Cardiff Piano & Music Theory Teacher


Stop That Mucking About!

I had a conversation with a parent a few weeks ago; she was telling me that when her son plays around on the piano and makes up his own stuff, she tells him to stop it and get back to his ‘proper practicing’.   My answer? “But that ‘mucking about’ is creativity!”  That ‘playing around’, that ‘wasting time’ was this young student discovering sound colours, learning his way about the keyboard, developing confidence in his improvisatory skills, making fledgling compositions, and generally connecting with the piano.  And it’s absolutely vital that young musicians are given the space to do this.

My daughter, who is helping me out with The Repertoire Project by learning the second parts to some of the Introductory level duet repertoire, started ‘mucking about’ today whilst we were practising together.  She developed a melody after hearing a short snippet of a duet that I suggested (which we never got around to practising, but who cares, the tangent was even better).  I joined in with an accompaniment, and after ten minutes of a mixture of improvisation and composition, we came up with this…

Creative, enjoyable, musical, collaborative, experimental, and like so much music, beautifully fleeting.  But worthless? Absolutely not.

For more details about my teaching practice, including prices, vacancies, and information on distance theory marking, or learning piano as a beginner, intermediate, or a post-grade 8 student, please go to



The Repertoire Project

The idea for The Repertoire Project came from thinking about how to engage and inspire students to learn music which does not lead to grade exams.  I write, and talk, a lot about learning repertoire and skills, and developing as a musician, but it can be surprisingly difficult for young pianists to find repertoire that they want to learn without spending hours and hours trawling unsuccessfully through youtube, and often giving up in the process.  Of course, I play music for my students in lessons, but there’s only so much repertoire I can play in a half hour lesson, before the ‘lesson’ becomes a series of ‘concerts’.  A waste of money? No, absolutely not, but I do think there is more effective way for students to listen to more music, and get more inspired, without spending more lesson time listening to only the books that they have, or I can find at the time.

And so The Repertoire Project was born.

I shall leave the rest of this post in the capable hands of the blurb I have posted with every Repertoire Project track and playlist:

Welcome to The Repertoire Project – a large selection of repertoire across a range of genres to inspire students to broaden their depth of musical understanding and their enjoyment of the piano by learning multiple new pieces.

Each piece in the Repertoire Project which I have recorded at my home studio is included in two playlists:

1) With other pieces of a similar playing standard (Introductory, Beginner, Intermediate I, Intermediate II, and Advanced)

2) With other pieces in the same book or volume.

I have also included selected repertoire from other soundcloud accounts into the ‘level’ playlists. I have only included music which have freely available scores (either as paid for downloads or in print). These additional tracks are by contemporary composers, and many of the scores can be purchased individually for very little cost. If you would like details on purchasing, please contact the soundcloud account holder directly, or email me on and I will find these details for you.

You can find The Repertoire Project and each of the different playlists at my soundcloud account here

For more details about my teaching practice, including prices, vacancies, and information on distance theory marking, or learning piano as a beginner, intermediate, or a post-grade 8 student, please go to

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Practising on a Budget

It’s that time of year again.  Exams.  I’m sure I’m not the only piano teacher in the country seeing a sudden dearth in practice time in students who are in their final years of GCSE, AS, and A-levels.  But is there any need for practising to tail off in the way that it usually does?  In previous years, I have accepted the usual cries of, ‘I haven’t had time to practice!’ without question, but this year, I’m starting to think that there may be a way around this. So let’s start at the beginning; let’s assume that students in these critical school years genuinely do not have time to sit down for their usual practise sessions, which, depending on their playing level, will range from 15 minutes to over an hour.  But is that any reason to stop altogether? Mentally and emotionally, it can seem so.  After all, in can seem to students (indeed, this goes for most of us, I think) that they have already failed when they can’t spare enough time to do a ‘proper’ job. But what if that is a myth? What if a student  can  manage something really quite substantial in a much smaller amount of time? Take the example of an A-level student studying post-grade 8 repertoire.  Ideally, students at this level should be practising for an hour or more every day.  But that’s simply not going to happen at the moment, and any attempt to try is going to end in an awful sense of failure.  So what are the alternatives? Micro-practices! Micro-practices are ten to fifteen minute bursts of practising, as many or as few as are achievable, each one with a different goal in mind.  Here are some examples:

  1. Major, harmonic minor, and / or melodic minor scales, 1 octave only
  2. Single page of piece A, left hand only, concentrating on pedal
  3. Half a new page of piece A, working out new notation etc.
  4. Slow and steady practice of half a page of piece B
  5. First two pages of piece A, working on right hand alone, phrasing and projection
  6. Major and / or minor arpeggios, root position, two octaves
  7. Listening to both pieces on youtube, following with score
  8. Run through and individual section practise of single page of piece A
  9. Run through and individual section practice of single page of piece B
  10. Rhythmic improvisation of piece B, single page
  11. Try to figure out harmonic base / progression of piece A, single page
  12. Work on dynamics whilst only playing left hand accompaniment, piece A
  13. Double check consistency of fingering throughout, piece B

