The Faber Music Soundtracks Piano Anthology Competition

It’s time for a competition. The prize, for one lucky reader, is a copy of the latest piano publication from Faber Music: The Faber Music Soundtracks Piano Anthology. This hefty tome contains a generous selection of themes from the movies arranged for piano solo. The arrangements, of which there are over 50, are presented in a progressive order of difficulty, and would be suitable for intermediate to advanced players.

The volume features music from popular television shows such as Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Killing Eve and Planet Earth, and movies including Lord of the Rings, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Piano, The Favourite and Manchester by the Sea. My personal favourites include the themes from Pride and Prejudice and Chocolat. This collection of well-written arrangements is gift wrapped in an attractive cover and would make the perfect Christmas present.

For your chance to win, just leave a comment in the comment box below, and I’ll announce the winner here on this blog on Monday December 9th in the evening (British time). Good luck!

For more information or to purchase your copy, click here.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Master Classes with Nelita True

In many respects a master class is a public lesson, the audience eavesdropping on proceedings. Attending public classes can be surprisingly beneficial both for students and teachers, as we can all learn from observing the lessons of others, and especially from esteemed pianists and teachers. I stumbled across this interesting filmed lesson, master class, and interview on YouTube.

Nelita True’s reputation as a teacher has travelled across many continents; she has been described in Clavier Companion as “one of the world’s most sought-after and beloved pianist-teachers.” Currently a professor at the Eastman School of Music in New York, her friendly persona combined with a refined, refreshing approach to interpretation can all be witnessed during the following classes, which have been filmed many years apart. I hope you enjoy them and the interview, which was filmed in 2016.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

The ‘Chromasoul’ Steinway Piano

Earlier this year, I was invited to the launch of a new Steinway piano. Not entirely a new instrument, but more a new ‘design’; the Chromasoul Steinway. This Chromasoul piano is a Steinway Model D instrument that has been fastidiously painted by renowned Argentinian artist María Inés Aguirre. I wrote about Mia and the concept behind her pianos a few years ago on my blog, and you can read the article here.

Mia has been Steinway artist-in-residence since 2010, and in that time has transformed several pianos, hand painting each one with her own brand of beauty. Such explosions of colour won’t be to everyone’s taste, and those who prefer a Steinway with a deep matt black finish should perhaps look away now! However, there’s no doubt about the love, care and attention to detail lavished on this instrument, and for me, the intricate brush strokes and the richness of the paint simply must be admired in person. It’s most certainly a breath-taking design, and Steinway sell Mia’s pianos to various piano collectors around the world.

The Chromasoul piano was born in 2018 and formed the latest stage in Mia’s long-standing project ‘The Music of Colour’. According to the artist; ‘my inspiration comes from movement and light, which is why I want the piano to evoke the energy, movement and colour of the Ballet Russes….you could say I am writing a musical score in colours which I hope will touch everyone who sees the piano – and add an extra dimension to the music created on it’.

With Aisa Ijiri and the Steinway ‘Chromasoul’ Piano

The launch took place at Moor House situated on the London Wall on May 9th 2019. Japanese pianist Aisa Ijiri gave a short recital on the instrument which was recorded and subsequently transformed into a short film which focuses on how the instrument was created.

Aisa opened the concert with a piece I wrote for her, Aisa: Sand, Silk & Love. This short work explores various colours and harmonies, oscillating between major and minor whilst circumnavigating the entire keyboard, and in many respects, it complements the painter’s philosophy behind the creation of this piano’s design.

Aisa: Sand, Silk & Love will be published by Schott (in the Edition Schott Series) in January 2020 as part of a volume of five virtuoso pieces called Simply Driven, and it has been used as the soundtrack to the following film. You can watch it by clicking the link below.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Piano Notebook

As many will know, I enjoy highlighting piano resources and today’s post focuses on the Piano Notebook; a new collection of short pieces intended for elementary students. Devised and written by Spanish teacher, Juan Cabeza Hernández, who is based in Madrid, the project has been created to provide various materials, resources, ideas and activities for piano teachers with elementary and intermediate level students.

Each Piano Notebook will be sold in PDF format with a studio license, which will allow teachers who purchase it free and unlimited use with their own students. Every publication will address a topic related to piano pedagogy and various materials will be included with each download.

The first Notebook uses pentascales (the first five notes of a major or minor scale.)  The publication contains 24 eight measure pieces designed for practising all major and minor pentascales. They are written in different meters and styles with the intention of covering as wide a variety of piano textures as possible.

