Category Archives: General

Gender Equality

heforsheI have been inspired this week to write about gender equality. A number of wonderful people have written blogs or given speeches in support of gender equality. I have decided to “man up”, stop “crying like a girl” and join the cause. After all, as Emma Watson said in her inspiring speech to the UN

“If not me, who? If not now, when?”

So why me? And why now?

I see boys singing and loving it. I see 4 year old girls laughing at them because boys shouldn’t sing.

I see girls playing football on the school team. I see schools telling those girls they can’t play for the team this week because a tournament is boys only.

I see sexist books that try to tell us how to raise boys or raise girls, that contain opinions debunked by modern neuroscience and psychology (Read Cordelia Fine instead!)

I see toy shops and book publishers colour coding toys. Putting arts and crafts in the pink section and science and construction in the blue section. Sorry girls, no science for you. And who’s ever heard of a male artist? Ermm…

Even books about inspiring women annoy me. Why can’t we show that strong women are normal and widespread, not special and super-strong.

I could go on and on and on!

So what’s this got to do with my teaching? What’s it got to do with music?

Every day, every member of our society has a responsibility to educate our boys and girls. We all must try and eliminate gender inequality. It’s all about the small stuff.

It’s the assumption that a girl will prefer a beautiful romantic expressive song or piece over a loud and driven boogie woogie. It’s the assumption that a boy who may be losing interest in their music lessons needs a fun, fast student saver that’s “good for boys” and won’t respond to something soft and expressive.

It’s realising that when you illustrate a music book, or any book, with pictures of girls having picnics or boys playing football that will have an impact on your students. They will notice, they will care and it will affect which music they think they are supposed to like. It will also affect their view of those activities.

Diane Hidy has written a brilliant blog about cover art, titles and lyrics in piano books.

Inspired by the passionately written blog by Carly McDonald about “music for boys”

Toys are for everyone. Books are for everyone. Colours are for everyone. Feelings and emotions are for everyone. Strengths and weaknesses are for everyone. Jobs are for everyone. Love is for everyone. Courage is for everyone. Fear is for everyone.

Music is for everyone.

So this is me, standing up right now in support of Emma, Diane and Carly. In support of any man or woman who also feels they want to improve gender equality. Let’s do this!


How much practice should I do?

Here’s a great video from Pamela Frank who talks about how much practice she thinks you should do.

Clearly she’s not talking about Primary School beginners – but the advice is still relevant. Be smart and efficient when practising! Don’t just play your best bits over and over!

Fun Piano Game for Beginners

Well it’s half-term holiday in the Russell house and the weather is rubbish. What better time to trawl the internet for fab music games to play with my boys.

My younger son Matthew is 5. He’s been playing around with the black key songs in My First Piano Adventures and he knows where C, D and E are on the keyboard. My elder son Adam is 7. He’s been playing for a few years now and is a confident reader. I’m going to need a game that will work well for both of them. Not too hard for Matthew nor too easy for Adam.

First stop – as always – is Susan Paradis’ amazing site. Always loads of fun games, composition activities and pieces. Especially for pre-readers! Straight away I found an adorable game she calls Save the Turkey. It’s been designed for the US holiday Thanksgiving, but since we don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK then we have no problem playing it in February!!

Save The TurkeyYou can take a look at her site to see the “proper” rules for the game. However, I thought I’d share my adaptation.

The set comes with a Turkey card, two “Skip a Turn” cards and seven keyboards, each with a different key highlighted. You can download, print and cut out the cards here.

Firstly, we got rid of the skip a turn cards, they didn’t go down well at all with Matthew!! Secondly we put the Turkey at the bottom of the pile (actually Matthew “looked after” the Turkey – he has been a bit poorly this week!!). We made a pile with the rest of the cards and left them face down.

My Rules: Each player took it in turns to take a card from the top of the pile. Each player had different tasks to do with their cards. Matthew just had to find the key on the piano and play it. Adam had to name the pitch, draw it on the stave on my whiteboard (you could use manuscript paper), then find the key on the piano.

