Got an exam coming up? Here are our top 5 exam tips

October 19th, 2017

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to become the examiner for a day? I certainly have!

I have often wondered what they are looking for and how they mark the pieces!

The ABRSM (Associated Board Royal Schools Music) have recently created a page on their website where you can mark an exam! There are several exam situations ranging from grade 1 oboe to grade 8 piano, you get to watch the exam situation and mark them accordingly, then see if your marks match the examiners! After the performance the examiner will explain why they have awarded the mark. Although the exam is broken up into smaller sections that we can watch individually, we are able to watch the whole exam, scales, aural and sight reading.  Why not check it out and have a go…

Technology is fabulous! The ABRSM have now created an app that is called “Woodwind practice partners”  The app will help you to:

  • Become familiar with the accompaniment and understand how the solo line fits with the piano part for more secure performances
  • Slow down or speed up the music to a tempo that suits you. Ideal for slow and careful practice.
  • Listen closely to the solo part in isolation to hear every detail of the expert performance.
  • Repeat tricky passages by setting loops around them.

That sounds fantastic. I have often found myself going over and over certain parts of music – however without the piano accompaniment as I could never quite get the timings right on my CD player. This part of the app will be a great help.

Whether you decide to take exams or not really doesn’t matter, for some people it is a great focus to their musical development whereas others may choose to learn the exam repertoire but not take the exam. Our teachers will be guided by you to whether you wish to take exams or not. If you do here are our 5 top tips for exam preparation:

  1.  Practice all parts of the exam, lots of people tend to just work on the three pieces you will be performing. Yes, they are very important however they are not the only thing you will be marked on. Im confident scales will be a part of your daily practice routine (!!) so why not build sight reading and aural tests in too.
  2. Why not do a pretend exam in front of family and friends. For some people playing in their exam will be the only time they have performed in front of anyone who isn’t their teacher or dog! No need for nerves, get together a few family and friends and make a performance of it!
  3. Scales! I often say to pupils if I gave you the answer to your maths exam, all you have to do is learn it, go in and write it down – would you? The answer is always YES! So scales are that part of the exam. Scales are a key part of my daily practice anyway however – I may not always play the ones needed for an exam. So why not, write all the scales you need on small pieces of paper, pop them in a hat, pull them out in a random order and play! DONT FORGET YOUR ARTICULATION!
  4. Practice as much as you can with the accompaniment paying particular attention to the dynamics and articulation markings, remember just because the piano accompaniment is playing forte (loud) doesn’t mean you will be!
  5. Have fun! As adults no one is forcing us to take the exam – we are there to have fun and get better. Relax and enjoy.

If you would like any more tips or help preparing for an exam please do get in touch with us



Maidenhead Music Festival 2017

October 16th, 2017

What a fantastic day we had yesterday performing at the Maidenhead Music Festival 2017. Our four groups have been working hard in preparation for our performances and what a great job they did!

After meeting and having a rehearsal we all went into the studio theatre at Norden Farm and took our seats to watch the other groups who were performing before us. Amongst them was a fantastic harp and violin duo, a recorder trio and an accordion duo! A real mixture!

When it was our turn we took to the stage, for some of our newer members this was the first time they had played in public and for some of our members this was the 4th year in a row they have performed at the festival. The lovely Liz Young was there to adjudicate and to give some helpful tips and advice as well as commend our good bits (of course there was many!)

All four My Music ensembles performed at the festival in a program that ranged from Bach to the Wham classic Wake me up before you go go written by George Micheal. One of my favourite performances was of Kalinka, we really captured the mood of this Russian Folk song with our dynamics and use of accelerando!

Here are a few of the adjudicators comments:

“Some good rhythmic energy and feel here. Good fun!”

“There was a good feel and awareness to the style required and the ensemble was working as team and blending the sound”

“Watch your fab conductor” 🙂

“Well done this was enjoyable, thank you”

Although we were thrilled to have been awarded three bronze medals and a silver, it was far more important for all our group members to have had a positive experience! Coming together and playing as a group, making new friends and making music as a band! If you would like to join one of our groups please do let us know….



How do i look after my instrument?

