Inner Circle Member Spotlight: Wendy Brentnall-Wood

By Sean Wales | Inner Circle

Dec 04


Inner Circle “Member Spotlights” give you a sneak-peek at the progress of one of our community members. Get inspired by what they’ve achieved, be heartened by their struggles and get motivated and share in their plans for the future.

What does your studio look like?

My music school currently consists of approximately 20 teachers who teach my program from their own home studios and two teaching rooms at my home studio.We offer lessons in piano/keyboard, violin, guitar, drums, singing, flute and saxophone, which tend to be mostly individual 30-minute lessons, but we also offer shared lessons for 30 or 45 minutes. I personally focus on my main instrument and teach 30 piano students as individual 30 or 45-minute lessons. My students range in age from four years to senior adults and standards from beginners to Grade 8.

What concept, idea, app or strategy, has had the most positive impact on your studio and teaching recently?

The most recent strategy I’ve adopted in my personal studio which has had a positive impact on students (and myself) is a combination of ideas. After reading “The Dynamic Studio” by Phillip Johnston, I was struck by the idea of giving my students monthly or term “challenges” to work on things which were outside their usual lesson activities as a means to motivate, excite and encourage them to explore the piano more.

I combined this with a desire to expand my students’ knowledge beyond the traditional reading, technical work, performing, theory approach into playing by ear and by memory and eventually transposing too, and therefore give them more “practical tools” to use in their own independent learning.

So what did I do? In term three I set up the “Happy Birthday by Ear” challenge. The biggest outcome was the thrill a number of families had when their child was able to confidently play Happy Birthday to a family member. It became a happy experience for the whole family.

What was the biggest thing you did to achieve that outcome?

Giving the student independent learning space and time but in a supported environment was the biggest thing that was different.

I invited students to come early (or stay late) to their lesson and spend 10-15 minutes ‘extra’ time on my digital piano with headphones working independently (mostly) to spend time working out how to play Happy Birthday by ear and then a progress list of steps to add left hand chords, and a rhythm pattern. I was able to give them quick pointers if they were stuck and then at the start of their private lesson time, spend just a few minutes reviewing their progress without taking huge chunks away from their ‘regular’ lesson activities.

How has your membership of the Inner Circle played a part in your development as a teacher?

The Inner Circle allows me to keep stimulated and growing as a teacher whilst also allowing me to use my experience to help others. As a teacher of nearly 40 years (I was very young when I started!) it is easy to fall into old routines which make teaching a routine and stale. As a lover of learning, the Inner Circle with Tim’s new courses, webinars and podcasts allow me to pick and choose the things that matter the most to my teaching development and spare time. 

Why did you decide to join the Inner Circle?

My main reason for joining the Inner Circle was to work through Tim’s courses on teaching pop music, chords and chord progressions as I was trained in a traditional way. I considered that I may only need to join for a few months to do a course or two, but I have found ongoing value in the new courses that are appearing, the conversations in the forums and the connections I am making with other teachers around the world.

What’s been the highlight of your membership so far?

One of the highlights was a recent post I made spontaneously after my daughter and I decided to plan a trip to Japan next year. I posted a question in the forum asking if anyone had music teacher connections in Japan and was amazed to find within a day or so that someone had lived there for many years and could potentially connect me to some amazing teachers to visit on my trip. How awesome is that!

Tell us about your next big goal for your music studio and/or teaching? What does the big picture look like?

My next big goal is to move all my teaching program (currently for seven instruments across 110 books) progressively into a completely online delivery. Using online instead of only hard copy books and flashcards will enable all my students and teachers access to a full suite of resources – from learning a new concept, some tunes with backing tracks and videos, technical exercises with videos, sight reading, creating, aural and quizzes, theory worksheets and much more. It’s a time consuming but exciting development.

What is one tool that you couldn’t live without and why?

I can’t live without my iPad Pro. I now use it to store my digital library and backing tracks. I use it for various admin purposes and can take handwritten notes and do drawings, sketches, plans, mind maps and more with my apple pencil. There is so much it can do that I am still feeling like a novice!

What’s the biggest challenge in your teaching or studio business right now and what strategies are you exploring to help?

The biggest challenge I am facing in my teaching and business currently is the age old problem of time management. It is an exciting time for me with a variety of creative development projects underway in my own teaching program but also as part of a group called the Genius School, which is a Global project aiming to offer alternatives to traditional education learning.

My challenge is to balance business admin, teaching and decent chunks of time for creative development without compromising quality or health. Strategies that I have in place are my daily, weekly and longer term scheduling and planning routines, where I prioritise goals and self care- making sure I invest time in my health with daily exercise, meditation, healthy eating and getting enough sleep. Basically keeping myself strong and reducing stress to allow my brain and body to work at its best.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new piano teacher (or someone considering it as a career), what would it be?

I would like to advise a new piano teacher to take some time to research the different methods and syllabi available by investing in lots of resources, observe lots of other teachers in action (I can’t imagine many experienced teachers would mind you observing for a few hours) and being prepared to test out ideas before they settle down with one system. You are so lucky to have so many fantastic resources available, so make sure you explore them.

I would like to congratulate Tim on creating a wonderfully supportive community and fantastic resources. It is a privilege to be a part of such a great learning environment.

Looking for more support in your teaching?

We’d love to have you join us inside the Inner Circle Community where you can get support, ask questions, access training and resources and feel 100% supported as you steer a path to your future. No need to feel alone in your teaching anymore – we’re here to help.

Members get access to expert teachers from around the world, a library of webinars and training videos to support your teaching, regular live and online hangouts and masterminds and a heap of bonus offers from our partners.

You can learn more about the Inner Circle Community here.

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About the Author

Sean is one of Tim’s former piano students, now in his third year of study at the University of Melbourne. Majoring in Italian and Media and Communications, he hopes to one day work as a journalist overseas.

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