School Spotlight: Derby School Of Music

We love working incredibly closely with music schools, teachers and education centres across the country. Today we wanted to cast our spotlight over to the incredible Derby School Of Music. Being originally founded in 1885, this school is rich with heritage and is believed to be one of, if not the oldest, music schools in the Midlands. They are the largest music school in Derby, supporting around 300 pupils every week.

We speak to the current owner of the school and the man who helped bring this institution back into Derby’s cultural scene, Steve Machin. Steve explains to us the level of research that was undergone to ensure values that the school hold today align with the original founders of the school over a century ago.

Teaching a child to play piano

“The original school was founded in 1885 by Arthur Francis Smith, who was a big musician and composer in the local area at the time. He realised that there wasn’t an awful lot of music education in the area at that time. Some people learned music from individuals, but the Derby school of music was the first main music school in the whole of The Midlands as far as I’m aware.

The original music school continued to function right up until the 1970s, it was at Friar Gate in Derby which is about half a mile from where we are today. Back in 2011, I effectively revived the original school doing a lot of research into the methods that the original school used and we’ve pretty much carried on with the same values and structure as they once did.


We’re incredibly proud of our heritage and also recently acquired a John Broadwood grand piano, dated from 1877 which was the original grand piano bought by the original “Derby School of Music” when it first opened in 1885. When I say the original piano it was the actual exact piano with the original bill of sale dated 1885. We were very excited by this piece of history.”

John Broadwood grand piano
The Schools John Broadwood grand piano from 1877!

Steve continues by explaining that unlike typical music education in mainstream schooling, the original school only believed in doing 1 to 1 private lessons. This is something they still continue today. The other big value that the school held and still holds today is participating in the local community and being a part of the musical culture in Derby.

“The original music school would always showcase the pupils’ talents at local venues and they were well known for having musicians perform across The Midlands and provided almost all of the entertainment in the Derby area. Today we follow that same ethos, we go to a lot of venues throughout Derby to provide performers, host gig nights and so on. Prior to around four or five years, most venues in Derby were only playing music through speakers and there has definitely been a big increase in demand for acoustic performances, so we’re always happy to help!” 

Adult learning to play violin
The school has a number of both children and adult learners

We then asked Steve why he believes music education is so crucial, how it has affected his life personally and how this has impacted the school’s teaching methods.

“I actually have a degree in maths, I also have one in music, but people always seem to think that science and arts are completely different but I believe they combine quite nicely. I didn’t actually start playing music until I was around 15 but after around 6 months of learning I did my first grade, which was grade 7. That left me incredibly enthused, so pretty soon I was doing diplomas in music, so it has always been an important part of my life.

Before I went into music education I worked in schools teaching maths and I realised that most schools were continuing to cut back on music education a lot. Whilst most schools are aiming at sciences and maths, what it does do is cut off entire communities of people who could be great at other skills such as music or art.

I believe music education is a good all-rounder for most people and in the world we are living in, it’s nice to have a space that you can relax. As well as the educational side, you’ve got the relaxing and stress relieving side of music education that is so often overlooked.”

Teaching a student how to play the piano

One of they key ways that the Derby School of Music does differ is that it only offers private lessons and all of their teachers are professionals in their designated fields, with a combined 300 years worth of teaching experience between all faculty members. Steve believes this helps not only enhance the learning experience, but also allows the students to personalise their journey with the school on a much greater level.

“For us, the main thing about learning an instrument is learning it properly. So often we get pupils come to us saying they’ve learned things off the internet and then we see that their technique is completely off.

We often spend the first few lessons trying to undo habits that actually restrict their playing. The internet can be great as a source of inspiration, but not as a primary source of learning. All of our teachers have got a minimum university degree in their instrument in music, a lot of them have also got masters degrees, so the pupils know they’re getting the absolute best teachers we have available here.

There’s literally hundreds of years worth of experience in our teams and we believe it’s important to learn on quality instruments as well so we always give our students access to instruments that are going to support their learning and get the best sound they can.”

It’s clear that the school takes an incredible level of pride and sophistication to their approach to teaching and are true believers in the power of music being able to impact other areas of one’s life. We then asked Steve what the school believes people can gain from letting music into their lives.

“We believe that music is for everyone. We have pupils as young as 3 performing alongside pupils in their 90’s taking up music for the first time. At the Derby School Of Music, around 60% of our students are children and around 40% are adults. All of them vary in ability, from complete beginners to extremely talented students who want to improve their play.

We also have a lot of experience in offering music education to those with disabilities or particular conditions, we have several students on the autistic spectrum that go to SEN schools. For example, we recently had one non-verbal student who started learning piano just one year ago but they have just passed their Grade 4 piano exam with a distinction.

Where main schools have moved away from music, we believe in helping support our students to express themselves however they want to and excelling in something they love.”

Teaching a young girl guitar

Finally, we asked Steve what big plans they have for the coming year and how they plan to celebrate restrictions lifting.

“Normally we do two big concerts each year, a summer and winter one, our last one unfortunately was in winter 2019, but we’re due to have a big one in December this year so hopefully that will be able to go ahead! We often get some lovely special guests at our concerts, at the last one, the mayor of Derby came down and presented everyone with a certificate after they performed which was fantastic. 

As well as that, we have our gigs going throughout the year and have our first one back in August, which brings a few of our more advanced pupils to perform at a local venue and do a full hour or two set where they have to perform like professionals and help give them that performing experience which we believe is a great stepping stone to begin their semi-professional performing careers!”

If you are looking for your first piano to learn on, read our guide here!Or if you are looking to return after a long break away from playing, not only can Derby School Of Music help, but so can this guide!

We’d like to personally thank Steve for his time and sharing an insight to what makes the Derby School Of Music tick! To follow the Derby School Of Music, or to contact them directly, use the links below!

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