Painless Piano Playing Part 2

Today’s blog post has been recently published in EPTA’s (or the European Piano Teachers Association) flagship UK publication Piano Professional, for which I write a feature technique article. It’s the second article focusing on developing a pain free, relaxed piano technique. You can read Painless Piano Playing Part 1, here.


In my previous article, Painless Piano Playing Part 1, published in the last edition of Piano Professional, I wrote about the importance of encouraging our students to learn to release physical tension when playing the piano. The first article focused on relaxing and releasing tightness in the back, shoulders, arms, and hands. This article will highlight wrist flexibility and finger independence, featuring wrist exercises as well as those to begin developing firm fingers.

Once students have released any tension, or the building of tension in their shoulders, arms and hands in particular (which can take some time and effort), they are ready to loosen the wrists. These joints are probably the most important in the body in relation to piano playing; if wrists remain tense, then movement generally becomes an issue, making it difficult to circumnavigate the keyboard, and the hand and fingers also tend to become locked. One other complication as a result of wrist tension is the inability to produce a warm tone, as there will be a tendency to ‘hit’ the keys as opposed to ‘stroke’ or ‘caress’ them, which is possible via a flexible wrist and efficient use of the arm.

Let’s start with an exercise to loosen the wrists, which can be done away from the keyboard. Ask students to put their arms in the air in an upright position, keeping the forearm as still as possible, whilst moving the wrists with several different movements or motions. Firstly, move the wrist, and therefore the hand, up and then down several times, aiming to move from the wrist only. Secondly, move the wrists in a motion as if waving goodbye, that is, side to side, from left to right. And finally, move the wrists in a completely ‘circular’ motion, that is, rotating the hand and wrist using a circular movement, all whilst keeping the arm flexible but still. It’s advisable for the wrists to remain very loose and relaxed throughout these exercises. Such movements may seem exaggerated and unnecessary, but they do provide a clear indication to our students how the wrist can move (it’s surprising just how many pupils aren’t aware of this) and the amount of movement required to build flexibility into their technique.

Once this has been assimilated, aim to move onto the next exercise which involves the following simple five finger pattern:

It’s entirely possible to use five finger exercises with semibreves, minims or even crotchets, but the most crucial factor is that there is plenty of time to move between notes. Ask your student to play middle C with their right-hand thumb, and once the key has sounded, encourage them to ‘drop’ their hand, wrist and arm completely whilst still holding down the note. It may be prudent to hold the thumb on middle C (they can do this with their free hand) as they drop their hand (see photo 1, where I am holding my third finger), because the priority is for the note to be played and held as the wrist, hand and arm totally relax.

Photo 1

A dropped hand will probably appear with the hand and wrist in a ‘flopped’ position, below the level of the keyboard. This is NOT a position one would ever use to play the piano, it is merely an exercise to release tension. You may need to work with a student for a while before they get the hang of the necessary ‘relaxed’ feel in their arm and hand; it’s all about the ‘feeling’ of releasing muscles.

The purpose of the exercise being that the pupil’s upper body becomes accustomed to a loose and relaxed stance as they are holding the note. It’s so often the case that students will be completely locked as they play from note to note, usually without even realising that they are doing this. Therefore, one vital aspect of building a flexible approach into technique, is that the tension employed as a note is sounded must immediately ‘released’ afterwards. Such an exercise puts this concept in to action in a fairly straightforward manner, and if practised slowly and regularly, it will eventually become a habit. This exercise can be incorporated easily at the beginning of a practice session.

Students can approach every note of the five-finger exercise in this way, and then work in a similar vein with an exercise for the left hand. Care will be needed with the fourth and fifth fingers, which may ‘fall’ off notes easily at first, if not ‘held’ in place by the other hand. Flatter fingers can be helpful when attempting this exercise, and eventually students will be able to hold the note unaided, and learn to relax their upper body simultaneously.

Once this has been digested, the student should begin to feel more comfortable and suitably ‘relaxed’, so we can move on to the next exercise, which uses the same five finger pattern as printed above. The only difference will be in the approach to playing every note.

Wrist ‘circles’ are a useful technique to help students move from note to note because they generally advocate the ‘dropped’ wrist, and therefore another opportunity to release tension and relax the hand and wrist. They also offer students the chance to learn about circular wrist movement which is a prerequisite in flexible piano playing, whether moving from note to note, or using the movement to incorporate larger groups of notes, or various note patterns. For this exercise, it’s a good idea to ask students to play on their fingertips, as opposed to the flat fingered approach suggested for the earlier exercise.

