Dr. Tom Williams is a jazz guitarist, lecturer and musicologist specialising in performance, improvisation, cognition, jazz and pedagogy.
Tom has taught at a number of leading institutions in The UK and given lectures around the world, on various topics related to his research areas. Tom’s research areas are wide however some aspects include guitar, improvisation, women in music, musical analysis, jazz histories and practice, film music, and nostalgia in music.
His doctoral research provided a detailed cognitive and contextual model of how expert level improvisers develop and use their craft. Tom has performed across the UK and internationally as performer and specialises in jazz music specifically, although has a wealth of performative experience in all kinds of settings and genres. Tom is a senior lecturer and subject specialist at the Academy of Contemporary Music.
1. Tell us about your role as a Subject Specialist at ACM?
As a subject specialist at ACM, part of my role includes ensuring the curriculum is up to date, steering aspects of delivery and content and also being a point of contact for anyone who’d like to learn more about my specialisms – Performance (guitar), Technical Development, Improvisation, Theory, and Research.
2. What does it mean to be a Subject Specialist?
My role as a subject specialist is to help those students in my specialist area from the audition process all the way to graduation. This can be technical queries, or simply helping you understand where you are within the process, helping you feel confident about where you are going. One of the most important things about ACM is the network between students and tutors. Part of my role is connecting these two things.
3. Tell us about your career background and areas of expertise?
I’ve had quite a varied career which spans performance, education, research and composition. I started my career (as many do!), playing a variety of different settings throughout the country. I’ve also spent time in theatre pits, big bands and orchestras, cruise ship house bands, and a range of other eclectic environments. I’ve been very fortunate to play in some incredible venues with some fantastic musicians. Like all the tutors at ACM, my experience is filtered back into the lessons and guidance all ACM students have access to. Equally, as much as I’m a performer, I’m also a researcher and educator. Over the years I developed my interest in music, pursuing a PhD, which led to becoming a researcher – sometimes working independently on projects, and sometimes as part of larger groups and initiatives trying to solve the issues we experience as musicians and creatives. I’ve been working in education for 15 years and get as much from the students as (I hope!) they get from me.
4. Which pathway are you a Subject Specialist for? Tell us more about that pathway?
I’m a specialist on the performance pathway (and within that guitar), and the research areas that we integrate into our courses. During your time on the performance pathway, you’ll have many oppurtunities to perform live, create bespoke arrangements, learn about new styles, analyse and implement current practices, learn high level techniques, understand music through applied theory and ultimately start to create a unique musical voice. You’ll also learn how to bridge the gap from education into industry, and with that engage with essential soft skills that will be an asset to any employer.
5. What’s the audition process for your pathway?
Typically the audition process for musician pathway looks at a range of aspects including, your academic skills, qualifications, previous musical training, instrumental/voice ability and musical knowledge. We are looking for a certain type of person too – tenacious and committed to learning in what is a very fast paced environment.
6. What’s your top advice on how to prepare for an ACM audition for your pathway?
Make sure you are prepared, and where possible revise your core skills. If you’re looking to come on to the performance pathway, we’ll want you to be able to demonstrate an ability to play your instrument to a certain level, have a good foundation in music reading and theory, and also have some ideas about what excites and inspires you about your discipline. Don’t worry if you feel you are not quite ready with some of your skillset. In your audition we’ll help you develop a progression plan for reaching the level you need to be at to be on an equal footing from day one of your course.
7. Why might someone like to reach out to you as a Subject Specialist?
Anyone is welcome to reach out to me, in relation to anything to do with my specialist areas, and also the programme structure and delivery more generally at ACM.
8. Why is it important for you to pass on your knowledge as a Subject Specialist to the
next generation of talent at ACM?
Were it not for the excellent tuition i’ve had at various institutions, I wouldn’t have had many of the opportunities open to me. I like to think what we do best here at ACM is provide an environment that nurtures opportunity and teaches our students where to find opportunity in difficult instances.
9. What makes ACM stand out to you?
A range of things, but if I had to pick three – The fantastic tutors and dialogue between students and staff, the fast paced and interesting environment, and all of the fantastic work, produced by our students year to year.
10. What’s your top piece of advice to those looking for a career in the Creative
Keep your horizons broad. Stop thinking of yourself as a guitarist, or a vocalist. You are much more than this – A musician, a writer, a problem solver, a team member, a team leader, an innovator, and a creative. Keep this in mind and be open to working in different sectors within the industry.