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.


Weekend Competition: Relax With…

The Relax With series is a relatively new collection of piano music books edited by British concert pianist Samantha Ward (published by Schott Music) and designed primarily to be played at home, simply for pleasure.

Selected for their relaxing qualities, the pieces in this volume range from well-known classics to delightful lesser-known gems. Featuring both original pieces and some arrangements, these books consist of volumes dedicated to the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, as well as the French Impressionist composers and traditional music from around the world. The collections are of approximately late elementary to early advanced level, but a competent amateur pianist will have little difficulty in mastering the pieces.

‘Mindfulness’ has been a popular (even fashionable) topic in music (and other subjects) over the past couple of years, and these publications focus almost exclusively on this concept.

The books are beautifully appointed and printed (as might be expected of Schott), and each one contains a wide variety of repertoire within the context of the various titles. Whilst these books are no doubt a rewarding collection to learn, I feel they would also serve as excellent sight-reading material for the advanced player.

There are five books (pictured above) to giveaway this weekend to five lucky winners! So leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this post to be in with a chance of winning. I will announce the winners on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!

To find out more about this series and to purchase books, click 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.


Recommended Piano Resources for Spring 2017

I haven’t posted a recommended resource list for a while, but hopefully today’s group of piano related publications and courses will be of interest. As always, there’s plenty for piano aficionados of all levels and abilities, from collections and compilations to new concert studies for the virtuoso pianist, and several inspiring piano courses set in sumptuous scenery. Competition giveaways of some of those resources mentioned here will be coming soon. Enjoy!

Elementary/Early Intermediate

Play it again: PIANO – Book 1

This is a two-book piano course published by Schott Music and written by me. Book 1 will be available from April 3rd 2017 (Book 2 is scheduled to be published in June). Designed for those returning to piano playing after a break, the course would also be useful for any teenage or adult piano student requiring a selection of progressive piano pieces to either study alone or whilst working with a teacher. Book 1 features twenty-eight selected pieces from approximately grades 1 – 5 standard. Each section contains seven piano pieces, and they are categorised as Elementary (grades 1 – 2 level), Late Elementary (grades 2 – 3), Early Intermediate (grades 3 – 4), and Intermediate (grades 4 – 5). I have included a huge array of genres from Baroque music through to rock, jazz and improvisation; each level includes an arrangement and a technical study. Every piece has two pages of practice tips and suggestions, with photos, diagrams and musical examples. You can find out more and watch taster videos here, and purchase your copy here.

Diversions Book 1 & 2

Two volumes for late elementary students written by Spanish composer Juan Cabeza and published by Piano Safari. Diversions Book 1 and Book 2 contain a collection of 42 patterned etudes for piano. Each etude focuses on a single technical pattern encountered by students in the early stages of piano study, including scales, arpeggios, chords, repeated notes, intervals, and other common pianistic patterns. The patterned structures make it easy for students to decode and understand the music. Most of the pieces are transposable allowing students to assimilate each concept thoroughly. These works range in difficulty from elementary to early intermediate level. I really like Juan’s music and I know young players (and teachers) will enjoy using these pieces in both lessons and concerts. Find out more and purchase here.

48 Easy Concert Pieces

A collection of concert pieces in progressive order from fairly elementary to intermediate level.  According to publishers, Schott Music, ‘These pieces are intended to complement a piano tutorial method and are particularly suitable for performance at auditions, concerts, competitions and examinations.’ They offer totally varied repertoire in a broad selection of pieces from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern periods. It’s always useful to have compilations such as this, whether you’re a teacher or student, and this volume would make ideal sight-reading material too. The publication includes works by; Petzold, Dandrieu, Handel, J.S Bach, Haydn, Vanhall, W. A. Mozart, Beethoven and many more. Purchase your copy here.


