The World’s First Piano Recording

Today I’m featuring an interesting piece of history, highlighted just this week on the Pianist Magazine’s excellent blog. The world’s first (or oldest) piano recording took place precisely 131 years ago. During this period, Arthur Sullivan (1842 – 1900) was Britain’s foremost composer, and a piano and cornet version of his song ‘The Lost Chord‘, which had been composed eleven years earlier, was the piece of music recorded to capture this moment.

This event took place at a press conference in 1888, hosted by American Civil War recipient George Gouraud, who was introducing the phonograph, a new device for mechanical recording and reproduction of sound, which was created by American inventor Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931). Invented in 1887, the phonograph was the first device of its kind to be able to record and reproduce sound, and it heralded the beginning of a new age for the music industry. Sullivan commented rather ominously on this subject:

“I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.”

You can read Pianist’s full article and listen to the recording here, but, as might be expected, the sound quality is less than ideal!

Many musicians and composers were quick to explore the phonograph’s possibilities, including Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók. Bartók (1881 – 1945) was renowned for collecting folk music, alongside his colleague and fellow countryman Zoltán Kodály (1882 – 1967).

From 1904, Bartók embarked on an extensive programme of field research, travelling around Hungary and Romania, collecting a substantial selection of folk songs, frequently employing the phonograph to reliably record villagers singing and playing their folk melodies. Often considered the father of ethnomusicology, Bartók went on to write down and arrange many of those recorded tunes, and quickly became known as an expert in this field. His subsequent compositions are full of folk melodies, and this music became a fundamental influence on his work.

You can hear one of Bartók’s recordings using the phonograph by clicking on the link below:

A History of the Phonograph: Image link

The Béla Bartók Memorial House and Museum


My publications:

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

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


 

Weekend competition; the winner

Many thanks to all those who took part in my weekend competition. I always enjoy reading the comments. The prize this week is a copy of Nancy Litten’s new publication for singers and accompanists; Choral and Vocal Sight Singing.

The winner is…

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

If you’d like to find out more about this book or purchase it, please click here.


My publications:

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

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


 

A Weekend Competition! Choral and Vocal Sight Singing by Nancy Litten

As pianists most of us have,  at some time or another, accompanied the school choir, a vocal group or the local operatic society. If you’re like me, you’ve probably been a church organist too.

I was organist of Bray Church (in Berkshire, UK) for around five years during my student years, and this was a wonderful introduction to many satisfying musical endeavours. It may sound like a fairly repetitive, undemanding job, but in fact, a certain level of skill is most definitely required beyond a basic keyboard grasp. Accompanying psalms, sight-reading endless hymns, spot transposition, and improvisation, all feature in the organists tool box, and that’s aside from negotiating the pedal board (necessitating a level of foot athletics which sadly I never really mastered).

An oft-forgotten element to the church organist’s job is the accompaniment of the choir. They are prone to all sorts of antics during services, and, if left unsupervised, can have a tendency to become a rather unruly bunch. The church organist frequently takes rehearsals,  and on these occasions it would have been most useful to have had access to Nancy Litten’s new book, Choral and Vocal Sight Singing, published by Alfred Music, which is the second  to be penned by Nancy on this subject (you can find out more, here).

According to Alfred, Choral and Vocal Sight Singing serves a ‘dual purpose’:

It aims to give choirs and solo singers gently graded sight singing practice whilst at the same time encouraging the pianist to accompany them from chord symbols. Many examples of the possible realisations of the chords are given and the number of different keys and chords increases gradually. One chord per bar is used at first with more rapid changes in the later chapters. Each stage includes exercises for the singers, (to be practised, not just sight-read) and songs to be accompanied. Pianist edition includes chord examples and practice routines, and at the back, a chord compendium.

