Since the 1800s, the piano (and now keyboard) has been the most popular instrument for music lessons. Accordingly, there is a long tradition of piano teaching and piano teaching philosophy stretching back to Mozart and Beethoven (yes they were piano teachers!) and beyond.

It’s no wonder that piano teaching has a reputation for being a bit… stodgy. Tim Topham has taken on the mission of changing all that. He encourages piano teachers to teach creativity, composition, chording, improvisation and more. In the process, teachers access their own creativity, as well as success in their own businesses.

Last year we learned about how Tim Topham teaches piano (and piano teachers) differently and about his tools for creative teaching.

Recently, Tim just completed one-year with his Inner Circle – a super-dynamic membership community for creative piano teaching. And he’s celebrating with a membership giveaway! We spoke to him about this important milestone:

Q: Congratulations on reaching the one-year anniversary of the Inner Circle! How has this first year gone? What has been the most surprising thing about how the membership community has developed?

Thanks so much, Christopher. It’s been a really exciting first year for my Inner Circle Community. Given that it’s a pretty novel concept in the field of piano teaching, I wasn’t 100% how it would go when I started a year ago. But it has exceeded my expectations and continues to be a huge benefit for my members.

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Just this week we had our first birthday “Member Mastermind” and I gave everyone a chance to talk about their achievements from the last year. It was so great to hear how beneficial the support and resources of the community has been for teachers. It makes all the hard work behind the scenes worthwhile!

The most surprising thing has been the way in which it has grown so well. I really didn’t know how many members to expect when I started. We’re now approaching 300 and I couldn’t be happier. It’s allowed me to quit teaching full time in schools (where I was teaching around 40 students a week) and focus all of my energy where I can have the biggest impact on the most students globally: by teaching the teachers (and therefore impacting 300 x 40 students and hopefully more in the future!).

Q: The Inner Circle follows your creativity-focused approach to piano teaching, breaking away from the traditional score-reading and scale-playing tedium that frustrates many students and teachers alike. How have you been seeing members adopt these ideas and benefit from them in their own teaching practice?

Last month I launched my 10-week Teaching the Blues course and I can’t believe how much feedback I’ve received about this from the teachers who’ve been trying it out. Kids are having a ball, students on the border of quitting are re-engaged and teachers are having blast!

For me, the community provides two different but crucially interrelated things: firstly the creative ideas and secondly the step-by-step support to achieve them.

As you know, when you first try new things in your teaching, you really want to hold someone’s hand and know that it will work out if you follow the plan. That’s what people have found most helpful when they get started (and a lot of my members are new to creative teaching).

Of course, once members have explored and tried an idea a few times, they’re free to expand and develop things in their own way to suit students.

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This month, I’m releasing my “No Book Beginners” course of how to teach beginner piano without a method book for at least 10 weeks. This is going to be fun!

Q: Could you share one example of an Inner Circle member and how their teaching has changed as a result of being a member?

I can do even better and use some of my member’s own words, which are shared in our monthly Member Spotlights on the blog:

Probably the biggest highlight is the 4-Week Challenges, which have now morphed into Growth Journals. Making concrete, short-term goals has helped me have more focus on what I want to accomplish over the long term. Everyone has been so supportive and I have greatly appreciated the advice that I’ve received. – Rosemarie

The IC has helped me grow in ways that I haven’t even imagined when I first signed up. The ongoing support of Tim and IC members is amazing. I can see that the teachers in IC are all highly motivated and are passionate about teaching. Before joining the IC, I would listen to Tim’s podcasts and if the topic interested me, I would then search for relevant resources available on the web. Joining the IC totally transformed the more “passive” listening experience to “active” engagements and discussions with Tim, IC members, and expert teachers. The forum and the mastermind provide a perfect platform for me to go deeper into the podcast topic. – Karen

Q: Like Musical U you provide a combination of high-quality training material, a community of like-minded peers, and access to expert help. Which of these seems to bring the biggest benefits to your members? Is there one area you’ll be focusing on most in year two?

I’m not sure what you find at Musical U, but I think the biggest benefits to my members are due equally to the support of the community and the training materials I provide.

Thankfully, the members are just so happy to share resources, advice, and ideas that the community forums almost run themselves which is exactly as I intended when I started things a year ago, knowing that I didn’t have all the answers! It’s been great seeing the conversations that have been happening, members organizing their own online masterminds and get-togethers and just a lot of piano teaching love in the air!

My focus will be on continuing to provide the most relevant training material and listening to what members need. So in the pipeline, apart from my No Book Beginners course will be a course on Pop-style Chord Composition, Studio Marketing, Online Marketing, Websites, GarageBand, Teaching Lead Sheets and heaps more to come.

Q: Piano teachers come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Could you explain what kind of piano teacher is a good match for the Inner Circle and how you could help enhance their teaching? How can a teacher know if this is the right fit for them?

Good question. A good match will be any teacher who knows that the way they were taught, and the way they have been teaching, is heavily classically-based (ie. focused on technique, reading and performance with little to no composition, improvising, playing by ear, lead sheets, pop playing, etc.) and wants to know how to bring more variety to their teaching.

Teachers who are passionate and dedicated, and know that creativity in music education can provide much richer experiences for students, but need some support and guidance when it comes to integrating these ideas into lessons. New or old, experienced or novice, those are the kinds of teachers who are getting a lot out of the Inner Circle.

Q: You’ve seen terrific growth of the Inner Circle so far, building on the strong foundation of your years of publishing at TimTopham.com. What does the future hold for the Inner Circle?

We were actually just talking about this at our last member mastermind! My dream is to change the nature of piano pedagogically around the world from the traditional to the creative. The more people in my tribe, the more chance I have of achieving this. So I’ll be continuing to provide relevant, practical training courses, support and resources.

I’m also considering how we can make access easier with a dedicated app that can give quick access not only to the community, but also my podcasts, blogs, and lesson plans. Maybe even a one-click “record your teaching” to upload and get feedback! Things like that.

As more and more members are now coaching other teachers, some kind of IC directory of expert teachers will be helpful. And I’d love to be a part of a movement to somehow certify teachers through training and assessment. Exciting times ahead!

Fantastic, Tim! We at Musical U are so happy for you and your success. It means a new hope for piano students everywhere to learn to really play the music they love.

Join the Inner Circle – for free!

It’s one thing to open yourself up to new possibilities and resources. And it’s another to be surrounded by a supportive community of amazing creative piano teachers who are ready to jump in and lend a hand with the next phase of your teaching.

To celebrate the first anniversary of his Inner Circle, Tim holding a competition: the prize is a one-year free Inner Circle membership valued at $US 399 and the competition is open from now until 31 March. It’s open to current and new members.

The more that people share the competition, the more entries they’ll receive and the bigger their chance of winning. You can find the entry for the Inner Circle Membership giveaway here.

Are you ready to jump from the 19th to the 21st century in your piano teaching? While you’re waiting to win, Tim has plenty of fantastic resources available for free online at TimTopham.com. This is an amazing time to be a piano teacher, and to be part of a true musical revolution for yourself and for your students.

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