The first Piano Notebook contains the following:
  • 24 pieces in all keys, each one eight measures long and in the five-finger position
  • 24 audio files
  • Printable card sheets of all keys, pentascales, key signatures and time signatures to use in different activities.
  • A tracking chart for the 24 keys.

According to the composer, there are many different ways to use this book, including:

• Play the pieces in the Notebook as they are written. This way students will be able to play pieces in all keys in addition to their repertoire pieces.
• The Miniatures can also be used as preparation or warm-up for the student’s repertoire pieces, selecting a Miniature written in the same key as the piece.
• Another idea is to practice each piece in as many different ways as possible. The harmonic and compositional simplicity of the pieces allows flexibility in creating variations such as:
· changing the key of the piece.
· changing the third note of the pentascale to modulate from major to minor and vice versa.
· changing the meter of the piece. For example, adapting a piece written in 4/4 to 3/4, or 6/8, or even 5/8.
· Changing the character, rhythm, articulation, dynamics or tempo of the piece.
· Finally, inventing a new piece using elements of the Miniature as a starting point.

You can listen to some of the pieces and find out more here:


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Indonesian Charm

Over the past nine days I have been touring in the Far East. It’s always a pleasure to work with students and teachers in different parts of the world, and fascinating to note the various similarities in teaching styles, despite the cultural differences. I began my trip in Indonesia, a country I visited briefly last year as part of a larger joint Schott Music and G. Henle Verlag book tour.

Indonesia consists of thousands of volcanic islands and is home to hundreds of ethnic groups speaking a variety of different languages (apparently over 700), from Javanese, Malay, Chinese, Arab to Indian and European. The capital city, Jakarta, is situated on the northwest coast of the island of Java: over 10 million residents inhabit this sprawling place. It’s noisy, bustling, humid, vibrant, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. A government health warning should perhaps be issued when sampling some of the food; if hot and spicy isn’t your ‘thing’, you may struggle here. Public transport is limited to say the least, which results in serious daily traffic jams, and a substantial health hazard in the form of pollution. But none of this affected my stay, and I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my hosts and all those with whom I came into contact.

I had been invited to work as one of this year’s ‘Grand Mentors’ for the Cantata for Youth Scheme at the Sekolah Musik Cantata (Cantata Music School) in Kelapa Gading Square, North Jakarta. This school has several large premises across the city, of which the Kelapa Gading branch hosts over 600 weekly students. A range of instruments can be studied alongside music theory, and there are even options to study subjects like classical ballet dancing. Such learning establishments in Indonesia are generally arts based as opposed to solely music.

My task for the week was to work alongside the school’s piano teachers, helping to prepare students for the Sunday concert (see image to the left), and generally suggesting alternative practice ideas as well as offering methods for honing teaching concepts within the school. The Cantata Music School is a Trinity College Examination Centre and a growing number of pupils take these exams every year. Whilst traditional instruments, such as the gamelan, remain popular, there is increasing interest in Western music and Western culture, and, as in the case of other Far Eastern countries, the instant achievement found in certification drives many.

I spent three and a half days working with a complete cross section of diverse students; from elementary through to the associate diploma level. It matters little about where I go to teach in the world, the same elements frequently appear problematic. This may be due to lack of student interest or practice, but, more often than not, it’s sadly due to poor teaching. Becoming a piano teacher in Indonesia is no easy feat. Teachers don’t always have the required opportunities; most haven’t studied to Bachelor degree level, and there seems to be little provision to study Western music at a higher level. Therefore, prospective piano teachers rely on acquiring ABRSM or Trinity College London Grade 8 or diploma exams. Perhaps this may be resolved in coming years, but until that time, it remains for visiting teachers to implement a different approach. And that was my intention.

Students had mostly learned their prepared pieces sufficiently well, but were not always fluent at note-reading or keeping time. These issues were particularly highlighted during the duet playing.

One of the clever concepts of this school, is that they are keen to pair pupils together for duets and also, for trios (6 hands at one keyboard). The Sunday concert featured mostly duet and trio ensembles, and it was heartening that my book of elementary duets and trios, Snapchats (80 days publishing), was used for this purpose.

Snapchats are very short pieces, mostly between 8 and 16 bars in length, for two and three pianists at one piano; they take students from late beginner level to around Grade 4. And they are really beneficial for those just starting to play duets. Several more advanced students also played solo pieces from my new volume, No Words Necessary (Schott Music).

