Welcome to the official website of Dr Sasha Valeri Millwood

Teacher (pianoforte/composition/theory+analysis/practical musicianship/maths)



Millwood performing at Madingley Hall -- photograph courtesy of Gregor Forbes

Dr Millwood combines his part‑time appointment coaching undergraduates at Edge Hill University with private teaching from his home studio in the town centre of Brentwood, Essex (a short walk from the railway station, which has excellent connections to London via the Elizabeth Line).

Teaching in academia

Dr Millwood is the répétiteur (staff pianist) at Edge Hill University, in which capacity he coaches and rehearses student singers on the Musical Theatre course, notably for the annual production of a new musical, harnessing his experience and insight as a performer and researcher of new music in the service of guiding students through the process of learning a role that does not yet have a performance history. He gives timely and constructive feedback in one‑to‑one coaching sessions, leads sectional rehearsals, and assists the academic staff in practical classes and rehearsals they direct.

Dr Millwood has worked previously as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Glasgow, in which capacity he has devised and delivered lectures across three undergraduate courses within the University’s Music programmes:
Aesthetics & Philosophy of Music;
Opera; and
Musical Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century.
He has also devised and led classes, seminars, and small‑group sessions, and acted as an examiner on two of the aforementioned courses. Outwith Music, he has also facilitated online fora for the postgraduate Theories of Knowledge course run by the Scottish Graduate School of Arts & Humanities.

Private teaching in Brentwood, Essex (in person or online)

I offer tuition (in person or online) in the following:

I also offer more general musical coaching to singers and instrumentalists, including for ensembles.

I teach from my home (in person or online) in Brentwood town centre (a short walk from the High Street or from Brentwood railway station), which is equipped with two pianofortes (thus enabling me to demonstrate on one while the pupil plays on the other). Lessons are given on a pay‐as‐you‐go basis (i.e.: although it is usually advisable to have regular lessons, there is no contractual obligation to do so — pupils wanting only a one‐off lesson are welcome).

Teaching is not about telling the pupil what to do: it should involve attuning him/her to perceive his/her own strengths and weaknesses, and to appreciate the demands of the music. In practice, this means that the teacher must resist the temptation simply to point out errors and cite immediately the "correct" solution; instead, the teacher must draw to the pupil’s attention the erroneous matter at hand and guide him/her (with a few carefully chosen words and gestures) towards understanding for himself/herself what he/she needs to do (and writing up the solutions in his/her own handwriting), and why. It is my belief that a pupil learns far more by spending two minutes scrutinising an issue that the teacher has brought to his/her attention, than by being told in two seconds, "X was wrong; it should be Y".

See also: fees for teaching.

Pianoforte teaching

Discipline and thorough planning are vital to making progress as a pianist. However, this should neither be taken to entail interminable scales, nor depriving performances of spontaneity. On the contrary, it is my belief that equipping a pupil with a robust technique is ultimately a means to an end: achieving a security and certitude that will enable him/her to give consistently confident and spirited performances (which may well be paratactic or even improvisatory in nature), unhampered by nerves.

Another vital attribute I try to cultivate is restraint. This entails eschewing superfluous physical motions and habits which serve only to hasten fatigue and diminish the performer’s control over the sound produced. Another facet of restraint pertains to the performer’s taste in dynamics, tempi, and articulation. The overwhelming majority of pianists, myself included, will, at some point, manifest a propensity to play excessively loud and/or excessively fast; surmounting these temptations will always be an ongoing struggle, so they need to be addressed early.

I expect my pupils to practise between lessons, on a decent instrument. Practice sessions need not be very long to be effective, but should be frequent (ideally, twice a day: in the morning and again in the evening).

I recommend lessons of one hour (or, for very young pupils, forty‑five minutes) — this is because my teaching method involves in‐depth examination of issues, whereby the pupil is challenged to work‐out and understand solutions for himself/herself (and then mark‐up the printed music in his/her own handwriting), a process which is necessarily more time‐consuming than simply barking instructions (which, a week later, will have been forgotten) at him/her.

Composition teaching

Whilst I am strongly opinionated in my creative outlook and interests, it is not my aim to produce a stylistic clone in a composition student. Indeed, it is my belief that the best composition pedagogues are those whose students have gone on to embark in radically different directions from each other.

Such diversity notwithstanding, there is much to be said for cultivating a highly disciplined approach to acquiring the rudiments of writing music, entailing a rigorous and graduated study of harmony and counterpoint alongside intrinsically creative endeavours (of course, it would be simplistic and counterproductive to construe "theoretical exercise" and "creative endeavour" as mutually exclusive: many of Bach’s greatest works were theoretical experiments in the possibilities of counterpoint). Many of the most subversive and revolutionary composers possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of music theory (most notably Schoenberg, who wrote several treatises thereon), and there is some veracity in the cliché, that "you need to know the rules before you break them".

