The Grand Black and White Piano Party at the OSO Centre in Barnes

Viv Tod Boyd Steinway

The OSO (Old Sorting Office) Centre in Barnes (London) will host a Grand Black and White Piano Party on Tuesday September 23rd 2014 at 7.30pm. The OSO is now an Arts and Community Centre which hosts many interesting events, and it also contains a new addition in the shape of a beautiful Steinway grand piano with a celebrated history, generously donated by Susan Tod Boyd, whose late husband David Tod Boyd, was an esteemed musical director and conductor.

The piano concert and new Steinway is the brainchild of assiduous and dedicated concert promoter and impresaria, Yvonne Evans. Yvonne is the director of Seven Star Concerts, a concert agency which essentially promotes Words and Music performances. She has been raising money for a new instrument over the past months and then fortuitously met Susan Tod Boyd, and the rest is history! The ‘Tod Boyd Steinway’ was installed at the OSO centre during the Summer, after being restored  by Michael Lewis, and was ready on 9th August for its first outing; a ‘Classic Gershwin’ evening of words and music, which was performed by actress Susan Porrett and pianist Viv McLean (Viv plays the Steinway in the photo above), to a full house.

The piano has a particularly fascinating history. It has been played  by such notable musicians as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharpe, and used to accompany Isolde Menges (one of the foremost violinists of the first half of the twentieth century) in practice for her various solo performances and with her Quartet and Quintet throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s.  It continued to be played by her son, David Tod Boyd, throughout his own impressive musical career ending up in the Opera School at the Royal College of Music from where he retired.

The piano was originally bought new in 1906 by Harold Tod Boyd a pianist, choir master and composer.  In 1920 he married Isolde Menges, and came to live in Castelnau shortly afterwards. Isolde Menges had studied with Leopold Auer and Carl Flesch in St. Petersburg.  She had made her debut concert 1913 at Wigmore Hall and throughout the first half of the twentieth century worked with leading conductors and orchestras around the world. In 1938, her Quartet was one of the first to present the entire cycle of Beethoven Quartets.  A major prize commemorates her at the Royal College of Music, where she was a professor up until 1969.

The piano featured prominently throughout her musical life in her home in Barnes, where it has been enjoyed by the many musicians who passed through her professional and social circle.  On this piano Vaughan Williams composed his second string quartet.

Following Isolde’s death in 1976 it was left to her son, David Tod Boyd, who held musical director and conductor roles at the Carl Rosa Opera Company, ENO, West End Theatres, the National Theatre and the Royal College of Music. The piano is dedicated to the memory of David Tod Boyd.

The Grand OSO Black and White Piano Party will assist in raising money for the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the piano. The concert features pianists Anthony Hewitt, Viv McLean, Bobby Chen, Génia, and Benet McLean, with words provided by Susan Porrett and Graham Roos. Fenella Fielding is the special guest who will unveil the piano. The programme is to include works by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Gershwin, and Chopin, and there will no doubt be a few surprises too! You can obtain much more information here: www.sevenstarconcerts.com  and here www.osoarts.org.uk

OSO Flyer

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Charles Owen’s Recital for Rhinegold LIVE at Conway Hall

Charles 1

I attended the third Rhinegold LIVE concert last night, which was held at Conway Hall in London. This popular Series is curated by Rhinegold Publishing, and each recital has been excellent; all very different, fresh and compelling. It’s a pleasure highlighting events such as these,  because they proffer an  opportunity  to create an awareness of the innumerable feast of Classical concerts and recitals taking place in and around the capital.

The Rhinegold Rush Hour Series provides superb artists at a renowned venue with pre-concert drinks and a post-concert interview with each performer on stage, completely free of charge. Amazing! This in itself should be celebrated. Rhinegold affords the chance to hear and meet musicians ‘up close’, and the concerts are programmed in such a way as to encourage attendance by those who may previously have found a Classical concert unattractive.

