Digressions: 5 Piano Pieces


 ‘These five entertaining, beautifully written and concise pieces are little gems’

 John Lenehan, Concert Pianist, UK

‘Melanie Spanswick’s Digressions are compelling and accessible works to play – from the moving Bach-like ‘Chasing’ to the two hypnotically flowing ‘Moving On’ and ‘Karma’. Perfect for the intermediate level player. And I have no doubt that pianists of all tastes will enjoy learning them – in fact, I doubt they’ll want to put the music down!’

Erica Worth, Editor, Pianist magazine

 Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly interested in writing music, originally to get to grips with Sibelius software, but eventually blossoming into a creative outlet replacing concertizing. When publisher and composer Elena Cobb kindly asked if I’d like to write a collection of piano pieces, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Digressions consists of 5 piano pieces; designed for those who are around Grades 4-6 standard (ABRSM level). The pieces were inspired by Minimalism and cinematic music (which I love), and lie comfortably under the hands without appearing too simple or lacking in content.

Educational piano pieces are, by necessity, succinct and brief, but  in my opinion, little pieces are mostly written with the younger learner in mind. There’s an emphasis on colourful pictures, cartoon characters, all framed by jazzy pieces with bright, cheerful tunes, which is fine if you like this genre (and many do). My goal was to write works for teenagers and adults who want an alternative to the jazz/ragtime idiom, Musical Theatre genre or ‘easy listening’ culture.

Many adult amateur pianists love performing and learning new pieces, but they would rather not endure the challenge of preparing pages of complicated, demanding music; they prefer works to be short, attractive and easy to digest. Digressions are perfect in this respect. Each piece contains a different mood or character, and could be included in a Contemporary recital programme, a festival programme, school concert, music club or meet-up group performance or just enjoyed with a glass of wine after dinner!

The pieces; Chasing, Moving On, Karma, Musing and Digression, can be played as a set or individually, and are tuneful and approachable. Also included are Piano Notes for each piece; essentially a few tips and practice ideas which I hope will be helpful. They are available as a digital download (and hard copy from next week) from Elena Cobb’s website: EVC Publications. You can listen to all 5 works here:

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Perfect Pedalling


We all know there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ piano playing, but hopefully these tips might be helpful.

The sustaining or damper pedal is one of the most important assets for a pianist. It adds another dimension to the piano timbre, and can provide a whole variety of sound layers. The most commonly used pedal, being the furthest right of the two or three pedals on a standard upright or grand piano, it’s played by the right foot (as demonstrated by my foot in the photo above). When depressed, the sustain pedal literally moves all the dampers away from the strings, which allows them to vibrate with ease, and they will continue vibrating until the sound ceases, or the pedal is released. Look inside the instrument and watch the dampers (on a grand) being lifted as the pedal is depressed.

It began life as a hand stop, examples of which survive on some of the earliest instruments. Then a knee lever was introduced around 1765 in Germany, and whilst this was more convenient than the hand stop (and apparently much admired by W A Mozart), the foot pedal is undeniably far easier to operate, and it was introduced sometime during the 1770s by English piano builders.

The right pedal enriches piano tone markedly, allowing a pianist to create many colours, add sonority and resonance to passages,  as well as conjure shimmering, atmospheric sounds.

The most fundamental technique in good pedalling is good listening. We generally pedal with our ears, and being attentive is key, but there are a few different techniques to employ, which can be used on a whole variety of styles. One basic rule; a little sustaining pedal goes a long way. Too much will seriously ruin an otherwise competent interpretation, generally irrespective of the composer or style, which is why it’s a good idea to practice without using any, particularly when starting to learn a new piece. Pedalling is also tricky to write in a score, as it varies constantly, depending on the venue, acoustic, piano, composer, and the list goes on….

To use the pedal, rest your heel firmly on the floor, the right foot should be at an angle of around 30 or 35 degrees. When depressing the pedal (and this applies to the other pedals as well), play with the ball of the foot (or perhaps the big toe – everyone has their own preference here) and take it up (to release the sound) and down (to engage the pedal) quietly. The foot should keep contact with the pedal as much as possible because pedal or foot tapping is not a desired effect. This last paragraph may all seem fairly obvious, but recent adjudicating has shown (to me at least) these points need reiterating.

