Hi, I’m Claire, and I’m all about helping you to play the piano as a way of having fun, getting creative, and bringing more of your unique strengths and talents into the world.
In 2007, when I first started teaching the piano, I knew one thing: I wasn’t going to teach piano the same way that I was taught. The reason was, at age 22, with 8 piano grades and a music degree behind me, I was a pretty ‘accomplished’ piano player. But I had a few problems…
I couldn’t play the music I was into. There was a big disconnect between what I had learned to play on the piano- and the music that I actually enjoyed. I’d spent years learning music that I’d been told to learn- because it was a set piece for an exam- or because it was the next piece in the book. Plus, there were other genres of music that I was into- but none of those had entered the picture.
I could only play notes that were written down on a page somewhere. This meant a few things; I could only play a piano if I happened to have my sheet music with me, I couldn’t join in if people were jamming, and I was tied to replicating a piece of music in the same way each time I played it.
I’d spent years following a set curriculum that hadn’t encouraged me to discover what was unique about my own talents or interests and so, without exams to work towards anymore, I was struggling to find a purpose that was meaningful to me.
On top of all this, I was running out of ways to get better. I tried having more lessons with some top piano teachers, but I was stuck- they weren’t offering me any new answers and I’d hit a brick wall that I just wasn’t getting over.
It was time to do things a bit differently. And so…
I learned to play jazz
The jazz tradition is different from the classical tradition. In the classical tradition, every note of the piece is written down- that’s how music is passed down and shared. In the jazz tradition, you learn by listening to recordings and trying to emulate what you hear.
For the first time, I started to get more confident at playing without a page of notes in front of me. I started joining in with jams, and finally got to experience being part of playing in a group without the fear that, if something unexpected or spontaneous happened, I would be stuck and wouldn’t know what to do.
It turned out that this was the missing skill I needed to explore all the other genres I was interested in too. The thing about pop music is that you can’t always find sheet music for it, and if you can, the arrangements can lose the essence of the song. And so, you need to be able to listen to a recording and figure out what you’re hearing and how to turn that into something on the piano.
I learned to improvise too- and this was hugely liberating; to have the ability to play a song in new ways, to make it a bit different each time, to be free to try things out- it made playing the same music feel fresh and interesting each time.
I joined a Motown band
I grew up listening to soul and Motown, and I’ve always loved it. It was the skills that I had gained whilst learning jazz - playing by ear, jamming, and improvising- that enabled me to play keyboard in the band, and it is still one of the most fun things I have ever done.
We played music to dance floors full of people having a good time and it was so great to be part of this group who were on stage together playing music we loved- it made all of the hard work I'd done to get to that point absolutely worth it.
I studied the Suzuki method
I was having a great time playing all of this different types of music but I still wanted to get better at playing classical music too, and so I began two years of training with the British Suzuki Institute.
In the Suzuki method, you learn music the same way you learn to speak- by absorbing yourself in the music, listening, and then by emulating what you hear. I was getting to use the approach I’d learned in jazz to really improve my classical playing, and finally I was able to get over the wall that I had been stuck behind about 10 years previously.
This was also where I really learned to coach- to listen to somebody play the piano and be able to identify exactly what they need to do to improve- and how I could get them there. It is a skill I use every day in my teaching and I’m always fascinated by watching the process of someone getting better in the space of one lesson.
Because of all these experiences, I got better at the piano
Along the way, I’ve learned that it’s good to explore- you never know where you’re going to find the answer to a problem that has been holding you back.
It’s important to be able to find meaning and purpose in what you’re doing - otherwise, what is it for?
And most importantly- you should have fun!