The Day Before

the-viola-diaries-blog-home startSo. All is good. My Home Start donation page is set up. I have the viola set up to the best of my abilities. The tailpiece is in place with the bridge installed. The strings are spread out enough to make it so that I can play it properly. The bow is coated in rosin and I have everything I need for the Grade 1 exam. I have printed off the vocal part that I will be singing in the choir tomorrow. All in all, I am pretty much all prepared.

I will also be doing some stuff to help with the brass lessons in the morning and am looking forward to working with the Grade-1-athon (or GOAT) staff.

How does it feel to be starting again?

I am a little apprehensive about the whole thing and this is why this is such a good challenge. It is a great opportunity to raise money for Home Start. Also, as a teacher it can be easy to forget the different things that the people we teach go through on a regular basis. Remembering that some people feel a bit nervous or afraid that they are going to mess up is, quite frankly, easy and fairly obvious.

What is not so obvious though is the feeling that some students encounter. The feeling of being the only one who might not be able to do things right. I know that I see this and I know what this looks like, or how it manifests itself if you will. But the actual feelings. The way in which your body reacts and the things that happen physiologically are not something I have remembered or experienced for a while. It is these feelings, these reactions and emotional states that my students go through that have really been highlighted through the start of this challenge.

I have no doubt that this will be amplified and will feel very real tomorrow during the first lesson I have on the viola. But I am also certain that the people I work with in the morning will most likely be experiencing similar feelings or concern or anxiety.

Teaching Pedagogy

Taking this knowledge and awareness and adapting my approach inline with this could prove to have far-reaching and positive impacts on those that I interact with tomorrow. But, and more importantly, these changes to my approach in teaching and delivery could profoundly improve the experience that my current students have.

the-viola-diaries-blog-home start

As I am writing this I am waiting for a rehearsal to begin. I am fortunate enough to be sat outside a beautiful church in the most glorious sunshine. I am not anxious about playing tuba today and have no real sense of concern about the music I am going to be given.  This is such a far cry from the feelings I have regarding tomorrow.

I am not too apprehensive about the choir stuff as I will have done that loads. However, I know that there will be some people that will find the prospect of this intimidating. I am quite apprehensive about the actual lesson part and am concerned about the following things:

  1. What if I mess everything up?
  2. Will anyone laugh at me?
  3. What if I can’t make a decent sound?
  4. Will I be much worse than everyone else?
  5. Will there be anyone I know?
  6. How will people judge me if I really struggle with this?
  7. What if I just can’t do it?

Thoughts & Feelings

These feelings are entirely irrational. They are based on a pattern of negative thinking. If these are focused on too much they can be the cause of real anxiety. Following this, a sense of nervousness and eventually the possibility of clamming up and going into a downward spiral where nothing works.

I have seen this begin, and I have watched it happen on far too many occasions. Thankfully this is happening less and less but to be honest, just a single time is one time too many. There are many things I have developed and changed about my approach to teaching and some of them have happened without me even noticing.

Moving On

I am planning to develop my understanding of my current teaching approach and my awareness of potential concerns and worries. Not so that I can pander to them. This is so that I can develop strategies so that these concerns or worries are not highlight (or accentuated). I can then ensure that they are effectively dealt with in a way that enhances the work I do and the results my students achieve.

Thanks for reading. Watch out for more pictures and practice posts!

Home Start

In the mehome-start-oxfordan time, click below to donate to Oxfordshire Home Start. An amazing charity that does so much fantastic work to support families in an hour of need. Just click here to make your donation.

The Viola Diaries

And So it Begins - the Viola diaries start here...

the viola diaries-grade1athonSo it all started with a message on Facebook from a friend. She nominated me (well I think that is what it is called) to pass on the challenge or to complete the challenge that was being sent. The deal was to start to learn a new instrument. I will have only one lesson and then 8 weeks later take a Grade 1 exam with Trinity. This brilliant event is called the The Oxford and Cambridge Note Race 2017.
Everything starts on 9th July 2017 for the first group lesson. The exam and concert is due to take place on 10th September 2017.
"The Grade-1-athon invites accomplished musicians of at least Grade 8 standard and at least 18 years old to get sponsored to rediscover what it is like to be a novice, to take the first steps on a new instrument, to face the first examination. Given only one group lesson on Sunday July 9th, on a completely unfamiliar instrument, the participants have a few weeks before they all face their Trinity College London Grade 1 exam on Sunday September 10th. And then, on the same evening, they will perform in an orchestral concert in their respective city.” (

Home-Start Oxford

This brilliant event is to raise funds for Home Start in Oxford. This amazing charity provides fantastic support and friendship for families in the Oxford area.
"Home-Start Oxford is a voluntary organisation which is committed to promoting the welfare of families with at least one child under five years of age.“ (
To make a donation and show your support, please visit my MyDonate page.