This is a very beneficial volume for the pianist as much as the singer (indeed there are two versions, one for the singer and a second for the pianist). Most choirs need plenty of sight singing practice, and the carefully graded exercises both encourage and allow for a steady progression. Nancy takes us through basic step-by-step vocal exercises, enabling singers to learn how to pitch notes with confidence. In the pianist’s volume, singing exercises are set alongside those for keyboard, beginning with simple chord patterns and progressions, graduating to various accompaniments for the vocal exercises.

Sound advice is offered on how to ‘flesh out’ accompaniments using some improvisatory ideas and suggestions, leading on to developing the necessary keyboard harmony skills to accompany singers relying entirely on chord symbols for a structured harmonic outline. A ‘chord compendium’ is featured at the back of the book, and those who take the time to work through from the beginning will certainly find this a flexible yet didactic approach. The repetition of such exercises proves vital in obtaining fluency and speed, and this is a crucial component when devising  convincing piano accompaniments.

I have one copy to giveaway to one lucky reader this weekend.  To be in with a chance to win, leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this blog post. I will announce the winner on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!

You can find out much more about this book, here, and can purchase your copy, here.


My publications:

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

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


 

5 Stage Presentation Tips Part 2

My most recent article for Pianist Magazine’s newsletter features the art of stage presentation. This often forgotten topic is rarely highlighted, yet it plays a significant role in every performance. This is the second of two articles on this subject, and you can read the first one, here.


In my previous article on stage presentation, I discussed how to foster the necessary ‘thought-process’ required for performing, as well as the importance of repertoire selection, and attire on stage. Today, the discussion turns to the actual act of going on stage itself. How we might traverse the concert platform in order to capture and keep our audience’s attention.

1. When we walk to the piano to play our concert, how we approach the instrument might indicate our level of anxiety. If you can cultivate an assured sense of confidence before the concert begins, you will instigate that same confidence in your audience, and they, in turn, will relax and start to enjoy your presentation right from the outset. You don’t need to stride – but rather stroll purposefully and with a certain conviction and realisation of the occasion.

2. Perfecting the bowing technique. A pianist must show gratitude to their audience, and this involves bowing conscientiously and with grace. This element will be highly visible to your audience, so aim to take time to bow with dignity and appreciation. It is probably a good idea to smile before you commence playing too, and try to appear relaxed and in no hurry to start.

3. How we sit at the piano will determine our comfort level. Take your time to adjust the stool, ensuring the correct height. Rest your feet on the pedals, making sure you can play them easily, and relax your shoulders; if you can rest your hands on the keyboard whilst keeping your shoulders relaxed, then you have probably found the perfect height for your stool.

4. Take a few moments to ‘breathe’ before you start. This might make the difference between a smooth, rhythmical opening to one with a few unexpected errors. Try not to rush into your piece; it can help to focus for at least ten seconds, and then, in order to establish the correct tempo, count a couple of bars (in your head) at the desired speed before you start to play. If you can do this, you will be able to exude polish and control.

5. Some pianists tend to move too much at the keyboard. There must be a certain level of movement in hands, wrists and arms when playing, to help with flexibility and comfort when circumnavigating copious note patterns. However, it isn’t strictly necessary to move the whole body as this can prove a distraction to your audience. Aim to keep movement to a minimum and try to minimise facial expressions too!

At the end of your performance, remember to acknowledge your audience. If you can learn to enjoy performing, this will bode well for all future endeavours and the improvement of your piano playing as a whole.


My publications:

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

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


 

Etude op. 97 No 1 by Anton Reicha

Some readers will know that I write a regular ‘how-to-play’ article for Pianist magazine; If you’ve yet to discover this magazine, you can find out much more here. My article focuses on elementary level pieces for students of around Grade 1 – 3 level. It’s actually called a ‘beginners how-to-play’, but in reality few students start with such repertoire. Our audience is mainly adult amateurs, teachers and students, and I always appreciate your kind comments (and there are many!) regarding the magazine and my articles when I visit various parts of the world, adjudicating and giving workshops.

