Selecting the piano course for you: 5 top tips

My most recent article for Pianist Magazine’s newsletter focuses on piano courses. Hope you find it of interest.


Piano courses are becoming increasingly popular amongst adults and children learning to play the piano. And to keep abreast of this growing demand, there are significantly more opportunities for this student demographic, with courses for students of all levels, semi-professionals and piano teachers, popping up every year.

My first post offers a few tips for those considering a course, and my second (to be published in Pianist’s next newsletter) will offer suggestions for preparing for such an experience.

  1. When selecting your course, it may be prudent to decide what you would like to achieve. It might be that you want to study with a particular teacher, or perhaps you fancy playing more chamber music or duets with a fellow pianist of a similar standard, or it could be that you need more experience at performing in public. Look for courses with an emphasis on your chosen aspect. Each one will offer something different and unique.
  2. There are piano courses which pride themselves on a really luxurious experience with sumptuous food and beautiful accommodation (although you may pay a premium), whereas others might be held in a school, but offer excellent practice facilities with well-tuned instruments. Offsite B&B accommodation is a prerequisite for some residential courses, which in turn can provide much-needed relaxation and respite from a demanding schedule.
  3. Generally, the larger or longer the course, the more fellow students you will meet. Piano courses can be wonderfully social affairs with the same students returning year after year, forming close friendships. This is the primary reason why adult students stick to the same ones; camaraderie can fuel an optimal study experience.
  4. If you would prefer to be an observer, attending lessons, workshops and classes, but not participating, then this can be a great introduction. Many courses offer this option but always check with the course administrator. ‘Open class’ policies are most helpful for the less experienced student. I encourage my students to attend as many master classes and workshops as they can, because often more can be learnt this way, without nerves and stress intervening; it’s then easier to decide if this course of study is suitable for you.
  5. Some courses are ‘specialist’ with one expert teacher giving master classes for a select group of students (these are usually shorter or weekend courses), whilst others include multiple study options such as theory, aural, composition lessons and sight-reading classes, or the chance to study with more than one faculty member. You may like to take this into consideration, particularly if you are preparing for an examination, diploma or concert performance. For those less confident in their playing ability or skill, there are courses which focus on certain levels; intermediate courses or courses for beginners or elementary players, for example.

The following piano courses are held in the UK and all offer a different experience (they are placed in alphabetical order):

– Benslow Music Courses

– Chetham’s International Summer School and Festival for Pianists

– Finchcocks Music

– Hindhead Piano Course

– Jackdaws Residential Piano Course

– Piano Week

– Summer School for Pianists

Image: Finchcocks Piano Courses


My publications:

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

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


The Waco Variations: writing about music

My guest writer today is Rhonda Rizzo. Rhonda is an American pianist and author, and in the following post, she explains how and why she started writing fiction. Her first novel, The Waco Variations, has been well received, and here, she outlines the plot and offers a few thoughts on writing about music.


“In the caress of notes, Cassie knew nothing of fire, death, loss, or fear, just love plucked from Bach’s hands, to Eric’s, to her own–spoken in a language too deep for words.”

–excerpt, The Waco Variations

I planned to be a pianist. I planned to be a piano instructor and part-time university teacher.  I planned to write music articles.  I didn’t plan to write a novel.  When Cassie, the protagonist from The Waco Variations, “showed up” in my imagination and demanded that I write her story, I swatted the idea away.  I’m too busy, I told her.  I’m not a very good fiction writer, I told her.  She kept nagging.  A week later I sat down in a coffee shop and wrote the outline of the book.  Several years and multiple drafts later, I held that book in my hands.

Cassie’s story is an unusual one—the story of a young woman who watches her world burn to the ground in the Branch Davidian fire in Waco, Texas.  She enters a new life—a strange new ‘normal’ life after being ripped from a cult and forced to function in routine society with little knowledge of how to navigate reality. Cassie has just two goals: to play the piano and to learn how to be normal. Her love of music, especially the music of J.S Bach, is her only thread to a past she buries under her “normal” façade, the thread that holds her together where therapy and religion fail. But Cassie’s habit of using music to hide from her emotions fails her and she must grieve the truth about losing her family and her world in the Waco fire and begin to let time, and Bach, heal her.

