I'm back

posted 15 Aug 2020, 01:36 by Catherine Jennaway   [ updated 15 Aug 2020, 01:36 ]

Hi everyone

I hope you've all enjoyed the sunshine the last few days.

I'm back from my holidays now, and available to do lessons from Monday onwards.

If you'd like a lesson this week, please let me know.

If you'd like a lesson at a different time this week, the sooner you let me know the better, please, so I can sort out what other times I have.

If you aren't going to have a lesson this week, please let me know that too, as soon as you can, so I can offer your space to someone who needs a reschedule.

Thanks :)

See you soon!

Summer Holiday

posted 3 Aug 2020, 08:03 by Catherine Jennaway   [ updated 3 Aug 2020, 08:03 ]

Hello Everyone

Well done to all the performers who took part in the Virtual Concert on Friday.  You all put in stunning performances, whether live or videoed, and I am incredibly proud of all of you.

Don't forget, the concert Youtube playlist is available to attendees until next Friday (7th August) after which it will be taken down.

I'm now off for a couple of weeks to rest and recover before we kick off again on 17th August.

Have a good break!


Changes to ABRSM theory exams

posted 25 Jul 2020, 00:31 by Catherine Jennaway   [ updated 25 Jul 2020, 00:31 ]

Dear everyone

 Sorry, this is LONG.  But it's important.

 I'm writing to tell you about the change to the ABRSM's theory examinations at grades 1 -5, which has been introduced in the last couple of weeks.  You can find out more information for yourself at  but here is my view on the situation.

Also, please feel free to share this information with any other instrumental teachers you may work with, as I am sure they will have their own views on the subject.



ABRSM has offered grades 1-8 theory exams for many years, complementing the practical exams.  A pass at grade 5 theory is a prerequisite to access ABRSM's higher grades (6-8) of practical exams.

Until now, the theory exams have been a traditional written exam paper, taken either in a school or a public exam centre, with invigilators in the room observing the candidates as they write their scripts.  Grades 1-3 are a 90 minute exam, grades 4 and 5 a 2 hour exam and grades 6 to 8 a 3 hour exam.   The exam is held once a term, and there is no flexibility over when that will occur, it is a given for every candidate in the UK.

ABRSM have for some time been considering a move to online examinations for grades 1-5. 

With the Covid-19 crisis making it impossible to hold written exams at present, they decided to announce the change, going public with the information on 15th July.  There will be an online exam session for Grade 5 only at the end of August, after which the November session, and all subsequent sessions, for all theory grades 1-5 will be online, on the date originally planned.

Entries for the August grade 5 exam session open on Monday 27th July and close on Friday 31st July.  The exam itself will be at 5pm on Wednesday 26th August.


ABRSM will NOT be holding any more written theory exams at grade 1 to 5.


The online exams

ABRSM will be using something called a remotely-proctored exam system.  They have contracted with an American firm called PSI who will be running the exams for them.

Exams can be taken on any suitable equipment, in any suitable location.  At present the exam still has to be on the specified exam day and time, but the ABRSM hope they should be able to offer more exam slots than the current 3 a year.

The equipment

The exam is taken by downloading the exam company's software onto either a desktop or laptop computer, which the candidate, parent or school must provide.  The software can't be used on tablets or smartphones.  The computer used must be either a Windows or an Apple machine, and must have a webcam. 

The webcam is used by PSI before the exam starts to take a slow survey of the room in which the exam is taking place, to ensure there are no books, or pre-printed or written materials in the area, nor should there be smartphones or tablets. The webcam is then used to observe and video record the candidate throughout the exam.  If there is no webcam, then the candidate is disqualified from the exam.

The downloaded software can detect, among other things, whether there is more than one screen attached to the computer - in which case the additional screen must be removed - and whether the candidate attempts to print screen, copy and paste, open any other programme on the computer.  If the software fails to download, the candidate is disqualified from the exam.

The exam then proceeds online, requiring a steady and unbroken internet connection.  Any break in the connection must be re-established within the exam time, or the candidate will only be marked on the work already submitted.

Exam questions will cover the same syllabus as the old written exams, with one small difference, but will be of a different format, as the answers will have to be entered by either keyboard or mouse.  Many of the questions will be multiple choice rather than long constructed answers.  There is no indication yet as to whether it will be possible to answer questions in any order or whether one will have to proceed through the exam in one sweep.

The mark scheme will change, with the maximum mark possible being 75, and a pass mark of 50.

The online nature of the exams means they will be marked automatically, but results will not be made available until the videos of all candidates' exams have been reviewed.


The exam location

Exams can be taken alone at home or in a group in school, provided students are seated so that they cannot see each other or anyone else's computer. 

Whichever venue is used, the exam area is required to be be quiet, uncluttered and undisturbed for the entirety of the exam time.  And, as has been mentioned in passing above, there must be nothing in the area that shows any musical information or depictions of any keyboard or other instrument. 