Pedalling techniques can be roughly divided into the following:

Direct pedalling; which enriches the sound in separated chords. Depress the pedal with a chord (or intended passagework) at the same time as the fingers, and release the pedal with the fingers, producing a clean, clear and sonorous chordal effect, as shown in the example below. Pedal markings are indicated under the score (also as below). Take the pedal down (with the Ped. sign), and where the line is broken with an upward marking, take the pedal up. Depress again, if the pedal is to be played continuously (as in example 2), but if the marking stops then pedal playing must cease too.

Ex. 1

Chapter 9 pedalling 2

Legato pedalling; which is akin to syncopated pedalling, overlapping with the notes being played. This involves depressing the pedal a moment later than finger work. To practice this, play a succession of five notes (perhaps C-G in the right hand and F-C in the left hand as shown in the example below). Start by playing middle C, and immediately afterwards depress the pedal,  a millisecond after your third finger plays the D, release the pedal and depress again very quickly, to clear the sound of the C. This should be done very quickly and seamlessly, so as to limit smudging.

Ex. 2

Example for Pedalling article

Legato should ideally be all about using the fingers, it’s a finger technique; legato using the pedal is generally for added colour and sonority, or on the occasion where it’s impossible for fingers to join (i.e. in large leaps).

Half-pedalling; consisting of a quick movement, to lose top harmonies and retain bass notes. The main aim here is to reduce too much blurring or smudging of sound. Practice by taking the pedal down (and up) varying amounts (but not depressing as far as the foot will go).

Half-damping; without engaging the pedal completely, for a light, veiled effect. Employing almost a surface pedalling, there are many variations of this movement, which will clear the sound but still provide an atmospheric haze.

Flutter, surface or vibrato pedalling; similar to half-damping, this consists of very quick, light movements, in order to reduce accumulating sound. This pedalling is based on frequent and sometimes irregular changes, and is applied through fast passages work, scales or runs, providing weight to the sound yet ridding it of the blurring effects. Practice on scales, perhaps lightly raising or ‘hovering’ with your foot several times in a two octave scale.

If the foot engages the pedal before notes are played, as  opposed to once notes have been played (or at the same time), a much more resonant sound ensues as all the strings resonate fully, which can be ideal for a full-bodied sonority, required in certain repertoire.

Between the point where the foot is completely depressed to the floor and where it first engages the pedal mechanism, there are many assorted subtleties available to pianists. Every piano is different therefore pedals all feel and sound different too. The sustaining pedal can really add dynamics and shape, due to accumulation of sounds whilst depressed. Keep experimenting and you’ll discover a myriad of ways to enhance your playing.

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Weekend Winners….

Many thanks to all those who kindly left excellent comments over this past weekend. Again, my Friday competition proves popular and I’m only sorry there aren’t more prizes. But, I hold regular competitions here on this blog, and the next will be coming your way soon! For those based in the UK, Elena and I will be presenting at Yamaha Music London on June 18th, and all those attending will receive FREE copies of Higgledy Piggledy Jazz and So You Want To Play The Piano? You can book your place here.

The winner of the download of Higgledy Piggledy Jazz is rmepham, and the winner of So You Want To Play The Piano? is Chagne Compaan.

Congratulations to you both! Please contact me via the contact form here on the blog and I will send your PDF.

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The Friday Competition

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It’s Friday competition time. I know you love them, and my double competition provides the opportunity to win one of two publications. Composer and publisher Elena Cobb and I are presenting a workshop and lecture at Yamaha Music London on June 18th, and we will be supplying every audience member with a free copy of Higgledy Piggledy Jazz and So You Want To Play The Piano? So as a preview, the competition today is a chance to win a digital download of either publication.

Find out more about our presentation and how to book your place here. To win  a copy of  Higgledy Piggledy Jazz for piano (Elena’s very popular piano book for elementary pianists, teaching improvisation), or  So You Want To Play The Piano? (my piano guide for beginners), just leave a comment in the comment box at the end of this post. As usual, the most engaging, imaginative remarks will win, and we’ll be picking winners on Sunday evening (British time). Good luck!




