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Big Music School

Unleash your musical potential at Big Music School & Studios in Crows Nest. Discover the transformative power of music education for all ages.


Class of children learning drums

“Music education is not for the talented,” said neuroscientist Dr Anita Collins in her TEDxCanberra talk on the benefits of such. “It is essential.”


Collins’ research underscored the positive effects of studying music on cognitive function, memory, language learning, and even emotional regulation, with the greatest benefits for those who start learning by the age of seven.


It’s something Richard Berkman, co-founder (with brother David) and managing director of Big Music, has seen time and time again with the students who attend the music school. “I've had parents say that they can't believe the change in their child since they started to come to Big Music. They walk up the stairs, they get into the studio with their coach or with their bandmates and everything else gets left behind. They're absorbed in the music and the music's good for you, and you go home feeling refreshed.”


Since 2008, Big Music has occupied the corner of Alexander and Ernest Streets in Crows Nest as two arms: the space that hosts the school, studios and a live performance venue on Level 1, and the instrument retailer on the ground floor. 


After renovations in late 2023, it has now reopened as the Big Music School & Studios, which boasts state-of-the-art facilities for lessons and rehearsals, with the former retail spot now run by Mannys Music and Store DJ. The new retail owners have retained the team and stock and added DJ and electronic equipment to keep up with demand.


Band of child music students performing

The decision to separate the arms meant Big Music could focus on education, says Berkman, who was an accountant in his former life. “My brother and I started the business and it was his idea – he was very musical and he had the idea to create a place that was integrated where you could buy an instrument and learn how to play it and join bands and everything. And we researched it and no one seemed to be doing it,” he recalls. “The tuition business was a small, relatively sideline thing. We had a couple of hundred students and now we've got over 800.”


The popularity of the school is partly driven by its ethos: to have fun. Learning is student-led, with learners choosing an instrument, a teacher and a musical style. It focuses on contemporary music – largely rock ‘n’ roll and pop – with guitar, drums, bass and piano as the main instruments taught, with a side of brass. 


There are no exams (unless the student wants to do them) and the end goal is performance. Students range from a five-year-old learning the piano to an adult learning to play a song on the ukulele for their 50th birthday, to a septuagenarian bass player.


Another contributing element is the quality of the teaching staff, a team of 30 – “they're cool and they're fun and they're active musicians,” describes Berkman – which includes ARIA Hall of Fame guitarist Bob Spencer (Skyhooks, The Angels).


One further factor is, ironically, increased screen time. “Kids and adults spend a lot of time on their devices and I feel we've become popular partly because we're seen as an antidote to that,” says Berkman. “Parents like to see their kids doing something that's essentially ‘hands-on, screen off’. It's analogue, it's real, but the kids are happy doing it.”


Guitar student being taught

He feels the same way playing guitar with his band, Out of Bounds. “All my bandmates are English and so we end up playing mostly English pub rock. I find that when we have band practice, I go home feeling good, like I've been to the gym, and wake up the next morning still feeling like I've had a benefit. So it's actually quite a physical and mental and possibly even spiritual thing.”


Big Music is on Level 1, 85 Alexander Street (corner of Ernest Street), Crows Nest. For details on programs, teachers and venue hire, see bigmusic.com.au


Which instrument should you learn?

“I think the instrument finds the person more often than not,” says Richard. “We never tell them what to learn. We are often asked, ‘What's the easiest instrument to learn?’ And look, for little kids a keyboard's great, because it's really visual.


“They love the drums because it's gratifying. Ukulele is good because it's nice and small and they can get their hands around it. It depends on age and stage and even the size of the kid. But we normally find that you just give them time on an instrument. 


“We ask them all at the end of a holiday camp, ‘What instrument did you love?’ And you go right around the room and every kid is different.”


Local Favourite

Big Music’s Richard Berkman shares his local haunts. 


“I'd probably start the day with a coffee at Café 107. [Owner] Tony's been there as long as we have. If you want to meet the locals, go to Café 107,” he recommends. 


A visit to the park at Ernest Place is “good for people-watching”, then pick a café along Willoughby Road for lunch as there are plenty to choose from. “And then maybe finish with a beer at the pub. We had our Christmas party at the Crows Nest Hotel, but there are lots of other great little bars.”


By Adeline Teoh



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