Around 900 words in length, my column aims to shed some light on the style of each chosen work whilst offering some detailed practice ideas. Pianist magazine ensures that readers can listen to and play each piece, and every edition contains the score of the piece and a recording, which is played by Chinese pianist Chenyin Li.

A particularly wonderful aspect of my brief is that it has brought me in contact with the music of a myriad of lesser known composers. In this respect it has been a real education. Magazine editor Erica Worth and I are constantly searching for suitable material and this has led to the discovery of whole collections of various educational piano pieces. Always mindful of the level and difficulty of the piece, occasionally we unearth a composition which may be slightly trickier than the expected level, but which we feel just must be included. The featured piece in Pianist magazine edition 105 was one such piece.

Etude Op. 97 No. 1 (see above image) was written by Anton Reicha (1770 – 1836), who was a friend and contemporary of Beethoven; the two composers studied at the University of Bonn together.  Reicha is probably best known for his wind quintet literature and the important role he advocated as a teacher, numbering Liszt, Berlioz and Franck amongst his pupils. He wrote treatises on various aspects of composition and theory, but due to his apparent aversion to being published, his music largely fell into obscurity soon after his death, and his life and work have yet to be studied in detail.

Reicha contributed to the piano repertoire via a series of fugues and etudes, as well as larger scale works, including a set of variations lasting over 45 minutes in length. Inventive and imaginative, he was an early advocate of polytonality and asymmetric meters. Reicha’s fugues were also renowned for breaking the usual strict rules. However, his music is predominantly tonal, with a spontaneous quality, and his scores are relatively free from the ubiquitous composer’s musical directions, leaving interpretation solely to the performer.

The Etude Op. 97 No. 1 is an extremely beautiful, contemplative little piece; the melody  largely floats serenely above a series of repeated left hand chords, and then roles are reversed later in the piece. This Etude is an exercise (or a study) in balance between the hands, chordal balance and cantabile. Yet ultimately, it’s all about developing an elegant, personal reading with a depth of colours via a rich sound and judiciously balanced phrases. Irrespective of your level as a player, I urge you to consider playing this piece, if only to revel in the delectable harmonic twists and turns combined with a simply delicious melodic line. You can enjoy pianist Ivan Ilic’s performance by clicking on the link below. To  subscribe to Pianist magazine, click here.

You can read my ‘how-to-play’ article on this work here:

Etude Op 97 1a by Anton Reicha

If you would like to purchase and download the music for this piece, click here.


My publications:

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

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


 

The Solomon Piano Quintet at Steiner Hall

If you’re a chamber music fan (and it’s hard not to be with such fantastic repertoire on offer), you might be interested in this forthcoming concert to be held at Rudolf Steiner House in London, which is situated near Baker Street.  Steiner Hall hosts an International Concert Series presenting many renowned artists, and the concert on Saturday February 16th 2019 at 7.30pm features the newly formed Solomon Piano Quintet.

This recital marks the inaugural  season for the Solomon Piano Quintet, which was formed in 2018, and consists of London-based musicians who perform regularly as soloists and chamber musicians: Tadasuke Iijima (violin), Ayako Yamazaki (violin), Yohei Nakajima (viola), Matthew Strover (cello), and Yuki Negishi (piano).

The group selected the name ‘Solomon’ because ‘it relates to the wisdom and strength of the King with this name, inspring their musical journey thus far and beyond.’

Their programme is a mixture of chamber music favourites juxtaposed with some interesting new discoveries:

Joaquin Turina: “Serenata” for string quartet Op.87
Gregers Brinch: Piano Quintet “Human Reflections” Op.78 (2003)
Granados: Piano Quintet in G minor Op.49

Interval

Brahms: Piano Quintet in F minor Op.34

The Quintet are particularly interested in Contemporary music and plan to highlight living composers. ‘Human Reflections’ Op. 78, composed  by Gregers Brinch, was written in 2003, and formally included a double bass. The movements are all originally works for solo voices with instruments to poems by Paul Matthews and Danish poet Halfdan Rasmussen, which are powerful reflections on the human condition, hence the title.