I wrote about music because it’s what I know. I know the experience of making music, and of listening deeply to others.  As a writer, I know my character, Cassie, and how she falls in love with Bach and allows herself to grieve through the music of Rachmaninoff and Liszt.  I write the common ground between what I know, what Cassie knows, and the human truths that connect all of this to music.

Readers ask me if it’s autobiographical.  It isn’t.  Yet how could the story not reflect my life’s work of living inside musical lines?  How could my own experience of trying to find “normal” after leaving a rigid Seventh-day Adventist upbringing not work its way into this story?  Bach, Beethoven and Brahms taught me to think.  The piano allowed me to express what I couldn’t say verbally.  Classical music allowed me to play “at the doorstep of eternity”—throwing open the narrow, concrete doors of a closed religious system into a universe of timeless beauty.  It healed me.  Any doubt I feel, any loss I mourn, I know that music not only accompanies me, but it has been there first.  Where words fail, music remains.

The process of writing and releasing this book taught me that I’m not alone.  In my readers I meet others who know the disorientation and depression of loss.  They’ve experienced the highs of a wonderful musical performance and the intimacy of collaborating with others.  Some share my journey out of fundamentalism.  As I hear stories from readers about their own love affairs with music, or their personal tragedies and how music has healed them, I realize one of the unconscious reasons I wrote this book was to start this sort of dialog about music and healing—letting people know that (as one reviewer wrote) “music has the power to touch our souls, to heal and calm, and so much more.”

This story—and the experience of writing it—is ultimately about the bedrock truths that connect all of us.  We love, we grieve, we celebrate, we mourn, and we seek (and sometimes find) meaning in the most unexpected places.

The Waco Variations, a Novel is available at www.Amazon.com.

Rhonda Rizzo is a performing and recording pianist, and author.  She has released four CDs, Made in America, Oregon Impressions: the Piano Music of Dave Deason, 2 to Tango: Music for Piano Duet, and A Spin on It, numerous articles, and a novel, The Waco Variations.  She’s devoted to playing (and writing about) the music of living composers on her blog, www.nodeadguys.com.


My publications:

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

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


 

Stars of the Albion Grand Prix 2019

March is one of the busiest months for music adjudicators or music judges. Many British music festivals, and particularly those affiliated to the Federation of Festivals, take place during this time, and therefore adjudicators are buzzing around from one to the next, hearing large quantities of young (and older) players. During this past week I’ve been adjudicating in Bedford, at the Bedfordshire Music Festival (U.K.), and this week I will be in Somerset for the week, enjoying a feast of music at the Highbridge Music Festival, near Bristol.

As an adjudicator for the British and International Federation of Festivals (BIFF), I get to hear a vast number of young and more mature performers. I normally adjudicate the piano classes, but as a generalist adjudicator, it’s not unusual to judge some instrumental classes too. Increasingly, I’m invited to judge competitive festivals which are not affiliated to BIFF. Last Saturday was one such occasion.

The Stars of the Albion Grand Prix is a popular competition organised by founder and executive producer Evgenia Terentieva (pictured to the left). It’s been a great pleasure to be involved with this event for four of its six-year history.

Stars of the Albion is an international performing arts festival & competition. Held annually, it seeks to join talented musicians, dancers, actors and artists from across the world, forming a unique bridge connecting different cultures and in particular, that of Russia and Great Britain. It aims to provide valuable opportunities for young emerging artists to perform, learn, communicate and develop.

The project is organised and promoted by Musica Nova, an International Academy of Music based in London, and a bilingual establishment combining the best of British and Russian teaching principles. It is held under the Patronage of the World Association of Performing Arts (WAPA) and is supported by the Mission of Rossotrudnichestvo Russian Culture Centre in London.

