“Keep your lessons fresh and exciting with variety…there’s no reason for anyone to get bored!”
Our latest question and answer interview features pianist, piano tutor, writer, composer and magician Matt Walker.
Matt (www.walkerproductions.co.uk) appeared on ITV’s Loose Women in 2016 – read on to learn why – and published his book Favourite Children’s Songs for Piano in 2017 and novel Shark Bait earlier in 2018.
We asked Matt to talk us through his approach to music education and lessons, his beginner piano book and his novel.
Hi Matt – could you introduce yourself?
Hi Jamie and Claire, thanks for having me. I am a 31-year-old piano tutor and accompanist – and would-be author and composer! I love being able to make a living out of music. One day I’d like to be able to earn a supplementary income from my novel writing and composing – I write songs for choirs (currently available for free on my website) and piano solos. I also do a bit of magic, and have got an architecture degree for some reason.
How long have you been teaching?
About ten years. After leaving university I worked as a teaching assistant for a short time; I thought I wanted to be a classroom teacher. Instead I moved into piano teaching one-to-one.
Do you teach as a private teacher, through a music hub, in a school or schools as a visiting teacher, or a mixture?
I teach at a private school as a peripatetic teacher and also privately at my home and pupils’ houses.
Do you have a specific approach to your music lessons?
I think it depends very much on the pupil – what they enjoy, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, what we’re working on, what they want to get out of it. I think when a pupil is working towards an exam lessons are necessarily a bit more structured – scales, pieces, sight reading, aural – but I do try to introduce improvisation, theory and different kinds of ear tests too.
You’ve written a book, “Favourite Children’s Songs for piano,” published last year. Tell us more about the book and the pieces you included in it?
For years I was looking for a book that progressed from complete beginner to prep test standard, where the pieces got harder as the pupil got better. But most importantly, the pieces had to be ones the pupil knew. I think most children love learning songs they know. I couldn’t find one. The Making the Grade series was the closest to what I was looking for and so I used that for many years, but the pieces weren’t all well-known to children.
So I wrote one. A book that can be used from the first lesson up to the prep test, from simple five-fingered melodies to putting hands together. And all the pieces are nursery rhymes or famous classical tunes and songs children will know and love. On my website you can hear mp3 files of all the songs, and download teaching notes and accompanying chords for duets. Music Teacher Magazine is publishing a review in their July 2018 issue.
And whilst we’re talking about writing, we were fascinated to learn that you’ve published a novel and had short stories published to wide acclaim. Tell us more about your fiction?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for about 16 years. But the competition is so tough. I’ve had a dozen short stories published in magazines and ezines, and I’ve written six novels.
Three years ago I got offered representation from the fabulous literary agent Sarah Manning, now of The Bent Agency. We worked on my novel SHARK BAIT, an all-action thriller about a government hitman, a family of drug pushers and a loan shark who picks on the wrong guy.
Feedback from publishers was really positive, and it went through to the board of acquisitions at both Orion and Harlequin Harper Collins. But ultimately no one took it. It’s a difficult market to break into. So Sarah suggested I self-publish it, and SHARK BAIT is now available on Amazon here (£1.99 Kindle, £6.99 paperback). It’s also available at Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Apple iBooks. The first three chapters are available to read free on my website.
Exams: what is your philosophy about entering students into exams and preparing them?
I am perfectly happy to enter pupils for exams, or not. It is entirely up to the pupil. Many just want to play for fun, and I think that’s fine. But whether you want to go in for exams or just want to play for fun… at least practice! Many pupils (and parents too) don’t seem to realise that 90% of progress depends on practice.
Alongside teaching, do you perform?
I play at weddings, and I played background music at a hotel for six years, but most of my work now is accompanying for choirs and schools. I used to teach Connie Talbot, Britain’s Got Talent finalist 2007, and in April 2016 I accompanied her live on ITV’s Loose Women, which was a great experience!
Most of my solo piano work involves improvising whilst pupils are coming into assembly, coming on and off stage etc. I improvise because it’s easier to finish on cue, and also because I enjoy improvising! If I’m performing at a show or concert I’m more likely to perform a musical comedy song than a piano solo.
Which membership institutions and organisations are you a member of?
I’m a member of EPTA.
We know you are a social media user – does this support your marketing, or is it for professional development, connection with other music teachers, to sell your books, or all of these? What works best for you?
I try not to market on Facebook very much, but I do use Twitter a lot for networking and promotion. Most of my sales of Favourite Children’s Songs for Piano have come from Twitter marketing, I believe.
What do you know now, about making a living as a music teacher, that you wish you had known when you started? Or, if you prefer, what advice would you give to a musician starting their career as a music teacher?
- Firstly, teaching is not easy. You have to concentrate throughout the entirety of a one-to-one lesson, so try and schedule five minute breaks every hour.
- Keep hydrated! You’ll be doing a lot of talking.
- Many younger pupils may only need 20-minute lessons, not half an hour.
- Consider time and petrol costs if you’re traveling to pupils’ houses.
- Try and keep your lessons fresh and exciting with variety.
- Spend some time doing listening, clapping, singing, theory, note naming, composing, improvising, chords, memory games, scales, exercises and sight reading as well as pieces. There’s no reason for anyone to get bored!
- But mostly, enjoy it! Because what’s the point, otherwise?
And how can people reach you to learn more about what you do?
Thank-you Matt for taking the time to tell us about yourself and your approach to music education. And all best with the books!
- Visit Matt’s website and get hold of his books via the links above.
- More interviews here on the YMTS website.
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