The Entertainer

A new volume in the Pianissimo collection published by Schott Music; 100 entertaining pieces are suitable for intermediate players, and contain much-loved favourites such as The Entertainer, the soundtrack from Amélie, My Heart Will Go On from Titanic, Memories from Cats, My Way by Frank Sinatra, amongst others. ‘Classical Highlights’ feature Mozart’s Turkish March, Wagner’s famous Bridal Chorus, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5. ‘Song Highlights’ contain catchy tunes from the areas of blues, gospel, and folk music, like Oh Happy Day, Down By The Riverside or Matilda.  A mixture of original pieces and arrangements, there’s definitely something for everyone here! Buy your copy and find out more by clicking here.

Intermediate/ Advanced

Film Themes: The Piano Collection

Film Themes: The Piano Collection, published by Faber Music, contains thirty sympathetically arranged classic yet contemporary, and ‘up to the minute’ pieces for the intermediate to advanced player. Featuring favourites from such films as Star Wars, Frozen, Hunger Games, How To Train Your Dragon and Twilight, plus several pieces from the Harry Potter film series and “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” from the acclaimed new movie La La Land.  This selection offers an excellent alternative to standard repertoire, particularly for the film buff, and I know my advanced students would love this volume as a fun alternative to traditional sight-reading material. A great addition to the student, teacher and piano lover’s library. Purchase your copy here.

Eastern Preludes

Not necessarily a new publication, but one which must be included on this list. Eastern Preludes (published by Boosey & Hawkes) are a collection of intermediate to advanced level pieces written by the outstanding educational British composer, Christopher Norton. No doubt inspired by the composer’s many visits to the East, they are sure to be favourites amongst those who seek alternative repertoire between exams or different concert repertoire material. Each one explores the rich musical landscape of the East weaving native themes from countries including China, India, Japan, Korea, and Thailand with the composer’s characteristically attractive, popular style. A useful accompanying CD features each work, and has been beautifully recorded by pianist Iain Farrington. I enjoyed exploring these pieces; they are comfortable to play and perfect for those who like to delve into various atmospheric sound worlds. Find out more and buy your copy here.


La La Land

The music from the new hit movie. Those who loved the film will surely appreciate this piano assortment of ten numbers, published by Faber Music.  The romantic musical comedy-drama film has now won six Oscars, seven Golden Globes and six BAFTAs. Written by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, this excellent selection have all been transcribed for piano and voice with guitar chords, following the original music and keys as closely as possible. I would suggest the arrangements are generally for advanced pianists, but some are simpler, and may be suitable for those of intermediate (roughly grades 4 – 6) level. You can purchase your copy and find out more here.

Birds; Études Tableaux for piano

A new set of advanced concert studies (Grade 8 – diploma) by British writer and composer Andrew Higgins. Published by EVC Music Publications, each piece focuses on a different bird; Penguins (a study in bi-tonality and chromatics), is described by the composer as ‘a polytonal life of joie de vivre and exuberance on the one hand, and clownish clumsiness on the other’. This is followed by A Wise Old Owl (a study in control and tempo), The Swan (a study for three against twos), Albatross (a study in three-part playing), Hummingbirds (a study in flexible rhythms and rubato), and Lovebirds (a study in improvisation). All good fun and very useful for technical development. You can listen to each piece, purchase your copy and find out more here.

Alberto Ginastera in Switzerland

This new anthology (published by Boosey & Hawkes) explores the late works and life of the Argentinian composer. In 1971, Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983) relocated to Geneva to make a fresh start with Aurora Natola, an Argentinian cellist resident in Switzerland. This volume was published on the occasion of the first centenary of the composer’s birth, and the Paul Sacher Foundation seeks to retrace the previously little-known late phase of Ginastera’s life and works. Featuring six essays illuminating different facets of his late years on the basis of the surviving manuscripts, letters, and other records, this publication is a fascinating historical document and selection of piano pieces. Find out more and purchase here.

Piano Courses

Almalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival

This piano course has it all: an illustrious faculty and a plethora of performance opportunities, set in gorgeous Italian scenery. Launched in 1996, the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival welcomes students and guests from all over the world for a month-long array of events. The festival celebrates its 22nd anniversary season in 2017. The piano programme runs from July 14th – 26th, with a myriad of activities on offer for pianists including individual lessons, daily master classes, workshops, and the opportunity to perform in institute recitals. The faculty includes Ian Jones (Royal College of Music), Boris Berman (Yale School of Music), Jerome Lowenthal (Juilliard School), Ursula Oppens (Brooklyn College & CUNY Graduate Center), and Steven Spooner (University of Kansas), plus many more. Find out about it and apply here.