12 Intermediate Piano Pieces for Students from Grade 3 – 6 level, published by Schott Music

Encouraging ensemble work is a marvellous vehicle for overall improvement. I worked with each group (and their teacher), on such aspects as quick note learning, fingering and finger positions, general ensemble, and the importance of rhythm and pulse.

The pulse had been largely side-stepped by the majority of students, which rendered ensemble playing a real challenge. But after some stringent ‘pulse keeping’ in the form of counting out loud (where I found myself either conducting or stamping my foot!), pupils started to place beats more carefully, and were clearly happy to be playing in almost perfect unison alongside their fellow pianists. As a result, the Sunday concert was a resounding success, with some impressive playing (click on the videos below to hear some of the performances, and keep in mind that these children had never played a duet or trio before).

With students and teachers after the concert in Jakarta
With teachers participating in the Play it again workshop, held in Jakarta

My final day in Jakarta was spent working with teachers. I usually offer a teacher’s workshop during my travels. It lasts most of the day and focuses on disparate technical facets. The workshop features a selection of piano exercises, allowing teachers to form a basis for flexible movement with their students; an issue which I perpetually work on with my own students. Teachers responded well to this session, and were asking for more detailed information about flexible, relaxed movement around the keyboard, and therefore a further trip probably beckons at a later date. Many of these exercises are also featured in my course, Play it again (Schott Music).

The final two days of my tour were spent in Johor Bahru (Malaysia), where I gave private lessons at the Forte Academy of Music, and at the Cristofori Academy in Singapore, with a three-hour master class at Bechstein Music World.

At the start of my class at Cristofori held at Bechstein Music World in Singapore

Fearless explorers would relish a trip to Indonesia. I learnt much about the traditional music, responses to Western classical music, and the constantly evolving opportunities for Western musicians to perform on the Indonesian stage. I hope music education continues to thrive and, if so, it will be due to the admirable work done by schools like the Sekolah Musik Cantata.

The following videos were recorded at the Tea for Two (or Three) Concert and feature students from the Sekolah Musik Cantata.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

The Maze of Methods Unpacked

I’m in the Far East at the moment on my second visit this year. I was invited by the I-MEC and CYM in Jakarta (Indonesia) to be the 2019 ‘Grand Mentor’, which involved giving a week of workshops and masterclasses for piano teachers and their students. I’ve also been giving classes in Johor Bahru (at the Forte Academy) and in Singapore, for Cristofori at Bechstein Music World.  This aspect of my work is not only really enjoyable, but it’s a privilege to be in the position to help students and teachers, and work with them on different aspects of their piano playing.

On my return I’m looking forward to being a part of an exciting event to be held at the Schott Music Store in Great Marlborough Street, London (see image to the left).

On November 10th 2019 EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association) are hosting a day at the Schott shop, the basement of which houses a small performance space, which will be perfect for this gathering. Intended for EPTA members, it’s free to attend and is designed to introduce piano teachers to a variety of piano method books.

Hosted by writer, teacher and blogger Andrew Eales, the day highlights some of the favourite methods published by the world’s major publishers. Starting at 11.00am, Andrew opens this event, and then I will be speaking about Play it again: PIANO (Schott); you’ll know by now that this is a course for anyone returning to the piano after a break (particularly adult returners).

Author Sharon Goodey will talk about her beginner’s method Playing with Colour (Alfred), and this is followed by a further beginner’s method presentation, the popular series Dogs and Birds, written by Chris and Elza Lusher. Distributed by Alfred, this presentation, will also feature demonstrations by a four year old student, Ling.

After a short break Faber Music’s marketing manager Rachel Topham will offer Information about two publications: Pam Wedgwood’s Piano Basics and Lang Lang’s Piano Method.

Lunchtime will provide ample opportunity to browse the shop, purchase books, and chat to the authors and presenters. And after lunch Alan and Jan Bullard will speak about the PianoWorks series by Pauline Hall (OUP). The final presentation will focus on three methods: John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Method, Faber Piano Adventures, and Rockshool’s new piano methods books, which will be presented by Thomas Lydon and Ollie Winston.

