Soundscool Grade Five Theory Course Review

One of the much-lamented sticking points of sitting music exams is the Grade Five Theory rule. If you follow the ABRSM syllabus, then you have to pass a formal Grade Five theory exam before you can sit a Grade Six practical, no matter what instrument you play.

The reasons behind this rule are sound; in order to play and understand music in the higher grades, you really need to have a sound knowledge of how music is put together. It’s not just random, after all!

Theory  is not the most exciting subject in the music world, especially for children. And unless they have extra theory lessons, progress can seem very slow. My eldest sat and passed her Piano Grade 5 Practical in December 2013, and has just finished working through the Grade 4 Theory syllabus last month. This year she is sitting her Grade 5 practical for the Double Bass and after she can’t go any further with exams until she gets the theory equivalent under her belt.

DD1 disliked learning theory from her current piano teacher and was reluctant to devote any more of her lesson time to it. So I decided to take drastic measures.

I went online and Googled ‘Grade Five Theory Course’. I think I was looking for an online course of some sort; something that was a little bit more lively than the books she was working through with her piano teacher.

The second result down lead me to the Soundscool Website. And it sounded like it was just what I wanted.

Soundscool is a small music school not far from Reading in Berkshire. Daniel and Sandra welcome students into their lovely home and teach them piano, singing and cooking.

Soundscool Kitchen

They are a bit far away from us to use them for regular lessons, although if we lived in the vicinity I definitely would. But they also offer a two-day, Grade Five Theory course.

The course has been running for three years and during that time hundreds of people have attended. All of them have passed the Grade Five theory exam after doing the course and following up with 10 past papers afterwards, many with merits and distinctions.

We had half term coming up, and they were running a couple of course during this time. Unfortunately, both were already booked up. I send Daniel an email anyhow, and after some discussion about DD ( what instruments she played, and to what standard) he said they could fit her in to one of the half term courses. I said yes please!

Next I had to convince my 13 year old daughter that giving up two days of her half term would be a reasonable use of her precious holiday. She was not convinced, but I managed to persuade her with the promise of a night away with some one to one time with me. Luckily enough she is still fond enough of me to consider ‘mum time’ a positive thing and she eventually agreed to attend the course.

After reading the information about the course and finding it involved cooking and food, as well as theory, I was sure that DD was going to enjoy herself. But she was anxious about not knowing anyone, not being able to understand the course material and of the dreadful possibility that she might be bored.

She needn’t have worried. She thoroughly enjoyed herself over the two days and was almost in tears on the first night when I told her the next day finished an hour earlier. She made new friends, got to try out dough and pasta making, had plenty to eat and came away confident and enthusiastic about Grade Five Theory. She said that she now understands a lot of things that had confused her before and she is looking forward to sitting the exam.

Soundscool class

I honestly didn’t expect her to be so fired up about it and was thrilled to have such a positive response from her about it.

The Soundscool Grade Five Theory Course cost £200 for the two days, which included all materials, food, drink and cooking ingredients. This may sound expensive, but in London we pay £22 for a half-hour piano lesson so £200 wouldn’t even cover 5 hours worth of theory instruction. Doing this course DD got 9 hours worth of theory tuition and two hours of cooking, craft and food.

She won’t sit her exam until June, so we have plenty of time to go through the practice papers, but we are both confident that she now has the skills and knowledge to do well.

Both of us would recommend this course as a fast and fun way to prepare for a Grade 5 Music Theory exam.


RIP The Lurcher

Willow in Autumn

About a month ago, I wrote this post, about the Lurcher being hit by a car.

She went on to have surgery on her kneecap, which seemed to go well, as she was weight bearing on the leg two weeks after her surgery. Then her sutures came out and she was allowed to go for up to 4 x 10 minute walks a day.

The first day she seemed fine, but things didn’t look quite right by the morning of the second day. And by the third day after her stitches came out, she was not walking on her poorly leg at all. I took her up  to see the surgeon who had operated on her and he confirmed she would need more surgery. But it was her tendon that was a problem now, and he felt that a special implant from the States gave her the best chance of recovery.

We did discuss the possibility of amputation as this would mean a much quicker recovery time, but the Lurcher wasn’t yet five and very accident prone. We felt that if her leg could be saved, it should.

So we waited for the surgeon to find one of these implants, then for it to be allowed into the country ( this took almost a week), then yesterday we drove her up to the veterinary clinic and left her there. She was upset at being left, so I didn’t make a big deal of saying good bye, as I was sure I would be driving west to pick her up today.

But it wasn’t to be. Last night, when the Surgeon rang to say the operation had gone well, and she was recovering nicely, I managed to relax for the first time all day.

Then 10 minutes late her was back on the phone with bad news. Our beloved Lurcher had collapsed and died shortly after he had got off the phone to me. They had tried to resuscitate her, but to no avail; something had gone terribly wrong.

We could opt for a Post Mortem but it would cost more money and not necessarily answer any questions. We’ve said to leave it but will get her cremated and have her ashes returned. It may be just ‘one of those things’ but we are all devastated by the loss of our lovely girl.

This is the last photo we have of her, taken yesterday before we headed off up the M40.

lurcher on the sofa

As you can see, the sofa will now have a lot more empty space on it.

Run free Willow. We hope the rainbow bridge has plenty of comfy beds and squirrels to chase.

The Gallery: Colour

Last summer we drove around Denmark and Sweden for our summer holidays. We spent four days strolling around Copenhagen and just enjoying the sights.

It’s a great city to visit with kids and full of all sorts of hidden gems. This colourful Happy Wall was one of those things.


