Are We Excited About Making Music?

At the end of last term, I received a “Thank You” card from an elementary level pupil, which expressed that most joy-inducing of pupil responses: “I’m excited about next year!” It really motivated me to discover new things about the music I teach and play and rediscover things I take for granted after a lifetime immersed in music. I’m so happy to share the excitement of the beginner and awed by the responsibility to ensure that the journey matches expectations!

The first thing I have to bear in mind is that lessons aren’t about what and how I want to teach, rather, what and how the pupil wants to learn. That’s fairly easy to ascertain by presenting the adult with choices of repertoire and trying different approaches to see how they respond. I think it’s more difficult, though, to get ‘under the skin’ of children. The latter do not have too many preconceptions about their tuition, they are reluctant to tell a teacher if things are not to their liking, and they have had limited exposure to the range of musical genres. Yet music is not a distinct body of knowledge to be parcelled up in portions digestible by the young, but a world which each experiences in a uniquely personal way.

How can we relive the discoveries of our own musical journeys and open the door on new experiences for our pupils? With that in mind, a few of the things I’m going to work on are

  • introducing pupils to new genres and styles through ‘quick study’ pieces, using arrangements that make few demands on the current level of technical development, through pupil/teacher duets and listening activities.
  • exploring scales through simple improvisation activities, taking a small chunk of the mode at a time.
  • where appropriate, linking pieces to more developed works of similar character on listening sites, also the same piece in different arragements.
  • focusing on the central role of rhythm in melodic structure and character and exploring this in improvisation.
  • as younger pupils seem to spend a lot of time on YouTube and similar sites, I will be encouraging them to share their favourite links with me, so that I can build on their discoveries.

My search for strategies to enhance pupil experience goes on and, meanwhile, I’m now excited about this new academic year! ūüôā

Taking An ‘Adult’ Approach To Music Lessons

I must confess that I much prefer to teach adults! For a start, they’re usually taking lessons for the right (for them) reasons and so have a much clearer idea of what they want to achieve. Often, they will have had lessons as children and, when they stopped taking them, their music-making stopped with them. These prospective pupils are disappointed that they have so little, if anything, to show for their efforts and are ready for a fresh start music tuition.

With all my pupils I endeavour to take a creative and holistic approach to their programme of study but adults, being less pressured by other people’s expectations of them, are better able to relax and enter into the spirit of it. The creative approach isn’t just about improvisation and composition, although we certainly do those things if the pupil is interested. It is also about being able to adapt learning to new situations, being open to new styles, taking a fresh approach to the music at each performance and making it one’s own. If they have had lessons previously, we look at new ways of using whatever skills they already have; we explore what opportunities there are for local music-making and, where appropriate, ways of making music within the family.

Adults often feel it’s too late to begin lessons but, truly it is never too late! They are far better equipped to benefit from tuition than are their young counterparts and, certainly, the benefits of music-making for older people are both great and numerous. So, if you have been secretly envious of your young relations’ music-making, delay no longer and find yourself a teacher!

Adding Music From CD to iPad, for Beginners

As promised, in this post I will describe adding the music from a CD to the iPad music folder in the simplest, most direct way I can.

Many people now have an iPad as their sole computing device because it’s a supremely simple and portable way to access the things computers are most commonly used for. However, it doesn’t have a fraction of the functionality of a laptop unless you can hook it up to a computer to manage content! So, to add the music from a CD, we must obtain access to a computer running iTunes software (PC or Mac) and¬† a CD drive:

1. Connect iPad to the USB port of the computer.

2, Open ITunes software and login with the Apple ID used on the iPad.

3. Click on “My Music Tab” to open the music library for the account.

4. Insert an audio  CD

   -A message will appear asking you to confirm that you wish to add all the tracks on the CD to the library.

5. Click on “Yes” to import the entire CD

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† – iTunes imports all tracks from the the CD into an ‘Album’ of the same name.

6. Click on “No” to select individual tracks. (Remember that audio files can take up a lot of storage space)

     In the list of tracks, untick all the tracks you do not wish to import. Then click on Import CD (top right of window)

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† – iTunes imports just selected tracks from the the CD into an ‘Album’ of the same name.


7.  Start to drag the Album to the left Рa list of places will appear to which it can be added. Drag it to the named iPad      and release.

     -iTunes adds the Album to the music folder on the iPad


So that’s it! Of course, we could have imported the audio with lots of changes of settings but the beginner should just accept the defaults.


