The Playground

The Simply Music blog

Simply Music Teacher – Elizabeth Gaikwad

Found in: Simply Music Community

The community of Simply Music Teachers is as varied as it is extensive. Recently we’ve been able to draw from that fantastic resource to improve and enrich the program. Some of our teachers have been able to use their performing, educational or teaching experience to help create new programs and materials. Elizabeth Gaikwad has combined her extensive background and creative skills to produce the Songs for Children and Foundation Duets and Variations programs, which have proven very popular with students and teachers of Simply Music. Apart from that, she’s a much-loved teacher who’s also great fun to be around. She spoke with Mel Karajas about her programs and her love of teaching and music.

Hear some highlights or read the full interview below
Can I ask you about your musical background?

I was one of the lucky girls – I was very blessed with a family in that my father was an amazing flautist that had a love of music all through his childhood, and continued playing flute. My mum has the voice of an angel and played the piano. We grew up, I have 2 elder brothers and they were and still are flautists. One still plays the saxophone, guitar, piano, you name it, our house was mad with music coming out of it. I would have hated to be our neighbors, because from every window there was something musical coming out.

My father played a lot in musical comedy, so when I was at school, and if I was a very good girl on a Friday night and he was doing a show, and I got all my homework done, I was allowed to go to sit in the orchestra pit with him next to the oboe player and next to him, the flautist.  Hello Dolly, South Pacific, whatever the show was at the time I would sit there a foot away from the stage and listening right in the orchestra pit. That was my introduction to live music and that was just like magic to me. If I was a very, very good girl I could go back on the Saturday night! Which you know I tried to be at all times because the wonder and the spectacle of it all was something I really loved.

My parents took me to piano lessons, my first instrument, and then I started up on the oboe. I started up on the oboe mainly because the lady who I used to sit in between my father and her, the oboe player, was a very nice lady and I loved the sound of the instrument. It’s a fiendish type of instrument, anyone who’s played oboe or a double reed instrument will understand. So my two main instruments were oboe and piano. I went through all AMEB exams (it’s the Australian equivalent to standardized examinations) and continued right through high school playing music. I’d pretty much burnt out of traditional music and traditional teaching of piano when I was about 15 or 16 and fortunately my parents were running a music shop that had attached to it a music studio where they would employ local teachers to teach the local school kids and other people who wanted lessons.

So in this old run-down house at the back of the music shop they had all their lessons in the afternoons, and one room was completely taken over by a man named Hal Carter, and he taught what was know as the Scheff method of organ playing and he had this great big Hammond organ there that could do everything except make a cappuccino basically. And he taught me the first steps of accompaniment and chords, and that for me has been the thing that has carried me musically ever since because it was just great fun, he’d arranged all this music from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s into organ style, one hand playing the melody and one hand playing chords and the feet pumping away on the bass notes. Well, I sort of let go of the bass notes because I didn’t have anything at home to practice on that was like that, so I just played it all with chords and accompaniment. So that’s where my accompaniment and duet playing started I suppose. With his fun way of presenting, that was a big, big milestone.

So I would say that my background of music is very varied. My father played classical music. We used to have this series of music where my mother would play the piano. It was called Music Minus One. There would be piano and flute, or piano and oboe, or piano and saxophone, so then we would always be playing duets and always playing together and that to me was the real treasure of family moments music-making together, that sort of round the piano playing something or singing something. So I was very lucky and I’m totally grateful to my family and my mother and father for providing that sort of atmosphere to grow up in.

I then went on to do a degree in music at the NSW conservatorium of music. My major instrument was oboe and I studied there for 4 years. After that I was determined to get over to England one way or the other so I started teaching. I taught piano, I taught oboe, I taught clarinet, I taught recorder, I basically did anything I possibly could to earn enough money to get myself over to England. Eventually I received a scholarship from the Australia Council to go to England and have lessons from Michael Winfield who was a really good oboe player there, and so I went over to England for about 18 months, to the cold of England, and had amazing experiences there in all sorts of different ways, not so much playing in orchestras because over there the competition rate is like a million fold to what it is in Australia.

So then coming back to Australia, mainly I was playing in wind ensembles, wind quintets and orchestras and I did a pit orchestra playing in different shows in Sydney. I played in the orchestra for CATS for some time and then after all that I basically stopped playing for quite a long time. I think I got pretty burnt out from the intensity of it all.
That’s fantastic, you’ve been busy!

Yes well it’s a bit like my whole life.
That’s great, so how did you get involved with SM and teaching then?

Well, after quite a few years of break doing other things like getting married and having children and working for my brother who ran a special events company, that was what I did for about 10 years. Then I had my second child and after that I decided I just didn’t want to go back into office work again so I stayed at home and was doing bits and pieces from home.