Organised by British concert pianist Samantha Ward, this non-residential full-time piano course and festival is set in spectacular Italian surroundings. It’s one of a whole series run in various parts of the world throughout the year, offering students lessons, performance opportunities, sight-reading classes, composition and music theory classes, plus time to practice and the opportunity to attend all faculty recitals and master classes. The upcoming course takes place in beautiful Foligno, and there are still a few places available. The faculty includes Samantha Ward, Maciej Raginia, Roberto Russo, and Mark Nixon. Running from 20th – 23rd April 2017, you can apply to attend or participate, and enjoy the new promotional video 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.



New Year Weekend Competition: the winner…

e20016ac-d186-4c15-a350-c7c3873fd590Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition. The prize is a copy of The Ultimate Easy Piano Songlist published by British music publisher, Faber Music.

Without further ado, the winner is…


CONGRATULATIONS! Please send me your address via the contact page on this blog, and your book will be on its way.

If you would like to find out more or purchase this volume, please click here.

There are lots more competitions and giveaways coming soon, so stay tuned!

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).

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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.

Why take part in an Amateur Competition? Chicago Amateur Piano Competition 2016

14159810_10208827420736925_173395617_nLove them or loathe them, piano competitions are more popular than ever before and there are no shortage of entrants, irrespective of standard or ability. And subjective as they are, piano contests can fire the imagination, motivating players to reach new heights in their quest for keyboard perfection.

For a professional pianist a competition has a purpose; the winner (or winners) usually has the opportunity to advance in their career, particularly when the prize consists of many concerts and recordings. However, when a competition is for amateurs, such reasoning is less clear.

Last week I spent an immensely enjoyable and rewarding four days in the US, serving as a jury member of the Chicago Amateur Piano Competition, proffering the chance to fully observe a cross-section of adult amateur pianists. Presented by PianoForte Foundation, the competition (which runs once every two years) is going from strength to strength since its inception in 2010. This year fifty-five competitors from around the world competed in this well organised event.

Proceedings kicked off on Tuesday night with a ‘Meet the Judges’ session, held at the PianoForte Foundation located on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. American pianist and composer Adam Neiman, Russian/American pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski, and myself, were interviewed by Thomas Zoells (who founded PianoForte Foundation and is owner of PianoForte Chicago, Inc) about our careers and competition perspectives. The interview was live streamed and can be viewed here. This was followed by three and a half days spent in the balcony (with my colleagues) at the main auditorium in the Sherwood School of Music (part of Columbia College), listening to two separate competitions; a two-rounder and a three-rounder.

With a gleaming Yamaha CFX instrument at their disposal, competitors were free to present whatever programme took their fancy; all performances were live streamed (and can still be enjoyed here). The first two days consisted of hearing fifty-five 12 minute programmes. This was followed (on the third day) by a whole of host of 15 minute recitals (with new repertoire) for the finalists (of the two-round competition) and semi-finalists (of the three-round competition). On the last half day, we heard five three-rounder finalists, who had all prepared a further 30 minutes of music. Many of the players have, by all accounts, demanding careers (including doctors, lawyers, and a whole host of musically unrelated jobs), whilst others were music or piano teachers; the work involved in such preparation by those with relatively little time on their hands, is both impressive and inspiring.


The standard varied considerably; there were those who had never played in public before and were eager to try out a few choice pieces, and then there were the competition past masters, who were visibly confident, self-assured and professional in all but name. It’s no easy task judging such a variety of standards, repertoire, and musical competence. We adjudicated as we might any competition; by choosing those who were interesting musically, had a certain technical grasp, and who literally ‘moved’ us. A strict points system was implemented (taking into account every aspect of a competitor’s performance from musicianship, technique and sound, through to how they presented themselves), and we wrote copious notes accompanying each performance with the aim of providing helpful feedback.

