Sue Thompson is a highly respected piano teacher who has had many years' experience in studio teaching, as well as lecturing in piano pedagogy at various universities in Queensland, USA and music teacher conferences and workshops in Australia and New Zealand.
Sue is a past senior examiner for the AMEB, past President of the Music Teachers Association of Qld Inc and adjudicator at many eisteddfods and competitions in Queensland and northern New South Wales.
While teaching at all levels, Sue is very experienced in preparing students at diploma level and for many years has successfully entered students every year for their diploma exams, several of whom have received distinctions. She also specialises in giving consultation lessons for other teachers' advanced students.
How would you describe yourself? Teacher, publisher, examiner
What makes you smile? Students and teachers who are willing to learn.
Are you a bathroom singer? No, I don’t sing because my husband said I have no voice.
What type of music do you like to play the most? Sadly, my hearing and arthritis don’t allow me to play very much at all now.
What type of music do you like to write the most? Theory games
What was your learning to play journey like?
After my very early lessons with a very good teacher in Christchurch, because that was where I was born, we moved and I had a young teacher for five years but it was pretty ordinary teaching. When I moved to Wellington I found a good teacher, not great but good and she took me up to Grade 8. My best teacher was after this where I had to do theory for the first time in my life and I don’t know how I did it because I was very arty. I was interested in games, and I did that for 10 years and did the whole thing including printing. When the company went out of business and my very big photocopier broke, that was the end of it.
How did you start teaching?
I started teaching when I was still a student at age 16. I had some neighbours who wanted to know how to play like me. In those days, that’s how most people started. I had a very good teacher at the end, not the early ones, but later. The only time I never taught was the seven years we spent in London where I had two children and we lived on the smell of an oily rag. As soon as we went back to New Zealand, I started teaching, then we went to Sydney I taught a few students there. When John was offered to take up the Qld Opera Company we moved to Brisbane and I’ve been teaching ever since. I really shouldn’t be teaching any more but I have a handful from Grade 3 to AMusA. The sight reading and aural tests I don’t always remember to do, but they all play nicely. From 1970 to 2018 I have put through students through piano exams. There have been over 66 AMusA with Distinction and 17 LMusA. This means you can play nicely. It doesn’t mean you can teach.
What method or approach should teachers be using?
Don’t most teachers use whatever method or approach will work for each individual student? Only 5-10% of the students you ever teach will not be professional performers so teaching them to listen closely so as to play nicely means that everything else will come eventually. I never had a lot of dropout students, and I sometimes I had up to five assistants. They were my students who taught beginners, and I had a library for them to use, and to mentor them. I don’t teach beginners, they’re too hard. Because I had so many students, at the end of year concert was difficult so we nearly always had duets where they dressed up or dressed Christmassy. The philosophy is to play musically while encouraging them to work towards a goal.
What do you think teachers should know?
I was terribly interested at one stage to teach small groups and I got a bursary to study in it America, the UK and Italy. As a result of that tour, I was asked to take some other teachers with me on another tour the following year. So we went back to see again the best of what I’d seen, and afterwards I taught twice at the University of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois Summer Youth Music Camp. When I came back I tried to promote this but very few teachers teach in groups, which is such a pity. It’s a wonderful thing to do but these days people seem to think they should be doing exams all the time.
What do you think of the new online options or pop/rock/jazz for exams?
It would be wonderful for teachers who can’t access exams locally, but exams should not just focus on musicianship. And remember that a poor or failed result can reflect on ones own reputation as a teacher. And I don’t often see teacher’s questions being answered online. I don’t teach online because I can’t differentiate the gradients well enough. It’s still good for me to keep teaching. I wasn’t a great pianist, but I was a very good accompanist, and this has made me more musical.
What else do you that is expressive or creative?
I’m doing my memoirs at the moment in two parts. One will be my personal memories, and the other will be my teaching life. For the last 10 years I have painted with acrylics, and I have a whole studio. Another hobby I enjoyed was decoupage of useful things like platters and trays. I’ve always been good with my hands. I sew and used to make baby clothes, and I’m about to have my third great-grandchild so I’m looking forward to making something soon.