Music Education Speaker

piano teaching exam workshops
Tim launching the AMEB Piano for Leisure Series 4 books for which he was consultant editor.

Tim is one of Australia’s best known music educators, with a specialty in innovative approaches to creativity in piano teaching.

Tim speaks regularly at conferences and workshops, both in Australia and Internationally, including:

  • Music Teachers’ National Association Conference (Atlanta 2024 – Keynote Speaker)
  • Australian Guild of Speech and Drama (Melbourne 2024)
  • Kawai Educators’ Opus (Sydney 2024 – MC)
  • Nudgee College and PEGS (Brisbane and Melbourne 2024 – staff training)
  • National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy (Chicago 2023)
  • QMTA/VMTA live workshops and presentations (Melbourne and Brisbane 2023)
  • Oklahoma Music Teachers’ Association (Online 2022)
  • Piano Pivot Live (Melbourne 2020)
  • Music Expo (London 2018)
  • Music Teachers’ National Association Conference (Florida 2018, Chicago 2020)
  • AMEB PFL Series 4 Launch – Piano Teacher Workshop (National Tour 2017-18)
  • National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy (Chicago 2015/17/19)
  • 88 Creative Keys Workshops (Denver 2017)
  • Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference (2013/15/17/19)
  • MusicEdNet DayTime Conferences (International Tour (keynote speaker) 2016-17)
  • West Australian Piano Pedagogy Convention (Perth (keynote speaker) 2014/18)

If you’re interested in having Tim speak at your music education or piano teaching day, convention, professional development workshop or conference, please use the contact form to get in touch.

Tim Topham is a genius! His presentations have the perfect balance between relevant teaching points (which every teacher desires) and being so entertaining that you almost forget that you’re there to learn in the first place! We loved having him present in Western Australia and can’t wait to have him back!! Thanks Tim for the passion you have for your teaching and being prepared to share your knowledge with us so openly. Demelza Bursill – WAPPC convenor

2022-2023 Teacher and Student Workshop Topics

Please click here for an updated list of workshops available through 2022-23.

Other Lecture/Workshop Topics

Tim is able to inspire and motivate teachers by speaking on a whole range of music education topic, including:

  • Technology
  • Motivating teenagers
  • Effective music reading
  • 4 Chord Composing – connecting pop with traditional education
  • No Book Beginners: How a 10-week framework will revolutionise your teaching of beginners and prepare your students for a life of music-making
  • The Entrepreneurial Musician: Helping Performance Students Navigate the Digital Future
  • Teaching the 12 Bar Blues: how a little idea can create a wealth of fun and learning for all students
  • Business Systems and Productivity: how piano teachers can use software, staff and automation to streamline their studio management and grow their businesses
  • and many more – just ask!
piano teaching speakers creativity

Demonstrating at “Transform Your Teaching” Australian Tour 2016

Popular Recent Presentations

Here are some of Tim’s most popular lectures from events in the past few years. Tim can of course tailor presentations to suit your audience, outcomes, theme or venue.

Teaching Improvisation to Beginners

Ever wondered how to approach teaching students basic non-jazz improvisation?

We know that as teachers, in order to provide our students with a holistic musical education, we should be incorporating aural, theory, sight-reading, general knowledge, composition and improvisation into our lessons on a regular basis. However for many teachers, it’s hard to know where to start… or where to find the time!

I’m a huge believer in the importance of teaching improvising to students from as early as possible in their music education. It’s a fundamental musical skill that is fun and helps develop an innate understanding of:

  • Harmony
  • Chord progressions
  • Voice leading
  • Structure/Form
  • Rhythm
  • Listening/Aural skills

Best of all, introducing improving is fun and easy. Just follow the process I outline in this presentation and you’ll have students creating masterpieces in no time and learning a heap about theory and harmony along the way.

piano teaching conference presenters
After presenting at the APPC 2013

Getting the Most out of Teaching Pop

It is said that JS Bach liked to teach his students music of their own era: dances, fugues, concerti, toccatas the like. He felt that students would connect with, and get most out of learning music with which they were familiar.

It has always surprised me therefore, that as piano teachers, many of us choose to focus so little of our energy on teaching the music of our own era (ie. Pop music) in favour of music we feel has more substance (ie. Old music!). In my opinion, there is much to be gained from having students study pop and it goes further than just interest and motivation.

Take, for example, the study of harmony and chord progressions. Most teachers would agree that being able to recognise and play the harmonic structure of a piece is important knowledge for a developing pianist as it demonstrates real musical comprehension. Given the highly-repetitive and structured nature of pop music, students can therefore learn a great deal from listening to, analysing, playing and ultimately composing their own progressions based on pop-song chord structure. What better a way to learn these fundamentals of music than through modern music with which students are most familiar?

