About The Classical Piano and Music Education Blog

Classical pianist and writer. I love to Tweet and Blog and I love to play the piano too.

Workshop for the Performing Arts Festival in Singapore

After a thoroughly enjoyable Southeast Asia tour over the Summer, I will be returning to Singapore and Malaysia at the beginning of November. This time, I’ll be predominantly based in Kuala Lumpur (where I’m looking forward to presenting at the UCSI University Piano Pedagogy Conference, and giving presentations for Schott Music), but will also be briefly visiting Singapore too, for lessons and a workshop (see flyer below).

This workshop is intended for students, parents and teachers, or anyone preparing for a piano exam of any level or any examination board. We will discuss practice methods and preparation, and a number of students will have the opportunity to play their programme (or part of their programme) to a friendly audience, after which they will receive helpful, constructive feedback as we work on various technical and musical ideas to improve performances. There will also be a chance to present technical work such as scales and arpeggios.

I know many from Asia read my blog, and it would be wonderful to see you in Singapore on November 4th. Please follow this link to secure your place. I look forward to meeting you.


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Introducing Duo Feola

For those keen on the piano duo repertoire (both duet and two-piano) – and it’s hard not to be! – these forthcoming concerts are sure to be a pre-Christmas highlight. Contemporary works and lesser known gems sit alongside traditional favourites, and all three concerts feature Italian pianists, Duo Feola. The programmes include works by C. Debussy, R. Hahn, P. A. Grainger, A. Casella, I. Stravinsky, L. Durey and C. Norton.

The concert at Stowe School on December 13th 2017 (in Buckinghamshire) will be a two-piano concert, whereas those at the Christian Science Church on December 14th (in York, North of the UK), and at Peregrine’s Pianos on December 15th (in London), will focus on piano duet repertoire.

Duo Feola are a piano duo from Bergamo.  Sisters Nicoletta and Angela Feola, have been performing together since they were small, and studied at Conservatorio “Giuseppe Verdi” in Milan, continuing their studies at Salzburg’s Mozarteum with Alfons Kontarsky and at Trinity College, London, completing a Masters in Advanced Recital Piano Duet.

They have played for concerts and festivals all over Europe, and have recently recorded a CD featuring the music of Hindemith for the label Art Voice. They have also been featured on radio and television broadcasts in Italy, Germany and Poland.

Duo Feola’s  repertoire is large, ranging from Bach to contemporary music. A number of composers – Matteo Segafreddo, Irlando Danieli, Angelo Paccagnini and Goffredo Haus have written music dedicated to them. Most recently, Christopher Norton, the renowned composer of Microjazz, has written an Italian Suite for 2 Pianos for Duo Feola and it will receive its UK premiere, along with a new Anatolian-Portuguese Suite for 2 Pianos, also written by Norton (both published by 80dayspublishing, Christopher’s own publishing company). The composer will also play (at all three concerts) some of his more popular works, particularly those on examination board syllabuses.

You can reserve your tickets on eventbrite: December 13th at Stowe SchoolDecember 14th at the Christian Science Society, or December 15th at Peregrine’s Pianos, or alternatively buy them at the door.

Hope to see you there!


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Intermediate Pianist: The winners….

Many thanks to all those who took part in my weekend competition, which was to win one of three new books written by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond.  I really enjoyed reading all your comments. The Intermediate Pianist is a new piano course for those from Grade 3 – 5 level.

The winners are:

Liz Gethings wins Book 1

Flora Tzanetaki wins Book 2

and, Rebekah Hanna wins Book 3

Congratulations! Please send your address via my contact page here on the blog, and your books will be on their way.

You can find out much more about these publications here.


 

Weekend Competition: The Intermediate Pianist

Today’s weekend competition focuses on a new three-book piano course published by Faber Music. The Intermediate Pianist is intended for students and piano teachers tutoring students, from approximately Grades 3 – 5 level. Written by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond, the course is designed to help students (and teachers) negotiate the intermediate stages of learning, where pupils are often prone to quitting. With this in mind, the books are progressive and roughly graded (Book 1 is equivalent to Grade 3 (ABRSM level), Book 2, Grade 4, and Book 3, to that of Grade 5).

Arranged in chapters, each volume features a collection of attractive pieces (both original (many by composer Heather Hammond) and arrangements), and provides a curriculum for teachers to work through with quick-learn studies, musicianship activities, sight-reading exercises and much theoretical information, helpful for those at this crucial stage.

I have three books to give away to three lucky readers, so please leave your comments in the comment box at the end of this blog post and I will announce the winners on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!

You can find out more about the books here.


 

Selecting & Practising Piano Exam Repertoire: Trinity College London Grade 4

Surveying the syllabus for Trinity College London exams Grade 4 (2015 – 2017), I’m happy to find a more eclectic mix of repertoire than that of the lower grades. From Haydn and McMillan to Gounod and Köhler, there’s definitely something for everyone in this collection, and the pieces are also segregated into groups; ‘A’ and ‘B’ (in a manner not dissimilar to the ABRSM A, B & C lists). Pupils and teachers can choose one piece from list A and one from list B, with a third from either list.

