A visit to the August Förster Piano Factory

August forsterPeregrine’s Pianos are organising a two-day visit to the August Förster piano factor. This factory is one of the oldest established piano factories in the world and it thrives in a corner of Saxony steeped in rich musical traditions. Peregrine’s Pianos is the London dealer for August Förster Pianos.

The trip is intended for customers interested in learning more about this company and its culture. Taking place on the 25th and 26th October 2016 and limited to twenty customers, included are flights from London’s Heathrow airport to Berlin, private coach transfers to Dresden and Löbau, and overnight accommodation in a beautiful mountain hotel. Guests will be shown around the factory and entertained at the Förster Villa (pictured below).

In order to illustrate the cultural background of August Förster, the visit begins in Dresden.  Lunch will be served at the Grand Café in the Cosel Palais before an afternoon recital in the Dresden Piano Salon, a hall in which both Robert and Clara Schumann performed. This is followed by a brief tour of Dresden’s Baroque buildings including the Zwinger, Augustusbrücke, Hofkirche and the famous Frauenkirche.

On the second day, a visit to the town of Löbau is first on the itinerary, as it’s where the factory is situated. After lunch in the old town, a tour of the factory takes place. The factory buildings are 150 years old and piano making is all by hand. There will be an opportunity to play completed instruments and to select a piano to purchase.

For full details of this visit and much more information about August Förster pianos, click here, e-mail: info@peregrines-pianos.com or call: 020 7242 9865


Jackdaws Piano Course 2016

GetAttachmentThumbnailMy piano course at Jackdaws Music Education Trust will be held in October this year and the bookings open today!  This is my second visit to Jackdaws and I’m very much forward to it.

Jackdaws has a wonderful history and tradition, and is renowned for its instrumental and vocal courses, education projects, young artists programme, and performances by world-class musicians. Situated near Frome in Somerset (UK), the venue is set in exquisite countryside. There are a whole range of courses on offer featuring many outstanding teachers, and lots are residential. You can find out all about the Education Trust here.

My piano course will begin on Friday 14th of October at 6.30pm and finish on Sunday afternoon on the 16th October at 4pm. It consists of eight concentrated sessions throughout the weekend, providing ample opportunity to work on many aspects of pianism. I was fortunate to have a full house last year (10 participants), which was fun (you can read more about the weekend and repertoire presented here).

I’ll be focusing on piano technique, memorisation and sight-reading. These are topics I often offer for courses, as I believe they are frequently neglected. However, there will also be plenty of time for more traditional workshop fayre; where each pianist plays a prepared piece and we work on it in a master class format. Therefore we ask each participant to bring two short  pieces of their choice (however, your pieces do not need to be polished or performance ready – we will work on this together).

GetAttachmentThumbnailThe weekend will commence with sessions on evaluating and honing technical freedom at the piano, with full class participation. This will be followed by plenty of tips and practical guidance on memorisation, again with class participation, and the course will finish with sessions on sight-reading, and a final opportunity to work on chosen pieces.

This piano course is open to any standard or level of playing, and there are a maximum of ten places. The fee for the  course is £200 for the entire weekend, to include all meals except breakfast (there is a selection of B&Bs to choose from if you would like to stay nearby). To find out more about the course, and for booking and registration (which is now open) click here – I look forward to meeting you.

‘A very enjoyable course Melanie. A lot of information was covered. Really appreciated the technical help and also watching your approach to teaching the other students. Alex’s food was indeed wonderful, catering for so many varied food requirements. Such a high standard of skills from the variety of participants. Very enjoyable indeed. Looking forward to another course in the future – can’t have too much knowledge, always willing to learn more.Thanks again Melanie. Highly recommended!’

Maggie George: Participant on the 2015 Jackdaws Music Education Trust Course


10 Top Recommended Piano Resources for July 2016

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Summer is upon us and this month’s selection of piano resources features a new online method, an exam syllabus, a useful App, and a new edition of an educational masterpiece. Hope you find them helpful.

Beginners and Elementary

Interactive Piano Method®

13575745_1648752375446722_3149223656312773678_oAmerican teacher, composer and arranger Carol Matz, has written an Interactive Piano Method®. It is a new and unique method which includes Lesson Books with directly corresponding online materials. Students can access the online activities on their own and get instant feedback on their answers. Each level includes a Lesson Book, Online Activities, PDF Downloads (Performance Pieces, Activity Sheets, Sight-Reading, etc.), as well as MP3 teacher duet accompaniments. The Lesson Book is also provided as a downloadable PDF which can be printed and/or used on a tablet (such as an iPad, etc.). The online activities can all be done on a computer or tablet and include ear training, theory, virtual flashcards, note spelling, and more. For a limited time, teachers can submit a request for a free level here, and you can find out more here.

