What’s your first musical memory?
Hearing the local Youth Orchestra and wanting to ‘do that’. I was 11 years old, and though I had been having piano lessons for a few years, it was the sound of the violin and string section that caught my imagination. They played Eine Kleine Nachtmusic. I added violin to piano and ended up doing a diploma in both.
Which instrument do you play more now?
I only play piano now. I play mainly pieces I am trialling for my students, or pieces I am composing though the composition side is VERY slow because of the high number of students I have. Not a problem as I love teaching, and my students are the highlight of my day.
What/who made you decide that music would be your path?
Even as a teenager I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would be doing, but I knew it would be something/anything musical.
Could you tell us about your (music) education;
Where / what did you study?
My music education really began in high school with my fabulous school music teacher Julie Aysom who I still keep in touch with. She was Kodaly trained and went to Hungary for a number of years and believed in strong aural skills as the foundation for any musician. I still use techniques she taught me but have also added other approaches depending on the student’s need.
This has lead me to write my own method books and create a website (TempoZone — *more on that later*). The method books are designed to be flexible and support most students’ individual learning-style preferences.
After school I went to the Sydney Conservatorium for 3 disastrous days and almost gave up music! In those days, it was an independent higher learning college that focussed on a very narrow western tradition of performing, with teaching being a distinctly second-class career path. I didn’t want to be a concert performer, though I did enjoy performing.
I wanted to be a highly skilled teacher as well as performer and realised that I needed to look elsewhere. Thankfully, I also had been offered a place at the University of New South Wales so moved over there and discovered my new ‘home’. I graduated with a Bachelor of Music Education and thanks to UNSW also picked up a lot of skills that also opened new doors.
Sydney is a rich multicultural city with a strong tradition in fine art performances, as well as cultural/folk live music. After graduation, I worked in an independent private anglican school as a school music teacher for 8 years and on weekends played in various bands and gigs: rock, pop, jazz, greek folk, whatever took my fancy and interest at the time.
What can you remember about the first 1 / 5 / 10 lessons you gave?
DISASTROUS!!!!! Like most teachers, I started teaching the way I was taught. I didn’t know another way and I thought it would be easy. Snort! I soon realised that I learned to play despite my instrumental teachers, not because of them. At university I had classmates who would rave about their teacher and how inspiring he/she was. I found mine to be fuddy-duddy and stuffy with little imagination or creativity, and certainly not inspiring.
At that point I started researching different ideologies and methods and haven’t really stopped learning since. The most useful thing I did was watch a very experienced teacher give lessons for a year and I took copious notes. This gave me coal-face professional development. I was also lucky to have a mentor in my first job (my boss) who took the time and had the energy to answer my numerous questions, and also indulged me in trying out new ideas: sometimes with great success, sometimes not so good but wonderful learning experiences.
The students were asked first. I now do this with young teachers and my students are used to having another teacher watch their lesson, ask questions and even team-teach with me.
What’s the range / variety of styles that your students want to learn / play? How much of it is directed by them v you?
The range and variety of styles my students learn and play is partly directed by me and partly by them. I try to balance out their preferences with a style quite different to what they’ve chosen. I also include chord charts and learning to play by ear (harmonic approach) as music is an aural skill.
What IS TempoZone? Why / when / how did you set it up?
TempoZone was set up so that students and teachers could download theory and piano sheets that were appropriate for their level. My students would often bring me sheet music they’ve downloaded which is too hard, not written for piano (a non-pianist has separated a MIDI file into treble and bass but hasn’t actually played it!), or has numerous harmonic and/or rhythmic errors. I spent a lot of time arranging pieces into a suitable level and it just grew from there. The idea is that if you go the my site, you can work out what level or grade you are and know that you will be able to learn/play every piece in that level.
I arrange covers of pop/rock/anime/jazz pieces, or well-known classics (occasional shudder!). If a student requests a piece and I think I can do an arrangement that will sound stylistically accurate or at the very least ‘groovy’ then I’ll do an arrangement, an analysis and a backing track. These now get uploaded to the site once I’ve gained permission from the copyright holder. My own compositions are currently languishing on my hard drive. The beginner courses are all done (mostly original work) and my next project will be to upload technical work and compositions for each grade.
