Hello and thank you for visiting my website. I’m Janet Arnold, teacher of piano and theory and creator of Sammy Semibreve. Here is a bit about who I am and what I do.
I am a qualified, ISM-registered teacher of piano and theory with substantial experience of working one-to-one with pupils of all ages and abilities in independent and maintained schools and privately. I have a proven track record in preparation of pupils for ABRSM practical and theory examinations, IB and GCSE performance and concert performance. I am also the creator and author of Sammy Semibreve books and resources which are specifically aimed to make learning fun and achievable for very young beginners. I am DBS-checked and receive regular safeguarding training. My details are on the registered teachers lists of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) and Music Teachers.co.uk.
I believe that learning a musical instrument at any age can enrich your life in many ways – intellectually, socially, physically and emotionally. My pupils range from age four to adult, beginners upwards. Some learn just for fun, others take it far more seriously. Whatever their motive, ability and learning style, I treat each pupil as an individual so that they can enjoy playing making music and achieve their potential. Watch this short animation ‘Amazing Benefits of Music Lessons on the Brain’ (2:35 mins on YouTube).
You will be surprised what music lessons can do for you!
I believe that learning is about building on the knowledge you already have, connecting the familiar to the new through bite-size targets. Everyone can succeed if you make the targets achievable, although one person’s mini-step might be another person’s mountain! This is why it is so important to tailor learning to the individual. I encourage all my pupils, whatever their level, to take possession of their learning through knowing their own targets, evaluating their own performance, and identifying any resulting problem areas with a view to deciding how to improve them. In short, thinking things through and taking action. That way they value their achievements and of course, nothing succeeds like success!
I aim to equip my pupils with effective working methods and practice techniques which promote independent learning through being transferable but it goes without saying that whatever you are learning, you need to practise regularly to improve. Top athletes do not get where they are by sitting on the sofa all day and pianists do not get very far if they ignore the piano for most of the week! Regular practice is key to making progress. For a pianist, practice trains the brain, the ears and the hands and even sometimes the feet! And, as you become more advanced, there is the emotional side of music to integrate as well. In fact, playing the piano can be something of a complete mental and physical workout. Right from the start, I encourage my pupils to establish a regular practice routine, often difficult I know in a busy household, but it pays to persevere. Younger children need support with practice but you don’t have to understand music to do this. It’s about ensuring that it happens and being there for them. Whatever their level, I tell my pupils to practise little and often, focusing on the tricky bits and that it is really useful to practise soon after your lesson while everything is still fresh in your mind.
Of course, listening is something that everyone associates with music but very often, people don’t do it when they are playing. It just doesn’t occur to them! Listening when you play is a more complex process than just listening to music: in a nutshell, you need to listen out for what you expect to hear (so you need to know what this is) and then adjust your playing accordingly as you go if you are not hearing what you expected. It takes practice but when achieved, it makes the difference between just playing the notes and actually playing the music. Developing the musical ear is very important. Some people have a good ear naturally, others don’t but this can be improved. Being able to sing in tune, copy a rhythm, identify a pattern and talk about what you can hear all contribute to learning a piece of music and performing it effectively.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
“What we have to do we learn by doing.”
As a teacher, you need to be receptive to ways of improving and updating your teaching. The process is ongoing! Input comes not only from a variety of formal and informal external sources but also from colleagues and pupils. I often develop new ways of explaining things as a result of a pupil’s response to something. Since people learn at different speeds and in different ways, my teaching is very much pupil-based. I teach formal music notation (staff notation) when I consider a pupil is ready because I believe it gives them the freedom to learn independently. Pupils are really pleased with themselves when they find they can learn something on their own and unasked. This often happens quite soon, even at beginner level. I always aim to ensure that pupils understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. To support this, I encourage use of relevant theory books and recommend trustworthy online resources, to parents or carers in the case of children. I make constructive comments and encourage pupils to participate in the evaluation process so that they can evaluate for themselves during practice. I am positive in my approach, giving praise where praise is due and recognising where effort has been put in.
Some of my pupils just want to learn piano for their own enjoyment, others like or need(!) the incentive of targets such as concerts, competitions or exams. Either is fine as long as they enjoy their music and feel that they are getting somewhere with it. Having targets makes measuring achievement easier but these must be relevant and attainable. A target can be formal, such as passing an exam or performing at a concert, or individual, such as improving your practice routine, remembering to bring your music to every lesson, improving the tricky bit of a piece or learning something from memory. It might be short or longer term. Acknowledging that a target has been met is important to a pupil’s self-esteem.