One aspect I particularly like about Trinity College exams, is the concept of a candidate presenting one of their own pieces (as the third piece option). Surely an imaginative and forward-thinking idea which can only encourage composition, and hence invite students to delve deeper into the compositional and analytical process of piano writing. As always, I’ve added a recording for each chosen piece (selected from one of the many on YouTube).

Here are my selections and practice tips:

  1. Allegro Moderato (first movement from Sonatine, Op. 300) by Louis Köhler (1820 – 1886)

A lovely tuneful movement in a Classical style, German composer Köhler is known for his sonatas and sonatines for young players. This work, in the key of G major, is bright, breezy, with a darker central section in E minor, and it offers many useful piano techniques: staccato combined with legato, left hand melody, short slurs and plenty of dynamic variation too.

  1. After learning hands separately, making sure all fingerings, notes and rhythms are fully understood and absorbed, continue by practising the left hand accompaniment alone. This is not dissimilar to an Alberti bass (a broken chord or arpeggiated accompaniment figure), and will benefit from slow, solid heavy fingerwork, before lightening your touch and adding speed. it’s important to keep the thumb light (as nearly always with this compositional technique), placing a slight emphasis on the lower notes, as this will help to shape the bass line.
  2. Similarly the right hand chords (bars 8 – 12 and 31 – 35) need to sound altogether but must also be light and soft, allowing the left hand to ‘speak’. Practice ‘balancing’ each chord i.e. taking each note down with a firm finger supported by the hand, aiming to use a soft, loose wrist whilst balancing each note, so they all sound absolutely together. This skill takes time to master, so keep working at it slowly (it’s easier to be guided by a teacher).
  3. When practising the melody line, note every phrase climax, and then grade sound accordingly. Staccato notes within a phrase (bar 1, in the right hand, for example), should ideally not be too short, but rather elegant and carefully graded. The slur markings at bars 6 – 7 and 29 – 30 (also in the right hand), need a ‘drop-roll’ technique (sinking the hand and wrist into the first note, and lifting up and forward on the second), plus an added tenuto (on the first note) and staccato (after the second note of each slur) for extra ‘leaning’ or accentuation. The left hand tune (bars 8 – 12 and 31 – 35) must soar above the right hand, with a fulsome forte (loud), and marcato (marked) touch.
  4. Coordination between the hands could be an issue here (bars 8 – 12 and 31 – 35). In order to alleviate any potential problems, start by working on one crotchet beat at a time (hands together), slowly assimilating the necessary movements between the hands. Bar 6 – 7 might be one such area (for example), where the left hand plays legato quavers whilst the right hand is in the midst of drop-roll slurring coupled with tenuto and staccato. By isolating each beat, and taking them out of context, playing a quarter of the intended speed, time is given to ‘feel’ the movements and the differing articulations needed. This technique might also be required for note patterns such as those at bars 8 – 12, where the left hand is the star, and bar 22, where passage work is in unison. When learned, practice playing through to a slow pulse, and then varying rhythms, touches and volumes between the hands, in order to gain control and become really fluent.
  5. Left hand accompaniment such as that at bar 14 (where minims must be held for their full length), and bar 17-18 (where the left hand contains a double note pattern and tenuto  markings), must be practised with extra care. A steady pulse should prevail, with sudden dynamic contrasts adding shape and colour.


2. Garden Path by Elissa Milne (1967 – )

There’s much to enjoy in this piece by Australian composer Elissa Milne. A reflective tranquil mood is offset with ‘blues’ inflections and an atmospheric resonance created by the inclusion of the sustaining pedal. This provides an excellent contrast to the first piece.

  1. Balance between the hands will be crucial. Left hand chords must be soft and light, particularly at the opening, and played as legato as possible. Time spent working at each hand separately will secure confidence around the keyboard. Work at taking each chord (in the left hand) down into the key bed slowly, balancing the sound and making sure each note is in unison. Now grade the sound (a little more on the crotchet than on the minim in each bar, for example, in bars 1 – 4, 5 – 7, and 9 – 12). The larger leaps (in the left hand) on the second page, might benefit from the notes being located on the keyboard and played much quicker than necessary, then when they are played at the suggested tempo, they will hopefully feel easier.
  2. The right hand melody contains an important technical element: holding the first beat of the bar and colouring it with sufficient sound so as to join smoothly and ‘match’ the sound of the next note (often a triplet or the third beat (in many bars)). To produce the deeper sound, play with the flatter part of the finger tip, and use plenty of weight from the arm (via a relaxed wrist, loose arm and elbow), playing into the key bed. By doing this a warm cantabile tone should emerge; the sound should hopefully be cushioned (avoiding ‘hitting’ the key from above, which produces a harsher, thinner sound), and will ‘ring out’ for longer.
  3. The triplet figures are another technical issue for many. Aim to play three quavers in the time it usually takes to play two, by practicing counting a regular (even) ‘three’ beats out loud; experiment by clapping the rhythm to begin with. Then place  it in context, in its place on the last beat of the bar (of bars 1, 3, 5, 9, 11, 13, 19, 21, 23, 27 and 29). To do this, clap all three crotchet beats in each bar, but sub-divide each one equally into three, whether there’s a triplet on the beat or not (in other words, for practice purposes, clap a triplet on every beat). If you can do this for the first two lines of music, keeping a strict pulse, when you actually play the notes as written, the triplet should fall into place and the rhythm will hopefully feel natural.
  4. The effective addition of the chromatic scale in the right hand at bars 13 – 14, and 31 – 32 offers the chance to either learn the expected fingering (as written for scales), or the fingering suggested at bar 13, which uses a 4th finger (instead of the traditional 1, 2 & 3).
  5. Chords (for example, at bars 15 – 16 and 17 – 18) should ideally be graded carefully, with the top line at the forefront of the texture (the 4th and 5th finger might need some extra support from the hand and arm here), and as legato as possible. Experiment with the sustaining pedal, which is used (as directed) for every bar, to add resonance, and when confident, relax the tempo adding appropriate rubato.


