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Teaching Philosophy

I am a huge advocate of dedicated one-to-one teaching, the value of which can never be expressed highly enough, especially when it comes to something as individual as learning to play a musical instrument. There are several options available nowadays for the budding virtuoso, from trawling YouTube for videos of any number of so-called ‘experts’ who may or may not know what they are doing, to apps, online lessons and group lessons, but to really progress it is essential to have ongoing personal feedback and advice from an experienced teacher who is present in the room, and who can observe first-hand the subtleties of such things as hand position and embouchure (the shape and interaction of the mouth and mouthpiece for wind players); who can not only explain but also demonstrate such important concepts as articulation and proper breathing technique (the importance of which cannot be overstated); and who can listen to your sound and offer guidance that is specific to you right there in the moment, along with reassurance and encouragement so you know when you are doing things well. Especially important is the need to find a teacher who has genuine professional performing experience across a range of genres and styles, and who is adept at helping you to understand and express the music as well as mastering the mechanical difficulties of the instrument itself. Apps that promise to turn you into a concert pianist are woefully misleading, and utterly fail to address such intricacies as touch, pedalling, and the release of muscular tension. Similarly, cramming multiple students into a single ‘one-size-fits-all’ lesson may well maximise profits for those who offer group lessons, but it is a poor substitute for quality one-to-one teaching, and does a serious disservice to each individual, not least because so many errors go unnoticed and uncorrected, lost amongst the combined noise of the group. At best, this may simply halt progress further down the line leading to demoralisation and eventually prompting the student to give up; at worst, it can lead to serious and long-term injury.

treble clef

And that is precisely the issue - every student is an individual, and every individual is different, whether they are a complete beginner or a seasoned performer. Hands come in different shapes and sizes, as do mouths; musical experience and tastes vary enormously; if you want to learn saxophone for example, your size and frame, physical health, and musical tastes and aspirations all play a role in deciding whether to pursue alto or tenor (or both!), and it is this variability, this individuality along with the freedom to choose your instrument and your music, which make one-to-one teaching the only choice for any student who is serious about making real progress.

And progress of course is as individual as each and every student. Progress when learning any instrument involves mastering a bewildering multitude of skills, many completely new to a beginner. No two students will ever learn to apply all these skills with the same ease and at the same pace, and it is in the skill of the teacher to find the right approach for each student, and to pace their progress appropriately; the simple truth is that in order to work on your sound, we need to be able to hear your sound.  In order to build your technique, we need to be able to focus exclusively on your technique.

One-to one teaching puts the focus entirely on you, the student, which is exactly where it needs to be, and allows you to progress through lessons which are tailored specifically to your needs, and at your own individual pace. The entire lesson is devoted just to you, working on the music that motivates you and making sure every little nuance, every subtle characteristic of your individual technique and musicality can be brought to its best. This enables continuity between lessons so that if we were working on timing and counting last time, we can continue that work and see how it has progressed. Or if you are delving into improvisation, we can explore related pieces that offer insights into techniques and progressions over as many lessons as we wish, to reinforce your skills and understanding.

I favour a comprehensive, holistic approach to teaching. This means that things like aural (ear) training and theory, dreaded by many yet so important to your development as a musician, are woven into each lesson as we explore a piece or technique, so learning becomes a process of personal discovery. In this way, you develop a sense of authority over the music, your understanding and knowledge enable you to become part of the creative process in interpreting and performing, rather than simply reading dots on a page.

Learning to play an instrument is really just the first step toward realising your musical potential, toward expressing yourself through the passion and energy of your music; your instrument is the tool through which you express yourself, much as a painter uses brushes to paint a masterpiece. The moment a student starts to move beyond the workings of the instrument and discovers how they can use it to bring their music to life is akin to the moment a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, spreads its wings and colours the world with its beauty and movement.

saxophone with butterfly

It is essential therefore to have the benefit of a teacher who has professional experience to draw upon, who has performed on stage in a variety of situations and venues, and who knows first-hand the demands of playing to the highest standards, both individually and as part of a professional band or ensemble. Whether you are trusting your health to a doctor, or your car to a mechanic, it is only right and natural that you seek someone who is not just qualified, but who has considerable real-world experience as well. After all, building confidence in yourself as you learn begins with having confidence in your teacher.

