“Our purpose is modest, and at the same time vast; it is to play our amazing, our magnificent literature in such a way as to make the hearer like it, to make them love life still more, make their feelings more intense, their longings more acute and give greater depth to their understanding . . . Of course, everyone knows that teaching which sets itself such an objective ceases to be mere teaching and becomes education.”

Heinrich Neuhaus

Artistry through technical ability

The goal of a musical performance is to present the artistic image of the composition and accurately convey the intentions of the composer, by the musician’s interpretation of the score and setting. This means good musicianship is defined by technicality, but it is made possible through a good, reliable and consistent technical ability. Technical skills furnish the musician with the necessary tools to create great music, just as oils and a canvas furnish a painter with the tools of his or her art, but it is the work that is created which must remain the focus of attention for both the artist and the audience. A piece that has flawless scale passages but is void of expression has no soul, just as the intention for an expressive performance of double notes or chords is incapacitated by insufficient finger strength for the best voicing. Artistic performance is therefore made possible through technical ability.

Music theory in practice

To study music theory alongside instrumental studies is necessary not only to progress to an advanced level in instrumental qualifications, but it also allows a musician to deliver an informed and controlled performance.

“The work that historians and musicologists do, is not, or at least should not be, purely theoretical. And on the flip side, performance should not be purely intuitive. My own experience has shown me that there is a vast intersection between the two. Playing music has constantly shaped the way I think about music, just as thinking about music has constantly shaped the way that I play it. We performers need to be acutely aware of the backdrop of the music we play, of the world that produced it, and the way in which it is put together.”

Jonathan Biss

Harmony & Counterpoint

An understanding of counterpoint (the setting of notes against other notes) and, more broadly, harmony in general, begins with a basic understanding of consonances and dissonances and overflows into the study of keys, scales and chords, all of which are essential for improvisation and composition. A subsequent understanding of melody fosters an understanding of each musical phrase at a greater depth. All of this allows for an exceptionally expressive performance, and also improves sight-reading abilities, enabling a student to learn and perform new music more quickly.

“In my opinion, the only really successful way of learning a work, regardless of its period, is to do so quite away from the instrument – in other words, to study it in purely analytical terms first...I think you will find, however difficult it may seem to be at first, a work learned in analytical terms and only secondly at the instrument will leave you permanently a stronger sense of its structure and its internal workings.”

Glenn Gould

The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music

ABRSM is the leading authority on musical assessment, with over 600,000 people in over 90 countries choosing to take their exams every year. Music examinations for both practical and theory provide an unrivaled basis for motivation and reward, and help to track progress and plot musical development along a well-recognised path built on consistency and creativity.

As well as being strategic and worthwhile for musical development in and of themselves, ABRSM qualifications are also credited within the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF). As a result of this accreditation, students with ABRSM qualifications at Grades 6 to 8 benefit from UCAS (University and Colleges Admission Service) points which can be used as part of a university or college application in the UK.

60% of my students achieve a merit or distinction in their exams.

Benefits of music education

“Learning an instrument is not just about honing a specific musical skill. It fosters a sense of community, encourages discipline, boosts self-esteem, teaches teamwork and aids concentration. The drive to be creative is about so much more than actually creating something. It is a quite brilliant antidote to what our society has morphed into, a potential answer to the epidemic levels of behavioural difficulties in our classrooms, and something that can and does last a lifetime – benefiting businesses, families, social structures and health.”

James Rhodes

Copyright © 2019 Joseph O’Neill

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