3. Matsuri (Japanese Festival) by Michael McMillan (1980 – )

Full of vibrant colour and rhythmic energy, this work is fun to play and compliments my selected pieces from lists A and B, nicely. Composer Michael McMillan has created the Japanese ‘sound’ with open fifth intervals in the accompaniment and a colourful offbeat, quirky melody.

  1. The left hand accompanies throughout, often with staccato quavers a fifth apart. It’s relatively to easy to learn the fingerings and positions for bars 1 – 9, but its essential for the hands to remain flexible and relaxed. Tension can rear it’s head if the wrist and arm remain ‘locked’ in position. Alleviate this by encouraging the wrist to keep moving freely, finding places to rest the wrist, so any stiffness can be ‘released’ (many find it best to do this at the end of a bar, or possibly after a four bar phrase). Practice by leaving small gaps at first (stop playing and take a short rest), and as the wrist becomes accustomed to the break (or muscle release), the gaps will become increasingly shorter, until they are imperceptible.
  2. Minims in the left hand at bars 10 – 19 must be held for their full value. Aim to practice this bass line on its own, holding down the note until the very last possible moment before finding and playing the next one. The crotchet/quaver pattern above each minim, requires a firm first note and much lighter second (quaver).
  3. The right hand melody should ideally be very rhythmical, with little opportunity for tempo ‘changes’. With this in mind, start by setting a slow speed on the metronome (probably a third or quarter of that intended), and work through learning all fingerings and position changes. In bar 3, the 4th finger will need to be strong, so ensure a deep touch (using the finger tip), supported by the hand and arm (try to move the hand slightly to the right and away from the body supporting the weaker part of the hand).
  4. Articulation will be crucial, and to create the sharp, fairly clipped sound, observe all staccato and tenuto markings closely; the offbeat right hand fifths in bar 2 and bars 18 – 19 will need a steady, solid and rhythmical left hand in order to ‘bounce’  with characterful colour.
  5. The three and four parts spread between the two hands from bars 10 – 17 are probably the most complicated in the piece. Work a bar (or beat) at a time, first combining the two outer parts (bottom note with the tune), then the inner parts, before playing together. The last line of this piece is fun to play; every semiquaver must be equal rhythmically, so try to avoid rushing the second and fourth beat of each crotchet (it can help to accent these when practising).

For more information on this series, click here.


My Books:

For much more information about practising 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 are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece.

If you’re thinking about learning to play the piano, my guide-book, So You Want To Play The Piano? (Alfred) is full of useful help and support.

The Faber Music Piano Anthology (Faber) is also a valuable resource for those who desire a collection of standard repertoire from Grades 2 – 8, featuring 78 pieces in total.

My Compositions:

I have written a selection of educational piano music (both solo and duet) and you can hear it and find out much more here: EVC Music Publications.

 

5 Tips for Practising without the Piano

I regularly contribute to Pianist magazine’s newsletter, which wings its way into our inbox every other month. My article always takes the form of ‘5 tips’ and last month’s were designed for those who fancy taking their practice away from the instrument. I hope they are of interest.


Practising away from the instrument can be a beneficial practice technique. Taking the music off the page is a most valuable facet for any pianist. If you’re able to hear it, imagine playing it, and visualise or recall any passage, you are more likely to be at ‘one’ with the music, thereby producing a performance of integrity and musical depth.

1 Instigate a happy positive mind-set before practice begins; it’s amazing the effect this can have on learning capacity. Before practice commences, aim to sit at the instrument with a relaxed posture; shoulders down, hands hanging freely by your side, breathing slowly, and thinking positively.

2 Consider the piece you are about to practice; how does it make you feel? Feelings take on a new meaning when practising away from the keyboard, and this may be what produces deeper expressivity. As you observe the score, note what happens in each hand; the movements, fingerings and gestures required to play the patterns. It can be particularly helpful to pay special attention to the left hand here too. Aim to do this without the piano.

3 Some find it helpful to write the piece out on manuscript paper (recalling it from memory). As you work at the piano, begin to test your memory during practice sessions; by repeatedly returning to the same phrases and passages over a period of time, the thought responses become stronger and clearer. Now do this away from the instrument, hearing each passage in isolation.

