Frances George Piano
HOW I TEACH
Aims and objectives
My approach is to help the student develop into a confident musician who can play the piano well enough to enjoy entertaining themselves and others in informal situations, and more formally in concerts and exams should they wish. I encourage development of an expressive sound, the skill of reading music (being able to play from music, and hearing what you can see) as well as playing by ear. In addition to a range of traditional tuition books, I write simple arrangements of well known pop and folk tunes for students so that they can learn to play something they have already heard.
Who do I teach?
Adults and children from age 5 onwards. Beginners are welcome. Children need to have basic reading, counting and listening skills. I teach at all levels from initial to Grade 8.
The benefits of learning to play the piano
Learning to play a musical instrument helps children to develop socially (through interaction with the teacher and with other children who play instruments), emotionally (through being able to express different moods with different kinds of music), intellectually (learning musical concepts and structures, extending attention span) and physically (balanced posture, hand-eye co-ordination, manual dexterity). And it’s fun!
Lessons for beginners develop keyboard familiarity and finger co-ordination before learning to read music. Learning to play by ear is encouraged. More advanced lessons include a variety of exercises and pieces as well as theory, listening exercises and improvisation, to develop an understanding of rhythm, pitch and harmony.
The emphasis is on playing for pleasure, and a variety of musical styles can be covered in your lessons, from classical to contemporary.
Exams are optional, and I only enter students when they have reached a basic pass standard at the time of entry. I use the traditional and jazz exam syllabuses of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music). Exams are held in nearby Sunbury three times a year. Students taking piano exams have achieved a 100% pass rate over the past ten years, with around 50% of students obtaining a merit or distinction.
Teaching materials and music technology
Where appropriate, I recommend the use of resources such as Youtube videos, apps for iPad and websites for developing musical awareness.
For younger beginners I use the Piano Adventures series,as well as Pauline Hall's Tunes for Ten Fingers series and John Thompson's Easiest Piano Course; for older beginners I may use Piano Adventures, The Joy of First Year Piano or the Microjazz series.
What do I need in order to learn the piano?
Time, patience, a love of music and a decent instrument.
You need to set aside a regular time every day to work on music studied in your lesson. A minimum of ten to fifteen minutes every day is recommended during your first year, and at least half an hour for Grades 2 to 5. Without regular practice, progress is slow and lessons are wasted. It takes on average between one and two years for a student to reach Grade 1 exam standard, and between one and two years for subsequent exams.
Buying pianos and electronic keyboards
Students must have an instrument to practice on from the first lesson onwards. I can give details of where good secondhand pianos may be hired or bought locally. Please don't buy a cheap secondhand piano from the small ads, unless you have a great deal of knowledge about piano construction and maintainance.
Portable electronic keyboards and non-portable electronic pianos need to be touch-sensitive (so that you can play loudly or softly) with at least 60 keys. From Grade 5 onwards a full 88 key piano (either a traditional one or a good electronic piano) is essential. Students using electronic keyboards usually find it takes a stronger touch to press down keys on a piano, and they will also need an adjustable stand. A sustaining pedal is necessary from Grade 3 onwards. I can advise on buying suitable keyboards and pedals.
You will also need an adjustable piano stool or a straight backed chair without arms, and some firm cushions to adjust the height of the seat of the chair so that your arms are roughly parallel with the floor when playing. Small children will benefit from a footrest to support their feet and enable good balance and posture.
How parents can help
Parents or carers are welcome to sit in on the initial consultation lesson, as well as an "open lesson" near the end of every term. This gives the school-age student an opportunity to play for others, and helps adults to understand and encourage them appropriately in their playing at home. Parents and carers are not required to sit in on lessons during the rest of term, unless they and their children specifically request this.
I encourage children to teach something from their lesson to a member of their family as soon as they can after their lesson. This reinforces the learning while it is fresh in their memory, gets the child used to playing for others, and helps the parent to understand what the child needs to do.
Students are emailed a weekly piano practice advice sheet to guide their practice at home. I sometimes record student performances during lessons with the computer program Garageband and can transfer the recordings on to a CD which the student can keep as a record of their progress and play to friends and family. I may also make video and audio recordings of my own performances of student repertoire and email them to you to help guide practice at home.
I review the progress of new students after the first 2 months of lessons, according to a checklist based on my experience of what should be attainable by this stage with regular thoughtful practice and encouragement at home. Parents will be invited to discuss their child's progress and they and the student will have the opportunity to decide whether to continue with tuition, or perhaps restart when the student is more prepared to benefit from regular tuition by practising regularly between lessons.
ANNUAL STUDENT CONCERTS - a great motivator for practice!
These are held annually at the Riverside Arts Centre in nearby Sunbury and are a great opportunity for students to show how well they are doing, and for families and friends of students to get together. Homemade refreshments are provided in the interval! All profits surplus to hosting expenses are donated to a children's charity.