The Sustaining Pedal

I regularly write feature articles for Piano Professional Magazine published by EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association). The most recent, taken from the Spring 2018 Issue (Issue 47, pages 20 – 21), sheds some light on the sustaining pedal. I hope you find it of interest.


The sustaining or damper pedal is one of the most important assets for a pianist. It adds another dimension to the piano timbre, and can provide a whole variety of sound layers. The most commonly used pedal, being the furthest right of the two or three pedals on a standard upright or grand piano, it’s played by the right foot. When depressed, the sustain pedal literally moves all the dampers away from the strings, which allows them to vibrate with ease, and they will continue vibrating until the sound ceases, or the pedal is released. Look inside the instrument and watch the dampers (on a grand piano) being lifted as the pedal is depressed. Students love to do this, particularly new students, who may be unaware of how the piano works. It is well worth spending part of a lesson explaining the workings of the instrument; a whistle-stop tour, finishing with a pedal overview plus demonstrations!

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

The right pedal enriches piano tone markedly, allowing a pianist to create many colours, add sonority and resonance to passages, as well as conjure shimmering, atmospheric sounds. Many believe it augments the piano sound and whilst this isn’t strictly true, it does add a fuller, more sonorous tone, which could be described as akin to playing in a church.

The most fundamental technique in good pedalling is good listening. We generally pedal with our ears, and being attentive is key, but there are a few different techniques to employ, which can be used in a whole variety of styles. One basic rule: a little sustaining pedal goes a long way. Too much will seriously ruin an otherwise competent interpretation, generally irrespective of the composer or style, which is why it’s a good idea to practice without using any, particularly when starting to learn a new piece. I encourage students to add pedal only when they have a firm grasp of their new piece and have already established solid legato fingering, joining notes with the fingers wherever possible, as opposed to relying on the sustaining pedal to do this job. Pedalling is also tricky to write in a score, as it varies constantly, depending on the venue, acoustic, piano, composer, and the list goes on.

To use the pedal, rest the heel firmly on the floor, the right foot should be at an angle of around 30 or 35 degrees. When depressing the pedal (and this applies to the other pedals as well), play with the ball of the foot (or perhaps the big toe – everyone has their own preference here) and take it down (to engage the pedal) and up (to release the sound) quietly. The foot should keep contact with the pedal as much as possible because pedal or foot tapping is not a desired effect.

The last paragraph may all seem fairly obvious, but recent adjudicating has revealed (to me at least) that these points often need reiterating. As teachers, I feel it’s our job to ensure that students are well versed in the workings of the pedal, and how it can enhance or detract from a performance. With this in mind, it may be prudent to introduce the sustaining pedal at a fairly early stage, even if just to add resonance to the final note or chord in a piece.

There are several ‘layers’ to the sustaining pedal; perhaps as many as four or five. This might be considered the ‘pedal journey’ as the dampers rise from the strings, a significant portion of this journey includes the area requiring the foot to depress the pedal as little as a quarter of an inch or even less (although this totally depends on the instrument), as the dampers just begin to rise and have ‘cleared’ the surface of the strings. This area is conducive to partial damper release and would be where such techniques as half pedalling, half damping and flutter or surface pedalling occur. When the dampers finally clear the strings completely (and the foot pushes the pedal down as far as possible), which allows a full release of sonority, the resonance grants the pianist the opportunity to use the maximum richness of colour and vibration, as well as retaining sound when fingers leave the keys. Generally, pianists move swiftly from one ‘layer’ of pedalling to another without really noticing any boundaries.

Pedalling techniques can be roughly divided into the following:

Direct pedalling; which enriches the sound in separated chords. Depress the pedal with a chord (or intended passagework) at the same time as the fingers (or a fraction after), and release the pedal with the fingers, producing a clean, clear and sonorous chordal effect, as shown in Ex. 1. Pedal markings are indicated under the score. Take the pedal down (with the Ped. sign), and where the line is broken with an upward marking, take the pedal up. Depress again, if the pedal is to be played continuously (as in Ex. 2), but if the marking stops then pedal playing must cease too. An extension to this pedalling might be rhythmic pedalling, where brief touches of direct pedalling can add rhythmic shape to chords or rapid passagework. This is also true of accents and syncopations.