4 Play the piece through in your mind. The effort and assimilation required can come as quite a shock, but once accustomed to the relevant mind-set needed, a calmness and stillness is acquired, and it becomes possible to ‘think’ through the music increasingly accurately. And you can do this anywhere at any time!

5 Visualise watching yourself play your piece at the keyboard, as an image in your mind. It can be a good idea to envisage every detail; fingerings, movements, and everything necessary to play the piece from beginning to end successfully.

If you can work at some of these suggestions frequently, memory and visualisation skills associated with practising away from the keyboard will gradually develop, and this method could eventually become a worthwhile part of a practice session.

You can read the original article here.


My Books:

For much more information about practising 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 are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece.

If you’re thinking about learning to play the piano, my guide-book, So You Want To Play The Piano? (Alfred) is full of useful help and support.

The Faber Music Piano Anthology (Faber) is also a valuable resource for those who desire a collection of standard repertoire from Grades 2 – 8, featuring 78 pieces in total.

My Compositions:

I have written a selection of educational piano music (both solo and duet) and you can hear it and find out much more here: EVC Music Publications.

Selecting & Practising Piano Exam Repertoire: ABRSM Grade 4

Today I am continuing my series on selected exam repertoire. I’ve chosen three complimentary pieces from the ABRSM Grade 4 list (taken from the main syllabus (shown to the left), as opposed to the alternative syllabus) and have offered five practice tips for each one, as well as a recording (taken from the many on YouTube).

A list: A 1, Minuet and Trio (Second movement from Sonata in A flat, Hob XVI: 43) by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)

Austrian composer Haydn wrote over 60 piano sonatas, and this work is thought to date from 1771 – 1773. The Minuet and Trio forms the second movement of this Classical sonata, and the genre was originally intended as dance music.

  1. Why not begin practice with the scale and arpeggio of A flat major (key of both the Minuet and Trio)?; observe the fingering carefully (which is rather different to that of the standard pattern) particularly noting the position of the fourth finger, sinking into the keys as you circumnavigate four flats.
  2. This elegant piece requires a fairly strict pulse, with a bouncy, precise dotted quaver/semiquaver upbeat. For ease and accuracy, it’s a good plan to count in semiquavers throughout the Minuet, ensuring the fourth semiquaver (of the dotted quaver/semiquaver pattern) is placed exactly on the fourth beat within each crotchet.
  3. The ‘wedge’ marks in the opening phrase signify staccato, therefore crisp enunciation throughout the first 2 bars is ideal. The first beat of the bar (in bars 1 & 2), is the most important note in the motif, so allow a deeper sound and slightly longer touch for these notes. The second and third beat (of a bar) in a minuet should be lighter than the first, proffering the three-in-a-bar dance feel; aim to lighten crotchets on these beats in every bar, for example in bar 3. However, bars 13 -15 need a stronger touch, as do the third beats from bars 18 – 20.
  4. The ‘drop-roll’ technique (where the hand and wrist sink into the first note of a pair, rolling upwards and off the second note, to make elegant pairs of slurred or joined notes) can be useful for phrased crotchets at bars 3, 10, 11, and 14 – 16, 19, 20 and 21.
  5. The Trio should be a complete contrast to the Minuet, with softer, more delicate dynamics. Keep the left hand in the background, but ensure it is even both rhythmically and tonally; practise by using a heavy touch to start with, playing deep into the key bed, securing fingerings and note patterns, then lighten for even quavers. The right hand melody needs much more colour, so balance accordingly, ‘leaning’ into the appoggiaturas (at bars 23, 29, 33, 35 and 39) for additional expressivity.


List B: B 2, The Merry Peasant (No. 10 from Album for the Young, Op. 68) by Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)

German composer Robert Schumann wrote the Album for the Young in 1848 in less than a month, and there are 42 pieces in this beautiful collection. Set in F major, the joyous romantic nature of this work contrasts well with the controlled phrasing required in the Haydn.

  1. Why not start by working at the right hand alone; secure the fingerings and hand position changes and then play each chord (which forms the accompaniment here, as the melody is predominantly in the left hand), with a full tone, moving slowly from one to the next, taking note of the movements necessary to find the chords with ease. Chords containing black notes need a slightly different hand position i.e. moving inwards, over the keys, placing the hand so it guides the particular finger to the intended black note. Being in position to play any chord well beforehand is the surest way of attaining accuracy.
  2. As it provides the melody, the left hand will probably require much slow, solid work. Aim to find the notes without adhering to a rhythmic pulse to begin with; this allows plenty of time to locate notes and hand position changes.
  3. The left hand pattern at bar 3 might need some careful manoeuvering; practice the thumb turning under the hand carefully (bar 3, beats 1 & 2 – 3), with a completely relaxed hand (and thumb joint), so the thumb can easily turn underneath (without any strain) to reach the interval. It can help to practice a slightly larger interval at first, so the smaller one (written in the piece) feels more comfortable. Isolate this bar, working at this pattern slowly. Similarly, the triad at the beginning of bar 2  (beats 1 & 2, left hand), can be played as a chord, and then, in order to play in time and with a full tone (as this is the climax of the phrase), swivel the wrist freely (using a lateral motion) to guide fingers and the thumb to the correct position.
  4. Rests must not be ignored in this piece. Those in the right hand (in bars 1 & 2, for example), are to be ‘counted’, so as to ‘place’ each chord accurately (and lightly), giving shape to the melody line.
  5. When the melody appears in both hands together (last beat of bar 8 – 12, and last beat of 14 – 18), the right hand can assume prominence. Practice the top musical line (or texture) on its own (with the fingering to be used when playing both lines together), and then the lower part (chords). When combining, ensure the outer parts of the hand (and 4th & 5th fingers in particular), are well supported, in order to bring the tune to the fore. Very little rubato is required in this work, with the exception of a small ritenuto at the end.


