At The Piano: a study series by G. Henle Verlag

Many will know G. Henle Verlag as a sheet music publishing company with a difference: they are one of the few publishers who can claim to produce world-class Urtext editions. From music students through to professional musicians, G. Henle’s volumes are probably the most popular worldwide, with the familiar smoky deep blue covers adorning a fair few music desks.

Henle has always been my edition of choice and I have a rather substantial collection, including all thirty-two Beethoven piano sonatas in both the hardback and soft cover editions!

Günter Henle was a keen amateur pianist and he formed his company in 1948. Based in Munich, Henle specifically focuses on publishing Urtext sheet music. ‘Urtext’ is characterised by using the correct musical text according to the composer, drawn up from following strict scholarly principles, often including extensive commentaries about the original sources and details regarding the readings. G. Henle publishes all the major composers, including the complete piano works of J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart, Schubert and R. Schumann.

More recently, Henle have added a study edition series (smaller study formats) to their score library, as well as facsimile editions of composer’s manuscripts. They have also created a pedagogy (teaching or study) programme intended for a specific student demographic. The first venture in this direction, the At The Piano series, features a collection of twelve volumes, each focusing on a particular composer. This series is primarily designed for those returning to the piano; predominantly more mature students who have played the piano to a considerable level, and who wish to return to this enjoyable but exacting past-time.

Each At The Piano volume contains a selection of original works which are generally considered to be amongst the composer’s more accessible, ‘easier’ piano compositions. The progressive nature of At The Piano encourages a carefully gauged return to playing the instrument, and a reintroduction and familiarization with a composer’s style and technical attributes.

The books follow the same format and they all begin with facts about the content, Urtext score, historical context, and information about the composer’s stylistic traits. This is all beneficial and interesting, particularly regarding the Urtext commentaries.

There are twelve composers from which to choose: J. S. Bach, W. A. Mozart, J. Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, F. Mendelssohn, Grieg, Chopin, R. Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, and Debussy. The number of pieces included in the volumes differ depending on the length and difficulty of each work, but typically they contain between 10 – 15 pieces, a large proportion of them well-known; a vital component when enticing the returner.

Placed in order of difficulty, the pieces are beautifully laid out, as might be expected. Henle’s scores are lavishly presented with pristine, clearly defined print, set on rich, thick cream paper. And they are past masters of ‘spacing’ the music carefully, providing a sense of space between the notes. This might not appear obvious at first glance, but it cleverly leads us to believe the music is possibly slightly simpler than it really is, enabling students to learn with more confidence.

The levels of difficulty are displayed on Henle’s website and at the front of the books: level 1-3 (easy), level 4-6 (medium), and level 7-9 (difficult). This general guideline doesn’t adhere to the usual British graded exam system, and therefore, At The Piano would undoubtedly seem advanced for those expecting to see traditional examination levels. Some volumes that I examined began at around Grade 4/5 level (ABRSM), but others were more challenging. However, this may suit the returning pianist, who will probably be adept at note reading and will already know their way around the keyboard.

The pieces have been selected to complement one another, and they are also designed to prepare students for more advanced repertoire written by that particular composer. At the beginning of every piece is a commentary, commencing with a paragraph or two highlighting historical facts, informing readers about how or why the work was composed. This is followed by suggested performance notes. These practice notes vary in length depending on the complexity of the piece, and they tend to be a ‘walk-through’ with helpful guidance on phrasing, articulation and dynamics. Edited, annotated and fingered by German pianist and professor Sylvia Hewig-Tröscher, every publication contains reproductions of a page of the autograph or engraver’s copy. These are interpolated at various points throughout; an imaginative touch which extends the historical value.

At The Piano is an excellent series for students and teachers. Those who fancy learning a major composer’s ‘piano favourites’ will really enjoy working their way through each book. G. Henle have combined a scrupulous ‘pure’ score with plenty of valuable information, offering a fascinating glimpse into the history and style of each composer.

You can find out more about the pieces included in each volume, and purchase the scores here: At The Piano


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.


 

 

How loose are you? Piano teaching in Asia

Returning from another enjoyable and successful book tour, I find myself reflecting on a perennial piano teaching issue; one which seems to occur all over the world.