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The New Steinway Spirio and Daily Telegraph Article

Two blog posts rolled into one today! Firstly, I was delighted to be invited to write an article for the Daily Telegraph, commenting on concert violinist Nicola Benedetti’s recent article about whether children should be made to play an instrument or not. Benedetti is a wonderful advocate for music education, and works tirelessly for the social music programme Sistema England, I nearly always agree with her hard-line (but necessary) ethos on music study, but in this case, perhaps children shouldn’t be ‘forced’ to play music or have instrumental lessons, but rather ‘motivated’ to play. See if you agree with my opinion here!

Last night, I attended an exciting landmark in the history of Steinway pianos; the unveiling of a new instrument. Held at the beautiful Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Hyde Park, London, with its breath-taking and unique modern art, providing the perfect back drop for this new venture. The first new Steinway instrument for over seventy years, the  Spirio is essentially a player piano (pictured below).


Using the finest technology, the new instrument is controlled via an iPad (provided with the piano),  and it’s possible to play back performances. So whether you fancy recording yourself playing, or whether you want to hear a performance of a particular concert artist, this is sure to appeal to those who perhaps enjoy playing as a hobby and aspire to hear great players ‘performing’ on their instrument at home. Apparently, some concerts will be made available for purchasers to download and enjoy; namely those by Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang, who will be recording his next Carnegie Hall recital using this instrument.

The Spirio is available on two models; the model O and B, and last night we savoured performances on model Bs. Once the electronic device is switched off, the splendid Steinway instrument reverts to its acoustic self.

The evening kicked off (after copious, wonderfully extravagant cocktails and canapés), with a performance by British pianist Simon Mulligan (pictured playing below), who delivered two pieces; Chopin’s Grande Waltz Brillante in E flat major Op. 18, followed by a suitably jazzy, effervescent arrangement of Fly Me To The Moon by Bart Howard. After the performance took place, Simon left the stage, and we listened to a second ‘performance’ of Fly Me To The Moon, which had been recorded and was now being played back.


I find piano keys moving up and down on their own a bit unsettling and even creepy (always have), but this idea, whilst not a new one, will no doubt prove popular with Steinway lovers. The final flourish appeared on the big plasma screens erected behind the piano. A film of George Gershwin playing I Got Rhythm was synchronously played with the Spirio. The great composer’s ghostly (but great) performance rang out and the piano keys danced tumultuously, receiving a rapturous applause!


Another Spirio model B, was placed in a different area of the gallery, which guests could hear whilst admiring the modern art. The Spirio is certainly a beauty. I like the fact you could ostensibly record the secondo part of a piano duet and play it back, whilst playing the primo part. This device may also be useful for singers or instrumentalists who could play back piano parts during rehearsals.

You can find out much more about Spirio pianos and listen to one in action here.


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Free Piano Event at Yamaha Music London


I’m looking forward to participating at this piano event taking place on June 18th at Yamaha Music London (formerly Chappell of Bond Street). Starting at 11.00am and finishing at approximately 1.30pm, I will be presenting alongside composer and publisher Elena Cobb.

Elena will give a practical workshop about teaching improvisation to beginners; with plenty of advice, guidance and demonstration too. I will offer a few ideas about alleviating tension, and working at improving sight-reading and memorisation. Both presentations will have the opportunity for audience participation and every audience member will receive a free copy of Elena’s very popular piano book Higgledy Piggledy Jazz, and a copy of my piano guide, So You Want To Play The Piano? Everyone is invited to attend, but the workshop is intended for piano teachers and students.

To book a place at this event, please contact team@elenacobb.com

We look forward to meeting you!

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Butterflies: The Winner Is….?


Many thanks to all those who took part in my Bank Holiday competition. It’s great to see so much support for new piano music and new composers, particularly Romantic, advanced repertoire such as Butterflies. Elena Cobb (whose company EVC Publications publishes Butterflies) selected the winner, who is: rosewoodpianostudio

Many congratulations! Please contact me via the contact page here on the blog, and I will send your score.

You can purchase Butterflies (composed by Marcel Zidani) and listen to the work here.

More competitions coming soon!

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