If you fancy an evening of piano and strings, which is one of the most satisfying combinations in my opinion, you can purchase tickets, here. 

www.internationalconcertseries.com


My publications:

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

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


 

 

A Workshop at Forsyths

For anyone in the Manchester (UK) area, I will be presenting an afternoon workshop at Forsyths music shop on Saturday 26th January 2019. Based in Manchester city centre, Forsyths is a major music store which holds regular events and workshops. My workshop starts at 2.00pm and will finish at around 4.30pm, and it is intended for teachers, parents and students.

The afternoon will focus on piano technique basics; how to keep relaxed and flexible at the keyboard and how to apply relaxation methods to various technical patterns such as scales, arpeggios, broken chords, and so on.

There will be an opportunity for audience participation too, and I will also be presenting my books, Play it again: PIANO Books 1 & 2, and Book 3, which will be published very soon. The books will be on sale throughout the afternoon, and we will finish with a Q&A session. Read more about my piano course on Forsyth’s blog this week by clicking here.

To find out more and book your ticket for this event, click  here.


My publications:

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

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


 

Fruitful Fingering Part 2

This is the second article in my series for Piano Professional Magazine, published by EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association): a teacher’s publication, for which I write the technique feature. You can read the first article, here, and in Part 2, I look at different methods of applying certain fingerings, offering various options  for students.


Teachers all know the importance well-placed fingering has in the context of learning a new piece, and this fact remains true irrespective of a student’s level or ability. My previous article examined several expected fingering techniques, and in this article I will endeavour to venture a little off-piste, with a few different ideas around this vast subject. Our goal, as teachers, must be to equip our students so that they can eventually think for themselves, writing their own fingering on every score.

Firstly, I return to reiterate perhaps the most vital concept when learning to finger fruitfully, and that is the assimilation of scales, arpeggios and broken chords; if students have thoroughly learnt these patterns, then adding fingering to most piano pieces will feel simple and natural. This point cannot be stressed enough, as without these symmetrical note patterns and their fairly rigid fingerings, pupils simply won’t be able to grasp the basics of piano playing. If your student hasn’t been taking exams, it might be prudent to suggest the acquisition of a scale manual – both the ABRSM and Trinity College London publish separate volumes with all keys, scale permutations, and fingerings.

Knowing your fingering is paramount, and as a general rule, once a fingering has been chosen, written into the score and played through, it’s highly advisable not to change it. This cardinal rule certainly rings true for less experienced players. Our brains seem hard-wired to play patterns or sequences, but once these patterns are even slightly distorted, it causes us much grief and cancelling them altogether will feel very unnatural.

Practice tends to make ‘permanent’ as many teachers will attest, so aim for students to be quite sure of their finger selections before they leave the lesson. Try going through a piece slowly with them, hands separately, checking that they are actually using the fingering which has been added to the score. This will be key to successful absorption of each hand’s fingering, and will stop the inevitable corrections which will occur at the following lesson if this stage in the learning process has been side-stepped.

After advising our students to religiously stick to one fingering for their pieces (especially for any fiddly figurations), it can be extremely liberating to throw out this rule when returning to study a piece for the second or third time. This may only apply to more advanced pupils. Occasionally students will play a piece, leave it for a while, only to return at a later date to find that the fingering which once fitted like a glove, now feels less than ideal. In this case it’s time to revise the original fingering and search for something more convenient. Whilst it may appear akin to climbing Everest, a more advanced student can reconfigure passages with relative ease, especially when they are able to work out the new fingering for themselves.