This tour was the busiest yet with visits to four countries and multiple cities; Singapore, Malaysia (Melaka and Kuala Lumpur), Indonesia (Jakarta and Surabaya), and Hong Kong.  On this trip I was fortunate to have company: I gave teaching workshops alongside colleagues Samantha Ward, who is artistic director of PIANO WEEK and also a fellow Schott Music author (she was presenting Piano Junior, the new Schott beginner’s method), and Dr. Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, president of G. Henle Verlag (who spoke about Urtext editions), as part of the Arrow Vision/Schott Music/G. Henle Verlag tour, which formed the middle segment of my trip.

Whilst our workshops were open to students, teachers and parents, the majority of the audience consisted of piano teachers. It’s a real pleasure connecting with teachers around the world, sharing a few (hopefully) useful ideas, as well as highlighting the benefits of using my piano course, Play it again: PIANO. Several teachers had previously attended my workshops last year, and it was lovely to see them again. I also appreciated their feedback regarding Play it again, and it was wonderful to hear how much their students have enjoyed using the books.

Teachers are generally very receptive to this two-book course (pictured above), which, as readers of this blog will know, contains an anthology of 49 piano pieces progressing from Grade 1 – 8 level, with copious practice suggestions for every piece. I was delighted to be able to talk about Book 3 for the first time too. This new addition will focus on works of approximately Grade 8 level up to the DipABRSM diploma, and it was written due to vociferous demand from teachers! Many thanks to all who have been in contact over the past year.

At the Encore Music Centre in Melaka, Malaysia, giving a two-day workshop for piano teachers

Play it again: PIANO Book 3 will be available at the beginning of next year (2019), and it will follow the same format as Book 1 and 2, featuring a select group of pieces drawn from mostly standard repertoire with plenty of guided practice tips and advice. The practice ideas, which run throughout the books, are certainly not designed to replace teachers; piano teachers are irreplaceable. However, in my experience, students tend to ‘forget’ much of the advice we offer from week to week, therefore my suggestions, which primarily focus on breaking pieces down to enable swift, successful learning, are intended to serve as reminders and ‘extra’ help between lessons.

In Singapore and Hong Kong I gave private lessons as well as workshops and master classes. The level of playing was consistently high; many of the students were teachers, and they were nearly all advanced diploma level. This isn’t unexpected, but what I often find surprising is the amount of time I spend on teaching physical flexibility.

Physical movement at the piano is, for me, probably the most crucial factor when playing the piano, because without a flexible, relaxed technique, playing accurately and with a rich, full sound are both challenging. But, perhaps more importantly, a tight, tense technique also tends to make playing a very uncomfortable experience for the pianist.

I spend a large percentage of lesson time working with students to sort tension issues. I always pose the question: “how loose are you?” or “how loose do you feel?” as this is often the easiest way to help students understand the desired ‘feeling’ necessary in several parts of their upper torso. It’s interesting to note that tension can occur at any level or stage of piano playing, and it’s this that fascinates me. The more advanced the student, the more demanding my job! Although it isn’t a ‘job’, but rather a pleasure and privilege to help.  Advanced students might have habits which are inextricably ingrained. The fun part is being able to unravel their issues, and replace the old habits with new, healthier ones.

In Surabaya, Indonesia, with piano teachers at my workshop

Repetitive strain injury and tendonitis are just two of the conditions resulting from piano playing laced with tension. Over the past few years I have worked with students who had developed quite serious pain issues, and we carefully reconstructed their technique over a period of around twelve months (it can take less time with a very dedicated pupil). Boring and painstaking work? Actually, I find it very rewarding. Witnessing a student’s progression from pain and dejection  to mastery and confidence is very gratifying.

Working with a student at a master class in Hong Kong

There are a profusion of effective teaching methods which can be employed to reverse tension. I use one which is easy to understand, and one which emphasizes relaxation (or a ‘loose’ feeling). The tension/release concept is relatively simple to comprehend, and if it is implemented with a series of loose wrist and hand movements, which are all exaggerated to start with, improvement can be almost instantaneous. Although it can take a while for such movements to become an instinctive, natural habit.

I aim to continue my work with pupils who require such teaching, and my trip served as a vital reminder of its value. I examine the basics of flexibility in the opening section of Play it again: PIANO, Book 1, 2 and 3, and you can also watch my videos online for more ideas (see below):

 

You can watch all four videos in this series by clicking here. Huge thanks to my publisher Schott Music for their fantastic worldwide support. I look forward to next year’s Far Eastern adventures.


