Frequently Asked Questions

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All lessons take place in my music studio in Alton, Hampshire (GU34 2EX).

Although some do start younger, I would recommend starting when you’re six years old. By then, you’ll be used to sitting and concentrating for at least 30 mins.

I would recommend starting cello around 8 years old, though if you’re older – even much older – that’s fine.

I teach during the week, between 9am and 9pm. As many of my pupils are adults, the Hall Music Studio is often open through school holidays as well (though sometimes I go away on holiday too).

I teach piano from beginner to advanced (grade 8+), cello, guitar and ukulele from beginner to intermediate (roughly grade 4) and general music up to A-level.

In brief, yes. However, you don’t have to have an actual piano – a digital piano or keyboard is fine, though it does need to have weighted keys. More more info on digital pianos, check out my post “Why Digital Pianos Are Best For Piano Lessons“.

As a general rule, 6-7 years olds need a 1/4 size cello, 8-10 year olds need a 1/2 size, 11-13 year olds need a 3/4 size, and from 14 up a full size cello should be fine. Of course, not everyone the same age is the same height, so it’s worth getting measured up properly before you go out and buy your first instrument. And bow size should match cello size.

Whatever styles / genres you want to learn within the Western music tradition, including Classical, Jazz, Rock, Country, Folk and Pop. Essentially all Western music is built on the same foundation of 12 notes, Ionian mode scales and tonality.

Whether you take music exams or not is entirely up to you. That said, while many pupils, regardless of their age, tend to shy away from the pressure of exams, they can be an excellent way to gauge your progress and provide an opportunity to perform in front of someone you don’t know. For piano and cello, I use the ABRSM exams. For guitar, I use the RGT exams.

The ABRSM price exams according to how long they take, grade 1 being the shortest at £39 and grade 8 being the longest at £88. Theory exams are slightly cheaper since candidates can all take the exam at the same time.
Here are the prices for 2017: ABRSM Exam Dates & Fees

I hold a bachelor’s degree in Music (1997) and a Certificate of Teaching with the ABRSM (2003).

As for ABRSM exams, I’ve have grade 7 in cello (1992), grade 8 in piano (1994) and grade 8 in music theory.

Piano Grade 8

Piano Grade 8

CT ABRSM

CT ABRSM

Cello Grade 7

Cello Grade 7

Grade 8 Music Theory

Music Theory Grade 8

BA Music

BA Music

 

In 2017, instrument lessons cost £20 for 30 mins, £28 for 45 mins and £35 for 60 mins.

As a general rule of thumb, beginners (up to grade 3 level) need 30 mins, intermediate (grade 4-7) and advanced pupils (grade 8+) need 60 mins. That said, lesson length is determined on an individual basis.

Absolutely. I teach all areas of music theory, including reading music in all clefs, harmonisation, orchestration, instrumentation, score analysis, composition and musical terms.

Unfortunately I’m not able to travel to lessons. I try to leave a ten minute buffer between lessons, but this rarely leaves enough time to travel to pupils’ houses.

Yes – the first lesson is really more of a “getting to know you and your goals” session and to give you the opportunity to ask any questions you have and decide if you want to learn with me. There’s no obligation to take up lessons afterwards.

Sure you can. In fact, it’s even easier than when I was a kid and tried to teach myself the harmonica from a tatty, old primer. Now, thanks to the masses of ‘how to’ videos on Youtube, you can learn almost anything online – in fact it’s become my first port of call when I need to do something I’ve not done before.

However, while it’s fairly straightforward using YouTube to teach yourself how to replace an iPad screen or build a brick pig house (both of which I did thanks to online videos), learning an instrument in this way is not ideal. The problem is that, at some point, you’re going to reach a point where you need one-to-one guidance and what tends to happen is that people either try to struggle through and then give the whole thing up as too difficult… or they get a teacher.

I’m certainly not suggesting you’d need a teacher for the long term — I once took on a pupil for four weeks just to work through a specific area of technique — but having a teacher can help to encourage you to press on, to avoid incorrect technique, answer specific questions as they arise, and ensure you have appropriate repertoire.

