Guest Post: Maintaining Concentration in Piano Playing and Practice

Russian pianist, teacher, composer, and founder of Piano-Yoga®, GéNIA (pictured below) has kindly written this fascinating and very helpful guest post. It focuses on the most effective methods of keeping concentration during practice and playing.



Often pianists mistakenly believe that many of their challenges manifest due to a lack of practice or lack of skills, rarely being aware that they could simply exist due to a lack of concentration. We all know about the cases where pianists work for hours, only to collapse later in their pubic performance, either playing for a group of people or just for one person! They blame themselves, and very often feel inadequate. With stress building up, and feelings of disappointment making them feeling ‘not good enough’, they do start playing even worse than they were playing before and, on some occasions, even stop playing altogether, while developing an ever-growing guilt complex. Little do they know that often this issue could be easily addressed, sometimes with only a very slight adjustment. All they need to do is just to be aware!

The reason this negative stuff accumulates in our heads, as if it was an attic which had a lot of baggage thrown into it, is because it is created by our emotions. Once the doubt starts appearing in our mind, if not careful, we unconsciously start looking for a conformation of this negative state. However, often our piano performing problems manifest due only to a lack of concentration, and nothing else! A point of caution at this stage: you always need to make sure that your professional expertise is up to scratch, as no amount of concentration without that expertise will help you to master the piece if you don’t know how to play it!

Here are 3 questions that will help you to establish whether you need to read this article further, which will later suggest various tips on how to improve your concentration:

1) do you ever collapse when playing in front of someone else, whilst playing perfectly by yourself at home?

2) do you sometimes go through hours of practice, only to discover that you have still not mastered a thing?

3) do you get overwhelmed, and think that you are not good enough from time to time?

If the answer to any of the above is ‘YES’, then you can take a look at the tips that I suggest below.

You might be interested to know that ‘grounding’ for musicians can sometimes be very difficult. The reason is that we, musicians, are very sensitive creatures. We work with sound, and are used to expressing our emotions through it. We assess sound by checking how it makes us feel: happy, smiley, gentle or harsh, upset or annoyed. So musicians constantly create sounds and, at the same time, regularly assess them. It is very hard, therefore, to switch off one’s attention in daily life not only from ANY SOUND that surrounds us, but from assessing how we feel in every environment. Therefore if you are surprised why you played perfectly at home, yet collapsed when played even for one person, it was partly because you responded to the energy of this new person, which could be either compatible or incompatible with yours, and if you play in a different environment, you also respond to the environment, with its own sounds and energy, which could be also complimentary to your state or the opposite.

There are plenty of different reasons while you may not be able to practice efficiently (stress could be one of them), but what I would like to do in this article is to concentrate on how this can be improved. Hence here are a few tips that you can experiment with, and see whether your practice or public performance have improved.

Piano-Yoga® Sitting Sequence

This exercise comes from my Piano-Yoga® book “Transform Your Hands: 10 Week Course of Piano Exercises”. You can do this exercise every time when you practice, and especially before your public performance, as it will give you extra grounding, as well as a sense of peace and calm.

Aim: To make your playing secure, focused and controlled.

Initial Position: Sit straight at the height you usually sit at the piano. Make sure that you sit close to the edge of the piano stool, or chair, but not too close to the keyboard (you should be approximately a forearm’s distance away). Have your feet parallel, hips width apart, and close to the pedals.


Step One: Lift your toes and put them down, preferably one by one, so you can see a little bit of floor in between them. Lift your heels as high as possible, then start lowering them down in a slow and controlled manner, trying to stretch your heels as far back as possible.

Step Two: Check your abdominal area. Make sure that your abdominal muscles are slightly engaged, by drawing the stomach in slightly. This action will protect your spine on a physical level, and will help you to store and control the energy within your body.

Step Three: Check that your shoulders are down and parallel to the floor. For some people it will mean bringing them down, and slightly back. However, do not pull the shoulders back too far, as this will force the ribcage and chest to stick out. This consequently leads to over-arching of the back, which puts additional and damaging pressure on the lower back. This should be avoided by all costs.

