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.


 

5 Practice Tips To Instantly Improve A Performance

Over the past few weeks I’ve been travelling around, teaching and adjudicating, providing the opportunity to hear a large and varied smorgasbord of piano playing. Whether pianists are young or old, beginners or very advanced players (and there has been an unusually large cohort of superb playing this year), several issues persist amongst pianists. With this in mind, my post today focuses on a few (hopefully) constructive, yet easily implemented, ways to improve piano playing, based on what I’ve witnessed.

1. Pedalling. It can be a major issue, particularly for nervous performers, because there is often a tendency to ‘ride’ the sustaining  or right pedal. It’s such a shame to work so hard with the fingers, playing accurately, and in many cases, beautifully, only to hide all this good work under a cloud of pedal. Admittedly, it’s not easy judging acoustics, especially if pianists aren’t used to the hall or piano, however, if in doubt stay away from the sustaining pedal! It can be a good idea to practice your piece completely without pedal (from beginning to end). Most of us sectionalise pieces when we practice, generally without using the pedal, and we get used to this, but try to become accustomed to playing through any piece sans pedal. Once confident with the sound, add smaller amounts of sustaining pedal (to start with), for a cleaner performance. Listening is crucial. Know the work inside out so you can think only about the sound and how the pedal changes that sound; particularly observe ends of phrases, rapid passage work and chordal passages.

2. Legato. The knock-on effect of a heavy right foot (i.e. the sustaining pedal), is often a lack of smooth, legato playing. It’s too easy to forget to join notes effectively, when the pedal is readily available to do it for us. Once students are stripped of the pedal ‘security blanket’, they can be upset by the sheer clipped, detached nature of their playing. Bypass this by preparing a piece using fluent legato fingering from the outset, adding the pedal only once notes have been fully digested. You may be pleasantly surprised by the pleasing sound of the fingers alone, once legato has been achieved. If you have already learned your exam piece, go through it without any pedal, checking you have used adequate ‘joining’ fingering, creating a smooth contour, which is usually vital in melodic material.

3. Tempo. Starting and ending in the same tempo can be an issue for some pupils, and this ties in with the problematic matter of thinking before beginning. Once seated to play, resist the urge to start at once. Instead, take a few seconds to think; ten seconds should be ample (although it will feel like two minutes!). This will not only grant time to collect thoughts, but will also allow space to set a speed which is both comfortable and realistic. Always feel the pulse, counting two bars before playing, almost as an introduction! Use this time to think about the fastest or smallest time values in the chosen work; semi-quavers or demi-semi-quavers can be negotiated with ease at a chosen tempo. Feeling the pulse religiously can also be helpful, and can stem the compulsion to rush (or slow down).

4. Body Movement. As many know, too much movement (whether swaying, nodding of the head, obsequious arm movements or moving around on the stool), can be detrimental and distracting. However, even more debilitating, is not to move at all. Rigidity causes a harsh sound and wrong notes (generally). This is a matter which can be caused by nerves, or perhaps lack of preparation. In order to play in a relaxed manner, it’s important to develop freedom in body movement and cultivate a relaxed stance at the keyboard. Start by careful observation; watch posture, hand positions and wrists, during practice. Try to focus on how you move around the piano. Basic tips are to keep shoulders down, wrists free and use arms in a way so  they transport hands easily around the keyboard. If this issue is worked on consistently and consciously in practice sessions, it will become a good habit, and one which will continue to linger in performances too, even under pressure.

5. Close to the keys. It might seem contradictory after reading tip number four, but  a good plan is to keep fingers close to the keys as much as possible, even if body movement is considerable. Whilst wrists and arms must be flexible and able to shift around if necessary, fingers and hands are best kept hovering over the keys ready for action (this may sound obvious, but many don’t adhere to it). This isn’t to suggest rigidity or keeping hands/fingers ‘in position’, but on the other hand, moving (i.e. being in place a split second before playing in order to prepare fingers) and thinking ahead all the time, particularly at the beginning of a performance, will help instil confidence and proffer accurate playing.

These points are fairly easy to effectuate; work at them one at a time, and slowly if necessary, building them into weekly practice routines. They will instantly improve piano playing, creating an assured performance.


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.


Piano Talk with Noriko Ogawa: Part 1

Japanese concert pianist has already been kind enough to take part in my Classical Conversations Series and you can enjoy the interview here. However, we decided to meet again and chat more about several subjects. In Part 1 of this two part interview which was filmed at Steinway Hall in London, we talk about the best ways to start to learn the piano, focusing on my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?

Noriko Ogawa has achieved considerable renown throughout the world since her success at the 1987 Leeds International Piano Competition. Ogawa’s ‘ravishingly poetic playing’ (Telegraph) sets her apart from her contemporaries and acclaim for her complete Debussy series with BIS Records confirms her as a fine Debussy specialist.

