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Practising Duets: Part 2

Wishing all my readers a very happy and restful Bank Holiday weekend!

In Part 1 of today’s post (which you can read here), I suggested some warm-up and practice exercises for students prior to working on repertoire. This post offers various practice ideas for duos. These are described via my collection of little duets, SNAPCHATS.

Snapchats Front Cover SNAPCHATS are a useful teaching resource for pupils between Grades 1 – 4 (ABRSM). They consist of 11 extremely short works (8 – 10 bars in length), which can be easily negotiated by less experienced players. They might be a good choice for festivals or recitals; pairing two of them together also works well. One aspect I was keen to explore when writing, was to include several different techniques and piano sonorities, which may be new to players of this level.

The title Snapchats was derived from the social media platform, but the pieces are not specifically related to each other and have eclectic titles. I love harmony, and this is often my primary focus, however, there are a few tunes, with a nod to Minimalism too!

I’m going to do a quick ‘tour’ of each piece, exploring a few of the piano techniques employed, with two or three suggested practice tips. I’ve included a video of each work, some performed by myself and British pianist Nick van Bloss, with two duets played by young students Arthur and Alex Anderson (who performed them at a recent concert).

SUTRA

The first piece (which is around Grade 2 ABRSM level) is calm and tranquil, as the name suggests, yet it must be precise rhythmically or the meditational (or chanting) character will be lost. Chords in the secondo (lower part) are answered with notes ‘ringing’ out above, in the primo. There are several technical aspects here:

  1. Once chords have been negotiated in the secondo part (this could be a new challenge for the inexperienced), experiment by playing them legato (i.e. going from one chord to the next, without any gaps in the sound), voicing the top note. The primo octave pattern, meanwhile, must be placed very rhythmically on the 2nd and 3rd beats of the bar, with a tenuto touch (first line) yet slightly staccato touch (second line), and with some directional colour, precipitating the musical line and how it develops in subsequent bars.
  2. I would encourage players, to count in quavers throughout until they can convey the chanting successfully.
  3. The repeat can be played pianissimo, dying away at the end. It might be fun to add Sustaining pedal too – one pedal per bar encapsulating all the harmonies.

DATE IN MIND

This Minimalist inspired piece (which is around Grade 3 level) focuses on an Alberti Bass secondo accompaniment with a chordal primo (often in intervals of 3rds & 6ths).

  1. The secondo part weaves its way through various chordal patterns and should ideally be light, yet appropriately colouring (or emphasising) various points in the score, particularly in the bass, which provides the all-important bottom of the harmony. Examine the bass line alone, and focus on incorporating it with the primo (i.e. practice the secondo left hand with both hands in the primo part).
  2. Primo players might like to highlight the top line, separating it (tonally) from the other notes in each chord. To do this, weight the hand towards the right or weaker side (that of the 4th & 5th fingers), moving the arm and wrist accordingly.
  3. I would work very slowly with young players, taking a bar at a time, ‘fitting’ each beat together (rather like a jigsaw puzzle), ensuring each quaver in the secondo is exactly ‘placed’ with the melody in the primo).

LIGHT

Probably amongst the simplest of all the pieces in Snapchats (Grade 1 level), Light would be suitable for those who have less experience playing duets. A simplistic tune is accompanied by chords.

  1. Chords must all be placed together which is quite challenging here, as they occur on the second (or weaker) beat of the bar. Therefore, it might be an idea to work at the accompaniment first. Take the chords in the primo’s left hand and the secondo’s right hand; play them with a metronome set on a slow tempo, or count carefully.
  2. Add the bass note on the first beat of the bar (secondo, left hand), practising until all notes have been thoroughly digested and can be played without hesitation.
  3. Finally, add the melody, which may need some attention where fingering is concerned as the tune doesn’t always move in stepwise motion. Highlight the counter-melody in the secondo part too.

This duet can be played without any pedal, but will need plenty of colour and sound variation.

SAMSARA

One of the more difficult of the set (around Grade 4), this can be played at any speed, from Moderato to Presto. The secondo’s accompanying Alberti Bass must be light but very rhythmical, and this is combined with the primo’s rapid melodic passagework.

