Imagine that you have got into one of Australia’s prestigious music schools. You’re a composer, and you’re bursting with ideas and creativity and vim and vigour. You open the timetable. And you see Music Notation and Publishing. Notation? You already know how to notate music! You did the HSC! You see the unit outline- surely a whole class on beaming rules can’t be right.

This is the cohort of students I taught notation to. While there are undoubtedly some people who relish the prospect of a deep dive into how to align staves across a folded oboe part, for most composers, and particularly very early career composers, this is the kind of stuff which seems like it’s a waste of brain space that could be better used on creating music. I know this, because I certainly felt the same way.

My task was to keep these first-year students excited about choosing composition and being creative, while also impressing upon them that taking the time to be accurate and technical about notation actually helps your best ideas to shine.

How many mistakes can you find?

I’m not a ‘talk and chalk’ teacher- if it’s boring for me, it’s probably boring for the class- so I use humour, interaction and creativity in my work. In this music notation class, we had physical demonstrations (just how far away from a music stand is a percussionist?), instant polling and plenty of time with scores good and bad. We laughed a lot over the situations we found ourselves in- such as obsessing over where to put a page number. Underlying everything we did was the important principle, more important that whether a stem should go up or down, that by expressing our ideas clearly to a performer we get a stronger performance and our ideas will sound better.

I use online polls, like Mentimeter, to check the temperature of the room and gauge understanding.

I know I’m an engaging presenter, so I enjoy making my classes interactive. I am interested in project learning, and facilitating students to creatively collaborate on problems. These problems have included the seemingly mundane, like page turns, to big questions like “what is the future of the traditional concert hall venue” or “what will a musician’s career in the next ten years look like?”.




Recent student feedback

Ian was a great teacher, the lecture slides were engaging…

Ian was really great, very funny and did make the classes as enjoyable as possible.

[assessment items] were clearly outlined on what we had to do, easy to understand… the deliverance of the content was good, useful and relevant. 

…He was very approachable and knowledgeable .