Fingers occasionally have a tendency to ‘collapse’; to prevent this, ideally focus on employing a ‘hooked’ finger shape, making the sure the first joint (as shown in photo 2 by my index or second finger), is engaged as opposed to collapsing.

Photo 2

I ask students to play middle C, but this time use a complete circular movement before sounding the next note, and as the same C is held in place. To form a rotational or circular motion, as the note is held, the wrist needs to rotate from the neutral position (with the wrist aligned with the keyboard), as in photo 3, through a downward position or motion, as in photo 4, back to the neutral position, and then on to a rising position, with the wrist above the keyboard level, as in photo 5, all before returning to the neutral position and, then finally, on to playing the next note (a D). These movements are all connected via one circular movement, encouraging a loose wrist and arm, between every note, illustrating the importance of the concept of tension (which is required to play a note) and release, or letting go of that tension once the note has been played.

This rotation is quite a straightforward process, as long as the wrist is kept relaxed, and the student’s arm remains flexible. Once grasped, pupils can move through the exercise using both hands, separately.

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Once flexibility has been ‘learned’ and fully assimilated, the fingers can begin to sound each note with a deeper touch producing a full tone, playing past the double escapement to the bottom of the key, or the key bed, whilst still keeping the wrist, hand and arm light and loose. This will encourage every finger to work almost alone, that is, without the help of other fingers, but with full use of the arm, hand and wrist behind every note. This in turn, forms the basis for using the arm as a hinge, so that it can provide the appropriate weight, supported by the moveable wrist for powerful arm weight. It’s this motion which can prevent injury whilst at the same time promoting a full sonority.

To do this the wrist circles must offer a ‘swing’ feel to the single notes in the exercise, and as the finger or thumb goes to strike the note, the wrist drops the arm, and therefore the finger, ‘into’ the key, so that instead of ‘hitting’ from above, the finger caresses the note; the finger should ideally be almost resting on the key before it is played, as opposed to being ‘struck’ from above, which tends to make a less than ideal tone. Instead, the movement comes from the downward motion or ‘swing’ of the wrist and arm.

After a while, students will hopefully feel more relaxed and less tense as they move through these exercises. They will subsequently be able to move on to simple Czerny or Cramer exercises, to further develop firm fingers and wrist movement whilst increasing speed over longer phrases and note patterns.

It may take a few months of work to make progress, but it’s worth reminding pupils that it’s all about how they ‘feel’. Such exercises have little to do with piano music, but the truth is that unless pianists can move freely around the keyboard, they will not be able to play the repertoire that they choose with accuracy and confidence.

You can read the published article by clicking on the link below:

Painless Piano Playing Part 2



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.


 

 

 

Let’s make way for the Ladies!

The latest edition of Pianist Magazine is now available and it’s an ‘all women’ affair. Spotlighting Isata Kanneh-Mason, who appears on the front cover, this issue offers all the usual magazine goodies; ‘how-to-play’ articles by Lucy Parham, Nils Franke and myself, highlighting female composers (Maria Szymanowska, Cécile Chaminade, and Clara Schumann), in-depth masterclasses from Graham Fitch and Mark Tanner, a Piano Teacher Help Desk written by Kathryn Page, a Playing by Ear article from John Geraghty, and articles on female pianists and composers by Jessica Duchen, Peter Quantrill and Inge Kjemtrup.

There’s also a fascinating feature on Clara Schumann by concert pianist Lucy Parham, who is currently touring with her new composer portrait programme I, Clara, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Clara Wieck Schumann. The narrative of I, Clara, drawn from letters and diaries, is interspersed with live performances of Clara’s works, and of music by Robert Schumann, Brahms, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Chopin. The narrator is the acclaimed actress, Dame Harriet Walter. Lucy and Dame Harriet have just released a CD to accompany the tour, and you can find out more about it, here. And you can enjoy a preview of I, Clara by clicking on the link below:

Pianist magazine always contains at least forty pages of sheet music as well as an accompanying CD, all performed and recorded by house pianist Chenyin Li. In this edition, the lion’s share of the sheet music is devoted to female composers, including a charming Mazurka in C by Maria Szymanowska, Bagatelle No. 2 by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, No. 1 from 25 Easy Etudes Op. 50 by Louise Farrenc, Tarentelle Op. 123 No. 10 by Cécile Chaminade, Polka Op. 36 No. 5 by Amy Beach, Méditation by Mel Bonis, and Romance Op. 11 No. 1 by Clara Schumann. I feel most honoured to have one of my educational piano pieces, Kaleidoscope, included amongst this collection.