  1. Ensure the secondo’s lower part provides a firm first beat, after which the remaining quavers can be light, skimming the keys for a soft, even sound. The primo player will need to know the notes well in advance, as there are some tricky turns, particularly in the last bars. As always, practice bar by bar.
  2. For two players to learn to ‘place’ beats at speed, the  metronome might provide the perfect aid. Start under tempo, listening to where the beat falls, gradually learning to observe your duet partner and keep time (which is usually a slow process). Physical gestures will also help. Keep pedal to a minimum here (you actually don’t need any), and end with a full sound.

FLOATING

Another Minimalist inspired piece (around Grade 3 level). The harmony in this piece provides its wistful quality, so to begin with, I would examine the chord structure.

  1. Aim to play the chords altogether in minim beats (blocking them out), therefore two chords per bar (incorporating the accompaniment and the tune).
  2. Once the outer structure has been assimilated (this will help with fingering, and learning where to move), work at the accompaniment, ensuring all the quavers sound together; i.e. primo’s right hand & secondo’s left hand.
  3. Then add the tune, allowing it to float above other texture. Some arm weight will be necessary in order for the melody to sing above the texture; practise by employing a free, flexible wrist, and use the finger-tip, weighting the key with your wrist, arm and elbow behind the note as you play it. This take practice (and a good teacher who will show you what to do), but will be worth it in terms of sound quality.

MISTY RAIN

One of the more unusual of the set (probably around Grade 3), it requires use of harmonics to capture the misty effects of the rain.

  1. The opening chords (in both parts) must be played ‘silently’ to start with (and then held in place), so they unleash the full ‘resonance’ of the piano strings as other notes are played. Practice balancing your hand and fingers first; hover over the keys and take all the notes down, finding the ‘biting point’ or the double escapement where the sound begins. Then take notes carefully past the escapement without sounding them at all. This might need some practice. When both pianists can do this, keep the chord in place until the end of the piece (it only needs ‘playing’ once).
  2. The melodic material must be crisp, detached and light. Work at both right hand parts, playing with a legato touch at first. When notes and fingerings are secure, change to staccato. It’s easier to play if the wrist is flexible, combined with finger staccato (i.e. using finger-tips in a quick, tapping motion, keeping close to the keys). The effect of the quick staccato with the harmonic series behind it will create the misty vibe.

BLACK SQUARE

My favourite of the set! Around Grade 3 level, melodies intertwine here with a strong harmonic pattern.  The melody, which is essentially in the left hand of the primo part (as well as a counter-melody in the right hand primo), requires a full sound and careful shaping.

  1. Again, focus on flexibility in the wrist so that the fingertips delve deeply into the key in combination with weight from the arm, encouraging the melody to sing through the texture. The top line is merely delicate filigree and can be played lightly.
  2. The accompaniment should ideally be rich with minimal pedal. Aim to hold notes for their full value in the secondo (particularly when playing chords, such as at the opening), joining chords with a legato, smooth evenness. Hold notes in position until the very last millisecond, then quickly raise them all and move to the next note position (if different), and depress softly as the sound from the previous chord dies away, so as to match the sound. The join should almost be seamless, and the sound, ongoing, acting as a foil for the primo
  3. Plenty of ensemble work will need to be done in order to play beats exactly together.

ANDANTE

Another interweaving melody which moves between the parts (and is around Grade 2 level). The offbeat tune is present in the secondo right hand and primo left hand, the colouring of each part must be such that the listener is immediately aware of the syncopation.

  1. With this in mind, work at the melody lines first, counting precisely, taking them out of context and playing around with them: experiment with different touches (non-legato, staccato), followed by various accents, which should help to ‘feel’ the slightly off-beat character.
  2. The final two bars (suddenly in a new time signature: 4/4 after 3/4), contain rather unexpected note patterns which might require separate hand practice (primo & secondo right hands alone). Be sure to observe the tenuto markings

HOPSCOTCH

The first of two energetic, zippy pieces, calling for sharp articulation and tight ensemble playing. The overriding feature in this little piece (which is about Grade 2 standard) are the glissandi. They feature in the second line only.

  1. In order to grasp the feel of sliding the back of your hand across the keyboard in time (for the glissandi), start by practising running your hand (which is turned, with nails facing down on the keyboard) over the keys (using the nails to touch the keyboard, otherwise you will break your skin and bleed), and skim over two octaves at a time within the 2/4 framework. You might choose to play the intended note at the end (and F in the final bars) or leave the glissandi ‘open ended’! Either option works. Avoid ‘digging’ into the keyboard too much when skimming over the keys.
  2. Once you can glissando effectively, learn each phrase, using an extremely short, spikey touch for the staccato melody, phrasing each note so that whilst you are playing the notes in a short detached manner, fingers are not ‘rushing’ to the next beat. In other words, space rhythmically. Each two bar motif (or theme) must ‘answer’ the other.

