Professional Development Day at BDMA!

On Monday 11th June 2016 Becky and some of the tutors at BDMA were lucky enough to spend a few hours learning from one of our country’s most exceptional music educationalists, Professor Derek Aviss OBE.Derek-Aviss-Tas-Kyprianou-146x195

After a diverse career as a soloist and ensemble cellist, Derek Aviss took up a  position as a teacher at Trinity Laban College of Music and Dance, the conservatoire he himself studied at. He became Executive Director and Principal before retiring in 2012 and was awarded an OBE for services to Higher and Music Education in the 2013 New Year’s Honours List. He continues to be an active member and patron of many musical charities, and dedicates his time to help talented young musicians get access to the same intensive training that he was fortunate enough to have provided for him through funding from the State.

Derek is currently involved with some cutting edge research into “Science & Music” involving the eight conservatoires in the UK with active research going on in three of them, including Trinity Laban. The prediction that is within ten years we will be able to have easy to access software to tell you how correct your technique and posture is. Obviously there is a “correct way of playing” that is taught, but this has not changed much for 200 years and this must be adapted for the individual student. New technology will take all the best guessing out of it and allow for precision tuition.

We all gathered at Mycenae House (we even had tutors on laptops on Skype tuning in!) and the session began with a short performance of the first movement of Corngold’s Much Ado About Nothing Suite Opus 11. It was performed by Duo Asteria (a pair of beautiful and accomplished young musicians, find their website here http://www.duoasteria.com/), two of Derek’s current students, Corinna Hentschel on violin and Giulio Poggia on piano.


While the masterclass was a long one and Derek shared a great deal with us, there were three reoccurring themes discussed about how we should teach our students (and ourselves!) to practice… We also discussed how tension is unreleased energy and when under pressure (such as in an exam situation) we unconsciously draw on that energy. Whilst it is good for flight of fight, it is not good for performance and research has shown you can lose 40% of your technique whilst promising. Utilising these three practice techniques help you stay in control during performances.

  • Slow Motion Practice


Derek likened the process of slow motion practice to slowing down a film. Imagine a video, slowed to a quarter of it’s natural pace, and see how each movement and expression appears exaggerated and makes little sense until the moment it is back at full speed. Pianist Giulio said, as he demonstrated how he himself works at Derek’s technique – “If you cannot play it perfectly in slow motion then you cannot play it fast. And vice versa, if you cannot play it fast it means you cannot play it properly in slow motion!”. In the simplest terms practicing in slow motion, where every note and marking is played accurately and to an exaggerated degree, can be one of the most efficient ways of learning things quickly, at any level! It takes practice to work in that way but as Derek and Giulio so brilliantly demonstrated, it is clearly worth it.

  • Pulse

Derek was adamant that in music, of any style, pulse is one of the most crucial raw materials. He demonstrated, in an exercise where the duo performed and he asked us to raise our hand the moment we caught ourselves not listening (it felt a little rude!), that without being connected to the pulse you cannot hold onto your audience. He explained how our bodies respond to pulse, we are kept alive by our heart beat, our brain sends impulses rather than a continuous flow of information, and that as musicians we kill the music if we cannot keep that pulse and energy alive in the performance! In terms of teaching and working with children he made it clear how essential it was to help them feel the pulse in the pieces they learn. Clapping exercises, getting the children to clap the beats as you play the piece, and then swapping back and forth between these roles can help our students feel that important pulse and to really enjoy playing.


  • Intonation

Intonation can be one of the trickiest things for our students to master. Even on piano, with it’s fixed tuning, it can be difficult to hear the key. Derek explained how the best thing to do is to centre themselves in the intonation during the process of learning a piece. This means playing the scale in the same key, the arpeggios, play intervals of the key together as student and teacher so they can really hear it. Doing this rather than learning the piece and trying to problem solve the intonation after means you are (as Derek re-iterated numerous times) treating the cause of the problem rather than the effect!


We finished off the day with a half an hour of drama games hosted by Amanda, an actress and inspirational teacher who works at Blackheath Conservatoire running music workshops to young children.


She has been exploring at what age we begin to become self conscious about our individualism and how so often we see children learning that some ideas, sounds or impulses are right and others wrong. She discussed with us how powerful a tool music can be in teaching our students to have the courage to express their own unique voice and how we should always nurture that alongside developing technique.

Over the course of the day there was so many ideas that Derek, his students and Amanda shared with us and we are all inspired and excited to get back to teaching in September and to apply these new techniques! One pearl of wisdom I think we all took away was, as Derek said, we are not there to teach, we are “there to remove the problems that prevent our students from succeeding”…