What was really fascinating (for me) was the selected repertoire. As to be expected, many kept to the well-trodden path; Scarlatti (Sonatas), J S Bach (Partitas, Suites, Preludes and Fugues), Mozart (Sonatas and Variations), Beethoven (Sonatas), Schubert (Impromptus and Moment Musicaux), Chopin (Ballades, Scherzi, Preludes, Nocturnes, Waltzes, Polonaises, (and for the brave) the Études), Liszt (Études and showpieces), Brahms (Op. 118, Op. 119 pieces and the Rhapsodies), Schumann (Arabeske and Intermezzi), Debussy (Images, Children’s Corner Suite, and Pour Le Piano), Ravel (Jeux d’eau and Ondine (from Gaspard de la nuit)), Rachmaninoff (mainly Preludes and Études-Tableaux) and Scriabin (Preludes). And a smattering of Purcell, Rameau, Moszkowski, Scharwenka, Mompou, Granados, Ginastera, Messiaen, Fauré, Medtner, Godowsky, Prokofiev, Respighi, Hindemith, Bartók, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Rodrigo, and Kapustin.

But there were also some less familiar names; Takashi Yoshimatsu, Kosaku Yamada, Benjamin Lees, and two Chicago based composers: Margaret Bonds and Leo Sowerby. The addition of lesser known composers and Twenty-first Century music is always a welcome change, and the Japanese pieces by Yoshimatsu resonated with me particularly. They were beautiful and atmospheric, belonging to the Minimalist style which I love.

Consistency across two or three rounds proved challenging for some, and others found the sudden catapult into the spotlight, not surprisingly, a little awkward. Probably around half performed from memory. We deliberated after each round before selecting the semi-finalists, finalists and winners, but the verdict was always unanimous.

The winners, who all won cash prizes (there were three in each round (1st, 2nd & 3rd)), and those who were awarded special prizes (for particular repertoire groups), demonstrated poise and commitment through each stage. Some had studied the piano to degree level (both undergraduate and postgraduate), with one or two attending junior and evening college division music conservatoire classes. This training was certainly evident.

Firm friendships can be formed; a shared love of the piano, classical music, and a wish to develop their playing further, sometimes instigates an intoxicating camaraderie. After the competition was over, everyone I spoke to had found it a wholly memorable, exciting and satisfying experience, and one which they were keen to repeat.

This piano festival ended with three two-hour master classes each given by Adam, Konstantin, and myself, to selected competitors.

Competitions such as this demonstrate the popularity of amateur music making. Most importantly, they provide pianists with an excuse to play to fellow musicians in front of a friendly jury, receive feedback, and hopefully, discover new music and musical companions.

The Chicago Amateur Piano Competition couldn’t have taken place without careful preparation (over a two-year period) by Thomas and Darcy Zoells, Sally Olson, Giovanna Jacques and an army of volunteers. I thank them for arranging such a wonderful four days of music making and wish them luck for 2018.

Top Image © Sally Olson. From left to right: Adam Neiman, Konstantin Soukhovetski, Noah DeGarmo (2nd prize in the three round competition), Michelle Steffers (1st prize),  David Swenson (3rd prize), myself and Thomas Zoells.

Lower Image © Melanie Spanswick: judging from the balcony!

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.


10 Top Recommended Piano Resources for July 2016

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Summer is upon us and this month’s selection of piano resources features a new online method, an exam syllabus, a useful App, and a new edition of an educational masterpiece. Hope you find them helpful.

Beginners and Elementary

Interactive Piano Method®

13575745_1648752375446722_3149223656312773678_oAmerican teacher, composer and arranger Carol Matz, has written an Interactive Piano Method®. It is a new and unique method which includes Lesson Books with directly corresponding online materials. Students can access the online activities on their own and get instant feedback on their answers. Each level includes a Lesson Book, Online Activities, PDF Downloads (Performance Pieces, Activity Sheets, Sight-Reading, etc.), as well as MP3 teacher duet accompaniments. The Lesson Book is also provided as a downloadable PDF which can be printed and/or used on a tablet (such as an iPad, etc.). The online activities can all be done on a computer or tablet and include ear training, theory, virtual flashcards, note spelling, and more. For a limited time, teachers can submit a request for a free level here, and you can find out more here.