The afternoon will conclude at 3.30pm with an open discussion, chaired by Andrew, with all presenters and the audience. If you would like to attend this event, you can find out much more about it, here. We look forward to meeting you.

www.epta-uk.org


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Painless Piano Playing Part 2

Today’s blog post has been recently published in EPTA’s (or the European Piano Teachers Association) flagship UK publication Piano Professional, for which I write a feature technique article. It’s the second article focusing on developing a pain free, relaxed piano technique. You can read Painless Piano Playing Part 1, here.


In my previous article, Painless Piano Playing Part 1, published in the last edition of Piano Professional, I wrote about the importance of encouraging our students to learn to release physical tension when playing the piano. The first article focused on relaxing and releasing tightness in the back, shoulders, arms, and hands. This article will highlight wrist flexibility and finger independence, featuring wrist exercises as well as those to begin developing firm fingers.

Once students have released any tension, or the building of tension in their shoulders, arms and hands in particular (which can take some time and effort), they are ready to loosen the wrists. These joints are probably the most important in the body in relation to piano playing; if wrists remain tense, then movement generally becomes an issue, making it difficult to circumnavigate the keyboard, and the hand and fingers also tend to become locked. One other complication as a result of wrist tension is the inability to produce a warm tone, as there will be a tendency to ‘hit’ the keys as opposed to ‘stroke’ or ‘caress’ them, which is possible via a flexible wrist and efficient use of the arm.

Let’s start with an exercise to loosen the wrists, which can be done away from the keyboard. Ask students to put their arms in the air in an upright position, keeping the forearm as still as possible, whilst moving the wrists with several different movements or motions. Firstly, move the wrist, and therefore the hand, up and then down several times, aiming to move from the wrist only. Secondly, move the wrists in a motion as if waving goodbye, that is, side to side, from left to right. And finally, move the wrists in a completely ‘circular’ motion, that is, rotating the hand and wrist using a circular movement, all whilst keeping the arm flexible but still. It’s advisable for the wrists to remain very loose and relaxed throughout these exercises. Such movements may seem exaggerated and unnecessary, but they do provide a clear indication to our students how the wrist can move (it’s surprising just how many pupils aren’t aware of this) and the amount of movement required to build flexibility into their technique.

Once this has been assimilated, aim to move onto the next exercise which involves the following simple five finger pattern:

It’s entirely possible to use five finger exercises with semibreves, minims or even crotchets, but the most crucial factor is that there is plenty of time to move between notes. Ask your student to play middle C with their right-hand thumb, and once the key has sounded, encourage them to ‘drop’ their hand, wrist and arm completely whilst still holding down the note. It may be prudent to hold the thumb on middle C (they can do this with their free hand) as they drop their hand (see photo 1, where I am holding my third finger), because the priority is for the note to be played and held as the wrist, hand and arm totally relax.

Photo 1

A dropped hand will probably appear with the hand and wrist in a ‘flopped’ position, below the level of the keyboard. This is NOT a position one would ever use to play the piano, it is merely an exercise to release tension. You may need to work with a student for a while before they get the hang of the necessary ‘relaxed’ feel in their arm and hand; it’s all about the ‘feeling’ of releasing muscles.

The purpose of the exercise being that the pupil’s upper body becomes accustomed to a loose and relaxed stance as they are holding the note. It’s so often the case that students will be completely locked as they play from note to note, usually without even realising that they are doing this. Therefore, one vital aspect of building a flexible approach into technique, is that the tension employed as a note is sounded must immediately ‘released’ afterwards. Such an exercise puts this concept in to action in a fairly straightforward manner, and if practised slowly and regularly, it will eventually become a habit. This exercise can be incorporated easily at the beginning of a practice session.

Students can approach every note of the five-finger exercise in this way, and then work in a similar vein with an exercise for the left hand. Care will be needed with the fourth and fifth fingers, which may ‘fall’ off notes easily at first, if not ‘held’ in place by the other hand. Flatter fingers can be helpful when attempting this exercise, and eventually students will be able to hold the note unaided, and learn to relax their upper body simultaneously.

Once this has been digested, the student should begin to feel more comfortable and suitably ‘relaxed’, so we can move on to the next exercise, which uses the same five finger pattern as printed above. The only difference will be in the approach to playing every note.

Wrist ‘circles’ are a useful technique to help students move from note to note because they generally advocate the ‘dropped’ wrist, and therefore another opportunity to release tension and relax the hand and wrist. They also offer students the chance to learn about circular wrist movement which is a prerequisite in flexible piano playing, whether moving from note to note, or using the movement to incorporate larger groups of notes, or various note patterns. For this exercise, it’s a good idea to ask students to play on their fingertips, as opposed to the flat fingered approach suggested for the earlier exercise.