Step Four: Stretch through your fingertips by bringing your shoulders as low as possible, straightening your arms so they are either side of the piano stool, and then by opening your palms and spreading out your fingers. Make sure that your knuckles are parallel to the piano and that your palms are facing in the opposite direction to the keyboard (See picture below):

New Sitting Away 1

Step Five: Keeping your shoulders down and, whilst maintaining exactly the same posture, turn your palms in the opposite direction, so that they are facing the keyboard this time. If done correctly, this will make you feel a pull on the inside of your upper arms, and even your forearms. (See picture below):

New Sitting Facing

And now, keeping your body in the alignment that you have acquired, start playing the piano, whether this is as exercise, scale or a piece.

Look out for: To experiment with the benefits of this sitting sequence, try to play any piece, or exercise, the way you usually play. Now, by thoroughly going through all the steps, incorporate this sitting sequence and play the same piece again. Do you notice the difference?

Benefit: This sequence will not only help you to play better physically, but will also help you to put yourself in the right frame of mind. I recommend using it all the time, and in particular when you are performing at concerts or exams, as it keeps your calm, comfortable and focused.

Piano-Yoga® Meditation

I also suggest this five-minute meditation before every piano practice session. I often do it when I am on tour and/or surrounded by a lot of people and have a hectic schedule.

Step One: Sit with your spine straight. I personally prefer to sit on my yoga mat in a cross-legged position, as this is how I feel the most relaxed, but it is not necessary. Just make sure that your spine is straight, and your shoulders are back and down, and away from your ears. For those who suffer from back pain, I recommend using a small cushion to support your back.

Step Two: Close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing. Try to establish a nice rhythm, like counting 1-2 on drawing the breath in, and 3 – 4 breathing out. Take 10 breaths.

Step Three: Acknowledge all the problems and issues that you are facing at the moment, from the smallest ones to the monumental. Accept the volume of everything that is in your mind right now, from, for example, returning phone calls that are overdue, doing some family chores that you would rather not do or making decision on something that you have still not reached a conclusion on. Acknowledge all of them, and mentally embrace them.

Step Four: Now, imagining that each of the problems start transforming into a big grey matter or pile which is lying next to you, slowly, by accepting these problems one by one, imagine that all of them now look like grey piles that are scattered around you and you are sitting in the middle of them. See them, and feel them!

Step Five: Now imagine yourself getting up and opening the window in the room where you are. As my apartment is located on a top floor I can visualise this vividly. Open the window and start throwing each grey pile out, one by one, far away from yourself and your environment. See yourself scooping those piles up, and getting rid of them. After a while, when you finished, the space around you will become clean and clear.

Step Six: Feel this clean and clear space. Breath in deeper and notice how light and refreshed you feel. See and feel the clean and empty space around you.

Step Seven: Now turn your attention to the piano. Acknowledge the instrument that you are about to play on. Feel its energy (every piano has its own energy!), feel the keys and concentrate on the texture and colour of the instrument. Decide what you would like to work on, and feel the validity of this decision (for example, working on a particular page of your piece, or memorising the piece, etc.).

Now open your eyes, and enjoy your practice!

Look out for: Try to maintain a straight spine during the whole exercise, and make sure that you are not disturbed. If you notice that your mind starts wondering, gently bring it back.

Benefits: This exercise will help you to maintain your concentration and focus, necessary for efficient piano practice. You can try to do it before doing other tasks in your day, slightly modifying the exercise accordingly.

I invite you to try these exercises, and email me any feedback you may have.

Have fun, and enjoy your practice!



GéNIA is a concert pianist, composer and a founder of Piano-Yoga®, a holistic method for piano playing, performing and teaching. If you would like to know more about Piano-Yoga® visit or come to Piano-Yoga® Club that takes place every first Wednesday of the month at Schott Music in London. The next Piano-Yoga® Club will take place on the 2 December with the topic ‘Transforming Concentration in 5 Easy Steps’.

