Guest Post: 11 ways to kick start your practice routine

Happy World Piano Day! Today’s guest writer is Evgenia Chudinovich (GéNIA). GéNIA (pictured below) has written for my blog before (you can read her very popular article here), and she is a highly experienced pianist, teacher, author, composer, and creator of Piano-Yoga®. Here, she offers some practice tips for those in need of some inspiration!


Have you ever had the familiar feeling that you really would like to do something but you just do not have the time for it? If only! In reality, very secretly, you know that you have the time, however you just cannot bring yourself into doing something.

I have news for you! For a start, thousands, it not millions of people, have had this feeling at least once in their life. It does not matter if it was about piano practice or learning a foreign language or simply starting a regular exercise regime. You know you want it, you even know need it, but still something is holding you back.

So what shall we do it about it? How do we start?

In this article I am going to concentrate on piano practice, however these tips can be applied to anything! Here are 11 ways to get back to your piano practice:

  1. Establish a routine. This is absolutely essential, as without a routine there will be no continuous progress. The routine can start from 10 minutes daily to an hour a day. All you need to do is to establish the constant time (or times if you have a patchy schedule) and stick to it. For example 10 minutes in the morning always at 8 am, or in the evening, or 3 days a week in the morning and 3 days a week in the evening according to your availability.
  2. Plan in advance. Try to think in weeks and months, rather than from day-to-day, unless it is absolutely impossible for you to know what your week looks like. Your body will get used to doing the same thing at the same time, and at some point, it will start ‘asking you for it’ rather than you making yourself do it.
  3. Use an alarm. This is a very simple trick but it works wonders. Put the stop time, and do not think about the time until the alarm sounds. You can start with short sessions rather than longer ones, so start with 10 – 15 minutes, and then slowly increase the time to 30 minutes or 45 if you like.
  4. Establish a specific goal. Why are you learning the piano? I understand that you want to learn to play, but you need to ask yourself why you want to learn to play: Is it because you want to impress others, or just play for yourself, or both? Then ask yourself what would symbolise the achievement of this goal? For example giving a private concert performance or sitting at the piano and playing ‘Clair de Lune” to yourself when you feel like it; it can be anything, however please be specific. Once you have a goal, it is much easier to start practicing!
  5. Start with small steps. Let’s say that you have established a goal and please be as ambitious as you like, as it is very important! However it is also important to be realistic by not putting yourself under too much pressure in attempting to achieve the goal, so you don’t feel inadequate and stressed. Therefore if your goal is too ambitious (like learning to play the original ‘Claire de Lune’ whilst you only know how to play piano with your right hand), establish gradual steps that would help you to achieve it. For example, with regard to ‘Clair de Lune’, it can be achieved by doing several graded exams before you tackle this piece, or you can choose a different way by learning how to play with the left hand first, then how to play pieces with lots of flats, proceed with learning how to play fast by concentrating on piano technique, and so on.
  6. If this is available to you, learn from a professional. In every area, whether this is music, languages, dance, or yoga, you can save yourself a lot of time, and achieve things quicker, by receiving guidance from a reputable professional. Ideally it is good to have regular contact with such a person, hence weekly lessons with the piano teacher is a norm, and most recommended. However not everyone can afford it. This is where many make a mistake, as they think there is no point in having lessons at all, if they cannot commit to weekly sessions. However, a professional can help you on many levels: from establishing your goals to highlighting your weaknesses and creating a programme that will help you to achieve your goal faster. Therefore even bi–weekly, monthly or occasional lessons will be always better that no lessons at all.  On this note I would like to caution my readers, as these days there is a lot of information available on the internet, and you need to make sure that you learn from someone who is qualified, rather than someone who speaks and looks nice, makes funny jokes and makes it look easy. Please do your research before you find the right teacher. You can also read my blog How to find the right teacher for you.
  7. Create ‘tests’. These are very important, as they will keep you focused. From time to time – for example every 4 weeks – create a test. It can be either doing a small recording and assessing it, or playing for a friend or even playing for a group of people or your teacher. By preparing every step you will be advancing and learning. Do not get discouraged if some ‘tests’ do not go the way you want them to, as we learn from our mistakes as much, if not more, then we learn from our achievements.
  8. Keep a diary of your practice routine. I always have a folder with notes on my piano. Write down a date, and jot down what you would like to do and achieve next in your playing, as, when you start your practice next day, it will be easier to pick up from where you left off.
  9. Be clever with the time management of your practice. Of course, if you are a beginner, and have only one piece of music to play, it is easier to concentrate during your practice. I personally encourage my students of any age and level to do piano exercises regularly. Franz Liszt spent many hours a day doing his. If it was good for Liszt then it is definitely good for everyone aspiring to play well. Therefore, make sure that you plan the time to do some scales and/or exercises, in addition to the pieces that you are working on. If you work on more than one piece and have more than 10 minutes to practice, then divide the time into sections, according to the pieces that you are playing plus exercises (if you decide to do them), and set the alarm for each section of your practice. When the alarm goes off, stop working on what you have been working on, and write down in your practice diary what is left to achieve, or what you would like to concentrate on next. Then move on to the next piece. If you prefer to concentrate on one piece per day, then make sure that you alternate the pieces together with the days.
  10. Always, always, always: try to imagine the end result of what you are trying to achieve. At the beginning of your practice, or after the exercises section, close your eyes and imagine how you would like to play a piece which you are working on. Let your senses guide you. If you want to imagine yourself playing at the Wigmore Hall or Carnegie Hall or in a really cool jazz club, or just in front of a group of friends at the dinner party, go for it! You can do it, and in reality you never know what can happen in life, so never say never. Be inspired by your own desire, as this would make your practice more genuine and sincere.
  11. Be consistent. You won’t always feel like practicing. On some you would feel like you really want to play and on others, it would be like ‘No Way’! In the latter case, gently acknowledge that today may not be the best of your days, but please do still try and play, even though you don’t feel like doing it. It will still pay off.