As a general rule of thumb, I recommend practising 4 or 5 days a week:

Beginners 15 mins a day
Grade 3+ 30 mins a day
Grade 6+ 1 hour a day

Above this, practice time will increase depending on what you do with your instrument. For example, when I was preparing for grade 8, I used to practise for 2 1/2 hours a day. Expert performers, with large repertoires to built and maintain and who make a living from playing music, will need to spend much of their working day practising.

That said, it’s important to bear in mind that the quality of the practice, rather than the quantity, is what really makes a difference. For example, an hour rushing through a set of pieces, playing the easy bits quick and the tricky bits slow and full of mistakes will be of much less worth than twenty minutes working in detail on those tricky bits, ironing out mistakes and getting them into your muscle memory.

Most pupils who have lessons at the studio pay in cash on a per lesson basis, though I also accept cheques from those want to pay for several lessons up front. If it’s easier, I also accept payments via PayPal (using the payment box in the sidebar).

Unfortunately not. Although a classical guitar looks quite like an acoustic guitar, and there are a number of cross-overs between the two, playing a classical guitar is a whole different game and it’s not one I play. One day, maybe…

I keep up to date with the latest child protection regulations by means of the Musicians Union & Educare’s “Child Protection in Education (Music) Level 2” (see PDF certificate below).

In addition to this, the music studio is equipped with CCTV, which is used to record all lessons. The video/audio footage is encrypted and held on site for 6 months. This footage will never be shared with a third party, unless requested by such authorities as the Police and Social Services.

Child Protection in Education (Music)

RGT (the Registry of Guitar Tutors) price their exams according to how long they take.  Grade 1 guitar (and ukulele) is £43, while Grade 8 guitar is £90. The highest ukulele grade is 4, which costs £57.
Here are the prices for 2017: RGT Exam Dates & Fees

This is one of the things I feel very strongly about. My aim is not to teach people how to pass exams or play from rote. I want my pupils to understand how music works, and how to make it work for them. I always tell my pupils that my aim is to “get rid of them” – not in a nasty way, of course! What I mean is that I want my pupils to get to the point where they no longer need me, because they have a good grasp not only of the technical side of playing their chosen instrument, but also of how music works.

As of 2017, the answer is YES. The studio extension is now complete! Pupils who turn up early and parents who wait while their children are having a lesson can now relax in the brand new waiting room, complete with tea & coffee making stuff and a  comfy leather sofa. It’s warm, dry and cosy. What more could you want?
Eh? Biscuits? Yes, there are biscuits too. And hot chocolate.

I always recommend that pupils get the guitar they most want to end up playing. So, if you’re dream is to play like Ed Sheeran, get yourself a Martin acoustic guitar. On the other hand, if you want to be the next Eric Clapton, go for a Fender Stratocaster.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start out with a £700 instrument (though if you can, why not?), but invariably new pupils tend to go for the cheapest instrument available – classical nylon-string guitars for £20-40.

Here’s why this is a mistake:
– They do not hold their tune well, which means they constantly sound ‘wrong’.
– They have wide fretboards, which make it hard for smaller fingers to play.
– They sound dull, because the materials are poor quality, which contributes to that ‘wrong’ sound.
– They don’t look like something you’d want to pick up and play, making practice more of a chore than a pleasure.
– Classical guitars have a different sound, shape and feel to acoustic and electric guitars, so unless your goal is to play classical guitar, it’s best not to use one to learn on.

That feels like enough reasons, but I’m sure there are more. In brief, I recommend you take the time to find a guitar that you will WANT to pick up and play, that is in the style you most want to play and that doesn’t cost under £100.

Back to our Ed Sheeran example, you can get a decent Epiphone acoustic guitar for around £150 (or the Martin Ed Sheeran Signature guitar for £650). As for the Eric Clampton guitar, you can get a black Squire Bullet for around £120 (or the Fender Eric Clapton Signature Strat for £1800). I would always recommend you go into the store – and personally I don’t think you can do better than Andertons in Guildford – and try out a few guitars to see what suits you best.

Think of it as an investment in your guitar-player future, because if you have a guitar you want to pick up and play, that’s exactly what you’re going to do!