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Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach – right? Wrong – at least according to Paul Harris. In the first chapter of The Virtuoso Teacher, Harris suggests an alternative: those who can, do; those who can do better than just do, teach.

Harris is himself a virtuoso at the art of writing of music education books. To date he has published some 600 titles, sales of which will this year pass the 2.5 million mark. This book, which might well be his seminal publication, sees him ponder the topic of virtuosity and emerge with the notion that there can indeed be such a thing as a virtuoso music teacher. While the tool of the virtuoso performer is his or her instrument, the tool of the virtuoso teacher is the lesson itself.

Harris’s writing style is breezy and deceptively light, and the text romps along engagingly. Clever use of anecdotes, subheadings and bullet points help Harris’s insights leap off the page, and – crucially – at just 96 pages, this is a book that embodies the power of brevity.

So what does make a virtuoso teacher? From the start, Harris makes it plain that this is no impenetrable concept, and that any teacher can become a virtuoso simply by tuning in to a handful of core principles. ‘Virtuoso teachers teach as the virtuoso plays: with a heightened sense of awareness, with passion and energy, with profound involvement and genuine commitment,’ he writes.

Specifics abound, through chapters entitled ‘Getting the best out of pupils’, ‘Dealing with challenging pupils’, ‘The lesson’, ‘Creating the masterplan’, ‘The trouble with practice’, and ‘Group teaching’. Where necessary, Harris is not afraid to move into the abstract, but he always uses neat examples to illustrate any potentially tricky concepts.

The Virtuoso Teacher wears its knowledge lightly and assumes that its readers are equally knowledgeable. This makes it different from other hefty tomes on music education, which often alienate real teachers and tend to overcomplicate the subject. It may end up preaching mainly to the converted, but this book is undoubtedly a must-read for any enlightened instrumental or vocal teacher.

CHRISTOPHER WALTERS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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