I hope that you enjoyed these tips! Let me know how you get on, either through my website www.piano-yoga.com or through my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pianoyogaeducation. And if you wonder if I ever have days when I do not feel like practice, the answer is ‘Yes, sure!’ What do I do? Go through the 11 tips listed above 🙂

GéNIA


 

Piano Junior: the winners are…

Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition, which was to win two series of books from the new piano method, Piano Junior, published by Schott Music and written by German composer and pedagogue Hans-Günter Heumann. You can find out much more about this fully interactive beginner’s method here.

The winners are….

Julie Campbell wins the Level 1 Theory, Duet and Performance books, and

Ann Coleman wins the Level 2 Theory, Duet and Performance books

CONGRATULATIONS! Please send your address via the contact page on this blog, and the books will be on their way.

More competitions are coming soon!


Weekend Competition: Piano Junior

Today’s competition features the recently published piano method, Piano Junior (Schott Music). Written by German composer and pedagogue Hans Günter-Heumann, it is designed as ‘A creative and interactive piano course’ for children from the age of 6, which progresses in small, manageable steps.

The course encourages creativity through regular, integrated ‘corners’, such as composing, improvising, playing, technique, ear training, memory, sight-reading and music quizzes. Introduced by the main ‘character’, PJ the robot, this beautifully illustrated method features a whole series of books, as well as a plethora of other materials including videos, audio demos and play-alongs for all the pieces, as well as a range of extra fun resources to download.  The series offers a lesson, theory, duet and performance book in, at present, Level 1 & 2 (Level 3 & 4 will be available soon).

I have a Level 1 Theory, Duet and Performance book (for one winner (3 books)), and a Level 2 Theory, Duet and Performance book (for a second winner (3 further books)), in this week’s lucky draw. You can explore the books here.

Please leave your comments in the comment box at the end of this post, I will announce the two winners on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!

You can find out much more about the Piano Junior method from the comprehensive website here.


