tim topham presentingTim is a well-known speaker in music education, having been invited to give presentations and keynote speeches at conferences, PD days and events around the country and overseas. Recent engagements include the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy (Chicago), Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference, the West Australian Piano Pedagogy Convention, and various in-house training seminars for schools and local music associations.

If you’re interested in having Tim speak at your piano teaching day, convention, professional development workshop or conference, please use the contact form to get in touch.

Tim is able to motivate teachers on a whole range of topics and has a special interest in:

  • technology
  • teaching boys
  • motivating teenagers
  • using piano exams effectively
  • effective music reading
  • simultaneous learning/functional piano teaching

tim topham speakingTim Topham is a genius! His presentations have the perfect balance between relevant teaching points (which every teacher desires) and being so entertaining that you almost forget that you’re there to learn in the first place! We loved having him present in Western Australia, April this year (2014), and can’t wait to have him back!! Thanks Tim for the passion you have for your teaching and being prepared to share your knowledge with us so openly. Demelza Bursill – WAPPC convenor 2014.

Here are some of his most popular lectures from events in the past few years. Tim can of course tailor presentations to suit your audience, outcomes, theme or venue.

piano teaching tim tophamFast and Furious: Techniques and Repertoire to Inspire Boys

Teaching today’s “digital natives” is hard enough, but add to that a massive overdose of testosterone, a risk-taking agenda, a fixation with computers, phones and video games and all the emotionally-charged baggage of adolescence, and you have the fun of teaching teenage males!

We all know that boys can be a difficult bunch to teach and keep engaged, especially around the teenage years. I personally love their enthusiastic, action-oriented and no-nonsense approach to things they are learning and the way they always keep me on my toes. They won’t put up with things they don’t like for very long and they’ll be happy to question everything that you ask them to do. In fact, I think teaching boys has made me a better teacher.

When you consider all the other activities and electronic devices that fill the lives of boys these days, keeping them enthused at the piano can be a challenge. How many times have you seen boys waver in their approach and eventually quit piano in their teens? How many of you teach students who can’t seem to find any time to practice in their often sport-filled lives?

This discussion will consider a whole range of repertoire that is guaranteed to keep boys practising and give teachers tools to find better repertoire themselves. It will also discuss ways of teaching improvising and composition that boys seem to love. And no discussion about boys’ education these days can overlook technology, so we’ll be discussing new technology that boys are finding engaging.

Teaching improvisation to beginners

Ever wondered how to approach teaching students basic non-jazz improvisation?

We know that as teachers, in order to provide our students with a holistic musical education, we should be incorporating aural, theory, sight-reading, general knowledge, composition and improvisation into our lessons on a regular basis. However for many teachers, it’s hard to know where to start… or where to find the time!

I’m a huge believer in the importance of teaching improvising to students from as early as possible in their music education. It’s a fundamental musical skill that is fun and helps develop an innate understanding of:

    • Harmony
    • Chord progressions
    • Voice leading
    • Structure/Form
    • Rhythm
    • Listening/Aural skills

Best of all, introducing improving is fun and easy. Just follow the process I outline in this presentation and you’ll have students creating masterpieces in no time and learning a heap about theory and harmony along the way.

Getting the most out of teaching pop

It is said that JS Bach liked to teach his students music of their own era: dances, fugues, concerti, toccatas the like.piano teaching pop He felt that students would connect with, and get most out of learning music with which they were familiar.

It has always surprised me therefore, that as piano teachers, many of us choose to focus so little of our energy on teaching the music of our own era (ie. Pop music) in favour of music we feel has more substance (ie. Old music!). In my opinion, there is much to be gained from having students study pop and it goes further than just interest and motivation.

Take, for example, the study of harmony and chord progressions. Most teachers would agree that being able to recognise and play the harmonic structure of a piece is important knowledge for a developing pianist as it demonstrates real musical comprehension. Given the highly-repetitive and structured nature of pop music, students can therefore learn a great deal from listening to, analysing, playing and ultimately composing their own progressions based on pop-song chord structure. What better a way to learn these fundamentals of music than through modern music with which students are most familiar?

In this presentation, Tim refutes the idea of pop being the “junk food” of piano lessons and through numerous real-world examples, helps teachers understand just how much musical substance can be found in pop songs. Tim demonstrates how to approach pop in the modern piano lesson, how to make connections between pop and other forms of music and how to gain the greatest pedagogical impact from pop music teaching. Tim also explores the use of technology in teaching pop, referring to online resources and apps that really engage students and help drive their understanding of musical structure.