British concert pianist Charles Owen (pictured above) gave an impressive recital to an appreciative, attentive audience. He began with a majestic account of Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) finest work for solo piano, the Variations Sérieuses, Op. 54, written in 1841. After stating the chorale-like theme, each thematic thread was carefully woven during the progressively intricate variations. The musical line was always clearly projected, thus building momentum towards the impassioned climax of the final variations. After taking the listener on a journey through countless emotions, the understated ending was well judged and effective.

Partita No. 1 in B flat BWV 825 by J S Bach (1685-1750) was next on the programme, and for me, this was the most successful performance of the evening. Each movement was thoughtfully presented with judicious pedalling, clear articulation, plenty of tonal variety and above all, complete control. Again, we were taken through a myriad of sentiments and feelings, from sadness to sparkling humour.

American composer Nico Muhly (1981 – ), resides in New York and writes in a wonderfully engaging minimalist style. Minimalism (or music with repetitive structures) has been a popular ‘trend’ in Classical music for decades, but Charles Owen had selected two of Muhly’s works which combined this genre with an edgy, urban intensity. A Hudson Cycle (2005) and Short Stuff (2009; this performance was the London premiere), were both fascinating and captivating; using a wide range of colours, rhythms, and sound effects, they oozed drama and virtuosity.

A selection of Preludes from Book 1 by Claude Debussy (1862-1918), brought the recital to a close.  The Preludes are mini tone poems, conjuring images and stories in sound via an extraordinarily individual harmonic language. Each piece was characterized beautifully, creating an atmospheric aura employing a sea of tonal luminosity, making full use of the Schimmel Konzert Grand (which was kindly provided by Peregrine’s Pianos).

After a warm reception, the Editor of the International Piano Magazine, Claire Jackson, joined Charles onstage for a short Q&A (pictured below). This is a unique feature of the Rhinegold series; a chance to find out a little more about each performer. Charles hinted at the painstaking work which goes into every performance and gave a few pearls of wisdom to young pianists considering embarking on a concert career.

Rhinegold LIVE continues on November 10th where soprano Mary Bevan and pianist Richard Peirson will be taking the spotlight. You can find out much more about this series here.

Charles 2

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Orchids for piano by Ed Hughes

A blog can provide the ideal opportunity to highlight less familiar Contemporary music, and this interesting set of pieces by British composer Ed Hughes (born in 1968), employs the piano in all its glory. Orchids consists of six movements written between 1990 and 2002 for a collection of fine pianists; Benjamin Morison, Stephen Gutman, Robert Saudek, Nicolas Hodges, Michael Finnissy and Richard Casey.

Hughes has written for a whole variety of genres including ensemble, orchestral, solo and choral/vocal compositions, many of which have been performed in the UK and abroad, as well as broadcast on BBC Radio 3.  Glancing at his biography, I noticed he has also worked on music for silent films; Battleship Potemkin and Strike. On listening to Orchids, it’s immediately obvious that Hughes’ style would lend itself perfectly to the silent movies medium. Full of drama, pathos and at times sheer terror, these works are not for the faint-hearted pianist, nor are they suitable for those who aren’t keen on notes, because the virtuosity required to do justice to these pieces is considerable (post-diploma level in my opinion).

Ed Hughes prefaces the score thus: A series of works for solo piano, the exotic floral image of the series title suggesting common patterns which underly gradual changes in the music. Each is a variegated single movement form in which the sections fold into each other, like waves or petals, disturbing and interrupting the surface polyphony.

There are several noticeable features present in Hughes’ compositions. The first is polyphony; each piece is laced with so many different layers of sound and colour, which at times becomes all-consuming. Secondly, the use of rhythm, which is complex, with many of the contrapuntal strands running in completely separate rhythmical patterns which somehow all glue together impressively. Use of timbre and tonal contrasts seems intrinsic to the style and sonority, and provides much-needed variation too.

Orchid 1, written in 1990, (dedicated to Nicholas Hodges) was first performed in January 1991 at Blackheath concert Hall by Michael Finnissy. This piece contains four parts (or lines of music) which all compete for attention, and require a cantabile sound. Menacing, melodic and rhythmically challenging, there is plenty to keep the performer and listener’s focus. The second work Orchid 2 (dedicated to Benjamin Morison), was written in 1991 and first performed at the British Information Centre in 1992 by the dedicatee, is considerably faster but just as contrapuntal. Displaced rhythmic patterns and a trance-like character pervade. The third Orchid, written in 1994 (dedicated to Stephen Gutman and first performed by him at the Brighton Festival in May 1994), is the longest of the group and begins calmly with a hymn-like serenity. Largely tonal, the work becomes increasingly florid, with many double note passages creating a highly evocative atmosphere.