Fingers occasionally have a tendency to ‘collapse’; to prevent this, ideally focus on employing a ‘hooked’ finger shape, making the sure the first joint (as shown in photo 2 by my index or second finger), is engaged as opposed to collapsing.

Photo 2

I ask students to play middle C, but this time use a complete circular movement before sounding the next note, and as the same C is held in place. To form a rotational or circular motion, as the note is held, the wrist needs to rotate from the neutral position (with the wrist aligned with the keyboard), as in photo 3, through a downward position or motion, as in photo 4, back to the neutral position, and then on to a rising position, with the wrist above the keyboard level, as in photo 5, all before returning to the neutral position and, then finally, on to playing the next note (a D). These movements are all connected via one circular movement, encouraging a loose wrist and arm, between every note, illustrating the importance of the concept of tension (which is required to play a note) and release, or letting go of that tension once the note has been played.

This rotation is quite a straightforward process, as long as the wrist is kept relaxed, and the student’s arm remains flexible. Once grasped, pupils can move through the exercise using both hands, separately.

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Once flexibility has been ‘learned’ and fully assimilated, the fingers can begin to sound each note with a deeper touch producing a full tone, playing past the double escapement to the bottom of the key, or the key bed, whilst still keeping the wrist, hand and arm light and loose. This will encourage every finger to work almost alone, that is, without the help of other fingers, but with full use of the arm, hand and wrist behind every note. This in turn, forms the basis for using the arm as a hinge, so that it can provide the appropriate weight, supported by the moveable wrist for powerful arm weight. It’s this motion which can prevent injury whilst at the same time promoting a full sonority.

To do this the wrist circles must offer a ‘swing’ feel to the single notes in the exercise, and as the finger or thumb goes to strike the note, the wrist drops the arm, and therefore the finger, ‘into’ the key, so that instead of ‘hitting’ from above, the finger caresses the note; the finger should ideally be almost resting on the key before it is played, as opposed to being ‘struck’ from above, which tends to make a less than ideal tone. Instead, the movement comes from the downward motion or ‘swing’ of the wrist and arm.

After a while, students will hopefully feel more relaxed and less tense as they move through these exercises. They will subsequently be able to move on to simple Czerny or Cramer exercises, to further develop firm fingers and wrist movement whilst increasing speed over longer phrases and note patterns.

It may take a few months of work to make progress, but it’s worth reminding pupils that it’s all about how they ‘feel’. Such exercises have little to do with piano music, but the truth is that unless pianists can move freely around the keyboard, they will not be able to play the repertoire that they choose with accuracy and confidence.

You can read the published article by clicking on the link below:

Painless Piano Playing Part 2



My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

 

 

Piano Companion

Today’s post has been penned by Sergey Bogdanov, founder and CEO of Songtive. Songtive   publishes Piano Companion, an App for those interested in developing their knowledge of theory and chord progressions. It’s free and can be a most helpful addition to a musician’s tool box. In this post, Sergey explains how to use this app and there’s a link  to download it, too.


Piano Companion is a composing tool, band and social network, which allows you to experiment with arrangements and chord progressions. It helps you to organize your favourite songs and chord charts, and to share them with your friends.

The app can be downloaded on your computer, tablet, or phone. Upon opening the app, you are greeted with a simple menu that allows for all of the features to be easily utilized. Below is a description of the tabs and their respective features.

At the top left, you will find the Chords Dictionary tab. This allows you to hear and visualize more than 1500 chords and chord progressions, as well as to create custom chords. To start, select a key at the top of the screen. You can then scroll through an interactive table of every chord in that key. Pressing on a tab allows you to hear what it sounds like, and underneath you are shown which piano keys are necessary to replicate that chord.

Another feature is the Scales Dictionary. In this tab, you will find a comprehensive list of the names of the scales. At the top is ‘Acoustic’, and it is listed alphabetically through to ‘Zokuso’. You can also sort by key, meaning you can see what the look like in multiple different formats, such as on a keyboard and on sheet music.

The app also features a Circle of Fifths tab. To make use of this, navigate to a designated area and you will see the name of the chord, how to play it, and what it looks like as sheet music throughout all octaves. You can also listen to what the chord sounds like on a keyboard. The outermost layer of the circle lists major scales; for example, navigating to the outermost ‘F’ will give you information about F Major. The middle circle prompts minor chords. For example, if you navigate to ‘f’, you will find all you need to know about F Natural Minor.

