Top Tips for those returning to piano playing!

Renowned music publisher Schott Music have, this week, presented three writers in an article containing their top tips for all those returning to the piano after a break.

Published in conjunction with Pianist Magazine, I am delighted to be featured alongside Christopher Norton (composer of the well-known and much-loved Microjazz series and Micro Musicals, amongst many other publications), and Tim Richards (jazz pianist, writer and composer, and author of Exploring Jazz Piano and Improvising Blues Piano, as well as a long list of other books and compositions).

Our favourite tips and recommendations appear alongside videos and other information all designed to help students get back into piano playing and hopefully reconnect with this satisfying pastime. You can read the article here.

And you can explore my new two-book piano course intended for those returning to playing after a break, Play it again: PIANO (Books 1 & 2 are now both available), 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.


So You Want To Organize A Piano Competition? Part II

Amateur pianist and competition planner, Sally Olson, lives in Chicago (US) and is on the committee of the Chicago Amateur Piano Competition 2016. This competition, which began in 2010, is steadily growing in popularity, with entrants hailing from many countries (the 2014 winner came from Glasgow).

Few realise the tremendous amount of planning, fund-raising and marketing behind such an enterprise. Last year Sally wrote her first post for my blog about the competition (you can read it here), and in today’s post, she discusses the marketing campaign. Over to Sally…

Comp 1

Marketing your competition.

In September 2015 I wrote about the necessary first steps when planning a piano competition.  I fully anticipated that I would write Part II a couple of months later, but this didn’t quite run to plan.

So what happened?  After the venue was set and the judges selected, we focused on a marketing plan to attract competitors.  It consisted of placing advertisements in music or piano based magazines, diligently posting information on our Facebook page, and writing blogs on our website.  What I didn’t expect was those wanting to apply for our competition would not do so for months.  By February we had about 12 applicants and we needed 60!  With this level of interest, would there be a competition at all?  People were most definitely noticing us because our website averaged 100 hits per day.  With that in mind, we kept our fingers crossed, and moved on to planning an “Event Calendar” which was designed to create interest and anticipation for those considering applying; these attractions, which are essentially a mixture of festival and competition events, certainly caused a buzz.

When May 1st arrived (our deadline for applications) we were inundated with over 70 applicants, and by this time, had also achieved 1,413 hits on our website!  Much to our surprise, the two-round competition (intended for 20 competitors) had as many applications as the three-round.  So we expanded the two-round event to accommodate 29 competitors.

The advertising campaign had been a great success, with two out of three applications coming from pianists who had never previously attended the competition.

Statistics about our competitors:

  1. We attracted people from 9 countries (Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Russia, Italy, The Netherlands, France, Canada and USA)
  2. We have an almost equal number of men and women competing
  3. Those competing have already competed in over 150 other competitions – so they are a very talented and seasoned group of competitors.
  4. Over ½ of the applicants requested master classes.

Our conclusions at the end of the marketing campaign? Both printed publications and social networking (including a website) have proved crucial. The organisation of other ‘extra’ events has also helped to cultivate greater interest, readership and create a following too.

In her next article, Sally focuses on the planning of extra events and customer relations. You can find out lots more about the competition, which takes place at the end of August, here.

Variations for Judith: And the Winner is……..?


Many thanks to all those who took part in my weekend competition. The prize is a signed copy of Variations for Judith; a wonderful collection of 11 piano pieces composed by eminent composers for students of around Grade 4-6 standard.  Variations were composed for Judith Serota as a leaving gift when she retired from her job as Executive Director of the Spitalfields Music Festival in East London. For more information about the works and to purchase them, click here.

Judith selected the winner this morning, and she loved David’s comment. So many congratulations David! Please send your address via my contact page (here on the blog) and a copy will be on its way to you.

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Piano Showcase presented by Pianist Magazine and Schott Music

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I’ve written on many occasions about the positive practical and psychological benefits from regular performance practice. Nothing can prepare a pianist for the feeling of stepping out in public, having to think under pressure and play a piece from beginning to end with few errors, stumbles or hesitations. Feeling terrified is totally normal, but the elation of sweeping aside those pesky nerves and doing it well is stupendous – and addictive! Once experienced, never forgotten. The chance to play in public will seriously improve piano playing too, bestowing a confidence in all who participate.

With this in mind, it’s great to be able to highlight a new performance opportunity created by Pianist Magazine and Schott Music. They are presenting a showcase for pianists of all standards and abilities to be held from 6.00 to 9.30pm on January 23rd 2015 at Schott Music’s store in London. Performers will get to play on a beautifully maintained Steinway Model M baby grand housed in Schott Music’s Recital Hall. The event is also free for all players and attendees.

Pianist Magazine’s Editor Erica Worth says ‘For my part, I will be proud to see some of my loyal readers play. Remember, this is not a competition. You can play the simplest 12-bar prelude, or the hardest 10-page etude. Don’t be shy. I’ll be there to spur you on. And we can all have a catch-up over a glass of wine afterwards!

To participate, you can play to any level, though you must be over the age of 18. You will need to select a piece from a wide-ranging repertoire list, which, again, covers all levels. You don’t have to memorise your piece; playing from the score is fine. Space is limited, Schott Music expects to be able to accommodate anywhere from 20 to 30 people on the night, so reserving a place now is a good plan; the link for the easy-to-use website is listed below. You can bring along a friend, family member, anyone you like. You can attend purely as an audience member too, though numbers are limited.