I wrote Kaleidoscope in a couple of hours on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Set in one of my favourite keys, F minor, it’s an intermediate level piece (intended for pianists of around Grade 5 ABRSM standard), and it contains a wistful melody and accompaniment, which blossoms out into cascading semiquaver passages, with plenty of movement around the keyboard, ideal for showcasing virtuosity. Kaleidoscope has been beautifully recorded by Chenyin Li, and you can hear it by clicking the following link:

If you don’t already subscribe to Pianist, you can do so here.

www.pianistmagazine.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.


 

5 Tips for Secure Coordination and Quick Movement

This month’s 5 tips for Pianist magazine’s newsletter focuses on the issue of moving quickly around the instrument. I hope it’s useful.


Moving quickly and accurately can be tricky. Especially if fast passage work is involved. There are many ways to alleviate this conundrum, but one which can be really beneficial is octave displacement. Yes, you did read that correctly! No-one wants to feel ‘displaced’, but by moving in disparate patterns our brains are unexpectedly taxed, and when we return to playing what is written, the notes should feel more secure.

Start by locating a passage in a piece; one which you feel needs more work. It could involve any type of rapid passage work (in either one or both hands). Now practice the passage hands separately, and then hands together at a slow speed. Ensure you are happy with your chosen fingering.

  1. Let’s assume that your passage is situated within the middle two octaves of the keyboard (if it’s not, you can still apply the following practice technique but you may need to be a little more creative about how you apply it). After playing hands together slowly, repeat with the left-hand part down one octave, keeping the right-hand in the original position. Play through and listen astutely to each line; are you clearly articulating every note? Negotiate any leaps or position changes within the passage with care, watching and feeling every movement.
  2. Now take the left-hand down an octave further, so you are playing with the hands three octaves apart. The lower part of the keyboard often requires a deeper or heavier touch to successfully articulate notes, and fingers will usually accommodate this change.
  3. Once you have assimilated the heavier touch, keep the left-hand where it is and take the right-hand down one, then two, octaves, so that eventually both hands are playing in the lower range of the keyboard; the necessary deeper touch will hopefully encourage clear finger work.
  4. Next, return to play the passage as originally intended. Take the left hand down two octaves (if possible), and the right hand up two octaves. You should now be playing the passage at the extremities of the keyboard. Here, you can articulate note patterns with real clarity, as it’s possible to hear effectively when hands are far apart.
  5. One secure with the hands in this position, gradually increase the speed, and, finally, aim to constantly switch between positions; from one octave apart to two, and then up in the treble and then down in the bass. Aim to play these ever-changing patterns as one continuous phrase. This movement is surprisingly challenging, and necessitates a light arm motion, guided by a loose elbow. You have, in effect, constructed an elaborate ‘study’ or exercise around a demanding passage in your piece.

You might want to employ this practice tool for just four bars at a time or for an entire passage, but the more variety, the easier it will feel on returning to play the original written version. Continual octave displacement demands deft body movement as well as a nimble mind, and the greater the challenge during a practice session, the more comfortable you will feel when you play the piece through.

www.pianistmagazine.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.


 

Piano Workshops and Summer Adventures

I’ve come to the end of a very busy Summer. It has been stimulating and enjoyable on so many levels, and it’s a privilege to travel to interesting parts of the world, meeting and working with different piano students, teachers, music lovers, and (hopefully) spreading the love for the piano.

With fellow faculty members on PIANO WEEK at Moreton Hall. Left to right; Maciej Raginia, Grace Yeo, Vesselina Tchakarova, Madalina Rusu, Mark Nixon, and Samantha Ward.
Image: PIANO WEEK

Music courses, particularly piano courses, are thriving and I’ve written about  them on countless occasions. For teachers, courses can be a great way to connect with both students and fellow teachers, sharing ideas and thoughts about teaching, discovering new repertoire, and discussing various aspects of piano practice and performance.

