Philippa Topham
About Philippa


In these past few weeks I have noticed these real benefits of skype/facetime/whatsapp music lessons: all students are really focused, with very careful listening and watching.  And many people have noticed their children taking more responsibility for their learning - learning independently.  It seems to be a bit of stability and normality in an otherwise topsy turvy world, and is something which is totally absorbing away from other worries. Thank goodness we have music!


Who will be the winners of my yearly competition for the most number of mentions on my website?  There will be one prize for each age group: primary, secondary, adult.  There is still time to make a real difference to your yearly total!

Birthdays in May

A Very Happy Birthday to Diana, Indy and Robin - have very special birthdays in more ways than one!

Super Skype Musicians of the Week: 11.5.20 

Dawn for a beautifully shaped Secret and great chords in the World's Greatest.
Francesca for super progress with singing.
Gillian for a good steady beat in Stand By Me.
Giuliana for super practice in all areas, and great rhythm clapping.
Indy for super practice on all pieces and written work too.
Jodi for a great start to Solfeggietto.
Marek for learning Space Odyssey by himself.
Pollen for good work with chords.
Robin for an excellent 500 Year Old Melody.
Rocco for a great I Love Coffee.
Sue B for super arpeggiated chords.

Super Skype Musicians of the Week: 18.5.20

Aanya for good progress with exam work, especially scales and arpeggios.
Ali for a great start to Graduation Day.
Dawn for a perfect First Syncopation.
Francesca for an excellent start to Doh Re Mi in both piano and voice.
Gillian for a great improvement with rhythm in Westworld.
Giuliana for a super Sleepy Cat with excellent rhythm.
Indy for excellent rhythm clapping.
Jodi for such a beautiful Orchard with excellent shaping in improv.
Pollen for a super My Heart Will Go On with accompaniment.
Robin for working out Sailing.
Rocco for an excellent I Would Like To Go To Mars.
Sue G for super progress with exam work.

An Interview with Philippa

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The individual is blissfully ignorant!  They have no idea what they don't know!
The individual realises there is much to be learnt.
The individual understands how to do something.  However, this takes heavy conscious concentration.
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that is has become second nature and can be performed easily and effortlessly.

PRACTICE MATRIX - which quadrant are you in?



  Lack of practice                                Lack of practice

by parents


Fastest possible progress


Slow progress

No support


Reasonable progress (rare)


No progress

Helpful hints for Parents 

Let your children see you engrossed in something that is important to you - they will 'catch' your conscientiousness - far more influential than simply telling them what to do!

Patience and perseverance are just two of the skills one learns through playing an instrument.

The Big Test: can your son/daughter play their piece/section three times correctly in a row by the end of the week's practice?

Try to book up a live music event from time to time - there is nothing so inspirational as watching a professional perform.

Reassure your son or daughter that it is so valuable to have quiet time on your own to concentrate on doing something to the very best of your ability.

Even the most motivated talented young musicians sometimes need encouragement to practise especially if there is something good on the telly or a computer game waiting.  You might like to try restricting these to weekends only if all homework and practice are done first!

Please ensure there is always a pencil and rubber on the piano.  Encourage use of them to mark tricky points which need extra attention, if we haven't already!

Here is a rather endearing old cartoon called Sparky's Magic Piano with a message bigger than just doing your piano practice:

Ensure your son/daughter can practice in a room free of distractions such as TV, computer or siblings.

Do check the notebook as soon as possible after the lesson to avoid a week slipping by without supporting your child.

Either mark all old books with stickers for favourite pieces or photocopy them for a ring binder, so they are easy to find.  Encourage playing these from time to time to really enjoy playing pieces one already knows well.

Keep watch over your child's posture: one's head weighs about 10 pounds so it needs to be kept over the spine to avoid putting a strain on the neck.  Think of a string pulling the head up to the ceiling.

Keep in mind my ultimate goal - to foster a life long love of music.  I aim to furnish each student with the tools to read whatever music they like, and a repertoire of beautiful pieces to play for the rest of their lives.

Mistakes can take place through tension, so sometimes it is necessary to lighten up and have a joke.

One test as to whether a piece is 'finished' or not is whether the performer looks relaxed while playing.

Let your son/daughter hear you saying something lovely about their playing to someone else once in a while.