October 4th, 2017

I have spent some time this week in the onsite workshop at Dawkes Music chatting with the lovely repair department about how to look after and maintain our instruments. It is quite simple really – the better we look after our instruments the cheaper the repair costs! Sounds good to me!


Abi (the workshop manager) was telling me about the pads that are in all woodwind instruments….

“Most woodwind instrument pads are made of a layer of card, then a disk of felt, then a thin double-layer of skin (or leather). As the instrument is played these pads will absorb the heat and moisture blown down the bore and begin to swell. When stored away, they will shrink back. This repeated process causes the felt to distort and bloat over time and eventually the skin will tear. Once the skin layers have torn through, the pad will ‘leak’ air as the fibres in the exposed felt will not make an air tight seal. With the pads in this condition you would have to force a lot more air down the instrument than normal to achieve the same level of compression. This is a completely normal part of woodwinds, but the lifespan of a pad is completely dependent on how well they are taken care of and maintained by the player. It is crucial to remove as much moisture as possible from the bore of the instrument after playing or before storing away. A pull-through or some kind of swab can be dragged through the bore and will absorb most of the condensation”

People are often asking what the best products are to take care of your instrument so we thought we would let you know a few of our favourites:



  • A good pull through! This clarinet/flute pull through works for both instruments and is only £4.40!
  • A pad saver… As Abi was saying pop it in your instrument after you have pulled it through and it will take away all the excess moisture
  • A Silver/Lacquer cloth. Depending on your instruments finish – keep it lovely and shinny!
  • BG pad dryer – just pop it over your keys once finished playing and it will help to remove the moisture.

For more information on how to keep your instrument in tip top condition check out these maintenance sheets.

Saxophone Maintenance sheet

Flute Maintenance sheet

Clarinet Maintenance sheet

For details on our Free in store assessment on your instrument just give us a call on 01628 630800 or simply fill in your details 




New coached small ensembles

October 2nd, 2017

Get Playing!

As part of My Music we run monthly large ensemble classes, usually with between 10-25 members. These classes give our pupils and other local musicians the opportunity to get together and make music in a friendly environment.

These groups offer a band experience however some members have been asking about small ensembles that rehearse on a more regular basis. We have recently set up a small woodwind trio including flute, oboe and clarinet. These musicians will get together weekly to rehearse under the guidance of Becka, one of our My Music teachers.

Would you like to join a similar ensemble? Please do get in touch as we are in the process of setting up similar wind ensembles in the near future.

“The group sessions are a fantastic way to play alongside other people in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. I can’t recommend it enough!” – My Music Pupil

Who are My Music? 

My Music is a relaxed, friendly and non intimidating environment where adults can learn a Woodwind Musical Instrument. We provide individual, group and ensemble tuition here at Dawkes Music in Maidenhead. Our expert teachers will guide you step by step and our emphasis is learning through fun, whether you would like to play in a group or learn to play “Stranger on the Shore”. My Music can help you achieve your own goals.

Contact us to know more about our individual or ensemble sessions.

How do I know which instrument to buy?

September 28th, 2017

How do I know which instrument to buy?

Firstly you may decide to purchase an instrument or you may decide to rent. Either option is fine and there are lots of experts who can advise on the right models to go for. I always advise my pupils to look at the following as the quality is always consistently good.

Flute – Yamaha YFL212UK – Pearl 505

Clarinet – Yamaha YCL255S – Buffet Prodige

Alto Saxophone – Jupiter 500Q – Yamaha YAS280

All the models above are designed for beginners to learn on, so they are free blowing and made as light as possible. When researching saxophone models on line, there were so many different brands to choose from and some are much cheaper! “Should I just buy a cheap instrument to see if I like it?” NO! The problem with some cheaper instruments is the build quality is very poor, or they just don’t play! I have actually had an instrument fall apart in a lesson once! Not the best start! All instruments that come through Dawkes Music are put through our onsite workshop making sure they make your life as easy as possible! Why not ask one of the staff to demonstrate them for you?

