Helen Dromey - ESTA Summer School

Helen Dromey

Daily from Wednesday 10 August to Sunday 14 August
11.30 am to 1 pm

Helen Dromey


Helen is Course Leader for ESTA’s PGCert in String Teaching. She was Lead Teacher for Strings for West Sussex Music until 2019, when she embarked on her PhD research into string pedagogy at the University of York.

Helen has a wealth of experience of teaching the violin and viola in individual, small- and large-group settings, including Whole-Class Ensemble Tuition (WCET). A qualified primary school teacher, she has also worked as a Music Coordinator, delivering classroom Music across Key Stages 1 and 2. Helen’s current research draws on each of these experiences but focuses in particular on pupils’ progression beyond whole-class instrumental learning, the current lack of qualitative data in this area, and related problems around policy enactment and Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Helen intends for her findings to equip music hubs (and equivalent organisations) to better support their teachers, thereby enhancing both the quality of teaching and opportunities for children.


Modernising String Teaching

Do you ever feel frustrated about the challenges of managing multiple group lessons, having to squeeze meaningful learning into short lessons, and ensuring children who do little or no practice at home make progress? Do you feel that the energy you give during lessons isn’t always reciprocated by pupils? Perhaps you feel it’s an almost impossible task for your pupils to achieve musical success, at least according to the established benchmarks?

You are not alone! My own experience of teaching WCET, across large- and small- group settings, and of working with teachers in various similar environments, confirms there are many qualified, committed, but sometimes frazzled individuals all desperate to make a difference but increasingly aware that the teaching models they employ limit rather than inspire meaningful engagement with music.

But what if the musical “goalposts” were shifted—not widened, but realigned—so that success was measured according to different parameters? What if the balance of technical and musical skills and the order in which they were introduced could be rethought? What if teachers facilitated rather than dictated learning? How would this look, sound, and feel in a lesson? Could a different approach really improve engagement and progression for a greater number of pupils?

I have begun to address and answer some of these questions during fieldwork in a rural primary school in the south of England. After much analysis and reflection, a bank of new strategies has steadily filtered into my teaching as it became apparent what pupils in so-called “traditional” lessons actually miss out on. During our sessions this week, we’ll cover various subjects and practices that relate to these contemporary issues, including –

  • what it means to a “socially aware” instrumental teacher;
  • the “hidden curriculum” in classical music education;
  • how historical teaching models, e.g. “master-apprentice”, can inadvertently impede learning (and what can be done about it);
  • the difficulty putting your teaching beliefs into practice;
  • “democratic” teaching styles;
  • consideration of musical “product” and “process”;
  • how to encourage pupils to develop and nurture their musical voice from their earliest stages of learning.

The sessions will include some talking and discussion, plenty of playing and experimentation, sharing of lesson footage, and honest conversations about the ongoing challenges and joys of group teaching, building musical communities in schools, and celebrating musical successes.

I hope to give you lots of practical ideas to use in your own classrooms and studios, and a desire and confidence to experiment with a more modern, inclusive, and socially-aware pedagogy that serves the needs of today’s learners.