First Lesson

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)

What happens in the first lesson? First of all, I must stress that I am describing only my own lessons here and not those of any colleagues.

By the end of most first lessons (unless there is a fire alarm or other distraction) we will have covered:

  • three 8-bar tunes within which pupils will have learned
  • three notes (appearance, name and location on the instrument – together with standard left hand fingering for that note)
  • three durations (note lengths) and the names of the durations (crotchet, minim and semibreve)

Time allowing, we will make our first acquaintance with reasons for changing dynamics (volume). At this stage it is a simple match of pitch (height) and volume. Lastly, we discover that music is not a series of isolated notes but that, like language, is divided up into sentences. What is the benefit of them knowing this? At its simplest, endings need to sound like endings if the audience is not to be confused. This is achieved by fading slightly towards the last note(s) of the phrase (the word sentence is not used in music). This is one element of shaping the phrase. I like to get into this as soon as possible to emphasise the fact the expression matters. Mere accuracy will simply not move an audience – and that’s why music is challenging. 100% in a factual exam paper will ensure enormous acclaim. 100% accuracy in a performance is a good start – a very good one – but still only a start.