The remaining Orchids depict various states of these delicate, beautiful flowers: No. 4 (composed in 1996 for Michael Finnissy and first performed by Ian Pace at the British Information Centre in July 1996), feels slightly improvisatory, with harmonic ambiguity and a nocturnal aura, whereas No. 5 (written in 2000 for Robert Saudek), is a frenzied and virtuosic Toccata. The final Orchid (written in 2002 for Richard Casey and first performed by Richard at the University of Sussex in February 2007)  is edgy and dissonant; a biting, brittle sound with impressionistic seasoning.

Orchids are imaginative and full of intensity; if you are searching for unusual Contemporary piano pieces which explore the entire range of the keyboard, both physically and tonally, look no further. The complete set has been recorded by Richard Casey (2011), on a disc entitled Dark Formations (Divine Art), which is a compilation of Hughes’ works. You can find out more about it here.

www.edhughes.org.uk

Metier MSV 28530

A flavour of Ed Hughes’ music:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Faber Music launches the Lang Lang Piano Academy

Lang Lang Piano Academy - Mastering the Piano Level 1

Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang has already become a legend in the world of Classical music. He has many fans in the West, but he’s also developed a colossal  following in the Far East, which has directly increased the Chinese appetite for Western Classical music and more specifically, the demand for piano lessons. More than 40 million children are now learning to play the piano in China due to the ‘Lang Lang effect’ (as it’s affectionately known). He has attained rock star status and Time Magazine recently included Lang Lang  in the “Time 100″, the Magazine’s annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.  So when an illustrious concert pianist teams up with a highly esteemed publishing company, the results can be stratospheric.

I was invited to attend the launch of Lang Lang’s new Piano Academy; a series of piano books entitled Mastering the Piano intended for young learners, published by Faber Music. Held at the intimate 1901 Arts Club in Waterloo, London, the event was beautifully arranged with an impromptu performance and talk by Lang Lang himself. He chatted informally about the reasons for collaborating with Faber Music and described it as a lifelong ‘dream’ to produce a series of books such as these. His heart genuinely lies in music education, and for me, this really is a joy to behold; Lang Lang takes the time and opportunity to highlight and endorse the importance of playing the piano, and more importantly, playing it effectively.

Glossy, clear and concise, the books are well presented and volumes (or Levels) 1, 2 and 3 are first to be published, with 4 and 5 following later in the year. They focus on ‘how’ to play and are not a piano method per se, as the sub-heading clearly states ‘Technique, studies and repertoire for the developing pianist’. Starting at around Grade 1/2 standard up to around Grade 4, there are plenty of photos, demonstrations and advice from Lang Lang regarding how to tackle various techniques and styles of music. Copious piano pieces, exercises and studies infiltrate the pages, with lots of superlative practice and preparation ideas from correct posture and hand positions, to the importance of rhythm and hand coordination.

The launch began with a performance of the Burgmüller Arabesque, from Level 2, after which Lang Lang explained a few vital points concerning fruitful, positive practice. I was delighted he spoke so eloquently about Scales. A pet hate for many students, but as he demonstrated, they are the bedrock of excellent, even piano playing and must be worked at thoroughly, diligently and consistently (he practised them for an hour and a half a day apparently!).  Practice ‘features’ or techniques are arranged in chapters (or units); Level 3 contains ‘Exploring the keyboard’, ‘Developing dexterity’, ‘Introducing the pedal’, ‘Chords’, ‘Playing in new keys’, which appear with corresponding advice based around certain relevant pieces and exercises. This is all very useful for those just getting to grips with assorted techniques.