Obviously every candidate must have their own computer, so if, for example, siblings want to take the exam at home on the same day, sufficient technology must be available for everyone, and the candidates must be separated.


I have a number of concerns with this new exam regime.

I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of candidates being remotely observed during the exam.  I cannot see how this appropriate for safeguarding reasons.  I have further discomfort about the recording of candidates in exams.

I am also deeply uncomfortable with the requirement that every family should obtain a suitable laptop for each family member taking the exam, and the need for a sufficiently fast and stable broadband connection.  These will exclude less affluent families from the exam opportunity, and therefore also from the higher grades of practical exams.

I also dislike the idea of being required to download unknown software onto a computer.  There has been no opportunity for candidates, teachers or parents to view the software before the change was introduced, or to see how effectively it can be uninstalled.  That dislike is intensified by the awareness that the software in question has the capability to detect hardware and running software, and to detect keystrokes.  This strikes me as a major breach of the General Data Protection Rules.

I also am very concerned at the rushed way the ABRSM have announced the change.  There was a little over two weeks between the announcement of the exam format and the closing date for entries, and there has so far only been one brief document of sample questions (in PDF format, not as they will appear on the exam itself) on the ABRSM website.

I have expressed these concerns, and other lesser ones, to ABRSM.  I have done this both by e-mailing them directly, and by participating in discussions on social media.  Their answers have not allayed my concerns yet.


I have been invited by the European Piano Teachers Association to participate in a webinar on the topic of online theory exams, which will happen on Wednesday 29th July.  I will post a link to the youtube video of the webinar afterwards.


Options we have

There are options we can explore regarding the need for grade 5 theory to do higher exams.

First, the other major exam boards (Trinity and LCM) in the UK are still offering paper exams, and these are recognised by ABRSM as being equivalent to their own exams.  They therefore carry the same access to the higher grades.  The reason I haven't used these in the past is simply logistical - they have fewer exam centres across the UK so it's a bigger time commitment to sit the paper.

Second, the other Ofqual-acredited exam boards (including Trinity, LCM, MTB and Rockschool) do not require the theory qualification to enter their higher grade exams. They still confer the same UCAS points for those who need them. I have used Trinity, Rockschool and LCM before, and am happy to consider their exams again in future.  ABRSM is the system I know best, and that is why I have used that as my first choice of exams, but I am open to changes as necessary.

Finally, you may still wish to do the ABRSM theory exams in this new format.  I will, of course, always support such decisions and will help anyone who wants to take the exams to do so.  But at the moment I will do this with some considerable concern.


July and August 2020

posted 26 Jun 2020, 03:09 by Catherine Jennaway   [ updated 26 Jun 2020, 03:09 ]

Dear everyone

 Just a quick line to let you know my current plans for the next couple of months.  Obviously this may change - last time I wrote about my plans, they got trashed less than a week later!

So, with that proviso:

 1.  I shall continue to teach all lessons online until further notice.  Thank you to all of you for your patience and persistence with the technology through this time.

 2.  I am planning to teach up to the end of July, after which I intend to have a couple of weeks off before I re-start lessons in mid-August.  Probably kicking off from 17th August, but I'll e-mail round to let you know if that date changes.  We can start doing the new term timetable shuffle at that point, but as usual I expect it to take a few weeks to settle down to a time that suits everyone.

 3. is only relevant to current students.  If you didn't get the e-mail, please let me know. 

4.  Finally, the boring bit.  This time of year is when I normally do my fee review and let you know what I'll be charging from September onwards.  And so I've decided that for the coming academic year I will not be changing what I charge.  Half hour lessons will still be £22, three quarter hour lessons £31, one hour lessons £40, with the usual 10% discount for buying a batch of 10 in advance.   All my other terms and conditions remain unchanged.

That's it for now.  Enjoy the sunshine, folks.


Half Term

posted 19 May 2020, 05:08 by Catherine Jennaway   [ updated 21 May 2020, 04:07 ]

Dear Everyone

I hope you're all keeping well and enjoying the sunshine.

Just to let you know that I am planning to continue as usual over next week, which would have been half term.

If you do want to swap times, please let me know. Otherwise I'll see you (on Skype) as normal.

Best wishes


Easter 2020

posted 29 Mar 2020, 04:20 by Catherine Jennaway   [ updated 29 Mar 2020, 04:20 ]

Dear everyone

I hope you are all keeping well, and finding things to do in the lockdown period.

I thought I'd just drop you all a line to let you know my plans over the Easter break.

I'm happy to keep going by Skype until, and including, Thursday 9th April.  After that, I'm going to take Easter week off, and will be back again and available for lessons from Monday 20th April.

If you want to take an end-of-term break before that time, please let me know.  Also, if you normally have a lesson on a Friday or Saturday, and would like to have one earlier in the week of 6th - 9th April instead of 10th or 11th , please let me know that too.

