Teacher focus: ​Ashlea Griffith

I peel my eyes open, maybe a little later then I should and venture down to make some tea and greet the dog. I whip up a smoothie for breakfast and battle with my fussiness for a decent outfit for the day. I have to plan something that’s appropriate for school classes but something that’s comfortable (and warm) for peripatetic lessons in the evening. Today, I play it safe, as usual, with all black and boots.  

Next it’s to the piano to gather any of my books I need for the day and perhaps a quick procrastinated play of a piece I’m working on, today’s number, Grieg’s Sonate Opus 7 - only on the first page and quickly get disgruntled by the Alberti bass in the base clef (my hands are too small for the jump!) so it’s off to catch my bus to the station. 

I arrive at school and do my usual check in, then up to the staff room for a quick coffee and to flip through my lesson plans. I usually take KS1 classes at a delightful, highly musical school for 2 days in a week, the rest of the week are Peripatetic lessons through a variety of local schools.

 I begin my lessons taking on classes of around 30 children, teaching Reception to Year 6. I try hard to incorporate lots of musical instruments, keeping the pace of the lesson nice and fast and trying to excite the children throughout the lesson. After each lesson, I encourage the children to write a piece; be it a rap, a scat, an improvised lick or to perform something they’ve been working on musically or heard through the week. (I’m beginning to memorize the lyrics to most ‘Skepta’ and ‘The Chainsmokers’ music, who knows what next term will have in store.)  

After seeing the last class out to their parents, I rush back to grab my things and sign out, then it’s a run to the station to catch my train to ‘after school’ peripatetic lessons.

As a vary, on Monday’s and Thursday’s I conduct one to one lessons in few local schools. This usually consists of 15/20 minute lessons, where the children remove themselves from class and meet me in the usually dark, cold yet thoroughly charming music rooms. One school in particular stands out; as an old Victorian school, the music room is located in the ‘basement’ area with a shutter window overlooking a forest, luckily with a beautifully tuned piano pushed up against it. I continue lessons all day, aside from having a stroll through the forest at lunchtime, until the end of school at 3:15pm – where I’m off again to after school Peri lessons.

 On my way, I go over previous lesson notes with my students for the evening, and arrive… usually on time! I specialise in Piano lessons, and work through my lessons at the individual pace of each student (most are currently working towards their ABRSM grades so we focus heavily on the exam prep) I have on average 3 hours of private lessons per night.  I use a variety of exam boards for my private students including ABRSM, Trinity and Rockschool. This allows me to teach a variety of styles to musicians until they find what their ‘sound’ is. The variety in exam boards keeps the lessons fresh and current to each individual student (alongside saving me from hearing the same Aria in F over and over…)

It’s finally home time! I get back to my house, jump in the shower and listen to Tom Waits as I prepare myself to do it over again tomorrow... As I drift off to sleep, I think about the children I’ve had the pleasure of working with today and giggle to myself about some of the comedy gold comments they come out with at times and remind myself how lucky I am to be a part of their musical journeys.   Sweet dreams music world.

Some top tips for music teacher survival I would highly recommend using differing exam boards, or at least for sight reading using your own examples … it is a monotonous thing to hear the same songs all day, every day! You also risk becoming desensitised to the melodies and playing directions after hearing them all day … keep things fresh (for your own sanity!)

Always prepare for the worst … be it in Peri lessons or classroom lessons – there will always be a drama with children, but remember to them it is extremely important in their lives. For example, I had a student who simply couldn’t play her pieces as she was too distracted that ‘her and Charlie aren’t friends anymore, and she didn’t even like him anyway’ – remember you are a figure to the children still, a responsible adult and it is always great to have trust and a personal relationship between teacher and student.

Most importantly, if you have lots of books to carry ie. Scales, Sight-Reading, Pieces for Piano, Guitar, Theory … get a good quality bag! Your back and shoulders are extremely important as a musician…

I am greatly appreciative of ISM for offering a platform to seek information within the music world, I would usually miss, all while including a competitive environment in an otherwise unregulated sector!

ASHLEA GRIFFITH

[email protected]

[email protected]

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