At the Piano With……Charlotte Tomlinson

What is your first memory of the piano?

I remember playing tunes that I recognised from films on the piano when I was about 4 and then I started having lessons when I was 7.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

No one person inspired me to teach and I never really thought about starting teaching – I have just always done it. I started when I was 17 and then never stopped!

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

Joyce Rathbone was the person who probably inspired me the most. It was because of her that I became a pianist rather than a violinist. She inspired me to be free at the piano, to love the music and to become a musician rather than a pianist! She had an enthusiasm for so much more than the piano, which I found so refreshing, because I had only come across very single-minded musicians before that.

Paul Hamburger taught me for Lieder accompaniment at the Guildhall and he was wonderful. He always believed in his students and counteracted all the judgment and criticism that was around when I was there.

And Peter Wallfisch was fabulous. He gave 5-hour piano lessons just because he loved it. He was warm, inspiring and supportive.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

My influences have come from far and wide. Teachers obviously have been very influential but not just the good ones. The less good ones showed me how not to teach! Aside from that, absolutely every experience I have had has influenced how I teach along with years of bodywork courses, lots of study and research into the arena of psychology and emotions, going to good performances and much, much more.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

The wonderful experience of seeing a student transform in front of your eyes, not just as a pianist but as a person!

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

Adults (and by adults I mean adult amateurs) tend to be more advanced in their cognitive ability than they do in their fingers! They can easily get frustrated by how much slower it can be for them to pick up new techniques than children. They also take much longer to get out of bad habits because they’ve been built in for longer. But they can be great fun to work with and usually there is a lot of stimulation both ways.

What do you expect from your students?

I would like, although don’t necessarily expect, openness to new ideas and ways of learning, commitment to learning and lessons, and a love of the piano and of music. I love seeing students with a passion who would do almost anything to build up their skills.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

I never teach AB exams but am quite happy to help a student towards a diploma, if they really want to do one. Festivals are good sometimes for a student to have an opportunity to learn and get other feedback, although I rarely suggest them, especially the competitive ones. I dislike competitions intensely and never enter students for them unless they are particularly experienced in dealing with the whole competition scene.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

If you mean beginners, I don’t teach them! It is not my area of expertise. Concepts for advanced students: there are so many I don’t know where to start. It depends entirely on the individual and what they are ready to hear and take on board.

What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching?

Performance and teaching can feed into each other and be really beneficial and I would recommend any teacher to continue performing, and for any performer to teach. If not, you have to keep alive, alert and constantly interested so you are always feeding something into the performing or teaching.

How do you approach the issue of performance anxiety?

It is too massive a topic to try to condense here! I give specialised sessions to musicians who are suffering from performance anxiety. Dealing with performance anxiety is not a quick fix and needs to be addressed over time. I tend to address it by showing a student how to practise with observation and not judgment/criticism. This at least stops their Inner Critic from creating havoc with their nerves. More than this would need a whole article!

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?

I haven’t seen anyone else in action as a teacher for some time, but I love teachers who see the best in the student and then draw that out of them. In terms of playing, Katya Apekicheva has got the most phenomenal technique – she is a walking textbook for everything that I advocate in terms of technique! She learnt with the same teacher as Evgeny Kissin.

Charlotte Tomlinson has contributed three guest posts on understanding and coping with performance anxiety. Read them here:

Stage Fright #1 – are we too ashamed to talk about it?

Stage Fright #2 – practical tips for managing it

Stage Fright #3 – how to manage your emotional response

Charlotte Tomlinson is a Performance Coach who helps musicians perform at their peak.

Charlotte has a unique and pioneering way of working, which puts the focus on the musician as a human being first, enabling them to find a freedom and overall sense of well-being in both practising and performance. This in turn leads to new, heightened ways of expressing the music and an increased love and enjoyment for the whole process of performing music.

1 Comment

  1. Charlotte Tomlinson is talented, she started playing at 4 and educating people at 17. No doubt adults need to try harder to get out of the old habits and learn new techniques. Just hope she does not mind teaching an old hag like me. 🙂

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