Video Lessons from Hal Leonard

indexThe Hal Leonard video lessons are intended to complement the Hal Leonard student piano library. They are free and introduce pupils and teachers to the All-in-one piano lessons book. American Author Barbara Kreader (one of four authors who co-wrote this series of books) presents each video, often working with one of her students. There are twelve videos in this mini series, lasting around 5 minutes each. They are correlated to specific pages and pieces within the first book and will no doubt be very beneficial to all those who use or are considering using this method. Watch here.

Technical Exercises and Rote Pieces

Tech-Rote-Book-Cover-1024x796The Technical Exercises & Rote Pieces book, published as part of the Piano Safari method series written by Katherine Fisher and Dr. Julie Knerr, is designed to supplement any standard piano method. It contains pattern-based pieces and exercises designed to be taught by rote. Students are encouraged to regularly listen to the audio recording of each piece as they work through the book. As a result, their ears will already be accustomed to the style, articulation, tempo, phrasing, and dynamics necessary for musical performance. The audio recording is available as a CD or Digital Download. Find out more and purchase here.

Intermediate Level

Rock & Pop Studies

RockThis volume includes 80 progressive piano studies and exercises for all those interested in learning to play rock and pop. Published by Faber, and written by British authors Lucy Holliday and Oliver Weeks, each study within this book focuses on particular styles, exploring the various technical elements associated with them; syncopation, varying bass lines, gospel chord progressions, classic rock arpeggios, and twelve-bar blues are all featured. The styles covered include Motown, metal, the blues, soul, funk, ska, reggae, disco, country, indie, dance, classic rock, and synth pop. There are practice tips for every exercise with many suggested further listening ideas too. This publication would suit a pianist approaching intermediate level (Grade 4-5). Find out much more here.

Sheets Zwei

005007d2-62b1-473e-9821-88c5c341d756Sheets Zwei is the second in a series of bespoke art music books by the German composer and performer, Nils Frahm, published just this week by Manners McDade. Featured artwork, by his father Klaus Frahm, comes from a series of photographs of barns, abandoned buildings and other rural artifacts taken in Portugal during Nils’ childhood. Containing ten of Nils’ piano works, the volume also includes some simple ideas to transform any piano into a Una Corda (similar to a prepared piano), the piano commissioned by Nils from master piano builder, David Klavins. An easy listening, Minimalist style which is sure to appeal intermediate level players everywhere. Find out much more here.

From Elementary to Advanced

ABRSM New Piano Syllabus

Piano Exam Pieces 2017 & 2018, non-CD editionThe ABSRM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music), the British music examination board, have just published their new piano exam syllabus for 2017-2018. Released just this weekend, the books (8 in all) each contain a selection of nine pieces from Grades 1 to 7 and 12 pieces at Grade 8, covering lists A, B & C. Meticulously edited and presented, these volumes comprise a rich and very varied repertoire from which to create an interesting, diverse programme for an exam or concert. Each volume includes helpful footnotes and syllabus information, and can be purchased as a book only or a book & CD package. The recordings are also available as downloads here.  Even if you’re not planning to take an ABRSM piano exam, the selected repertoire can be a great way to get to know new repertoire. Find out more here.


ut50411.141030As a committed Bartók lover, I’m a huge fan of this wonderful pedagogical masterpiece which has just been republished in a new edition. Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos is available in three volumes published by Wiener Urtext. Together these volumes cover all the ABRSM graded levels (from grade 1 to grade 8) and this makes them indispensable for piano students. They give an all rounded technique for players of virtually any standard. They also contain several additional pieces published for the first time, and include useful notes on study and interpretation, with a glossary of expression markings in several languages. For further information and a video please click here.