The Viola - a new second study

I'm a tuba player and have an experience of playing guitar, keyboards, piano, drums, ukulele and all brass instruments. I have had a go at most things, but have never really delved in to the land of strings. As a typical brass player I felt that it was time to make amends…
The tuba is a fairly weird instrument and not really that well known by many people. I know my fair share of the usual viola jokes. I'e generally been fairly typical of the standard brass player towards strings. This is time for me to make amends and begin to truly understand things from a different perspective.
I thought the only thing to do would be to take this challenge and choose the instrument that I have possible given the least regard to over the years. Yes, it is time to make amends.
Today it began. My new viola arrived and I have managed to put the bridge on and get the strings on properly. I have also managed to get the strings in tune. I know that they will slip and go out of tune and I will be back to square one tomorrow with this. However, it should be fine to keep going with this until it beds in and settles down.

A New Beginning

the viola diaries-violaThe music for my grade 1 has arrived. I have my tutor book and the accompaniments for the pieces are not heir way. Exciting times! I am going to keep a blog of my viola exploits and see how things go. I am also going to take a good look at practice and how to fit things in when you are busy. I am a peripatetic teacher, coach and hypnotherapist as well as a father with 3 kids! I am hoping to come up with a way of finding effective practice strategies and making the most effect progress.
Now, time to sort out this rosin thing and get the bow working!

Time to Prepare!

Time to prepare!

Having a brand new instrument and not really playing it is a bit frustrating. I know that it is important to prepare, and as the old adage goes

"to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail" (invented possibly by an Ofsted inspector to wind up teachers...)

I know that the idea is that we are not supposed to start things until 9th July. However, I can’t help myself as I just want to get on and play it! I have refrained from having a go at it. I've stopped myself from doing everything apart from the basic setup and putting the instrument together. At least this way I can hit the ground running when I start on 9th July. This is for a great cause and I want to make sure that I raise some much needed funding to help support the great work Home Start do.

So far I have done the following things:

  • bought a viola
  • installed the bridge
  • tuned the strings
  • got some rosin onto the bow
  • downloaded trinity grade 1 specification
  • bought Abracadabra Viola (it has all of the grade 1 pieces and is a tutor book too)
  • worked out what scales and arpeggios I will need to do for the exam

I have also looked at a few free tutor books online for any help/guidance I can use when I start to play for real.

How things Feel

I love learning new instruments and this one is so different to what I am used to. I am a little bit nervous about playing it for the first time in front of someone as I have no idea what the sound that comes out will be like. Is watching videos on YouTube about bow hold before July 9th cheating?

In terms of making sure I play regularly and develop good intonation I think it is going to be important to play along with another instrument or multitrack my own playing. I've created the beginnings of a practice schedule so that I make sure I get to the right level - I am of course after a distinction for my Grade 1!

I am checking that the instrument is holding its tuning and that it settles down well. I am not sure if most people will borrow an instrument for this challenge as I know some instruments are very expensive to buy. Also, what musician needs yet another instrument in their house? I already have a couple of trumpets, trombones, euphonium, tuba, ukuleles, guitars & bass guitars to name but a few. I now have a viola to add to the list!

The Schedule

So the timetable for completion on this challenge is as follows:



Date Week Number Tasks
July 9th Week 1 1st group lesson in Oxford & Complete step 1 and step 2 in Abracadabra
July 16th Week 2 Complete steps 3 & 4 in Abracadabra
July 23rd Week 3 Complete steps 5 & 6 in Abracadabra & G Major Scale
July 30th Week 4 Complete step 7 in Abracadabra & D + G Major Scale
August 6th Week 5 Complete steps 8 & 9 in Abracadabra & D + G Major Scale
August 13th Week 6 Complete steps 11, 12 & 13 in Abracadabra & D + G Major Scale & Edelweiss
August 20th Week 7 Complete steps 14 + 15 in Abracadabra + D + G Major Scale + Arpeggio + Edelweiss + Edelweiss, We’re off to see the Wizard and Summer is icumen in
August 27th Week 8 Complete steps 16 & 17 in Abracadabra & D + G Major Scale & Arpeggio & Edelweiss & Edelweiss, We’re off to see the Wizard and Summer is icumen in
September 3rd Week 9 Complete steps 18, 19 & 20 in Abracadabra & D, G & C Major Scale & Arpeggio & Edelweiss, We’re off to see the Wizard and Summer is icumen in
September 10th Last Day! Grade 1 Exam in Oxford & 1st Concert in Oxford

I am not sure how I have ended up having 9 weeks as I am sure that there is only supposed to be 8 weeks to do this challenge. Maybe I will need to relook at things if I need to reduce it all to just 8 weeks.

Prepare for the Future

I am already beginning to contemplate the idea of trying to do the same with grade 2. I wonder if that could be done in 8 weeks too? Could this mean that there is the potential of being able to play at grade 5 standard (not just three pieces learned well) within just 40 weeks?

I know that does appear to be a little forward looking and quite optimistic in terms of the time i have available to practice and play. Surely this is all part of the challenge of learning an instrument as an adult. It's also a good way to remind myself of the challenges that my students face on a daily basis. How is it possible to carve out the time needed to work on playing an instrument when things are already so very hectic?

Hopefully, I will find a way through this. More importantly, I'll be able to provide a better answer to my students that struggle to fit in practice time. My usual answer is ‘well, I’m very busy too and I know it can sometimes be tricky, but the only way to get better is to make the time’. Although this may be true, it isn’t very helpful for a 10 year old and especially unhelpful for an adult!

To donate for the wonderful charity Home Start, please visit my MyDonate page.