List C: C 1, Uzbuna (from Na velikom brodu) by Bruno Bjelinski (1909 – 92)

Always one to choose unusual repertoire, I’m drawn to this piece, which is fun to play with interesting harmonies and rhythms. It makes for a good contrast with the Haydn and Schumann too. Bjelinski was a Croatian composer who apparently studied law and composition. This piece comes from his collection, On the Great Ship, composed in 1961.

  1. Excellent articulation will bring this work to life. The pairs of slurred notes (in the right hand)  with a staccato marking on the second quaver, can be taken out of context and practised, perhaps using the drop-roll technique. Resist the temptation to rush the second quaver, picking fingers up swiftly after all staccato quavers particularly, giving the necessary spikey quality this piece demands.
  2. The rapid semiquaver passagework in the right hand (bars 13 – 22), will benefit from heavy, slow finger work; try to rotate the wrist after each group of four semiquavers, alleviating or releasing any tension. When finger touch is lightened, crisp, even notes should prevail.
  3. The left hand tune often uses black notes (for example, at bar 12). Keep fingers close to the keys, over the notes, and experiment by using flatter fingers, which can provide plenty of grip (if played at a suitable angle), adding a different tonal colour.
  4. Bars 28 – 31 contains three parts (or musical lines); work at each one separately, especially those in the right hand (practising with the fingering to be used when both parts play together). Keep the top line (minims) as legato as possible, so the sound is almost unbroken, contrasting with the highly articulated melody line in the lower right hand part.
  5. The pulse will need some special attention; not only must there be a very incisive rhythmic beat throughout, but semiquavers should also be even and accurately placed. The accent markings can be helpful here; short, sharp accents (of which there are many in this piece), can define and add shape.

My Books:

For much more information about practising 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 are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece.

If you’re thinking about learning to play the piano, my guide-book, So You Want To Play The Piano? (Alfred) is full of useful help and support.

The Faber Music Piano Anthology (Faber) is also a valuable resource for those who desire a collection of standard repertoire from Grades 2 – 8, featuring 78 pieces in total.

My Compositions:

I have written a selection of educational piano music (both solo and duet) and you can hear it and find out much more here: EVC Music Publications.

Play it again: PIANO Review and Launch

Play it again: PIANO has already received some excellent Amazon UK and Amazon US reviews, and I’ve been extremely happy with the feedback so far (from teachers and students, to a whole gamut of piano professionals and enthusiasts). This week, however, the Schott Music team and I were delighted to receive the following review from the Pianodao blog. Pianodao is owned by pianist, teacher and writer, Andrew Eales, who blogs on a variety of piano topics, and is noted for his detailed reviews of educational piano resources.

I have copied the review below, but you may prefer to visit Andrew’s blog and read the original version here.


Play it Again: Piano

Sheet Music Review

As Pianodao has become more widely regarded for its independent reviews, I find myself with a mounting pile of material sent for me to look at, most of which is really very good indeed.

That said, some products genuinely stand out from the crowd, because they are innovative, unusual, speak to my particular interests, or are just excellently done.

Melanie Spanswick’s Play it again: Piano books 1 and 2 are all of the above, and easily stand out in the crowd. In this review I will do my best to explain why I think that is.

Who is it for?

One of the first questions I ask myself whenever looking at a new sheet music product is – “who is this aimed at?”

This new publication by the popular author, teacher and composer Melanie Spanswick, brought to us by Schott Music, makes its target market crystal clear from the outset, with a subtitle, ‘The perfect way to rediscover the piano’ and a back cover description that reads:

“Aimed at ‘returning’ players who have spent some time away from the keyboard, Play it again: Piano gives you the confidence to revisit this fulfilling pastime and go beyond what you previously thought you could achieve. Each piece in this two-book course is accompanied by constructive and easy-to-understand practice tips to help get your fingers speeding comfortably across the keys once again! The Piano Technique and Theory sections will help secure a fuller understanding of music and technique.

If you often find yourself saying ‘I used to play the piano…’ but wish you still did, then Play it again: Piano is the resource for you!”

As we shall see in more detail in a moment, the two volumes between them cover the full range of the eight grades offered by leading UK exam boards, meaning that the returning player can either recap from the start, developing good new habits while revising well-loved music and encountering new pieces, or else jump straight in at the level that suits them.

The Publications

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The outstanding quality of these books is immediately apparent. The high gloss card covers contain 116 and 120 pages respectively, printed on high quality paper with a slight sheen to it, with very good binding that both allows the books to lie flat on the music stand while also being durable.