QUICK CHAT

This is a fun piece for learning how to play as a duo in a fast tempo. As quaver passages are often played together by both primo and secondo parts, the notes must be played as if by one person.

  1. Start by playing legato, and slowly, only building speed when confident and when the parts can be securely played simultaneously. Set the metronome on a quaver beat and play with every beat, listening for where the beat falls.
  2. For staccato, practise lifting fingers cleanly off the notes, picking them up, using a combination of wrist and finger staccato.
  3. The difficulty here is playing in the same staccato manner; one pianist’s short and detached is not necessarily the same as another’s; aim to play them with identical shortness and crispness, and with a sharp attack. I find it best to play on the tips and use the top half of the finger to rapidly ‘tap’ or ‘scratch’ the key, softening the wrists after each group of four to counteract any tension.
  4. The glissandi at the end requires pizzazz and intuitive playing; work slowly only increasing tempo when quavers are aligned and the glissandi can be played quickly.

SHANTI SHANTI

A zen-inspired title and Chinese melody, this little piece is around Grade 1 level and is ideal for those starting out.

  1. The chords in both left hand parts must be soft and languid; work at taking the notes down slowly, for a shady, soft colour.
  2. The melody needs a brighter, deeper sound and must be absolutely together (it’s played by both right hands), so working at them alone will help alignment and, counting aloud will keep the rhythm precise. It can be helpful to count in ‘double’ beats when placing notes: if the melody is in crotchets (as here), then count in quavers, or even semi-quavers, for precise placing and voicing.
  3. As with all the duets, I advise working with a metronome, starting out at slow speeds, raising the tempo only when secure and reliable (and without hesitations).

The techniques suggested can be applied to many four hand (and six hand) pieces. Enjoy practising duets and relish the opportunity to work with another like-minded pianist.

SNAPCHATS was recently highly recommended by Spanish pianist, teacher and blogger Juan Cabeza Hernández, as extremely beneficial teaching material. You can read his blog post here; Best 10 Piano Teaching Resources 2016

You can find out more and purchase the SNAPCHATS score here.


 

 

 

 

Practising Duets: Part 1

This is the first of two posts addressing piano duet practice. Most students love to play duets, after all it’s one of the few times they get to work with a fellow pianist. It can be helpful for pupils to work in pairs for many aspects of piano playing – from practising scales and arpeggios, to testing each other on sight-reading, and for me, duets are an extension of this important work.

Playing with another pianist (i.e. four hands) can make the overall piano timbre feel much grander and fuller than when playing solo. And with this in mind, beginners and less experienced players can really benefit from playing four and six handed music (at one keyboard).

As a young pianist, I played a large array of duets (at every level), and had lessons as a teenager at music college in this discipline. In my twenties, I established a piano duo with a Russian friend and colleague; we played both two piano and duet repertoire; everything from Schubert’s glorious Fantasie in F minor (for duet) to Liszt’s dramatic Reminiscences de Don Juan (for two pianos). Particular repertoire favourites included Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat major and Poulenc’s superb Two Piano Concerto. We had great fun with these masterpieces. Working at two piano repertoire feels very different to playing with four hands at one piano, and it’s preferable to start with one keyboard; playing trios is becoming increasingly popular too, and is a great way to incorporate beginners into ensemble playing.

When young students (and older students!) play together for the first time, there will be a number of issues requiring careful work and preparation. From rhythm, sound and precise ensemble to pedalling (it feels so different from pedalling for one), balance and articulation. This post hopes to address a few of these concerns, arming potential duettists with various methods to practise different technical and musical elements.

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced player, it can help to begin by warming up with a few exercises together, as a duo: these exercises can help with sound production, finger and wrist flexibility and mostly importantly, will foster precise ensemble playing. They will also attune listening skills; a facet which can take time to develop. Once each pianist has learnt their own part, the work starts – playing with another certainly adds a new musical dimension, especially for the less experienced player.

