The Tools for Musical Progress

I’ve just completed a speaking tour in Australia taking in Melbourne, Sydney, Bathurst, Newcastle, Launceston and Ulverstone. My talks were directed to staffs and students – general and music-specific – in school classrooms, assemblies and at conferences. I’d like to share a little about my keynote address ‘The Tools for Musical Progress’ for the Sounds Great! conference at the Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne, July 2015.

It really is a simple message, but sometimes simple truth gets lost in the forest of new ideas. That is – the greatest motivator, trumping all else – is making progress. People just love to get better at what they do. The converse is a concern; should children make no progress with their musical endeavours, they will almost certainly give up.  The greatest contribution that an education can give a child is the autonomous tools for making progress. Clearly, the greatest predictor for musical progress is the quality and the quantity of practice time.

[Please note that in my presentations and in my book on this subject each discussion point  is accompanied by research, historical anecdotes, examples and personal stories.]

How do you practise, and how do you teach it? It is easy to fall into the trap of telling a pupil that they ‘need to do more practice’, or to ‘practise more slowly’. Unfortunately these words have little effect. Students need these skills modelled to them, and to have the chance to copy. It gets forgotten that mimicry is still the greatest meta-skill that underpins the successful acquisition of all physical skills, including talking and walking. Virtuosic music-making demands the greatest sequence of co-ordinated muscular skill possible. It represents the  pinnacle of human skill capacity. In my talks, I distil practice into a simple three-part model: Repetition, Chunking and Slow Practice. These are the essentials, and nothing is more important for consolidation. BUT you must know how to practise. Take repetition, for instance; you must know how to repeat. Students need to learn about the enormous power of spaced repetition, an aspect of variable repetition as distinct from the usual but less effective model of blocked repetition (drills give a false sense of competency). You see, not all repetition methods are equal. I explain the neuroscience and the psychology behind each method, along with examples from marketing, sport and other areas of learning. Likewise, what happens in the brain that renders slow-practice so utterly effective, and therefore why is it the hardest aspect of practice for children to actually do? This blog-length limits what I can explain, but it is all perfectly clear in my book. Educators need to be able to articulate the how and why of what we teach to children.

Yesterday I arrived in the UK. This September/October I am presenting on these learning concepts – from short keynotes to interactive workshops of several hours – to music services in Hampshire, Wandsworth, Guernsey, Bath & North-East Somerset, Devon, and East Sussex. (I have room for more…) This excites me because the message is so important, and it can be kept simple without losing its profundity. The testimonials I receive consistently indicate a positive impact on musical learning and teaching. Whilst I love engaging with music educators through the music services and conferences, most of my work is still in schools, of which presently number about 250 schools in more than 25 countries.  I speak and demonstrate on the piano to all levels of music students, differentiating for prep through to a more appropriate level for senior secondary students. My favourite presentation model invites parents to join their children and music tutors in a twilight 75-minute presentation. Schools will often invite members of the community to join in. For example, I will be speaking at King’s High School in Warwick on Wednesday September 16. Director of Music Matthew Smallwood has opened this lecture to members of the public. If you would like to attend this  or another presentation (schools in Bristol, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Devon, Berkshire to name a few counties) I can tell you when I am in your part of the UK, and at which school. Alternatively, if this is something that appeals for your school or music conference, contact me ( with preferred dates and times. United Arab Emirates – November 2015. Schools in Australia and New Zealand – bookings for Term 1, 2016. South Africa – April, 2016.


front cover final

“I have read your book and it has made an amazing difference in my teaching and in my studio.” Beth Cruickshank, Past President – Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association.

“Deeply impressive, the breadth of research is fascinating!” – Robert Chamberlain, Team of Pianists and Monash University Piano Staff, Victoria Australia.

Amazon UK
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Australia: Contact for direct mail.

Also by Michael Griffin


Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents.  “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at

BookCoverPreview Bk 2

Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.

View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!”  – St George College, Australia

Available at

BookCover VR

‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a wonderful collection of 130 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

“Will prove useful for almost everyone”- Rhinegold Music Teacher Magazine.

“This is a great resource to add to one’s library of rehearsal tricks.”- Anacrusis, ACCC, Canada

harmony bk cover

Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging.  Available at


Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Chunking, Music Education, Music psychology, Pianists, Practice, prep, Repetition, slow practice
4 comments on “The Tools for Musical Progress
  1. Dr. Prof. Edward Charles. says:


  2. Ryan says:

    Your thoughts are very relevant to all teachers. Will try to remind myself to purchase your book.

  3. Miles Harris Cottrell says:

    I’m 29 years old. Less than one week ago I bought a digital piano. A Yamaha P115. I picked up electric bass guitar when I was 14 years old and taught myself by reading tablature and playing along with my favorite albums and in bands with friends. Eventually, this led me to study music for two semesters in college where I also took a piano class. At the time, I knew next to nothing about music theory.

    Even since I was a little kid, the piano has been calling out to me. I can’t play much, but I get lost in it. It’s always intimidated me too. I’m a little old to begin playing, but that doesn’t matter. The pain of putting off committing to piano became too much and so here I am.

    I’m fascinated by making the most use of my practice time and that interest led me to your website and to your book. I haven’t yet purchased it, but I will. I did acquire “Fundamentals of Piano Practice” the 3rd edition, by Chuan C. Chang. That book seems to be something valuable as well.

    I have two questions: one, how do I find the right teacher in my area? I just moved to Austin Texas from Montana. I want to learn a bit of everything. I want to be well rounded and create my own music. I love getting new ideas from learning music and getting inside of it. I like pop, cinematic and ballads, some classical, and I’ve always been fascinated by the improvisation in jazz. I thought about going out to shows and watching keyboardists and pianists that I like and approaching them rather than looking online for people that are teaching for the money instead of any passion for it.

    Second, what are some good resources for beginner’s level sheet music? I think learning pieces that I actually enjoy is very important to me and I’ve been able to find some of that online for free.

    I appreciate the work you are doing. Thank you!

    • mdgriffin63 says:

      Hi Miles
      It seems that you are really enjoying your musical journey. There is so much to learn! I wish I could advise you on a teacher but alas I am not familiar with your local district. However, you will accumulate the tools to teach yourself, and when you become inspired by others, perhaps you can seek them out for a lesson. I’m a bit like you – I love an eclectic mix of classical, jazz and pop. Thanks too for supporting my book. I’d love to know what you think I’ve you’ve had the time to digest it.
      All the very best, Michael.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: