A Far Eastern Book Tour

Book tours are fun. They could be referred to as the ‘pinnacle’ of the whole writing journey; by this time the books are safely published, usually after countless rewrites and corrections, and the writer is free to speak about the process through those rose-tinted glasses. This week I leave for my third book tour over the past year; retracing my steps in the Far East as well as visiting pastures new. I’ll be touring for my publisher, Schott Music, with my piano course Play it again: PIANO Book 1 & 2.

The tour will take me to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong. In each place, I will be giving a series of workshops and master classes (and also private lessons in Singapore and Hong Kong). I’m extremely excited about this prospect; travelling has always been a way of life for me, and yet I still crave the buzz of excitement it offers, irrespective of the destination.

The tour begins in Singapore with a piano teacher’s workshop (details above), focusing on many elements mentioned in my books. The Kawai Music School in Katong has already been using Play it again: PIANO with many of their students. In my workshops, I enjoy involving teachers and students as much as possible with plenty of hands on participation and discussion. These workshops predominantly highlight various aspects of piano technique, an important element for teachers in particular, as without such knowledge, helping students achieve their potential is challenging.

After a few days, Malaysia beckons, and I’ll be moving to Malacca, which is to the south of Kuala Lumpur. Here, there will be a two-day workshop (including seven different presentations) and a student master class, all purely for piano teachers. Encore Music Centre is a popular school in this region, and the teachers have also been using Play it again: PIANO as their course of choice over the past few months. I can’t wait to see how they are getting on with it, and I’ll be hopefully able to answer questions and make suggestions regarding the content.

Kuala Lumpur is a buzzing metropolis, and is where I join Dr. Sigrun Jantzen, from Henle Verlag, and fellow Schott author, Samantha Ward. British pianist and artistic director of PIANO WEEK Samantha Ward, has her own series published by Schott (Relax with), but on this occasion, she will be presenting Piano Junior, the new beginner’s method written by German composer and writer Hans-Günter Heumann. Dr. Jantzen will present Henle’s extensive range of publications.

Together, we will embark on three large piano teacher seminars in three different cities. After Kuala Lumpur (see flyer above for details of the Kuala Lumpur seminars), we fly to Jakarta (Indonesia), and then on to Surabaya, to the East of Jakarta and the capital of East Java, (see image to the right for more details).

Finally, I fly to Hong Kong on my own for a special series of Play it again: PIANO workshops, master class and private lessons for piano teachers and students (see below for details). Tom Lee is one of the leading music retailers in Hong Kong, and as an adjudicator and examiner, I have worked many times at their various centres which are peppered across Hong Kong. Our venue is at the Megabox in Kowloon Bay; a large concert hall situated on the tenth floor.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to meeting new friends, teachers, and colleagues, and experiencing many aspects of music and music education in this region.  If you live in this part of the world and are relatively near any of the venues, please do come along; it would be lovely to meet you.

Play it again: PIANO Book 1 & 2 will be on sale throughout all the classes and workshops, but you can find out more about them, watch my videos, and purchase them by clicking, here. They can also be purchased on Amazon.

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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 Foundation Pianist & A Piece A Week

Before I jet off to the Far East for a very exciting book tour (more about that in another post), it’s time for a Weekend Competition. Today’s competition features Paul Harris’ latest book, A Piece A Week, and a new series, The Foundation Pianist, written by Karen Marshall and David Blackwell; both published by Faber Music.

Building on the success of The Intermediate Pianist, Faber’s most recent addition to this series will certainly be a very useful resource for piano teachers. The Foundation Pianist is a set of two progressive books for pupils just beyond the beginner stage who want to develop a solid pianistic foundation.

I like the layout, which is clear and easy to read, and the selection of music  will inspire students to explore many different styles and genres; from madrigals, symphonies and operas, to folksongs, minuets and gypsy dances. As well as arrangements, there are also original pieces, some written by David Blackwell. Teachers and students will find invaluable information to help improve technique, musicianship and theory – with lots of little extras, such as detailed reference to various musical periods (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, etc.), and ‘scale and arpeggio generators’, including both the melodic and harmonic minor scales (not always a feature at this level). These volumes are well worth exploring.

A Piece A Week Grade 4 piano written by renowned educator Paul Harris should also be a teacher’s library favourite. I have enjoyed observing the development of this series, which offers students that important bridge between sight-reading tests and learning repertoire at speed. These books are designed to be used alongside Paul’s series, Improve Your Sight-reading!, and they aim to encourage pupils to learn fairly straightforward pieces (all written by Paul) swiftly – preferably in a week! It’s a great concept and the ideal way to improve reading skills.

I have one copy of A Piece A Week and a copy of Book 1 and Book 2 of The Foundation Pianist to give away this weekend. As always, please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this post, and I will announce the three lucky winners on Monday evening, so do check my blog to see if you’ve been selected. Good Luck!

You can find out much more about these publications and purchase them here: The Foundation Pianist Book 1, The Foundation Pianist Book 2, and A Piece A Week Grade 4 Piano.

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


Teaching Improvisation to Groups by Christopher Norton

My guest writer today is renowned New Zealand born composer and music educator Christopher Norton. Christopher is well-known for his Microjazz series;  a collection of jazz piano books for students of all levels which has sold well over a million copies worldwide. More recently, he has written Micromusicals for schools, and he continues to compose music in many different styles and genres. In the first of a short series of posts for my blog, Christopher sheds some light on teaching improvisation to groups. Over to Christopher…

I’ve just come back from a 2-day Keyboard Kamp (like the spelling? – I’m in North America now!) with young students from all over Canada. My brief was to teach improvisation in groups, ranging in age from around 7 years old to teenagers as old as 16. I had to decide in advance which material to use and how to use it, all without any music in front of the students (who were also sharing keyboards!) That was my choice – I have learnt that relying on students reading music can prove awkward, because in most groups music-reading ability is variable, to say the least.

I used 2 main series, Connections for Piano and American Popular Piano and used a variety of approaches. The first piece was from Connections 3 – Samba Sand. The tune employs the same three chords, three times:

Connections for Piano has backing tracks and I use these all the time when doing improv. But the first thing I did was teach 3 chord shapes, played with right hand initially, but not too low or too high on the keyboard. The chords were:

I taught each chord, one at a time, by saying the names of the notes from the bottom note – “B, D, G” was the first chord. Once everyone could play the chord comfortably, I named it “chord 1” and proceeded to spell out the next chord – “C, E, G” (‘chord 2’) The group seemed relieved to find they were playing a chord of C major!) Finally chord 3 – A, D, F#. I did quiz the group about what they thought the chords might be, then explained very quickly about the broad concept of inversions. If you haven’t noticed already, there is a first inversion of G, a root position C and a second inversion of D.

Now, with a backing track (available with all Connections for Piano pieces) I got them to play the chords, with me shouting out helpfully, in advance, what the next chord was going to be. This was taxing enough for the students, especially when the 8th bar of each phrase was a specific rhythm on chord 1:

Once the students have the chords feeling semi-automatic (with the track) they can start the improvisational aspect – chord rhythms. I suggest some repeated rhythm patterns, like:

Trying different rhythm patterns over a specific chord pattern is sufficiently taxing for a group, while still being fun.

The next thing to try is a left hand bass line, using the original piece as a template (for the teacher – the students still do it by ear). So I say, “when I say G you play this pattern”:

They learn that, then I say “if that is G, what is C?”. They hopefully find C, E, G. Then D, which has an F# (D, F#, A) Then through the chord sequence, with the track, with me shouting “G!”, “C!” etc. just before they are due to play the chord.  The whole sequence:

G / / / |C / / / | G / / / |D / / / |

G / / / |C / / / | G / D / |

(And repeat x2)

The next step is to play the 3-note chords in the right hand and the bass line in the left hand, with a variety of rhythm patterns in the right hand, including off-beat crotchets and even off-beat quavers! Reggae and ska sorted.

The next article will talk about right hand improvisation. But chord rhythms and a bass line, and using chord numbers as well as names, is a great start!

The Connections for Piano series, with tracks, are available from www.80dayspublishing.com.

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


My Journey as a Composer by Lindsey Berwin

British teacher and composer Lindsey Berwin is my guest writer today. She has written several pedagogical publications for teachers and students. I asked Lindsey about her work as a composer, and why composing has become an increasingly important element in her life. Over to Lindsey…

My journey as a composer began some thirty years ago, primarily in response to my pupils’ pedagogical needs and their requests for specific repertoire. Little could I have known then that I was embarking on a voyage which would blossom into a passion, providing me with a wonderful means of self-expression as a musician, and of self-discovery as a person.

I was privileged to have spent four invaluable years studying at The Royal Academy of Music, but I never received any instruction in composition. Thus, I was left to rely on my experience, knowledge and instincts as a pianist and teacher, to guide me through this unfamiliar territory! My first works included a sight-reading series, subsequently entitled ‘FunKey!’, a number of bespoke duets, a set of jazz-style technical exercises and a piano course for pre-school children.

A significant turning point for me was the discovery of The EPTA annual composers’ competition. This opportunity provided the catalyst for me to broaden my compositional horizons. In addition, it spurred me on to incorporate this creative element of music into my teaching, resulting in many years of enjoyment and satisfaction for both myself and my pupils.

In terms of my own development as a composer, having begun to explore a freer range of writing, the creative process gradually gathered momentum. I revelled in the technical challenges of wrestling with toccatas, fugues and studies, and in the chance to explore both the field of tonalities and the world of the subconscious. The latter resulted in works of a somewhat philosophical nature, such as Chromatic Fantasy, Enigma and Tunnel Vision, and, influenced by the jazz idiom, Introspection.

Opening out the parameters of composition meant the need to adopt diverse approaches. The above mentioned FunKey!, and its flute counterpart Jazz Keys, both later published by Kevin Mayhew, were written very much as teaching aids, intended to improve students’ reading and transposition skills. I created most of the material away from the instrument, relying on my inner hearing, and the process felt predominantly cerebral in its nature.

In order to compose more complex repertoire, working at the piano was, and remains, a necessity. Pieces with a specific structure, and those with a technical purpose again have their roots in a cerebral process. Fugal writing, in particular, has a methodical, almost mechanical aspect to its construction, and I find composing music of this type immensely rewarding intellectually. By contrast, compositions of the more philosophical nature emanate from my emotions (although edited by my intellect!), often providing a cathartic experience and an outlet for life’s complexities.

‘All The Fun Of The Fair’, published recently by EVC music, was my first substantial collection of pieces, and my inaugural venture into the realms of programme music. The suite consists of ten pieces representing different fairground rides, and I wanted to produce a sound-world which suitably described each. For this task I turned to my imagination for inspiration. Coming full circle, and returning to my metaphor of a journey, I hope that the following whistle-stop tour of the fairground will show how I set about achieving my aim, and provide an entertaining conclusion to this blog

The Ghost Train

An eerie, rubato introduction sets the scene. A left-hand ostinato based on augmented 4ths represents the movement of the train, while the right-hand mimics the sound of its whistle. Tension builds, until fortissimo chords herald the appearance of a frightening apparition. The train restarts twice more, the last time accelerating, until octaves, played presto, lead into a final terrifying encounter!

The Lotus Flower Ferris Wheel

The movement of a slowly turning Ferris Wheel is captured by fluid writing and gently rising and falling phrases. To add to the feeling of tranquillity, parallel 4ths are employed, transporting the performer and listener to the beauty of the Orient.

The Roller Coaster

An atmosphere of excitement tinged with fear is set from the start! The whole-tone scale rises, as the passengers are slowly carried to the summit. The cars descend dramatically, represented by vivace chromatic semiquavers, becoming dissonant along the way to reflect the cries of the riders. Twice more this scene is repeated, and the final descent builds in contrary motion to a fortissimo climax.


Slow, dissonant chords create a feeling of outer-space, leading into an appassionato section which gradually rises to a soaring fortissimo. The music then slowly dies away, with descending sequential imitation. A return to the opening style follows, but this time, almost like gravity, the harmony pulls us away from uncertainty (dissonance) to end with a feeling of peace (consonance).

The Mechanical Bull

A Latin style, characteristic rhythms and ornamentation carry us to the world of the Spanish matador. The 5/4 time signature at the start, and the later insistent ostinato add humour, as the rider attempts to stay mounted. As the ending approaches, a repeated pattern rises from the depths of the piano. It culminates in a fortissimo descending glissando, as the jockey finally admits defeat!

The Coconut Shy

Each hand represents a person competing to win the prize in this final piece. Acciaccaturas, imitation and changing time signatures, combined with considerable dissonance including bitonality, bring All The Fun Of The Fair to a suitably quirky and light-hearted ending!

You can purchase Funkey! and Jazz Keys, here and All the Fun of the Fair, here.

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


Lang Lang Music Theory Cards Twitter Competition

The new Lang Lang Music Theory Cards, published just last month by Faber Music, are colourful, informative and innovative. Fifty-two colour coded cards are designed to extend knowledge and make theory an enjoyable experience for students, teachers and parents. Each pack features imaginative questions to improve note-reading and music theory skills. The cards are the latest addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy; they can be used in conjunction with the Lang Lang Piano Method and are suitable for complete beginners.

With questions such as ‘True or false’, ‘What’s the difference?’ and ‘Explain this!’ alongside favourite characters displayed in the piano method books, these fun-filled packs add a different dimension to learning theory, offering an engaging, appealing adventure. Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang is renowned for his work in music education and has inspired millions of children to study the piano.

Learning an instrument can be a really important part of a child’s development and a great way to improve many things like concentration and focus. Learning needs to be enjoyable as well and I’m sure kids will make good progress and be inspired to keep going with this series.”
Lang Lang

You can purchase the cards here, and sign up to Faber Music’s mailing list here, to hear more about The Lang Lang Piano Academy, plus music education and piano news & ideas from Faber Music.

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


Mindfulness in Music: Notes on finding life’s rhythm, by Mark Tanner

My guest writer today is pianist, composer, author, adjudicator, and music examiner, Mark Tanner. Mark has penned a wealth of piano and music related publications, including The Mindful Pianist (published by Faber Music in 2016), and numerous educational compositions (many of which have been featured on various exam syllabuses). Today, he provides an insight into his new book, Mindfulness in Music: Notes on finding life’s rhythm (published by Leaping Hare Press), which can be purchased here. Alternatively, you can pop by this blog next week and take part in my weekend competition, where I will be giving away a couple of copies. Over to Mark…

We talk a great deal about music – the role we think it plays in our lives, its seemingly endless capacity to rejuvenate, stimulate and orientate us. But we’re increasingly at risk of thinking of music as a utility or commodity – something that’s been created to tick a box perhaps, or to help us fulfil a particular function in our lives. Some of us look for music to be purposeful – or indeed to help us to be more purposeful in whatever activities we happen to be engaged in. We jog with headphones on, wait for an elevator to the accompaniment of tinny pop tune cover versions, and sit in the sauna to a backdrop of synthetic flutes and wind chimes. This resignation to the idea of ‘functional’ music seems to have become entangled with how we consume it – sometimes unthinkingly or with a sense of entitlement. Streaming music seems strangely out of kilter with the devotion shown by those who created it in the first place, drip by drip. Music on tap potentially leads to a lack of excitement and engagement – that feverish sense of anticipation we once felt as we put on a new CD is now more likely to resemble a lucky dip in Apple Music. Music might be something we sit down to listen to, but just as easily it will underscore some everyday activity such as fixing a broken toaster or waiting for someone to answer the phone about an electricity bill. One might be tempted to contrast this with music enjoyed in an earlier point in time, where the very notion of recordings would have seemed about as likely as Donald Trump becoming President. In taking music for granted we underplay its marvellous, mysterious qualities – we become harder to please, harder to be moved or exhilarated by sound, perhaps to a point where the beauty of a musical moment escapes our attention altogether. Today music all too easily blurs into ‘muzak’, which is a perilous place for us to have arrived at, since we feel robbed of choosing how, what and (perhaps even more importantly) when we listen. Listening and hearing are quite separate things of course; for me, this superabundance of music is the very antithesis of mindfulness, for we feel cajoled into consuming music instead of drawn in by its powers of intoxication. We can even feel that there is only a single, acceptable response to certain sounds, or that our emotions are in some way being manipulated to someone else’s ends. Advertising would be largely impotent without music, and yet ironically the music used is virtually always rendered anodyne in the process. Potentially, our dispassionate receptivity music leads to mindlessness, not mindfulness. This burden of choice, or else its polar opposite – no choice at all – also discourages us from pausing to reflect; we forget how to be thrilled or devastated by a musical experience. The flip-side of this is true when playing the piano of course, or perhaps especially when teaching it. The knowledge that an exam is on the horizon might help someone to concentrate on improving, but will it necessarily help them to notice what in the music is truly of value? Music exams, competitions and festivals, though hugely advantageous to many learners, unwittingly contribute to this regrettable commoditisation and compartmentalisation of music. Perhaps this is all rather inevitable and not worth getting distressed about; yet for me, the listener forms a key point in the triangle that starts with creation and ends with an emotion beyond the realm of words. Listening can even be said to be creative in and of itself, but only if we are alive to what it is trying to say to us.

I wrote Mindfulness in Music: Notes on finding life’s rhythm in 2017 as part of an ongoing series of around 30 beautifully presented hardback books published by Leaping Hare Press. I recall first noticing the series a few years ago as a table display in my local Waterstones and was immediately enticed by their craftsmanship; they really are things of beauty. Topics so far go from bread-making to bereavement, surfing to singing, Einstein to cycling! The book came out in April 2018 and was discussed in my interview with Tom Service on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Music Matters’ a couple of days later. The publishers wanted me to sum up in a concise, easily grasped way the essence of mindfulness and indeed the essence of music. There is surely no expectation of the need to be an expert in meditation, mindfulness or indeed music in order to gain something of value from such experiences – in the same way, one doesn’t need to be a virtuoso to enjoy playing the piano, or a graduate in music to enjoy listening to it being played. Music is always of the moment, even when it takes on epic proportions, such as a Wagner opera or Strauss tone poem. Perhaps Erik Satie had a rather important point to make when he penned his exquisite piano miniatures – for he achieved that impossibly difficult thing as a composer: to beckon the listener into a perfumed musical moment that seems to have already started before we’d even tuned in. Satie’s music, a little like the minimalist movement that followed a few decades later perhaps, rarely appears preoccupied by grandiose machinery, development or architecture – the music is there to be savoured, rather like caviar, truffles or a fine cognac. Deeply meaningful music does not, therefore, need to be large-scale or impressively ambitious in order to make its mark.

“Mark Tanner has written a mindfulness manifesto for music”

Tom Service, BBC Radio 3 ‘Music Matters’

It seems those who love music, or indeed use it in a more sophisticated way – either by learning about it or even earning money from it – become especially prone to this habit of picking away at the minutiae of surface details. It’s as though we imagine ourselves to be Michelangelo, putting the final touches to the Statue of David when we practise a few bars of intensely tricky music on the piano. Music students may feel a certain satisfaction from having put into words the cleverness bound up in, say, a Mahler symphony or lengthy Miles Davis jazz piece. And rightly so, for music’s narrative journey, or ‘story’, is frequently complex and deserving of that extra bit of attentive thinking, or even, dare I say it, analysis. The question here is at what point should we just let the music go its own way, unjudged, unevaluated? This is not a contradiction, more a conundrum, for there are times when we need to scrutinise, and others when we can just wallow and enjoy. As a pianist and composer, I find this question strikes at the heart of all I do, for I’ve spent many hours pouring over recapitulations in Mozart concertos, or else looking for ways to extend a simple tune that has just landed in my head. And yet, in the end, I know that this type of detailed work is only valuable because it allows me to tap into, and hence express the music’s bigger picture so that others are able to gain something from it.

When I wrote The Mindful Pianist for Faber in 2016, as part of the ongoing EPTA Piano Professional series, I dug deep into what we as pianists are attempting to achieve when we are playing; I broke this difficult subject down into four main areas: focus, practise, perform, engage. In essence, I was wanting those who love the piano to view what they do from a subtly different perspective, not just to grind away for days on end in an unwinnable bid to out-manoeuvre Beethoven, or conquer Ravel. I commissioned  perspectives from 25 well-known pianists, composers and teachers, and the ultimate aim was to provide an original way ‘in’ to the craft of piano playing, not just to offer a raft of tips on how to practise (though the book hopefully achieves that, too!). The book is unapologetically pianocentric – it’s my sincere attempt to embody the idea that we need to play and think about piano music in a thoughtful, mindful way in order to do it, and ourselves, justice.

“invigorating and thought-provoking”

Martino Tirimo

In this latest publication I assume no preexisting knowledge base or skill-set. It’s not written for aficionados or those in the know. Nor am I focusing exclusively on piano music. There are chapters on music as meditation, the rhythm of life, sound and sensuality, the language of music, parallel universes (how music can inhabit multiple meanings for us simultaneously) and the art of possibility – how the reader might acquire the confidence to sing in a choir, take up an instrument later in life or become a valued member of the musical community. I also take a closer look at what, if anything, we mean by ‘talent’ in music, what tone-deafness is, or indeed is not. I unpack the notion of perfect-pitch to see whether it really adds much to what proficient musicians might achieve, and offer 20 activities designed to help us all to resonate more enjoyably with everything from the sound of a squeaky gate to a love song by Elton John.

“Mindfulness in Music is both informative and thought-provoking – a fascinating read on many levels”

Julian Lloyd Webber

The ‘point’ of music – in virtually any way I consider to be realistic or meaningful – is surely  to connect with our human urge to feel emotion. It’s amusing to me that we talk about the Romantic period as driven by passion, feelings and expression, as if this has not always been the case, both before and since the 19th century! Sometimes we feel an impulse to re-connect with a particular song or piece of music in order to help us to relive a moment; in this respect, nostalgia in music is every bit as powerful as looking at sepia photographs or blowing dust from the yellowing pages of an old book. Come to think of it, the antiquity of Classical music perhaps renders all of our listening and playing experiences potentially nostalgic? I’ve always felt that music is all ‘ours’ – in other words, humans created it for the wonderment of other humans – and to this end the book sets out to scratch a little beneath the surface of what we thought we already knew. Let’s not forget that the world was making its own music millions of years before our distant ancestors began drumming away on stretched animal skins or experimenting with echoes in forests, and there is perhaps no greater music than silence, itself an endangered species. Becoming more aware of how we engage with music, and indeed what constitutes music in the first place (isn’t a waterfall music, or a storm reverberating through a valley?) is how we will gain more from it. I ask, in the book, “how can we be interested in the sound of nature if we are not intrigued by the nature of sound?” Can elephants really listen with their feet, for example, and why is it we cannot hear the deafening ‘songs’ of whales when we are ashore? These and other questions are not intended to be semantic or philosophical for their own sake, but seeded here and there within its pages to help place our enjoyment of music in a sharper spotlight, irrespective of what kinds of music we enjoy listening to or playing. Spirituality, in these terms, becomes more about the relationship we have with music directly – and a world that is forever teeming with sound – not necessarily tied to any god or religion.

As pianists, most of us grow used to grappling with music that was etched onto manuscript centuries ago. We take for granted that our playing skills need to be entwined with an ability to read music and make sense of heady things such as structure, harmony and counterpoint. This all too easily leads us to the numbing conclusion that music is only there to be sifted and sorted through, organised and fiddled with, until it finally submits to all our tireless thrashing about at the keyboard. If, on the other hand, we can learn to take a helicopter view of the music we love from time to time, even when we are doing battle with the intricacies of a Bach fugue or scrabbling around with fistfuls of notes in Debussy, we will access it from a more immediately rewarding place. And by doing this, not only will we derive more from the experience itself, we may also have more to ‘say’ when we sit down to play.

Mindfulness is concerned with self-compassion, i.e. forgiving ourselves for making mistakes and playing imperfectly. It’s also about savouring the here-and-now, not over-reaching, over-thinking or over-analysing. These things just throw a spanner in the works and at the same time distract us from noticing, savouring, enjoying and simply ‘being’. We can have an eye to the future prospect of playing to others, or perhaps taking an exam, without feeling fatigued by ‘end-gaming’, as Alexander would have put it. But it is also about positioning ourselves right at the centre of the musical experience. Though I am not a Buddhist, I find the notion of playing music as a ‘practical meditation’ utterly irresistible. We are engaging with the finest of art-forms – “the word music, after all, comes from ‘muses’ – the daughters of Zeus – to crystallise the purist conceivable artistic aspirations of the gods”, to quote from my own introductory text. It’s interesting that music has the power to realign us as well as fortify our daily lives, but more than this, musical experiences are valuable because they remind us of who we are, and this might even help us to become better versions of ourselves.

Mindfulness in Music, Notes on finding life’s rhythm, by Mark Tanner (Leaping Hare Press).

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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 New Exam Syllabus for Stringbabies

Kay Tucker is founder and director of Stringbabies; a programme enabling young children to learn stringed instruments. I met Kay (pictured below) several years ago and it has been inspiring to observe her continued success, establishing an ever-growing network of teachers and students who are using this increasingly popular programme. Kay has kindly written the following guest post (for my new series), focusing on Stringbabies’ new association with Victoria College Examinations. Over to Kay…

A few years ago I saw a documentary about the well-loved characters Wallace and Gromit, in which their creator, Nick Park, was interviewed. He said that he felt as if the characters he had molded with his own hands had already been in existence and were just waiting to be introduced. I can totally concur with that view. After fourteen years since I first put the Stringbabies ideas down on paper, I find it hard to believe that It started life within my own mind, as it has such a life of its own and like all babies, its ongoing life journey is proving interesting.

Eighteen months ago, I was exhibiting the Stringbabies books at the Music Education Expo in London, thanks to the generous support of the Soundpost Ltd. whilst there, I was approached by the Chief Executive of Victoria College Exams (VCM) and asked if our two organizations might explore ways of working together.

On following this contact up, I was delighted to discover that the team at the exam board had already decided to propose a bespoke qualification for Stringbabies students!

Over the following twelve months I had great fun dreaming up a syllabus and award structure. As composition and sight reading are important components in Stringbabies, I felt that they must form the pillars of any syllabus devised.

Eventually I had a draft of a three-tier award, starting with the first level, which is aimed at the student who has  the most basic grasp of Stringbabies notation and is just beginning to play open strings with controlled bowing.  At level one, the candidate is expected to perform three pieces, two of which are basic first Stringbabies repertoire, and the third being their own composition of no more than sixteen beats using a single line of Stringbabies notation.

As left hand skills may have not been introduced at his stage, the technique and scales requirement is for the candidate to compose a rhythm of no more than six beats and then play it on two strings of their choice. There are simple aural and sight reading tests using Stringbabies notation.

By the intermediate stage (level two) the student will be acquiring some skills in the left hand and  the choice of Stringbabies repertoire reflects this; a composition of no more than 30 seconds duration acts as a third piece, and the sight reading and scales similarly reflect the developing technique.

Level three is the final stage of the Stringbabies award and at this stage a piece is chosen from the advanced Stringbabies repertoire and also a piece in conventional notation chosen from a list of music drawn from well-known beginners’ repertoire. The third piece is as before, a composition provided by the candidate in either conventional or Stringbabies notation. A full one octave scale is required in two keys using a rhythm also composed by the candidate. Two pieces of sight reading are given; one in Stringbabies notation and the other in conventional notation, reflecting the fact that at this stage the student is moving on to reading conventional notes.

Before releasing the syllabus to the public, Stringbabies teaching colleagues were consulted about components of the award and of course the staff at Victoria College Exams had their own input.

It was decided that the awards should be assessed by the teacher, who in turn would be moderated once a term by the exam board. This means that applications can be made at any time of the year and that assessments can take place in lesson time, ruling out the need to travel to an examinations centre. In order to be moderated, the teacher submits a recording of the pupil performing on any device which produces a simple and clear recording. For my first Stringbabies award entrants, I used my mobile phone to record and also to take photos of their compositions.

It was a surreal experience when the first Stringbabies Award certificates arrived and it still seems improbable. How many people have the privilege of seeing a system they have developed being accredited by an examinations body?

It was another landmark moment when VCM notified me of the fact that entries had been submitted by another teacher in a different part of the U.K.

Rolling out the VCM Stringbabies award is still ongoing and it has been wonderful to have a good deal of support in the press and especially from Dame Evelyn Glennie, who kindly passed on the news via her social media accounts.

Another significant development this year is Stringbabies going online! We now have a partnership with Charanga to publish the violin and cello books on their music educational platform and it is hoped that this will be up and running by the end of the year.

As I mentioned earlier, Stringbabies seems to have a life all of its own, so I really have not a clue what is going to happen next but if it continues to have a positive impact on enabling people of all ages to comprehend and engage with music, I, for one, will be content.

For more information on the Stringbabies award please visit www.vcmexams.com and you can find out more about Stringbabies at www.stringbabies.com

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


Recommended Piano Resources for November 2016

Badge Graphics Draft 3In the run up to Christmas, many of us are on the lookout for gift ideas for friends, family, piano teachers, students and piano lovers everywhere. I hope this fairly substantial selection will inspire a host of piano related shopping. As usual, there’s something to interest all levels. I’ve made a few exciting composer discoveries (which is always fun); today’s list features a historical novel, a new piano method, a practice notebook, a Children’s piano concerto, and new compilations, as well as publications from our favourite publishers. Enjoy!


Piano Junior

ed_13801-heumann_648_This new method published by Schott Music consists of a series of books (8 books in total) and has been written by German pedagogue and composer, Hans-Günter Heumann. I was a consultant on this method, and it has been exciting to see the finished product. PJ is a robot who is the main ‘character’ (he has a friend called ‘Mozart’ the dog too!) in this tutor series for youngsters (age 6 and above). Piano Junior is designed as a ‘fun and interactive’ piano method, starting with black notes, employing innovative, user-friendly graphic notation before introducing white notes, traditional staves, clefs and time signatures. In addition to each book, there is also extra material on the website, which includes videos, audio demos and play-alongs for all the pieces, as well as downloadable rhythm checks, workouts, sight-reading exercises and other resources. Find out much more here and purchase here.

My Practice Palette

my-practice-palette-coverWritten by British teacher Roberta Wolff, this book can be enjoyed in paperback or e-book version and is designed to assist students and teachers in their quest for effective practising. My Practice Palette  is essentially a notebook which aims to educate parents, teaches, and students about how to practise while eliminating the need for teachers to write practice notes. This is done by teaching practice methodology and metacognition. Roberta recommends using My Practice Palette from grades 1-5. Teachers can also work through the Practice Palette during lesson time. The benefits of this are, no extra time is required for planning, and teachers can be spontaneous yet easily keep track of a student’s progress. It’s certainly a colourful volume and would no doubt encourage those who might otherwise find practising dull. Find out more and get your copy here.

14 Easy Pieces for Piano

lane_richard_14_easy_pieces_for_piano_pno73American composer Richard Lane (1933 – 2014) has written a group of charming little pieces for those of around Grade 1 level (ABRSM). I discovered Richard’s music through the ABRSM list C pieces (for 2017/8), whilst writing the Piano Notes series (due to be published by Rhinegold in January). These works, which are published by Swiss publisher BIM Editions, are tuneful, attractive and all feature particular technical elements (important for teaching repertoire). Duets, an arrangement and original pieces all feature in this volume. Find out more and purchase here.

Piano Star

9781848499249This is a new series published by the British examination board, ABRSM, for beginners (or for those up to prep test level). There are three books in the series, each containing new arrangements and original pieces written by a host of different composers and teachers, all associated with the popular British exam board. The volumes include solo pieces and duets, offer a mix of styles, plus fun extension activities and plenty of illustrations. There are 74 pieces in total, written by 20 composers including Christopher Norton, Paul Harris, Mark Tanner and Mike Cornick, and children will love the tuneful simplicity of the pieces; this is certainly useful teaching material. Find out more and purchase here.


Piano Concerto No. 1 For Children


An interesting discovery, written in 1993 by Russian composer Ilia Chkolnik and published by BIM Editions, in their Junior Series. Piano concertos written solely for children are becoming increasingly popular, with many, particularly Russian composers, highlighting this potential gap in the market. This score has an orchestral reduction (or second piano part), and at first glance, could be mistaken for advanced level. However, it consists of idiomatic, essentially tonal writing and lasts just 11 minutes. There are three movements, two fast outer sections, and a beautiful slow movement, which reminds me of Shostakovich’s Second Concerto in F major Op. 102. Teachers looking for varied contemporary repertoire will enjoy this piece. To hear, find out more and purchase, click here.

Intermediate to Advanced

My First Chopin


A new publication from Schott Music, compiled by German pianist and pedagogue, Wilhelm Ohman. This collection of 20 pieces lies well within the capabilities of the advanced player, and contains some of Chopin’s best-loved works including a group of Preludes, Waltzes, Mazurkas and Nocturnes. These genres are popular amongst students, and with the Raindrop Prelude Op. 28 No. 15, Prelude in B minor Op. 28 No. 6, Waltz in B minor Op. posth. 69 No. 2, Mazurka in B flat major Op. 7 No. 1, Nocturne in C sharp minor No. 20 Op. posth., Funeral March (from Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35), to name a few favourites. An excellent addition to any student’s library. Find out more and purchase here.

The Piano Playlist


A large selection of 50 popular classical pieces arranged by British arranger and editor Barrie Carson Turner, and published by Schott Music. Arrangements have always been a favourite with pianists, and this offers a comprehensive list of music across several centuries, all transcribed for intermediate up to advanced players. From opera arias (Habanera from Carmen by Bizet, Nessun Dorma from Turandot, and O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi both by Puccini), to ballet numbers, famous gems from orchestral works (Ode to Joy (Beethoven), The Swan (Saint-Saëns), Adagietto (Mahler’s 4th Symphony)), to piano concertos, instrumental music and  arrangements of piano pieces. My choice piece is When I am Laid in Earth from Dido and Aeneas by Purcell. This is a beneficial volume for those wanting to discover some of the best-loved works in the Classical repertoire. It would also serve as excellent sight-reading material. Find out more and purchase here.

The Ultimate Easy Piano Songlist

e20016ac-d186-4c15-a350-c7c3873fd590A new publication from Faber Music. Containing 45 arrangements of best selling songs, this will please those who enjoy a wide variety of pop and easy listening music. Numbers from artists such as Adele, Cilla Black, Cole Porter, Ella Fitzgerald, Chris Rea, Michael Buble, Eagles, One Direction, Wham!, Nina Simone, Muse, Vera Lynn, David Bowie, Justin Beiber, Jamie Cullum, and Radiohead, to name a few. This is designated ‘Easy Piano’ but few elementary pianists will manage these arrangements; I would suggest intermediate level as minimum. Complete with lyrics and chord indications, this is a lovely volume, and would make a perfect stocking filler! Find out more and purchase here.

Piano Collection by Jevdet Hajiyev

indexThe first book of a special centenary edition of selected piano works inspired by Azerbaijani traditional music, written by Azerbaijani composer, Jevdet Hajiyev (1917 – 2002). This volume is published by EVC Music Publications, in a project commissioned by the Muradov family archive. For intermediate to advanced level players, this book will be a useful addition to any piano teacher, advanced student or keen amateur’s piano library. With the expected Russian inflections, this music is generally tonal but with a direct influence of Twentieth Century masters such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich (Jevdet Hajiyev’s teacher). Some pieces are short (such as those from Musical Sketches), whilst the Scherzo and Sonata are more substantial. Listen to the music, find out more and get a copy here.  



flowkeyFlowkey is a piano learning-app geared for all levels, whether beginner or advanced. It’s also a useful music education tool for parents, teachers, and adult learners, as it’s easy to get started. A wide spectrum of music is covered, from classical music to pop songs. You can apparently practice interactively and receive instant feedback; progress can be tracked and piano lessons are also on offer, in the form of various courses. Flowkey is partnered with Yamaha, and can be easily connected to digital pianos. Find out much more here.


Ghost Variations

getattachmentthumbnailThis is the latest novel by British author, writer, and critic Jessica Duchen. Whilst not strictly focused on the piano, it is a very interesting musical tale. Jessica tells the true story of Hungarian-born violinist Jelly D’Aranyi’s quest to recover Robert Schumann’s forgotten violin concerto. It’s also the story of an aging woman in a world which is becoming progressively more hostile. Jelly negotiates her way through the changing world of 1930s London. War is ever-present, and the heroine has to come to terms with her fading powers and upcoming young stars such as Yehudi Menuhin. As a woman, she faces the ultimate decision, choosing between music or love.  Find out more here and buy your copy here.

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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 Faber Music Piano Anthology

piano-anthology-023I’m extremely honoured to have been invited to compile a new anthology for leading UK music publisher, Faber Music. This hefty volume is designed to be a gift book for anyone who enjoys playing (or who fancies exploring) a large and varied collection of piano works. A luxury hardback edition featuring high-quality premium paper, page finder ribbon and ‘The Concerto’ linocut cover image by Cyril Edward Power, this book would make a great Christmas gift for that ‘difficult to buy for’ amateur pianist relative! On a lighter note, it would also morph into a wonderful coffee table book.

Piano teachers and students requiring extra or alternative repertoire (post exams!), or sight-reading material, will enjoy the broad range on offer here, and many teachers have already remarked that they intend to use the book as part of the now famous 40 Piece Challenge devised by Australian composer and writer Elissa Milne (find out more about this here).

The Faber Music Piano Anthology provides a musical journey through the history of piano music (almost!), starting with the late-Renaissance era, finishing in the mid to late Twentieth Century. It takes pianists from elementary (around Grade 2 ABRSM level) to advanced (Grade 8), and there are 78 original pieces in total, which I selected from Faber’s large catalogue of publications (containing around 400 works).

Well-known and favourite pieces rub shoulders with less familiar works, providing an interesting and eclectic mix. Here’s the content list (although the pieces don’t appear in this order in the book):

  1. Air (Water Music) (Handel)
  2. Alla Siciliana (Guilmant)
  3. Allegro (from Sonata in C major K545 – 1st movement) (Mozart)
  4. Andante (from Sonata in G K283) (Mozart)
  5. Arabesque (Op.100 No.2)(Burgmüller)
  6. Bagatelle (Diabelli)
  7. Berceuse (Op.13 No.7) (Ilyinsky)
  8. Chanson Triste (Tchaikovsky)
  9. Come With Us! (from On An Overgrown Path)(Janáĉek)
  10. Consolation (Op.30 No.3)(Mendelssohn)
  11. Consolations (S172 No.1, Andante)(Liszt)
  12. Danse Lente (Franck)
  13. The Fall of the Leafe (Peerson)
  14. Fantasia in D minor (K397) (Mozart)
  15. Fröhlicher Landmann (The Merry Peasant)(Schumann)
  16. Für Elise (Bagatelle in A minor, Wo059) (Beethoven)
  17. Gnossienne No. 1(Satie)
  18. Gymnopédie No.1 (Satie)
  19. Gypsy Dance (Haydn)
  20. Honey Humoresque (Dett)
  21. Interlude (Franck)
  22. Invocation à Schumann (Déodat de Séverac)
  23. La Fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair)(Debussy)
  24. La Vision (Op.63 No.1) (Alkan)
  25. L’Avalanche (Heller)
  26. Le Petit Negre (Debussy)
  27. Lento (Op.16 No.4 from 5 Preludes) (Scriabin)
  28. Les pifferari (Gounod)
  29. L’harmonie des Anges (Op.100 No.21) (Burgmüller)
  30. Little Prelude in C (BWV 939) (Bach)
  31. Malagueña de España (Albéniz)
  32. Mazurka in C (Glinka)
  33. Mélodie (Op.10 No.5 (Massenet)
  34. Melody in F (Rubenstein)
  35. Minuet in G (Bach)
  36. Minuet in C (Scarlatti)
  37. ‘Moonlight’ Sonata (No.14 in C sharp minor) (Beethoven)
  38. Nocturne (from Sonata Romantica) (Britten)
  39. Old French Song (Tchaikovsky)
  40. Passepied (Delibes)
  41. ‘Pathétique’ Sonata (Op.13 No.8 – 2nd movement) (Beethoven)
  42. Piano Sonatina in G (Beethoven)
  43. Prayer (Op.43 No.2) (Glière)
  44. Prelude in C major (Bach)
  45. Prelude from Suite No.5 in C (Z666) (Purcell)
  46. Prelude in A major (Op.28 No.7) (Chopin)
  47. Prelude in B minor (Op.28 No.6) (Chopin)
  48. Prelude in B (Op.2 No.2) (Scriabin)
  49. Prelude in E minor (Op.28 No.4) (Chopin)
  50. Prelude (Op.36 No.3) (Lyadov)
  51. Rêverie (Borodin)
  52. Romance in G (Op.52 No.4) (Hummel)
  53. Romance sans Paroles (Op.17 No.3) (Fauré)
  54. Rondo alla Turca (from Sonata No.11 K331) (Mozart)
  55. Sarabande (from Suite in D minor) (Handel)
  56. Scherzo in B flat (D.593) (Schubert)
  57. Scherzo No. 2 (from Aquarelles Op.19) (Gade)
  58. Snuffbox Waltz (Dargomyzhsky)
  59. Soldatenmarsch (Soldier’s March) (Schumann)
  60. Solfeggietto (C.P.E. Bach)
  61. Sonatina No.3 (Clementi)
  62. Song (Reinecke)
  63. Study in A flat (Heller)
  64. Study in B minor (Op.139 No.98) (Czerny)
  65. Study in C (Op.17 No.6) (Le Couppey)
  66. Study in C (Op.63 No.1) (Köhler)
  67. Study in F (Op.65 No.25) (Loeschhorn)
  68. Sweet Dreams (Tchaikovsky)
  69. To A Wild Rose (MacDowell)
  70. To Alexis (Hummel)
  71. Toccatina in C major (Op.8 No.1) (Maykapar)
  72. The Top (from Humorous Bagatelles Op.11) (Nielsen)
  73. Träumerei (from Kinderszenen Op.15) (Schumann)
  74. Two-part invention No.8 in F major (Bach)
  75. Une Larme (A Tear) (Mussorgsky)
  76. Valse (Waltz) in A minor (B.150) (Chopin)
  77. Waltz in A flat major (Op.39 No.15) (Brahms)
  78. Waltz in A minor (from Lyric Pieces Op.12 No.2) (Grieg)

‘Melanie Spanswick brings together a delicious collection of short pieces carefully chosen according to progressive level, variety and concision, but happily non-dependent on exam syllabuses. For those who need new choices for practising and sometimes feel a bit daunted by the quantity of options, and unsure of their difficulty, it helps to solve the problem in one easy package.’

Jessica Duchen, Jessica Duchen’s Classical Music Blog (recommended as one of the Top 12 Books for Music Lovers 2016)

‘Overall, this is definitely a collection to cherish! The Faber Music Piano Anthology contains a fabulous variety of great music, beautifully presented. It not only represents a rather wonderful Christmas gift, but will surely stand the test of time to become a treasured source of pleasure and piano-playing enrichment. A truely outstanding publication!’

Andrew Eales, Pianodao Blog

Released just In October 2016, you can order your copy here, as well as on Amazon worldwide:

Amazon UK, Amazon US, and Amazon Canada (as well as many other online sites).


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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 master class with Nikolai Lugansky

This short but interesting master class given by Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky was published just last month and recorded in October 2015. Whilst giving concerts with the Czech Philharmonic, this acclaimed virtuoso pianist gave a master class for piano students at the Rudolfinum in Prague. I feel there is so much to learn and savour from watching workshops such as these. The second video features Lugansky’s reading of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 36, which is one of the works studied in the master class. I hope you enjoy it!

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano 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 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.