10 Top Recommended Resources for August 2015

Badge Graphics Draft 3

This month’s selection of piano resources falls at a time when teachers and students are all preparing for the new academic year. There’s a definite air of excitement, expectancy, and purpose as the Autumn nights draw in. I hope you find this list of music, books, courses and online resources, both helpful and interesting.


Beginners and elementary:

Music Bookmarks

Boomarks

OK, so this is really just for fun, but was brought to my attention on one of the Piano Teacher forums on Facebook (if you are a Facebook user and teach the piano, perhaps consider joining one of the many groups. There’s always plenty of banter as well as exchange of ideas). This bookmark is manufactured by Macdonald Publishing, and is ideal for youngsters who need regular musical prompting! It’s a fun and eye-catching  reminder of notes, musical terms, dynamics etc. You can purchase it from Amazon here. I’ll definitely be ordering some for my little niece and nephew.

Playing with Colour

Playing with colour

This piano method (which has been introduced over the last few years), as suggested by the title, employs the use of colour. I’m not a big advocate of playing by colour, but it can be useful for small children and this method looks like lots of fun. Written by British teacher Sharon Goodey and published by Alfred Music Publishing, there are three volumes in the series and the student will experience coloured notation from page one, using numbered staves as well as clear graphic illustrations for the right and left hands, so making music starts immediately. There are also many recognisable little tunes, and all fundamentals (rhythm, ear training and improvisation etc.) are built-in gradually. Find out about Playing with Colour here.

Grand Duets for Piano

Melody Bober

American composer and teacher, Melody Bober has written this very effective series of piano duets which are aimed  ‘with the beginner student in mind’, or those of elementary level (around Grade 1). They are published by Alfred Music Publishing, and are colourful, tuneful and comfortable to play. Whilst straight forward, the duets are detailed in terms of articulation, dynamic, and musical markings, enabling students to learn these important elements. There are eight pieces in this book and many books (of varying levels) in the series. Buy your copy here.

Intermediate:

Three Highland Sketches

Three-Highland-Sketches

British teacher and composer David Barton has written these attractive pieces. They could be great alternative pieces for those ‘between grades’, preparing for festivals or a school concert. They are around Grades 5/6 standard, and they aim to capture something of the Scottish people, their history and the country’s landscape. Each paints a different picture from a lilting lullaby to a heartfelt lament. The sketches consist of the following pieces. Scots’ Lullaby, Scottish Folksong, and Highland Lament. You can listen to the pieces and purchase a score here.

Chopin – Liszt – Hiller; Easy Piano Pieces with Practice Tips

Schott Franke

This new collection is published by Schott/Universal Edition. It’s part of the Urtext Primo Series, which is selected and annotated by German pianist and teacher Nils Franke. The volume consists of thirty-five little pieces for the intermediate player (Grades 4-6), by Chopin, Liszt and Hiller. The Chopin group contains all the perennial favourites, but the Liszt and Hiller works are real treasures, proving that Liszt did write simpler, but equally beautiful pieces. Ferdinand Hiller (born in Frankfurt, in the same year as Liszt; 1811), was a pianist, composer and teacher, and his works are tuneful, and full of Romantic inflection and nuance. This selection would be a great addition to any pianist or piano teacher’s library. I particularly like the useful practice notes which appear in German and English. Highly Recommended. Get your copy here.

Books:

Piano Technique in Practice

EPTA Book

A new publication written by British pianist and professor Murray McLachlan, published by Faber Music for EPTA UK (European Piano Teachers’ Association). This is the second, more detailed book in the series, dealing with the most effective ways to practice the piano. Having read the first book (The Foundations of Piano Technique), I was eagerly awaiting this volume. And it does not disappoint. Murray deals with literally every aspect of technique and performance practice. In four parts; Listening and Rhythm, Sound, ‘S’ x 4 (Speed, Strength, Stamina and Security), and Assimilation Techniques, there are copious helpful tips, musical examples and lots of very useful exercises too. Practice details are explained in a clear to understand, yet careful and concise manner (which is crucial for a book such as this). I particularly resonate with the constant adherence to listening to ourselves as we play, and very helpful advice about piano tone and sonority, and how to produce it effectively. Highly recommended. Get your copy here.

Online:

InTune 3.0

intune-splash-screen-1

A new update of the app InTune has just been released. It is apparently the only app available for testing and honing pitch discernment. InTune is the product of 25 years of research by Daniel Kazez, an American cellist and professor of music at Wittenberg University. The app promises to test your ability to hear very close pitches, ultimately improving your singing and capacity to hear pitches correctly. It also encourages competition with friends via a Game Centre, all promoting improvement and excellence by means of enjoyment. Find out more and download here.