After nine intense days in Singapore and Malaysia, mainly giving workshops for piano teachers, I spent two weeks on back to back courses serving as a faculty member at PIANO WEEK which is held at Moreton Hall School in Shropshire (UK). This course, lasting seven days, offers piano students comprehensive study with an excellent faculty (usually six or seven tutors: see photo above left).

Working with a student at my composition workshop at the Montecatini Piano Festival
Image: Aisa Ijiri

The next stop on my Summer adventure was to a new festival held in Italy at Montecatini, near Florence in Tuscany. The Montecatini Piano Festival is still in its first year, but has already attracted considerable attention worldwide, with international artists and faculty members, including Hollywood composer and ‘cellist Martin Tillman, pianist and Leeds Piano Competition first-prize winner Sofya Gulyak, concert master and violinist Emanuel Salvador, and the Serbian piano duo, LP Duo.

Organised by Japanese pianist Aisa Ijiri, this festival enjoys an idyllic setting at the Montecatini Terme (or spa, for which the town is famous), and it was a pleasure to work in such surroundings with beautiful Steinway pianos (both PIANO WEEK and the Montecatini Piano Festival are sponsored by Steinway & Sons). At this course and festival, I gave several piano lessons focusing on my music, as well as a new venture for me, a composition workshop for students.

Speaking at the Schott Music Showcase at PIANO WEEK.
Image: Maciej Raginia

Finally, this past week was spent at Rugby School on the last of three PIANO WEEK courses. The course at Moreton Hall consisted of mainly children and teenage students, but Rugby was essentially an all adult course.

A comment reiterated time and again from students, particularly on intensive courses such as PIANO WEEK, is just how much is learnt, digested and, ultimately, improved in a short space of time. Few participants have the luxury of studying with several teachers simultaneously, as well as attending piano seminars, workshops, composition, sight-reading, memorisation, duet classes, and many other musical (as well as non-musical!) activities, which are all included on this course.

My Summer ends this week with two UK workshops. The first takes place on Thursday 29th August at Ackerman’s Music Shop in Hove, near Brighton on the South Coast. I gave a workshop for teachers last year, and in this workshop we will continue exploring flexibility and relaxation in piano technique. The day begins at 10.30am and features several presenters. You can find out more information here.

On Saturday 31st August, Forsyth Music Shop in Manchester will be hosting an afternoon workshop (see image to the right). This is for students and teachers, and I will be continuing with the subject of piano teachnique and flexibility. The afternoon starts at 2.00pm and you can find out more here.

These workshops are both free, and are practically based with plenty auidence participation. I look forward to meeting you.

Participants and faculty members after the final concert at PIANO WEEK held at Rugby School
Image: Maciej Raginia

 


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.


 

Touring in Singapore and Malaysia

If you’ve been following my social media sites, you’ll know I’ve been working in Singapore and Johor Bahru (in Malaysia) over the past week. I aim to organise several overseas book tours per year as I love to travel, and I also enjoy meeting teachers and students from different parts of the world. I’m extremely grateful to my publisher, Schott Music, for their continued support; without them arranging such trips would indeed be challenging, particularly with regard to book distribution which can be tricky in some Far Eastern countries.

I have visited Singapore on a few occasions during the past couple of years; their hospitality is legendary as is their hunger to learn, and the same is true in Malaysia, too. I name these trips ‘book tours’, but they are actually much more than that. A book tour might describe an author who visits a country offering a brief presentation focusing on their book with, perhaps, a Q&A at the end. I generally offer workshops, public and private lessons, lectures or presentations, and adjudicating. Such elements are all connected to my piano course, Play it again: PIANO, but these workshops and classes are not merely presentations about the books. My teaching generally centres around piano technique, and during the workshops I touch on many technical aspects, and crucially, how to keep loose and relaxed whilst developing a solid technique.

In Singapore I gave a six-hour workshop for piano teachers employed by Cristofori. Cristofori is the largest piano company and music school in Singapore with a network of over 30 centres island-wide.  Over 400 instrumental teachers are affiliated to the music school, and I was delighted that over 100 piano teachers came to my first workshop (see photo to the left). I offer four half-hour piano technique workshops in total, and after each one I encourage teachers to come to the piano to try out various ideas and exercises. Teachers can be a fairly reserved bunch in Singapore, but it didn’t take too long to coax them to the piano. And once one or two came up, there was no stopping them!