This year’s competition was held from March 1st – 3rd 2019, and it consisted of two rounds; the first was a private video recorded round, and the second was open to the public and held in several venues across London. The final Gala concert took place at the Rudolf Steiner Theatre in central London. This year, Stars of the Albion hosted participants from the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Israel, Malta, France, Spain, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Latvia, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Participation is open to artists from six years old, with no age limit, and is divided between five age categories with two participation options; amateur or professional. All styles and genres can be presented for the competition programme. This year the event was held during one of the major Russian traditional festivals called “Maslenitsa”. There were cash prizes for the best performance of music by a Russian composer and for the best vocal performance in Russian language. The adjudication panel comprised a variety of international judges, all known in their field.

I chaired the instrumental jury which was held at Peregrine’s Pianos, situated in Gray’s Inn Road. We totalled four judges; alongside me (from left to right in the photo above) were Rebeka Molly De Gama (U.K.), Snezhana Polshronova Karnolsky (Bulgaria), and Constance An Chi Hsieh (China).  The photo below is a ‘flashback’, or a happy memory of the first time I was on the jury panel at this competition.

Performers were either pianists or violinists, and the categories were all age related. Many of the performances were superb and the overall standard was extremely high.

The selected repertoire, generally a free choice, was mostly standard fare. Whilst it’s always lovely to hear old favourites, for future competitions, I would encourage young players to explore more Contemporary repertoire. Some performers were clearly just beginning their musical journey, and whilst extremely competent and confident, were still in the process of learning to perform, and others were already well established young players; there was also a category for adult amateur musicians too. The overall class winners performed at the final Gala concert.

I really enjoyed working with several jury members because I appreciated the feedback from fellow adjudicators. Whilst we tended to agree on who should win, it’s useful to gain insight into a fellow musician’s thoughts regarding certain aspects of playing and performing. And as I often adjudicate alone, it’s a real pleasure to work closely with others in this respect.

Stars of the Albion Grand Prix provides an important opportunity for young musicians and artists from across the world. All those who took part did so because they valued the chance to be heard and evaluated by a professional jury. Over the past few years, Evgenia Terentieva has organised and developed one of the most vibrant and artistically satisfying competitive events in London for emerging artists, and long may this continue.

www.starsofthealbion.org.uk


My publications:

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

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


 

International Women’s Day 2019: The Pianist as Composer

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to share this lovely performance of one of my piano pieces, recorded by American pianist and writer, Rhonda Rizzo. Rhonda, who lives in Wisconsin, has made several CD recordings and has just written and published her first novel, The Waco Variations (more about this publication soon on my blog). She chose to record Inflections which is featured in my latest collection, No Words Necessary, a group of twelve intermediate piano pieces intended for students.

Rhonda also writes an excellent blog, No Dead Guys (what a great title!), which focuses on living composers, and she kindly asked to interview me about my work as a composer and a writer. You can read the interview by clicking on the link below:

The Pianist as Composer: An Interview with Melanie Spanswick.

www.nodeadguys.com

You can purchase Inflections (as a separate download) or No Words Necessary, here.


My publications:

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

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


 

Twiddling Your Thumbs

Recently I’ve been working with several students, aiming to develop strong, active thumbs. This may sound rather strange, but we tend to take the thumb for granted. They protrude at the side of each hand and we just expect them to support the fingers. I’ve written several times, here on this blog and in various articles, about the importance of a strong finger technique, but so far I’ve written little about the poor old thumb.

Thumb movement can make a colossal difference to many aspects of piano technique, as essentially they ‘control’ almost half of our hands, due to their dominant, and slightly lower, position (compared to the fingers). Alberti bass accompaniments, octave playing, pristine rapid passagework, are just a few of the typical piano elements demanding a clean, well-formed thumb. In my teaching, I’m very aware of a student’s movement during piano playing. Demonstrating to pupils ‘how’ and ‘where’ to move is an issue which must be constantly addressed. Without correct, helpful movement, technique really can’t be developed. This is certainly the case with our thumbs, and they require a different approach to the fingers.