Here are a few exercises for the beginning of a practice session:

The first consists of slow semibreves; play very steadily, focusing on producing a warm, full sound, using the wrist in a very flexible, loose manner, whilst keeping arms and elbows relaxed:

duet-exercise-1The Secondo (bass) or second part is just as essential as the Primo (treble) or first part; both parts  must be considered equal. Starting pianissimo, experiment with plenty of different tonal colours (an enjoyable part of the process during this first exercise). It will help you to listen to the sound produced, and learn to place the notes together at the same moment (quite a challenge!). Aim  to observe each other’s hands at the vital moment just before playing each note, and learn to place trust in one another’s physical gestures too. If you can also keep to a strict pulse (break this down into small sub-divisions i.e. try counting aloud together in quavers, for example), this will instigate precision when placing each semibreve.

The second exercise (below) focuses on prompt placing of crotchets a third apart, which will again encourage listening skills whilst building on the first exercise. It’s in the five-finger position, so is convenient and easy for beginners, but could be used for up to and including intermediate to advanced players.

duet-exercise-2The final exercise is faster and needs firmer finger technique. However, finger technique will hopefully improve when practising this seemingly never-ending pattern. Be sure to use the suggested fingering, which follows the five-finger position, and remember to decide on a place to stop too! You could also play this exercise in reverse, coming down the keyboard following a similar pattern.

duet-exercise-3Play the exercise slowly to begin with then gradually build speed when secure. Clear articulation, and completely rhythmical quavers should ideally be the primary concern.

Once assimilated these exercises can be practised using various rhythms and touches (legato, non-legato, staccato, tenuto). I hope they help pupils of all levels to focus on ensemble skills, before negotiating their duet pieces.

Other useful exercises include the 28 Melodious Studies Op. 149 by Diabelli. They offer a wealth of study material for duettists, from around Grade 2 onwards.


For more useful tips, take a look at my new two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO, published by Schott Music. Intended for those returning to the piano after a break, each book offers a wealth of varied repertoire from Grade 1 – 8, accompanied by copious practice tips and ideas.

Chetham’s Summer School hosts Fifth Concerto Competition

Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester (UK) has been undergoing a complete renovation over the past few years. The world-renowned specialist music school’s state of the art new school building was completed in 2012, and just this week the latest addition, The Stoller Concert Hall, (pictured above) will open its doors. Intended for professional touring artists and for Manchester’s professional and amateur musicians, Stoller Hall will host a dynamic, imaginative programme of music and spoken word.
I had the pleasure of visiting Chetham’s School a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the stunning new building; airy teaching and practice rooms offer students a wonderful setting for their musical education, and the attractive capacious central atrium is imposing. Stoller Hall will no doubt complete the metamorphosis of this much-loved institution.
Chetham’s also provides the setting for the Chetham’s International Summer School and Festival for Pianists. Held annually, the visiting faculty boasts some of the finest pianists and pedagogues in the world, and this vibrant, respected and inspirational Summer school offers many wonderful opportunities for both amateur pianists and young professional players.
The Summer school also hosts the Manchester International Concerto Competition For Young Pianists. In its fifth year, the competition will be held from August 23rd – 29th 2017. Six finalists will perform a concerto of their own choice with Manchester Camerata, the internationally renowned orchestra regularly accompanying Marta Argerich!
All pianists under the age of 23 who have concertos in their repertoire (or who plan to learn concertos from the repertoire list) are strongly encouraged to apply. All they need to do is submit a concerto recording online by 4th June 2017. The recording can be from a live orchestral concert or two piano performance. Unaccompanied performances are also accepted.

A maximum of 21 performers will be selected for the semi-final round of the competition, which will take place in Stoller Hall at Chetham’s School on 25th and 26th August 2017. Semi-finalists will be required to perform their complete concerto from memory with a second piano accompaniment of the orchestral part. Official accompanists will be available, though all candidates may, if they so choose, use their own accompanists. The final will take place at 7.30pm in the Stoller Concert Hall, Chetham’s School of Music on the 27th and 28th August, and will be conducted by Stephen Threlfall. This is sure to be an exciting event for participants and music lovers everywhere.

Application forms can be found at www.pianoconcertocompetition.net. Full website details can be found at www.pianoconcertocompetition.com

www.chethams.com


 

 

At the movies competition: the winners

Many thanks to all those who took part in the weekend competition; the prizes are a copy of Faber Music’s new Film Themes: The Piano Collection, and the music to La La Land.

Without further ado, the winners are:

Jen Edwards-Cox wins Film Themes: The Piano Collection, and

Suzanne Buttimer wins La La Land

CONGRATULATIONS! Please send your address via the contact page on this blog, and the copies will be on their way.

You can find out more about La La Land and Film Themes: The Piano Collection by clicking on the links.


 

Weekend Competition: At the movies…

Wishing you and your family a very HAPPY EASTER! I hope you enjoy a restful weekend wherever you are in the world.

The weekend’s competition focuses on music from the movies, thanks to Faber Music’s vibrant, interesting new collections.

Film Themes: The Piano Collection consists of thirty film tunes arranged for piano solo; a selection of sympathetically arranged classic yet contemporary, and ‘up to the minute’ pieces for the intermediate to advanced player. Featuring favourites from such films as Star Wars, Frozen, Hunger Games, How To Train Your Dragon and Twilight, plus several pieces from the Harry Potter film series.  This selection offers an excellent alternative to standard repertoire, particularly for the film buff. A great addition to the student, teacher and piano lover’s library.

Who doesn’t love the new hit movie La La Land? My second competition offering is a collection of music from the film.  Ten songs have been transcribed for piano and voice with guitar chords, following the original music and keys as closely as possible. I would suggest the arrangements are generally for more advanced pianists, but some are simpler, and may be suitable for intermediate players.

I have one copy of each book to give away to two lucky winners. Please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this blog post to be in with a chance of winning. I will announce the winners on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!

You can purchase a copy and find out more about the books here and here.


Richard Goode’s Master Class at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

I recently discovered this master class given by American concert pianist Richard Goode. It was filmed in London at the Milton Court Concert Hall at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in December 2016. As always, there’s much to absorb from classes such as these, and this one showcases Classical repertoire (Beethoven’s Sonata in E major Op. 109 and Sonata in C minor Op. 111, and Haydn’s Sonata in A flat Hob XVI / 46), for which Goode is synonymous. I hope you enjoy!



Recommended Piano Resources for Spring 2017

I haven’t posted a recommended resource list for a while, but hopefully today’s group of piano related publications and courses will be of interest. As always, there’s plenty for piano aficionados of all levels and abilities, from collections and compilations to new concert studies for the virtuoso pianist, and several inspiring piano courses set in sumptuous scenery. Competition giveaways of some of those resources mentioned here will be coming soon. Enjoy!


Elementary/Early Intermediate

Play it again: PIANO – Book 1

This is a two-book piano course published by Schott Music and written by me. Book 1 will be available from April 3rd 2017 (Book 2 is scheduled to be published in June). Designed for those returning to piano playing after a break, the course would also be useful for any teenage or adult piano student requiring a selection of progressive piano pieces to either study alone or whilst working with a teacher. Book 1 features twenty-eight selected pieces from approximately grades 1 – 5 standard. Each section contains seven piano pieces, and they are categorised as Elementary (grades 1 – 2 level), Late Elementary (grades 2 – 3), Early Intermediate (grades 3 – 4), and Intermediate (grades 4 – 5). I have included a huge array of genres from Baroque music through to rock, jazz and improvisation; each level includes an arrangement and a technical study. Every piece has two pages of practice tips and suggestions, with photos, diagrams and musical examples. You can find out more and watch taster videos here, and purchase your copy here.

Diversions Book 1 & 2

Two volumes for late elementary students written by Spanish composer Juan Cabeza and published by Piano Safari. Diversions Book 1 and Book 2 contain a collection of 42 patterned etudes for piano. Each etude focuses on a single technical pattern encountered by students in the early stages of piano study, including scales, arpeggios, chords, repeated notes, intervals, and other common pianistic patterns. The patterned structures make it easy for students to decode and understand the music. Most of the pieces are transposable allowing students to assimilate each concept thoroughly. These works range in difficulty from elementary to early intermediate level. I really like Juan’s music and I know young players (and teachers) will enjoy using these pieces in both lessons and concerts. Find out more and purchase here.

48 Easy Concert Pieces

A collection of concert pieces in progressive order from fairly elementary to intermediate level.  According to publishers, Schott Music, ‘These pieces are intended to complement a piano tutorial method and are particularly suitable for performance at auditions, concerts, competitions and examinations.’ They offer totally varied repertoire in a broad selection of pieces from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern periods. It’s always useful to have compilations such as this, whether you’re a teacher or student, and this volume would make ideal sight-reading material too. The publication includes works by; Petzold, Dandrieu, Handel, J.S Bach, Haydn, Vanhall, W. A. Mozart, Beethoven and many more. Purchase your copy here.

