Holiday homework

I’m sorry to disappoint my students, but I don’t see holidays as an opportunity to rest; I see it as an opportunity to practice without the problem of school taking up so many hours of each day.

My suggestion in making holiday practice more fun, is to mix things up a little. Try different repertoire, try different technical exercises or scales and arpeggios. If you’re an instrumentalist, take your instrument into a different practice room for a change.

Do your siblings learn music? Try forming a duo or a trio. See if you can make an arrangement of a song you all know and like.

See how creative you can be. Maybe write your own song.

And in the other extra time you have, try to see a live show, or a concert. It’s always inspiring to see professionals play.

Enjoy the time off school, and mix things up a little with your music during the break!


Never lose the wonder!

Another busy term is drawing to a close.

At Stellar Music School we are gearing up for our Semester 1 concerts, and an opportunity to share our pieces with an appreciative audience.

It has been a great term of new classes, continuing lessons and examination goals.


And for those classes who are moving along, making slow but continuous progress, how do we maintain the magic?


Fun, humour and passion are hallmarks of our tuition. We love to learn and we learn together.

We mix it up in our classes, doing aural exercises, playing bingo, drawing music notes on the whiteboard, and also doing scale drills.

We also have a collection of other instruments – a cajon, an accordion, rain sticks, ukuleles, and more percussion instruments.

We sing, we dance, and we play other instruments.

I am delighted to hear of any musical adventures my students have elsewhere in life, even when it means they feel the need to bring their recorders to show off in their lesson!


I hope that I will also always be learning and finding new musical things to wonder at and to inspire my students with.

Surely life will be more rich if we all greet each day as an opportunity to make new discoveries and find new adventures!


Consistency in achievement

A student just missed out on an opportunity which she had desperately wanted, but was unsuccessful in her audition.

She is smart, talented, and plays with flair, so why in this case was she not successful?

She had put her head down for six weeks leading up to the audition, sometimes having 2 lessons a week, and practising madly in between lessons.

So why did she not succeed?


Unfortunately talent and last minute preparation did not make up for months of inactivity.

I have noted over the years that my most talented students are often eclipsed by the ones who have more gumption – that is, the ones who slog away for years, regularly practising and building ability and skill.


And increasingly, we see this myth (that last minute application is enough) perpetuated on TV. Many of the reality ‘talent’ shows seem to feed the myth that all you need is your 15 minutes of fame, which will then lead to a record deal.

Those who experience the most success on these shows tend to be the musicians who have been honing their craft for years, who may have already been gigging for decades, but at least, who have applied themselves to their studies and their instruments of choice.

Personality (and often a sob story) will get the audience voting, but once these untrained musicians are put into an arena setting, the technical inconsistencies and weaknesses become evident, as the talent is not supported with the training necessary.


So what is the way forward for my student?

I hope that I will be able to convince her to begin to commit to the “boring” exercises such as scales and studies.

I hope that we will be able to incorporate some apps, along with some old-fashioned reading notes off the page, to get her more consistently preparing her own work and learning music at home.

I hope that this may be a life lesson for her, and that she will make it a reason to develop her talent and thus be able to achieve at a much higher level in future.


Performance practice

It’s that time of the year, and our end of year concerts are weeks away.

What advice can I give to our students as they prepare?

  • Work on perfecting the concert song – make sure that all dynamics are observed (louds and softs) and that any different articulations are attended to (staccato/legato/accents/tenuto)
  • Make sure phrasing is thoughtful – watch how the melody flows, and try to have a rise and fall in each phrase (generally each four to eight bars)
  • PRACTISE THE BAD BITS – I cannot emphasise this enough – playing a piece through time and again tends to make the good bits better while the bad bits stay bad.  Please spend time and concerted energy on any sections which are challenging.  It may take awhile the first time, but with each successive playing, the trouble part should become stronger and more confident.
  • Practise performing – over the coming weeks, take any opportunity to practise in front of class members, family and friends, and neighbours, so that when the concert arrives, it is not such a big deal
  • Lastly, ENJOY!  Our concerts are very friendly and supportive and the audience is always delighted to share in your learning and encourage your performance.  Remember to smile and acknowledge their encouragement with a bow or curtsey.

All your family, friends and teachers at Stellar Music School look forward to cheering you on during our concerts on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th December.  Keep working and keep loving your music!

Back to the beginning: Part 2

Well, it is a fabulous experience to once again be a beginner.

I am fortunate that since I am a Pipe Organist, playing on a pedal-board with my feet is not unusual.  However, to play with my fists instead of my finger tips is a new experience.
What is a surprise, however, is how many things I do which so drive me to distraction when my own students do them!

  • I play much faster than necessary (to show off to my teacher)
  • As soon as my teacher says “Good,” I stumble and make a mistake
  • I attempt to do more than my skills allow

After writing this blog for several years, in an effort to communicate simple truths about practice and preparation, I am humbled to realise that as a beginner, I am falling into such similar patterns as my students.


I KNOW that 15 minutes’ practice daily is more useful than 1 hour’s practice the day before the lesson, and yet that is exactly what I do.  (In my defence, though, may I point out that my instrument only exists in one place in Sydney, so there is a travel requirement!)


It is helpful to go through this experience on my journey, as it helps me to understand life from the stool, and hopefully will once again give me more patience when students exhibit any of these tendencies.