The Piano Companion app would not be complete without its virtual piano feature, simply titled Piano. This essentially works like a MIDI keyboard in that many instruments can be played while never leaving the keyboard format. The default is set to Grand Piano, but other instruments include a guitar, cello, two synths, and a few percussion instruments such as the xylophone. Tap on the keys to hear what they sound like, and there is also a useful feature where you can record what you played. This is a great way to practice playing the chords for yourself, as well as for composing music.

There is also a Quiz feature. If you navigate to it, you will be brought to a page to download an app called Sight Reading Trainer: ChordIQ, where you can test the knowledge you learned on the Piano Companion app while also seeing how you performed compared to others.

The User Library tab is completely customizable to best fit your needs. To start, navigate to the plus arrow and enter a name. You are then asked to choose a root. This tab is best used to keep a convenient list of the chords and scales you find most useful.

Toward the bottom of the app, there is a comprehensive Settings page. At the top, you will find ways to connect to the online forum as well as the Facebook and Twitter pages. You then have a chance to change the language from the default of English and to limit what you see in each tab. For example, if you are overwhelmed by the Scales Dictionary, you can opt to ‘Show only popular scales’. Another useful setting is the ability to change the default instrument from Grand Piano to another option. This way, if you tap on a chord, you may hear it as a guitar or synth instead, for example.

Feel free to download the app, here, and try it for yourself!

www.songtive.com


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

A String of Pearls, the female composer and a special competition

Image: Pianist Magazine

It’s always a happy experience when one’s work is published, irrespective of the publication or publisher. But this new volume (pictured to the left) is a really exciting one for me.

In 2017, pianists and teachers Alla Levit and Antonina Lax invited me to write a piano duet for one of their forthcoming UK tours. Alla (who is Russian) and Antonina (from Bulgaria) are the Darina Piano Duo. They had previously enjoyed using my four- and six- hand music (Snapchats Duets & Trios) with their students, and both had commented on the fact that these short pieces were like little ‘jewels’. This observation provided the catalyst for the title of their new piece, A String of Pearls. Antonina describes how our collaboration transpired:

‘I first came across Melanie through one of her articles published by Pianist magazine about 5 years ago. I was impressed by her articulation of the different challenges in piano teaching – it was obvious that the author was an experienced, knowledgeable and competent piano player. I also found out that Melanie had just published the first edition of her book ”So You Want to Play the Piano” (2013). I ordered the book immediately and I must admit that I still think this is one of the best modern guides written in English.

I later found out that Melanie is also a composer when I met her at a concert in London showcasing modern composers’ piano repertoire. Melanie presented her newly published (at that time) selection of piano duets called ”Snapchats”. The music was so fresh and accessible that it became one of my favourite duet selections. I still teach it to my students in one-to-one sessions and even masterclasses.

I asked Melanie to write some music for me and my piano partner Alla Levit (Darina Piano Duo), as we are currently collecting 4-hand piano pieces by modern composers. Melanie was extremely generous and wrote not just one but five pieces which she joined in a wonderful suite called ”A String of Pearls”. This is programme music depicting different pearls, such as the famous Pearl Maxima, Pearl of Lao Tzu and La Peregrina. Melanie’s pieces are story-driven, picturesque musical descriptions of pearls that are also full of character. Darina Piano Duo has now performed the “String of Pearls” suite many times and in different venues across the UK and this music has always been very well received.

It has been a stroke of luck to meet Melanie and we hope to continue our creative collaboration with her so we can perform many more of her beautiful pieces.’

****

A String of Pearls consists of five movements, each one depicting a different pearl, reflecting the jewel’s characteristics as well as its corresponding symbolism. The movements are fairly short and could be played by a late intermediate or advanced level student. The music is intended for pianists who particularly enjoy playing expressive and evocative music with a hint of minimalism.

1. Pearl Maxima: One of the largest, most majestic pearls in the world, its captivating colours glimmer and sparkle from cream to gold, with a variety of hues in between.

2. Black Pearls: These beautiful serene jewels originate from the black lip oyster, and are tinged with green, pink, blue,silver and yellow.

