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Integrated Musical Skills


Balance is a key concept to my approach as a teacher. One kind of teacher emphasises certain skill sets such as improvisation, playing by ear and composition, but another kind of teacher may focus on reading skills and technique. The outcome of separating these approaches causes the development of musicians that are only suitable for certain musical contexts. One student may go on to excel in jazz and improvisation but seize up when asked to read music in an orchestra, but a reading musician, which some may associate with classical music would cease up when asked to reproduce a melody just by hearing it. These situations occur when a student has only been exposed to a one-sided musical approach, much like someone learning how to use one arm to lift a box. The truth is that both skill sets are valuable and any musician is enabled if they use both skill sets, like picking up a box with two arms. The integrated musician is one that has both skills and thus my music lessons include both reading exercises and creative musicianship. Any professional musician or musician that performs to a high standard will tell you that both approaches to music are valuable, and all musical styles require both sets of musical ability. This is why my lessons include a range of exercises that use both skill sets.





Have you ever been in a situation where time has disappeared or sped up? You may have experienced a conversation, concert or played a sport where 4 hours seemed like 4 minutes… This was probably due to the concept of ‘flow’. This happens when an experience is at your optimum concentration level and difficulty. It is the ‘biting point’ of your mind and an enjoyable place to be, the perfect level between easy and hard where one is fully engaged in the moment. I use this concept in my teaching approach, quickly identifying a students ability, concentration levels and preferences in order to prescribe exercises, reading material, and music to listen to, according to what is going to develop them the most. I ensure a lesson contains exercises where the student thrives and I balance it with things that are challenging beyond the students comfort zone in order to optimise the students development. The concept of flow engages many disciplines such as teaching, concentration, mindfulness and psychology. You can read more about it here: (LINK)





Practice is the most effective way for a student to develop and actually just as important than the music lessons. The primary purpose of the lessons is to show a student what to practice and open their minds to the concepts of music and technique. For every student I ask them to spend twice as much time practicing then they spend in a lesson.  A student will get to grade 8 level based on how much practicing they have done and not how many years they have been playing. It is actually possible to become a virtuoso musician in just a year if one is focused enough and
has effective supervision. 


However, we all know how difficult it is to find the time to practice in our hectic schedules and that practicing isn’t always easy. One of the tasks that I undertake as a teacher is to motivate my students to practice, not by telling them they are bad if the don’t, but by finding out what stops them from practicing and overcoming it. For example, some students put-off practicing because they believe they aren’t good or disciplined enough, whilst some just need more thorough guidelines and get scared of doing it wrong. I endeavour to find ways to overcome their obstacles and choose exercises that will give them the courage to practice and play outside of lessons.




Here are some hints to enable practice:


1. Make your instrument, written music, lesson notes and accessories accessible. One of the reasons so many people watch so much TV isn’t because it’s more enjoyable than other things in life, but because it is more easily accessible and less effort to use a TV remote, sit down and watch. Therefore, make it easy to practice too. Make it passive. Leave your music book open and your instrument out of the case. That way all you have to do is sit down and pick up the instrument in order to get into the zone. This will also enable you to practice in effective short bursts without being interrupted because you need to look for your book, sticks, tuner etc…


2. Find an area of your home (or outside in the Summer) where there are minimal distractions, away from internet and TV. You will find your practice space becomes one of your most tranquil havens of peace and relaxation. Practicing is actually a very relaxing thing to do and very good for quietening the mind and switching off from the stresses of daily life.


3. Practice the right stuff.  Once you have created a practice space make sure you give a balanced amount of time for practicing each thing. Start by using a third of your time practicing rudiments, scales, and repetitious exercises in order to warm up your muscles. Then use a third of the time to work on some pieces of music that have been set by the teacher along with other songs and exercises. Use your final third of time to enjoy the consequences and have fun with it. Jam some of the ideas along to music by improvising, just get immersed in the music or explore the music further.




For Parents


I highly recommend parental involvement in a child’s practicing routine. If a parent can sit with a child and help them to find space to practice that wont be distracting then they are half way there. Additionally, getting your child to play you something that they have learned can be extremely rewarding and motivating for your child. If your child gets stuck then help to them to talk through what the problem is to see if they can remember or work out the answer. If that fails you can always send me an email and ask for advice. 


For Drummers


Drumming practice is a bit more complicated than other instruments due to the size and loudness of a drum kit. If you have somewhere in your home for your drum kit then that is great. However, I actually recommend spending at least half of your practice time using one single drum pad and then a few sessions in the week on a real kit.  A drum kit can actually be a massive distraction from learning to control your real instrument which is your sticks. Find a space away from a kit that you can practice. Make a practice haven with a lovely view that you can enjoy and learn stick control, rhythm reading and rudiments. You can even practice these in front of the TV if you want extra practice time.

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