2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition

Those who read this blog regularly will know how much I enjoy adjudicating; it’s always a fascinating experience, and one from which I’m constantly learning.

On Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to sit on the jury of the 2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition. Organised by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, the competition is held every year and proffers young pianists the chance to perform a programme built entirely from the German Master’s extraordinary output. Each participant attends one of the conservatoire junior departments or specialist music schools in the UK, and had been selected to represent their particular institution.

Pianist, teacher, writer and editor, Nils Franke, and pianist and piano professor at the Royal College of Music and Birmingham Conservatoire, Julian Jacobson, were my distinguished fellow jury members.

Standards are consistently high at such competitions, particularly when competitors hail from notable music institutions, enabling them to study with excellent teachers. But on this occasion, we witnessed exceptional pianism.

This year’s competition was held at Trinity School in Croydon (South London). A splendid modern concert hall housed a full-bloodied, rich, warm Steinway Model D (those who played it commented vociferously on its beauty). Beethoven’s Bagatelle in B flat Op. 119 No. 11 was the set piece, and to accompany this work, the ten competitors were free to select a sonata of their choice. Rather fortuitously, none of the sonatas chosen were duplicated, so we were able to listen to a fair representation of Beethoven’s thirty-two works in this form.

Repertoire included early, middle and late period sonatas: Op. 2 No. 1, Op. 2 No. 3, Op. 10. No. 2, Op. 14 No. 2, Op. 28, Op. 31 No. 2, Op. 53, Op. 54, Op. 57, and Op. 111. Most pianists began with the Bagatelle, which is a small and ostensibly straight forward work (compared to the sonatas), yet, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the whole afternoon, was the contrasts between interpretations. Not simply speed, phrasing, sound quality, or articulation (as might be expected); there were those who imposed their own interpretation and therefore ‘made something of it’, whilst others were happy to simply let the piece unfold more organically (as instructed in the score).

Each pianist dispatched their sonata with virtuosity, control and generally a high standard of musicianship. Some unleashed the full colour and power at their disposal (made possible via such an instrument), with greater aplomb and command than others. Those who dared to play beyond the notes, even beyond the instrument in some respects, revealing a distinct oneness and spiritual affinity with the music, were the triumphant.

The winner displayed these attributes in spades. Our decision was completely unanimous; Adam Heron (pictured below) treated us to a breathtaking performance of Op. 111, and he will no doubt be a future star of the piano world. Currently studying with Hilary Coates at Wells Cathedral School, from September Adam will attend the Royal Academy of Music in London. We wish him every future success.

Second place was shared by Rebecca Leung (from the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department) and Ellis Thomas (from the Royal Northern College of Music Junior Department), and the third place was shared by Tomos Boyles (from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Junior Department), and Gorka Plada Giron (from the Yehudi Menuhin School).

For those eager to hear Adam Heron, he will be giving a prize-winning recital at St. Barnabus Millennium Hall in London on Friday June 23rd 2017.

The Beethoven Piano Society of Europe is an international forum for pianists, teachers, musicologists and music lovers for the greater appreciation of Beethoven’s piano music in all its aspects. The Society’s primary aims are ‘the promotion of the authentic interpretation of all of Beethoven’s music for or involving piano, orchestral, chamber or vocal genres, and the deeper awareness of his pianistic oeuvre as a whole’; you can become a member, and find out much more here.

www.bpse.org

Adam Heron – winner of the 2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition


AllAboutPiano

The Musicians’ Union (MU) have launched a new website for pianists, piano teachers, students and piano lovers everywhere. AllAboutPiano focuses on all aspects of piano teaching and playing, and has been developed by the MU and publishers 1Hub Media, with support from Faber Music, EPTA UK and a host of other partners.

The site will feature resources, articles, videos, information about events, and special offers on sheet music and books as well as instruments. There will be an AllAboutPiano directory of key organisations, and as the site develops and evolves other benefits such as free membership packages will also be available.