Video Lessons from Hal Leonard

indexThe Hal Leonard video lessons are intended to complement the Hal Leonard student piano library. They are free and introduce pupils and teachers to the All-in-one piano lessons book. American Author Barbara Kreader (one of four authors who co-wrote this series of books) presents each video, often working with one of her students. There are twelve videos in this mini series, lasting around 5 minutes each. They are correlated to specific pages and pieces within the first book and will no doubt be very beneficial to all those who use or are considering using this method. Watch here.

Technical Exercises and Rote Pieces

Tech-Rote-Book-Cover-1024x796The Technical Exercises & Rote Pieces book, published as part of the Piano Safari method series written by Katherine Fisher and Dr. Julie Knerr, is designed to supplement any standard piano method. It contains pattern-based pieces and exercises designed to be taught by rote. Students are encouraged to regularly listen to the audio recording of each piece as they work through the book. As a result, their ears will already be accustomed to the style, articulation, tempo, phrasing, and dynamics necessary for musical performance. The audio recording is available as a CD or Digital Download. Find out more and purchase here.

Intermediate Level

Rock & Pop Studies

RockThis volume includes 80 progressive piano studies and exercises for all those interested in learning to play rock and pop. Published by Faber, and written by British authors Lucy Holliday and Oliver Weeks, each study within this book focuses on particular styles, exploring the various technical elements associated with them; syncopation, varying bass lines, gospel chord progressions, classic rock arpeggios, and twelve-bar blues are all featured. The styles covered include Motown, metal, the blues, soul, funk, ska, reggae, disco, country, indie, dance, classic rock, and synth pop. There are practice tips for every exercise with many suggested further listening ideas too. This publication would suit a pianist approaching intermediate level (Grade 4-5). Find out much more here.

Sheets Zwei

005007d2-62b1-473e-9821-88c5c341d756Sheets Zwei is the second in a series of bespoke art music books by the German composer and performer, Nils Frahm, published just this week by Manners McDade. Featured artwork, by his father Klaus Frahm, comes from a series of photographs of barns, abandoned buildings and other rural artifacts taken in Portugal during Nils’ childhood. Containing ten of Nils’ piano works, the volume also includes some simple ideas to transform any piano into a Una Corda (similar to a prepared piano), the piano commissioned by Nils from master piano builder, David Klavins. An easy listening, Minimalist style which is sure to appeal intermediate level players everywhere. Find out much more here.

From Elementary to Advanced

ABRSM New Piano Syllabus

Piano Exam Pieces 2017 & 2018, non-CD editionThe ABSRM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music), the British music examination board, have just published their new piano exam syllabus for 2017-2018. Released just this weekend, the books (8 in all) each contain a selection of nine pieces from Grades 1 to 7 and 12 pieces at Grade 8, covering lists A, B & C. Meticulously edited and presented, these volumes comprise a rich and very varied repertoire from which to create an interesting, diverse programme for an exam or concert. Each volume includes helpful footnotes and syllabus information, and can be purchased as a book only or a book & CD package. The recordings are also available as downloads here.  Even if you’re not planning to take an ABRSM piano exam, the selected repertoire can be a great way to get to know new repertoire. Find out more here.


ut50411.141030As a committed Bartók lover, I’m a huge fan of this wonderful pedagogical masterpiece which has just been republished in a new edition. Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos is available in three volumes published by Wiener Urtext. Together these volumes cover all the ABRSM graded levels (from grade 1 to grade 8) and this makes them indispensable for piano students. They give an all rounded technique for players of virtually any standard. They also contain several additional pieces published for the first time, and include useful notes on study and interpretation, with a glossary of expression markings in several languages. For further information and a video please click here.



GetAttachmentThumbnailNewzik is a universal sheet music reader app available for the iPad & iPhone.  It allows musicians to manage, read and annotate all musical scores with ease. All the sheets, tabs, chords, audio & midi files or videos can be accumulated, stored and organized in a single tablet. You can turn pages automatically with a hands free Bluetooth foot pedal too. For more information click here. Watch the demo video here, or try it for free here.


Around the Globe Piano Music Festival

GlobeAround the Globe Piano Festival is a competitive festival held in London in November 2016, aspiring to promote worldwide classical and contemporary music. The aim is to encourage students of all ages to learn new repertoire in various styles including contemporary and jazz music. Selected works include a wide range of piano music from around the world, much of which is not regularly performed, contributing to our multicultural British society. To obtain a brochure, enter the festival and find out more, click here.