Chatting to Cristofori teachers at the Singapore Conference Hall

The following day I took a trip over the border to Malaysia. The second workshop (which was also for piano teachers) was shorter, and differed slightly from the first, still mainly featuring piano technique, but I also spoke about my compositions, played some of them, and then answered questions about incorporating composition into piano lessons. This took place at the Forte Academy of Music in Johor Bahru. Around 50 piano teachers attended the event and I appreciated their dedication and interest. They had no qualms about coming up to the piano to try my suggestions, and I endeavoured to answer the numerous questions about technique, piano teaching, and, of course, that perennial subject, piano exams.

Teaching at the Forte Academy of Music in Johor Bahru

Piano exams feature heavily in piano study in the Far East. ABRSM are the preferred exam board, and, again, copious questions ensued about various aspects of examinations, and particularly the diplomas, of which there are many candidates in this part of the world.

The final engagement on this short trip was adjudicating. It’s a privilege to listen to young pianists, and adjudicating (or jury judging) involves hours of listening and writing.

With fellow adjudicator Anthony Hewitt and our hosts from The Musique Loft, Winnie Tay and Angelyn Aw

The invitation to adjudicate at the 3rd Overseas Performer’s Festival came from my friends and colleagues, piano teachers Angelyn Aw and Winnie Tay who run The Musique Loft. This organisation hosts piano competitions, master classes and other events for piano teachers and their students. The festival consisted of a two-day event held at the Chinese Cultural Centre in the urban financial district of Singapore.

I was fortunate to adjudicate alongside fellow British pianist, artistic director, and professor of piano at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Anthony Hewitt (see photo to the left). Tony and I have previously worked together on several occasions and it was wonderful to work in conjunction with another judge, otherwise this job can seem a hefty responsibility on one’s own.

Adjudicating in action

We heard over 200 performances, and many were superb. An extremely high standard of playing was coupled with an interesting selection of diverse repertoire. Every performer played from memory (even the duets and trios), and students ranged from four- or five- year-old Grade one or Grade two students to twenty-five-year-old conservatoire graduates. All participants received trophies and lengthy written adjudications (it’s fair to say that my index finger didn’t work properly for a day or two afterwards!).

I’m not going to discuss whether competitions are ethical or not, but irrespective of this, such displays of piano playing can surely only help to secure a healthy interest in piano music, classical music, and music education in general. I’ve grown tired of making comparisons to the UK, but unfortunately it seems as though we are trailing far behind.

My trip ended with a further day of master classes for The Musique Loft and some private teaching. It was a full week in terms of engagements, but I felt inspired, energised and heartened by this outpouring of love for the piano and its music. I’m looking forward to returning to this part of the world in October to visit Jakarta (Indonesia), Singapore and Johor Bahru.

If you would like to attend one of my technique workshops, I’ll be at Ackerman Music Store in Hove on August 29th 2019, and at Forsyths Music Store in Manchester on August 31st 2019. I look forward to meeting you.


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 Master Class with Jonathan Biss

It’s time for a master class. I haven’t posted one for a while, but we can learn so much from observing the classes of others, and I enjoy highlighting public lessons for this reason.

To complement his series of concerts at Carnegie Hall in 2017, devoted to the late style, Amercian pianist Jonathan Biss gave two public master classes to six young artists on the late solo works of Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert. They took place in February 2017 at the Weill Music Room in New York. The following videos represent three of the classes recorded and I hope you enjoy them.




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.


 

Peaceful Piano Playlist: A Weekend Competition

It’s time for a weekend competition. Faber Music publish some of the most innovative educational piano material on the market. And they offer a wide selection of piano anthologies, providing teachers and their students with the valuable opportunity to access a diverse and vibrant collection of music by numerous composers, all, as it were, ‘under one roof’. Their latest piano volume is a cleverly designed tome catering for those who enjoy their playlists.

Peaceful Piano Playlist is a generous compilation of 35 thoughtfully selected piano pieces from an interesting bevy of composers. As the title suggests, the emphasis is on ‘peaceful’, and it’s clear from the tasteful colour scheme on the front cover that Faber are continuing with their plight to encourage mindfulness: Mindfulness: The Piano Collection was published a few years ago to great success, and this new book represents a similar theme. It will no doubt strike a chord with teachers and students due to the current popularity of this subject, which seems especially significant in our often chaotic world.