The repertoire in each Level is extremely varied, from Scarlatti, Beethoven, Gounod, Grieg, Schumann, and Kabalevsky, to Chinese works arranged for the instrument, as well as pieces and arrangements by favourite contemporary composers and music educators (Paul Harris, Pam Wedgwood and Alan Bullard). I like the inclusion of lesser known composers, such as Bertini, Dunhill, Czerny, Heller, and Gurlitt, who wrote excellent little piano studies for young pianists. In Mastering the Piano, these pieces are assiduously examined, and a wealth of tips and practice suggestions are added at the beginning. Each chapter is preceded by a ‘Message from Lang Lang’. Thoughts on memorization was another illuminated topic at the launch, and Lang Lang emphasised the study of J S Bach’s piano music to help establish this elusive skill, in order for it to become a ‘normal’ part of piano performance.

It’s not unusual or indeed unexpected for musicians to be influenced by other art forms, but Lang Lang specifically mentioned the significance of paintings and sculpture for capturing a musical mood. Appropriate paintings are reproduced as a reminder. He finished the presentation by playing a Chinese work entitled Jasmine Flower, a traditional Chinese Song (from Level 1), followed by the ever popular Rondo Alla Turka or Turkish March from Sonata in A major K. 331 by Mozart, for which he received a rapturous reception.

These books will no doubt prove popular with a plethora of pupils (of all ages) who want a learning ‘tool’ for help and guidance, as they work to develop a fluent technique and greater musical understanding. They are not designed to replace the piano teacher, or to be a specific ‘method’ studied alone, but rather to be incorporated with other materials to attain a whole and well-rounded piano education. To this end Lang Lang and Faber Music have done a sterling job.

After his presentation, the Chinese pianist posed for countless photos, chatting to everyone in the room; for a superstar with a tight schedule (he had two further engagements after this lunchtime event), his kindness, sincerity and modesty are indeed remarkable. Many congratulations to Faber Music for such an innovative project which will hopefully be the start of a great musical relationship.

Mastering the Piano Series: www.langlangpianoacademy.com

Image above: Faber Music

Lang Lang 3

Image: Lang Lang performing at the 1901 Arts Club in London. © Melanie Spanswick

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Trip to the Schimmel Factory in Germany

Schimmel Pianos

If you love pianos then you will most certainly be interested in this superb one day trip to the Schimmel Piano factory. Peregrine’s Pianos, London’s exclusive dealer in Schimmel Pianos, is offering its customers an opportunity to visit the factory in Braunschweig, Germany. The one day visit, on Tuesday 30th September 2014, will provide an excellent opportunity for anyone who enjoys observing the intricacies of building this complex instrument, and also for Schimmel lovers who are already aware of the range of pianos available and would like to learn more.

Schimmel pianos (the largest volume German piano manufacturer) was founded in Leipzig in 1885. The present modern factory (pictured above) is close to the centre of Braunschweig and is purpose-built. It takes the form of numerous work areas dedicated to specific parts of the process – frame and soundboard manufacture, casework, key making, piano stringing, action alignment, silent piano installation, final assembly and finishing. Schimmel Pianos run a comprehensive training scheme for apprentices and planning ahead is key in the company’s thinking. Care about wider issues is also highly important; for example timber is carefully selected from regenerating forests.

Full details of the day will be given to those joining the visit. The trip will begin at Heathrow, London at approximately 7am and arrive back there at about 9.30pm.  After a short flight to Hannover there will be a special coach transfer to the factory. On arrival, guests will then be introduced to senior staff at Schimmel Pianos and entertained to a factory lunch. The visit will include talks from the management team, an extended tour of all parts of the factory and opportunity to try pianos in the “selection room.” The day will also feature a short recital, a visit to the old city, a group meal in Braunschweig and the return coach transfer to the airport.

Places on this visit are limited and those interested in joining it will need a valid passport and should contact Peregrine’s Pianos as soon as possible. There is a nominal charge of £250 per person which includes all items listed in the itinerary, and Peregrine’s Pianos will be pleased to discount one person’s charge against the subsequent purchase of a Schimmel Piano.