© GéNIA 2015



Jazzin’ At Christmas! The winners are…

Christmas winners

Many thanks to all those who took part in this weekend’s competition. It’s proved that Christmas piano arrangements are still very popular. There are two winners, and they will both receive a copy of Jazzin’ At Christmas! They are:

Noriko Moffat and Irma Khouw

Congratulations! Please send your address via my contact page and the books will be on their way.

There will be many more competitions and giveaways coming soon, so stay tuned.

If you would like to purchase Jazzin’ At Christmas! you can do so here. US readers can purchase here: for a hard copy click here and if you prefer a download, you can obtain a PDF here.

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Weekend Competition: Jazzin’ At Christmas!


Are you in a festive mood yet? Or is it a little early!? (It’s too early for me!). However, we all know our students love to play Christmas carols, particularly different arrangements of favourite tunes, and therefore plenty of preparation or practice time is necessary. So, for today’s competition, I have two copies of Jazzin’ At Christmas! to give away to two lucky winners.

Jazzin’ At Christmas! is a collection of ten ‘jazzed up’ Christmas songs arranged by British composer and teacher Rachael Forsyth, and published by Roo Records. I enjoyed playing these through and think students will find them fun; Rachael has included everything from swing and blues through to reggae and calypso styles. Good King Reggae, Manger Calypso, Not so Silent Night and Resting Jazzymen, are amongst the titles! Great for those of around Grades 1 – 3 level (or sight-reading for more advanced players).

Leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this post for a chance to win your copy. I will announce the winners on Sunday night (British time). Good luck!

You can purchase the book here.


Judging the Chicago Amateur Piano Competition 2016

I’m delighted to announce that  I will be a judge at the 2016 Chicago Amateur Piano Competition. It’s an international competition which will be live streamed in August from the 24th – 27th, 2016.  I’m one of three judges; my colleagues are Russian pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski (in the middle on the image below), and American pianist Adam Neiman, (on the right, below) who is from Chicago.

This competition has already been featured on my blog earlier this year, when committee member Sally Olson wrote a post about her involvement (which you can read here). In addition to judging the competition, each judge will also be giving master classes afterwards, which should be a lot of fun.

Four days of total immersion in the piano world, an opportunity to meet like-minded souls, and a chance to enjoy the sights of Chicago – the Chicago Amateur Piano Competition promises to be a wonderful experience, so if you’re looking to enter a competition next year, then do consider this one. There is also a registration fee discount if you apply before 1 January 2016. Hope to see you there!

You can find out much more about the competition and entry procedure here:
3 Judges

A master class with Jerome Lowenthal

Today’s post features a master class which I hope will be of interest. Jerome Lowenthal is an American classical pianist and noted pedagogue. He is a member of the piano faculty at the Juilliard School in New York, where he was also chair of the piano department. Additionally, he is on the faculty at Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California (where this master class took place in June 2015).

It’s fascinating to watch public classes, and so much can be absorbed from observing great teachers. You can find out much more about Jerome Lowenthal here. Enjoy!

Christmas Cool Piano Duets; the winner is…


Many thanks to everyone who took part in this weekend’s competition. Heather Hammond’s music is always very popular, and I enjoyed reading all your comments. Only one winner today, but there will be lots more competitions and giveaways coming soon.

FPS Resources (Jennifer Foxx) is today’s winner. Congratulations!

Please send your address via my contact page, and the music and practice notebooks will be on their way to you very soon.

If you would like to purchase Heather’s Cool Christmas Piano Duets, click here.

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Weekend Competition: Christmas Piano Duets

Christmas Duets

As we find ourselves hurtling towards Christmas, today’s competition features a festive piano book. Christmas Cool Piano Duets, arranged by popular British composer Heather Hammond and published by Kevin Mayhew, contains twelve favourites, perfect for a student/teacher combination, or two students. Great for the end of term Christmas concert, or any piano party!