NTD International piano competition

10557537_306949402817928_459061284752850702_oFor piano competition lovers, the 4th NTD International Piano Competition will be taking place from Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, 2016 in New York. The Competition will consist of one qualification round and three live competition rounds: Preliminary, Semifinal, and Final. Pianists aged between 16 to 48 are encouraged to apply. Gold, Silver, and Bronze prize winners (maximum prize $10,000) will also receive professional recording and concert opportunities. The event will be broadcast on television and online, hosted by New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television. You can apply Online by July 31, 2016. Find out more here, or e-mail for more information here: piano@globalcompetitions.org



A master class with Nikolai Lugansky

This short but interesting master class given by Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky was published just last month and recorded in October 2015. Whilst giving concerts with the Czech Philharmonic, this acclaimed virtuoso pianist gave a master class for piano students at the Rudolfinum in Prague. I feel there is so much to learn and savour from watching workshops such as these. The second video features Lugansky’s reading of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 36, which is one of the works studied in the master class. I hope you enjoy it!

Double Bill Competition winners…


GetAttachmentThumbnailMany thanks to all who took part in this weekend’s double bill competition (the prizes are pictured above). As always, it was lovely to read your comments. The winners are:

Yvonne Quinn-Chittle wins 12 Piazzolla Tangos for Easy Piano

And Joanne Snowden wins Piano Village

Congratulations! Please send your address via the contact page on this blog and I will send the books very soon.

If you would like to find out more about either of these books, you can do so here and here.


Weekend Competition Double Bill…

GetAttachmentThumbnailThis weekend’s competition features two piano resources which I hope will be of interest.

The first is a collection of 12 Tangos, written by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 1992), arranged by Rachel Chapin, and published by Boosey and Hawkes. Each piece contains all the expected tango inflections, incorporated alongside elements of classical music and jazz. The works would suit those of Grades 3 – 5 (ABRSM; approximately intermediate level). The selection ranges from Libertango and Milonga for Three, to Vuelvo al Sur and Sin Rumbo.

The second book, Piano Village, is a selection of original compositions, written by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin (1957 – ) also published by Boosey and Hawkes. Consisting of 25 works, this generous volume features some of Kats-Chernin’s most well-known pieces including Eliza’s Aria. Ranging in difficulty, these gems are generally for more advanced players, and are often highly rhythmic, patterned and Minimalist in style.

To win, please leave a comment in the comment box at the end of this post, and I will select two winners on Sunday evening (British time). Good luck!

You can find out more about Piazzola’s Tangos here and about Piano Village, here.


A few thoughts on the ‘Una Corda’

20160503_193712_resizedI’ve previously written about the Sustaining or Damper pedal here on this blog; it’s the foot pedal farthest to the right on a piano, irrespective of whether there are two or three pedals (grand pianos tend to have three whereas uprights often have two). You can read my post about the Sustaining pedal here. Today, I have focused on the left pedal, played by the left foot (as indicated in the photo above).

The Una Corda is also known as the sordino, left, muting or soft pedal, and when written on the score, is a direction for this pedal to be depressed.  Una corda means ‘one string’. By depressing the Una corda, the whole action and keyboard shifts to the right (on a grand piano), allowing the hammers to strike one string fewer than usual, therefore reducing the sound and resonance. Whilst the use of this pedal does reduce the sound, it also changes the character, adding a somewhat muted or muffled effect. On an upright piano, the left pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings (as opposed to shifting them), shortening the stroke and reducing the sound but not really changing the timbre. Therefore, much is dependent on the type and quality of the instrument regarding the effect of this pedal.

Liszt Dante SonataComposers occasionally request the addition of the Una corda, as the photo above demonstrates; Hungarian Romantic Franz Liszt’s (1811 – 1886) instructions (at the bottom of the stave) in a slow, expressive passage in the monumental Dante Sonata (Après une Lecture de Dante S. 161 No. 7). However, many composers do not or have not marked its use in their scores, thus relying on a performer’s discretion and personal taste. When Una corda (or UC) is marked, depress the left pedal, lifting it when you see the marking, Tre corde (three stings; or TC): Due corde is another direction, and this refers to the left pedal being partly depressed.

Rather like the Sustaining pedal, the Una corda is multi-layered. It’s possible to take the pedal down various degrees in order to achieve a profusion of divergent sounds. This will be challenging on an upright piano (as mentioned above), as the Una corda on these instruments tends to just make the overall effect softer, but on a grand, the changes are both effective and understated.

To become accustomed to the left pedal, aim to experiment with a few scales. Start by putting your heel firmly on the floor with your body weight behind it. Then prepare to play the pedal with the ball (top of the ball) of your foot (towards the big toe). When depressing the pedal, observe just how little movement is necessary for the sound to change, usually from a distinctive, brilliant tone to a softer, muted one. You could try touching the pedal lightly at first, graduating to full use of the pedal, from the top to bottom of a four octave scale.

