Piano Lessons, Music Theory and Aural Training in Cornwall

The pleasure of making music and the satisfaction of mastering a musical instrument make for a truly life- enhancing experience. As an experienced, qualified teacher I can help you along the way with lessons tailored to your individual requirements.

Why learn piano?

Keith Rusling Piano Teacher

If you're considering taking piano lessons, it's obviously in your mind that you would like to play the piano well - and that's a great thing to do. Take on the challenge and you'll find that whatever style of music you like there's a huge repertoire to explore. From the Baroque, via the Classics, the Romantics and Jazz right up to the present, composers have always been fascinated by the 'one-person orchestra.' With a little technical confidence you can also join in with another pianist or with other instruments. We'll set achievable goals and after a few months you'll be surprised by how much progress you've made, whatever your starting-point. .

Most people enjoy listening to music, but actually playing it adds a whole new dimension. There are other benefits, however, which are rather less obvious. Here are a few that readily come to mind:

Research has shown that children who learn to play a musical instrument (particularly a keyboard instrument) tend to manage better academically than their peers. Not only this, but children who learn to play music often suffer less from negative aspects such as poor concentration or disruptive behaviour.

Keith Rusling Piano Lessons

Later on, teenagers can find a suitable relaxation from study and exam pressures, but without the ‘turning-off’ effect of, for example, watching TV. Making music can provide a vehicle for emotional expression at a time in life when this is a particularly important and often quite difficult area.

Adults gain immense satisfaction from a hobby which does not depend on great physical fitness and which can be pursued into later years. Often the dexterity required helps to keep the fingers free from aches and pains, while the mental exercise helps promote alertness. Inspiration comes from exploring a limitless sound-world, with an immense repertoire in numerous musical styles.

About Keith

Keith Rusling Piano Teacher Cornwall

I have been teaching people to play the piano since 1977 and in that time have helped hundreds of people to improve their music-making. Most students play ‘just for pleasure’, but quite a number have gone on to be professional musicians in various parts of the music business as performers, composers and teachers.

I also work as a church organist and am an examiner (grades and diplomas) for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. I am a Fellow of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) - the musicians’ professional body.

I am a licentiate and graduate of Trinity College of Music, London (LTCL and GTCL), with a basis of traditional musical knowledge and keyboard technique. In the past I have worked professionally with dance bands, playing bass guitar, electric piano and synths and spent some time in studio work, so I also have an interest in and some knowledge of contemporary music. I believe this breadth of musical interest is desirable in any musician and I encourage pupils to work at music from many different periods and various traditions.

I hold a current DBS check certificate obtained in connection with my work as an ABRSM examiner.

Fees (30-minute lessons):

The first session is usually an initial meeting rather than a full lesson and is free of charge. Most people then take a long-term approach to lessons (which also attracts the best discount) but the full range of options is as follows:-

Longer lessons are charged pro rata.

Music copies are supplied free to all except single-lesson students.

ABRSM exam fees are charged at cost as an additional item.

The small print (terms and conditions):

Fees for single lessons or a 5-lesson series are payable in advance: on-going lessons are paid by monthly standing order.

Single lessons may be re-arranged or cancelled not less than 24 hours in advance, otherwise the full fee is payable. Non-attendance counts as late cancellation.

A series of five lessons must be completed within two months of commencement.

With ongoing lessons, any lessons missed by me will be made up (or fees refunded at the end of the year). Lessons missed by the student will be made up where possible, but no guarantee is made in the case of poor attenders. If lessons cease part-way through a year a small final payment or refund may be due.

“Key notes”

Scales: Do you hate playing scales? So do quite a lot of people (though some like the predictability of them). They are good for you, though, helping to promote neat technique and even tone, for example. They also help with establishing key-sense and understanding. Could you make them more interesting? Well, once you know the finger-pattern (and it’s often about knowing where to place the 4th finger), you might try playing in different rhythms. A favourite of mine is “walk-running-walk, walk-running-walk” (i.e. ¾ time: crotchet, two quavers, crotchet). How about a gradual crescendo from the bottom to the top of the scale and a diminuendo back down? Or the other way round? One hand legato and the other staccato? (tricky, but good for you). Tell yourself to get over the bad reputation scales have and try to make friends of them. You never know - this might even be fun!

Aural tests:

There’s lots of preparation going on for ABRSM exams at the moment and much hard work going into the pieces and even the scales. Lots of people really could do better in the aural section, though. Many don’t seem to be really sure about what’s involved! Here are some thoughts (scroll down to the appropriate grade):

In GRADES 1 - 3 there are four tests. (A) is clapping the beat. Join in with the clapping after a bar or so and try to notice the louder beat which comes at the beginning of each bar. At grades 1 and 2 the only choices are 2-time and 3-time, so don’t say ‘four’ which only comes at grade 3 level! (B) singing three short phrases as echoes - do try to keep time, as it’s part of the test and also makes it easier to do. (C) is “spot the difference”, but at grade 1 you only need to say where the difference was (beginning or end). It’s quite a good idea to raise your hand at the moment you hear the difference. In grades 2 and 3 you can explain it afterwards (“there was a higher/lower/longer/shorter note”). in test (D) you actually get told what to listen for by the examiner, who then tries to make the features clear in the playing. If you don’t hear a rallentando, for example, don’t make it up!

