6 Favourite Piano Resources

Many of us have been practising ‘social-distancing’ for a week or two already, and whilst not an especially enjoyable or uplifting experience, for me it has provided some much needed respite from the weekly lessons, although these are now all online, workshops, classes and piano courses, and work-related meetings. I love my work, but it’s been a pleasure just ‘stopping’ for a while; I’ve had the opportunity to read several books and revisit some old favourites.

With this in mind, the following resources may prove helpful for those who are seeking to spend their ‘isolation’ time delving into piano-related publications. These volumes are not new and, amongst pianists, some are considered ‘essential reads’, but for anyone with plenty of time and interest, they may prove fascinating. Listed in no particular order, they are available online, and are therefore just a click away!

I’ve linked each book to the Amazon UK site, but there are many websites worldwide selling them.

The Act of Touch in All Its Diversity by Tobias Matthay

A great read for pianists. It’s never easy trying to put into words how to learn and improve piano technique, but Matthay guides the reader beautifully. With the inscription ‘To my fellow workers at the pianoforte, students, artists and teachers’ and the apt quote, ‘There can be no effect without a cause’, this in-depth trip through almost every technical and musical facet of piano playing offers a highly beneficial compendium for the pianist.

Tobias Matthay (1858 – 1945) was a British pianist and teacher, and his teaching, and subsequent writing, have been most influential on a number of renowned pianists, including his own pupils; Myra Hess, Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany, Eileen Joyce, Harriet Cohen, Irene Scharrer and the composer Arnold Bax, to name a few. Matthay opened a piano school (Tobias Matthay Pianoforte School), and wrote several books on piano technique and musical analysis which brought him international recognition.

This volume, which was originally published in 1903 by Bosworth & Co., has been remastered in a new ‘forgotten books’ series. Matthay ponders everything from the problems of ‘pianoforte training’ (chapter 2), through almost every conceivable physical and mental perspective of piano playing, stressing piano ‘touch’ and proper use of the arm and arm-weight. Some may argue this book somewhat ‘old-fashioned’ in its language and approach, but I enjoy returning to it time after time.

Find out more and purchase, here.

The Pianist’s Guide to Pedaling by Joseph Banowetz

American-born pianist, pedagogue and author Joseph Banowetz has, in this volume, addressed a major issue for many a piano student: how and where to pedal. First published by Indiana University Press in 1985, The Pianist’s Guide to Pedaling provides a wonderful resource in which to dip in and out, proffering a useful read for students, amateurs pianists, teachers, and professionals.

Banowetz succinctly explains the many different levels available when using the right (or sustaining) pedal, complete with diagrams, and the left (una corda) pedal and middle (sostenuto) pedal are given almost equal weighting, too. There are chapters dedicated to different genres and styles, with copious musical examples as well as ‘master classes’ on specific composers and certain pieces, such as Debussy’s The Sunken Cathedral (with Gieseking’s pedaling). I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the ‘Catalan School’ of pedaling.

I’m looking forward to reading Banowetz’s new volume, which was published just a few months ago: The Performing Pianist’s Guide to Fingering.

Find out more and purchase, here.

Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments by C P E Bach

A must for all those who play the piano. C P E Bach’s ‘bible’ is an excellent handbook for anyone wanting to confront the stylistic and interpretative issues posed by music written in the 18th-century. This detailed publication is apparently the earliest treatise on record dealing with most aspects of keyboard technique, such as fingering, ornamentation, touch, and phrasing.

Many of its principles were adopted by subsequent pianist-composers, including the likes of Clementi, Czerny, and Hummel. Part 1 was published in 1753, and Part 2, in 1762. Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven (to name a few) all endorsed the book, often using it with their students. I find Part 1 the most useful, recommending, as it does, specific fingerings and the interpretation of ornaments and embellishments, all clearly annotated. Part 2 deals with chord structures and theory, as well as accompaniment and improvisation. This edition by W. W. Norton & Co. was published in 1948, and translated by William J. Mitchell. I recommend this book to all my students!

Find out more and purchase, here.

The Pianist’s Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Repertoire by Jane Magrath

I love this book and only discovered it about ten years ago. Published by Alfred in 1995, American author Jane Magrath has done the seemingly impossible: she has compiled a large, rich tome highlighting most (if not, perhaps, all?) of the standard or traditional piano teaching and performance literature in Western music.