None of these are not achievable in short bursts, and looking carefully at them, they are really only one normal length practise split up into its individual components.  And with students playing at more elementary levels, these micro practices can be tailored for very short time periods (as little as three or four minutes each for beginners), with each goal worked out to roughly comprise of an individual component of the ‘usual’ longer practice session. And who knows, with achievable micro-practises to hand, busy and stressed out students might even manage to find that getting away from the pressures and strains of revision and coursework deadlines helps them to relax and cope better with their exam workload.

For more details about my teaching practice, including prices, vacancies, and information on distance theory marking, or learning piano as a beginner, intermediate, or a post-grade 8 student, please go to

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Sight Reading; What Are We Really Teaching? 

I teach sight reading.  I teach it because it’s a vital skill for a musician to have.  But I don’t teach sight-reading by using sight-reading method books, and here’s why:

Most of us equate sight reading as something which is assessed, either in grade exams or auditions, or some other type of assessment.  My sight reading has been assessed many, many times over the years, and every time, it has been via a solo piano performance.  But here’s the interesting thing; when I ask myself when I have actually solo sight read as a professional pianist, the answer is never. I’ll repeat that.  I think it’s important.  Not rarely, not infrequently.  Never.

I have sight read as an accompanist, as a duo, in a chamber group, in an orchestra, and I have busked my way through folk and jazz lead sheets.  But apart from the slightly odd environment of 1:1 teaching where I have to sight read bits of student-standard music, I have never needed to sight read on my own.  And as far as I can work out, nor do any other musicians.  We sight read as orchestral players, as chamber music members, as duos, and in bands, but it is quite extraordinarily rare that we have to stand up in front of an audience and sight read a solo work.  So why is so much importance placed on solo sight reading ability? Why do exams boards not accompany their sight readers to provide the same sort of support that an accompanist (or soloist) would? Why is the universally accepted form of sight reading not accompanied? Why are we as teachers mostly obsessed with this artificial construct of sight reading solo works?

These are questions I can’t answer. Or I can, but the answer I have is that I suspect the current status quo is dysfunctional and based on an outdated concept.

As for me, I’ll just keep going with the duets.

For more details about my teaching practice, including prices, vacancies, and information on distance theory marking, or learning piano as a beginner, intermediate, or a post-grade 8 student, please go to


Freedom to Teach

I’m getting a bit of a reputation for not being terribly keen on my students sitting too many grade exams. And my regular readers (and my students) will already be familiar with the reasons why.  But that’s not what this post is about.

This is about two of my students, neither of whom sit grades, and how (and what) they learn instead.

The first is a young beginner who transferred from another teacher.  Slightly traumatised from starting grade 1 pieces before she was capable, she was adamant that she did not want to sit grades, and that has not changed in the two years since.  What has changed, though, are her skills and her development as a musician. We went back to the beginning together; gently and carefully, looking at notation skills, listening, and learning how to create sound colours at the piano without being ‘literal’ with the dynamics. A quick and clever child, she picked things up rapidly, and has now worked her way through an improvisation based repertoire book, half a duet book, half a Christmas carol book, nearly all of the first Dozen a Day, and has learned four pieces from ‘UpGrade 0-1’. Looking ahead, I have scales and arpeggios planned, Elissa Milne’s ‘Easy Little Peppers’, John Lenehan’s Keynotes series, the Anna Magdalena Notebook, Christopher Norton’s ‘Microjazz’, the ABRSM Keyboard Anthology series, and various duets and downloads. This student may never sit a grade exam; her family have had multiple bad experiences and they are communally happy for her to learn for the sake of learning. And if she continues to play for years to come, she will be no different a pianist at grade 8 standard than a pianist who has sat grade 8 itself.