Ex. 1

Legato pedalling; which is similar to syncopated pedalling, overlapping with the notes being played. This involves depressing the pedal a moment later than finger work. To practice this, play a succession of five notes (perhaps C – G in the right hand, as in Ex. 2). Start by playing middle C with the thumb, and immediately afterwards depress the pedal; now play the D (also with the thumb), and a millisecond after, release the pedal and depress again very quickly, to clear the sound of the C. This should be done quickly and seamlessly, so as to limit smudging. Pedal changes might be quick or slow depending on the speed of the piece and the number of changes needed. As a general rule, in legato or legatissimo pedalling, a new pedal should come just after each harmony change, and it’s advisable to limit the blurred or hazy sound as much as possible.

Ex. 2

Legato should ideally be all about using the fingers, as it’s primarily a finger technique; legato using the pedal is generally for added colour and sonority, or on the occasion where it’s impossible for fingers to join (i.e. in large leaps). It can also be helpful with regard to melodic inflection and projection, phrasing, articulation, and sustaining bass notes in accompaniment figures, as well as allowing unbroken sonority in accompanying figurations or chords.

Half-pedalling; consisting of a quick movement, to lose top harmonies and retain bass notes. The main aim here is to reduce too much blurring or smudging of sound. Start by checking out the instrument to see how long dampers must remain in contact with the keys before the sound stops, then practice by taking the pedal down (and up) varying amounts (but not depressing as far as the foot will go), swiftly ‘brushing’ or ‘skimming’ the dampers on the strings.

Half-damping; without engaging the pedal completely, for a light, veiled effect. Employing almost a surface pedalling, there are many variations of this movement, which will clear the sound but still provide an atmospheric haze. Several degrees of pedal release might be involved in this technique, and different repertoire and styles will determine the amount of damper release required.

Flutter, surface or vibrato pedalling; similar to half-damping, this is based on very quick, light movements, in order to reduce accumulating sound. Such pedalling is based on frequent and sometimes irregular changes, and is applied through fast passages work, scales or runs, providing weight to the sound yet ridding it of the blurring effects. Avoid depressing the pedal completely for this technique. Students might find practising with scales helpful; aim to continually lightly raise or ‘hover’ the foot in an octave scale (as in Ex. 3). As with many pedalling techniques, listening is the most important aspect, but the following pedal markings may be used to denote flutter pedalling:

Ex. 3

Finger Pedalling

This has little to do with actual pedalling, but probably should be mentioned here, due to its title and overall effect. Notes are held with the fingers in place of the pedal; akin to finger legato, but with a ‘holding-over’ effect, keeping the notes depressed with the fingers slightly longer than is usually the case. In this technique, the pedal may be employed for quick changes, however, it’s the fingers creating the illusion of pedalling.

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

Between the point where the foot is completely depressed to the floor and where it first engages the pedal mechanism, there are many assorted subtleties available to pianists. Every piano is different therefore pedals all feel and sound different too. The sustaining pedal can really add dynamics and shape, due to the accumulation of sounds whilst depressed. It’s an integral aspect of piano playing and students are usually very keen to explore its possibilities. If they are encouraged to keep experimenting and they are able to attune their listening skills, they will discover a myriad of ways to enhance their piano playing.

You can read the original article, by clicking on the link below:

The Sustaining Pedal


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

 

 

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Weekend Competition: the winners…

Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition. There were three books on offer this weekend, all from Faber Music’s immense library: Ultimate Piano Solos, and The Easy Piano Series, Film and Shows.