To add a file to the from the computer to the iPad’s music folder:

1. Open the drop down file menu and select “Add File to Library”

2. Navigate to the file, select it and click “Open”

¬†¬†¬† -iTunes adds it to the list of “Songs” in the Library

3. From the Song list, start to drag the file to the left

   Рa list of places to which you can add it appears

4, Drag the file to the named iPad in the list of locations and release

    -iTunes adds the file to the music folder on the iPad

(Change from ‘Album’ view to ‘Song’ view in the drop down menu, top right of ‘My Music’ window).

iPad Music Accompaniments for Novice Users

Are you a singer or instrumentalist who would like to play accompaniments/ backing tracks on your iPad but don’t know where to start? If so, fear not because here are some simple free, or low cost, apps to get you started:

Many music books now come with audio cds of performance and accompaniment tracks but more and more we are finding that we want to make music away from the home audio system and the iPad has the potential to be a great music player. As a teacher, I’ve noticed that most pupils never use the cds that came with their books. Apart from the inconvenience of needing access to the audio system, I think this is generally because the playback is too fast. With the apps I introduce here it is simple to change the speed, or key, of a piece. There are also more sophisticated ways to personalise playback but I will leave those to a future post.

The simplest way of controlling accompaniment recordings has to be Jam Player   from Positive Grid.

What you see here is exactly what you get – wheels to control pitch, speed and volume and create a simple loop to repeat a section.

Another great player for the novice is AudioStretch from Cognosonic Pte Ltd The free Lite version has some limitations – pitch can only be shifted -2 to +2 steps and tempo control is from 60% to 100%. In other respects, it functions in just the same way as the full version. Again, the controls are very clearly set out:


Either of these apps will load music from your i-Tunes library. You can also use the ‘Open In’ option for Safari downloads or Mail to import files into AudioStretch.

“But, how do I get the music from my CD into i-Tunes on the i-Pad?” you may well ask. This ridiculous process is a source of great frustration to me, too! I will cover it in my next post.

Get Creative with 2-Chord Tunes!

2-chord tunes are a wonderful resource for a creative approach to music teaching! A vast number of melodies can be harmonised with just chords I and V – folk tunes, of course, but also melodies by major composers. See the teacher notes for a classroom project based on “Carnival of Venice”, which can be downoaded from our Easy/Classroom Ensembles page. This uses classroom, or other available,¬† instruments and body percussion. In my software package, GridPlay: Creative Explorations Level 2, though, one of the fifteen grids (mini-apps) is IVTUNES, in which I’ve designed a self-contained resource for exploring the subject. Teacher notes in the accompanying e-book make it even easier for a non-specialist teacher to introduce a project, with suggestions for using the computer as an integrated classroom resource.

A first step to improvising and composing 2-chord melodies is aural recognition of the chord changes. In IVTUNES, I have designed a grid with which pupils can practise this skill. Words, music and chord symbols for these tunes are included in the e-book. As each tune plays back, accompaniment patterns based on the the two chords can be triggered, allowing experimentation until pupils are confident that all sounds right. Beneath each chord’s accompaniments, cells contain individual notes of the chord, stacked vertically. Pupils can use these chord tones to accompany one of the melodies. Later they can record a 2-chord backing track over which to improvise their own melodies.




Summer concert item with audience participation?

Looking for a real mixed ability piece to challenge able players whilst remaining accessible for all? Then this arrangement of “One Man Went to Mow” might fit the bill. It’s a flexible 4-part arrangement. The melody of the children’s song can be sung or played alongside the arrangement, so it could be included in a summer concert featuring audience participation. This and other seasonal songs can be found on our “Summer Fun” page, where melody and lyrics can be downloaded. The 4-part arrangement is available for purchase on the “Miscellaneous Music” page and can be supplied (at very low cost) with custom parts. Contact us for details.


Encouraging Young Pianists to Accompany

Most piano pupils live a lonely musical life compared to their friends who play other instruments. Many of the latter play with bands and orchestras from an early stage, Nowadays, instrumental teaching in schools is predominantly group-based, so there are many opportunities to play in parts. However, when it comes to solo repertoire for the early grades, the piano accompaniment  frequently demands a more experienced performer than the solo part. This leaves elementary pianists hopelessly out of their depth. When opportunities do arise, however, they provide a whole new dimension to piano-playing and are very motivating for the young student.

It is often said that ‘many accompanists are fine pianists, while few pianists are fine accompanists’. This is, no doubt, due to the isolationist way in which we educate pianists, often not exposing them to accompanying until they reach an advanced level. By that time, many amateurs will have discontinued tuition, having attained a level of skill sufficient to play the music in which they are interested.

