Holistic Approach To Teaching

August 5, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Holistic Approach To Teaching

Most pupils want to learn music because they love the sound of their instrument or because they love music in general; others learn because they have a sibling or a friend who plays, or because their parents want them to learn. But unfortunately, often students lose interest after a few weeks of lessons because the lessons are not so engaging or because the student is just lazy to put in some hard work. So it becomes very important for a teacher to keep the students motivated all the time. Teacher has to carefully structure the lessons so that they are challenging and at the same time, enjoyable. The lessons should focus on helping the students become musically independent and creative.

A lot of students spend a whole year learning only the 3 exam pieces by rote. And a few weeks before the exams the teacher rushes with scales and some lessons on sight reading and aural. Teaching improvisation and composition is not even in the agenda. Integrating all aspects of music, like scales and technical exercises, sight reading, aural training, improvisation, building a repertoire, theory etc. in every lesson would be a better way to go about. Each aspect actually complements and improves the others.

Scales and Arpeggios develop an awareness of keys. They are a good way to warm up before a music lesson. They also help students recognize scale and arpeggio patterns in their pieces.  Along with scales, students should also be made to practice technical exercises. There are a whole lot of technical exercises from Czerny, Hanon etc. that help improve finger dexterity when you study piano. My students are particularly fond of Edna Mae’s ‘A Dozen A Day’ series. These books have plenty of short exercises that address the technical needs in beginners.

A teacher can save a lot of time and effort when the student is good at sight reading. Sight reading helps the student to be independent and learn pieces quickly. With the ability to sight read, one can explore the ocean that is music. Students should be taught to recognize various rhythm patterns, interval and chord patterns. Always insist on maintaining a strict pulse, and reading forward, never to go back and correct a wrong note. A good way to improve sight reading is by playing in ensembles and duets. Recently, in a workshop, Karl Lutchmayer, a concert pianist and educator, showed an interesting way to teach sight reading. He would give the student a few seconds to have a glance at the score. Then when he asks the student to start, he would cover the first bar in the score, which means the student can only read the second bar while he is actually playing the first. And when the student plays the second bar, Karl would cover it, allowing the student to keep reading ahead. This way, the student was chased to keep up with tempo and read at least a few beats ahead of what he was playing.

Ear training helps to analyze and understand music. It improves musicianship and helps in improvising and composing. Teachers should emphasize on having alert ears. Insist on constantly listening to what the student is playing. Make the students sing what they play. This way, they internalize the piece. With the advent of smart phones, there are a wide range of mobile apps that make aural training fun. One can have exercises for pitch, interval and chord recognition, scale patterns, rhythm etc. even while travelling, without a teacher being around. Again this saves the teacher some time and effort in the class. Also there are dedicated radio channels like BBC radio3 and plenty of recordings on YouTube to listen to western classical music online.

Improvisation has become a lost art in classical music. Today’s music instruction has become more score centric. I believe improvisation lessons can retain the pupils’ interest in learning music. Students develop a sense of ownership in what they play and thus pay more attention.

The importance of teaching music theory cannot be over emphasized. A knowledge on harmony helps to understand the music better and to appreciate it. It improves the listening skills and makes memorizing easier.

A teacher will obviously spend a big chunk of time in teaching pieces in any music course. No matter how much importance you lay on scales and other technical skills, ultimately what anybody would want is to play some meaningful music. It is here that the teacher’s role becomes very vital in improving the musicality of the pupil. Given the limited time available in a day’s teaching session, integrating all aspects of teaching (sight reading, aural, improvising etc.) with the repertoire pieces will be an ideal way to holistic teaching. Paul Harris speaks in depth about this and various other teaching issues in his book ‘The Virtuoso Teacher’. In fact the very first few lines in this page have been borrowed from that book. But honestly, the subject is what I really mean and something that I practice.

Going back to the topic, Students should also be taught how to practice. Most young musicians find practice as a monotonous, mundane work. It is certainly the teacher’s responsibility to present practice as a rewarding and enjoyable experience. I don’t deny exams are important. But students may lose sight of the goal when preparing for a once-in-a-year event. Instead, arrange peer concerts every few weeks so that the students set shorter goals and ultimately achieve the bigger prize. Wouldn’t it be lovely to think you are at least one step closer to achieving your target, after every practice?

Finally, a good teacher is a good student. Learning is a never ending process. It is important to shed one’s ego and search for knowledge all the time. All the above ideas that I discussed are just a small compilation of my little experience, and learning from some of the great teachers’ that I have studied under. Academy of Western Music, the place where I teach piano has been benevolently providing all the piano teaching resources that I need, which allows me to experiment with my teaching methods and evolve as a better teacher. The nicest learning environment, good teachers and the right teaching methods at this Academy, makes it the best place in Chennai for learning western music.

Srikanth Gnanasekaran

Faculty for Piano & Keyboard –Academy of Western Music, Chennai.