The winners are:

Miriam wins the Ultimate Piano Solos

Jennifer Foxx wins The Easy Piano Series: Film

Kathy Thompson wins The Easy Piano Series: Shows

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

You can purchase the Film volume, here, Shows, here, and the Ultimate Piano Solos, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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 Special Faber Weekend Competition

It’s Friday and therefore time for a weekend competition. My competition this week highlights three books all courtesy of the fabulous Faber Music.

The Ultimate Piano Solos anthology is just that: a collection of fifty favourite works across many different genres arranged for the piano, for approximately Intermediate (to advanced) level. Beautifully laid out, this selection would make a superb addition to any pianist’s library, and is particularly useful for advanced players who are searching for interesting sight-reading material. It also offers plenty of ideas for those who seek party pieces too.

Included in this book are the following: Bella’s Lullaby (From Twilight), Davy Jones (From Pirates Of The Caribbean), Dive (Ed Sheeran), The Entertainer (Scott Joplin), Gymnopedie No.1 (Erik Satie), How Deep Is Your Love (Bee Gees), Karma Police (Radiohead), La Fille Aux Cheveaux De Lin (Claude Debussy), Melodia Africana 1 (Ludovico Einaudi), Moonlight Sonata (L.V. Beethoven), Pavane (Gabriel Faure), Prelude In E Minor (Frederic Chopin), A Thousand Years (The Piano Guys), Variations On The Kanon (George Winston), What A Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong), Memory (From Cats).

Arrangements provide the perfect opportunity to spend time at the piano getting to know both new and favourite tunes. The Easy Piano Series is proving popular, and I’ve two volumes to giveaway;  Film and Shows. These books are easy to read, often include words to songs plus chord indications, and are suitable for anyone from around Grade 2 – 4 (ABRSM level). Excellent as repertoire books for that ‘between exams’ stage, or for an end of term concert.

The Easy Piano Series Film features:

  1. As Time Goes By (Casablanca)
  2. City Of Stars (La La Land)
  3. Davy Jones Theme (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest)
  4. Hedwig’s Theme (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
  5. How Far I’ll Go (Moana)
  6. New Moon (The Twilight Saga)
  7. Not About Angels (The Fault in Our Stars)
  8. Pure Imagination (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
  9. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
  10. The Ring Goes South (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
  11. See You Again (Furious 7)
  12. Star Wars (Main Theme) (Star Wars)

The Easy Piano Series Shows features:

  1. Breaking Free (High School Musical)
  2. Maybe This Time (Cabaret)
  3. Memory (Cats)
  4. Nowadays (Chicago)
  5. On The Street Where You Live (My Fair Lady)
  6. Someone To Watch Over Me (Oh Kay!)
  7. Summer Nights (Grease)
  8. Summertime (Porgy & Bess)
  9. Tomorrow (Annie)
  10. Wait For It (Hamilton)
  11. Where Is Love? (Oliver!)
  12. You Give A Little Love (Bugsy Malone)

I have one copy of the Ultimate Piano Solos, and one each of The Easy Piano Series Shows and Film for three lucky readers. As always, to be in with a chance of winning, please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this blog post. I will announce the winners on Monday evening (British time), so be sure to check my blog to see if you’ve been successful. Good Luck!

You can purchase the Film volume, here, Shows, here, and the Ultimate Piano Solos, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

Indian Raags for piano, by John Pitts

My guest writer today is British composer John Pitts. John has recently published  two volumes of Indian classical raags for the piano. I asked him to shed light on the rationale behind his books and explain why they might be of interest to students and teachers. Over to John…


Back in the mid-1990s I spent a year in Pakistan, where my love of Hindustani raags was born.  I bought a sitar in a music bazaar in Lahore, and had a few lessons back in London with the inspirational sitarist Baluji Shrivastav.  But over the years I have explored and composed raags mostly on my first instrument – the piano.  In 2016 I published a 258-page book – How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano – designed for anyone with a piano and an interest either in Indian classical music or in improvisation.  Early 2018 I followed this with a much shorter book  for early pianists – Indian Raags for Piano Made Easy.