GRADES 4 and 5 have the echo singing again (test A), but there is just one longer phrase rather than three short ones. You will be asked if you wish to sing or play the response: do whatever you have practised - don’t suddenly decide to do something new. Make sure you ask, “Can I whistle (or hum)?” if that’s better for you. Try to join in rhythmically and the tune often just follows. If there’s a bit of the tune that seems familiar, do hang on to that (if it ended like ‘Three blind mice’ for example). (B) is sight-singing and you are given the first note - which is also the final note and quite often one of the ones in between! Have a look before you start. The (C) test is more difficult to prepare for as there are a number of choices, but one regular question causes difficulty: “What in the music gives the piece its character?” Think of this in two parts: a) what’s the mood of the piece and b) how does the music reflect this mood? If you think the piece is sad, then you are probably hearing something slow(ish), smooth and quiet: faster, louder, jumpy pieces tend to sound happier. In the second half of this test you have to clap the rhythm of part of the tune: all the notes you heard, NOT just the ‘beat’ as in earlier grades. Lots of people get this wrong, unfortunately.

As you would expect, higher grades are more demanding, but it’s all about having the right labels in your head for what you’re hearing.

At GRADE 6, for example, in the third test there are just two choices of cadence: one goes ‘home’ (perfect cadence) and the other doesn’t (imperfect cadence). There are other cadences, but not in this grade. In the final test for grades 6 and 7, you may very well be asked about ‘texture’. Do you know what this is? You are unlikely to be able to guess suitable answers without preparation! Terms like polyphonic; block chords and melody-with-accompaniment need to spring to mind. Is the melody at the top or the bottom - does it change over? What sort of accompaniment is it? Thick and thin are also good words to describe texture.

In GRADE 7, remember that you sing the lower part of the (A) test and the upper part of (B). In (C), the perfect cadence (chords V - I) is the only one that ‘goes home’; the interrupted cadence (V-VI) is easily heard by most people - and the only other option is the imperfect cadence, where the second chord is definitely chord V. Listen to the way the bass line approaches that note V. Particularly don’t forget that if it stays the same it’s a ‘Ic-V’ progression (in C major, for example, chord Ic has a G in the bass and so does chord V). When you get to the modulations, remember that it always starts in a major key at this grade and there’s only one minor key option - the relative. If it ends major, it’s either dominant or subdominant and many people can hear the ‘brightening’ effect of going to the dominant quite easily. If not, then at least it’s only a 50/50 choice! In the (D) test, you can be fairly sure that you need to have an idea of the period when the music was written. Try to think whether the style reminds you of any of the pieces you have prepared (make sure you know what periods they come from!). If you’re asked ‘how can you tell which period’, then at the very least say, “it’s the harmonies - and it reminds me of the Mozart (or whatever) piece I played.”

At GRADE 8 test (A) having sung (or played) back the lowest part of a three-part phrase, you then have to choose one from all four common cadences at the end of the following phrase. Remember which cadences ‘go home’ (perfect and plagal) and which ‘away’ (imperfect and interrupted) and then be consistent about the chords - for example, if it’s an interrupted cadence, the chords will be V - VI. Many people give, frankly, daft answers. The (C) test consists of two modulations: one starting from a major and one from a minor key. From the major, if you hear a change to minor, it’s the relative. If it stays major, it’s dominant or subdominant (like at grade 7). The one that starts in the minor is more tricky: if it changes to major it could be the relative or the dominant (major): if it stays minor it could be the dominant (minor) or subdominant. In the test (D), try to note early on whether it’s major or minor and how many beats per bar and volunteer this information - you won’t be asked. Say when you think the piece was written and why you think that - it’s probably to do with the harmonies, whether it all sounds ‘nice’ or ‘weird’ or ‘jazzy’ etc. Again, relate it to the pieces you have prepared.

Finally, always remember that examiners are basically on your side. It’s nicer for them to give good news than bad and, if truly in doubt about a mark, they are told to favour the candidate. Good luck!

Contact Keith Rusling


1, Parkwood, Polmorla Road, Wadebridge, Cornwall, PL27 7JU

📞 Telephone:

07900 556075


Areas Covered

I provide lessons in North Cornwall. This includes the following areas: Wadebridge, Bodmin, Padstow, Camelford and St.Columb.