Schott Music has devised an eclectic and interesting repertoire list, which is completely diverse. Erica comments, ‘You can study the repertoire list for yourself at the showcase website, but make your choice soon and get your name on the list soon. Remember, this event is on a first-come, first-served basis, and the end of January is not so far away – that means you’ll want to get practising soon!’ 

So what are you waiting for? Whether preparing for an exam, concert or just wanting to gain valuable performance practice and meet new friends, come along to this exciting event!

You can find out much more information at Pianist Magazine’s website and you can browse the repertoire lists and apply here. Enjoy!

Schott inside

Schott Music’s Recital Hall and the shop (below) which is situated on Great Marlborough Street in central London.

Schott outside


Variations for Judith: Contemporary Piano Music

Variations for Judith

This set of Contemporary pieces was a fascinating recent discovery.  Entitled Variations for Judith for Piano, 11 short reflections on “Bist du bei mir” by G H Stölzel arranged by J S Bach. The collection was the brainchild of British composer Diana Burrell, who wanted to present a very special leaving gift to Judith Serota when she retired from her position as Executive Director of the Spitalfields Music Festival in East London, in 2007 (a job which she had enjoyed for 20 years).

On the Introductory page, Diana Burrell explains: “There can be few people in the world whose love and enthusiasm for music exceeds Judith’s, and knowing that she had recently become a keen student of the piano, I thought that a specially-written collection of new compositions for herself to play would seem an appropriate gift. I consequently approached all of the Spitalfields Festival Artistic Directors asking them to write a short variation”.

Burrell was the Artistic Director of the Spitalfields Festival from 2006-2009. Chris Sayers apparently chose the theme, and organist David Titterington produced the realisation of the original Stölzel tune, immortalised by Bach. The collection was presented to Judith Serota after a performance given by Andrew Blankfield at her leaving party in November 2007. Since then, four new works have been added to the Klavierbüchlein (all written by composers who have been connected to the festival).

“I hope it (this collection) will also provide much joy and inspiration to all pianists who enjoy exploring something fresh and different”, concludes Diana Burrell.  It’s so refreshing to find eminently playable works which offer the chance to discover new keyboard sonorities.

The Variations have been written by an illustrious group of composers; Richard Rodney Bennett, Michael Berkeley, Diana Burrell, Anthony Burton, Peter Maxwell Davies, Jonathan Dove, Stephen Johns, Thea Musgrave, Tarik O’Regan, Anthony Payne, and Judith Weir. Totally different stylistically, the piano pieces are unified by the Stölzel theme, and merely observing the differing approaches and compositional techniques employed by each composer, proves compelling.

Particular favourites (for me) are Jonathan Dove’s beautiful and serene account of the theme (which is No. 10 of the set); essentially diatonic chords laced with thematic material, accompanied by quaver filigree. Tarik O’Regan’s Diomedes (No. 9) is equally effective; Slow moving, lyrical, and encompassing a wide keyboard geography. As mentioned in my Sinfini article, Judith Weir’s contribution entitled To Judith, from Judith (No. 5) is exciting, feisty, spiky and rhythmical. You can listen to a couple of the works from the collection below, which have been recorded by pianist Melvyn Tan. The Variations are of varying levels of difficulty, but they are well within any fairly accomplished amateur pianist’s grasp.

Variations for Judith affords an excellent ‘introduction’ to Contemporary music,   and every single book sold makes a contribution to Dimbleby Cancer Care (in memory of Richard Dimbleby). You can order your copy today – just click here!

You can purchase my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?, which is packed with practice tips and important piano information, here.

How can amateur pianists become professional in their approach to performing?

I have been staying in Edinburgh with a friend who is an excellent amateur pianist. She has attended many piano courses and masterclasses recently both as a participant and observer, and she has subsequently made some interesting comments about the differences between amateur and professional players. So this got me thinking; how can amateurs learn to be more professional in their approach to performance?

So here are a few tips based on my observations looking at some basic mistakes amateurs frequently make when giving concerts.

1. Those who are not used to performing generally shuffle on to the stage with not much more than a quick nod to the audience. It’s always a good idea to take your time and really smile at the audience – after all they will hopefully praise and applaud you after you have played.

2. Most amateurs tend to grasp onto their music score as if their life depends on it. They quickly put the score on the music desk and remain glued to it for the entirety of their performance. It might be a good idea to actually know the score well enough to take your eyes off it during the concert allowing you to focus on the music. This will enable you to give a much more convincing account. Alternatively find the confidence to perform from memory – it really isn’t as frightening as you might imagine.

3. Another common trait is to rush into the performance without giving much thought or ‘breathing space’ at the beginning. If you can build this into your performance approach then you will not only give yourself valuable time to concentrate on the opening bars, but you will also give your audience time too which will make them feel more comfortable and at ease. A pianist who rushes into their performance will unsettle an audience making them nervous.

4. Try to spend crucial practice time ironing out any tricky passages. A very common amateur trait is to master a piece beautifully except for one or two more demanding passages. So find a strategy for coping with these areas as it will make all the difference to your performance.

5. Play works that are well within your capabilities as under pressure your technique may not stand up to the demands of the piece. If you give a secure and musical  rendition of a less demanding piece you will feel better and more confident about future performances.

6. Convey the beauty within the music and learn to communicate – pros really do love being onstage and always express the music completely. They develop charisma. Amateurs can be so focused on getting through their performance that this tends to get lost. Don’t allow this to happen. Focusing on the music will also take your mind off nerves too!

7. After you have finished playing really look and smile at your audience and acknowledge their applause rather than running off stage.

8. Take every opportunity to perform in as many settings as possible and enjoy it!

You can purchase my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?, which is packed with practice tips and useful information, here.

Picture courtesy of