The obvious question is: why?  What’s the appeal?  Why play Indian sitar music on a piano?  The short answer, in a word that keeps on cropping up, is that it’s fascinating stuff.  Plus, many of us either were the kind of kids (or have students ourselves) who spend far more time playing around on the piano than actually practising their pieces.  One of the many beauties of raags is that they begin in a way which resonates with that natural, exploratory, creative impulse.  And they introduce simple but exotic ingredients to play with, and a really satisfying framework to do it in.

The combination of rotating drone notes in a free pulse, the rich resonance of the piano with the sustain pedal permanently down, and a  melody line that uses a carefully selected Indian scale, quickly evokes an immersive eastern sound-world.  The experience will be new too.  Somewhat unique, even: improvising, initially over a free pulse, drawing exclusively from the notated material, within a framework that starts with incredibly peaceful simplicity and develops into a fabulously rhythmic and exciting drama.  Playing semi-improvised raags certainly feels very different to learning Bach or Debussy, or the ubiquitous easy listening chill-out piano pieces, or the latest pop song from the charts.  Having said that, there is a certain parallel you can draw between Indian raags and the pleasure of improvising around the 12-bar blues; where the notes of the blues scale immediately create a ‘cool’ vibe, and the clashes between the melody and the underlying harmonies are just part of what defines the style.

To be clear, raags on piano isn’t ‘fusion’; this is not a blending of two styles of music.  These books are a serious attempt to expand the historic raag tradition to a widely played European instrument.  I want to encourage  a much wider practical engagement in Indian classical music – in its sound world, structure and emotional journey.  I want pianists to have a means of accessing Indian classical music, and to experience its rich treasures by learning to perform it.

So, who are the books for?  Well, traditional raags feature highly ornate melodies,  partly improvised and partly pre-composed, within a set of conventions and a typical structure, and performances can last anywhere between 5 minutes and 2 hours. So the larger, 258-page book is for more advanced pianists.  Obviously it’s suitable for anyone interested in learning about Indian music (and those with an Indian/Pakistani heritage may have an obvious interest), or for anyone interested in improvisation generally, or for anyone looking for new concert repertoire.  But the methodology, the process, of a raag performance is so radically different from any western genre of music, that this book should be of real interest to any pianists seeking a radically new approach to music making.  The book contains the sheet music of 24 raags – much of which involves improvising using selections from the large amount of notated material on each double-page spread in front of you, with lots of written instruction and encouragement.

The ‘easy’ book, Indian Raags for Piano Made Easy, is a small collection of six Indian raags – 3 North Indian (Hindustani) and 3 South Indian (Carnatic), re-imagined for piano, and then simplified for fledgling pianists (both children and adults).  The purpose is to provide an introductory experience of classical Indian music-making in an easy, hands-on way at a piano, offering a very accessible first encounter with improvisation.  It is designed for near-beginners (pre-grade 1) through to early intermediate players (c. grade 4-5).  The first three raags are each presented in three versions; “really easy”, “easy” and “quite easy’,  so that students and their teachers can quickly find a best fit for their level, and add complexity when ready.   Each simplified raag is on a single double-page spread, featuring: the opening gestures to set the scene, the alaap (the guided, free pulse, slowly unfolding improvisation which alternates with left hand drone notes), and the gat (a pre-composed melody), an opportunity to improvise over a simple rhythmic drone, as well as a set of typical ending gestures.

There are freely downloadable recordings and videos at www.pianoraag.com where both books can be ordered.  The ‘easy’ book is also available as a downloadable digital edition, with or without a studio licence for teachers to print as needed for their students.

You can purchase How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano and Indian Raags for Piano Made Easy, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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 Masterclass with Murray Perahia

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I often highlight masterclasses. Here’s a particularly interesting set given by celebrated American pianist Murray Perahia, recorded at the Paul Hall on October 12th 2017, at the Juilliard School in New York.