Back to the beginning

Well, I did promise to report back on my experience as a beginner.  I have now had two carillon lessons, and it has been fascinating to see how I fall into all the habits that drive me to distraction in my own students!

  • I play everything better alone; when the teacher is listening, mistakes happen.  (Even worse, if I’m playing well and my teacher says, “Good,” then I immediately stumble!)
  • I play much faster than necessary.  I know that the chances of success are much higher if one starts slowly, but I want to show off for my teacher, and I want to sound good.
  • I try pieces all hands and feet together, when I know that my chances of success are greatly improved if I learn things hands/feet separately first and then slowly add a component.
  • I know that practising 15 minutes a day is preferable to doing 1 hour’s practice the day before the lesson, and yet this is what I do (although in my defence, I have to make a journey to the carillon, so it is more difficult that picking up an instrument at home).


Already, this experience is giving me more insight into my students, and hopefully it will increase my patience when students exhibit any of the above tendencies!

Carillon selfie

Me at the Sydney University practice Carillon…. am I the only one who thinks that it looks a little like a medieval instrument of torture?!


Well, it’s almost that time again – the end of term is only days away and the combined delight and exhaustion of teachers and students alike is almost palpable.

Last school holidays saw me head off to Montreal International Jazz Festival, then Cuba for some conga lessons and Ritmo Mozambique, followed by heaps of culture in New York City, ending with the Katy Perry concert at Madison Square Garden.

The trip was so inspiring for me.  To hear music at such an elite level gave me so much joy and reminded me of what is possible with music.
These holidays, however, are almost completely devoid of music.  A few days up the coast with the children, an afternoon at a city spa, and catching up with friends are on the agenda.

The only musical adventure will be my first proper carillon lesson on Sydney University’s Carillon.

I continue to love developing my craft as well as exploring new ways to express music, so I’m sure that this will inspire me and hopefully in turn I will be able to inspire my students.  I’m sure it will also be helpful to be reminded of how it feels to be a beginner again.


I look forward to reporting back, but in the meantime, Happy Holidays!

Exams: pros and cons

This week marks an exciting time for Stellar Music School, when members of two classes will be sitting for their first AMEB piano exams.  Most of these children began with the school, and have now reached the Preliminary level.

We specialise in classes at Stellar Music School, as we feel that music should be a shared experience, quite apart from the healthy competition which can be a great motivator in inducing practice!

Exams are not compulsory at our school.  I love it when parents agree that no formal goals are necessary; and that their children should learn for pleasure.  A weakness of the exam system and the unmotivated student can however mean that a student only learns three pieces a year.  This can prove quite soul-destroying for the passionate teacher!

However, I must comment on the fact that my exam students have achieved more than I would have thought possible in the last few weeks!  Their pieces have been fine-tuned to a higher than usual degree.

It remains to be seen how we all perform next Saturday, but already I am extremely proud of these students and their achievement!

Another P-word… PASSION!

One of the joys of my life and work is the opportunity to daily speak into young people’s lives.

I love hearing my students’ dreams and hopes for the future.  Sometimes they are musical, sometimes not.

There is one family in which I teach both boys.  They come tearing in every Monday, words tumbling over each other as they rush to tell me of their successes (and rare failures) on the cricket pitch the day before.

I love how much it means to them to share this part of their lives with me.  I have no clue about cricket, but I feel that reciprocity is important in our relationship – I share my love of music; they share their love of sport.

Occasionally our passions intercept.

I think that all of those reality/talent shows (Australia’s Got Talent/The Voice/X-Factor etc etc etc) have a lot to answer for, but they can be useful in igniting children’s passion for achieving musical goals.

I love it when my students see a certain act and say “I could do that!”  Then it is my job to impart the skills and help them to achieve that goal.

What an honour, that a young person can share their dream with me, and I can say “Fantastic!  What do we need to do to make that happen?”  Often in my life, I have achieved a goal because someone I cared about didn’t think that I could.  How much more exciting that my students might one day remember that from the beginning, I believed that they could do anything that they set their minds to and worked for.  (Ahh, there are those other P-words again – PRACTISE and PERSEVERANCE!)

The P-words

From the first lesson, I try to teach children about the importance of PRACTICE.

The other P-word that I introduce to children as young as 5 is PERSEVERANCE.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of both of these concepts.

Too often in this day and age, children would like to be able to play piano like me, but without putting in the 20 years of practice!

How long can a student persevere?  I am not sure how long parental patience or finances can last, but recently I have had a student who has restored my hope in perseverance.

I have been teaching Esther piano since she was 6.
On many occasions I have had conversations with her parents about whether or not she would continue.  It was not that she did not have talent or ability; it was just that she so rarely practised.

Each year we would slog slowly through the 3 required pieces and the 4 required scales.  In the last month before the exam, I would actually have the odd nightmare of anxiety, while Esther increased her practice (usually bolstered by parental bribery), started enjoying herself, and then breezed through another exam.

This year Esther turned 15 and sat for 5th Grade, the final grade that her parents required her to do before she was allowed to quit.

And this year, something happened.  After breezing through another exam, Esther has suddenly had a real enthusiasm and passion ignited and she is continuing on with piano, both for enjoyment and for her Duke of Edinburgh award skill.

What has changed?  Is it the maturity that comes with age?  Is it that parental pressure has receded?

I don’t have the answers, and I certainly cannot help individual families decide how long to force their children to learn, before the children decide to learn for themselves.

All I can share is my excitement and satisfaction in a student who now has her love of music fully ignited.