Intermediate

The Entertainer

A new volume in the Pianissimo collection published by Schott Music; 100 entertaining pieces are suitable for intermediate players, and contain much-loved favourites such as The Entertainer, the soundtrack from Amélie, My Heart Will Go On from Titanic, Memories from Cats, My Way by Frank Sinatra, amongst others. ‘Classical Highlights’ feature Mozart’s Turkish March, Wagner’s famous Bridal Chorus, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5. ‘Song Highlights’ contain catchy tunes from the areas of blues, gospel, and folk music, like Oh Happy Day, Down By The Riverside or Matilda.  A mixture of original pieces and arrangements, there’s definitely something for everyone here! Buy your copy and find out more by clicking here.

Intermediate/ Advanced

Film Themes: The Piano Collection

Film Themes: The Piano Collection, published by Faber Music, contains thirty sympathetically arranged classic yet contemporary, and ‘up to the minute’ pieces for the intermediate to advanced player. Featuring favourites from such films as Star Wars, Frozen, Hunger Games, How To Train Your Dragon and Twilight, plus several pieces from the Harry Potter film series and “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” from the acclaimed new movie La La Land.  This selection offers an excellent alternative to standard repertoire, particularly for the film buff, and I know my advanced students would love this volume as a fun alternative to traditional sight-reading material. A great addition to the student, teacher and piano lover’s library. Purchase your copy here.

Eastern Preludes

Not necessarily a new publication, but one which must be included on this list. Eastern Preludes (published by Boosey & Hawkes) are a collection of intermediate to advanced level pieces written by the outstanding educational British composer, Christopher Norton. No doubt inspired by the composer’s many visits to the East, they are sure to be favourites amongst those who seek alternative repertoire between exams or different concert repertoire material. Each one explores the rich musical landscape of the East weaving native themes from countries including China, India, Japan, Korea, and Thailand with the composer’s characteristically attractive, popular style. A useful accompanying CD features each work, and has been beautifully recorded by pianist Iain Farrington. I enjoyed exploring these pieces; they are comfortable to play and perfect for those who like to delve into various atmospheric sound worlds. Find out more and buy your copy here.

Advanced

La La Land

The music from the new hit movie. Those who loved the film will surely appreciate this piano assortment of ten numbers, published by Faber Music.  The romantic musical comedy-drama film has now won six Oscars, seven Golden Globes and six BAFTAs. Written by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, this excellent selection have all been transcribed for piano and voice with guitar chords, following the original music and keys as closely as possible. I would suggest the arrangements are generally for advanced pianists, but some are simpler, and may be suitable for those of intermediate (roughly grades 4 – 6) level. You can purchase your copy and find out more here.

Birds; Études Tableaux for piano

A new set of advanced concert studies (Grade 8 – diploma) by British writer and composer Andrew Higgins. Published by EVC Music Publications, each piece focuses on a different bird; Penguins (a study in bi-tonality and chromatics), is described by the composer as ‘a polytonal life of joie de vivre and exuberance on the one hand, and clownish clumsiness on the other’. This is followed by A Wise Old Owl (a study in control and tempo), The Swan (a study for three against twos), Albatross (a study in three-part playing), Hummingbirds (a study in flexible rhythms and rubato), and Lovebirds (a study in improvisation). All good fun and very useful for technical development. You can listen to each piece, purchase your copy and find out more here.

Alberto Ginastera in Switzerland

This new anthology (published by Boosey & Hawkes) explores the late works and life of the Argentinian composer. In 1971, Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983) relocated to Geneva to make a fresh start with Aurora Natola, an Argentinian cellist resident in Switzerland. This volume was published on the occasion of the first centenary of the composer’s birth, and the Paul Sacher Foundation seeks to retrace the previously little-known late phase of Ginastera’s life and works. Featuring six essays illuminating different facets of his late years on the basis of the surviving manuscripts, letters, and other records, this publication is a fascinating historical document and selection of piano pieces. Find out more and purchase here.

Piano Courses

Almalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival

This piano course has it all: an illustrious faculty and a plethora of performance opportunities, set in gorgeous Italian scenery. Launched in 1996, the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival welcomes students and guests from all over the world for a month-long array of events. The festival celebrates its 22nd anniversary season in 2017. The piano programme runs from July 14th – 26th, with a myriad of activities on offer for pianists including individual lessons, daily master classes, workshops, and the opportunity to perform in institute recitals. The faculty includes Ian Jones (Royal College of Music), Boris Berman (Yale School of Music), Jerome Lowenthal (Juilliard School), Ursula Oppens (Brooklyn College & CUNY Graduate Center), and Steven Spooner (University of Kansas), plus many more. Find out about it and apply here.