Once you have chosen a model, then decide whether to buy new, second hand or perhaps rent. All the options when purchasing from Dawkes have a “get out” card! When purchasing new you get the buy back scheme – so if playing the saxophone isn’t for you then just return it for a guaranteed amount of money back. Or if renting and your three month minimum rental has gone by – simply pop it back into Dawkes.

If you are an adult and would like lessons with My Music – we will provide you with a rental instrument – usually a Yamaha FREE of charge for three months when you take regular lessons. Doesn’t get much better than that! Starting a musical journey should be a fun one, not scary or daunting. SO why not give it a try…

Get in touch to find out more information…..


“How did you start playing?”

September 21st, 2017

I often find people asking how I got into playing my instruments? I started playing the flute at an early age, I believe I was eight and I can honestly say I have never looked back – music has always been a huge part of my life both socially and in my career. I was inspired by a girl “Michelea” who was several years older than me and I very much looked up to her. When she came home with a flute one day – well I had to have a go! That was it! It was then when I asked my parents if I could learn the flute.

Along we went to Dawkes Music – which was then on the Bath road at the time and purchased a new Yamaha flute! I started having lessons at school and before I knew it I was off to the National Youth Orchestra and preparing for Music college auditions. Several years later I picked up the clarinet and the saxophone and found playing the different instruments opened up playing a new style of music, I loved it!


Now as a teacher and performer I often find that people always say   “I wish I had played the flute” or “is it too late for me to play the saxophone” NO! Its never too late! I have always taught adults and children and although the teaching style is different the fundamental goal is the same – the love for music and wanting to play some melodies that you recognise! Some people may well go on to play professionally but for many its about the love of playing and performing within a group.

This week My Music has just started two new saxophone players off on their musical journey, both adults, both excited to start to play their first notes. I very much remember this and wanting to get home and get going, then the weeks that passed my sound got better and my fingers started to remember which note was which! I always encourage pupils to practice for 15 minutes per day to start with – not long at all but allowing the embouchure (the way we blow) to form and strengthen. I caught up with one of the ladies to find out how her lesson went….

“I had my first lesson today with My Music. I was naturally a little apprehensive as I have not had any form of lesson for the past 30 years! I have just had a big birthday and my husband had purchased me some lessons as a present. Its something I had always wanted to do but didn’t hadn’t got round to it or didn’t really know where to start! The staff at Dawkes Music were very helpful and they introduced me to my teacher and showed me where the lessons would take place. I hadn’t decided if I wanted to play the alto or tenor saxophones but after a quick hold of them both I decided the alto might be a bit easier to hold. In my first lesson I learnt how to hold the saxophone, how to put it together (which is obviously going to be helpful at home!) and how to blow and make some sounds. My next lesson is booked for next week and I hope to get started on perfecting my G,A and B notes!”

I don’t think it matters what age you are or which instrument you want to learn, they are all great fun! I cant wait to hear how the lady is getting on over the next few weeks….. If you fancy having a go why not get in touch with us to arrange a FREE trial lesson




ABRSM Music exams

September 21st, 2017

Back in July some My Music pupils choose to take ABRSM music exams, Jacquie  (flute) and Tessa (alto saxophone) took their ABRSM music exams at Norden Farm in Maidenhead.

When taking exams its not only playing your chosen instrument during the exam, there are aural tests, sight reading and scales to think of too! The exam is made up of six different parts, starting with three different pieces, its always good to make the program as contrasting as you can – making sure you show the different styles of music and different techniques you can achieve. For example in grade one, the examiner would be looking to hear that you can play with different dynamics (loud and soft) and varying articulations.

You will also be asked to play some scales and arpeggios, dont panic – by the time your exam comes round you will have memorised these ready for the exam! Aural tests – lots of our pupils find this part the most daunting, mainly because they do not know what to expect! However you will find with a bit of practice you realise there was no need to panic! The last part is sight reading, this is something we should build into our daily practice, give it a try! Pick a new piece of music and take a quick look over it for around thirty seconds …. then play!

Its always lovely to read such fantastic comments on our pupils playing, we love teaching and hearing our pupils progress however its lovely to read that the examiner enjoyed their performances too! We were thrilled to hear that Tessa passed her grade 2 alto saxophone with distinction and Jacquie passed her grade 7 flute with merit. A huge well done to them and also thank you to our teachers for all their help!