Piano and Voice

July 15, 2014 | Events | 0 Comments


Well Balanced Curriculum

July 1, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Well Balanced Curriculum

Music is deeply rooted in human nature and learning music is something that many of us like to explore. The choice of institution, instructor, and a few other factors make music study, a pleasurable experience. It is therefore important to have the right mix of everything in music education.

What is a balanced curriculum and why teach a balanced curriculum?

A good music academy should have a balanced approach for holistic development in the student. It begins with the use of right books and methods, taught by experienced teachers, who effectively engage the student. A well-structured study is required to achieve the goal ahead, where every single lesson or activity is made enjoyable and meaningful. The three key areas that determine a well-balanced program and make it quality oriented are:

  •  Learning
  •  Performing
  •  Assessing




It is important for the teacher to regularly converse with the students as they need to know, why they do, what they do. There could be a purpose behind every application but the student will not work towards it, unless it’s explained. For example, some teachers like to introduce music notes through theory lessons even before they begin practical training since they feel it makes learning relatively easy.


It’s quite exciting when you begin music lessons but the need for real passion is realised only when it comes to sincere effort and hard work. The consistent practise at home is important whether you take guitar lessons or piano lessons to progress effectively. The students should avoid using the class time for practising old lessons. The teachers will appreciate when the students complete the necessary homework and come prepared to take the next lesson.


Music learning should never become just another school going activity. Instead, it should be made as interesting as one would play a video game or spend time on Facebook. There are several modern method books on how to learn guitar or how to play keyboard and other instruments. These books give a lot of confidence to the student, especially beginners through their tune based learning exercises. It makes the student play the simplest of tunes, right from day one, where each tune is a lesson by itself that introduces something new in music. Additional study materials like supplementary tune book, technique book and theory book should be slowly encouraged once they start progressing. This in turn will make their music learning more interesting and challenging. It will raise the level of seriousness with which their practise becomes even more important to accommodate these things.

Improvisation & Own Compositions:

It may not be a good idea to remain confined to written music. Creative thinking along with the ability to explore and find responses can be nurtured through right guidance. Music promotes intelligence by encouraging personal expression and gives enormous scope for imaginative ideas. Also, a good balance between ear music and sight reading is important. The student will have to be well equipped in a competitive music environment that demands both the abilities.




Yes, we learn because we want to perform and for that we need opportunities to showcase our talent. It doesn’t really matter whether you are playing for a small or a large audience as far as you get a platform to do it. In many cases, the opportunity will have to be created by the institution or the teacher so that the student experiences performance.Such events will also give the parents and friends an opportunity to see the progress made by the student. Performing in a recital hall or auditorium is a different experience for the student whose playing is mostly confined to classroom or home. It requires a bit of skill that the student develops over a period of time.


There are several options like solo, duet, ensemble, etc. that can be offered to students when it comes to performance. Not all students will be willing to perform in front of an audience as stage freight might worry them. Solo playing can be done by students who are relatively bold, and the alternate options could be explored by students who shy away from performing. Competition is another great platform but the decision to participate in it should be left to the student. It is one step ahead, where the student is expected to demonstrate higher level of certain qualities like showmanship, technique and proficiency, to name a few. The students should be encouraged to present their own compositions in addition to the ones that they have been taught.


There can be as many events as possible to make them perform consistently. Right from a small time piano recital, to a mixed instrumental, to a vocal evening, there are many things that can be scheduled through the year. It can be anything from classical to contemporary music. This will certainly improve their playing. It will help the student to build a personal repertoire and be prepared to perform any time.


Performance enables the students to develop the required confidence as they keep doing it regularly. It happens all the more when they perform and witness other students play. As they do this, they share with others,and also learn from one another by observing the uniqueness that each student portrays.



Structured learning:

It is better to have a framework for studying music, and the graded curriculum is a good way to go about it. The assorted collection of music that has been put together in increasing difficulty by accredited exam boards, helps the student to go through structured learning.


The student can work on the graded syllabus and take exams in music to earn certificates that are globally acclaimed. It is the common basis on which the student’s musical ability is generally ascertained. The student’s presentation is evaluated by a qualified examiner who gives an unbiased report.


There is a sense of fulfillment when the student earns credits in music. The exam repertoire is not limited to the assessment based on general parameters like accuracy, fluency, technicality but also provides the scope for own interpretation in several areas.

In conclusion, I like to highlight that the overall talent development is a major focus at our “Academy of Western Music”. All the courses here are well balanced, well sequenced and well implemented. It is a great facility where skilled faculty help you to enjoy every bit of your learning. If you’re someone looking for Music Theory, Piano, Keyboard, Drums, Saxophone, Violin, Vocal or Guitar lessons in Chennai, I can assure you that our academy will be the best in the city. The dream of every student who aspires to learn and master western music is made a reality at our Academy.


John Sudhakar
CEO -Academy of Western Music, Chennai.


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