The pieces are approximately early intermediate level (around Grades 3 – 5), but the primo parts are generally easier than those of the secondo (which is why they would be perfect for a teacher and student). Also excellent sight-reading material for more advanced players. Included are Frosty the Snowman, Good King Wenceslas, Joy to the  World, Silent Night, Jingle Bells, and Walking in the Air.

The winner of this collection will also receive a couple of practice notebooks, written by Heather and published by Mayhew. A Practice Fun Book and a Practice Record Book; they will hopefully encourage young players to practice regularly and keep a record of their work. Each book contains useful tips and exercises.

To win, just leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this post. I will select a winner on Monday (November 9th) evening (British time). Good luck!

You can purchase Heather’s duets here, the practice record book here, and the Practice fun book here.


The Classical Conversations Series

The Classical Conversations Series is three years old today! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting to forty pianists and teachers on camera, and when I began my series, this concept was fairly unusual. It’s been a privilege to speak to so many eminent musicians, gleaning their respective  inspirations, pianistic loves and musical journeys.

Whilst I invariably asked similar questions (each pianist received my intended questions beforehand and very few ever asked to change them), the answers were often incredibly different. I learnt so much about their repertoire choices, teachers, performance ideas, and perhaps the most fascinating subject was their practice regimes and just how they had honed and developed their techniques. Of course, some spoke more about this than others, but I particularly enjoyed hearing how they had become acclaimed performers. Approaches to piano competitions was  another contrary topic – with many differing, interesting views too.

It was my aim to capture their personalities, and hopefully allow my audience and readers a glimpse at the person behind the public image;  something which can only be achieved effectively on camera, and this is probably the main reason why the series has become popular.

I’m extremely grateful to all those who have taken part, and I relished the opportunity to film in a variety of locations; from the Wigmore Hall to agent’s headquarters, private homes, hotels, and several London music conservatoires (Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama). But I will be eternally thankful to Steinway Hall and Jaques Samuel Pianos (both in London), where the majority of the interviews took place.

As you can see from the videos, each one has been recorded and edited by me on a Panasonic Camcorder – and as several pianists noted – I was indeed a one woman show! Every interview depended entirely on my efforts, which was sometimes challenging. Interviews were generally recorded without a hitch, but occasionally, there were inevitable issues with my camera, plug sockets, uploading gremlins, or simply interviewees wanting to edit or start again! (which was fine by me).

I know many of you have enjoyed and appreciated these interviews, and have asked if I will be continuing with the series. Watch this space! I am increasingly busy with writing projects, but there are a few artists who I would still love to feature.

You can watch (or read – each interview has a transcript) the whole series here, but for now, here’s a trip down memory lane, with a selection of popular interviews, starting with my first guest, Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa, whom I met on a cold wet day in Cardiff – we recorded this interview at her hotel, between rehearsals for a live BBC broadcast:

Recommended Piano Resources for October 2015

Badge Graphics Draft 3

Happy Halloween! It’s the end of October already, and therefore time for my monthly round-up of useful piano resources. As  might be expected for this time of year, there are several Christmas additions (great for students everywhere). Enjoy!

Beginners and Elementary

Piano Mix 1

Piano Mix 1

This new series, published by UK exam board, ABRSM, is a selection of arrangements in three graded books. The collection has been complied and edited by David Blackwell, and Book 1 is intended for those of around Grades 1 – 2 level. The arrangements have been written by Alan Bullard, Nikki Iles,  Christopher Norton, and Tim Richards, amongst others, and feature very famous tunes, which appear in easy arrangements for those just learning. There is a vast spectrum of styles from Handel’s Fireworks Minuet to Harry. J. Lincoln’s Bees-Wax Rag; from orchestral music to opera, and from folk to jazz, there’s something for everyone. Find out more and get your copy here.

Jazzin’ At Christmas


These effective little Christmas piano pieces have been arranged by British composer, saxophonist and music teacher, Rachel Forsyth, and published by Roo Records. The collection features ten arrangements of well-loved festive classics all presented in a jazzy style (as the title suggests!). From swing and blues through to reggae and calypso styles, this book will bring a different take on playing carols. Included are Deck the Halls, Good King Reggae, Not so Silent Night, Ding, Ding Dong! and Holly and Ivy Dance. Suitable for students of around elementary level (or Grades 1 – 3). Listen to some of the pieces here and get your copy here.