Whereas fingers are encouraged to play with all joints active, that is, not collapsing, and on the tips (or finger pads), ensuring strength and contact with the key, the thumb will, by necessity, play on its side. However, like fingers, they are best utilized with the joints fully engaged for optimum movement. If we allow our thumbs to just ‘hang’ or lag behind our fingers, or even worse, ignore them altogether, they will be unable to articulate with clarity and precision.

Here are a few ideas for clean thumb playing:

To be aware of thumb movement, start by moving the thumb; you can do this exercise away from the keyboard. Sway your thumb back and forth under the hand, gradually building flexibility. It can also help to move the thumb in a circular motion over the hand too, but aim to do this carefully and free of any tension.

Now experiment at the piano with four white notes; C, D, E and F using the right hand. Try this fingering 1, 2, 3, 1. The first and last note will be played by the thumb. When you play the third finger on the E, lift your wrist slightly allowing the thumb to go under the hand to play the final note, but don’t let go of the E. You’ll notice this position, that is playing the E and F together, will contort your hand slightly. Make sure your hand muscles and tendons, especially around the thumb joint, are pliable and flexible, so this position feels comfortable; it will require a ‘letting go’ or release of the tendons and muscles within the thumb joint in order to feel relaxed. This is best done whilst keeping both notes depressed, and it feels easier if you ‘drop’ you hand and wrist (as opposed to keeping them in a stiff position), releasing tension. Now do this with the left hand, perhaps using C, B, A and G.

You can also experiment with arpeggios. Using the right hand, play a C major arpeggio; middle C with the thumb (1), E with your second finger (2), G with your third finger (3),  and C (above middle C), again with the thumb (1). When you reach the G with the third finger, turn the thumb under the hand, leaving both finger and thumb in place, as shown in the photo:Try to ensure that your hand keeps loose and relaxed as both notes are depressed. Again, it’s the release of tension in the hand and thumb joint as the notes are held which will help and encourage easy thumb movement.  Now try this with left hand too; a C with the fifth finger, E with the fourth finger, G with the second finger, C with the thumb, and then turn onto the E with fourth finger, holding both the second C and E in place, releasing the thumb joint muscles.  This gap might feel unnatural at first, but when combined with a free wrist and arm movement, it will eventually feel relaxed.

Aim to use thumbs on a scale. Taking C major again, try this fingering: 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2 or even: 1, 3, 1, 3, 1, 3, 1, 3.

This works well with a chromatic scale too. It may feel a little unorthodox to begin with, as the movements required will test the thumb, encouraging it to ‘move’ out of its comfort zone, but provided this is done with total flexibility in the wrist and arm, and without tension, the thumb should feel more controlled.

Finally, find an Alberti Bass pattern (a broken chordal accompaniment figure), which requires the use of thumbs. Here’s a left hand example from Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor Op. 10 No. 1 (first movement):

A weak or flabby thumb is very obvious in this pattern (generally the thumb would play the repeated middle Cs in the example above). The thumb must skim the keys lightly but very precisely and rhythmically. After blocking out the chordal pattern (playing the notes altogether, so you are aware of the fingering and note patterns), play deeply into the keys on every note, with a heavy tone. Accenting can help, at first just on the thumb, ensuring it plays on the right hand corner of the nail and with a good connection to the key surface. Now accent every note, employing a very free rotating wrist movement throughout. Once the fingers have been given a thorough work out, play the note patterns again very quickly and lightly ensuring a tight rhythm. It’s essential to balance the hand in passagework such as this, so a combination or finger/thumb power and wrist rotation will be crucial. But without an active thumb, achieving evenness will be almost impossible.

I hope these suggestions may be of help. They will at least draw attention to the plight of the thumb, so it hopefully won’t be a bystander during piano practice sessions.


My publications:

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

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


The World’s First Piano Recording

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A History of the Phonograph: Image link

The Béla Bartók Memorial House and Museum


My publications:

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

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


 

Weekend competition; the winner

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

The winner is…

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

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


My publications:

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My publications:

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

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


 

5 Stage Presentation Tips Part 2

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My publications:

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

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


 

Etude op. 97 No 1 by Anton Reicha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Etude Op 97 1a by Anton Reicha

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


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

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