Sunday, November 11, 2012

Music Schools: A Note Above School of Music

Eva Marshall is the director of A Note Above School of Music, a music education studio located at 14 Silverton Drive in Hamilton.

High standards, organization, attention to detail, comfort and musical professionalism are evident everywhere in the A Note Above studio. I came out feeling very glad and proud to know that we have such a place for children to experience their first formal music lessons. In our chat Marshall educates me and leaves me with a renewed respect for the process of teaching and the unique qualifications and circumstances needed to put a young musician on the right path.

Building A Lifelong Love For Music

The manner in which a very young beginner is taught music will effect their value and enjoyment of it as an adult. Parents instinctively know this. That's why they'll agonize over choosing a music school. There are many options in the Hamilton area for parents to get music lessons for their children. Dozens of them in fact. Parents know that they want a good value for their money, but they still might not know what to look for when comparing their options. Price should not be the only consideration; there are a number of other crucial components that will ultimately make all the difference.

The Teaching Process

A child's music lesson is many experiences mixed together. Not only does the child have to learn to trust what the teacher says, the child must be able to succeed in small steps of skill acquisition. The teacher must be able to speak with words and ideas and in a friendly tone that the child can respond to. If at any point the teacher doesn't know what to do or say to help the child move along, frustration will arise. A well-trained teacher will be ready, flexible and concerned enough to adapt, gently encourage and still make the experience enjoyable.

Finding the right balance between having a "fun" lesson and learning the required skills is extremely important. It takes a trained teacher and careful management of the entire teaching process and lesson experience to keep the balance.

While music lessons mustn't be too rigid, or taught in a punitive way, or worse reduced to a set of skills and drills; at the same time there is no value in just teaching a child the basics in any old way, in a "go with the flow" approach where the student's interests (whims) take the lead. Such an approach is almost impossible with a very young beginner, and would lead nowhere. A child who is taught according to acceptable pedagogy by a qualified "pedagogue" (meaning a musician who has been trained how to teach, not just a musician who can play or perform) will experience just the right amount of challenge balanced with fun and a sense of accomplishment.

The Teacher's Qualifications

This is the first consideration when looking for excellent music lessons. As mentioned above, the teaching process is critical, and is a direct result of the teacher's training, qualifications and experience. It's not enough to be a great piano player. Qualifications to play piano (e.g. a grade ten Royal Conservatory certificate) are not enough to automatically make a great teacher of piano. Beyond performance ability, there is training and qualification in piano pedagogy (how to teach). The question to ask is, "What teaching qualifications do you have?"

Eva Marshall holds an A.R.C.T. in piano pedagogy, and Grade 8 R.C.M. in voice.

Other information provided by Marshall:
  • All my teachers are required to have a minimum of Grade 8 and must be working towards their A.R.C.T. or Music Degree.
  • When a student is placed with a teacher, it is usually for one month, then they are reviewed. If for some reason they and/or the teacher are not a match, we move them to another teacher, for them to feel comfortable and happy.
  • Our parents can register on line for lessons. All the open spots are listed with the teacher names.
  • We have 2 recitals a year – end of November/ beginning of December, and end of June. 
  • Medals are handed out at the June awards Recital along with scholarships.
  • At the end of June before the Recital, we have a student appreciation day, which is run like a carnival, with carnival games, clown food, etc.
  • Twice a year we conduct a Bring-A-Friend week, where the student brings a friend to their lesson.  If the friend signs up, the student is given a small gift.
  • Payments are made the beginning of each month by credit card or post-dated cheques.

In our next posting about local music schools, parent Marianna Kovacs talks about concerns and questions she had while choosing a piano teacher for her daughter.

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