My second student is a more unusual situation; she lives abroad and I teach her via an online client. She is (so far) my only online student, a situation which we began as she was originally a UK resident who moved abroad several years ago and was unable to find a suitable local teacher. This student is very young, and musically gifted. She is 7 years old and has so far worked her way through a list of repertoire that would make a child twice her age take a sharp breath: Piano Time 1-3, Piano Time Pieces 1-2, 2  Microjazz volumes, the Anna Magdalena Notebook, Burgmuller Studies op.100, ABRSM Keyboard Anthology 1 and 2, Clementi Sonatinas, Khatchaturian Children’s Pieces, Beatrice Quoniam Etudes (pianissimo, poco forte, and mezzo forte), three Dozen a Day books, and scales in multiple keys. She is currently working her way through the remainder of the Clementi before beginning work on Bach’s 2 part inventions, and is starting the ABRSM Mozart Early Pieces compilation book.  Through this broad repertoire, we are working intensively on sound colour, musical narrative, characterisation, physical technique, freedom and strictures of rubato, faithfulness to the score, and interpretive freedom.   For her future, I have more repertoire planned; Bach Preludes and Fugues, Mozart Variations, Chopin Waltzes, Grovlez, contemporary music including Jenni Pinnock’s ‘Rain’, and pieces from the ABRSM Spectrum series, Schumann, Scarlatti, the list is endless and my only restriction is the small size of her hands.  Grades have not been discussed, and I am not even sure if they are an option in her country (although her state education system is certainly an exam driven one, far more than the UK).

Despite this, these two students are amongst some of the most fulfilled and happy that I have the pleasure of teaching. They have learnt to understand their progress in terms of pieces learnt or skills developed, and they enjoy the process of learning and playing, without necessarily having a certificate at the end of it. And both students enjoy performing; both took part in my annual concert last year, and my foreign student regularly takes part in local concerts on her violin.

I have plans for both students; plans which involve gradually more challenging repertoire. And I keep my eye out for which pieces motivate and excited then so that I can hear their rep choices more towards their personal preference.


And if either of them change their mind and want to sit an exam, they can do that too.  I’m sure they’ll get an excellent mark if they do, due of their background in general musicianship skills and the broad range of repertoire they have behind them.



For more details about my teaching practice, including prices, vacancies, and information on distance theory marking, or learning piano as a beginner, intermediate, or a post-grade 8 student, please go to





I Didn’t Know I Did That…

This is the second instalment of John Ireland’s Month’s Mind (recorded swiftly after the first one)

Again, my concentration isn’t fully there for serious ‘performance style practising’ and I got side tracked by a little improv halfway through (just enjoying the harmonies, really), but I came out of this practice with some incredibly useful musical information logged.

And I had fun.

As an aside, I had no idea until I recorded these sessions how much I switch or split the score between hands when practising to hear things easier and learn melodic lines and harmonic progressions.


For more details about my teaching practice, including prices, vacancies, and information on distance theory marking, or learning piano as a beginner, intermediate, or a post-grade 8 student, please go to


There’s more than one way to skin a proverbial…. 

This very short practice session, of John Ireland’s beautifully scrunchy Month’s Mind, was one from today when I had a spare few minutes during a day otherwise full of relaxing, cleaning, tidying, and generally not being terribly musical.  It’s hard to resist a quick practice with an empty house at my fingertips though, and because I knew I didn’t have full focus today, I decided to look at the piece from a different angle.

Those of you who have followed The Practice Project so far, or who are students familiar with my practice teachings, will already be aware of my firm belief that improvisation, creativity, and generally ‘mucking about’ with music is an excellent tool to understanding structure, melodic lines, harmonic progression, and musical narrative.  This video shows very little of the original notation being played as written, and there is a large section near the end where I learned the left hand notes and flow by splitting it between both hands then jazzing it up somewhat.  Whether this was out of sheer Sunday laziness or out of genuine musical creativity, I’m still not sure, but it worked, and I learned this section far quicker than if I had sat down and rigidly fixated on the score.  And in the flippant mood I was in, I doubt I would have had the boredom threshold for that anyway…  (and talking of flippant, anybody else hear a Clannad theme running through one of the sections? Herne the Hunter? Harry’s Theme? Anyone? It drove me to distraction whilst practising and I still can’t place it.  And that distraction was a minor one (ahem, bad pun, I blame late Sunday evening writing) compared to the the time I spent figuring out some really interesting harmonic displacement between treble and bass, where the bass chord is heard in the following beat in the treble, a sort of phasing of harmonies.

But it is these moments, these unintended distractions, which are the ones which can end up giving me the most joy when practising, as it is often here that the real depths of the composition can be really discovered during periods of free experimentation)

All of which neatly demonstrates that there’s more than one way to practice.  And practising the written notes exactly as they are written all the time (or slower) is probably the most tedious and useless method of practising ever devised.  The entire point of practising is to learn, and the point of learning is to discover and engage.  From this statement alone, we as teachers should be encouraging our students to be more creative in their practice, and less concerned about ‘doing the right thing’ or playing things correctly a certain number of times.

Because I don’t know about you, but I’d be bored out of my tiny little tree if I only ever did that.


For more details about my teaching practice, including prices, vacancies, and information on distance theory marking, or learning piano as a beginner, intermediate, or a post-grade 8 student, please go to

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