Whether you are a teacher looking for new pieces for students, or you are an adult or amateur pianist seeking to find repertoire suggestions, perhaps by lesser known composers, this book is great place to start. It contains a gamut of composers (listed in alphabetical order) and their compositions, with literally thousands of works, and, perhaps crucially, each work is given a particular ‘level’. Level 1 might be of a similar level to the pre-Grade 1 of the worldwide music examination boards (such as the ABRSM or Trinity College London), going up to Level 10, which could be considered equivalent to that of Grade 8 (the final amateur examination of the ABRSM).  The commentaries on each piece, its pedagogical interest and technical requirements will be especially beneficial to teachers. There’s also a useful section recommending various publishers at the back of the book.

Find out more and purchase, here.

Pianists at Play by Dean Elder

I first read this book around 25 years ago and it’s a great resource. Dean Elder’s wonderfully detailed interviews make this volume as fresh today as it was when published in 1982. Some of the great artists included in this book are Martha Argerich, Jorge Bolet, Artur Rubenstein, Claudio Arrau, Alfred Cortot, Alicia de Larrocha, Rudolf Serkin and Walter Gieseking.

The success of this informative interview series is, in my opinion, partly due to the illuminating practice thoughts and suggestions which run throughout. Musical examples, and most interviews are peppered with them, and attention to technical and interpretative ideas form a vital part of this large volume. And there is a section at the end of the book focusing on ‘Technical Regime Interviews’, with a rich collection of exercises and practising concepts from such luminaries as Adele Marcus and Mark Westcott. Also of interest is a ‘Performer’s Corner’, ‘Master Lessons’, and the spotlighting of various composers such as Amy Beach and Octavio Pinto; this book is a veritable feast for the pianophile!

Find out more and get your copy, here.

Great Contemporary Pianists Speak for Themselves by Elyse Mach

In contrast to Pianists at Play, this book (which was two volumes, and is now bound as one), seeks to allow each pianist to ‘connect’ with their reader. The series was first published in 1980 (volume 1) and 1988 (volume 2), and republished by Dover in 1991. I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Mach in 1998, when I performed at the Great Romantics Piano Festival, which was held in Hamiliton (Ontario, Canada) during the 1990s. And the meeting led to the eager acquistion of this book.

Great Contemporary Pianists Speak for Themselves features the majority of the world’s greatest pianists of the time; Book 1 includes Claudio Arrau, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Alfred Brendel, John Browning, Alicia de Larrocha, Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz, and Book 2, Paul Badura-Skoda, Jorge Bolet, Janina Fialkowska, Emil Gilels, Zoltán Kocsis, Garrick Ohlsson, Murray Perahia, and Ivo Pogorelich.

Elyse Mach starts each interview with a preamble stating her interviewee’s circumstances prior to the interview, and where and how it was conducted, then she just lets each pianist ‘speak’ about their lives, training, repertoire and the challenges of ‘being’ a concert pianist. The outcome is informative, immediate and authentic, as though the pianist is speaking directly to the reader and, often, from the heart.

Find out more and purchase, here.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. mrkwr says:

    Pianists at Play sounds really great but unfortunately it seems to be out of print and unavailable (unless you want to pay £65–100 for a second-hand paperback). Our local public library consortium (Libraries Southwest) has a single copy in its combined catalogue but of course the libraries are shut for the duration … ah well.

    Unless you know of a source?

    1. Hi, Yes, it looks as though you need to get a second hand copy. But the book was originally quite pricey (I paid £19.95 around 25 years ago), so that seems like reasonable price, and it’s definitely worth it.

  2. Garreth says:

    Hello Melanie and thank you for this very useful post. My current piano is an upright and I’m wondering whether it is worth investing in The Pianist’s Guide to Pedalling, given the different mechanism involved — what do you think?

  3. Garreth says:

    Hello Melanie and thank you for this interesting post, I’ve just bought the Tobias Matthay and am considering The Pianist’s Guide To Pedalling — my current piano is an upright and I wonder whether Joseph Banowitz discusses the upright sustain pedal mechanism at all? Thank you

    1. Hello Garreth, and many thanks for your question. I can’t recall Banowitz discussing upright pianos in the book, but I may be wrong – I haven’t read it from cover to cover for a few years. It is extremely interesting, though, and very detailed. Best wishes, Melanie

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