You may have been wondering...
1 Fee structure
Standard hourly fee for individual tuition: £32
Most lessons are half an hour: £16
20 or 45 minute lessons pro rata
Five weeks (one half-hour lesson per week): £75
Ten weeks (one half-hour lesson per week): £140
Periods of five and ten weeks are adjusted to take account of school holidays.
*NEW* 2012-13 full year advance payment £20 discount for 35 half-hour lessons: normal total for blocks of 10 would be £490, full year £470.
(sheet music, workbooks and exam entry fees are charged separately in all cases)
2 Missed lessons, notice periods and ceasing lessons
Please give at least 24 hours' notice if you need to miss a lesson, unless there is an emergency. Missed lessons can be rebooked if a mutually suitable time can be found within the period. Refunds or credit for missed lessons will only be given if the lesson was cancelled by me and no other time could be arranged.
For block-booked lessons I use a contract based on the European Piano Teachers Association (UK) model contract, to provide clarity about our obligations as teacher and pupil or parent. Below is an extract from the terms and conditions:
1. This contract will remain in force from term* to term until specifically terminated by either party giving at least four weeks’ notice.
2. Fees must be paid for the whole term before the start of the first lesson in each term.
3. Periods of interruption to lessons, such as school, or other holidays, should be agreed at the start of each term. Any change in the agreed dates should be the subject of four weeks’ notice, except in the case of ill-health or other emergency.
4. No fees will be refunded except where the teacher has to cancel a lesson which cannot be rescheduled.
5. Very exceptionally, the teacher may wish to reschedule a lesson cancelled by a pupil, where notice of such cancellation has been given in advance.
*A term may be five or ten weeks of lessons, and need not coincide with school terms. The period over which the lessons are taken will be adjusted to take account of school holidays.
You will need a piano (digital or acoustic) available every day for practising between lessons. A notebook to record the week's goals is recommended. You can buy your own sheet music, tutor books etc or I can obtain them for you and will bill you (at the supplier's retail price plus a share of any postage costs) separately.
3 What do I need to provide?
4 When is the best age for my child to start piano lessons?
The short answer is "whenever you think they are ready"!
An often-recommended age is around 7, when most children are able to read and write, have hands large and strong enough to cope with playing one note per finger, are used to being taught and paying attention in a lesson, etc. However, it is never too late to start!
For the very young, you need to consider:
Can they pay attention for at least 20 minutes (the shortest lesson time I offer, for age 6 and below)?
Do they enjoy singing, moving to music, rhythmical clapping games etc?
Is there a parent at home who is willing to supervise their practice for five or ten minutes a day?
5 How much practice should I (or my child) do?
To get the most out of your tuition, it's best to practise every day (you can give yourself a day off once a week if you are making good progress). It's especially important to get to the piano as soon as possible after your lesson, no later than the next day, while the new learning points are fresh in your mind.
As for the length of time - it depends on how well you use it. Half an hour of "going through the motions" with your mind elsewhere, is far less useful than ten minutes of really focused and purposeful practice. It is part of my job to show you how to practise - so that one day you will be able to learn and play any music you wish without the need for a teacher! But there's no doubt that you need commitment; what you get out of it is directly related to the effort you put in.
6 What type of piano should I get?
This is a very big question, and I am happy to advise (and even come piano-shopping with you if you wish) according to your individual needs. Here are a few pointers:
There are three main types on the market: acoustic pianos (made of wood, metal, felt etc) which can be "upright" or "grand", digital pianos such as the Yamaha Clavinova range, and keyboards ranging all the way from toys to programmable multi-track synthesisers.
Keyboards: I would not recommend a keyboard unless you are a new beginner or planning to use the keyboard for composing, without wanting to develop a full piano technique.
Digital pianos have the advantage of being a lot cheaper than acoustic (they now start at around £400, for which you would be very lucky to get a reliable secondhand acoustic). They never need to be tuned (saving you at least £50 a year) and usually have some extra features such as recording, metronome, and non-piano sounds which can be fun to mess around creatively with. Make sure that you get one with weighted "hammer action" keys, not just "touch responsive". These feel and respond exactly like an acoustic piano. Touch response can sometimes mean that the keys will play louder if you press them harder, but they don't develop the strength you need for a proper piano technique.
Acoustic pianos generally give a richer sound and can be played during power cuts (!). They need more care and maintenance (correct siting away from heaters and windows, regular tuning, etc) but for the more advanced levels of playing it is much more rewarding to play a piano where you have control over all the sounds you make and are not relying on a computer and a set of pre-recorded samples to give you your result. In particular, digital pianos do not produce the same complex sets of resonances available on an acoustic. However, especially with antique and secondhand pianos there are many pitfalls you need to be aware of before parting with a probable four-figure sum.
In my Music Room I have one of each, so I can show you the differences in more detail.
7 Should I study music theory?
Music theory is about the meaning and use of musical notation, and the structures from which music is built. Unless you learn everything by copying somebody else, you need to be "able to read music" - to know enough theory to decode the page of music you wish to play. Knowing a lot about theory will not make you a better player. However, it can deepen your appreciation of music, and can make learning music easier, if you understand more than the bare basics of notation.
Formal theory study is a good idea if you plan to take practical grade exams. In the Associated Board system, after Grade 5 practical you cannot take any higher grades without first passing Grade 5 Theory, or Practical Musicianship, or Jazz. None of these is an easy option but the theory exam is the one preferred by most candidates. Ideally your knowledge of theory should keep in step with your growing skills on the keyboard, so that preparing for grade 5 theory will not be a huge step.
I teach music theory in many different ways, using a variety of resources. For young children there are wonderful sticker books and colouring books, and for those who are slightly older there are puzzles and workbooks, and a range of online resources too. Beginners' tutor books often come with parallel step-by-step theory books. For more teens and adults there are text books and materials for exam practice, and of course I have my own ways of explaining and clarifying things too.
8 What are the pros and cons of taking grade exams?
They encourage the development of a broad range of musical skills.
Going up through the grades gives a series of definite goals and a sense of progress
You have a widely-understood benchmark for describing your level of skill
The exam is a chance to perform to a knowledgeable audience (the examiner)
You receive detailed and impartial feedback on the marks sheet
If you pass (and so far I've never had a pupil fail) you get a nice certificate
Higher grades (6 and above) count towards your points for university entrance
It can be stressful to perform in such a formal situation
An audience of one can seem strange
The exam is only a snapshot of how you played on that particular day
You may be really good at something the exam does not test
You may find some of the supporting tests (such as sight reading) difficult
It is possible to become a highly skilled musician without taking grades
I should also add that these remarks refer to traditional Associated Board grade exams. The AB also offer Music Medals which include ensemble playing, and I am working towards accreditation as an assessor for this. I have recently begun offering Trinity Guildhall examinations too. TG does not make sight reading compulsory in its exams until grade 6, for example (although if you've never done it before then, it could be an intensive climb to reach the standard).