and didn’t need my help. They needed my help to learn the pieces, but the independent students were performance ready.

Some of the students used my studio license to laminate their scores so they looked more presentable. They had learned presentation skills through performing. Presentation is important as a child and even more so as an adult. It is the first form of contact and communication that an individual has with the world.

As a result of understanding performance, the children introduced themselves and their pieces confidently to the audience, who had filled the school hall – as did the children’s voices – as they showed focus throughout the whole event. They learned how they should behave in any performing environment, as well as in safe place environments. Consequently, the children would be ready to take on smaller audiences like friends and family as well as perform to large audiences in concert halls. They showed maturity for their age.

The audience responded with enthusiasm and parents beamed with pride. A few of the parents spoke to me after the concert to say how proud they are of their child’s achievement, and that they now feel confident enough to invest in their child’s musical learning and development.





Sight-reading is part of my everyday life. It plays a part in my teaching, performing, my role as a piano accompanist, and most recently, at charitable events.

Due to the huge variety of pieces my students learn, I have to be able to sight-read the repertoire – whether it preparatory, beginner, intermediate or advanced. While performing solo, or as an accompanist, sight-reading helps me to cut my practice time down in half. Once I have learnt the notes I am able to focus on what I believe to be the most important aspect of performance – conveying the character of the music.

Good sight-reading skills also help when playing with musicians for the first time. I recently performed with Nell Ladipo from the girl group Celeste, at a Beacon of Hope for Children and Families in Crisis event, organised by Catherine Sekwalor. Nell sang Gershwin’s Summertime by from Porgy and Bess as I accompanied her on the piano before I performed Mendelssohn’s Scherzo in E from his Midsummer Night’s Dream Fantasia.

I felt delighted to be using my skills to help Beacon of Hope’s fantastic fundraising work. For those of you who haven’t heard about BOHCFIC, the charity works with street children in South America to support children and families in challenging situations including: poverty, gender based violence, drug & alcohol misuse, child trafficking and sexual exploitation, early child marriage, and teenage pregnancy. The event also saw the launch of Catherine Sekwalor’s new book called Poems from the heart of life. The event took place at the Hammersmith Rowing Club.

I began feeling confident about sight-reading roughly after my ABRSM Grade 3 piano exam, which I took when I was still quite young. My piano teacher at the time was called Mr. Dart. He taught piano privately within the Hertfordshire area and was well respected by pianists, parents and schools. I feel lucky that my parents heard of him through word of mouth.

Mr. Dart noticed that I received high marks for the sight-reading part of the exam, and it was his belief in me that gave me confidence in my playing. He took my natural ability to compute the details on the page (otherwise known as the score), which included, the notes, the dynamics, the key signature, staccato and legato, expression, rather than just considering the notes.

He helped me enhance this skill by encouraging correct fingering patterns, which came from learning scales, arpeggios and chords. Everything worked together seamlessly. I noticed patterns, chords, and scale like passages in the music I was playing and this helped me piece everything together.

I have to admit that sight-reading has now become a bit of a crutch that I lean on when I haven’t had time to practice. It’s not a good excuse, but it happens. Sometimes I get away with it, sometimes I don’t. Either way, I learn from the experience.

During my time at Bishops Hatfield Girls’ School, Mrs. Carmichael and Mrs. Forbes (both teachers) really helped me to further develop my skills as an accompanist. They put me in the privileged position to accompany whole classes during performance tasks as part of the school music curriculum. I was the class accompanist.

The belief these teachers had in me also made me feel good, and gave me a sense of achievement. It’s part of why I am now so confident and developed in my performances. It’s also the reason why Catherine selected me to perform at her fundraiser event.

Nell and I have planned to play together more in the future, and I look forward to jamming with her in the months to come!


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Peripatetic piano teaching


All my blogs are about my daily life.

For this particular blog, I’ll explore how my relationship with the school where I work affects the music services that I offer on a day-to-day basis – and at special occasions.

My daily routine allows me numerous opportunities to participate in the musical life of the federated schools where I work. In return for the small fee that I pay the school, I receive their support whilst using and developing the music services I offer on their premises.

Being ready and willing to offer my services as and when needed is very important to my relationship with the school. That means continuing with professional development and lots of reflective practice. My professional development includes, The Curious Piano Teachers Membership, attending Curious Live, ABRSM Conferences, and Lucinda Mackworth-Young’s piano weekends, having Kodály lessons with Cyrilla Roswell, and studying at postgraduate level.

Each activity influences my daily routine and keeps me on my toes. In addition to this professional development, my teaching practice is fully booked!

As part of our relationship, the school’s faculty encourage me to strive to be a better piano teacher –and to be a better musician.

My skills in arranging piano music have been utilised by trios and duos (formed specifically to give the children opportunities to play together) and my skills as an accompanist have been used by exam candidates who have asked me to help them with their recorder exams.

Despite working more hours than I am paid for, I’m still happy. I’m happy because I am immersed in music which I am passionate about. Working like this makes me feel good.

Today, I did some music directing in the absence of the Head of Music in the department. My very first job after graduating from University was as an Assistant Music Director for Youth Music UK. Finally, I have now been able to use the skills gained from that position with YMT:UK.

For the past few weeks I have been developing my directing skills by overseeing exams, auditions and rehearsals for the school concert and talent shows. The work I did for musicals and talent shows at YMT: UK was very similar. Whilst it’s hard work, it’s also very rewarding to be able to offer my services and I hope to develop my directing skills more.

I’m appreciative that my daily routine whilst working with the school is successful and fruitful in many different ways. It provides plenty of opportunities for me to practice, expand, and develop the music services that I offer. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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