If you would like any more help getting ready for your ABRSM exam… Please just get in touch..

Bucket List!

September 18th, 2017

Its always great to get such lovely feedback on our monthly group sessions. Lets get “Learn the saxophone” ticket on your bucket list!

“I first heard the My Music group playing at a Learn to Play Day at Dawkes Music and was so impressed.
They didn’t have a baritone sax at that time, so took the plunge and asked Vicky if she’d like to have one in the group.
I went along for a free taster session at their next meeting, and was made most welcome by both Vicky and the other players.
I signed up immediately afterwards, and always look forward to our regular get-togethers, returning home afterwards feeling great.

Vicky is endlessly encouraging, supportive and wonderful fun, and she organises gigs in local schools/halls/bandstands etc. for those who want to participate.

There are groups on the day to suit everyone, so if you’ve ever had the urge to play an instrument, it really isn’t ever too late to go for it, give it a try. It’s a must for anyone’s ‘Bucket List’ – I’m 69 and expect to be a much better player by the time I’m 79, and know I will have had a lot of fun on the journey.

Just proving its never too late to learn a musical instrument!


Intermediate band welcomes some brass!

September 11th, 2017

September band news…..

We had great fun at our September band sessions! Everyone arrived with fantastic enthusiasm and we have been working hard while practicing the music for the Maidenhead Music Festival which takes place in October.

All of our groups will be performing at Norden Farm in the groups category. We perform at the festival as it gives us the opportunity to really work on a piece of music, we think about  articulation, dynamics and trying to play and listen as a group. As well as having a great time and real giggle!

Lots of members who play with the beginners band have only been playing a few months and this will be their first public performance, in the reversals before hand we talk about the logistics of performing, where and how to stand etc.

In our September rehearsal we were very excited to welcome along our first brass instrument to our 25 member ensemble! A trombone player joined our band – we hope that lots of other brass players will follow!


We currently run four different groups that usually take place on the first Sunday of the month.

Beginner Wind Band

Our beginner wind band meet on the first Sunday of every month for half an hour. This new group will be for people who have just started to play an instrument or who have not played in a band before and are looking to play in a group. We will be playing music in simple time and key signatures for our players to gain confidence whilst playing in a group setting. This group includes the following instruments:

  • Alto Saxophone
  • Tenor Saxophone
  • Baritone Saxophone
  • Flute
  • Clarinet
  • Oboe

Woodwind Ensemble

Our beginner woodwind group meet on the first Sunday of every month for half an hour. We play a large range of music, from Handel to Gershwin. We aim to make our sessions relaxed and informative and we also have a lot of fun. Our woodwind group play regularly in the local community. This group includes the following instruments:

  • Oboe
  • Flute
  • Clarinet
  • Bassoon

Intermediate Band

Our beginner wind band get together once a month for an hour. Our 20 piece band play music from throughout the decades from film and TV music, Christmas carols to a rags by Joplin. We pay particular focus to listening and making our sounds blend as well as the fundamentals of playing music together. The band are regularly playing in the community from School fetes to Cookham Christmas Fayre. Our Windband took part in the Maidenhead Music festival and received a gold medal in 2014 for our performance of Badinerie by Bach. This group includes the following instruments:

  • Oboe
  • Flute
  • Clarinet
  • Bassoon
  • Alto sax
  • Tenor Sax
  • Baritone Sax
  • Trombone
  • Trumpet

Saxophone Ensemble

Our saxophone group meet once a month for thirty minutes and we have a great giggle. We currently have around 15 members of the group from soprano to baritone saxophone. All our players have been playing under 4 years. We enjoy coming to together to work on sound projection and balance. This group includes the following instruments:

  • Soprano Sax
  • Alto Sax
  • Tenor Sax
  • Baritone Sax


Its never to late to learn a musical instrument or to come along and join a band.

Why not give it a go?

ARBSM exam success!

September 11th, 2017

We have just had our ABRSM exam results back and they were fantastic! A huge well done to Tessa who got a distinction for her grade 2 alto sax and Jacquie who got a merit for her grade 7 flute!