The design itself is simply beautiful – and I mean seriously very good indeed – and at a first skim through the books it is clear that they include a wealth of nicely engraved sheet music alongside plentiful text.

Just on the notation, I should mention for fellow purists that pieces from the Baroque and Classical Eras are (presumably) based on previous Schott Music sources, which in most cases include the addition of dynamics and phrasing rather than taking a clean urtext approach. Most pieces also include more than enough fingering suggestions, most of which are solid.

Explaining the rationale in more detail, the cover of Book 1 states:

“Book 1 will reunite you with the keyboard using original pieces from the piano repertoire and tips on how to get you playing fluently once again. This book ranges progressively from around UK grades 1 to 4 (elementary to intermediate)”

while the second book introduces itself:

“Book 2 is for the more confident ‘former’ piano player or for those continuing their journey from Book 1. This book ranges progressively from around UK grades 5 to 8 (intermediate to late advanced).”

The bulk of each book is split into four sections, each covering one level.

In More Detail

Each book starts with a technique primer section, offering four pages of good advice, including clear photographs. This covers posture, hand positions, flexibility and alignment. Both volumes follow this with three pages of general tips about practice, including some excellent suggestions for working on scales, arpeggios, finger warm-ups, and sight-reading.

At the rear of each book there is a short section about Music Theory. In the first book this covers basic reminders of note values, time signatures, clefs and pitch, and key signatures, while in the second book the reader is treated to clearly explained information about scales, intervals, the circle of fifths, ornaments, chord progressions and cadences.

Between these useful resources, the bulk of each book is taken up with the pieces at each of the eight levels, four per book. Each piece is preceded by (at least) two full pages of advice covering:

  • Preparation (usually incorporating a suitable scale or short exercise)
  • Practice Techniques (offering invaluable and often creative advice)
  • Interpretation (usually a short suggestion or two about creating the right mood)

The core concept here is not dissimilar to the “How to Play…” column that Melanie (and others) regularly write for Pianist Magazine, equipping readers with the insights that they need to unravel the learning of a new piece. But the execution here is perhaps less discursive, with the three-point format giving clarity and cohesion to the excellent material provided.

A key question is whether this rich resource provides sufficient information for the adult player to work alone, without the help of a teacher. It does not claim to do so, but some adult returners may approach the course with that in mind. Personally I believe that it provides an outstanding source for independent learning, but without replacing the need for a good teacher’s diagnostic expertise, support and guidance.

The Repertoire

Crucial to the success of the books is, of course, the included repertoire.

The diversity of repertoire selected for the two books is superb, and covers so many bases that the supporting writing is able to equally deal with a very broad range of piano playing styles, techniques and piano playing issues.

Here, then, is the full list of included pieces:

Book One:

Elementary (Grades 1-2)

  • Henry Purcell: Air in D minor
  • Christian Petzold: Minuet in G
  • Henri Bertini: Andantino
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Sick Doll
  • Edward Elgar: Salut d’Amour
  • John Kember: Calypso
  • Elena Cobb: Super Duck

Late Elementary (Grades 2-3):

  • Jeremiah Clarke: King William’s March
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Allegro in B-flat major
  • Robert Schumann: Soldier’s March
  • Cornelius Gurlitt: Allegro non troppo Op.82 No.65
  • Ludvig Schytte: Study Op.108 No.25
  • Scot Joplin (arr. Spanswick): Maple Leaf Rag
  • Tim Richards: Jump Shuffle

Early Intermediate (Grades 3-4):

  • J.S. Bach: Prelude in C minor BWV999
  • Henry Lemoine: Study in F major Op.37 No.20
  • Charles Gounod: Les Pifferari (The Italian Pipers)
  • Fryderyk Chopin: Prelude in A major Op.28 No.7
  • Trad. arr. Barrie Carson Turner: The Sailor’s Hornpipe
  • John Kember: Mississippi Rag
  • Bill Readdy: Three ‘Outasight’ Mice

Intermediate (Grades 4-5)

  • Muzio Clementi: Sonatina in G major Op.36 No.2 (first movement)
  • Carl Czerny: Study in C major Op.849 No.29
  • J.F.F. Burgmüller: Ballade Op.100 No.15
  • Mozart, arr. Heumann: A Little Night Music Kv525
  • Erik Satie: Gymnopédie No.1
  • Jürgen Moser: Fried Chicken
  • Melanie Spanswick: Karma

Book Two:

Late Intermediate (Grades 5-6)

  • C.P.E. Bach: Solfeggietto in C minor H.220
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Für Elise WoO59
  • Felix Mendelssohn-Batholdy: Song Without Words Op.30 No.3
  • Hermann Berens: Study in F major Op.88 No.18
  • Elena Cobb: Lavender Haze
  • Melanie Spanswick: Seahorse Dream

Early Advanced (Grades 6-7):

  • George Frideric Handel: Allegro from Suite in G major HWV441
  • W.A. Mozart: Allegro from Sonata in C major Kv545
  • Beethoven: Adagio Sostenuto from Sonata Op.27/2 “Moonlight”
  • Johann Baptist Cramer: Study in C major Op.50 No.1
  • Johannes Brahms: Waltz in A-flat major Op.39 No.15
  • Sven Hormuth: Sweat Feet Stomp