For more details please write to: info@peregrines-pianos.com

www. peregrines-pianos.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dance in Bulgarian Rhythm No. 4 from Mikrokosmos by Bartók (ABRSM Grade 8 syllabus)

The ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) graded exam syllabus for 2015/6 is now readily available, and no doubt pianists across the world are selecting and practising the new set works. I went along to the launch a few weeks ago, held at Yamaha Music (formerly Chappell of Bond Street) in London, where ABRSM examiner and trainer, Timothy Barratt,  spoke about many of the chosen works for each grade. The Grade 8 selection is as varied as ever, and over the next few months I will be writing about a selection of Grade 7 and 8 pieces, offering a few practice tips.

It’s great to see old favourites on the list; many works appear regularly over the years. Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1981-1945) is a particularly popular choice, and this year is no exception; his works appear in four of the eight  piano grades.

Whilst not every student’s cup of tea,  Bartók’s style is one of the most highly original of the Twentieth century. A superlative pianist (there’s an abundance of recordings of his playing), and prolific composer. I researched his piano music (specifically the three concertos) in Budapest when I was a student, and had the opportunity to speak to the renowned  Bartók  specialist and musicologist László Somfai about the composer’s highly individual combined use of harmony and folk songs, which was both informative and enlightening. 

Bartók amassed a very large collection of folk songs, which he acquired by visiting various Hungarian villages (and beyond), recording local musicians on an Edison Phonograph. Here’s a wonderful example of a typical recording (this features a Romanian Folk Dance and is over 100 years old):

Bartók notated and catalogued all the folk songs in his collection. They became a crucial source of inspiration in his own compositions, and the ‘folk song’ element was eventually completely assimilated into his style. Indeed it was to be his ‘hallmark’.

Mikrokosmos Sz. 107, was written between 1926 and 1939, and consists of 153 pieces in six volumes,  progressing from very simple pieces for beginners to advanced level works. They demonstrate Bartók’s commitment to and interest in music education (he wrote several sets of piano pieces for educational purposes). According to Bartók, the piece “appears as a synthesis of all the musical and technical problems which were treated and in some cases only partially solved in the previous piano works.”

Mikrokosmos concludes with the Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm, which are traditionally performed as a group, feature in Volume No. 6, and were dedicated to Harriet Cohen. The 2015/16 ABRSM syllabus includes the fourth dance in the set, No. 151, and it appears on List C (C1).  Bartók’s music has been described as dissonant and violent, and whilst there are elements of these qualities in his works, the breadth of musical variety found in this particular Dance (and in the set as a whole), is breath-taking.

For those considering this piece as an option for the Grade 8 exam, or perhaps who have already started learning this work, I have compiled a few practice ideas for combatting certain difficulties within the work, which may be helpful.

Of utmost importance is the rhythm, and more specifically, the Time Signature: 3+2+3 over 8. Unusual Time Signatures are renowned in the Hungarian composer’s style,  and Bartók has used the rhythm of traditional Bulgarian Dances here, but the melodic material is all his own. Interestingly, he described this dance as in the style of Gershwin but with his (Bartók’s) own tonality. This becomes apparent just by clapping the pulse. The unusual  rhythmic patterns may be unfamiliar to some, so they need complete assimilation before practising commences. Clapping the pulse followed by the rhythmic pattern of the melody (which can really in grain the ‘feel’), is the best way to start. After which, focus on clapping the rhythmic pattern whilst counting each beat out loud at the same time. Although there are few accent markings in this work, but there is a definite ‘push’ (or groove?) on the fourth beat of each bar (akin to jazz).  Once the rhythm has been understood, it’s easy to make swift progress.

The melody is featured in some guise or other most of the time during this short piece, whether alone in the right hand (bars 1-8), the left hand (bars 9-16, where it’s inverted (or reversed)), played in unison (bars 20-24), played in repeated notes (44-50), in right hand octaves (bars 55-58) and in sixths too (bars 59-66).  So the trick is to find a way to vary the sound and touch throughout. Bartók is always very specific about tempo and dynamic markings, but beyond this it is the job of the interpreter to work some magic. Here’s the original tune, which is bright and jocular, and must be played very softly and serenely at the opening:

Bartok Dance No

Start by compartmentalising the melodic sections, so you know where the melody occurs and how it has been transformed as the work progresses (analysing a piece can prove extremely effective; using red pencil is a good way to identify sections!). Then write as much fingering in as possible; suitable fingering makes all the difference when honing a smooth performance.

