Simultaneous Learning: The Definitive Guide by Paul Harris

Paul Harris is a highly respected and revered music teacher, author and educationalist, who is single-handedly changing the delivery of instrumental and vocal teaching. With over 600 publications to his name, Paul is in great demand as an examiner, adjudicator, workshop and seminar leader, all around the world.

As a pianist and teacher, I have admired and ingested a whole collection of Paul’s extremely helpful and erudite books; some of which are devised for students, such as the wonderful Improve Your Sight-reading series, whilst others are designed specifically for teachers, such as The Virtuoso Teacher and equally essential   Improve Your Teaching. Faber Music are renowned for their dedication and commitment to music education. They have published Paul Harris’ books for over 20 years, so it was a privilege to attend the launch of Paul’s latest book at their head office in London last week.

Simultaneous Learning: The definitive guide is the culmination of Paul’s approach to instrumental and vocal music teaching. It’s a philosophy which empowers students, enabling them to become confident, individual, creative musicians. It focuses on positive, imaginative teaching where all the elements or ‘ingredients’ of music are connected, giving rise to lessons which are full of joy, enjoyment, cultivation of a love for music,  and the introduction of a thorough musical understanding. This organic, holistic path aims to banish frustrated teaching (and teachers!), by providing specific tools so that pupils will flourish. Paul believes that every student (irrespective of their standard or ability) can and will make progress via the Simultaneous Learning method, and every instrumental tutor can easily convert to becoming a Simultaneous Learning teacher. As someone who has integrated this concept already, I can confirm this to be true; it has definitely transformed my teaching and the way I present lessons.

The book is succinct, easy to read and full of innovative ideas to engage pupils, using every minute of lesson time productively. Paul insists we must move away from the misguided ‘reacting to mistakes’ style of teaching. The myth of ‘difficult’ is brushed to one side and replaced with more fruitful ways of teaching pro-actively, in a non-judgemental, inclusive, friendly manner. Each lesson activity is carefully set up so that it feels ‘natural, inevitable and sequential’, making connections through various elements such as investigating rhythm, scales, theory, improvisation, aural and musical detail in interesting and inventive learning patterns, often before any instrumental playing or singing commences. It employs a Simultaneous Learning Map to base these elements around pieces and songs, entrusting students to become complete musicians as opposed to teaching a few random pieces and a couple of scales, in the all too popular trend of ‘old-fashioned’ teaching, where moving from one exam to the next is frequently de-rigueur.

Each chapter takes us through the various processes necessary to become a Simultaneous Learning teacher, meticulously plotting our journey by suggesting practice and teaching methods and ideas. I particularly like the ‘Points to Ponder’ and ‘Practical Exercises’ which conclude every chapter. Also useful are lesson plans, for beginners through to advanced pupils. This book is very practically based employing clear language, using plenty of learning ‘maps’ highlighting and reinforcing Paul’s concepts.

It’s relatively simple to adjust our teaching by using this philosophy, and conversion does not have to occur overnight.  Neither is it a rigid, inflexible idea; teachers can select what they wish to include in lessons, gradually increasing the Simultaneous Learning theories.

This important publication can be regarded as an instrumental or vocal teaching ‘bible’, suitable for all those connected with music education, it could even be successfully applied to other subjects or genres too. Paul sums up Simultaneous Learning in one phrase: ‘its essence is that learning happens through making and embedding meaningful connections in a positive environment’ (chapter 6, page 35). If we can change our approach to music teaching, then we can make a significant difference to a pupil’s whole musical experience.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

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