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.


 

“Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!”*) – Four Famous Composers at the Wiesn**)

My guest writer this week is Dr. Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, president of the world-renowned Urtext publishers G. Henle Verlag. This light-hearted story takes place at the famous beer festival and features several rather well-known composers; written by Dr. Seiffert, it was first published on the G. Henle Verlag blog. You can read the original, here, which has been directly translated from the German version. Over to Dr. Seiffert…


Yesterday evening I was once again sitting in the party tent at the world-famous Munich Oktoberfest with a good Mass Bier***). Facing me sat four rather odd-looking men who introduced themselves as “perennial musicians”. I didn’t really quite catch their names (for the band in the tent was very loudly playing “music”). But their appearance and their speech certainly seemed somehow weird to me, in fact, “old-fashioned” – then suddenly it hit me, WHO they were, sitting at my table. Hard to believe, but for sure!!

“Well, gentlemen, shall we now order another Mass Bier?”, asked the most elegant one in a cultivated Garmisch dialect. “High time, very high time!” exclaimed the pudgy one with glasses on his nose, grinning, “I’m dying of thirst!” – “I’m not counting, valued Fugue-Reger, he he, Reger-Euguf, and go ahead, of course, indulge in your 11th Mass Bier. But don’t you think we ought to go about it a bit mezzo-piano?” weighed in the one with the high-pitched voice, whom they fondly called Amadé (or some such). “Oh, come on, let’s still enjoy the good Bavarian beer at least once a year”, reckoned the one from Garmisch, “especially as we Bavarians do indeed drink beer so temperately” – thereupon, Amadé pipes up again: “You probably mean – dear Kapellmeister Richard – temperate in volume?” – “How do you actually like the new G. Henle publishers’ cover, esteemed Bavarian colleagues? Henle is certainly genuinely Bavarian – but don’t you think the cover is pushing it a bit too far?” asked Max in the round. His question, though, totally disappeared in the band’s A-flat major Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit! and mugs were raised all around in a toast. “Now where is our Ludwig? Wasn’t he just here?” observed Amadé, looking around. At that, Kapellmeister Richard said: “He’s probably gone searching again for his distant beloved; there are certainly a lot of really pretty Madln****) here …”. – “Next year, we’ll bring Franzl along again as a guest from Himmelpfortgrund [Vienna], he’s so much more amusing than the perpetually grumpy Ludwig from the Rhineland”, opined Max, who gratefully beamed at the waitress as she set before him a fresh Mass Bier. “Now let’s all toast the angel Aloysius who year after year has us come down here to the Wiesn. Bottoms up, gentlemen – and three cheers!”

I would really like to have toasted their Aloysius with the gentlemen, also absolutely wanted to discuss with them our new cover and Urtext basics, and just get into a conversation at all with them, but then unfortunately they somehow got lost to sight in the beer-tent turmoil.

PS: Here, but only for my hardier Bavarian readers, is the ever wonderful, original Bavarian story of the Munich angel Aloysius.

PPS: You can see Aloysius with his harp soaring in the beer-tent canopy, incidentally, in the brief video clip at the beginning of my text.

*) “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” = A toast to cheer and good times.
**) “Wiesn” = Oktoberfest (famous beer festival in Munich/Germany), in Bavarian dialect.
***) At the Oktoberfest beer is served in one-litre mugs, called “Mass”.
****) “Madln” = young ladies, in Bavarian dialect.


You can find out much more about G. Henle, which is based in Munich, Germany, here. For those interested in Urtext editions, the following video provides a fascinating insight into the traditional craft of engraving on metal plates which was traditionally used by G. Henle Verlag:


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.


 

Fingering: Part 1

Today’s weekend post focuses on fingering; a topic about which I often write for the reason that I feel it’s particularly important for students of all levels. This article is the first in a two-part series written for the September 2018 edition of Piano Professional, published by EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association), for whom I regularly write a technique feature.


Fruitful Fingering Part 1

Fingering comes in all different guises and there is certainly no ‘one-size-fits-all-approach’; much can depend on the size, shape and disposition of the hand. However, there are certain fundamentals which might be applied to most hands, and with that in mind, some of following suggested techniques will hopefully prove advantageous for all kinds of repertoire. This is the first of two articles examining various fingering strategies and ideas which may be useful for your students.