Then the son of one of the parents in my daughter’s playgroup had just started with Simply Music, and she said to me “You know, I’m sure you’d love Simply Music, you know you’ve got such a great background in music and it’s a fantastic method” so I jumped online and had a look at the website and thought this sounds too good to be true. I talked it over with my husband and we thought it would be a good thing to at least look into. So I sent an email to Neil – at this stage he was taking enquiries for new teachers – and sent it off and thought let’s see what happens and about 10 minutes later the phone rang and he said “Hi Elizabeth, it’s Neil Moore here”, and I said “WOW, that service is amazing!!!

And so that was in 2004 and I’ve been teaching since then, extremely happily. I love the idea of teaching from home, which is something I do. My studio is in the front room of my house so I skip up the hall to work very happily every day. No parking hassles, no office politics! All those things are out.
So how many students do you have?

At the moment I’ve got about 50 students, I’m teaching mainly private lessons as opposed to group lessons. I’ve got an amazing array of students, all of whom I love very dearly of course. I’ve got 5 year olds right through to 82 year olds. And the thing that I just love is that every student who walks through the door has a different, whole history behind them of needs as far as how to explain things.  They’ve all come for different reasons. And the discovery for me is finding how to communicate with them and to connect with them so that the learning process is efficient as possible, so that they can get the tools they need to have a world where music is part of their whole being, which is something I think is absolutely imperative to a balanced personality and generally gives such a fantastic outlet for all sorts of emotions. And basically it’s such a great way to communicate your emotions.
Now speaking of outlets you’ve created some new programs that are used within the Simply Music program, can you tell us a little bit about these?

I’ve been very lucky that Neil has given the green light for these projects and I’m very grateful to him for that. The first one, called Songs For Children, we’ve got 2 volumes of that, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. There’s a bit of a long history on how the Songs for Children came about. When I was studying at the Conservatorium I did a subject called Layered Analysis, which sounds all very technical and everything, but basically the thing it came down to is that any piece of music has a certain series of chords that will move through it. One of the assignments we had was to take a whole symphony of any composer and work out the chord sequences in it. You had to take every movement and bring it all the way down into this sort of big diagram. I did a Mozart symphony and it all came down to using just chords I IV & V.

Reduced down, it was like you had a great big stock and it reduced down into this absolutely gorgeous gravy which is basically what this thing was. I think at that moment it was bit of a light bulb moment for me of “Wow, you can have this massively complex piece of music and it can all come back down to chords I IV & V”. Then when I started teaching Simply Music, the very first Foundation level 1, comes Jackson blues using chords I IV & V, Honey Dew, the essence of it is chords I IV & V, Amazing Grace I IV V, there was a moment where you think “yeah ok rightio!”

And the other thing that sorted of added into the conglomeration of the importance of I IV & V was that my daughter at that stage was about four or five and I was going up to her preschool every week with my ukulele under my arm and – you guessed it – I only knew 3 chords which were I IV & V. So I managed to sing along nursery rhymes for about an hour every week just using those 3 chords, and I thought “wait a minute, this is a teaching moment”. And so then when in Simply Music you move into starting to teach the Accompaniment program we use the diagram of taking chords I IV & V into any key.  So I was using those nursery rhymes with my students saying you can use all these Nursery Rhymes in all different keys and scrounging round for resources to show them how that worked.

And so at that stage I rang Gordon and said “I’ve got an idea for a book that I think will be a great resource for teachers and a great resource for students to be able to learn chords I IV & V in the very first lesson, and then be able to apply it to 9 or 18 songs immediately you get those 3 chords, then instantly you can play all these other songs”.

The power of accompaniment is that you can use these chords and you’ve got the structure of the pieces. But then I wanted to show that you go through the accompaniment program, you add the 7th chord and you add all these other beautiful dimensions of chords that can give really lovely colour and shade to the accompaniment process, so the last section of Songs for Children is exploring how all of those very simple tunes can have a whole variety of accompaniments to them which expand and give depth and make the whole process really enjoyable.

Then the other project I’ve been working on, and we have one book complete and the other will be due out midway through the year, is the Foundation Duets and Variations. When my students come for their lessons and they are first learning pieces or we are playing through their Playlist I quite often jump on the seat next to them and play along an accompaniment with them, and we’ve developed quite a few styles of playing along with them just to jolly along the Playlist and give an extra depth to the sound. So along the way I’ve been playing these at the conferences we’ve had and some of the teachers have asked “How do you do that? I’d love to be able to teach that to my students”. So the duets idea came out of trying to expand the original Foundation pieces so it’s set out in a format which is playing based, so if you’re not reading music they are still available to you.