We fought our way through some road works , came around the corner and there it was.

2000 hinged rectangles of colour, all ready for the general public to graffiti in any way they wished.

Happy Wall 1

You can see a library-style ladder at the far end , so people can reach the higher boards without having to climb on someone’s shoulders.

The kids had a fantastic time making patterns on the Wall by opening and closing the doors , reading other people’s contributions ( not all of which were  in English or suitable for their eyes) and then scrabbling around in their backpacks for pens and crayons so they could contribute too.

Z writing on the happywall

H happywall

L Happywall

J Happywall

Adding their own bit of graffiti was definitely the highlight of the morning and they often wonder if the Happy Wall is still up and on display in the middle of Copenhagen.

This week’s Gallery Theme is Colour, so if you feel in need of brightening up over half term, then click through here onto Sticky Fingers.



The Gallery: Light

At this time of the year, I really start to miss the light that fills our garden during summer.

It’s hard to believe that in a few short months we will be able to turn the heating off and leave the doors open. As the kids get older they seem to prefer to spend time indoors, even when the sun is shining, but I don’t care as it means I get the garden all to myself.

We have all had a lot of fun in our garden in the past and of course, my camera has been well used.

My favourite photo of DD3 was taken in the May of her 4th year, in the garden. Every year we get a bunch of poppies appear and the kids have always loved watching the bees bumble along from flower to flower.

Girl and poppy

You can’t see the insect that she’s watching, but I love the way she’s obviously interested, yet cautious.

I also love that I have such a nice picture of her hair when it was blonde, and that the grass is so green and the poppy so orange.

It reminds me that I’ve had enough of winter and can’t wait for the English version of summer.

This post was written for this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.

If you’ve had enough of the winter gloom and fancy some light, then pop over and check it out.



Party Invitation Problems

A few weeks ago this story  was doing the rounds.

In case you can’t be bothered reading it, it’s the story of the wee boy who was invoiced for non attendance at his school friend’s party. There was a lot of discussion on social media and forums about it and the general consensus was that the people who sent out the invoice went  a little too far, BUT a lot of people felt some sympathy for them.

It seems that most people have a story to tell involving childrens’ birthday party invitations. Their complaints usually fit into one of five categories

1/ People don’t RSVP. At all.

This has happened to me and for one party I had 12 people not reply either way. I also had no way of contacting them so assumed they weren’t going to show up. Two of them did.

In the future, I am going to make sure I have some way of contacting parents before handing their child an invitation!

2/ People don’t RSVP in time.

One mistake people make is to not put a RSVP date on the invitation.

I have done this a few times and have always regretted it, as people reply in dribs and drabs. Someone always rplies the night before, just when you think you’ve finished with the party bags.

Again, if you want to be organised, make sure you have contact details for everyone.

3/Uninvited kids turn up.

This can be a real problem if the party you are holding limits numbers, or asks you to pay per attendee.

I’ve had families bring siblings along to the party without asking, and also had one parent say they won’t be coming but turn up anyhow. Luckily I’ve never had to say ‘No, there isn’t space for you’, but I have had to pay extra.

I’ve also heard of people writing ‘No Siblings’ on the invite.

4/ Kids who have said they are coming don’t turn up.

This is the most common party problem and happens all the time.

There are lost of different reasons; someone gets sick, there is a double booking or sometimes people just forget. It’s easy enough to do if you have a busy weekend.

It’s annoying , but mostly understandable as I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past.

5/ Guests turn up late.

I’m not talking about people who turn up 5 or 10 minutes late. In fact anything up to 30 minutes late is just ‘one of those things’.

The traffic may have been late, a previous appointment may be running late. These things can’t be helped.

But turning up for a party 90 minutes into a 2 hour event just seems a bit odd, especially when nothing has been said previously.

Have you got any suggestions about how to avoid the above scenarios?



The Gallery: Cold

As a family, we are quite partial to a cold holiday.

Plane to lapland
Yes, we get a little snow here in the UK, but there is nothing like posing for a family photo while ankle (or higher) deep in the white stuff.

Family in snow
Of course, you have to  make sure everyone wraps up warm.

children dressed for snow

As long as everyone is dressed appropriately, the temperature doesn’t matter. It might be -10 but you can have lots of fun when it’s cold and snowy outside.

You can build a decent sized  snowman.

Big snowman

You can go on a reindeer trek.

Reindeer sled ride in lapland

And of course there is always sledding.

Sledding Lapland


Even the adults can enjoy themselves. Taking control of a husky team is surprisingly satisfying.

Husky team in Lapland

If you aren’t that keen on snowy activities, then how about renting a cottage somewhere cold and just chilling? (See what I did there?)

You could rent a fisherman’s hut, like this.

Lauklines Kystferie

And enjoy a view like this.

Lake view Norway


Rent a car and drive around in the snow. With snow tyres, it’s easy and fun to go exploring.

We found a beach.

beach winter Norway


Even the rock pools were frozen.

Frozen rock pools
The roads were a bit frightening.

Scary roads Norway


But the scenery was truly spectacular.

mountains and lake norway
frozen waterfall norway

We’d recommend a cold family holiday. As you can see, you don’t have to go skiing to have a good time in the snow!

kick sled


ETA that these photos were taken during 2 separate holidays. The first seven were taken in Finnish Lapland in December 2011 when we visited Father Christmas with Esprit.
The second eight were taken when we rented this fisherman’s cottage 30 miles from Tromsø in Norway during February halfterm in 2013 and spent a week just driving around playing in the snow and looking at scenery.

This post was written for this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.