If you use Urtext editions, fingering will have generally been written in to the score by an editor or in some cases, the composer, but irrespective of who has added the fingering, it’s always possible to change it and replace with your own. As a teacher, I often spend a significant amount of time during lessons either adding or changing fingering, and sometimes fingering may have been drafted in to the score at the very start of the learning process only to be changed after a week or two, if a more suitable one miraculously comes to light.

A crucial factor, when educating our students about the benefits of idiomatic fingering, is the practice and absorption of scales, arpeggios and broken chords. Students and teachers frequently bemoan their existence in exams, but they do serve a myriad of purposes. I have written extensively about the importance of scales as technical exercises, but another, often overlooked, factor is that by assimilating all the scale and arpeggio technical work properly, students learn ideal fingerings for much passage work.

Baroque and Classical repertoire is routinely constructed from standard scale patterns, and therefore it’s both pragmatic and practical to base fingerings for such passages on those learnt from scales. The following is a good example; hailing from the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor Op. 10 No. 1, the scale passage in the right hand can be clearly identified as that of E flat major (starting on the third of the scale), and if the same fingerings are employed as in the scale, the passage is that much easier to grasp:

Contrary motion scales prove a useful tool for learning symmetrical playing. If the thumbs or same fingers (in either hand) can play together when moving in the opposite direction, coordination feels comfortable. This won’t always be possible, but when our students are starting to play scales, aim to begin with simpler objectives.

Symmetry is also at work when learning arpeggio patterns. Fingering must be well-defined in arpeggios; the left hand, particularly, relies on the careful use of the third or fourth finger:

In this example, it might seem taxing to use the fourth finger on the E (the second note in the C major arpeggio), but using the third finger here, as suggested in some exam manuals, renders an awkward position for the hand. Eventually, the fourth becomes accustomed to the second note, and this helps with chordal playing too. However, when playing a major third at the start of an arpeggio, such as in D major, the third finger would be ideal:

Encouraging students to learn these patterns accurately from the start is a good plan, as it becomes tricky to change them at a later date. The brain seems hard-wired to play the first fingering pattern it learns – changing always feels alien.

Aim to play in position as much as possible. This involves limiting turning the hand, or changing hand positions. Hand turns can lead to uneven playing, especially when a melodic line is involved. Bumpy or jerky playing can happen when there are too many thumbs on the scene. If students can be coaxed into using their fourth and fifth fingers as frequently as the inner part of their hand i.e. the thumb, second and third fingers, not only will the hand be more balanced whilst playing passage work, but it will also feel more natural, with considerably less movement. In order to do this, the outer fingers will require sufficient practice, so that they are able to cope with the demands of playing crisp passage work. With this in mind, it might be pertinent to use a few daily exercises, but only with the guidance of a teacher, as it’s easy to ‘lock-up’ or become tense without cultivating flexibility in the hand and wrist when working at developing finger strength.

Know your thumbs! Thumbs can be pivotal for secure playing; knowing where they occur in both hands, and where they don’t need to occur, will create confidence. Once students are aware of thumb placement, the other fingers tend to fall in to place. Although thumbs provide stability when playing, as they tend to ‘anchor’ passage work, the challenge is to listen optimally so they do not dominate; they must ideally be tonally equal to all the other fingers, therefore we must strive to find ways to camouflage thumb ‘accents’ which can happen due to thumb physiology.

When writing fingering in the score, it can be enough to pen where thumbs arise, as opposed to marking every finger, but I still tend to write in much more fingering than this for my students. If possible, try to ensure that hands work in tandem; occasionally what seems like the best fingering in the right hand might become unworkable when both hands play together.

Repeated patterns or sequences can be an excellent way to absorb fingering quickly. Sequences of notes or note patterns may lend themselves to replica or repeated fingering i.e. the same patterns over and over again. Repetition is key here, and the ‘blocking-out’ technique can prove a suitable method of learning i.e. playing note patterns all together in one go, enabling pupils to find the notes and their corresponding fingerings at once. This can be seen in the following example, which shows two bars from the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor Op. 10 No. 1. The first example illustrates how the Alberti Bass pattern in the left hand appears in the score, and the second, how it might be practised (keeping the same fingering throughout):

Further to the second example, for even swifter learning, the entire bar could be played as one or two chords (where possible).