PIANO WEEK

Organised by British concert pianist Samantha Ward, this non-residential full-time piano course and festival is set in spectacular Italian surroundings. It’s one of a whole series run in various parts of the world throughout the year, offering students lessons, performance opportunities, sight-reading classes, composition and music theory classes, plus time to practice and the opportunity to attend all faculty recitals and master classes. The upcoming course takes place in beautiful Foligno, and there are still a few places available. The faculty includes Samantha Ward, Maciej Raginia, Roberto Russo, and Mark Nixon. Running from 20th – 23rd April 2017, you can apply to attend or participate, and enjoy the new promotional video here.


 

 

 

Guest Post: 11 ways to kick start your practice routine

Happy World Piano Day! Today’s guest writer is Evgenia Chudinovich (GéNIA). GéNIA (pictured below) has written for my blog before (you can read her very popular article here), and she is a highly experienced pianist, teacher, author, composer, and creator of Piano-Yoga®. Here, she offers some practice tips for those in need of some inspiration!


Have you ever had the familiar feeling that you really would like to do something but you just do not have the time for it? If only! In reality, very secretly, you know that you have the time, however you just cannot bring yourself into doing something.

I have news for you! For a start, thousands, it not millions of people, have had this feeling at least once in their life. It does not matter if it was about piano practice or learning a foreign language or simply starting a regular exercise regime. You know you want it, you even know need it, but still something is holding you back.

So what shall we do it about it? How do we start?

In this article I am going to concentrate on piano practice, however these tips can be applied to anything! Here are 11 ways to get back to your piano practice:

  1. Establish a routine. This is absolutely essential, as without a routine there will be no continuous progress. The routine can start from 10 minutes daily to an hour a day. All you need to do is to establish the constant time (or times if you have a patchy schedule) and stick to it. For example 10 minutes in the morning always at 8 am, or in the evening, or 3 days a week in the morning and 3 days a week in the evening according to your availability.
  2. Plan in advance. Try to think in weeks and months, rather than from day-to-day, unless it is absolutely impossible for you to know what your week looks like. Your body will get used to doing the same thing at the same time, and at some point, it will start ‘asking you for it’ rather than you making yourself do it.
  3. Use an alarm. This is a very simple trick but it works wonders. Put the stop time, and do not think about the time until the alarm sounds. You can start with short sessions rather than longer ones, so start with 10 – 15 minutes, and then slowly increase the time to 30 minutes or 45 if you like.
  4. Establish a specific goal. Why are you learning the piano? I understand that you want to learn to play, but you need to ask yourself why you want to learn to play: Is it because you want to impress others, or just play for yourself, or both? Then ask yourself what would symbolise the achievement of this goal? For example giving a private concert performance or sitting at the piano and playing ‘Clair de Lune” to yourself when you feel like it; it can be anything, however please be specific. Once you have a goal, it is much easier to start practicing!
  5. Start with small steps. Let’s say that you have established a goal and please be as ambitious as you like, as it is very important! However it is also important to be realistic by not putting yourself under too much pressure in attempting to achieve the goal, so you don’t feel inadequate and stressed. Therefore if your goal is too ambitious (like learning to play the original ‘Claire de Lune’ whilst you only know how to play piano with your right hand), establish gradual steps that would help you to achieve it. For example, with regard to ‘Clair de Lune’, it can be achieved by doing several graded exams before you tackle this piece, or you can choose a different way by learning how to play with the left hand first, then how to play pieces with lots of flats, proceed with learning how to play fast by concentrating on piano technique, and so on.
  6. If this is available to you, learn from a professional. In every area, whether this is music, languages, dance, or yoga, you can save yourself a lot of time, and achieve things quicker, by receiving guidance from a reputable professional. Ideally it is good to have regular contact with such a person, hence weekly lessons with the piano teacher is a norm, and most recommended. However not everyone can afford it. This is where many make a mistake, as they think there is no point in having lessons at all, if they cannot commit to weekly sessions. However, a professional can help you on many levels: from establishing your goals to highlighting your weaknesses and creating a programme that will help you to achieve your goal faster. Therefore even bi–weekly, monthly or occasional lessons will be always better that no lessons at all.  On this note I would like to caution my readers, as these days there is a lot of information available on the internet, and you need to make sure that you learn from someone who is qualified, rather than someone who speaks and looks nice, makes funny jokes and makes it look easy. Please do your research before you find the right teacher. You can also read my blog How to find the right teacher for you.
  7. Create ‘tests’. These are very important, as they will keep you focused. From time to time – for example every 4 weeks – create a test. It can be either doing a small recording and assessing it, or playing for a friend or even playing for a group of people or your teacher. By preparing every step you will be advancing and learning. Do not get discouraged if some ‘tests’ do not go the way you want them to, as we learn from our mistakes as much, if not more, then we learn from our achievements.
  8. Keep a diary of your practice routine. I always have a folder with notes on my piano. Write down a date, and jot down what you would like to do and achieve next in your playing, as, when you start your practice next day, it will be easier to pick up from where you left off.
  9. Be clever with the time management of your practice. Of course, if you are a beginner, and have only one piece of music to play, it is easier to concentrate during your practice. I personally encourage my students of any age and level to do piano exercises regularly. Franz Liszt spent many hours a day doing his. If it was good for Liszt then it is definitely good for everyone aspiring to play well. Therefore, make sure that you plan the time to do some scales and/or exercises, in addition to the pieces that you are working on. If you work on more than one piece and have more than 10 minutes to practice, then divide the time into sections, according to the pieces that you are playing plus exercises (if you decide to do them), and set the alarm for each section of your practice. When the alarm goes off, stop working on what you have been working on, and write down in your practice diary what is left to achieve, or what you would like to concentrate on next. Then move on to the next piece. If you prefer to concentrate on one piece per day, then make sure that you alternate the pieces together with the days.
  10. Always, always, always: try to imagine the end result of what you are trying to achieve. At the beginning of your practice, or after the exercises section, close your eyes and imagine how you would like to play a piece which you are working on. Let your senses guide you. If you want to imagine yourself playing at the Wigmore Hall or Carnegie Hall or in a really cool jazz club, or just in front of a group of friends at the dinner party, go for it! You can do it, and in reality you never know what can happen in life, so never say never. Be inspired by your own desire, as this would make your practice more genuine and sincere.
  11. Be consistent. You won’t always feel like practicing. On some you would feel like you really want to play and on others, it would be like ‘No Way’! In the latter case, gently acknowledge that today may not be the best of your days, but please do still try and play, even though you don’t feel like doing it. It will still pay off.