I insist upon high standards of clarity and presentation in the layout of scores and parts, irrespective of the notational specificity (or lack thereof) and lexicon. Drawing on my wealth of professional experience as a composer, arranger, typesetter, editor, and performer, I can offer detailed advice and feedback on matters of house style and notational conventions (as well as such mundane practicalities as page‐turns and cues), in order to equip the student to communicate effectively through music notation, and thereby maximise his/her chances of obtaining performances that present his/her ideas in a positive and compelling light.

To enable adequate deliberation and reflection during the process of distilling musical ideas into notation, I believe it is essential for the student to undertake a physical engagement with the act of writing music (which is necessarily and unavoidably time‐consuming). Therefore, I expect my students to draft compositions by hand; computer software may be used to prepare fair copies, once a thorough grasp of the rudiments of music engraving has been attained.

Music theory and analysis teaching

I can teach general music theory, including figured bass, to abilities from the complete beginner to degree‐level, as well as specialist topics including fugue, classical improvisation, and pitch‑class set theory.

Music theory is an integral facet of performance and composition, as well as being a fascinating, provocative, and intellectually locupletative discipline in its own right. It is often lauded for its elucidatory potential, ameliorating our capacity to appreciate patterns and phenomena in music, thus enhancing our musicality, from its practical demands such as sight‑reading and memorising to the mysterious art of interpretation. Whilst mindful of this, I believe that there is far more to theory and analysis than simply clarifying that which is readily discernible: the study (and application) of theoretical discourses is also locupletative as an end in itself, one which can sometimes elicit contradiction and subversion, as opposed to simply complementing other approaches. Analysis is at its most fascinating when it reveals that which we cannot readily hear.

A crucial facet of understanding any theory is an awareness of its limitations and bias: notwithstanding the highly quantitative — arguably scientific — systems that certain theoretical discourses utilise, the methodology and underlying assumptions leave much scope for subjectivity. Furthermore, it is always important to consider the manner and means by which an approach may be reductive, and observe that which is omitted as much as that which remains. Such considerations can be illuminated by reference to aesthetics, philosophy, and musical context.

Practical Musicianship teaching

Practical musicianship entails the application of precepts of music theory to performative work, and thereby encompasses a wide gamut of skills and techniques that, cumulatively, enable the musician to perform fluently and instinctively. The process is comparable to that for acquiring fluency in a foreign language, inasmuch as it entails a mastery of grammar, style, dialects, idioms, and clichés in a wide range of contexts, both written and aural. Acquiring such fluency in music will enable the pupil to learn the rudiments of a new work faster and more efficiently, enabling him/her to focus more intently on the details of technique and interpretation that make the difference between a good performance and a great performance. At the crux of this process lies the capacity to recognise and respond to patterns (a skill that is all too often neglected in music education), and the capacity to analyse a musical work one is playing in terms of a familiar framework of theoretical concepts (such as intervals, functional harmony, &c.).

Dr Millwood incorporates various facets of practical musicianship, sometimes in great detail (where the occasion demands), into all of his music teaching and coaching (for instance, through prompting a pupil to identify and annotate selectively intervals, harmonic progressions, or scales in a piece he/she is playing), and also offers tuition in practical musicianship (or facets thereof, such as aural skills) as a standalone discipline.

If you:

…then some serious study in practical musicianship may form part of the solution.

Mathematics teaching

Although I specialised in music at university, my research interests include pitch‑class set theory, a highly mathematical taxonomy of music analysis. I hold General Certificates of Education (A‑levels), with A* grades, in both Mathematics and Further Mathematics (having studied C1–C4, FP1–FP3, M1–M3, and S1–S3 — yes, that is thirteen units!), and also qualified for round 1 of the British Mathematical Olympiad, twice (in the December 2008 paper, I scored 26 — only one mark short of what was needed to qualify for round 2).

In 2022 and in 2023, I devised and taught the Mathematics Academy at the Felsted International Summer School, a two‑week course comprising eight two‑hour sessions for mixed‑ability classes of children from around the world (many of whom were not native English speakers).

As with music, my teaching approach involves encouraging the pupil to discover the solution, through the judicious use of leading questions: often, an inflection of the voice or a deliberate pause can be sufficient to draw a pupil’s attention to a mistake or omission in his/her working, although it can sometimes necessarily take a lot longer, especially when it requires a concept or formula to be explained or reiterated. By forcing the pupil to think (and not place too much reliance on the calculator) and physically write for himself/herself (mastering an effective structure and modus operandi for the writing‑out of mathematical workings is a vital skill that is often neglected — many pupils are very reticent and unstructured in their written mathematical work), I hope to instil in him/her a thorough understanding capable of prevailing against the intense pressure of an examination.

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