Repeated notes are a different fingering issue altogether. There are often two schools of thought; some believe it’s better to change fingers on every note during a repeated note passage, whilst others find using the same finger achieves a more pleasing result. I encourage students to try both methods, and decide for themselves. Let’s examine the following passage, which is the opening of Turina’s Fiesta Op. 52 No. 7, right hand:

Both fingerings are acceptable. By using the same finger, or the top fingering in the example, you may find that students are able to create a smoother, more even repeated note passage. For clarity and control, advocate keeping the second finger close to the keys and employ a gentle finger tapping movement.

Finger substitution is a preferred method of playing legato. It’s too easy to rely on the sustaining pedal to ‘join’ note passages. If a pianist can continually substitute or change fingers on one and the same note, fluent, smooth playing should be the happy result. Finger substitution entails holding a key down with one finger whilst quickly swapping to another finger or thumb, ensuring the same note is held for the entire procedure. This technique enables pianists to form an unbroken musical line whilst playing other note figurations or patterns underneath (or above).

Finger sliding utilizes the same finger to literally ‘slide’ from note to note. I call this the ‘illusion of legato’ and it may also be a useful technique for larger intervals too; notes don’t actually need to be next to each other to benefit from the sliding approach.

Sliding requires a very smooth manoeuvre, where the second note of any ‘slide’ must not only match the sound to that of the dying first note, but should also aim to avoid gaps in the sound between notes. Astute listening is paramount.  Students might like to work at the following exercise. After practising this exercise using the thumb, play it with the second finger, and then third finger:

Fingering is of utmost importance when learning to play smoothly, evenly and proficiently. It’s for this reason that we must offer our students a thorough grounding, so that they are eventually able to annotate scores for themselves.

Click on the link below to read the original article:

Fruitful Fingering Part 1


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 Canadian Playlist by Maggie Morrison

My guest writer this week is Canadian pianist, teacher, adjudicator and musicologist Maggie Morrison. Maggie (pictured below) is studying for her doctorate at the University of Toronto, where she is researching the piano music of Canadian composer David L. McIntyre. I asked her what qualities pervade David’s music and what drew her to study the music of contemporary Canadian composers. Over to Maggie…


When Melanie and I met this past March as adjudicators in Hong Kong, my grandfather was alive. He now rests in the Eternal Garden, a niche cremation wall in Brantford, Ontario.  After his death I began spending every Thursday with my Nana. During one of our Thursdays together, I noticed a hunter green chest tucked away in a corner with the title “J. WRATTEN” printed on the top in big black lettering.

I opened it up and found my great grandfather’s immigration slip from England dated 1913, from the port of Liverpool – the immigration slip!  I hadn’t thought or realized until that moment that my gramps was first generation Canadian. He instilled values that serve me today – work hard, be kind, and get the job done.

My grandpa grew up in the Salvation Army playing the tuba; he encouraged my mom to be a musician as a young girl, driving her to lessons and local Kiwanis competitions.  She is now an established teacher, life coach and mentor; blazing a trail for badass entrepreneurs with her online business The Music Teacher’s Teacher.

I grew up with Boris Berlin’s pedagogy books as a beginner pianist, attended Sharon, Louis and Bram concerts as a little girl, and later blasted Alanis Morissette and The Tragically Hip on my car speakers as a young driver, ripping around southern Ontario.  As a teenager I studied with Dr. E. Gregory Butler who encouraged me (and his entire studio) to learn and perform Canadian pieces every year.  My first advanced piece of Canadian repertoire was Jacques Hetu’s Impromptu Op.70.  I love the freedom that new music brings, the map is a familiar landscape among a different terrain.

I’ve come full circle with my love of Canadian music: I’m focusing on the piano music of David L. McIntyre for my doctorate dissertation at the University of Toronto.  Back in 2011, I asked David to write a piece for me.  We exchanged many emails – he was interested in getting to know me both as a musician and an individual.  He asked me many questions, from favourite colour to country to cuisine.  The piece he wrote for me, “Transmissions”, is now a part of Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music syllabus for the Diploma level.

