I started teaching piano 25 years ago, working within the established system, teaching people to pass Associated Board piano exams. And my students successfully achieved excellent marks as they worked through their grades. But I always felt like a hypocrite. This was because I don’t approach music in this conventional way myself. And the fluent skills I rely on so much – improvising, playing by ear and true sight-reading (looking at a new score and instantly being able to hear it in your head) – were not being passed on to my students. They played in the way that most people who learn piano do: decoding the dots until muscle/aural memory kicked in.
The frustration caused by conventional learning
In one school where I worked, I noticed that the guitar teacher had happy, motivated and empowered students. So I tried teaching as similar system of chords and rhythm patterns. But this fun system was very limited for piano and as soon as they returned to preparing pieces, scales, aural tests and sight-reading and sometimes also theory for examinations, their motivation levels dropped and their playing began to develop that flat, stiff or uncontrolled quality that we all know only too well. I would then force them to add expression with dynamics, articulation and even tempo changes (rubato) but the whole process felt so unnatural. And it was frustrating!
A new approach to learning piano
I knew needed to make a change. So for the past 15 years, I have been developing a system of learning that is based on my own fluent way of processing musical language. It has matured into a highly effective and innovative system that trains genuine musical fluency from the outset. I teach people to play the sounds they can hear in their imagination, instantly, without working out. It is rather like learning a language: you learn to recognise and sense how rhythmic and tonal structure work as a kind of syntax whilst using familiar-sounding elements of rhythmic and tonal “vocabulary”. You internalise these principles and elements and play with them, making shapes and patterns of music. This means that you express yourself naturally and actively with deep understanding rather than merely executing lists of notes passively.
Skills that enable you to play any music you want in your own way
Sometimes people worry that practising improvising using the principles and elements of musical language will be difficult. In fact, the freedom and ease that it requires of you is a wonderful experience. I admit that my hardest job is to get adult students to stop worrying about getting it right, overthinking and generally being mentally and sometimes physically tense. But once you relax and let go, the model of music that you learn is actually very easy to focus on. It keeps you safe and secure as you play like a child. Knowing the language of rhythm and tonality frees you to play in any style you like, using your own personal voice. There is no right way to play as long as it makes musical sense. When you are deeply familiar with the principles and elements that make up all music, whatever the style, it is like having the words at your disposal to tell any story you like.
Natural, relaxed, piano technique
Because fluent musicians let go and play with direct, authentic and free expressiveness that comes from within, their piano playing never sounds flat, stiff or mechanical. From the very first lesson, I insist that students find an effortless ease and flow that makes them instantly sound like a professional musician. As your skills develop, this natural ease works to generate powerful yet relaxed technique. This means that you can play fast and loud passages without fatigue as well as find the control and precision necessary for delicate pianissimo music.
A structured foundation course – access to the vast world of music
My approach is definitely radical and innovative but it is also a very carefully organised keyboard musicianship training system, following a clear scheme of work and providing you with all the materials that you will need. It’s essentially a comprehensive foundation course. It has three levels and 4 modules in each level. Once you have completed this core training, I can help you explore any areas of music you like. I am also perfectly happy to prepare you for grade examinations in either classical or jazz piano. With fluent skills in place, playing the test pieces and scales is so much easier and requires very much shorter preparation times whilst the aural tests and sight-reading tests will also be very easy indeed. All this ensures the achievement of very high marks.
For most people learning the conventional way, the skills that they acquire to pass examinations decay rapidly, unless they maintain their repetitive practice regime. This is because of the musically unconscious way that they play: playing by rote is obviously automatic and decoding the dots has no real sense of musical structure and pattern. This erosion of skill of course destroys confidence. I know so many people who learned piano in the past, even passing high grades, who never play now. This seems tragic to me. My approach provides lifelong skills. Because fluent piano skills are fully conscious, they do not decay very much at all, even over a very long time. Playing the piano fluently is like riding a bicycle: you never forget how to do it!
Set your piano playing free
I also offer help to advanced students who may have completed their more conventional studies. You may have graduated from Music College or University and are seeking to open up your musical horizons and discover yourself as an artist with individuality. I can offer support and guidance with this process, by freeing your technique – even rehabilitating technical issues that pianists often encounter – and helping you acquire fluent musicianship skills to access your authentic, natural inner musician.