UPDATE: The next Casio Piano Teachers’ Workshop takes place on Sunday 27 September 2015. [More Info].
I recently hosted a one day workshop for piano teachers in London. The event was sponsored by Casio and they brought along a range of their digital pianos for us to use throughout the day. The course was based around the new ABRSM syllabus Alternative List pieces. Tim Barratt from ABRSM and Graham Fitch led two workshops on Grades 1 to 7 pieces.
On a grey and rainy Sunday piano teachers arrived at Cecil Sharp House, London NW1 to take part in an EPTA/Casio One-Day Workshop for Pianists and Piano Teachers organised by Lorraine Liyanage. It was my first visit to this venue, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, I found it to be well suited to such an event. The spacious Trefusis room, opened onto a very good cafe, and in engaging Casio as sponsors Lorraine ensured the presence of many high quality digital instruments for teachers to play.
The day started with a workshop led by Tim Barratt, Head of Keyboard at Dulwich College and a teacher at the Junior Academy. He began by giving teachers an interesting insight into the selection process of a syllabus in which he is involved. He then discussed pieces on the ABRSM Alternative List, playing all options and covering one piece from grades 1-4 in detail. This stimulating session included singing in the aeolian mode, shaping students’ tone through analogies to orchestral instruments, and using imagery to convey to a student how a melody is projected over its accompaniment. He also covered developing good staccato technique, rhythmically accurate playing and marking notes during practice. This was a lively and interactive presentation with many teachers volunteering to play pieces, clap and sing. It was an inspiring start to the day.
After a coffee break Dan, from Casio and Chris, a teacher at the London College of Music | The University of West London, presented the instruments. This was a surprisingly interesting session and not at all the sales pitch one might expect from sponsors. Not only were we given some interesting technical insights but as a piano teacher Chris was able to include some creative ways to use technology to support students’ learning.
Frances Wilson then spoke about Professionalism in Piano Teaching. In her honest style she led a very open discussion sharing her own experiences and drawing on her research. This covered all sorts of practicalities from teaching environment, web sites, social media, security clearance, fees, terms and conditions and professional bodies. To quote her “Be in charge of your own professional destiny and maintain your integrity”. Naturally this sparked many interesting conversations amongst colleagues over lunch. [Read The Presentation]
Graham Fitch, pianist, teacher, adjudicator and writer, arrived for the afternoon session. In the same format as Tim, Graham dealt with pieces on the alternative lists from grade 4-7. We were treated to colourful descriptions like, thickening textures should be felt as you would feel the slight resistance in a spoon when stirring a thickening roux sauce, for dynamic markings, piano actually means mp in melody + pp in accompaniment, and naturally mp+pp=p, for intonation, listen with your fingers. He also discussed harmonic rhythm, a mapping tool for levels of intensity in notes, finger exercises and Russian crescendos. This was an engaging and insightful workshop and Graham offered many hints which are sure to appeal to students when helping to develop their expressive playing.
Finally there was a summing up of the day by Lorraine and Frances, with time for general discussion and an informal performance opportunity. Topics for future workshops were considered and based on this day I strongly encourage teachers to attend these.
All in all the day was well organised. There was a good variety of sessions, the venue was well chosen and I felt the size and scale of the event gave it the huge advantage of feeling organic. Meaning all sessions were free to unfold in a natural way and there was time to deal with any questions or issues which were raised, and points of interest. I spoke to many colleague during the day and the feedback was all positive with everyone commenting that it was enjoyable and useful.
Lorraine invited me to attend this workshop, with my series of Piano Practice Workbooks. I had many opportunities throughout the day to talk to teachers on the important issue of practice. The books received many favourable comments, “very impressive, beautifully laid out, this is very useful, I like this message, great idea I will put that into practice right away, I like the extra sections it is great to have all this in one book, this sits open nicely on the music desk, it is so colourful and appealing, and, this is the best practice notebook I have seen.”
Roberta Wolff LRSM, ATCL
Pianist, Teacher and Author of Music, Me, Piano Practice Notebooks