Advanced (Grades 7-8):

  • Franz Schubert: Impromptu in A flat major D.935 No.2
  • Stephen Heller: Warrior’s Song Op.45 No.15
  • Claude Debussy: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair L.117 No.8
  • Trad. arr. Barrie Carson Turner: Londonderry Air
  • Joaquín Turina: Fiesta Op.52 No.7

Late Advanced (Grade 8+):

  • J.S. Bach: Prelude & Fugue in C minor BWV847
  • Fryderyk Chopin: ”Raindrop” Prelude Op.28 No.15
  • Scott Joplin: The Entertainer
  • Sergei Rachmaninov: Prelude in C-sharp minor Op.3 No.2

This is a fascinating selection on many counts.

Firstly, it is clear that at most levels the author made a point of selecting one or two contemporary pieces in popular and jazzy styles, as well as pieces equally representing Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century playing and compositional styles. And at almost all levels, there is a technical study.

Secondly, the list is a reminder of the many fabulous composers within Schott Music’s own catalogue, naturally represented here, including Tim Richards, John Kember, and Barrie Carson Turner. But it is also refreshing to have two of Melanie’s own compositions – the minimalistic ’Karma’ and more lyrical ‘Seahorse Dream’ – included here.

These have been licensed from EVC Publications along with two favourites by Elena Cobb. All four pieces are great, providing a wonderful and refreshing contrast, with the latter’s Lavender Haze a particularly lovely discovery.

And thirdly, for any adult or later teen player looking for a broad selection of really popular and appealing pieces to work on between grades, these are near perfect anthologies, including an ideal mix of lesser known material and contemporary pieces alongside several of the most evergreen favourites of the traditional repertoire.

Conclusion

There is undoubtedly a significant and growing market of piano players returning to the instrument later in life, having learnt as children, and looking to progress their skills as adults.

Melanie Spanswick’s Play it again: Piano in my view exactly hits the spot for these players, and deserves to be a huge success both for her and Schott Music.

It is abundantly clear that a huge amount of thought, work and expertise has gone into each and every element of these superb books, and it’s all paid off handsomely: Play it again: Piano is simply one of the most brilliantly conceived and stunningly produced sheet music publications of recent years.

I write lots of reviews for the benefit of readers, but this inspiring series has passed the ultimate test: I will certainly be recommending and using these books with lots of my own students in the coming months and years, and I’m really looking forward to it!

Genuinely Brilliant!


Thank you Andrew! If you would like to find out more about Play it again: PIANO or purchase your copy, click here. Alternatively, if you’re based near London, join me and a group of piano enthusiasts at 7.00pm on Friday 22nd September at the Schott Music Shop in London, for the book launch (please RSVP to shannon.luk@schott-music.com). I look forward to meeting you.

A few thoughts on piano teaching in Singapore & Malaysia

I spent an energizing and inspiring Summer period away from home this year. For me, this was the perfect way to enjoy a substantial break from my conventional teaching and writing. After working trips to the US (New York) and Germany (Gelsenkirchen), I savoured a relaxing, short holiday in Devon (South West of the UK) before embarking on a three-week sojourn to Southeast Asia.

I was predominantly based in Singapore, but I did cram a jam-packed five days in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) too. This part of the world has always been a favourite; I have visited these shores many times as a young pianist, more recently returning as an examiner (for the ABRSM) and an adjudicator for the British and International Federation of Festivals (BIFF). The culture, colour, and sheer vibrancy of this region resonate with me completely, and I particularly admire the deeply respectful attitude to my profession.

My work began with a visit to the Singapore Performing Arts Festival, where I was invited to adjudicate (for BIFF) small classes of solo piano and strings. This festival, which is based in Katong (to the East of the city centre), is fairly new and has yet to blossom into the colossal organisation of the Hong Kong Schools Music Festival where classes of sixty are a regular occurrence  (and where I will be adjudicating for a month in March 2018). The classes in Singapore were mostly filled with students preparing for exams or concert performances, and, as always, it was a real pleasure to hear their work and hopefully help with a few constructive comments.

The primary reason for the trip was to introduce and talk about my new two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music), and under the kind auspices of the festival, I gave two days of master classes and a further two of workshops, all of which incorporated my new books. The first workshop was for students and their parents, and the second, for teachers. Both were well attended, but the workshop for teachers was especially interesting (pictured above). My chosen topics (piano technique, scales & arpeggios, memorisation and sight-reading) were subjects of concern such is the regularity with which these elements are taught, often due to examination requirements (the British exam system thrives throughout the region).

All twenty-eight teachers were not just responsive to my work, they were also keen to come to the piano, one by one, and try out my ideas and suggestions. The day flew past, and it was extremely satisfying and heart-warming to see such an animated, engaged group.

A couple of days were then spent giving private lessons for the festival; working both with children taking their graded exams, and teenagers and teachers preparing for their performing and teaching diplomas. Practice and preparation is a serious business in Singapore, which suits my style of teaching, and I relished working on the FTCL and FRSM repertoire with several students.