David’s music is completely captivating.  His compositional style is very pianistic; he himself is a pianist.  His music for beginners is full of humour and personality.  Listening to the Sun and A Small Band of Smart Rodents are two of my favourites. There is often a rhythmic force – a pulse, a pattern that drives his music.  In Transmissions, David’s compositional style ping pongs between two main focuses: rhythm and melody.  The first section pushes forward with intense rhythmic drive – from the first bar McIntyre doesn’t spare a second – it begins with sixteenth notes in both hands chromatically crashing to the second bar where an intense motive then takes over.  There is an element of satirical humour heard here, with an almost Prokofiev-like approach. The feeling of breathlessness and intensity doesn’t let up until a few minutes into the piece.  The contrasting section is dreamy and melodic – highly pianistic and soulful writing – using the lowest and highest ends of the piano simultaneously, featuring languid rhythms in a bluesy section and ostinato in the bass.

David’s inspiration for this piece came from the first telephone call ever made by Alexander Graham Bell from Paris (Ontario) to Brantford, about 15 kilometres away.  David thought it was interesting that I was originally from Paris, but was premiering this piece for a fundraising concert in Brantford.  Thus blossomed his idea of a transmission – a wave of energy through technology, from the earth to the stars (or satellite) and back.

We often don’t know how our environments influence us. Sometimes it’s very clear, sometimes it is less obvious.  I am proud to be the granddaughter of a man who valued music.

Here is my Playlist of Canadian music for you to explore and enjoy:

  • The Tragically Hip – Bobcaygeon
  • Alanis Morrisette – Ironic
  • David L. McIntyre – Transmissions, for Maggie
  • Alexina Louie – Scenes from a Jade Terrace
  • Francois Morel – Etude de Sonorite, No.2
  • Heather Schmidt – Nebula

The following video comes from one of my Bachelor’s Degree performances at The Cleveland Institute of Music in 2012.


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 Far Eastern Book Tour

Book tours are fun. They could be referred to as the ‘pinnacle’ of the whole writing journey; by this time the books are safely published, usually after countless rewrites and corrections, and the writer is free to speak about the process through those rose-tinted glasses. This week I leave for my third book tour over the past year; retracing my steps in the Far East as well as visiting pastures new. I’ll be touring for my publisher, Schott Music, with my piano course Play it again: PIANO Book 1 & 2.

The tour will take me to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong. In each place, I will be giving a series of workshops and master classes (and also private lessons in Singapore and Hong Kong). I’m extremely excited about this prospect; travelling has always been a way of life for me, and yet I still crave the buzz of excitement it offers, irrespective of the destination.

The tour begins in Singapore with a piano teacher’s workshop (details above), focusing on many elements mentioned in my books. The Kawai Music School in Katong has already been using Play it again: PIANO with many of their students. In my workshops, I enjoy involving teachers and students as much as possible with plenty of hands on participation and discussion. These workshops predominantly highlight various aspects of piano technique, an important element for teachers in particular, as without such knowledge, helping students achieve their potential is challenging.

After a few days, Malaysia beckons, and I’ll be moving to Malacca, which is to the south of Kuala Lumpur. Here, there will be a two-day workshop (including seven different presentations) and a student master class, all purely for piano teachers. Encore Music Centre is a popular school in this region, and the teachers have also been using Play it again: PIANO as their course of choice over the past few months. I can’t wait to see how they are getting on with it, and I’ll be hopefully able to answer questions and make suggestions regarding the content.

Kuala Lumpur is a buzzing metropolis, and is where I join Dr. Sigrun Jantzen, from Henle Verlag, and fellow Schott author, Samantha Ward. British pianist and artistic director of PIANO WEEK Samantha Ward, has her own series published by Schott (Relax with), but on this occasion, she will be presenting Piano Junior, the new beginner’s method written by German composer and writer Hans-Günter Heumann. Dr. Jantzen will present Henle’s extensive range of publications.

Together, we will embark on three large piano teacher seminars in three different cities. After Kuala Lumpur (see flyer above for details of the Kuala Lumpur seminars), we fly to Jakarta (Indonesia), and then on to Surabaya, to the East of Jakarta and the capital of East Java, (see image to the right for more details).

Finally, I fly to Hong Kong on my own for a special series of Play it again: PIANO workshops, master class and private lessons for piano teachers and students (see below for details). Tom Lee is one of the leading music retailers in Hong Kong, and as an adjudicator and examiner, I have worked many times at their various centres which are peppered across Hong Kong. Our venue is at the Megabox in Kowloon Bay; a large concert hall situated on the tenth floor.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to meeting new friends, teachers, and colleagues, and experiencing many aspects of music and music education in this region.  If you live in this part of the world and are relatively near any of the venues, please do come along; it would be lovely to meet you.

