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ESTA MA Music – Plucked Strings

About the course

The instrumental teaching profession demands constant reflection and improvement from its practitioners. This course will help you to validate your personal development and formalise your academic qualification to teach.

Our programme of study is designed to enable you as an instrumental or vocal teacher to progress from the stage you are in your career and to take a fresh look at the way you approach your teaching.

Your studies will be online, engaging with tasks including webinars, meetings with your mentor, taking part in discussion groups, reading, making videos. You will reflect on and develop your teaching focusing on the context in which you work. This will help you to question things you may have taken for granted, explore work with and without notation and develop a holistic approach to your teaching.

You will be assigned a mentor who shares your specialism (e.g. brass, bowed strings, piano, voice, woodwind, percussion, plucked strings) and your mentor’s job is to guide you through the course, lead study sessions and feedback on your work and progress.

Being a student on this course is all about developing as a reflective practitioner, someone who is willing to stand back and look at their work and contemplate changing aspects if both you and your students will benefit. Your course leader will provide an overview of the whole course, lead study sessions, and also make assessments of all students’ work to ensure fairness.

To gain the maximum benefit for your investment in this programme of study you should plan your diary carefully to make sure you have all the deadlines for completion and submission of work highlighted – and then please take notice of them.

This programme is delivered by ESTA and validated by the University of Chichester.

Who is it for ?

Moving on from the ESTA PG Cert in Teaching, the ESTA MA (Plucked Strings) Practical Teaching provides students with the opportunity to reflect more deeply and demonstrate the application of learned theory in their own personal teaching setting.

The instrumental teaching profession demands constant reflection and improvement from its practitioners. This course will help you to validate your personal development and formalise your academic qualification to teach.

Participants will:

  • Develop practical skills in teaching musical and technical material, fostering an engaging and student-appropriate approach to music learning and performance

  • Foster an investigative and inquisitive approach to teaching by developing skills in both research and reflection

  • Actively develop communication skills to enable effective teaching

  • Develop skills in curriculum planning that are highly relevant in the profession.


Who teaches the course


Head of Department – Plucked strings


British guitarist, Helen Sanderson, studied guitar at the Royal College of Music with Charles Ramirez

British guitarist, Helen Sanderson, studied guitar at the Royal College of Music with Charles Ramirez, and accompaniment with John Blakely, graduating with prizes including the Anthony Saltmarsh Prize and the Madeline Walton Prize for Guitar.

Her performing career reflects her passion for chamber music in partnerships with eminent counter-tenor James Bowman, tenor Mark Wilde and in guitar duo with Zoran Dukic. She was a founding member of the VIDA Guitar Quartet and her performances have included recitals at the Southbank Centre, Kings Place, St Georges-Bristol, and the Sage Gateshead. In 2010 Helen made her US debuts in Los Angeles and New York, and has subsequently toured extensively throughout USA and Europe.

In parallel to her role as Head of Guitar Performance at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Helen is an entrepreneurial educator, committed to nurturing young guitarists throughout the UK. In 2006 she founded the music education charity, Guitar Circus, and Helen’s wider work in guitar education was recognised in 2017 with the award of a Churchill Fellowship following her research in the USA of whole-class guitar programmes.

Helen is a sought-after masterclass artist, adjudicator and international jury member for competitions such as BBC Young Musician of the Year, the Guitar Foundation of America International Concert Artist, the Ida Presti competition and the Sky Arts series, ‘Guitar Star’. She is Artistic Director for the National Youth Guitar Ensemble UK and directs the London Camerata and Fellowship ensembles. Helen’s compositions and arrangements regularly feature in the ABRSM and Trinity College and syllabi and she is a D’Addario Classical Artist.

Course content by unit

Unit 1:  Teaching plucked stringed instruments technique to children and young people learning plucked stringed instruments 

  1. Posture (tendon/muscle tension, points of contact, guitar support)

  2. Principles of right and left hand position

  3. Tone production (apoyando, tirando)

  4. Right hand technique (chord playing – arpeggiated, simultaneous, planting)

  5. Left hand technique (pivoting, barre, shifting, vibrato, slurs)

  6. Hand co-ordination

  7. Finger independence

  8. Fingernail shaping/care/repair

  9. Phrasing, voicing, musical awareness

  10. Fingering technique (technical, musical)

  11. Articulation (legato, staccato, damping)

  12. Ambidextral weight control

  13. Stretching, elasticity, dexterity

  14. Extended techniques (pizzicato, harmonics, tremolo, rasgueado, tambora)

Unit 2: How children and young people learn to play plucked stringed instruments

  1. How learners learn

  2. Simultaneous Learning

  3. Learning spiral

  4. My learners now

  5. Understanding, assimilating and consolidating skills, knowledge and understanding

  6. Learning music musically

  7. Developing aural awareness/perception and acuity

  8. Pupil/teacher relationships

  9. Learning scales and studies

  10. Starting a lesson

Unit 3: Teaching strategies for plucked stringed instrument teachers working with children and young people