Smaller hands inevitably struggle with certain elements, namely wide intervals and large chords, which can be challenging, particularly when playing extended passagework. Fingering must be very carefully applied when taking this fact into consideration. Sometimes the only option is to ‘rearrange’ passages, leaving out notes which don’t disturb the flow or the construction of a piece. Adding a spread chord where the original is too large, or rewriting chords in some cases, may provide a simple solution. Dividing passages between the hands is another beneficial tactic. It may appear as though cheating, but it can be a workable option if the sound and character of a piece remains largely unaffected.

Octaves are renowned for causing smaller hands grief, but with regular flexibility exercises and a relaxed wrist and arm, most students can handle them. There is much debate over the fingering of octave passage work. Some schools of thought are insistent on using the thumb and fifth finger for all such passages, whereas, others believe the thumb combined with a fourth or fifth finger provides a better option. Certainly when playing fast chromatic passages, the fourth is a welcome addition (and if a student has a large hand, a third finger may also be used):

This passage from Study No. 49 of Czerny’s Art of Finger Dexterity Op. 740 illustrates how the fourth finger, if implemented scrupulously and only with a relaxed or loose arm and wrist, can be an excellent method of moving quickly around the keyboard.

Sliding from two black keys when playing octaves, can be a helpful way to join notes smoothly (I’ve written about ‘finger sliding’ in more detail in my previous article: Fruitful Fingering Part 1). It should also be remembered that using the thumb on black keys is now regarded as acceptable, whereas previously, this practice was sometimes considered ‘unsuitable’ fingering.

How the fingers physically play notes is another often forgotten factor when discussing fingering. I work with students until they can easily use their fingertips when playing fast figurations or scalic passage work. The tips are best incorporated via a flexible wrist and a ‘hooked’ finger position:

This fosters firmer finger and rhythmic control. However, flatter fingers can work well too, for chords, especially those on black notes, and they are generally more conducive to achieving a completely different timbre. Some impressionistic repertoire might be best played with this approach.

Two notes, one finger! An effective tactic for large chords, such as the following, which employs a spread thumb:

Chopin Prelude (Op. 28 No. 7 in A major), is easier to grasp when using the thumb over the C sharp and A sharp:

This also works for white notes:

And, for certain repertoire, playing ‘in the crack’ might be a practical alternative:

Two fingers playing the same note can have a real impact on certain passages, carrying more weight and drama, and the thumb is also able to support the other fingers creating a deep, rich sound.

The thumb might also be extended slightly when playing back notes, therefore avoiding mishaps involving slipping off or missing notes (example below, to the left):

Fingers have their own character and personality, and, again, this is a very personal element when considering how fingering might be applied to a passage. As a general rule, the thumb and possibly the third finger appear stronger than the others, perhaps due to their positioning on the hand. We aim to encourage students to ‘strengthen’ their fingers, but realistically everyone’s hand is different, and this applies to finger strength as well. I ask students to examine their fingers, observing how they work at the keyboard, deciphering which they feel is the strongest or most powerful. Once then have done this, they are in a better position to work at instigating a more secure technique; developing power in the fourth and fifth fingers especially. However, this must be done with great care, using flexibility in the wrist, arm and hand so as not to cause tension issues.

Finger pedalling is a topic which must be mentioned here. It’s not pedalling as we know it, but it does create a similar effect, as if depressing the sustaining (or right) pedal. The technique of finger pedalling is essentially the over-holding of notes i.e. holding down the keys whilst continuing to play other notes over the top (or underneath). This was a popular technique used for the harpsichord and other early keyboard instruments before the pedal was invented, and as a result it is often synonymous with Baroque music. Before the sustaining pedal (which was implemented from approximately W.A. Mozart’s time onwards), holding down the keys was the only way of sustaining the sound. The following is a well-known example:

Here, the two lower notes in J. S. Bach’s Prelude in C major (No 1 from the Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues Book 1), are held, as the top line (played by the right hand) plays the melodic material. This example has been ‘written in’, but it’s often the case that a player must use their own artistic judgement when employing this technique.