The MU is calling for piano teachers and pianists to register; during the first month (March) the AllAboutPiano website will feature teaching tips, practice advice and repertoire from across the piano community.

A piano portal community such as this is a great idea, and it will hopefully provide lots of relevant information; I look forward to watching its development over the next year.

You can find out much more here: www.allaboutpiano.co and join the community on Facebook by clicking here.

My contribution to the site’s launch consists of the following three videos. Shot in January at Jaques Samuel Pianos in London, they focus on three facets of technique: ornaments, octaves and thumbs. I hope you find them of interest.

Tutorial 1

Many find the addition of ornaments (to a piece), cumbersome; they can disturb the pulse and can be difficult to play evenly and with clear articulation. In this video, I have suggested a few different ways to practise, which will hopefully instigate finger strength and agility.

Tutorial 2

Whilst the interval of an octave can seem a large ‘reach’ for some, it is possible to feel more relaxed and comfortable with the hand in this out-stretched position. This video presents a few ideas for keeping flexible and for developing the necessary strength and control required to play octaves without any strain.

Tutorial 3

It’s easy to forget that thumbs play an important role in piano playing. In this video, I offer a few practice tips to get the thumb moving, encouraging it to work to its fully capacity, aiding rapid passagework and general keyboard dexterity.


www.musiciansunion.co.uk

www.fabermusic.com

www.epta-uk.org

www.1hub.co

5 Top Tips to Aid Memorisation

Pianist Magazine produces a newsletter which wings its way into a reader’s e mail box every other month (sign up for your copy here). It’s brimming with piano news and information, as well as a few piano articles. I write a regular ‘Piano Tips’ feature, and today’s post presents the most recent, which focuses on memorisation. I’ve written about this topic endlessly (and I even give presentations on it), but hopefully, you may find the following suggestions of interest (here’s the original article).


Memorisation is a hotly debated topic in piano playing. Irrespective of whether a piano piece is to played from memory or not, the act of memorising is incredibly useful. It can help with so many facets when learning repertoire; from understanding form and structure, to fully internalizing your chosen work (both physically and mentally), and therefore ultimately presenting a more unified, considered and engaging performance.

Here are a few ideas to aid memorisation:

  1. Take the score (and a pencil) away from the piano and thoroughly study its structure, marking up important ‘landmarks’ such as its form (fugue, sonata form, ternary form, etc.), key changes, texture, chord progressions, and the like.
  2. When you begin studying a work, memorise from the outset. Resist the temptation to ‘learn the notes’, returning to memorise later. If you can do this from the very beginning, bar by bar (or phrase by phrase), learning everything from the physical ‘feel’ of note patterns, fingerings and movement, to the required sound and musical details, you’ll find it easier to remember in the long run. This is because you’re already taking the music off the page and allowing it to permeate your mind.
  3. Work without the score as soon as possible (that’s not to say you won’t return to examine it often). memorize each hand separately. This can be most beneficial, particularly regarding the left hand, which has a habit of ‘disappearing’ under the pressure of performance. Be aware of fingerings and note patterns especially, finding sign posts to jog your memory.
  4. Ensure you have sectionalised your new piece, so that you can practise from various ‘points’. You may want to divide the work into as many as ten sections (or more). Practise playing from the start of each section until it becomes second nature (totally engaging your mind and focus when doing this). If you have a slip when playing through or during performance, you can easily recover by moving quickly to the next ‘section’.
  5. Hear the piece in your head (away from the instrument) or visualise yourself sitting playing it at the keyboard. These are both useful techniques once the piece is under your fingers (and in your mind!). I find them extremely valuable tools. Sit quietly and mentally ‘play it through’ (concentrate completely so as not to miss any detail). Once you can ‘hear’ a piece from beginning to end with ease, you’re on your way to mastering (or conquering!) your memory.

For even more information on this topic, click here and here


For lots of information on memorisation and much more, check out my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?

For useful piano repertoire, check out The Faber Music Piano Anthology, containing 78 pieces from around Grade 2 – 8, selected by me.