GetAttachmentThumbnailNewzik is a universal sheet music reader app available for the iPad & iPhone.  It allows musicians to manage, read and annotate all musical scores with ease. All the sheets, tabs, chords, audio & midi files or videos can be accumulated, stored and organized in a single tablet. You can turn pages automatically with a hands free Bluetooth foot pedal too. For more information click here. Watch the demo video here, or try it for free here.


Around the Globe Piano Music Festival

GlobeAround the Globe Piano Festival is a competitive festival held in London in November 2016, aspiring to promote worldwide classical and contemporary music. The aim is to encourage students of all ages to learn new repertoire in various styles including contemporary and jazz music. Selected works include a wide range of piano music from around the world, much of which is not regularly performed, contributing to our multicultural British society. To obtain a brochure, enter the festival and find out more, click here.


NTD International piano competition

10557537_306949402817928_459061284752850702_oFor piano competition lovers, the 4th NTD International Piano Competition will be taking place from Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, 2016 in New York. The Competition will consist of one qualification round and three live competition rounds: Preliminary, Semifinal, and Final. Pianists aged between 16 to 48 are encouraged to apply. Gold, Silver, and Bronze prize winners (maximum prize $10,000) will also receive professional recording and concert opportunities. The event will be broadcast on television and online, hosted by New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television. You can apply Online by July 31, 2016. Find out more here, or e-mail for more information 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.


Recommended Piano Resources for May 2016

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Wishing you all a fabulous May Bank Holiday Weekend. May’s resources prove to be another interesting crop of piano music, an anthology, online resources and a course. I hope you find something of interest, whether you are a teacher, student or piano lover.


The Lady Bug Game


A newly revised resource from Susan Paradis’ Piano Teaching Resources. US piano teacher Susan Paradis owns a very popular blog which is a treasure trove of teaching resources for piano teachers with young pupils. She devises copious games, all encouraging youngsters to learn easily and swiftly. This game is designed to help pupils negotiate the music alphabet, recognize notes on the stave or keys on the piano keyboard, and to reinforce intervals or skips. It’s fast and fun, and is especially useful for beginners. You can find out much more here.

Black & White Blues

Black-White-Blues-by-Olly-Wedgwood-768x1077Black & White Blues, written by UK composer Olly Wedgwood (published last week by EVC Music Publications Ltd) is a classic twelve bar slow blues in the key of C, written for pianists at about grade 2 ABRSM or AMEB standard.  As its name suggests, there are a myriad of chromatic moments throughout. The right hand melody is echoed by the left hand in the second half with plenty of hand crossing action during the closing bars. Black & White Blues comes with a bluesy play-along backing track to enjoy, once you’ve got the hang of it! Hear this piece and purchase here.


Loch Ness Quest

loch nessLoch Ness Quest is the latest piano composition from US composer and teacher, Wendy Stevens. Ness Quest is a dramatic, intermediate piano piece. It’s full of adventure, fun to play and uses the entire keyboard, which intermediate students always find interesting and attractive. This piece comes from a set of “dangerous piano pieces” that have ‘mysteriously’ emerged from the ComposeCreate library (Wendy’s company), and is designed to engage the contemporary tastes of pre-teens and teenaged students.  You can hear Ness Quest, find out more and order here.

Relax with Series

WardA new anthology of books, published by Schott Music, and edited by British concert pianist Samantha Ward. The Relax With Series is intended primarily to be played at home, simply for pleasure. The pieces have been selected for their relaxing qualities, and in this volume range from well-known classics to delightful lesser-known gems. Featuring arrangements of traditional pieces from around the world, the collection is of easy/intermediate level so a competent amateur pianist will have little difficulty in mastering them. Also in the series; Relax with French Impressionist Piano, Relax with Classical Piano, Relax with Romantic Piano and Relax with Baroque Piano. You can find out much more here.


Mirrors-for-Piano-by-Sam-Wedgwood-1-768x1077For those desiring something different, why not try Mirrors by Sam Wedgewood (who, like Olly Wedgwood, is the son of very popular composer Pamela Wedgwood). Published by EVC Music Publications Ltd, this work has an ethereal, emotional quality, perfect for those who enjoy reflective music. For intermediate level, it could be considered pop/R&B genre, and comes with two play along tracks. Find out more, hear and purchase here.