I hope that you enjoyed these tips! Let me know how you get on, either through my website www.piano-yoga.com or through my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pianoyogaeducation. And if you wonder if I ever have days when I do not feel like practice, the answer is ‘Yes, sure!’ What do I do? Go through the 11 tips listed above 🙂

GéNIA


 

Piano Junior: the winners are…

Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition, which was to win two series of books from the new piano method, Piano Junior, published by Schott Music and written by German composer and pedagogue Hans-Günter Heumann. You can find out much more about this fully interactive beginner’s method here.

The winners are….

Julie Campbell wins the Level 1 Theory, Duet and Performance books, and

Ann Coleman wins the Level 2 Theory, Duet and Performance books

CONGRATULATIONS! Please send your address via the contact page on this blog, and the books will be on their way.

More competitions are coming soon!


Weekend Competition: Piano Junior

Today’s competition features the recently published piano method, Piano Junior (Schott Music). Written by German composer and pedagogue Hans Günter-Heumann, it is designed as ‘A creative and interactive piano course’ for children from the age of 6, which progresses in small, manageable steps.

The course encourages creativity through regular, integrated ‘corners’, such as composing, improvising, playing, technique, ear training, memory, sight-reading and music quizzes. Introduced by the main ‘character’, PJ the robot, this beautifully illustrated method features a whole series of books, as well as a plethora of other materials including videos, audio demos and play-alongs for all the pieces, as well as a range of extra fun resources to download.  The series offers a lesson, theory, duet and performance book in, at present, Level 1 & 2 (Level 3 & 4 will be available soon).

I have a Level 1 Theory, Duet and Performance book (for one winner (3 books)), and a Level 2 Theory, Duet and Performance book (for a second winner (3 further books)), in this week’s lucky draw. You can explore the books here.

Please leave your comments in the comment box at the end of this post, I will announce the two winners on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!

You can find out much more about the Piano Junior method from the comprehensive website here.