Ogawa appears with all the major European, Japanese and US orchestras. She has been appointed Artist in Residence to Bridgewater Hall in Manchester where she will be Artistic Director for the Reflections on Debussy festival, hosted by BBC Philharmonic and Bridgewater Hall from January-June 2012. With the recent completion of the Debussy series, Ogawa completed recording a new Mozart disc for BIS Records in 2011. With her wonderful dynamic range and colour palate, Ogawa’s particular affinities also range from the works of Takemitsu, through the larger Romantic composers such as Prokofiev and Rachmaninov, to contemporary concerti commissioned from Graham Fitkin and Dai Fujikura.

Ogawa is also renowned as a recitalist and chamber musician. Notable chamber projects include a tour of Japan with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Ensemble and the leader of the Vienna Philharmonic, Rainer Honeck. In 2001 Ogawa and Kathryn Stott launched their piano duo and have since toured in Japan and given premieres of Graham Fitkin’s double piano concerto Circuit, including the world premiere at Bridgewater Hall. She has also collaborated with Steven Isserlis, Isabelle van Keulen, Martin Roscoe, Michael Collins and Peter Donohoe.

An advocate of commissioning, Ogawa has been involved in numerous premieres. Her current commission is a ground-breaking series of recital pieces from Yoshihiro Kanno which feature the piano alongside various traditional Japanese instruments or sounds; the first for Nambu bell and piano Hikari no Ryushi (A Particle of Light), followed by Mizu no Ryushi (A Particle of Water) for metal chopsticks and piano, Niji no ryushi (A Particle of Rainbow) for piano and Kabuki Orgel and finally Sora no meiro (Sky Maze) for organ and piano.

Alongside performing and recording for BIS, Ogawa is sought-after for presenting, both on the radio and on television, recently appearing on BBC Worldwide in ‘Visionaries’ as an advocate for Takemitsu and in programmes for NHK and Nippon Television. As an adjudicator, she regularly judges the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, Honens International Piano Competition and the Scottish International Piano Competition.

In Japan, Ogawa acts as artistic advisor to the MUZA Kawasaki Symphony Hall in her hometown. In 1999, the Japanese Ministry of Education awarded her their Art Prize in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the cultural profile of Japan throughout the world and she has also been awarded the Okura Prize for her outstanding contribution to music in Japan. As a writer, Ogawa has completed her first book (published in Japan) and is currently working on a Japanese translation of Susan Tomes’s book Out of Silence – a pianist’s yearbook.

Ogawa is passionate about charity work, particularly after the earthquake and tsunami which devastated Japan in early 2011. Since the earthquake she has raised over £20,000 for the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Fund and is keen to keep fundraising, also working with the Japan Society through 2012. Ogawa also founded Jamie’s Concerts a series for autistic children and parents.

Ogawa lives with her partner Philip and their cat Tama. When not practising she enjoys writing and cooking for friends.

www.norikoogawa.co.uk

Noriko in action:


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.


 

Guest Post: Are you all fingers and thumbs?

Piano summer schools are a great way to enjoy an intense learning experience and there are a fair few to choose from around the UK and abroad too. So in my guest post today,  concert pianist and teacher Christine Stevenson talks about the Walsall Piano Summer School, where she has been coaching for many years. Over to Christine.


Summer School. It’s almost a contradiction in terms, isn’t it – who wants to go to School in Summer?

Well, lots of pianists, it seems! The Summer School for Pianists has been running for many years, and this year it moves to a new location at The Performance Hub on the Walsall Campus of the University of Wolverhampton, from 17th-23rd August 2013.

My association with it goes back a while, arriving very much as ‘the new girl’ – newly-graduated and newly-married – invited to give classes and lessons in a year when the other tutors included Denis Matthews, Phyllis Sellick, Bryce Morrison, Katharina Wolpe and Geoffrey Pratley.  ’And you’ll give us a recital as well, won’t you,’ said the then Director, the late Phyllis Mellor, to all the staff. Gulp – so no pressure, with a Who’s Who of the UK’s finest pianist-teachers as colleagues and an audience full of pianists…

The years pass, staff come and go (including me, as I disappeared for a while when my family was young) – but the Summer School for Pianists continues to flourish and evolve under the leadership of the current Director, Wendy Wyatt,  attracting a loyal following each year while welcoming newcomers and making them feel very much at home. This year there are seven classes, with tutors James Lisney, Natasa Lipovsek, Karl Luchtmayer, Lauretta Bloomer, Neil Roxburgh, Graham Fitch and me. And yes, we’ll each be giving a recital; our programmes range in repertoire from Rameau and Bach/Liszt to Britten, taking in all the usual composers en route, plus a few rarities from Ries, Alkan and Vaughan Williams.

Students receive usually three slots per week in their allotted class, and there are opportunities to visit other classes. Private lessons with the tutors can be arranged, observers are welcome, and short ‘taster’ visits are possible. There are other musical activities on offer, student concerts, and plenty of socialising. It’s an inspiring and stimulating week for all of us.

 There are just three places left in the classes for this year’s course, and ample room for observers – come and join us! Full details can be found on our website – http://www.pianosummerschool.co.uk , and we’re on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/SummerSchoolForPianists and on Twitter @pfsummerschool. So we’re not all fingers and thumbs, we’re just happily digital. In every way!

You can read Christine’s blog 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.