Tag Archives: teaching

Back in the saddle

Been a while since my last post.. was a good Xmas but I really need to find time and energy to write these blog posts every week… new years resolution coming on……  (whiskey by the fire every weekend with laptop on my knee… thats got to be the way….)

Anyhow todays blog is about teaching… I haven’t been doing much of it recently.  Even though I advise on teaching in schools as part of my job, other work has taken over and I haven’t been doing any musical teaching for the past six months.  But previous to that my teaching has all been based in schools for many years.

But teaching is a good thing…. so I have been trying to address this and today I started teaching my first private pupil for 6 years.

First off… part of the reason I started to stop teaching privately at home is that (anybody who knows me will vouch for this!) my house can be a bit of “chaotic’ at times.  So part of the ritual of teaching pupils at home is spending an hour or so before the pupil arrive tidying up, hovering, moving muddy bikes from my studio etc… I am not sure how the economics of this will work out…  But it is good to have a reason to sort things out… My music room has not looked so sparklingly lovely for a long time!

Today my new pupil was an adult learner.  She came along full of enthusiasm and keen to learn.  A library of new tutor books under her arm and a brand new saxophone that had been a christmas present at the ready.

A lot of the teaching I have done in the recent past has been in schools, in groups and in short compact lessons. The luxury of having a single pupil for a whole half hour is something I haven’t been used to for a while.  The lesson raced past, but we could cover so much ground with time, in a good space with no distractions around, and no pressure from the next pupils waiting at the door, (or me worrying that they weren’t ready at the door)

My new pupil did really well, she got the a really good tone, and got her fingerings without too much effort.  We looked at some basic notated music, and we even looked at some articulation, which was all in place ready for her to work at before the next session.   A model lesson!

I was at home, I was relaxed, I had not time pressures.  I had a pupil who was keen and had the right equipment.  I had coffee on tap.  I had a good musical space with all the equipment and resources I needed around me.  It was bound to be a good lesson.  But in a way it was a bit easy…  Having been away from private teaching for so long I can see the benefits and the draw as a way of earning a living.  But what about inclusion versus elitism.

I have blogged about Patrick Costello and his Dad who have passed on to me so much of their musical learning recently.  And I do feel a need to pass on the favours on in some way.  However having thought about I can’t think of a good way to offer free lessons to any takers without somehow demeaning what I do (people value things by what they cost…) but also being faintly suspicious to those who might be interested but don’t know me.

However if you happen to read this and you are interested give me a shout and I will happily give you a lesson (over Skype or here in Sussex) for free.   Just let me know and we will see what happens!


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Posted by on January 11, 2015 in Education, Teaching


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Lessons In Music

I had my first music lesson for almost 20 years at the weekend, courtesy of the great folks at Pat (A.K.A Dear Old Dad) met up with me via Skype for a slot we had arranged earlier in the week and we had a good chat, and worked through some tunes. Pat was very kind and helpful, offering me some really excellent nuggets of advice. He had very thoughtfully already checked out my playing on some of my YouTube clips and so was prepared with some ideas that would be useful for me.

Not having a lesson for 20 years is not entirely true… I guess as musicians we are constantly learning from those around us. Every gig or rehearsal is a lesson in some way or another and I guess part of graduating to becoming a musician is your formal learning transforms into continual informal learning through experience.

Spending the time with Pat at the weekend made me consider how we learn, and how we teach. Having taught music for many years now, both in the classroom and in private instrumental lessons, I have learnt how to overcome musical problems and how to impart this to others. I know how to work out exercises to overcome technical difficulties. Unless there is some technique I don’t actually understand, or physically am not capable of, then issues are simply a matter of time and determination to overcome. (Some things take more time and energy than others though…) For pupils who have been learning for some time lessons are much more about coaching and encouraging. The pupils know inside what they need to do, they just need somebody to push them to do it! Expression and performance is a matter of experience. Go and see performers play, and watch what they do, listen to recordings, analyse, transcribe and learn. You just need a willingness to self analyse, and determination to improve.