Best wishes 


Online lessons, what we've learned so far

posted 21 Mar 2020, 04:49 by Catherine Jennaway   [ updated 21 Mar 2020, 04:50 ]

Dear everyone

Thank you for your patience and persistence as we've moved to online lessons from in-person ones.  I've been impressed at how well you've taken to the new way of working, and I've learned a lot myself in the last few days. 

Going forwards, I'm happy to keep people at their usual times and days for lessons on Skype, but if school being out means you'd prefer an earlier lesson time, or to change days, I may well be able to accommodate that.  Just let me know what you'd like to do.


One point that's come up a couple of times this week:  If you normally pay me cash on the day, I'm afraid that's not going to work any more.  These are the practical alternatives:

I can take payment by Paypal or by bank transfer.  Please ask me for details.

There are a few things I've noticed about the online set-up that I'd like to share with you all:

1.  If you still need to do set-up with me before your first session, please don't leave it until 5 minutes before your session is due - I am likely to be online with the person before you.  Earlier in the day or even a previous day is likely to be better.

2.  Please wait for me to call you - I may be finishing off something with the person before you, but I will call you as fast as I can.

3.  When we go online, if you're using a phone or tablet for Skype, please use it in landscape position - it gives me a better chance of seeing you clearly.  Portrait gives me a small narrow view of you.

4.  Try to get the camera as high up towards eye level as you can.  That way you'll feel more comfortable, and I won't have to stare up your nose.  If necessary, we'll do the lesson with you sitting down, though I will still be looking at your seated posture, of course.

5.  Please make sure your music is as near eye level as possible too, so that you are playing or singing with good posture.  If you don't have a music stand, this may be a good time to order one from Amazon or Musicroom. 

6.  Please make sure you have clearly readable copies to hand of anything you are going to sing or play.  Preferably printed out, or as a fall-back, if you're using a computer for the Skype transmission, up on the computer screen with the Skype window alongside.

7.  Please make sure that the gadget playing tracks is further away from the camera than you are, otherwise it'll drown out your sound.  This doesn't apply to flautists who are not playing tracks, of course.

8.  Also please make sure that if your track-playing gadget has a screensaver, you turn it off, or the music will stop unexpectedly in mid-song....

9.  And if it's a phone, please turn the phone/text notification sound to silent so we don't get random pings throughout the lesson.

10.  If the internet link falls over (sorry to the person who experienced that) I will finish the lesson off by phone - assuming, of course, that you have given me your phone number. 


Other than that, well done everyone, and I'll see you for your next lesson.

Best wishes


Moving to online lessons

posted 16 Mar 2020, 13:53 by Catherine Jennaway   [ updated 16 Mar 2020, 13:54 ]

Dear everyone

Due the fact that one of my students from last week has had contact with someone who now has the virus, I have decided that for the time being, as a precaution, all lessons I will teach will be conducted over Skype.

Your lessons will be at their normal time, but will be at your own home rather than mine.

Apologies to those students I had to cancel today, I will e-mail you separately with available times this week for a catch-up lesson.

How we can do a lesson over Skype

You will need two pieces of kit - a laptop/tablet/phone to transmit the Skype call and a separate laptop/table/phone to play your tracks on. Trying to run both from one machine crashes Skype.

I would suggest that if you are using a phone or tablet to do the Skype bit, you put that on a music stand alongside your music, so that you can stand comfortably to sing or play, and I can see and hear you clearly.

Please make sure you have all the tracks I've sent you recently, and all your books. Please let me know before your lesson if you can't find something and need it re-sent to you.

My Skype account is and you will need to set me up as a contact. Please do this well ahead of your lesson time. I will accept any contact requests, and then will call you when it is your lesson time.

I'm sorry to have to do this, but I think it's the safest course of action

Best wishes


The current Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak

posted 9 Mar 2020, 06:58 by Catherine Jennaway

Dear everyone

Just a quick note to let you know what I'm planning with regard to the current outbreak of covid-19 coronavirus.

1.  Unless and until anything changes, I shall be teaching as usual.

2.  If you are ill, whether with this virus or anything else, please let me know and cancel your lesson.  Fastest way to tell me is either text to 07806 481760 or e-mail.  I will waive all cancellation charges for illness until this outbreak is over.

3.  If I am ill, I will cancel all lessons and let everyone know straight away.  Please make sure I have an up-to-date phone number just in case I have to cancel at short notice.

4.  If you are well, but can't get to a lesson, for example because you've been quarantined, or I've been quarantined, or there is some sort of a transport problem, I am happy to do a SKYPE lesson instead, just phone or e-mail me for details.

Other than that, see you for your next session as per normal.

Best wishes


Christmas Holidays

posted 4 Dec 2019, 07:41 by Catherine Jennaway   [ updated 4 Dec 2019, 07:42 ]

Hello Everyone

I'm planning to stop teaching for Christmas after lessons finish on Saturday 21st November.

I will be running a Theory Kickstarter course on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th January

Regular lessons will re-start on Monday 6th January.

I hope everyone has a lovely Christmas.

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