Amongst the selected group of popular composers are J. S. Bach, W. A. Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Robert Schumann, Erica Satie and Ludovico Einaudi, who effortlessely rub shoulders with a lesser-known group of Contemporary writers; Max Richter, Chilly Gonzales, Alexis Ffrench, Poppy Ackroyd,  Jessica Curry, George Winston, and Anne Lovett. Faber have also created a spotify playlist to accompany the book, enabling pianists to listen to each work.

I do like this concept, and I’m all for combining old favourites with Contemporary works. Having played through a few pieces in this collection, I particularly enjoyed Flora (by Henrik Lindstrand), Piano Piece, Imperfect Moments Pt. 4 (by Johannes Brecht), and Meeting Points at 2AM (by Ondrej Holý). Mainstream composers are represented by their most well-known, reflective pieces, such as Clair De Lune (Debussy), Prelude in C (J. S . Bach), and the second movement of the Pathétique Sonata Op. 13 (Beethoven).

I have one copy of this book to give away in my competition. To take part, leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this blog post, and I will announce the winner on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!

For an in-depth review of this book, head to Pianodao blog (click here), and to purchase a copy, click here.

www.fabermusic.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.


 

Finchcocks Piano Courses 2019

A weekend spent at the splendid Finchcocks manor house is rather like stepping back into the Eighteenth Century. Situated in Goudhurst, in the South East of England, and set in ample grounds, it’s positioned advantageously for panoramic views of the Kent countryside. This elegant Georgian mansion (see photo above), built in 1725, provides the perfect setting for luxury piano courses. Soft furnishings, tastefully muted colour schemes, original flagstone floors, marble and granite fireplaces, elaborate chandeliers, impossibly high ceilings, and wonderfully creaky staircases, allow a glimpse into what life might have been like nearly 300 years ago.

Accommodation on the third floor of the Finchcocks Mansion.

Last weekend marked my second visit to Finchcocks. On this occasion our accommodation was in the main house, whereas previously, we (myself and course participants) had stayed in the Coach House, a separate building to the right of the manor house. Meals are enjoyed altogether in a palatial dining room, with locally sourced food, all prepared and served by a chef. And for those who like a tipple, there is plenty of wine on offer too!

Courses begin on Friday evening at 7.00pm and end at 3.30 – 4.00pm on Sunday with afternoon tea. And they are fairly intensive affairs, so it really is possible to learn a substantial amount in a short space of time. I tutored an intermediate course; approximately Grade 5 – 7 level of the ABRSM examinations. We began on Friday with a duet session – the ideal ice-breaking introduction. I used my own duets and trios (Snapchats Duets & Trios), which are purposefully simple and tuneful, for a stress-free, friendly, and fun opener.

Duets & trios on two pianos in the crypt.

Saturday started at 9.00am with a two-hour technique session, focusing on straight-forward exercises which are helpful for developing flexibility, and alleviating physical tension. The weekend consisted of several class sessions, with participants playing their prepared repertoire, a memorisation session, a sight-reading session, and individual lessons for each course member. On Saturday evening, before dinner, we enjoyed a piano recital given by pianist Alexander Metcalfe, who played a programme of works by Satie, Chopin, Schubert and Liszt.

Built in 1974, with a powerful sonorous bass and a lyrical mid-range, this model 200 Bosendorfer was manufactured in Vienna, with ivory keys and is used for concerts and recitals in the hall.

A particular highlight at Finchcocks is the tantalizing array of pianos on which to practice. There are ten in total, and the majority are housed in the attractive crypt (see photo, above left); here, the pianos are contained in their own segregated area, allowing for private practice. Finchcocks was a musical instrument museum for forty-five years until it was purchased by current owners Neil and Harriet Nichols. The museum housed a variety of keyboard instruments, and therefore it seems fitting that the current collection also showcases an interesting selection of historical instruments.

The ‘flagship’ Steinway Model B, housed in the recital room.

Alexander gave his recital on a Bosendorfer, which is situated in the main hall on the ground floor (photo above, right). Also on the ground floor, there is a new Steinway Model B (photo, left) in the recital room, and a small Broadwood piano in the entrance hall. This instrument (see photo below) was constructed especially for Bertha Broadwood and it was designed to fit into her living room, therefore it is just 5 feet in length (and it’s nicknamed ‘Bertha’!).

Built in 1900 for Bertha Broadwood, chairman of Broadwood at the time, to fit in a space in her front room.