One of the biggest and most exciting challenges, especially for saxophone students, is that of improvisation, but it can also be very daunting to many players for whom the first question is often “but how will I know what notes to play?” Well the answer is that while jazz players may sound like they are ‘making it up as they go along’, often with seemingly incomprehensible speed and dazzling dexterity, the truth is that jazz and improvisation in general are rooted in patterns and structures that are accessible to any student who has a desire to learn and a willingness to practise. The biggest hurdle to improvisation is often finding the right entry point so it doesn’t seem overwhelming, and then building confidence and understanding with small steps that build upon each other. There are many different paths to choose from when considering your route to improvisational success, and it is important to understand that different approaches will suit different students, but just as in that “Aha!” moment when a magician reveals the secret to what was a seemingly baffling illusion, when you are able to discern the structures that form the basis of improvisation, things start to fall into place and then you have a way forward. That’s not to suggest it is easy of course, like everything in music, mastering improvisation requires practice and application, but when you know what to practice and how to apply yourself, the way forward is that much clearer.

Of course, playing with other people is a wonderful and incredibly rewarding experience, a worthy goal to aspire to. This is why it is so important to get the fundamentals right from the start, so you can build your confidence with good technique and play with assurance and freedom of expression. For saxophone and clarinet students, once the basics have been mastered, there is a natural progression through duets in a whole range of genres, before moving on to playing with backing tracks. I have a vast library of music and backing tracks in all styles and genres so there is always something new to learn, everything from classical to jazz (and jazzed-up classical!), from concertos to pop to jazz duets with high quality backing. In addition, progress in all instruments can be graded at every stage with the ABRSM grading syllabus. And in the unlikely event there is a piece of music I don’t already have that a student wishes to learn, then if it is available, I will happily add it to the library so other students can benefit from it as well. All this means we have complete freedom of choice in the music we play, and it is great preparation for joining a band, playing socially, or even a spot of busking. Indeed, several of my students, including many who came as complete beginners, have gone on to regularly play in a variety of ensembles, from small groups who meet for the social enjoyment of playing together, to established high profile and semi-professional gigging bands.

Crucial to the success of learning any musical instrument is the ability for each student to establish a good individual working relationship with their teacher, a partnership that develops as the skill and musicality of the student develops. As each student is different, so too is their learning style: some may be so eager to learn everything at once that it is impossible to remember anything and they may then need plenty of reminders and repetition, or some may prefer to learn in a slower, more thorough and methodical fashion; some may have personal circumstances such as mobility issues, hearing difficulties or dyslexia which may require a more personalised and considered approach; some students are outgoing, some more reserved, and some are meticulous note-takers; many will be nervous, and some fully expect to be the next big thing within a few weeks!

Each student is unique and comes with their own individual strengths and challenges. It is important to build confidence, but also to be honest and to manage expectations for each student in a way that can be reasonably met and built upon. A good teacher should inspire and motivate, but also be sympathetic to the demands of everyday living: it isn’t always easy to practice when you are working full time and running a family home; perspective is important when setting your priorities, and a good teacher will know when to push for more and when to step back and give room for other priorities whilst still offering encouragement and support. In addition, you will have access to a huge range of resources, an immense library of music in all genres, advice on the most beneficial apps and technologies, as well as personal help whenever you need it. There is nothing worse than getting stuck on a piece, or struggling with some aspect of playing, and having to wait till the next lesson to bring it up. My students are encouraged to get in touch between lessons if they need any help or clarification, or if they have any difficulties or ideas they wish to discuss. I also spend a great deal of time between lessons writing out music, constructing exercises which may be beneficial, or helping my students with transposition so they can play their music in bands and groups. This is all part of the service, an integral part of the partnership between myself and the student. I am passionate about music and teaching and it is a privilege for me to be involved in each person’s musical journey; your journey is after all as individual as yourself. It is important that you get the best value from your lessons, and it is my firm belief that this comes through individual one-to-one lessons where you are the sole focus of every minute you have paid for. As one of my students, your time, and my attention, will never be divided by any other distractions.

As a veteran of more than 25 years performing in professional wind bands, big bands and saxophone quartets around the world, I have amassed a wealth of experience in all genres and styles. From beginner to advanced level, you will find a warm and welcoming teaching environment designed to build confidence and technique through encouragement, patience and positive feedback.

Based in the village of Bedhampton, just outside Havant, I regularly teach students from all over the Hampshire and West Sussex regions, from Winchester to Chichester, Waterlooville and Emsworth, Portsmouth and Hayling Island, all the way up to Petersfield and London.

Your first lesson is a free, relaxed, no-obligation consultation to find the right place to start from, and the right way for you to progress toward realising your musical aspirations. I charge by the lesson, not by the hour, so if we're making good progress and having lots of fun, we might easily go to 90 minutes or more, the fee is still the same. I take a flexible approach to scheduling lessons and will never charge you for a lesson I cannot provide. So get in touch, it won’t cost you a penny, you will leave with good advice from the outset and you can see for yourself whether I am likely to fit your needs without any further commitment whatsoever.

Just call, text or email, if I can't answer straight away, just leave a message and I will call you back, you have nothing to lose and a whole world of musical pleasure to gain!

Mob/Text: 07941 001755


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