Tido

https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/615894275507662848/97sstvvX.png

Tido is a new concept in online learning, and is a platform designed to immerse students in a world of classical music study. Interactive scores of the great masterworks sit alongside guidance, support and content from the world’s leading music publishers. Tido helps you find the next level in the music you love – all on your tablet. The full interactive experience includes sheet music, practice tools, exclusive content, musical context, video tutorials and recordings. You can find out much more about the new service here.

Piano Club:

Piano-Yoga® Club

Genia_Playing_Julius_Beltrame_JGB_1687_monoPS-214x300

Russian pianist, teacher and composer GéNIA is launching a new Piano-Yoga® Club in London.  The Club will provide an opportunity to learn in-depth about the Piano-Yoga® method (devised by GéNIA). Taking place in the heart of London at  Schott Music, it will run every first Wednesday of the month starting September 2015 at 7pm – 8:15pm using the beautiful Steinway B provided by Steinway & Sons. Practical exercises for pianists and a short presentation from GéNIA followed by a Q&A session, will be a regular feature. Participants will be able to discover specific details about piano technique, learn strategies for efficient practice, get tips on dealing with stage fright and how to keep relaxed during their practice amongst other aspects. To book and find out much more click here.

Piano Courses:

Piano retreat with Rami Bar-Niv

Rami

American Israeli pianist, teacher and composer, Rami Bar-Niv, runs a piano retreat in beautiful upstate New Year, from Oct 11-17 2015. Entitled Rami’s Rhapsody Piano Camp for Adults, all levels are welcome, from beginner students to professional piano teachers. You receive daily private lessons with Rami, daily master classes, practice time, recital participation, group stretches/exercises, great company, and fun. Subjects addressed at camp include: injury-free techniques, efficient fingering, interpretation, anxiety-free performance, sight reading, ensemble playing, memorization, and more. Find out much more here:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Friday Freebie!

Today’s Friday offering is a FREEBIE, for everybody. It’s a great little late elementary piano piece composed by American composer and arranger Carol Matz. Carol is no stranger to my blog, and is a very popular composer, arranger and editor for Alfred Music Publishing. Her arrangements and piano pieces have been enjoyed for many years by young and older pianists.

The piece is called Dolphin Dance. It is tuneful, effective and hands play separately for most of the piece, making it a great proposition for beginners too.  You can hear it here:

You can sign up to receive monthly free teaching pieces and lots of other teaching resources from Carol here.

Download the piece by clicking on the link below, and it is in PDF format.

Dolphin Dance by Carol Matz

5 reasons to take a piano course

100_1967

At this time of year, countless piano courses are being held all around the world. The Summer provides the perfect time for such an event; young piano students are generally on school holiday, and older students can finally use that last bit of holiday time from work. There are courses to suit every level and budget. So whether you are serious about your piano playing, or perhaps just want to enjoy some concentrated time with a group of like-minded individuals working at a much-loved past time, here are five reasons why taking a course can be useful:

You will have the opportunity to play to an expert teacher. It’s always a good idea to work with many teachers, because each one will shed new light on different aspects of your playing (many music conservatoires are now making this practice a rule, so advanced students can benefit from the teaching of several professors).

You will have the chance to meet pianists who are in the same situation as yourself, and who will possibly have similar interests. There will be time to chat, establish friendships and even piano playing partnerships.

You’ll hear and become acquainted with an assortment of repertoire, as participants will probably all play different pieces from various historical periods, providing inspiration for future practice.

One of the most important elements when attending a course, is learning from other players. As your fellow course participants take their turn to play, you can really ingest what the teacher is saying, and you can also ask them to show or help you with those particular elements too.

Piano courses are great for performance practice. It can be a challenge to play for others, but particularly in front of classmates, so such an opportunity will definitely encourage more confidence and help your overall development as a pianist.

Piano Courses don’t always take place in the Summer! They happen throughout the year. You  can read more about my forthcoming course at Jackdaws Music Education Trust, which takes place in October (23rd – 25th), on Pianist Magazine’s Website here. There are just a few places left on my course, but Jackdaws Music Education Trust runs piano courses regularly throughout the year with some fantastic teachers; check it out here.