Most of the remaining instruments are in the crypt, and you can click on the gallery images below for more information about each one.

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Course participants brought a variety of prepared repertoire, including works by J.S. Bach (Prelude No 4 from Six Short Preludes), W. A. Mozart (Sonata in G major K. 283), Friedrich Kuhlau (Sonatina in C major Op. 55 No. 1), C.P.E. Bach (Solfeggietto in C minor H. 220), Frédéric Chopin (Prelude in D flat major ‘Raindrop’ Op. 28 No. 15 and Prelude in B minor Op. 28 No. 6), William Gillock (Holiday in Paris), and Richard Rodney Bennett (Rosemary’s Waltz).

Finchcocks hosts piano courses virtually every weekend, and there is certainly something to suit every level with beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses, alongside those for improvisation and even a course for piano teachers. You can choose from a cohort of expert course tutors including Dave Hall, Graham Fitch, Warren Mailley-Smith, Penelope Roskell, and Lucinda Mackworth-Young.

I will be tutoring two further courses this year; an intermediate course from October 4th – 6th and an advanced course from November 15th – 17th. If you are seeking a majestic weekend retreat to hone your piano skills, or you’re returning to the piano after a break, or you simply wish to connect with new piano friends, you will love Finchcocks.

Click here for the list of new courses.

www.finchcocks.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.

Snapchats Duets & Trios

Snapchats was originally a collection of short piano duets which was published a few years ago. This volume has now been republished and updated, with the inclusion of extra duets and some trios too; it’s most definitely bigger and better than ever!

Snapchats are intended for students from late beginner standard to approximately Grade 4 (ABRSM level). There are 19 duets (four hands at one keyboard) and 4 trios (six hands at one keyboard) in this volume, and they are short, succinct pieces for those who want to explore the art of ensemble playing or simply improve sight-reading skills.

Broadly minimalist in style, these pieces are between 8 and 16 bars in length and they offer a wide selection of moods from expressive atmospheric works such as Sutra, Andante, Shanti Shanti and Joyful, to up-beat numbers like Quick Chat, Hopscotch, Samsara and Take Three. It was quite a challenge to write very short engaging pieces, but students and teachers routinely comment on how much they enjoy the brevity these pieces offer, and many end up repeating the piece (some pieces do have repeat signs for this purpose). Both duets and trios become progressively more difficult throughout the book.

I use these duets and trios as the basis for my sight-reading classes. When I work with students (and teachers) in group classes, one element which they all enjoy and which can also be helpful, is to practice reading altogether. In Malaysia last year I had a class of fifteen piano teachers  simultaneously playing the same trio on five pianos!

You might choose to play Snapchats for fun with friends or perform them in a more formal setting at a music festival or recital, and I hope they offer a special and enjoyable experience. You can listen to each piece by clicking on the following sound files below:

Published by 80 days publishing (Christopher Norton’s publishing company), they are available to purchase 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.


 

Play it again: PIANO Book 3

Play it again: PIANO Book 3 is now available, and, as I know some readers have been eagerly awaiting its arrival, today’s post provides some information about this new publication. I’m very excited about the third book in this series. Each book has its own character and unique collection of pieces, but this one is my favourite!

As a recap, Play it again: PIANO Book 1 and 2 were both published in 2017. Play it again is a progressive and graded piano course, published by Schott Music, intended for those who are returning to piano playing after a break. However, this course has also proved popular for students wanting to explore different repertoire between exam grades too. You can find out more about Book 1, here, and Book 2, here.

The course moves happily alongside the U.K. examination board system. Book 1 takes students from Grade 1 -4 and Book 2, from approximately Grade 5 – 8 level. Book 1 features 28 mostly original pieces taken from standard (as well as more unusual) repertoire, and Book 2 contains 21 pieces. Each ‘level’ consists of a group of pieces focusing on different aspects of technique and musicianship.  For many, particularly those learning alone, the most important facet are the copious practice notes and suggestions which accompany every piece. Piano teachers who fancy an anthology of pieces to work through with their pupils may like to explore this course too.

Play it again: PIANO Book 3

Book 3 will take students on from where Book 2 left off; approximately Grade 8 level through to Associate Diploma level. The new book is much larger than Book 1 and 2 (at 156 pages), and the practice notes which accompany each piece are, as may be expected, far more extensive.