Play it again: PIANO Book 1 & 2 will be on sale throughout all the classes and workshops, but you can find out more about them, watch my videos, and purchase them by clicking, here. They can also be purchased on Amazon.


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.


 

Weekend Competition: the winners…

Many thanks to all those who took part in my weekend competition.

The featured resources this week are Paul Harris’ A Piece A Week and Books 1 & 2 of The Foundation Pianist, all published by Faber Music.

 

THE WINNERS

Katie Frayling wins A Piece A Week Grade 4 Piano

Rebecca Swaby wins The Foundation Pianist Book 1

Joanne Snowden wins The Foundation Pianist Book 2

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

You can find out much more about these publications, The Foundation Pianist Book 1, The Foundation Pianist Book 2, and A Piece A Week Grade 4 Piano


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.


 

Weekend Competition: The Foundation Pianist & A Piece A Week

Before I jet off to the Far East for a very exciting book tour (more about that in another post), it’s time for a Weekend Competition. Today’s competition features Paul Harris’ latest book, A Piece A Week, and a new series, The Foundation Pianist, written by Karen Marshall and David Blackwell; both published by Faber Music.

Building on the success of The Intermediate Pianist, Faber’s most recent addition to this series will certainly be a very useful resource for piano teachers. The Foundation Pianist is a set of two progressive books for pupils just beyond the beginner stage who want to develop a solid pianistic foundation.

I like the layout, which is clear and easy to read, and the selection of music  will inspire students to explore many different styles and genres; from madrigals, symphonies and operas, to folksongs, minuets and gypsy dances. As well as arrangements, there are also original pieces, some written by David Blackwell. Teachers and students will find invaluable information to help improve technique, musicianship and theory – with lots of little extras, such as detailed reference to various musical periods (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, etc.), and ‘scale and arpeggio generators’, including both the melodic and harmonic minor scales (not always a feature at this level). These volumes are well worth exploring.

A Piece A Week Grade 4 piano written by renowned educator Paul Harris should also be a teacher’s library favourite. I have enjoyed observing the development of this series, which offers students that important bridge between sight-reading tests and learning repertoire at speed. These books are designed to be used alongside Paul’s series, Improve Your Sight-reading!, and they aim to encourage pupils to learn fairly straightforward pieces (all written by Paul) swiftly – preferably in a week! It’s a great concept and the ideal way to improve reading skills.

I have one copy of A Piece A Week and a copy of Book 1 and Book 2 of The Foundation Pianist to give away this weekend. As always, please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this post, and I will announce the three lucky winners on Monday evening, so do check my blog to see if you’ve been selected. Good Luck!

You can find out much more about these publications and purchase them here: The Foundation Pianist Book 1, The Foundation Pianist Book 2, and A Piece A Week Grade 4 Piano.


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 Improvisation to Groups by Christopher Norton

My guest writer today is renowned New Zealand born composer and music educator Christopher Norton. Christopher is well-known for his Microjazz series;  a collection of jazz piano books for students of all levels which has sold well over a million copies worldwide. More recently, he has written Micromusicals for schools, and he continues to compose music in many different styles and genres. In the first of a short series of posts for my blog, Christopher sheds some light on teaching improvisation to groups. Over to Christopher…


I’ve just come back from a 2-day Keyboard Kamp (like the spelling? – I’m in North America now!) with young students from all over Canada. My brief was to teach improvisation in groups, ranging in age from around 7 years old to teenagers as old as 16. I had to decide in advance which material to use and how to use it, all without any music in front of the students (who were also sharing keyboards!) That was my choice – I have learnt that relying on students reading music can prove awkward, because in most groups music-reading ability is variable, to say the least.

I used 2 main series, Connections for Piano and American Popular Piano and used a variety of approaches. The first piece was from Connections 3 – Samba Sand. The tune employs the same three chords, three times:

Connections for Piano has backing tracks and I use these all the time when doing improv. But the first thing I did was teach 3 chord shapes, played with right hand initially, but not too low or too high on the keyboard. The chords were:

I taught each chord, one at a time, by saying the names of the notes from the bottom note – “B, D, G” was the first chord. Once everyone could play the chord comfortably, I named it “chord 1” and proceeded to spell out the next chord – “C, E, G” (‘chord 2’) The group seemed relieved to find they were playing a chord of C major!) Finally chord 3 – A, D, F#. I did quiz the group about what they thought the chords might be, then explained very quickly about the broad concept of inversions. If you haven’t noticed already, there is a first inversion of G, a root position C and a second inversion of D.