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Yuja Wang’s master class debut

As many will know, I enjoy highlighting master classes. Public ‘lessons’ can be beneficial and interesting for many reasons, whether for teachers, students or anyone who loves the piano. Most of those previously featured here on my blog have been given by pedagogues or more ‘mature’ artists, but the following videos offer something different; a brief but fascinating insight into the piano world of Chinese star, Yuja Wang.

Uploaded in January this year, these classes were filmed at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv, Israel. All three videos are substantial ‘lessons’ and there’s much to glean from Yuja Wang; this is apparently her ‘master class’ debut too.



Musical Odyssey

I enjoy highlighting various piano courses, whether they be in the UK, or abroad. Today’s featured Summer course is held in Nafplio in Greece, and is intended for singers and pianists. Musical Odyssey runs from the 19th to the 26th July 2017, and is organised by artistic director and Russian pianist Yekaterina Lebedeva.

The faculty includes Yekaterina and Artur Pizarro (piano), and Nuccia Focile (soprano), and Manolis Papasifakis (accompanist and accompaniment teacher). These are Summer masterclasses with a difference, offering intensive tuition from expert pianists and pedagogues, sponsored concert engagements and various prizes. The course offers three unique programmes for different age groups, as well as future concert engagements and continuing support for successful participants.

Younger pianists (those under 16 years of age) are supervised by more experienced conservatoire students who work with them, visiting lessons as well as helping practice sessions. The older students also receive help and guidance with teaching practices from the expert pedagogues too. Previous pianists and pedagogues who have given classes at this course include Cristina Ortiz, Janina Fialkowska, Vanessa Latarche, Laurens Patzlaff, Susan Bullock, Judith Howarth and Sumi Jo.

Set in beautiful stunning Greek scenery, Musical Odyssey is sure to be a great way to spend your Summer holiday.

www.musical-odyssey.com

For more information, click on the link below:


Weekend Competition winners…

ed_13860-turner_648_Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition. The prizes consist of one copy of My First Chopin and one of The Piano Playlist, both published by German music publisher, Schott Music.

Without further ado, the winners are…

David Barton wins My First Chopin

and Helen Miller wins The Piano Playlist

CONGRATULATIONS! ed_22459_1-ohmen_648_

Please send your address via the contact page on this blog, and your book will be on its way.

You can find out more about these publications on Schott’s website here.

There will be more competitions coming soon!


 

Weekend Competition: The Piano Playlist & My First Chopin

Today’s weekend competition features two volumes, both new publications from Schott Music.

ed_13860-turner_648_The Piano Playlist is a collection of 50 arrangements by Barrie Carson Turner, featuring many popular favourites from opera arias (Habanera from Carmen by Bizet, Nessun Dorma from Turandot, and O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi both by Puccini), to ballet numbers, famous gems from orchestral works (Ode to Joy (Beethoven), The Swan (Saint-Saëns), Adagietto (Mahler’s 4th Symphony)), to piano concertos, instrumental music and  arrangements of piano pieces. Great for intermediate to advanced players.

ed_22459_1-ohmen_648_

My First Chopin has been  compiled by German pianist and pedagogue, Wilhelm Ohman. This collection of 20 pieces lies well within the capabilities of the advanced player, and contains some of Chopin’s best-loved works including a group of Preludes, Waltzes, Mazurkas and Nocturnes. These works are particularly popular amongst students, and this book features Raindrop Prelude Op. 28 No. 15, Prelude in B minor Op. 28 No. 6, Waltz in B minor Op. posth. 69 No. 2, Mazurka in B flat major Op. 7 No. 1, Nocturne in C sharp minor No. 20 Op. posth., Funeral March (from Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35), to name a few favourites. An excellent addition to any library.

I have one copy of each to give away for two lucky winners, Please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this blog post to be in with a chance of winning. I will announce the winners on Sunday evening (British time).

To find out more or purchase these books click here and here.