In this presentation, Tim refutes the idea of pop being the “junk food” of piano lessons and through numerous real-world examples, helps teachers understand just how much musical substance can be found in pop songs. Tim demonstrates how to approach pop in the modern piano lesson, how to make connections between pop and other forms of music and how to gain the greatest pedagogical impact from pop music teaching. Tim also explores the use of technology in teaching pop, referring to online resources and apps that really engage students and help drive their understanding of musical structure.

This presentation will appeal to a wide variety of teachers – from those who have never taught pop or who do not believe it is worth wasting time on, to those already using pop in their lessons but who would like to know how to make it more relevant to their students’ wider piano education.

teaching piano teachers modern creativity

Making the Most of Exams

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the value of students learning significantly more than the required 3 – 6 exam pieces each year. In addition, more and more teachers are becoming aware of the many exam boards available to students in Australia, including the AMEB, ABRSM, Trinity, St Cecelia, Guild and ANZCA.

After trialling both a “40 pieces challenge” and three of the above exam boards in 2012, Tim wrote a series of blog articles about his experience, including “Trinity College Exams – first impressions”, which created quite a stir when published in the VMTA Journal, and the controversial “Why working to exams is anti-piano”, which was supported by teachers from around the world.

This session will discuss the pros and cons of sending kids to annual exams, the pedagogical effects of an exam-focused studio and consider whether exams are in the best interests of students. Given the reticence of many teachers to try different exam boards, the discussion will also consider the differences and similarities between the boards in order that teachers may make the most informed decision for their students.

The conversation will feature research that Tim has done in comparing the exam syllabi and his first-hand experience in three of the exam boards. Participants will have the opportunity to share their views about exams: which ones they use and their experiences with them, whether they like students to do annual exams and how to cope with parents demanding exams.

Tetris v Pacman: Is Reading in the Dots or the Blocks?

Based on the content of his high-rating post: Can Tetris Help Your Sight-Reading?, this presentation discusses the merits and application of the pattern recognition approach to teaching music reading (Tetris), which teaches students to recognise and understand chord structures and harmony in music. This is in contrast with the more linear approach (Pacman) that teaches reading note by note without a harmonic context.

Pattern and interval recognition is where sight-reading should start. When we sight-read, we need to be able to read the words in music and not just the letters. I give my students the analogy of learning to read: when you learn to read the word “cat”, you say the syllables out loud: “c – a – t” before you put it together and learn to just say “cat” when you see the word.

In a similar way, many students sight-read music note-by-note (just like reading this whole sentence letter-by-letter), rather than recognising the patterns, intervals, shapes and structures inherent in the composition.

Some people believe that to get better at sight-reading, you just need to do more of it. While this is true to a point, it’s also a very slow way of progressing. Tim demonstrates how to teach music reading more effectively in a harmonic context that interlaces perfectly with learning about composition and improvising.

technology presenters music education

The Tech Teacher’s Toolkit

iPads can provide a great enhancement to the teaching of music in both the classroom and instrumental contexts. Given that just about every family now owns some kind of i-device and many schools are now embarking on full-scale roll-outs of iPads for their students, understanding how to use these effectively to improve student learning is vital for today’s teachers.

Mobile devices are not only effective at improving teaching, they can transform students’ practice, inspire new ideas, introduce new concepts and allow students to practice things that they simply couldn’t do a few years ago.

During this session, we’ll discuss the world of apps (predominantly for iPad but also for iPhone/iPod) and how they can be used to enhance music teaching. We’ll discuss how to use them in lessons and for at-home practice.

We’ll also cover how to make effective use of technology given how little time we have in lessons. Participants may bring along their iPads if they wish but the session is designed as a show-and-tell of resources, ideas and demonstrations ideas that I have found successful in my studio.

In this presentation, teachers will be thoroughly surprised at what is possible and will leave motivated to introduce this technology in their own studios and/or develop their technology use further.

More testimonials

“I highly recommend Tim Topham as a guest for your music teacher programs. He delivered one of our best programs, and the most informative that we have ever had. He didn’t just talk about how to teach, but showed us with video examples that were very enlightening. We didn’t have to worry about technology, as he is obviously a “digital native” to technology. He has meticulously gathered expertise from around the world with his “TopMusicPro” membership – something every teacher needs to be a part of! Very smooth program, with something for everyone to take away, regardless of teaching experience. Tim is a MUST HAVE for teachers to put on their program schedules!” – Terri J. Hlubek, NCTM OMTA

“I enjoyed Tim Topham’s presentation at the 2013 Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference very much. It was well-prepared and organized and presented a wide variety of materials in a very up-beat and dynamic way. I learned a great deal about iPad and other Apps that I hope to incorporate into my teaching studio.” – Nancy Bachus (Alfred USA).

Interested in Finding Out More?

To find out more about booking Tim for your conference or workshop, please use the contact us form.