Famous & Fun Christmas

Carol Matz

Written by American composer and arranger, Carol Matz, and published by Alfred Music, this group of fifteen piano arrangements is perfect for late elementary to early intermediate players. The series is specially designed and carefully leveled to supplement any piano method. It’s a very useful supplementary series which expands to include popular holiday selections as well as traditional favourites, including Jingle Bell Rock, Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland, and Ding, Dong Merrily on High! Download and print sheet music from the Famous & Fun Christmas Series here.

 Puffin Island

Puffin Island

Puffin Island is a set of eleven piano miniatures written by Irish composer June Armstrong. They are around Grades 1 – 4 (elementary and early intermediate) level, and have been beautifully written to reflect the atmosphere and life on Rathlin Island which is situated off the coast of County Antrim in Northern Island.  There are helpful notes about each piece at the beginning of the volume, and some performance directions too. Titles include Off to Rathlin! Morning Mist, Puffins, Curlew Calling, and Sunset over Donegal. Great alternative repertoire for between exams, or sight-reading material for higher grades. You can listen and learn more about these pieces here, and get your copy here.


Daily Expressions Volume 2


Written by British Paul Birchall and published by EVC Music Publications, this collection comprises seven compositions for Intermediate level students (Grades 4 – 6). This is Paul’s second volume of Daily Expressions, and rather like the first set, the compositional style has been heavily influenced by Minimalism. Paul wrote one new piece each day for one month and seven were selected and included here. He has described the process of composing thus: ‘I would conceive a theme very quickly and then develop it into a complete piece.’ You can listen to all the pieces and get your copy here.

Christmas Cool Piano Duets

Christmas Duets

This is a fun volume of Christmas tunes arranged by British composer Heather Hammond and published by Kevin Mayhew. Fairly straightforward in style and difficulty, they would be appropriate for students of Grades 4 – 6 level, but also great sight-reading practice for more advanced levels. The Primo part is generally simpler than the Secondo, which may make this volume ideal for pupils playing with their teachers. Amongst the twelve Christmas pieces are Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, Silent Night, Walking in the Air, We wish you a Merry Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. Perfect for the end of term Christmas concert! Get your copy here.


Piano Music for One Hand

Left Hand

I came across this volume recently. It’s not a new publication, but sometimes it’s beneficial just to highlight various collections. Piano Music for One Hand has been compiled by American pianist Raymond Lewenthal, published by G. Schirmer, and is intended for either students who have temporarily or permanently lost the use of one hand, or any pianist (above approximately Grade 6) who believes their left-hand playing could benefit from some extra practice (or perhaps those who are just fascinated by one-handed repertoire). These pieces vary in difficulty. Some are technical studies, yet they are not just exercises; many of these pieces are beautifully written by a whole spectrum of esteemed composers over several centuries. There are works by J S and C P E Bach, Czerny, Liszt, Scriabin, Bartók, Alkan, Moszowski and Godowsky. The book includes some very useful notes about the history of one-handed music and practice techniques too. Get your copy here.



Noviscore is a French company established in 2006 which specialises in online sheet music of copious styles and genres, which are available for all different levels. Each individual piece featured in the catalogue has been adapted and arranged for the piano by in-house pianists for up to four different levels of piano playing ability. Whether you are a beginner, an experienced player, or a private piano tutor, there is a large selection of music from easy piano sheet music to original scores, which are available for piano solo, or as an accompaniment to another instrument or a singer. Styles include classical, pop, jazz, blues, gospel, movie soundtracks, Christmas, and children’s music. For much more information and to browse the catalogue click here.



MusicPal can replicate the sound of a piece of music merely by scanning a photo. So take a picture with your phone or device and MusicPal will play it for you. You can listen note by note, loop phrases, and even isolate the treble or bass clef. Apparently every photo you take and tile-matching game you play will improve MusicPal’s accuracy. It’s always handy to ‘know’ instantly what your sheet music sounds like! This could be a helpful app for students especially. You can find out much more here.