For readers based in Germany, I’m also holding a course at the IKM Gelsenkirchen (in Gelsenkirchen, near Düsseldorf) on the 3rd & 4th October (the photo above is from one of my German courses). It’s a bilingual course (in English), which runs over the weekend; consisting of a two-day workshop, which will be held at the historic IKM practice centre (which is an old  mine), on a beautiful Bechstein grand piano. The course always includes a Sunday afternoon concert for all participants. Both workshop and concert are open to the public. For more information, please send me an e-mail via the contact form on this blog.

Image: Kery Felske

Piano by Ear; the winner is…

and-the-winner-is1

Many thanks to everyone for taking part in this weekend’s competition. Piano by Ear by Lucinda Mackworth-Young has certainly proved to be a very popular publication, illustrating that there are many who aspire to play without using a score. This book will no doubt prove an important resource. But today, the winner is…

JULIE COOPER. Many congratulations! Please send me your address via the contact page here on my blog and the book will be on its way to you tomorrow. As always, there will be many more competitions over the next few months, so stay tuned!

www.lucinda-mackworth-young.co.uk

www.fabermusic.com

Image link

 

Friday competition: back by popular demand!

0571539025

Last week’s Friday competition featured Lucinda Mackworth -Young’s new book, Piano by ear, which is designed to help pianists learn to improvise and accompany songs. The competition proved extremely popular, and many of you asked for another chance to win this useful book. Your wish is my command! Faber have very kindly provided a second book, so for chance to win this volume, please leave a suitable comment in the comment box at the end of this post, and I will select a winner on Sunday evening (British time). Good luck!

You can read more about this book here.

You can find out much more about Lucinda Mackworth-Young here.

www.fabermusic.com

It’s all in the Preparation 4: 5 Top Tips

Shutterstock Background Piano Music for Website

This is the final post in my series providing a few suggestions and tips to help prepare piano pieces. As I’ve already written in my earlier three posts, practising and preparing often causes issues, purely because there are many strategies or methods which are missed or not applied, particularly during the early stages of learning. If this happens, it can be troublesome re-learning parts of a piece, especially fingering or rhythmic issues. You can read the previous posts by clicking on the respective titles below:

It’s all in the Preparation: 5 Top Tips

It’s all in the Preparation 2: 5 Top Tips

It’s all in the Preparation 3: 5 Top Tips

This post deals with interpretation, providing a few thoughts and ideas which can be employed in most pieces and genres.

Now you have the notes in place, and can play your piece fairly well technically (i.e. without hesitations or errors), you can begin to turn your attention to actually playing  the music. As you become increasingly proficient at assimilating notes, rhythm and playing fluently, you’ll be able to combine technical issues and interpretation concurrently. But for now, it is probably more effective to deal with the technical issues first, as suggested in my earlier posts.

1.  Returning to the first post (where I mentioned the structure of a piece), now rethink your piece from the viewpoint of familiarity, re-evaluating its form. Virtually every piano piece has some kind of structure (how it has been constructed). Where and how melodies (or passagework) repeat, how the textures change (or remain static), how the harmonic language affects the work, how many keys the piece passes through, will all have an impact on deciding the dynamics and how they will develop throughout (what passages will need more sound, colour, etc.). Look for the focal point/s of the piece, and think about how you will build climaxes. It’s easier to do this once the piece has been thoroughly ingested, and you may be surprised by how your ideas or viewpoint has changed from when you first examined the music (the ‘pre-learning’ stage).

2. When thinking about phrase structure; decide where the tops of phrases (or where the climactic points) occur, and practice changing the sound, going from p (soft) to loud (f) and back again, within each phrase (it can be useful to write this on the score too). This is a valuable exercise, even if a work doesn’t need large variation in sound. It’s particularly important if the texture is complex, as with Baroque contrapuntal works such as fugues, or Twentieth Century pieces, which can often contain thick chordal passagework. Greater arm weight and a firm touch will control both the quality and quantity of sound.

3. There is a distinct difference between rubato and slowing down at the end of a section or the whole piece (generally termed ritenuto or rallentando), The latter is a common occurrence in many styles/genres whereas the former will need careful thought and planning. Too much rubato (or rhythmic flexibility within a phrase), can change the character of a work considerably, and can also be totally inappropriate for certain styles. Unless specified in the score, rubato should be used sparingly, even in Romantic period works, and (in my opinion) changing the sound and colour is preferable to varying the speed for expressive effect. This is worth bearing in mind as you work at your piece.

4. Pedalling is another vital aspect which will undoubtedly affect the way a piece is played. Depending on the genre/style piano works nearly all require some sustaining (or damper/right) pedal, even if only at the ends of sections, phrases or to enrich cadences. In Baroque and Classical style works we use it sparingly, and generally it’s best not to cover fast passagework with lots of pedal. This changes with Romantic and especially Impressionist styles, but it’s always beneficial  to practice without any pedal at all (so you can really ‘hear’ what is being played), adding pedal tastefully. The Una Corda (left pedal) is used infrequently, but can mute and dampen the sound to great effect. For more pedalling ideas click here.