Fingering can have quite an impact on tonal balance. A suitable fingering will enhance chordal balance, and will allow melody lines to come to the forefront of the texture. Guided practice is required when voicing any chord; whilst firm fourth and fifth fingers are generally a prerequisite for melodic playing in the right hand, much suppleness in the wrist and hand will be necessary behind this firmness, supported by the Bridge position or the knuckles. Where possible, it can be practical to introduce the thumb for melodic material, even if it involves much movement around the keyboard.

Finally, if we can guide students to think about fingering before the learning process begins, they will become aware of the fundamental impact this can have on their learning capacity.

You can read the original article, here:

Fruitful Fingering Part 2


My publications:

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

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


 

 

 

 

Sounds of Intent

The first guest post of the year has been written by Sum Yee Chan who is a specialist in Genitourinary medicine in London. She has recently completed a course entitled Sounds of Intent at Roehampton University. Sounds of Intent is a framework of musical development for children with learning difficulties. According to the university; ‘The Sounds of Intent programme is designed to enable practitioners to gain the skills and understanding necessary to use the Sounds of Intent framework to assess children and young people’s levels of musical development and devise music policies and curricula.’ Here, Sum Yee  outlines her experiences.


I have  recently completed a course run by Roehampton University in the Department of Education on special educational needs and music (Post Graduate Certificate in Sounds of Intent).I have an amateur music background and do not work in this field, none the less I found the course to be very valuable and have gone back into a school to lead a weekly music session there.

The course is led by Prof Adam Ockelford who is Professor of Music.  The Sounds of Intent project was set up in 2002 in conjunction with the RNIB.  Prior to that there was little or no research into musical development in children with special educational needs.  The PROMISE report in 2001 (Welch, Ockelford and Zimmerman) was a survey of 52 special schools providing education for 2758 pupils, this highlighted a large variation in music provision for children with special needs.  It also recognised that music provision is important for the general social and educational development of children away from the musical setting.  The Sounds of Intent project is an evidence-based web site which enables practitioners to map the musical development of children in three domains:  reactive, proactive and interactive over time.  There are example videos on the website to show each level.   Anyone reading this blog post can use it, as it is completely free. 

The site can be used for children (and adults) with any level of special educational needs ranging from profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) to those with extraordinary musical skills.  The website has now been viewed by over 6.2 million people around the world and is used to develop music policies and curriculums in many schools for special educational needs around the UK.  The project has been launched in many countries around the world and was recently listed as one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs for its impact on people’s lives (Universities UK).     
Another recent development has been a pilot project in conjunction with Trinity College London, where people who are unable to take traditional graded examinations in any instrument, including piano, due to their disability are able to gain an accreditation from a recognised exam board.  The pilot focused on the lower levels of Sounds of Intent, but the aim is to extend that to include all levels of musical ability. 
Through the course, I was also introduced to many different organisations for disabilities and music. This includes charities such as The Amber Trust which provides grants for children with visual impairment to have music lessons or equipment. Also OHMI, which helps physically disabled musicians with e.g. specially adapted instruments.

Music has been and continues to be very important in my life and I hope that it can be an important part of people’s lives irrespective of disability or special educational needs.



My publications:

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

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


Five New Year Tips to Seriously Improve Your Piano Playing in 2019

Happy New Year! It’s January 1st 2019 and I hope you have all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s Eve. At the start of any new year, we make resolutions, create new goals, or perhaps re-evaluate or reflect on existing goals. It’s the perfect time to revisit our hobbies, or investigate new ones. Many have written over the past year, telling me how they have really loved learning to play the piano again, after a lapse of one or two, or indeed many, years. Today’s New Year’s post is intended for those who have taken a break from their piano playing and have decided to start playing again. It is possible to move from intrepid pianist to competent, confident player with the help of an excellent teacher and solid, regular practice.