Choral and Vocal Warm-Ups

avadFAJ4Choral & Vocal Warm Ups

This new volume has been written by British pianist, composer and teacher Nancy Litten and is published by Alfred Music. It has been conceived for pianists and is essentially ‘everything the pianist needs to know’ about directing choral and vocal warm-ups. The book is very comprehensive, starting with harmonized major scales in all keys (which are conveniently written out), then there are chapters on body relaxation, breathing, using vowels, focusing tone, intonation, diction, agility, gentle warm-ups, sight-singing, ice-breakers, and finally, tips for accompanying solo singers. This will prove an invaluable resource for all those associated with church music, and anyone rehearsing choirs. There are extensive tips and helpful musical examples too. Get your copy here.





A weekend at Jackdaws Music Education Trust


Tucked away down a country lane, just a few miles from Frome in Somerset (in the South West of the UK), is a music centre which has inspired generations of singers and instrumentalists. For many years, Jackdaws Music Education Trust has been providing weekend courses, educational events and performances for appreciative audiences and students. The courses attract excellent tutors in many disciplines and an increasingly expanding stable of students.

I was delighted to be invited to join the roster of piano tutors by tutoring my own course last weekend. On most courses there are a maximum of ten places, so when I arrived on Friday evening for supper before the first session, I was greeted by ten very keen pianists of all ages.

Over the course of the weekend, we explored several topics, namely piano technique, sight-reading and memorisation, which were interspersed with a more regular workshop concept where each student presents a couple of pieces. The timetable of eight sessions of different lengths (of between one and two hours) is definitely intense (I still managed to overrun several times!), but we were able to cover a myriad of issues and concerns in this time, and my students all commented on how much they really enjoyed the variety this provided. They also appreciated the beautiful Steinway at their disposal (pictured above).

All students were adults and mostly piano teachers  and amateur pianists of varying levels (from approximately Grade 5 to ATCL level), and on my course, there was also one pre-conservatoire student too.

They presented an interesting array of repertoire including works by J S Bach, Handel, Mozart (Sonata in C major K. 545), Beethoven (Pathetique Sonata in C minor No. 8 Op. 13), Burgmuller, Kuhlau, Sinding, Grieg (Nocturne Op. 54 No. 4), Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninov (Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 3 No. 2), York Bowen, and Harold Arlen. I particularly savoured a work (performed by a diploma student) by Sydney Rosenbloom, a composer I knew very little about.

Rosenbloom was born in Edinburgh in 1886 and apparently studied at the Blackheath Conservatoire and the Royal Academy of Music, making his debut as a pianist in 1920, before working extensively in South Africa. His Polonaise in A flat appears heavily influenced by Chopin, but is nevertheless an effective display piece and great fun to play and teach. You can hear a pianola version of it here. It was a treat to discover this dynamic little-known piece.

Every student was given the chance to ‘try out’ and hone different ideas I presented relating to sight-reading, piano technique and memorisation, all of which I am convinced can be studied and hugely improved with regular attention.

The sessions were punctuated with fabulous food prepared to perfection by Alex, who worked tirelessly to make sure our various dietary requirements were met. During the small amount of relaxation time, some students explored the countryside, and set about a river walk (Jackdaws is situated next to a river), whilst others made use of the facilities at the centre and did some practice (there are several practice rooms).

The course ended with a lengthy sight-reading session; students reading together around the piano, playing trios (by Christopher Norton, Mike Cornick and Sergei Rachmaninov), and many duets, which are great ways to improve reading. Pupils commented on just how beneficial it was to have worked so thoroughly, both on their chosen pieces and other pianistic issues.

Jackdaws is certainly a wonderful experience for anyone wanting to combine vocal or instrumental workshops, with a convivial weekend break (they also run one day courses and a Summer school too), where they can meet like-minded individuals and work with respected teachers. You can find out much more here.