5. Finally, an interpretation must be YOURS and true to you and you only. I believe a pupil must have an opinion about a piece, and should ideally know how they want to play it. Even younger, less experienced pupils can do this. Teaching technique is fun, and it’s relatively easy to show pupils how to phrase, and play musically or stylistically appropriate, but at the end of the day, if a student is shown exactly how to interpret every piece they play, then it’s not from their heart or soul. To find inner meaning and expression in a work, try to explore the piece fully. Find out more about the composer. What state of mind was he/she when it was written? How is the piece placed in their overall output? And finally how does it make you feel? Angry, sad, happy, joyous, or perhaps, it provides a sense of serenity and peace?

Over to you. I hope you find some of these tips helpful, and they encourage you to enjoy exploring many different facets of your piece.

Image from Shutterstock

Ballads Without Words: the Winner is…

and-the-winner-is

The popularity of my weekend competitions, prizes and giveaways is steadily increasing, and I hope you are enjoying them as much as me! Thank you  for taking the time and trouble to leave a comment this week. They are all much appreciated.

Sadly, there could only be one winner this week. It was a very difficult choice because (as you can see) there were many comments, but composer Heather Hammond has selected a winner (drum roll!)…

Learnatune – Many congratulations! As always, please send your address via my contact form here on the blog. A signed copy of Ballads Without Words is on its way to you.

There will be lots more competitions; I have some wonderful piano prizes from various composers, writers and publishers, so stay tuned!

If you would like to buy Heather’s piano pieces Ballads Without Words, click here.

Image Link

Friday Competition: Ballads Without Words

Ballades-Without-Words-for-piano-by-Heather-Hammond-296x415

It’s Friday! Therefore it’s a competition day here on my blog. Today’s prize is a signed copy of British composer Heather Hammond‘s new piano compositions, Ballads Without Words. Published just this week in hard copy (you can also purchase a digital version too), Heather has written a group of eight colourful pieces intended for those of intermediate level (Grades 4-6), which are full of contrasting moods and melodic surprises.

Written in modern pop ballad genre, some pieces have a real jazzy edge, with frequently changing meters and pulsating chordal passages, whilst others are calm, tranquil, and occasionally tinged with sorrow. They are perfect students and teachers wanting to explore new Contemporary repertoire, and great for those who fancy an interesting diversion between exams.

As usual, leave a suitable comment in the comment box at the end of this blog post to  be in with a chance of winning. Heather will pick a winner on Sunday evening (British time), so stay tuned for the result…

You can listen to all the pieces (played by Heather) and purchase a copy here.

EVC Music Publications

Yamaha Music London Presentation & Practical Workshop: September 2015

Yamaha Sept 10th

I’m pleased to announce that a second workshop and presentation with Elena Cobb and myself will be taking place in September at Yamaha Music London. Elena and I started this seminar series in June, and we had such a great time and a wonderful response from our audience, we decided to do it again! The second workshop takes place on Thursday September 10th starting at 11.00am and finishing at 1.00pm. It is completely FREE of charge and all those attending will be given a FREE copy of Elena’s piano method My Piano Trip To London, and a copy of my book So You Want To Play The Piano? 

Elena will give a full introduction to her already popular piano method for beginners, My Piano Trip To London. This book is an exciting and completely new method based on original tunes which lead beginners of any age to creative piano playing. Elena’s objective is to re-invent an interesting, innovative linear progression for beginners, providing a fresh alternative without being overly method-driven.

Her method has received many five-star Amazon reviews: “One of the most striking and unusual features of the book is its unwillingness to be pigeon-holed as yet another children’s method. Billed as “utterly amazing piano adventures for complete beginners”, the book certainly provides all the material that a creative teacher would need in order to be used as a complete beginner method”.

My workshop will focus on Scales and Arpeggios. We know they are not always a favourite with teachers or students, but I hope to shed some light on useful ways to practice these much maligned exercises. My aim is to turn them from pesky ‘technical work’ consigned to the end of a piano lesson (or practice session!) to useful, enjoyable vehicles on which to improve technique and musicianship, whether preparing for a looming exam or not. There will be copious demonstration and audience participation too, so come prepared to play a scale or two!