What you can expect to find in Book 3

Book 3  consists of 11 piano pieces,  the majority of which are drawn from standard repertoire (with emphasis on pedagogical works and those suitable for exams). Similar to Book 1 and 2, there is a ‘technique’ section at the beginning of Book 3, with practical exercises and suggestions; these are especially helpful for those with tension issues. In the ‘technique’ section I have included hand flexibility exercises, information on the Bridge position, and exercises for developing finger agility  (especially for the fourth and fifth fingers), as well as thumb exercises. The Warm-Up exercises at the end of the book focus on ways of developing a more holistic approach to pre-practice preparation.

Each piece contains between 3 and 10 pages of practice ideas and tips, as well as many musical examples, diagrams and photographs. The layout is very similar to that of Book 1 and 2. As this is a progressive course, it’s possible to ‘return’ to a level to suit your current standard; some may want to start at the beginning of Book 3,  whilst others may prefer to ‘drop in’ at a later stage.

Book 3 is divided into two parts:

1. Grade 8 – Post Grade 8 Diploma

2. Post Grade  8 Diploma –  Associate Diploma

As Book 3 is a much more advanced level than that of Book 1 and 2, the repertoire is classical and the book is geared towards those who want, or are possibly considering, taking post Grade 8 exams. It’s possible to create a suitable post grade 8 diploma (ARSM/DipLCM) or Associate Diploma (DipABRSM, ATCL, ALCM) programme entirely from this book.  The former section consists of six works, and the latter, five. Each section contains a concert study (in the same manner as Book 1 and 2), alongside a collection of standard, as well as lesser known, pieces.

I hope you like my selection! This choice was based on many factors: the need to include pieces which employ particular techniques, musicianship, and, most importantly, works which display the chosen composer’s overall style effectively, and it was imperative to represent many different styles of music. Each work also had to be enjoyable to play, and, as with most commercial publications, some works simply had to be well-known. Other more practical aspects, such as overall programming of the book and the length of the piece, also came into play.

Book 3 Repertoire

Grade 8 – Post Grade 8 Diploma:

Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in E major K. 215
Edvard Grieg: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen Op. 65 No. 6
Claude Debussy: La Puerta del Vino L. 223 No. 3
Alexander Scriabin: Prelude in B minor Op. 11 No.  6
Paul Hindemith: Interludium and Fuga Decima in D flat
Melanie Spanswick: Frenzy, Etude for Nimble Fingers

Post Grade 8 Diploma to Associate Diploma Level

Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in C minor ‘Pathetique’ Op 13
Johannes Brahms: Intermezzo in A major Op. 118 No. 2
Edward MacDowall: Wild Jagd from Virtuoso Etudes Op. 46 No. 3
Issac Albeniz: Asturias Leyenda Op.  47 No. 5
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12

Layout

I’ve included the scale and arpeggio of each key, where appropriate; or I have linked it to those already featured in Book 1 and 2.  There are warm-up or pre-practice exercises, tailored to every piece. My aim was to highlight a myriad of practice ideas and different methods of breaking pieces down, hopefully re-assembling them with ease and with a greater understanding.

Each piece contains fingering, dynamic suggestions and (where necessary) some pedalling. Although you may choose to ignore this and add your own. All the information provided for every piece is transferable to an infinite number of piano works, therefore building solid practical methods for tackling different styles and genres. There are four videos online already, on Schott’s Youtube channel, and we will add another three teaching videos to this playlist very soon.

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The pages are well laid out and are designed with ‘tip circles’ and ‘technique box-outs’, and I hope it’s an easy to use course, inspiring pianists to rekindle their love for the piano (see gallery above for an example of the page layouts).

Play it again: PIANO is now sold worldwide and many piano schools are using it as their course of choice for students. Schott Music and I launched Book 3 on April 4th at the Frankfurt Musikmesse (see image at the top; pictured with my editors, Robert Schäfer and Schott Editor-in-chief Rainer Mohrs, and the Cristofori Singapore team).

This year I will be travelling around the U.K. visiting various music stores giving Play it again workshops, so if you would like to find out more about the books, please keep an eye on this blog for updates about my travels. I’ll also be visiting the Far East twice for book tours, as well as Germany and Italy.

You can purchase Book 3, watch my teaching videos, and find out more about the Play it again: PIANO series, by clicking here.

Alternatively, purchase from Amazon, 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.