10-Minutes with Fiona Nicholson

Fiona runs a busy music studio in Victoria teaching piano, cello and flute. In amongst this busy schedule she gets to enjoy life with her wonderful husband, three beautiful teenage daughters, and two crazy dogs. Any extra time is spent learning more about our minds & brains, and reading books in her spa.

When was your first piano lesson?

I was 2 years old. My mum, Wendy Hill, was a Suzuki teacher so starting early was inevitable!

Do you have any favourite memories of your teachers?

 One of my favourite things was collecting memory stickers, something I still do with students to this day. As well as one teacher having piano keyboard toilet paper which I thought was the most amazing thing ever!

Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to piano teaching as a profession.

I began my music education before I was born since we always had music around. After many piano lessons, I got to pick a second instrument, flute, at 11yo, then added cello to the mix when I was 17, and I also picked up percussion too! There were lots of varied musical experiences with recitals, orchestras, quartets, eisteddfods, and running fundraising concerts. I started teaching piano when I was 15 (it started with siblings of my mum’s students whose parents were kind enough to see potential in me as a teacher) and did more official teacher training through the VMTA at 18. I have continued to teach for the past 27 years both in my private studio and at two schools. I have added ensembles (string orchestra and a cello orchestra, lovingly called Orchestrello), group rhythm workshops, music video production, fundraising concerts & student recitals at nursing homes, and my own compositions to the musical repertoire of my life and intend to keep doing so until I am as old as my grandma … who is about to turn 100!

How many students do you generally teach a week and what ages/ranges?

I currently have around 60 students each week, which is a lot. I’m thankful for the variety of ages: 4 year olds all the way through to a lady in her 70s. The majority of my students are mainly primary and early secondary aged. I have a couple of students currently doing VCE music, but I have students from the very beginners through to 8th grade level.

What are your go-to winners for repertoire for beginners?

I’m a sucker for beautiful pictures so love the newer Bastien series and the well planned out progression in their books. I also use the Hal Leonard series and Piano Adventures. I like having a variety of books so I don’t get stagnant in how I teach and I can pick a series that best suits the individual young student.

Are there any pieces that are your current favourites or new things you’ve found?

I’ve been creating my own new things (series of studies all based on veggies and a book of duets about cute mushrooms for very young kids) and have a heap more in the pipeline that I want to continue composing. If you’re interested in finding out what I think an Obstinate Onion or a Shiitake mushroom sounds like, you’re welcome to have a look at the videos in the link. There are also videos on the site of group week stuff I run at the studio and some of my own random creations that you’re welcome to look through.

Other long standing favourites in my studio include; Sonny Chua, Elissa Milne, and Studio Ghibli. Recently I found a book called Strange Sounds (early intermediate) which my students are also loving.

What music do you listen to in your down time?

Honestly, I enjoy silence in my down time! It helps me think and plan my own music or just have a break from thinking musically. But when I am ready to listen again, I do enjoy artists like Hugo Kant for cool background vibes as well as chill hop mixes. I also love artists like Jarrod Radnich.

What gives you the most joy in your teaching?

Seeing student’s eyes light up, eyebrows lift, and the excitement of understanding or achieving something new and challenging gives me joy. I also love their spontaneous hugs.

What do you find challenging about being a piano teacher?  (and have you found any ways to make that less challenging?)

My biggest challenges at the moment are the time commitment, admin of running my own business, constant communication, and being glued to my phone for work reasons. Trying to find (no, make!) time for my own musical edification, practice, enjoyment, is a challenge. Something that helps with that is going to concerts and seeing other musicians which is inspiring.

What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?

The first CDs that I ever bought were the Bach cello suites and Jaqueline DuPre’s recording of Elgar’s cello concerto.

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