As the game progressed I was able to stretch each of the boys. For Matthew he started naming the pitch if it was C, D or E. Then we talked about “counting” up the alphabet to get F and G. A and B were a stretch but at least the concept has been introduced to him. Matthew also “helped” me when it was my turn! For Adam he was tasked to draw the note on the whiteboard, but in more than one octave. When he played it on the piano he had to match the octave to the ones he had drawn. If your child or student isn’t very confident with writing yet, you could find a piece they’ve been playing and ask them to find the note on the page.

I did think one set would be a very short game so I printed two copies – however, in retrospect I think a couple of short games with a number of winners would have been better. We managed to play for 30 minutes though, which I was really pleased with.

Thanks Susan!!

Saying Goodbye

I recently said goodbye to a much-loved long-term student. The separation was my own suggestion and I feel terrible about it.

This morning I read this blog-post by the amazing piano teacher, performer and composer Diane Hidy. It has made me cry a little. I wanted to share it, and persuade you to look through some other of Diane’s wonderfully written posts.

Examination Rules: How Many Hours Practice Does it Take?!

A great article from Elissa Milne demonstrating the amount of practice needed for healthy progression through the grades. Notice that she recommends 200 hours practice between the first lesson and Grade 1. So when you ask if your child is ready for Grade 1 yet, just bear this in mind. And remember that the time investment pre-Grade 1 will pay dividends later.

Elissa Milne

One of my ‘rules’ for a while now has been that students need to do at least 100 hours practice to get from one grade to the next. My assertion is that if you managed a B/merit in your last exam then another 100 hours practice will get you to a B in your next exam. If you want to guarantee a B+ you’ll need to do 120 hours, and if you want to guarantee an A/distinction  you will need 140 hours. Of course, if you only manage 75-80 hours practice you should be only just able to manage a C!! But if you achieved an A/distinction result in your previous exam then 100 hours (or not much more) should deliver you an A result in your next exam too.

I was chatting about this with Samantha Coates (Ms BlitzBooks!) and she was sharing anecdotal evidence she’s been gathering…

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Winter Show Success

Here’s a review of the Express Yourself Choirs’ toe tapping show stopping Winter Show! See what Pop Choir, Show Tunes Choir and Glee Club have been getting up to in Worcester this winter!

Express Yourself Choir in Worcester

What a great show!

Last Saturday all three Express Yourself singing groups gathered in front of family and friends to put on a fabulous winter show. I know I always say our concerts are the best yet, but this time I really mean it. All three choirs were word perfect, pitch perfect and even dance move perfect!! I know!

Show Tunes Choir opened the show with “Comedy Tonight” from Something Happened on the Way to the Forum. An ideal song to open with! This was followed by a classic Burt Bacharach number from Promises, Promises called “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”. We sang two songs from the amazing Tim Minchin musical Matilda; “Naughty” and “When I Grow Up”. Quite a challenging couple of songs for the timing but totally worth the effort. I think these were my favourites of the Show Tunes set. Without puppets we sang a heart…

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It Takes Two Generations…

A wonderfully helpful article for non-musical parents of piano students from the composer and piano teacher Elissa Milne

Elissa Milne

This year I have had a handful of gorgeous beginners taking lessons with me. I’m trialling new material for beginners and I need a cohort of children of different ages, genders, interests and learning styles so I can really test a range of approaches I believe will be more effective than the approaches I’ve used in the past. I haven’t auditioned these new students prior to accepting them into my studio –  inviting a diverse group of children to explore the piano and learn musicianship and performance skills with me gives me my best chance of testing my material (as well as keeping me on my toes!).

Of all the diversities amongst these beginners the greatest is probably this: some children come from families of professional musicians while some come from families where no one has ever learned an instrument.

What does this mean? On the surface it means that…

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