Today’s post has been written by guest writer, author, saxophonist and teacher Nathan Holder. In this article, he writes about his new book Why is My Piano Black And White? which is published by Why Books, explaining the concept behind it and why students, parents and teachers may find it useful.
Due to be published next month, I have two books to give away to two lucky readers. To take part in this competition, just leave a comment in the comment box at the end of this post, and the winners will be selected on Monday evening (British time). Good luck, and over to Nathan…
When I think back to when I was learning the piano, I remember learning from a single book. Many of you will know what I’m talking about: one of those books that teach you how to play middle C with one finger, and slowly introduces more notes, more fingers and more articulation. I remember playing pieces by people I had never heard of, but always being pleased when I recognised a name from a previous page. Every now and again, a famous name such as J S Bach would appear, and I’d feel a sense of pride, knowing that I could play a piece by Bach, no matter how simplified it really was.
However, like many children, I quit playing the piano in my teens. The piano didn’t feel relevant. I didn’t know where playing it could take me. I had never really listened to much piano music. I didn’t know the range of different styles and genres that use the piano. I didn’t know of any pianists I could Google, read about and listen to. There were history, science and geography books which drew me in with interesting facts, jokes and biographies, but there was nothing like that for the piano. Even though I had been playing the piano for almost 10 years, I realised that I didn’t know anything about it.
Fortunately, after a few years, I started to play again, and ended up touring across Europe and playing the piano for artists such as Ed Sheeran, Johannes Oerding and Ingrid Arthur. After years of teaching the piano in England and Germany, I realised that my personal experience with learning and quitting wasn’t unique. Many children start to learn the piano without any idea about who invented it, without hearing any repertoire, knowing how it works, or even why the piano keys are black and white! Many children simply don’t realise the various ways in which the piano has been used throughout history. One child may be inspired by the nuts and bolts in John Cage’s prepared piano, while another may feel motivated after reading about who Marion McPartland was. If they never read about these people or hear their music, maybe they’ll never reach their musical potential, or fall in love with playing the piano.
I wrote Why Is My Piano Black And White?, to give children what I unfortunately didn’t get — a basic knowledge of the piano, and a glimpse into the lives and careers of some of the most incredible musicians who have played it throughout history. While my first book, I Wish I Didn’t Quit: Music Lessons gave parents tips to help them inspire their children to musical excellence, Why Is My Piano Black And White? is a fun guide for young budding pianists, filled with jokes, quizzes, over 100 illustrations and music to listen to. It’s the first illustrated reference book for 8 -12-year old’s, that is entirely devoted to those 88 keys, which have produced so much beautiful music and memories for so many people around the world. Before I wrote this book, I had no idea that someone had written a cat and piano concerto! I had no idea who won a Grammy award at the age of 97! I even found out which classical composer had some of the biggest hands to have ever played the piano! All these bits of trivia have helped me to have a deeper understanding, and respect for the piano – imagine what it’ll do for your students… you may even learn something too!
You can order Nathan’s new book, here.
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.