The participants and repertoire are as follows: Qi Xu performs the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106, Shengliang Zhang performs the first movement of Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17, and Yuchong Wu performs the Alemande, Courante, and Sarabande from J S Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816.

There’s so much to learn and enjoy from observing such classes. I hope you find them of interest.




My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

Playing to Your Strengths

I haven’t written many guest posts over the past six years (the length of time that I have been running this blog). There’s no particular reason for this, but when the superb writer, author, journalist, and presenter, Jessica Duchen, kindly invited me to pen a post for her excellent blog, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Published today, Playing to Your Strengths is a subject I am quite passionate about and believe it’s a most important element for any instrumentalist to consider. You can read it by clicking, here. Hope you enjoy it, and I wish you all a very happy, relaxed Bank Holiday Weekend.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

Teaching the tricky intermediate stages, by Karen Marshall

My guest post this week has been written by piano teacher and author Karen Marshall. Karen feels passionately about keeping students engaged in their piano studies, with emphasis on enjoyment, so they want to continue their piano playing. I asked her what elements she considered most important when teaching at the intermediate level (approximately Grade 3 – 5). Over to Karen…


The intermediate stage of learning the piano – and indeed any instrument – is a notoriously tricky period. Many teachers may find students dropping off, losing interest and quitting lessons. I’ve been teaching now for over 25 years and it could not fail to come to my attention that these stages of learning were some of the most difficult to progress through.

There are multiple reasons for this, but I believe it is often at least partly due to increased school work (leaving less time to practise), at the same time as music becoming considerably more complex.  Students who have a good ear and have previously been able to memorise music will start to struggle to do this with the longer repertoire.  Added to that, frustrations mount as music becomes more technically and musically demanding, resulting in slower progress.

My solution to these problems was to come up with an intermediate curriculum for my students that would help to develop their musical understanding and provide a holistic learning experience. But I also realised that my students required variety, the opportunity to be creative, and a continual sense of achievement. If these elements are combined with key theory, technical development, and carefully chosen repertoire, I found that note-reading will be improved, technique and musicality developed and students will gain a greater understanding of what they are learning.

The Intermediate Pianist is an amalgamation of my life’s work, tailoring this holistic approach for use with Grade 3 to 5 level students. It is a series of three books that has emerged from years of working with these students, aided by many attractive compositions by Heather Hammond.  It is, in essence, a music curriculum that piano teachers can use to fit their teaching style, either by working through each chapter in lessons, or by getting students to use it at home.

Co-author Heather Hammond and I have paced the books to take into account varying time students have to practise. We made sure that the music deliberately spanned a range of difficulty levels and styles, so some pieces can be learnt in just one or two weeks, whilst others are more challenging. This approach has been highly successful in ensuring my students didn’t give up the piano, and very luckily I was able to get this curriculum published. Here’s a quick look at the different elements:

To provide variety and understanding

25 Styles of music explained with definitions and activities over three books.  Including March and Lullabies, Swing and Boogies; Polka and Baroque Dance Suits, Four chord Pop and Reggae; Latin and Theme and Variations, Impressionism and Minimalism.

To provide opportunities for creativity and understanding

Musicianship activities included throughout from playing by ear to transposition, listening activities to recognising cadences.  Theory is included in a creative and attractive way with word searches and quiz activities.

To provide pace and ‘quick wins’

Quick learn material for sight reading – lots of easier material is included so students will have enough time to complete the whole book and experience lots of styles, keys and improve their sight reading.  Pieces move forward and backwards in levels for consolidation.

To provide understanding

Technique – All keys’ scales and arpeggios are covered up to five flats and five sharps along with carefully selected technical exercises or repertoire to develop key technique.