Next, concentrate on the ‘accompanying’ material, which is just as important (often more so), again, write in all fingerings, and touch should be predominantly legato (pedal should be kept to a minimum). The copious chordal left and right hand passages ably demonstrate Bartók’s use of bitonality (two keys at once) and in many cases, polytonality (many keys at the same time). Although this Dance is in the key of C major, the increasingly dissonant harmonic progressions throughout, provide the exotic flavour and spice.

As always, working in small sections usually proffers the best results, and certain passages require special attention. Take note of the ‘off beat’ accompaniment sections; bars  25-32 and bars 33-39 are a couple of examples. The syncopated chords can be lighter and generally shorter than the melodic material, but placing them correctly is vital and challenging. Success will depend on the grasp of the pulse, and assimilation of the ‘groove’. If rhythm is causing some grief, try breaking down further, dividing each bar into three sections, literally playing the first three quaver beats (the first ‘3’ in the time signature), then take a short pause. Now continue with the two quaver portion (the ‘2’ in the time signature), now another  pause. Then finally the last three quavers in the bar (last ‘3’).  It I. s  easier to understand a complicated pattern when broken up completely. This will take time, but eventually the 3+2+3 will be easily grasped, and joining bars or groups of bars will be relatively straight forward.

Chordal progressions such as those in bar 51-54 need flexibility technically. The 3+2+3 pattern provides the perfect opportunity to split the bar. Play the first three quaver group, immediately followed by the duplet (quaver) group, then a slight pause (to ‘rest’ the hand), before playing the last group of quavers. Giving the wrist a ‘rest’ in between the chords, allows for release of any tension and encourages a slight ‘push’ on the sixth beat of the bar, adding to the rhythmic energy and momentum. All chordal sections can be broken down in this way.

The other issue which needs addressing is moving at speed from one ‘section’ to another. Dance No. 4 has a swift tempo, with many figurations moving from one place on the keyboard to another quickly, and this combined with the fact that the dynamics sometimes change just as rapidly, mean a free arm and body are needed for accuracy. Try taking two bars such as this (bars 8 and 9);

Dance Bartok Example 2

And start by working hands separately. Leaps or jumps can be surmounted by slow, deliberate work. Play the last beat of bar 8 going to the first beat of bar 9, over the jump,  carefully calculating the movement needed by each hand to land accurately in the middle of the note with correct fingering each time.  Play the last chord of the left hand, in bar 8 (A, C sharp and E), then take your take time when finding the low E in the next bar. Once found, don’t play it, just sit on it and survey the movement needed for the jump. Do this slowly, taking your time. Once you’ve done this a few times accurately, you can go ahead and play the notes. Do this with the right hand too and then slowly put hands together, gradually building confidence with each jump before increasing the speed.

Another useful tool is to practice going too far i.e. one octave higher or lower than necessary (in this case, jumping in the left hand of bar  to bottom E, just below low F). Leaping much faster than actually needed, can also work well. When the speed is slowed down to the actual or original tempo, the jump can seem easy. Also working with accents and different touches  (especially important for changing dynamics) can reinforce the accuracy of the jump. Preparing the body mentally and physically for any jump is important, and this is made much easier when the upper body is loose and relaxed. Build a feeling of relaxation (or physical freedom) into jumps, so that at the crucial moment your body resists the urge to ‘lock-up’ and your arm feels light and free during the leap. Leaps are easier to judge if they are memorised.

These tips are just to help you get started. There are so many ways to work at a piece such as this. Here’s a great recording of Bartók playing all six dances. The fourth can be heard at 4 minutes 30 seconds.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Daily Practice Reminders…

piano1large

A few weeks ago I published a post offering basic practice tips designed to serve as reminders at daily practice sessions (or whenever you sit down at the piano to work). The post proved so popular that I’ve been asked for a few more! So here they are. My tips are certainly not finite, but they might provide food for thought during practice sessions (scroll to the bottom of this post for a downloadable PDF of the practice ideas mentioned in both posts).