Here are a few ideas to help your practice regime over the coming weeks. Piano practice can tend to fall into a rut and it usually requires an occasional overhaul, so that interest is kept and improvement, monitored.

  1. Regularly monitor your progress. It doesn’t matter how you do this; you might decide to write your updates in a notepad, noting what you feel has improved, or it could be that you ask for judicious feedback from your teacher, or perhaps perform regularly to fellow students, who might provide a candid opinion (this usually only works if you reciprocate the favour!). However, as a pianist it’s too easy to lock yourself away, playing only for yourself, where it can be challenging to be honest about improvements. Try to remain pragmatic about your own playing, because this is the most effective way to change for the better.
  2. Record your pieces. Recording our playing reveals far more than we might imagine. It doesn’t matter how you do this, and you may prefer to record short passages, phrases, or a few bars at a time, but as long as you listen carefully to the results, you will be able to find a starting point from which to build and improve your technique and interpretation. We rarely sound how we think we do, so it can be a shock at first, but it proffers a realistic perspective which can really help in the long run.
  3. Only play a piece through at the end of a practice session. This goes for sections or movements of works too. A common misconception when practising is that it is beneficial to perpetually play your pieces through. There is no doubt that this can be advantageous for memorisation and for structural practice, but during the early stages of learning particularly, it is generally more useful to spend time working at small sections. The ability to break pieces down, almost reconstructing them, enables our brain to think about them in a different way and can certainly aid mastery. When you’re happy with your sectional practice, you might feel it necessary to ‘play’ the piece in its entirety, either at a slower tempo or up to speed at the end of your session.
  4. Slow practice is key. Many articles sing the praises of playing slowly. But it is such an important facet that it’s definitely worth adding to your new list of practice tools for 2019. My suggestion to students is to implement several practice speeds whilst working at a piece (or a technical exercise or study). The slowest tempo must be one which works for exaggerated practice, whereby you can equally focus on both hands, fingerings, movements, notes and sound at the same time. Therefore you should ideally think about a subdivided beat (if the piece is in quavers, practice in semiquavers or even demisemiquavers, for example). The second tempo can be a little faster, allowing you to ‘move’ around the keyboard, but still keeping in check all the above technical considerations. The final tempo could be similar to the speed of the piece, but slightly slower, so that you still have crucial thinking time, for accuracy and sound.
  5. Articulation will make or break your performance. Clarity, neatness and precision in your finger work will make all the difference when it comes to clean playing. It’s vital for almost every style or genre, but of special importance in Baroque and Classical music. Clean finger work can be developed by ensuring fingers not only play every note with a full sound, but also by paying attention to the end of a note too, that is, how long you leave your finger depressing each key. If you are playing rapid scalic passages, for example, make sure notes are equal in length by employing a very firm pulse. Such articulation is more of a challenge for the weaker fingers, such as the fourths and fifths, but it can be honed with spot practice and a flexible, loose arm, wrist and hand (remembering that only the fingers and knuckles should remain firm).

I hope these ideas may inspire you to focus rigorously during your practice time, so that you make the most of your sessions irrespective of whether they are long or short. Good Luck and enjoy your piano playing.

For those returning to playing the piano, you may like to take a look at my piano course written especially for the returner. Play it again: PIANO is published by Schott Music, and currently consists of a two-book course which contains 49 graded, progressive piano pieces from the standard repertoire, as well as including many more unusual works, from Baroque through to Contemporary (also including Jazz, Blues, Rock, Improvisation, and Latin styles). Each piece has copious practice tips and suggestions, as well as a whole technique section at the beginning of each book, and a music theory section at the end of each book. Book 1 is approximately Grade 1 – 4 level, Book 2 is Grade 5 – 8 level, and Book 3 (to be published in February 2019) is Grade 8 – Associate diploma level. Find out more by clicking here, and you can purchase all the books on Amazon too.


My publications:

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

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