They’ve got all the accompaniment chords to them so if you’re developing your accompaniments you can read the chords as to how they are used for the lower parts, and there’s also the full score so if you’re reading or if you want to line up with the rhythmic patterns and everything the full score is there, and it also comes with a whole set of CD’s with me explaining each of the projects and how they unfold for both the upper part and the lower part so you can learn them at home as well as in the lessons. So there’s a fair amount of work in each one of them as far as how you can expand your playing. But the main thing I find really exciting about these books is it’s a starting point to see how from the pieces that you know and love, Dreams Come True, Night Storm, Chester Chills Out, all of these great songs that Neil’s produced for the Foundation program, that each one can be expanded out and developed into variations, and these are just some ways that we’ve done it. It’s encouraging students to find their own variations of them as well. So it’s also just a little tool to be able to apply it to other songs.
It seems that a big part of your interest involves sharing music, what do think the value is of people making music together?

For me music is something that is so close to my heart. Being able to connect with people through music is something that is just so precious. Just recently Stevie Wonder came to Australia and I was really fortunate enough to go to one of his concerts, if you’ve ever sat in amongst 20/25,000 people and this guy’s on stage playing music like all the great songs and you don’t know anyone in that audience but somehow everyone feels connected and that connection is because music is so fundamental to our being that when it’s played with a common cause then everyone’s heart opens you feel this complete connection with people, and it can happen in Rock music it can happen in any kind of music.

Just the other day I was at a concert with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and there was an Italian violinist played and he did as one of his encores, a piece that was by Johann Sebastian Bach on the very last day of his life, written to his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, as his final offering of music. He played it and every single person in the audience had tears streaming down their face. At the end there was at least a 20 second silence where nobody wanted to break, no one wanted to breathe, we all wanted to remember that moment where we were all connected into one moment. And I think only music can do that. It just was a moment where everyone links, everyone’s heart opens, there was a connection between us which goes right through to our core, and for me if I can provide tools for students to experience any moments like that then I’ve done my job!
It sounds like your doing a fantastic job; I’ve got goose bumps already. Well you’ve talked about Stevie wonder and Johan Sebastian Bach, what about the music you love the most

Well that would have to be up there, I’m very lucky to have an incredible husband who’s from India and I’ve traveled quite a lot in India, I’ve experienced music over there which will take you into another orbit all together. So Indian music plays a lot of role in our household. I’ve got a teenage daughter so she is into all of her teenage daughter type music.
You sound like you love that a lot too!

For me anything that’s got a bit of integrity – sometimes I’ll say to her “Oh you turn that off!” – head banging music I’m not so much into, but you know some of the best moments for me are sitting really quietly and experimenting on the keyboard, you know I love that. When I was learning traditionally I was a completely on the page type of person, you know I was never encouraged to improvise at all, my brothers were and are still jazz and blues players so they improvise and play very freely but for me it was something since I’ve been teaching Simply Music has been really unlocked as far as me starting to write my own piano pieces which I’m really enjoying expanding a little repertoire of pieces that I’ve composed.

So that is something that is very dear to my heart. It’s a bit like an artist, when you put your painting on the wall and someone comes in to critique it, you do get very precious about it in a way, but if it’s part of what you’ve done and whatever you offer up, if it means something to you, then I think the most important thing is you feel sort of strong, and that was the best expression that you could put out there, and hopefully other people enjoy it and connect with it.

There’s a very interesting movie that came out in Sydney last year called Mrs. Carey’s Concert, it was an Australian produced film, actually in a local school from here.  They have a concert every second year. It’s about 1400 kids and it’s massive and every single girl has to perform. So they allowed this camera crew to come into record the process and there was one moment in that movie that really sums up a really important thing about music. There was a young violinist who was playing a Bruch violin concerto. She was a very quiet girl, very emotionally mature and had gone through a lot of trauma in her life, and when she played this music you could just feel her soul soaring you know it was one of those beautiful moments.

There was a part of the movie where one of her teachers wanted her to explain to the orchestra who was playing alongside of her what she was feeling at that time and what she was imagining in the music so that they could go there with her, and she was really put out by the teacher wanting her to express it in words and there was a little off cut with her with the camera and she said “The thing with music is that you can communicate things that words cannot express”. And for me that is exactly the thing about composition, about improvisation, about performance – that there are some things that you can not say in words that if you’re in the zone and you are performing and you connect with the audience beyond words straight to their soul or straight to their spirit or whatever, it is that place inside that you know you go when you want to know more about yourself, then that’s what the whole premise I think Simply Music is based on is that we are giving our students the basic tools to be able to have music as a companion in their lives in whatever form that takes, weather it’s a greater appreciation of listening to music or a greater appreciation of playing music or playing it together with other people or just experimenting with sound in the privacy of your own home, and you just love that, that you’ve got tools to do that with. For me that is what it’s all about giving that connection and the tools to work with to really find yourself in music.

For me when I’m teaching or when I’m playing if I’m somehow making a difference in someone’s life, if I’m creating an environment where people can enjoy music together, if I’m listening to music and can go into a place where nothing else can take me, then that’s the journey for me. I hope I can take my students along that journey with me, so they can find that really deep appreciation of music and just have it as something that is not separate from their lives – have it as something they can merge into.