Encourage time in the week to play favourite pieces - after all that is why one is learning to play!

Encourage singing as you play - either out loud or in your head.  All good musicians are singing inside as they play.

Practising tips

How many of your 'old' pieces can you still play?

A useful motto in life: Don't put off to tomorrow what you can do today.

Experience something of the pressure of performance - can you play it correctly three times IN A ROW?

Mark favourite pieces with stickers or photocopy them for a ring binder, so they are easy to find.  Enjoy playing these frequently to have the satisfaction of playing pieces you already know well.

Try using a dice to determine how many times you should practice your difficult sections.

If something goes wrong when you are practising - stop and think about it.  What exactly went wrong - which bar, which hand, which beat, which note?  Why did it happen - accuracy, fingering, rhythm, dynamics, articulation, balance??

Use a metronome to diagnose your tricky spots.  Then slow it down further.  Good musicians always practice slowly, carefully and consciously.  How slow can you play?

When playing the piano we are aiming for a state of 'flow' - complete absorption in a task, to the point of not being aware of time passing.

There are roughly 10,000 minutes in between lessons so no excuses for not practising!!

Enjoy playing your really easy pieces from time to time - to see how easy they are and notice how far you have come.

To make the most progress have the discipline of practising every day - on busy days fit in 5 or 10  minutes in between other things.  On tired days do a normal amount, but maybe make it more mechanical practice to train the fingers.

When practising performing don't be distracted by little slips - don't waste brain power on what just happened - think forwards always.

DO use a pencil or stickers to highlight areas for special attention.  Spotting your own mistakes is half the battle!

Always have the notebook open when you practice.  Know what you are aiming to improve in each piece.

Don't waste valuable brain power on getting frustrated.  Keep calm and play more slowly.

When performing show your enjoyment through your facial expression and body language.

If rhythm is a problem then tap the rhythm on your legs first until secure and easy.

Aim to get into the anticipation zone - where you are constantly thinking ahead to prepare the fingers into the next position before they are needed.

Every so often STOP playing in the middle of a piece and check you have relaxed wrists, arms, shoulders and neck.

One of the signs of a real musician is a person who cannot resist playing all the other pieces in their books.

Repeat tricky bits at all octaves.

The music notation and a pencil go hand in hand.  Never practise without a pencil when playing from the score.

Have an after-lesson check - what am I supposed to be practising in each piece?Then have a Pre-lesson check, 2 days before your lesson - have I done what I was supposed to do?

Small, small sections at least 3 times, gradually extending to larger sections - the most efficient way to practice. The brain can then remember what it needs to remember!

Former students

Most students have made music an important part of their lives and many have gone on to musical careers.  Tala Badri has opened her own highly successful music school in Dubai - the Centre for Musical Arts.  Check it out on  Mehernaz Pardiwalla leads her own music department in New Zealand and has won many competitions with her excellent choir.  Here she is conducting:
Olivia now works at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Record holders

Alice who had lessons for 12 consecutive years, and then sadly went away to University.

Caragh holds the record for ABRSM piano and flute exams with 142/150 at Grade 1 and 139/150 at Grade 6.
Claire is the record-holder for ABRSM jazz exams with 146/150 at Grade 4.
Alice holds the record for ABRSM theory exams with 100% at Grade 1.
Alice and Zoe jointly hold the record for Grade 5 theory with 97%.
Mehernaz holds the record for Trinity exams in both piano and flute with 91% at Grade 4 and 88% at Grade 7.
Philippa holds the record for LCM exams with 98% at Grade 8.
Tom is the record-holder for LCM jazz exams with 89% at Grade 3.
Finbarr holds the record for Rockschool exams with 91% at Grade 1.
Zoe holds the record for Rock & Pop exams with 88% at Grade 1.
Claire and Jo hold the record for Dip ABRSM with Distinction for the Teaching Diploma.
Simon holds the record for LTCL Flute Performance with 86%.
All Distinctions!
Not one student has failed an exam!

Workshop on piano adventures at cma dubai

Students on CT ABRSM Plus course Singapore


Seminar for teachers at CMA Dubai

Examining trip to Hong Kong

Concert at St Bride's, London

Motivating Musical Achievement, ABRSM Teachers' workshop in Cyprus




















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