To keep students inspire using the repertoire of great composers

Repertoire – Core repertoire has been selected from Bach’s Anna Magdalena Note book and his Two Part Inventions, Schumann’s Album for the Young, Tchaikovsky’s Children Album, Clementi Sonatinas Opus 36, Burgmuller’s Opus 100, Chopin’s Preludes and Bartok’s For Children.  This is combined with new composition and arrangements or famous classical music from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony to the Flower Duet by Delibes, Howard Goodhall’s QI theme and Por Una Cabeza Tango.

You can purchase The Intermediate Pianist from all good retailers, or from Faber’s website, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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 Royal Double Bill

I live in Windsor, which is situated in Berkshire, around 20 miles to the west of London. I settled here four years ago and it’s a delightful place. However, this week my small town has become the centre of the universe (or so it seems), and it’s been almost impossible to walk out of the front door without bumping into a camera crew. The impending Royal Wedding is certainly a much-anticipated event, and I wish the royal couple every success for their future married life. But if your interest in this regal occasion has already waned somewhat, you might like to take a look at this concert, to be held on the same day at 7.00pm in London.

The Around the Globe Piano Festival, organised by Marina Petrov and Maya Jordan, is a wonderful music festival and concert series which fervently supports Contemporary composers.

The Festival is held in the Autumn every year and is open to all levels and abilities. I adjudicated at the 2017 festival and thoroughly appreciated the wide variety of repertoire on offer. The standard of performance was also extremely high, and winners are invited to perform at various concerts arranged throughout the year.  I’m honoured to be amongst the group of Contemporary composers whose music features on the syllabus.

The piano recital on Saturday showcases winners from last year’s festival, including children, adult amateurs and professional pianists. A diversity of styles pervades, from classics to modern, including compositions written by a host of innovative composers including Lola Perrin, Lindsey Berwin, Vera Milanković and myself. Guest pianist Olga Dudnik will perform the captivating “Jewish Suite” written by prominent Serbian composer, Aleksandar Vujić. You can book your tickets via the Around the Globe Piano Festival’s  website, or alternatively you can purchase them at the door. Hope to see you there!


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

My Journey as a Composer by Lindsey Berwin

British teacher and composer Lindsey Berwin is my guest writer today. She has written several pedagogical publications for teachers and students. I asked Lindsey about her work as a composer, and why composing has become an increasingly important element in her life. Over to Lindsey…


My journey as a composer began some thirty years ago, primarily in response to my pupils’ pedagogical needs and their requests for specific repertoire. Little could I have known then that I was embarking on a voyage which would blossom into a passion, providing me with a wonderful means of self-expression as a musician, and of self-discovery as a person.

I was privileged to have spent four invaluable years studying at The Royal Academy of Music, but I never received any instruction in composition. Thus, I was left to rely on my experience, knowledge and instincts as a pianist and teacher, to guide me through this unfamiliar territory! My first works included a sight-reading series, subsequently entitled ‘FunKey!’, a number of bespoke duets, a set of jazz-style technical exercises and a piano course for pre-school children.

A significant turning point for me was the discovery of The EPTA annual composers’ competition. This opportunity provided the catalyst for me to broaden my compositional horizons. In addition, it spurred me on to incorporate this creative element of music into my teaching, resulting in many years of enjoyment and satisfaction for both myself and my pupils.

In terms of my own development as a composer, having begun to explore a freer range of writing, the creative process gradually gathered momentum. I revelled in the technical challenges of wrestling with toccatas, fugues and studies, and in the chance to explore both the field of tonalities and the world of the subconscious. The latter resulted in works of a somewhat philosophical nature, such as Chromatic Fantasy, Enigma and Tunnel Vision, and, influenced by the jazz idiom, Introspection.

Opening out the parameters of composition meant the need to adopt diverse approaches. The above mentioned FunKey!, and its flute counterpart Jazz Keys, both later published by Kevin Mayhew, were written very much as teaching aids, intended to improve students’ reading and transposition skills. I created most of the material away from the instrument, relying on my inner hearing, and the process felt predominantly cerebral in its nature.

