Virtuoso Teacher

Now you're learning!

Considering the optimum environment for effective learning.

Successful learning is something we would like all our pupils to experience. Let’s consider three factors that are central to bringing this about.

As teachers we like to be in control. We know what’s best. We know what works. We have all the answers (or most of them anyway).


But for really effective teaching and learning we also have to go with the flow. Everyone we teach is different. Recognising each individual’s needs, harmonising with their learning speed, acknowledging each response and then responding back appropriately are all key aspects of truly successful teaching and learning. So, be in control… but do also go with the flow. We can balance these two life forces, and applying this balance when you are teaching is crucial. In practice, and in general terms, we do need to know where we’re going with each pupil and have a clear idea of a lesson’s path. But we also need to be constantly adapting. We may well have an agenda, but it must be very flexible. Teach the pupil through the music and the instrument.

We also need to be patient. And so do our pupils and their parents! Appropriate patience in teaching and learning has a lot to do with expectation: learning to manage expectation and being as realistic as possible is so important. Pupils and parents are often impatient, usually because their expectations are unrealistic. If we can bring realistic targets to all teaching and learning situations we will really begin to instil happy and contented learning.

Finally, empathy. In my opinion, the most important quality of the Virtuoso Teacher is an ability to communicate. For really effective communication to take place we have to do our best to understand deeply the person or persons with whom we are communicating.

“When our pupils feel they are understood then they can begin to relax into really productive and secure learning.”

Here, we must do our best to determine their interests, their learning speed, their level of motivation, their natural energy levels and what makes them tick musically – all without them actually realising! When our pupils feel they are understood then they can begin to relax into really productive and secure learning.

So, be in control but go with the flow; set realistic and understandable targets to create a patient approach and empathise with your pupils. You will be delighted to see your pupils becoming truly happy and effective learners.

Thoughts on the Virtuoso Teacher

I much enjoyed my short visit to Scotland a few weeks ago to do a Virtuoso Teacher Day at the University of Aberdeen under the auspices of the ISM. It’s always wonderful to meet a group of lively and committed teachers and, as usual with these days, many interesting topics were aired and discussed.  

Of course the central theme of the day was the concept of The Virtuoso Teacher. And as our society seems to become more and more disinterested in serious culture, it becomes increasingly important that we aspire to Virtuoso Teacher status. Or, in other words, aspire to teaching at the highest level in order to keep more of our pupils on board and inspired to go out there and be musically independent. 

"Teaching is about sharing"

What exactly do I mean by teaching at the highest level you may be wondering? It’s certainly very challenging trying to sum it up in a few words or in a single point or two (you’ll have to come to one of the VT days to get the whole picture!). And it’s got nothing to do with the level of our pupils. But if pushed, I would say this: teaching at the highest level is strongly connected with the necessity to teach with a generous, big- and open-hearted spirit. Teaching is about sharing. Of course we know more than our pupils. And we can do things a lot better than they can. But teaching is essentially a sharing experience… sharing our love and enthusiasm for music, sharing our deeply considered views on the music we teach and thus helping our pupils in turn to love and share their music. If we can pass this on, humbly and without ego, we have got a chance to help humanity remain cultured. For without culture, humanity becomes dry, cold and meaningless. This, in essence, is what being a Virtuoso Teacher is. 

A sunny day in Aberdeen for the Virtuoso Teacher talk with the ISM. 

A sunny day in Aberdeen for the Virtuoso Teacher talk with the ISM. 

Talking to teachers about the Virtuoso Teacher in Aberdeen. 

Talking to teachers about the Virtuoso Teacher in Aberdeen.