So what is the point of the teacher?

I am very glad I met with Pat. Having seen him many times in his videos it was so nice to chat and play alongside him in real time. It was wonderful that he could give me confidence in what I was currently doing, and what I needed to work at. I kind of knew these things, but I feel better about what I am doing having talked it through with another person. The lesson did help me and I have improved because of it.


So what next?

Well Pat has suggested we hook up for a ‘Skype jam’ at some point, which sounds great, not sure if i trust the laggy internet for this yet, but it would be a great thing to do, jamming with another guy thousands of miles away sounds like a great experience, so I may have to take him up on this!

Pat (and son Patrick) are offering all their knowledge for free through their Daily Frail videos, as well as currently setting up lessons via Skype to those that ask for it. (Please check out their website at ) I trying to work out how I can pass on my musical skills in a similar fashion. Being able to teach in order to share positive experience sounds like such a marvellous ideal, but how could I do so in my community? I need to work past my experience that my musical skills are a commodity that have to be sold, to a place where they are something I can share with others.

I haven’t got a plan yet… but I’m working on it….  Anybody need a music lesson in Sussex?


Posted by on November 4, 2014 in Education, Teaching


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Learning and Teaching

A new day job this year puts both teaching and learning in the frame for what I do.  Both have to work together and this seems to be happening constantly in my musical life at the moment.

Over the past year or so I’ve been thoroughly inspired by frailing banjo guru Patrick Costello, who has, without even meeting this delightful fellow, taught me as much about music as lessons at the most established music conservatoires in this country.


Savannah & Patrick


Patrick is an inspiration both because of his innate musical talent and his ability to frame concepts with encouragement and friendliness that makes him a truly great teacher. However I am also inspired by his attitude to what learning is, and what music is as a cultural activity and concept.

Often I see and hear so called professional musicians and musical teachers complaining about the woes of their profession and the economics of their life earning their living from their trade. Comparisons to the rates of plumbers seem the norm, as do the complaints of non-professionals stealing their gigs.

I won’t be popular with my compatriots for saying this, but i believe that music is higher than this. If you are a true musician then you play because you love it. You perform and practise because it is something you love and wish to excel at. You want to share your performances with others, preferably lots of them! But dilemmas always arise over how this can make your living.

In my mind at least, once upon a time communities were made of people who all worked together. Some had trades and some of these might have been musicians. But being a musician is more than a trade, it is being part of your community. Without a community and an audience a musician is nothing. Performing requires and audient, it is a two way process with the performer as reliant on their response as the listener is on the musical experience.

This leads me to think of the current situation of professional musicians. Constant complaints about lack of pay for gigs, and the demise of the profession leave me cold. I play music because I love it. I can practise (occasionally) for hours each day. I don’t do this because I see a pay cheque for it coming. I do this because music is part of my being and something that I strive to improve myself at. I don’t do this because I see it as a loss-leader with pay as the ultimate goal.

If you want to earn money take up a profession that will give you your salty salary. If you want to be a musician then just do so, and don’t think that the world owes you a living, no matter how expensive your instruments were, or how many degrees you have.

This brings me back to Patrick Costello, who, despite being a thoroughly amazing musician and inspirational person generally, also sees music as a thing you do, rather than a profession. If you want a lesson with him (wherever you live in the world) you are invited just to ask him! (Skype is wonderful thing!). From Patrick’s perspective this is so that learning and sharing music isn’t about financial ties. It is something you need to do, if you want to do it, and all should be free and able to sit at that table. Patrick does not charge for his lessons.

I haven’t had a lesson from Patrick yet. Despite (or because of) being a teacher for many years I am still nervous about asking for help and opening myself up to learning in that way… But I have been told to man up already by the banjomeister himself.. so it may just be a matter of time before I report back here on progress being made

If you want to find out more about what Patrick does you can find him at


Posted by on September 27, 2014 in Education, Teaching, Uncategorized


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