As a musician, how are you adapting what you do during the lockdown? How is it affecting you (mentally, physically, …) and your Business?
I spent 4 or so weeks before lockdown transferring my teaching business to online piano lessons, and re-writing my teaching resources to be screen-share-friendly. I am very tired, but also very excited to be trying ways to connect with my students and their families. When you teach/perform/write for a number of years it’s easy to get stale or to fall into a rut. Going online has forced me to re-evaluate how I do things and though challenging and even frustrating at times, has really stretched my imagination and what I can offer. Overall have really enjoyed the process, though it has left me less creative time. I think I may be able to start new careers in IT support or parent-counselling if I wanted to!
How DID you use Social media and (how) has the Lockdown affected the ways you engage with people? How do you promote / find students?
I’m a complete luddite in social media. I started using it to stalk my children when they were teenagers to keep them safe. Discovered it was a fabulous way to keep in touch with friends and family interstate and overseas. Have never advertised for students, word of mouth has kept me full and with a waiting list. I’m well-known as a teacher in Brisbane because I also examine piano for the Australian Music Examinations Board so students frequently find me after I’ve examined them and their teacher can’t take them further. Teachers also come to me for lessons on how to teach, and how to put students through theory or piano exams.
Since lockdown, social media lets me keep in touch with my students and families, as well as my new website customers. I’m not very good with social media as my kids and students tell me but thankfully I teach teenagers who ARE good at social media and they teach ME how to do things.
Even in lockdown, almost all my students are continuing with online lessons. There are a couple who can’t afford it but I’m giving them a scholarship as I can’t stand the idea that they will give up because their parents have lost their job. I’m very lucky that for now lockdown means connecting in a new way rather than isolation.
How do you teach online?
With young students it’s mostly demonstrate/explain then they play in very small bits and pieces. Then we focus on linking those patterns or hand positions, or hands together etc. With older students it’s more about strategy. What did the music say you had to play? What did you actually play? What can you do to correct/improve this?
What would help you at the moment?
Probably to spend a little more time with my usually very busy mentors. Yes, even now I have a few who I really look up to and feel like I can ask questions of at any time. Helen Smith, Glen Carter-Varney and Narelle Doolan have been a font of wisdom and encouragement, and also help keep me grounded and centred.
I’ve read / heard that mentor relationships work best when it’s beneficial for both parties — not just the “mentee”. How do you feel you help your mentors? To put it another way, why do they mentor you?
Not sure that I do help them, and they mentor me whether they like it or not! No, I am lucky that they are colleagues who are willing to answer my questions, let me test out theories or provide practical solutions to problems. Every now again they encounter a roadblock or problem that I can share which is very satisfying as they give much more to me than I give to them. I try to repay their kindness and follow their example by paying help forward to younger teachers.
In one way, the teaching profession is trade where an apprentice learns from a master. We graduate from lessons with the opportunity to apply for a job. That’s it. Once you are working, you still need to keep learning as music is an organic and ever-changing field. Add technology into the mix (and you can’t avoid it!) and it is a teacher’s responsibility to keep learning so that they stay current = being able to guide their students in a meaningful and best-practise way.
As an arranger and composer, keeping in touch and collaborating with colleagues keeps you growing, often in directions not previously imagined. And in the best tradition of creativity: re-imagining someone else’s work in a new way that eventually leads to self-expression is a life-long journey.
How much of the tech stuff you’re learning during lockdown will you carry on with if/when we get back to ‘normal’ — as a teacher / as a human?
All of them! Have learned to use not only Finale, and the full office suite, but Corel Draw, Photoshop, Skype, Zoom, Audacity, Spotify, Dropbox, and my favourites: Google and Youtube
The latest Tweets from TempoZone (@tempo_zone). For pianists, parents, students, teachers: download piano solo/duets…
What advice would you give to people thinking of becoming a (piano) teacher?
Find a good teacher for yourself. Find a teacher that inspires you, encourages you and makes you feel like they are your coach. Become as proficient in you instrument as you possibly can to at least a diploma level and then keep learning! Go to a teacher or college to learn how they teach, then have more lessons from various teachers on how they teach. Try their approaches, and keep trying new ways to present the same concept. When I can demonstrate and explain a new concept to a student in five or more different ways then I know I can do my job.