Now, with a backing track (available with all Connections for Piano pieces) I got them to play the chords, with me shouting out helpfully, in advance, what the next chord was going to be. This was taxing enough for the students, especially when the 8th bar of each phrase was a specific rhythm on chord 1:

Once the students have the chords feeling semi-automatic (with the track) they can start the improvisational aspect – chord rhythms. I suggest some repeated rhythm patterns, like:

Trying different rhythm patterns over a specific chord pattern is sufficiently taxing for a group, while still being fun.

The next thing to try is a left hand bass line, using the original piece as a template (for the teacher – the students still do it by ear). So I say, “when I say G you play this pattern”:

They learn that, then I say “if that is G, what is C?”. They hopefully find C, E, G. Then D, which has an F# (D, F#, A) Then through the chord sequence, with the track, with me shouting “G!”, “C!” etc. just before they are due to play the chord.  The whole sequence:

G / / / |C / / / | G / / / |D / / / |

G / / / |C / / / | G / D / |

(And repeat x2)

The next step is to play the 3-note chords in the right hand and the bass line in the left hand, with a variety of rhythm patterns in the right hand, including off-beat crotchets and even off-beat quavers! Reggae and ska sorted.

The next article will talk about right hand improvisation. But chord rhythms and a bass line, and using chord numbers as well as names, is a great start!

The Connections for Piano series, with tracks, are available from www.80dayspublishing.com.


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.


 

5 Tips on Stage Presentation Part 1

Stage presentation is an important topic, not just for those who perform regularly, but also for students preparing for exams, diplomas, or school concerts and festivals. In my latest article for Pianist Magazine newsletter (which you can sign up for here), I offer the first of two articles on stage presentation, with a few ideas for honing and developing a more assured approach to performing. I hope it’s of interest. You can read the original here.


This topic might, at first glance, appear frivolous, but it’s important for many reasons, not least to illustrate how we should ideally conduct ourselves onstage. But it also helps various aspects of our piano playing, from choice programming to addressing that all-consuming issue; learning to focus whilst playing. It’s for these reasons that this ‘5 Top Tips’ article is the first of two on the subject. These tips are reminders for anyone giving concerts, taking exams or diplomas, participating in music festivals, or just playing for family and friends.

  1. Before you play a note or even prepare to play a concert, some thought must be given to programming. What will you play? Your programme choice will reveal your personality, and for an audience, may or may not attract them to your recital. A balanced programme is a good idea, but it can be more adventurous to include some Contemporary music. This is especially true when programming for a diploma exam. For a 35 minute diploma recital, why not consider adding 10 minutes of new music. It doesn’t have to be dissonant or atonal music; there are plenty of Contemporary composers who write in an essentially tonal style.
  2. When discussing your next performance, how do you feel? Excited? Fearful? Probably a mixture of the two. The best way to overcome fear is to keep exposing yourself to it; if you can perform regularly, it starts to take on an element of routine. Whilst routine shouldn’t equate to boredom, repeated performances will help to extinguish nerves, and allow you to feel more in control on stage.
  3. Another way to alleviate any potentially negative psychological aspects of performing, is to really fall in love with the piece or pieces that you intend to play. This is why it is paramount that you connect with your chosen repertoire. Ask yourself the following: why do you want to play your piece? Do you love it? How does it make you feel? If you feel a strong attachment to your repertoire, then you will be keen to communicate this with your audience, which can detract from the worry and fear associated with performing.
  4. Should we address our audience on stage? Some performers prefer to walk on stage and just play, whereas others like to talk to their audience, establishing a connection and informing them about the repertoire. I played classical recitals on cruise ship for many years, and one facet which was crucial to the success of a performance was talking to my audience. Even if you just briefly explain what you are going to play, it sets the audience at ease and, hopefully, brings them into your space.
  5. What will you wear to your concert? Attire is important, adding a sense of occasion. Comfort is crucial, and high heels may not be a good idea for all ladies! Aim to find a style which allows you to move freely, but without looking too casual. In my opinion, a concert is an event, therefore smart is the order of the day. Again, this is especially important if taking a diploma, as certain examination boards mention that suitable attire will be taken into consideration during the exam.

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.