Happily, today’s composers of music for young players are more alert to the need for manageable piano accompaniments, if we check out other sections of the music shop while browsing for new repertoire, we will find pieces to suggest to piano pupils for sharing with their friends. In my own pieces for beginners, the “Stars from the Start” books and the, downloadable, “Flutes (Recorders, Violins) Start Here” series, I have endeavoured to provide piano scores which can be played and enjoyed by elementary pianists, thus encouraging friends and families to make music together from an early stage. A little more demanding (but still fairly easy) are the accompaniments for other pieces. like those in the “Creative Flute Pack“.

There are few activities more absorbing and satisfying than playing music with one’s friends!

1-handed Recorder for a Beginner?

I was recently asked if I could suggest an instrument to enable a 1-handed child to join a beginner recorder class and thought my reply might be helpful to others:

Lovely to hear about your young would-be recorder player! The good news is that there are 1-handed recorders available and, depending on the child’s disability, may not be strictly necessary but there’s quite a bit of bad news too!

A 1-handed recorder makes all the notes available by adding keywork that can be raised and lowered using just the fingers of the available hand. This means that, once the notes played with just one hand have been mastered, the player must use a totally different system of fingering (ands this varies from one manufacturer to another). The teacher taking a class of players using normal fingering would not know this system and would have to familiarise themself with it without the benefit of having learned the new instrument. Of course, this would be eased by the class only needing to learn one new note at a time. The more complex system of fingering is also challenging for the child and may be beyond her if she has learning difficulties. A child with cerebral palsy is likely to have poor finger control and coordination, adding to the problems.

Although, I have taught a player on two different systems of 1-handed plastic recorder, I am unable to track down either of them at the moment. One was manufactured by Yamaha but there is nothing about 1-handed models on either their global or USA sites. You’d have to contact them directly to enquire. I believe Aulos also do one but, again, I can’t locate a supplier. Quality wooden instruments are available but expensive (over 600 US Dollars) and I wouldn’t recommend such an investment at this stage. There is an Aulos instrument in six sections (as opposed to the customary three) that can be customised to the needs of a player who has 6 digits available between the two hands. This is available from an American source at¬†

Again, the cooperation of the teacher would be required to set it up.

If the child can use all the fingers and thumb on one hand, the first five notes can be played on a standard recorder and I would suggest getting one of these, very modestly-priced instruments to see how she gets on. Simple music for this stage is available in pdf format from the Full Pitcher at

These start with reminders of the written notes, warm-ups and tunes for just the first two note. Using these she could get in the extra practice and home support, likely to be needed by a child with special needs.

Do let me know how you get on and get back to me if you have further queries.


New Year, New Beginners – New Music?

Not a few people will be the delighted recipients of new musical instruments as Christmas presents. For beginners, it’s the start of a great new journey and they can’t wait to set off and it’s a joy and privilege for teachers to set them on their way! The first few weeks are not without anxieties for teachers, though, as the pupils discover that there is very little instant gratification in playing a musical instrument. While the pupil can play only 2 or 3 notes, the only available tunes are likely to be in the chosen method book. This is fine for the pupil who can sail quickly through the early lessons but it can be a problem when reinforcement is not only desirable but necessary before proceeding to the next step. This is where the Full Pitcher beginner downloads can come in very useful. The “…. Start Here” series is available for Recorder, Flute, Clarinet, Violin and Cello. Each download has warm-up exercises and several tunes, the first using just 2 notes. They are in pdf format and can be displayed on screen for class use or as many copies printed as are required. Piano accompaniments are also available. Unlike many beginner pieces, though, these do not have the main interest confined to the teacher’s part! The scores can be listened to online and, in some cases, there is also audio of accompaniments only, “minus-one” style.

Have a great journey!

Creating Recital Pieces for Flute Beginners

When preparing concert music for an absolute beginner, there are a number of tricky points to take into consideration. Having created, what I hope will be, attractive melodies using a very restricted range of notes, I must remember that a flute beginner may be unable to make any appreciable variation in dynamics. Indeed, the teacher may not wish to introduce dynamics in the early stages of tone development. Teachers also introduce articulation at different points. If music is stripped of its expression, however, it loses much of its ability to engage both performer and audience. In the ‘Stars From the Start’ concert music for beginner flute downloads, I have included two versions of the solo part, one with and one without markings. I hope this will make them useful resources for teachers in several ways. The unmarked copy allows the teacher to add dynamics and/or articulation as appropriate for an individual pupil. The pdf files can be printed as required and can be used for aural training, with the teacher playing his/her version and the pupil identifying the dynamics. Unmarked scores also afford pupils the opportunity to improvise their own version.

Most pieces in tutor books, at this stage, are too short to make satisfying concert items, yet it is too challenging to both the skills of the pupil and the time available in a lesson to cover much material. With this in mind, I have made much use of repetition in these tunes to make them a more rewarding length, without adding to the burden.

See: beginner flute concert pieces