There are a plethora of piano studios and music schools in this tiny country,  some of which inhabit shopping malls! My second engagement was giving private lessons and public classes at The Musique Loft and Musique D’amour, also both based in Katong, in a mall full of beauty salons and health shops. These busy studios teach students of all levels, and we had fun working on mainly exam repertoire. Parents are generally involved with their child’s musical progress and frequently come to the lessons. Some will disagree with this practice, but I find it can be very beneficial; it ensures fruitful practice and therefore bodes well for overall improvement.

The teacher’s workshop at The Musique Loft (pictured to the right, above) was held in a studio with a beautiful Steinway grand and with another group of dedicated teachers. Memorisation is a popular topic amongst teachers; ‘I can never memorise and therefore find it challenging to teach to students’ is a remark I commonly hear. We work at this subject in several ways, but memorising on the spot is a feature of my class, and I’ve yet to find anyone who can’t do it. Observing pianists who suddenly realise they can master this aspect of piano playing is always a happy moment.

Another element which appeared popular at all the workshops, were the sight-reading classes (which round-off the day); at the end of each session, I encourage groups to sight-read altogether (one of which is pictured to the left, at the Performing Arts Festival), with three pianists per piano or six hands (there were nearly always two or three instruments in the room (and we had five pianos to work with in Kuala Lumpur!)). I use one or two pieces, both of which are well within most student’s capabilities, and we run through them with me acting as the conductor; I use the same musical parts duplicated, which makes it easier for students to ‘hear’ and feel where they are in the piece (and in the bar) at any given time.

British composer Mike Cornick has written a splendid series of trios, 4 Pieces for 6 hands at 1 piano (there are several books in the series for different abilities), and the second piece, Sempre Legato, is a winner (the front cover of this volume was photographed many a time during these sessions, by those eager to get their hands on a copy). Sight-reading in groups is a sure way to improve reading, although most work on this demanding discipline is done individually in my classes before playing as a group.

In this part of the world, piano teachers sometimes work in music shops (where jobs are coveted). After working for three days at The Musique Loft and Musique D’amour, I gave classes and shorter workshops for two days at the Cristofori Shop and School (pictured below) near Marina Bay (with an impressive view of the renowned hotel, Marina Bay Sands). The Cristofori brand is new to me – it’s popular in this part of the world, originating in Singapore, and taking its name from the ‘inventor’ of the piano, Italian maker Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655 – 1731). The Cristofori instruments I played had a slightly muffled, ‘soft’ tone and a deep touch (which students responded to favourably).I took the bus from Singapore to Petaling Jaya, to the West of Kuala Lumpur, where I stayed for a few nights. A refreshing change from flying, it was a pleasant way to spend six hours and offered a chance to enjoy the scenery. Kuala Lumpur might be viewed by some as an assault on the senses with its stunning Batu Caves (I managed a quick visit), frighteningly imposing Petronas Twin Towers, endless traffic jams, bustling night markets, open-minded cultural mix, intoxicating heat, and stupendously spicy, fabulous food!

Gloria Musica is a popular piano school in this region with many students and teachers (and it’s about to become larger with a lovely new premises). I had been invited to coach several three-hour master classes and two days of workshops; one for students and another for teachers (pictured above, at the end of the day, with Play it again: PIANO). A factor which I feel is important when giving workshops is the inclusion of all. Active workshops seem the best way to assimilate information, and to this end I urge each participant to come to the piano and engage in what is being demonstrated (although this is a personal choice; students are never forced to take part). As a result, everyone does participate and they usually comment positively on how much more is learned.

After the final classes, the tour concluded with a teacher’s concert (see poster below). A group of teachers at the school (and professors from UCSI University) played short pieces to a large and appreciative audience. I played some of my own compositions. The range of music was interesting, from a duet version of Carnival of the Animals (by Saint-Saëns) to some compelling (and previously unknown to me) Chinese pieces.

I am extremely grateful to the teachers and piano studio owners who kindly invited me to their schools during this period (and spent much time and energy showing me around these enchanting countries), to the Performing Arts Festival in Singapore for its wonderful hospitality, and to Schott Music for their exemplary distribution and vital support.

The opportunity to travel is a privilege. And to incorporate travel and work together is an aspect of my life which I have never taken for granted. I left Singapore and Malaysia with a greater understanding of the culture and complete admiration for their dedication to music study. I can’t wait to return very soon.

You can find out much more about Play it again: PIANO here.


Weekend Competition; the winner….

Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition, which was to win a copy of the new Improve your sight-reading! Teacher’s book written by Paul Harris and published by Faber Music.

The winner is…

TAMARA BARSCHAK

CONGRATULATIONS! Please send your address via my contact page.

For more information on this book, please click here.


My Books:

For much more information about practising 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 are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece.

If you’re thinking about learning to play the piano, my guide-book, So You Want To Play The Piano? (Alfred) is full of useful help and support.

The Faber Music Piano Anthology (Faber) is also a valuable resource for those who desire a collection of standard repertoire from Grades 2 – 8, featuring 78 pieces in total.

My Compositions:

I have written a selection of educational piano music (both solo and duet) and you can hear it and find out much more here: EVC Music Publications.