3. Cave Pearls: Rushing water dances around limestone caves, polishing each glossy pearl.

4. Pearl of Lao Tzu: Sacred connotations have been linked to this large legendary clam pearl.

5. La Peregrina Pearl: Known as the ‘pilgrim’ or ‘wanderer’, this renowned gem has adorned many a colourful character, from royalty to actors, during its reputed 500-year history.

I was delighted when Schott decided to publish this piece in their renowned Edition Schott series. This series has featured some of the world’s greatest composers, many of whom currently publish or have published exclusively with Schott, including Richard Wagner, Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Carl Orff, György Ligeti, Michael Tippett, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Mark-Anthony Turnage. However, there are few female composers featured in the series, and therefore I feel it’s an honour to be amongst such illustrious company. There has been much discussion recently about the lack of female composers, conductors, and, to some degree, writers (and piano professors) too, in the classical music profession. But as this issue is gradually highlighted, so we can hopefully look forward to a future of equality and inclusion.

A String of Pearls was performed beautifully in a series of four concerts over the Summer given by my friends and colleagues pianists Samantha Ward and Maciej Raginia at the International Piano Festival and Summer School PIANO WEEK. They kindly made the following recordings at Rugby School in August. I hope you enjoy them.
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‘Having performed ‘A String of Pearls’ by Melanie Spanswick four times over the summer at our festival PIANO WEEK, Maciej and I found these pieces energetic, contrasting and very rewarding to perform. Each movement evokes a different mood and as a result, they were interesting to learn, proving very popular with audiences both in the UK and Italy.’ Concert pianist and Artistic Director of PIANO WEEK, Samantha Ward
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You can purchase the score in a digital download or print version, here or here.

This week Pianist Magazine have launched a competition on their facebook page (you can find it here) and the prize is a copy of A String of Pearls. To take part, all you need to do is ‘like’ Pianist’s Facebook page, ‘like’ and share the post, and tag a potential duet partner with whom you would like to play the piece. The competition closes on Monday 14th October. Good luck!

10 Women Composers You Have to Know About

www.pianistmagazine.com

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My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Let’s make way for the Ladies!

The latest edition of Pianist Magazine is now available and it’s an ‘all women’ affair. Spotlighting Isata Kanneh-Mason, who appears on the front cover, this issue offers all the usual magazine goodies; ‘how-to-play’ articles by Lucy Parham, Nils Franke and myself, highlighting female composers (Maria Szymanowska, Cécile Chaminade, and Clara Schumann), in-depth masterclasses from Graham Fitch and Mark Tanner, a Piano Teacher Help Desk written by Kathryn Page, a Playing by Ear article from John Geraghty, and articles on female pianists and composers by Jessica Duchen, Peter Quantrill and Inge Kjemtrup.

There’s also a fascinating feature on Clara Schumann by concert pianist Lucy Parham, who is currently touring with her new composer portrait programme I, Clara, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Clara Wieck Schumann. The narrative of I, Clara, drawn from letters and diaries, is interspersed with live performances of Clara’s works, and of music by Robert Schumann, Brahms, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Chopin. The narrator is the acclaimed actress, Dame Harriet Walter. Lucy and Dame Harriet have just released a CD to accompany the tour, and you can find out more about it, here. And you can enjoy a preview of I, Clara by clicking on the link below:

Pianist magazine always contains at least forty pages of sheet music as well as an accompanying CD, all performed and recorded by house pianist Chenyin Li. In this edition, the lion’s share of the sheet music is devoted to female composers, including a charming Mazurka in C by Maria Szymanowska, Bagatelle No. 2 by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, No. 1 from 25 Easy Etudes Op. 50 by Louise Farrenc, Tarentelle Op. 123 No. 10 by Cécile Chaminade, Polka Op. 36 No. 5 by Amy Beach, Méditation by Mel Bonis, and Romance Op. 11 No. 1 by Clara Schumann. I feel most honoured to have one of my educational piano pieces, Kaleidoscope, included amongst this collection.

I wrote Kaleidoscope in a couple of hours on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Set in one of my favourite keys, F minor, it’s an intermediate level piece (intended for pianists of around Grade 5 ABRSM standard), and it contains a wistful melody and accompaniment, which blossoms out into cascading semiquaver passages, with plenty of movement around the keyboard, ideal for showcasing virtuosity. Kaleidoscope has been beautifully recorded by Chenyin Li, and you can hear it by clicking the following link:

If you don’t already subscribe to Pianist, you can do so here.

www.pianistmagazine.com


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.