In order to compose more complex repertoire, working at the piano was, and remains, a necessity. Pieces with a specific structure, and those with a technical purpose again have their roots in a cerebral process. Fugal writing, in particular, has a methodical, almost mechanical aspect to its construction, and I find composing music of this type immensely rewarding intellectually. By contrast, compositions of the more philosophical nature emanate from my emotions (although edited by my intellect!), often providing a cathartic experience and an outlet for life’s complexities.

‘All The Fun Of The Fair’, published recently by EVC music, was my first substantial collection of pieces, and my inaugural venture into the realms of programme music. The suite consists of ten pieces representing different fairground rides, and I wanted to produce a sound-world which suitably described each. For this task I turned to my imagination for inspiration. Coming full circle, and returning to my metaphor of a journey, I hope that the following whistle-stop tour of the fairground will show how I set about achieving my aim, and provide an entertaining conclusion to this blog

The Ghost Train

An eerie, rubato introduction sets the scene. A left-hand ostinato based on augmented 4ths represents the movement of the train, while the right-hand mimics the sound of its whistle. Tension builds, until fortissimo chords herald the appearance of a frightening apparition. The train restarts twice more, the last time accelerating, until octaves, played presto, lead into a final terrifying encounter!

The Lotus Flower Ferris Wheel

The movement of a slowly turning Ferris Wheel is captured by fluid writing and gently rising and falling phrases. To add to the feeling of tranquillity, parallel 4ths are employed, transporting the performer and listener to the beauty of the Orient.

The Roller Coaster

An atmosphere of excitement tinged with fear is set from the start! The whole-tone scale rises, as the passengers are slowly carried to the summit. The cars descend dramatically, represented by vivace chromatic semiquavers, becoming dissonant along the way to reflect the cries of the riders. Twice more this scene is repeated, and the final descent builds in contrary motion to a fortissimo climax.

The UFO

Slow, dissonant chords create a feeling of outer-space, leading into an appassionato section which gradually rises to a soaring fortissimo. The music then slowly dies away, with descending sequential imitation. A return to the opening style follows, but this time, almost like gravity, the harmony pulls us away from uncertainty (dissonance) to end with a feeling of peace (consonance).

The Mechanical Bull

A Latin style, characteristic rhythms and ornamentation carry us to the world of the Spanish matador. The 5/4 time signature at the start, and the later insistent ostinato add humour, as the rider attempts to stay mounted. As the ending approaches, a repeated pattern rises from the depths of the piano. It culminates in a fortissimo descending glissando, as the jockey finally admits defeat!

The Coconut Shy

Each hand represents a person competing to win the prize in this final piece. Acciaccaturas, imitation and changing time signatures, combined with considerable dissonance including bitonality, bring All The Fun Of The Fair to a suitably quirky and light-hearted ending!

You can purchase Funkey! and Jazz Keys, here and All the Fun of the Fair, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

Lang Lang Music Theory Cards Twitter Competition

The new Lang Lang Music Theory Cards, published just last month by Faber Music, are colourful, informative and innovative. Fifty-two colour coded cards are designed to extend knowledge and make theory an enjoyable experience for students, teachers and parents. Each pack features imaginative questions to improve note-reading and music theory skills. The cards are the latest addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy; they can be used in conjunction with the Lang Lang Piano Method and are suitable for complete beginners.

With questions such as ‘True or false’, ‘What’s the difference?’ and ‘Explain this!’ alongside favourite characters displayed in the piano method books, these fun-filled packs add a different dimension to learning theory, offering an engaging, appealing adventure. Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang is renowned for his work in music education and has inspired millions of children to study the piano.

Learning an instrument can be a really important part of a child’s development and a great way to improve many things like concentration and focus. Learning needs to be enjoyable as well and I’m sure kids will make good progress and be inspired to keep going with this series.”
Lang Lang

You can purchase the cards here, and sign up to Faber Music’s mailing list here, to hear more about The Lang Lang Piano Academy, plus music education and piano news & ideas from Faber Music.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.