Once you have implemented my previous 8 Daily Practice Reminders, here are 8 further ideas , you may (or may not!) like to include in your sessions:

1. Develop a practice schedule. It can be very useful to schedule your sessions, compartmentalizing your time. Whether you want to practice for 30 minutes or 2 hours, be sure to allocate your time wisely. Decide what you want to achieve. If you stick to a plan, so much more will be accomplished, rather than just sitting down at the instrument and letting your mind and fingers wander. Draw up a practice chart and tick off your goals as you surmount them, daily or weekly.

2. Always warm-up. This cannot be underestimated. Rather like an athlete, playing the piano is an essentially physical pursuit (of course it’s mental too!), but you wouldn’t necessarily go for a run without doing some stretches (or similar), so it’s best to do the same on the piano. Warming up is a personal issue, but a few ideas might include playing scales, or Hanon Exercises very slowly, allowing your fingers and arm weight to really sink into the keys. You may prefer to use other repertoire, but essentially keep your warm up patterns slow and deliberate so that your muscles have had a chance to get used to moving sufficiently before practice commences.

3. Lower your shoulders. Most of us have a tendency to raise our shoulders when playing, especially when figurations become more complex (counterpoint, big chords, double octave passage work etc.). Try to combat this issue by checking your shoulders at certain intervals during practice time (if you forget then chances are your shoulders will feel sore and strained eventually). Make sure they are relaxed (i.e. down in their natural position!) at all times and your upper body feels free. Tense wrists are another issue, and can also be addressed in this way. A relaxed body position will become a good habit over time, if constantly reminded.

4. Watch the sustaining pedal. Another habit which pervades piano playing is the constant use of the sustaining (right) pedal. We have a tendency to use it at every opportunity without really thinking about our actions. The sustaining pedal is a wonderful addition to the piano sound, but used all the time, it merely masks what we are trying to do with our fingers. It also encourages lazy fingers. If possible, try to put the right foot away for a while and listen to the sound and clarity produced by your fingers alone. The pedal can be added for extra timbre later.

5.  Remember the pulse and rhythm. So much time and effort is spent finding the right notes and working at continuity generally, that tempo is sometimes side-stepped. One idea is to concentrate on rhythm first. Many don’t like working with the metronome, but it can prove very useful. Try to implement when practising. It takes a while to acclimatize to a regular pulse, but it is well worth the effort. Once  you develop a feel for ‘sitting’ on the mechanical pulse instigated by the metronome, turn it off and find your own reliable method for time keeping. Using the metronome for a few months will have a positive effect on your ability to keep time.

6. Fingering. It will make or break your performance. If you are a beginner, your teacher will probably write the fingering (which fingers to use on which notes) in your score, but if you are more advanced you must become accustomed to writing it in yourself. Get used to the shape of your hand (how you write your fingering will depend on the size and shape of your hand), and don’t take any chances. Write it all in the score; this will prompt you every time you practice so you will use the correct fingers at every session. This will become a good habit promoting smooth fluent playing.

7. Bar by bar practice. Discipline yourself to work in small sections rather than continually playing a piece through. Playing through (whilst important), will not be advantageous after a while, but working assiduously in small sections, breaking a piece down and working on it all (as well as practising the challenging passages!), will gradually improve your playing consistently.

8. Always remember the music! Dynamics, phrase marks, expression marks; these will help to shape a musically considered account. Interpretation (how you play a piece), is the essential ingredient which will enable your performance to stand out. Start by asking how a particular piece makes you feel; why you want to play it. Is it a happy piece? Is it sad? Reflective? Atmospheric? Children may wish to draw pictures describing a piece. We become engrossed in technical challenges and sometimes forget the creative, artistic side of music making.

I hope these reminders are beneficial. Some are more obvious than others, but it’s easy to forget them all when practising. A few readers have requested a downloadable PDF version of these daily reminders for use either in their teaching studios or to give to students, so I have attached a printable list (complied from both posts) and I hope you find it useful (just click on the link below).

15 Daily Practice Reminders

Image: © Melanie Spanswick
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 7 Comments