Music Teaching
 

Child-centred Learning

All learning processes should be based on each learner's individual needs. I believe in giving young pianists music they enjoy, first & foremost – familiarity is the best incentive.

This doesn't mean that at a later stage I won't try to wean them off the safe & familiar onto more testing musical territory. I endeavour to lead each pupil along a path that matches hir personal tastes & abilities - be those contemporary popular styles, classical repertoire, or something more experimental.

My primary concern in the early stages is to foster excitement and see that each pupil develops a real momentum. This gives a valuable emotional resource for the later period when things get trickier.

Nothing is so conducive to this process as my coloure notation. I cannot too much emphaise the difference this has made to the progress of beginners over the last 3 years since I introduced it. Whilst it is of particular relevancce to people with learning difficulties, I like to make the point that it is every bit as relevant to those with normal aptitude.

My personal observation is that nearly all young children experience a degree of dyslexia. Most of them grow out of it naturally as literacy helps them decode & prioritise visual information. But many of those starting piano between 6-8 have not completed the natural process - and for them, as well as for genuine dyslexics, the sheer density of monochrome information on a page of printed music can be really daunting.

There are two benefits of colour. One is that it makes the page bright and exciting. The other is that for the early stages children don't need to worry about pitch data - they simply associate pitch with colour. This means that they need only decode two pieces of information per note (pitch colour & rhythm shape) rather than have to stop & scratch their heads about which line or space it is.

Why then use the stave at all? I think it is better for young learners to be familiar with the general appearance of printed music, so that the transition which they will need to make about 18 months after starting does not then require them to confront something completely new.

I also have practice CDs to help pupils with timing and other difficulties.

ColourMuse is currently under consideration by a major publisher.


Concerts & Individual Video Portfolio

The focus and motor of my pupils' endeavours are twice-yearly concerts. These are a far more beneficial stimulus than exams. Performing for a real audience of friends and family should always be at the heart of musical experience - not seeking to satisfy the abstract standards of some uninvolved examiner.

These concerts are recorded on video, and each pupil's segment is copied onto individual DVDs. See a video of my pupil William Ashworth's progress from the ages of 10-18.

How I teach

Everyone is encouraged to compose, and if their compositions are suitable I add into the learning curve all pupils follow.

All pupils with 30+’ lessons also do singing and a little theory homework every week.


Advanced Students

In order to help students to gain experience I encourage post-GCSE to help me teach beginners. I also encourage people to perform wherever possible. Sometimes I arrange study sessions on specific topics for more advanced students either if I’m working on pieces myself or some issues presents itself. Where convenient I don’t mind students accompanying me to professional engagements or studios in order to see what is involved. I do very strongly encourage all students to explore 20thC repertoire.

Grade Exams - Generally, I don't put any pupils in for exams - except Grade VII-VIII where it's necessary for advanced pupils approaching college entrance.


Recommended Duration of Lessons & Fees

Beginning stages (usually two terms)
Grade 0-2
15 mins

£11

From playing hands together
Grade 3-4
30 mins

£20

Once the music needs to be discussed
Grade 4-6
45 mins

£29

Advanced
Grade 6-8
60 mins

£38

Where several members of a family learn together the fee is the total weekly time taken

£28ph pro rata

Contracts - Each term consists of a set number of lessons. I ask parents to agree that their child/ren will take the specified number, and that lessons missed throu illness or for other reasons will be made up later.

Michael Maxwell Steer - 125 Duck St, Tisbury SP3 6LJ
01747 870070

Electronic keyboards or acoustic pianos?
This is a thorny question in this part of Wiltshire with few second hand piano shops close by.
Provided they have full size keys electronic keyboards are fine for the first six months of learning. They can also be useful because they often have metronomes and drum patterns which can help if the students wants to play jazz.
However once a student has reached the standard of playing hands together there’s really no substitute for an acoustic piano.

I have observed that students using acoustic pianos invariably make faster progress than those who have electric pianos keyboards. I have come to the conclusion that this is because playing a piano requires a considerable mental/physical ‘investment’ to create a gratifying sound whereas an electronic keyboards produce an ‘interesting’ sound however you play it. Psychologically therefore, it would appear that playing an instrumnet which demands the development of a ‘skill’ , and rewards it by an enhanced effect, actually stimulates far swifter progress than an instrument whose output is the same however you play it.
I also observe that those who learn on electronic keyboards (even those with piano-weighted keys) invariably have a less good touch on an acoustic piano than those who practise on one regularly, and usually find it harder to make the muscular adjustment necessary to strike a proper balance between melody and accompaniment. For this reason the better piano the quicker the progress is likely to be — provided, that is, that the impulse to learn the piano really comes from the child.

There aren’t any easy answers about buying one, but broadly, you do get what you pay for - if you're careful.
Sometimes
you get a bargain at auction, and it can be worth getting an old crock to start with, but be aware that you will rarely get your money back when you sell a cheap piano. Provided you need to spend upwards of £250 you should be able to get an instrument that you will get your money back when you sell it.

What you're paying for is (a) the quality of manufacture & (b) the condition of the action and strings. Prices of good uprights can vary between £400-3000 (new, they can be up to £8000), good grands will be between £800-6000 (new, they can be over £100,000 for concert models).

At first glance electronic keyboards can seem to be a cheaper and more attractive option, since they take up less space and never need tuning; but it's important to bear in mind that (apart of the issues mentioned above) they lose at least 1/3 of their value the moment they're unpacked.


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