This presentation will appeal to a wide variety of teachers – from those who have never taught pop or who do not believe it is worth wasting time on, to those already using pop in their lessons but who would like to know how to make it more relevant to their students’ wider piano education.

piano exams3 v 40: Making the most of exams

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the value of students learning significantly more than the required 3 – 6 exam pieces each year. In addition, more and more teachers are becoming aware of the many exam boards available to students in Australia, including the AMEB, ABRSM, Trinity, St Cecelia, Guild and ANZCA.

After trialing both a “40 pieces challenge” and three of the above exam boards in 2012, Tim wrote a series of blog articles about his experience, including “Trinity College Exams – first impressions”, which created quite a stir when published in the VMTA Journal, and the controversial “Why working to exams is anti-piano”, which was supported by teachers from around the world.

This session will discuss the pros and cons of sending kids to annual exams, the pedagogical effects of an exam-focused studio and consider whether exams are in the best interests of students. Given the reticence of many teachers to try different exam boards, the discussion will also consider the differences and similarities between the boards in order that teachers may make the most informed decision for their students.

The conversation will feature research that Tim has done in comparing the exam syllabi and his first-hand experience in three of the exam boards. Participants will have the opportunity to share their views about exams: which ones they use and their experiences with them, whether they like students to do annual exams and how to cope with parents demanding exams.

Tetris or Pacman: What’s your approach to teaching music reading?

piano teaching tipsBased on the content of his high-rating post: Can Tetris Help Your Sight-Reading?, this presentation discusses the merits and application of the pattern recognition approach to teaching music reading (Tetris), which teaches students to recognise and understand chord structures and harmony in music. This is in contrast with the more linear approach (Pacman) that teaches reading note by note without a harmonic context.

Pattern and interval recognition is where sight-reading should start. When we sight-read, we need to be able to read the words in music and not just the letters. I give my students the analogy of learning to read: when you learn to read the word “cat”, you say the syllables out loud: “c – a – t” before you put it together and learn to just say “cat” when you see the word.

In a similar way, many students sight-read music note-by-note (just like reading this whole sentence letter-by-letter), rather than recognising the patterns, intervals, shapes and structures inherent in the composition.

Some people believe that to get better at sight-reading, you just need to do more of it. While this is true to a point, it’s also a very slow way of progressing. Tim demonstrates how to teach music reading more effectively in a harmonic context that interlaces perfectly with learning about composition and improvising.

ipad portraitSmart Apps – Piano teaching technology that works

iPads can provide a great enhancement to the teaching of music in both the classroom and instrumental contexts. Given that just about every family now owns some kind of i-device and many schools are now embarking on full-scale roll-outs of iPads for their students, understanding how to use these effectively to improve student learning is vital for today’s teachers.

Mobile devices are not only effective at improving teaching, they can transform students’ practice, inspire new ideas, introduce new concepts and allow students to practice things that they simply couldn’t do a few years ago.

During this session, we’ll discuss the world of apps (predominantly for iPad but also for iPhone/iPod) and how they can be used to enhance music teaching. We’ll discuss how to use them in lessons and for at-home practice. We’ll also cover how to make effective use of technology given how little time we have in lessons. Participants may bring along their iPads if they wish but the session is designed as a show-and-tell of resources, ideas and demonstrations ideas that I have found successful in my studio.

In this presentation, teachers will be thoroughly surprised at what is possible and will leave motivated to introduce this technology in their own studios and/or develop their technology use further.

Motivation thru Relevance: Functional Piano Lessons

We all hope that students will enjoy our lessons so much that they will tim topham workshopwant to play piano for the rest of their lives, but is this realistic given the often rigid ways in which we teach: Method Book A, C Major Scale, Dozen a Day, P-Plate Piano, Preliminary Exam, etc. etc.?

To motivate students enough to want to play forever, they need to see the relevance in what they are doing. Having them work with you to set goals is a good place to start, but ultimately, you need to meet them where they are at and help them get where they want to go. This is especially crucial for teenagers and adults.

If all students want to do when they come to lessons is show you something they’ve composed, then teach them more about composing. If they always come to lessons having learnt something by ear, encourage it and give them a deeper understanding of harmony and form to enable them to make their own arrangements of melodies they can play by ear.

This is the concept of functional piano lessons. These are lessons based on the interests of students and which use their natural motivations to inspire further study. The definition of functional is: “designed to be practical and useful, rather than attractive”. While standard piano lessons might not be considered ‘attractive’, you get the analogy!

This presentation will explore this idea further and give examples of how you can “meet students where they are” and build your lessons in a functional way that will motivate and inspire them for the rest of their lives. This workshop will give tips on approaching video game music, pop music, composition, chords and applying technology that works.

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