Practice taking the Una Corda pedal down and then raising it varying degrees, concentrating on the colour and (probably to a lesser extent), the volume change.  This can be a both interesting and helpful exercise. On some pianos, it can change the sound from quite penetrating or percussive, to a warmer, richer hue.

A couple of other general suggestions for the una corda include employing it for accompaniment figures. This involves depressing the pedal where an accompaniment figure occurs (often in the left hand), and then raising the pedal for the melody notes. Considerable skill is required for this exercise, which should ideally be practised with exact application; the overall semblance is one of a hazy, subtle, perhaps slightly unfocused sound for the accompaniment figures, with a brighter, fuller, more colourful melody, soaring above.

Try using the una corda to add a muted sonority to trills and ornaments; particularly long trills in higher registers on the keyboard. If the left pedal is applied towards the end of a fast trill, it can give the ornament a distinctly less sonorous, iridescent tone.

Application of the una corda depends entirely on the context of the music. Its use is sometimes thought controversial in early music (where it’s often assigned to replicate the ‘echo’ effects demanded of the harpsichord), and any pedal employment should ideally be carefully considered; if used sparingly, it can add tremendous impact to a performance.

You can find out about and purchase my book, So You Want To Play The Piano? published by Alfred Music, here.

You Can Read Music; the winner is…

You can read musicMany thanks to all those who took part in my weekend competition to win Paul Harris’ book, You Can Read Music. I have just one book to giveaway, and the lucky winner is:

Lavinia Livingston

Congratulations! Please send your address via the contact page on my blog, and your copy will be on its way.

Watch out for next weekend’s competition, which will consist of two exciting prizes.

If you wish to purchase a copy of You Can Read Music, click here.


Weekend Competition! You can read music by Paul Harris

You can read musicToday’s weekend competition offers a chance to win a copy of Paul Harris’ extremely useful guide entitled You Can Read Music. This practical little book, published by Faber Music, is part of the very popular Simultaneous Learning series, and aims to teach students to read music without an instrument.  A very beneficial publication for anyone wanting to learn from scratch or for those wanting to brush up their reading skills. The book also contains an audio CD.

I have a copy to giveaway, so please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this post, and I will announce the winner on Sunday evening (British time). Good luck!

If you wish to purchase this book, you can do so here.

So You Want To Organize A Piano Competition? Part III

Amateur pianist and competition planner, Sally Olson, lives in Chicago (US) and is on the committee of the Chicago Amateur Piano Competition 2016. Sally is responsible for organising this competition and has been writing a series of guest blog posts, revealing her organisational skills and marketing strategies. Today’s topic is all about the ‘Events Calender’ and Public Relations. Over to Sally…

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Planning an “Events Calendar” and “Customer Relations”

Once we had selected our 63 competitors it was time to get serious about the events schedule.

Within one hour of emailing the “Congratulations” email to those competitors chosen to participate in the competition, the inevitable questions started pouring in.  ‘Can I change the repertoire I chose?’  ‘When are my fees due?’  ‘Do you have a hotel you could recommend?’  Even though we sent a PDF attached to the successful competitors, listing all details, we were still inundated with questions.  It became obvious that customer relations would need  to go hand in hand with our event planning.

Above all, we were determined to avoid the “cookie cutter” style competition; where you arrive at the competition, play for 12 minutes, aren’t chosen to advance, and go home. Just how boring and unimaginative is that!?

We had advertised a four-day event, but decided on a pre-competition affair which we entitled “Meet The Judges”.  What would this event accomplish? For the hour preceding this meetup, the judges will meet and get to know each other. This is important as they will be having extensive discussions throughout the judging process.

During the “Meet The Judges” event the competitors and public will be given a question card and an MC will ask the judges various questions. This event will be live streamed on YouTube for those interested. For one hour after the question and answer session, competitors will enjoy refreshments and will be able to pre-register.  This kind of event to date is unique, and affords the pianists an opportunity to get to know the other competitors and meet the judges on a more personal basis.

The real challenge when building our events calendar, was to keep all those involved totally immersed in performing, learning and socializing for four days.  Most important of all was to lay out a schedule allowing them at least four opportunities to perform.

The conclusions drawn from planning these competition events, is that merely competing on stage for 12 minutes is not enough to entice amateur pianists to a competition.  After spending hundreds of dollars on airfares and hotel fees, it’s vital to keep competitors engaged, absorbed and happy for four days. I certainly hope we will achieve our aim.

You can visit the competition Events Calendar here.