To attend this workshop, you will need to book a place (we are limited to forty, so booking early is advisable). To book, please contact Elena via her e-mail: elenacobb@aol.com

We look forward to seeing you there!

www.elenacobb.com

www.yamahamusiclondon.com

It’s All In The Preparation 3: 5 Top Tips

20150704_194953

This is the third post in my series intended to help those who would like a few tips on how to prepare and practice piano pieces from the very beginning. It can be beneficial to have a strategy, or ‘tried and tested’ method which can be used on a whole range of pieces and genres. The first two posts examined elements for consideration at early stages of the learning process; the first post dealt with pre-practice preparation (you can read it here), and the second looked at separate hands practice (you can read it here). This post will survey ways of playing and practising hands together.

By now you are familiar with your chosen piece. You have marked up the score and have worked at it hands separately in various guises. So now it’s time to take the plunge and work hands together.  Here are a few ideas:

1. Depending on your level of fluency, a good way to start practising your piece both hands together, can be to assess the rhythm and pulse. Tapping the pulse and rhythms (both hands; the right hand tapping the top and left hand tapping the bass line) will help to solidify the tempo, pulse and rhythmic patterns in your mind. Work on rhythms line by line  (or bar by bar if you prefer), tapping about a third of the intended speed to start with, building up until you can tap a page at a time up to tempo, followed by complete sections and finally the whole piece. Add the metronome if necessary, however, developing your own reliable pulse is preferable. This should help with co-ordination.

2. Play the right hand material  (just one bar at a time), and then the left hand (which can serve as a useful reminder of the separate hand patterns). Follow this by playing both hands together with accurate slow, deliberate rhythmic patterns. You may need to play one bar at least 10/20 times at a very slow speed to really get the hang of how hands fit together, technically and rhythmically. When practising, always continue to play over the bar line (as opposed to stopping at the end of a bar). I work with students on much smaller areas, examining perhaps just one beat at a time. Often it’s necessary to break beats down too, particularly if a crotchet beat, for example, contains four semiquavers, played with both hands, in different or changing directions, such as this:

Article for Monday example

The bracket indicates a potentially awkward passage which may require careful attention (and very exact fingering), or segregated, targeted work. Taking the notes out of context (and without adhering to any rhythm), can be a good way to asses the movements and coordination needed for smooth playing. Now try changing the articulation (if your piece is legato, try playing non-legato then staccato etc.). You could also experiment with varying tonal control; play deep into the key bed on the tips of your fingers with a powerful, full sound, and then pull back and play the same passage lightly – you will see the difference in evenness and coordination immediately.

3. Within each bar, try to asses problem areas or difficulties, essentially be your own teacher! (although it’s not a good idea to learn alone, as this can lead to many technical deficiencies). Really listen carefully and attentively to everything you play, and when practising aim to ‘think through’ passages; focusing on the left hand line (even when playing hands together), then the right hand line. Look for elements such as rapid passage work or awkward rhythmic patterns, which will need very slow work; practising in patterns, rhythms, and as well as with various articulation can help (as described in tip 2). Other problematic areas include jumps or leaps of any kind. Spot practice is also required here; take technical issues out of context and work on them alone as this usually encourages a greater knowledge of a work. This is especially true of chords or chordal passages; work slowly positioning chords (with the correct fingerings), moving from one to another, mentally making note of the changes, until they become a habit. Also make sure sufficient arm weight is used here, to cushion the sound.

4. Watch your movements when starting to play hands together. Aim to move your arms laterally, freely and easily, supporting the wrists and fingers. Working at this element hands together takes a lot of concentration, and it also requires mindful, conscious practice. Beware of tension as you work slowly, and even more so as the tempo is raised. How does your body feel? Do you feel tight and uncomfortable, are shoulders raised? It can help to observe your hands and their positions, so you may need to memorise note patterns in order to do this.

5. A particularly useful tip is to land on a note (or group of notes) as quickly as possible, and before it/they need to be played, essentially ‘arriving’ too early. To produce a good sound, each note requires proper preparation. This usually involves preparing arm weight as well as the required touch, so the quicker you can ‘land’ on a note (without actually playing it) and be in the ideal position to play it, the better the tone quality. This is particularly true in fast pieces. To prepare, practice moving between notes as swiftly as possible, landing in the correct position ahead of playing, with accurate fingering, but try not to ‘cut’ beats as a result, the endings of notes are as important as the beginnings. Quick, light lateral arm movement is necessary, as is quick mental preparation and coordination.

Work bar by bar and line by line, making every minute you are at the piano, count. In the next post, I will provide a few tips for acquiring a beautiful sound and dynamic colour. Happy practising!