  1. Understanding my teaching now

  2. Preparation for teaching

  3. Expectation of teaching outcomes

  4. Diagnosis of learners’ needs

  5. Audio-Visual-Kinaesthetic learning

  6. Aptitude for learning

  7. Motivation for learning

  8. Simultaneous learning

  9. Assessment

  10. Exams/Festivals/Competitions

  11. Tutors/methods

  12. Teaching whole classes/small groups/individuals

  13. Proactive and reactive teaching

Unit 4: Developing a plucked stringed instruments teaching curriculum for children and young people           

  1. Understanding what is meant by a curriculum and a syllabus

  2. Preparing and implementing schemes of work

  3. Short/medium and long term planning

  4. Personalising learning

  5. Becoming a reflective practitioner

  6. Communicating as a musician

  7. Playing and performing

  8. Chamber music

  9. Special needs

  10. School and styles and playing

  11. Alexander Technique

Unit 5: Teaching Individuals

This module covers a solid base of teaching and learning theory and introduces students to core concepts in psychology having to do with learners as individuals, self-belief, motivation, and thinking processes. The structure of a private music lesson and methods for engaging learners as creative individuals are presented. Students explore various traditional and innovative music teaching methods and consider how these can be adapted for a range of learners.

This module challenges students to focus on the differences present in individual pupils. Students consider their choice of repertoire and how that relates to their critical approach to teaching each individual student. Topics to be covered include:

  1. Skills in written communication when articulating and planning teaching content

  2. Collecting and organising musical materials to support targeted strategies for teaching different learners

  3. Comparative analysis of learners’ progress over time

  4. Scholarly presentation and referencing

  5. Experience with private teaching in a variety of settings

Key Skills

  • Autonomous learning required for managing complex tasks

  • Psychological, imaginative, and intuitive understanding

  • Development and sustaining arguments to solve problems

  • Use research and extend current teaching methods to broaden understanding

Unit 6: Creative Repertoire

Throughout the semester, students explore various core pieces of technical and performance repertoire for their instrument. The focus is on the learning concepts in these pieces and how to address these concepts by engaging students and incorporating elements of creativity and fun.

Students are assigned pieces of music to examine and identify other pieces as models from within their traditional teaching and performance repertoire. They then create new purpose-designed repertoire for teaching using various structures and styles.

This newly created material can include adapted versions of existing material, use theme and variations, include duet or multi-player parts and /or be interactive repertoire. Students will explore creating repertoire in diverse styles (other than the original) such as using pop, jazz, blues, and classical models.

Key Skills

  • Autonomous learning required for managing complex tasks

  • Creative problem solving

  • Use of research tools in extending knowledge and understanding

  • Skills in music arrangement / composition to address musical and technical learning

  • Awareness of the needs of individual learners (their pupils)

  • Strategies for teaching technical / musical content

Unit 7: Dissertation – Teacher and Student learning process (double module)

This module focuses on a holistic understanding of the learning experience, from both the teacher and the student point of view. The student view is authentic as learners on the MA become first-hand students as they undertake new learning experiences. The fresh look at learning and teaching prepares students to write a considered dissertation that reflects a current knowledge and understanding of aspects of practical teaching in the field.

Semester 1 focuses on the student perspective/experience with the students each receive weekly lessons (as if they were a beginner/student) with course mentors/professor which are video recorded.

Semester 2 delves into planning, reacting to, and working with different students. In this semester students will observe the recorded lessons, including observing each other being taught as well as lessons with different students (children and adults). The focus is shifted from the student experience to shadowing course mentors/staff in order to observe their teaching methods.

The first semester allows the students to get used to the teacher and make progress on particular repertoire and techniques. This also gives the student time to reflect on their learning processes before turning to focus from the teacher’s perspective on planning and methods.

It is understood that when joining the course, students agree to be observed by their peers. Written consent is obtained for videos to become part of future course materials.


Course structure

This part-time course is timetabled over a period of two calendar years with the next intake beginning in August 2024.

There are 7 units of study which must all be completed in chronological order. A further three additional units focus on: safeguarding children and young people in music education; equality, diversity, and inclusion in music education, and promoting children and young people’s positive behaviour.

The course is delivered online plus 4 days summer residential study at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, UK. The course is delivered in English.*

* Travel costs from the student’s location to Cheltenham are not included in the course fee


Course fees