When a pupil is playing in public or taking an exam, I try to give them insight into what it will be like at the time. This includes stage deportment and acknowledging applause at concerts, how to conduct yourself at an exam, how to deal with feelings of nervousness and what it actually feels like to be playing in that sort of situation. I ensure that exam candidates have covered all aspects of the syllabus and that they are aware of the exam process and the marking scheme and assessment criteria. After the event, I will review the performance with the pupil so that they have something to build on for next time. In the case of exams, we also review the report in detail, noting things that worked well and things that require improvement.
It’s not only about what you play, but about how you play it and how you deal with it mentally. I encourage pupils to adopt a good posture and hand position early on and insist that they play with sensible fingering appropriate to their hands and the music. At all levels, I teach relevant playing and pedalling techniques supported by exercises, often constructed from part of a piece a pupil is finding difficult.
Keeping lines of communication open is a really important aid to progress. For young children, I prefer where possible that a parent or carer attends the lessons too as it then becomes a shared experience to take home. For children of any age, I maintain a dialogue with parents or carers so that any issues can be resolved. The logistics of having music lessons are covered by a teacher-pupil contract for private pupils or a contract with the pupil’s school where applicable. I write formal reports for pupils in schools as required but will also provide progress reports on request.
Finally, I tell parents and adult pupils that if a problem arises that cannot be resolved during practice, they should get in contact rather than waiting until the next lesson. That way, I can offer reassurance and a way forward.
Lessons can be online or in-person. I teach pupils in the UK and internationally online over a variety of platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet or Skype. Lessons are in English. Wherever pupils are located, they will need a reasonable internet connection and a device with camera and microphone enabled that can be positioned so that I can see their piano keyboard. For younger pupils, there must be a responsible adult present during the lesson.
Most of my pupils have weekly half-hour lessons. Some more advanced pupils have an hour. Details are covered by a signed contract. Depending on the pupil, a typical lesson might include some or all of the following:
For lesson enquiries, please get in touch via the Contact page
“Education is the methodical creation of the habit of thinking.”
Beginning piano should be fun and exciting, the start of an adventure. However, it can be a daunting experience for young children if they are presented with complex notation information straight away and this may not only harm their musical development but also prejudice their view of music for the rest of their lives.
Sammy Semibreve books and resources are all about making learning piano fun and achievable for young children.
Fortunately this does not need to be the case! Sammy Semibreve piano books are colourful, fun piano activity books for young beginners. They are different from other beginners’ books in their informal, non-technical and interactive approach. Here is a taste of what to expect!
In book one, we meet Sammy Semibreve, Doggie D, the doughnut, the Friendly Monster, the Fairy and Zebra.
We get to do some composing and improvising, we make friends with both ends of the piano, (not just the middle!)
and we learn to listen and act on what we can see.
We do clapping songs
and we learn about different sorts of sounds and silence (which is under-rated but equally important!) which we represent with sound shapes.
We learn to tell our left hand from our right – fairly crucial when you are playing the piano!
AND, we learn to say the Piano ABC.
I was educated at North London Collegiate School. From there I went on to King’s College London and the Royal College of Music where I studied piano with John Barstow and gained a BMus (Hons), ARCM in piano teaching and LGSM in piano performance for which I was a silver medallist. After graduating, I taught piano for several years before deciding on a complete change which led to a 17-year career in IT with roles ranging from programmer through to project leader and technical assurance coordinator. I returned to teaching in 2002 after moving to Essex with my husband and three children. Since then, I have been teaching pupils of all ages and abilities both in schools and privately and developing material for Sammy Semibreve.
“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”
It is important that pupils know what to prepare for the next lesson. They usually have a practice notebook for bullet points of what is to be practised plus any additional information. Useful reminders such as fingering, timing, ‘keep going’ arrows, can be written on their music books. I ask pupils to refrain from writing in the note-names on their music books as this slows the notation recognition process – they look at the letters instead of the notes!
During a lesson, a variety of areas may be addressed; scales, technical exercises, pieces or sections of pieces, sight reading, theory, or even something a pupil has composed. The basic formula for any item at any level is:
The aim is for the pupil to take away a strategy that makes optimum use of practice time at home by involving conscious thought and action on areas that require improvement. Rather than just playing things through, mistakes and all, they will know which areas to target and have practice methods to implement. Because they know what they are aiming for, they will be able to self-evaluate and even work out further methods for improvement.