You Can Read Music

You can read musicI discovered this book relatively recently, but it was written in 2014, and is based on the Simultaneous Learning concept devised by the highly respected British writer and composer Paul Harris, and published by Faber Music. You Can Read Music is a practical workbook for anyone who has ever wanted to read music notation. Ideal for those new to reading music, students learning to sing or play an instrument, as well as classroom teachers and choral singers wanting to improve their skills. By the end of this book you will be able to read and understand music notation, and you don’t even need a musical instrument. It is accompanied by a useful audio CD too. Buy your copy here.


Pianist Magazine

600Pianist has, this week, won the Digital Publication of the Year 2016 award, providing the ideal moment to remind readers all around the world, of the digital version of this excellent publication. Whilst published in the UK, you can enjoy everything this magazine has to offer in the digital version. Featuring many ‘how to play’ articles (one written by me!), master classes from expert teachers, piano articles, an interview with a celebrated pianist, competitions, over forty pages of free sheet music, and much more, in every bi-monthly edition. You can download the app for free and enjoy a free sample issue too. Available as an App on iPad and iPhone, or as a digital edition on your computer, from the App Store or Google Chrome. Find out lots more here. You can also subscribe to the print version here.

One Year Piano Practice Planner


Devised by US piano teacher Catherine Shefski, this one-year piano practice planner helps you create a disciplined and effective plan to track your progress towards your weekly, monthly and yearly musical goals. Whether you’re preparing for a recital, audition, or competition, or you simply want to finish learning a piece, this planner will keep you moving ahead. With plenty of space to write  whatever you feel  necessary to keep your motivated, this calendar serves as both a journal and a practice schedule. The piano practice planner is set up with blank months so that you can start using it any month of any year. Find out much more and purchase here.


Piano Safari Summer Institute

Safari coursePiano Safari have created a special course for those wanting to learn more about their piano method. This series of workshops will be held at Ohio University Music School (pictured above), in Athens, Ohio, US, from June 23rd to 24th. The event will be held in conjunction with Ohio University Piano Pedagogy Seminar and the OHIO International Piano Duet & Duo Competition, featuring the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo. It will provide a Piano Safari overview, the essentials of technique for beginners, foundations of musical literacy (rote teaching and the development of artistry, reading and rhythm), and teaching strategies. You can find out much more here.


Friday Freebie!

Carol MatzToday’s Friday Freebie comes courtesy of wonderful US composer and arranger, Carol Matz. Carol (pictured above) is a prolific educational composer whose many collections of works and arrangements for the piano have been published by Alfred. She publishes her compositions as well, and you can sign up for free monthly piano pieces, arrangements and duets, here. Carol also offers a free SuperScore app, where you can download several interactive scores for free. With SuperScores, you can write on the music, zoom in/out to re-layout the music, do hands-free page turning, and lots more. You can even mark up scores on your iPad! Find out more here

Stormy Ocean is being offered for free today. This piano piece is around late elementary level (Grades 2-3), and is a majestic piece with a left hand melody and right hand chordal accompaniment. The left hand tune is ideal for strengthening bass clef reading and for developing cantabile playing too. You can download and enjoy it here:

Stormy Ocean for piano by Carol Matz

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 March 2016

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As March draws to a close, here’s a round-up of useful piano resources. Hopefully there’s something for everyone including a new piano method, a sight-reading collection, piano pieces, as well as a tempting piano course and an inaugural piano festival. Enjoy!


Lang Lang Piano Method

Lang LangNew to the market this month, the Lang Lang Piano Method (published by Faber Music), consists of five volumes and is designed to take youngsters from the very beginning to around Grade 1 level (ABRSM exams). The brightly coloured publications feature a cartoon character of the Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang, and take beginners (the method is aimed at those between the ages of 5 – 10 years) on a journey of piano discovery.  Musicianship is developed through theory quizzes and games, as well as the chance to hear Lang Lang playing a range of piano repertoire. The books are accompanied by online audio tracks, including performances of the concert pieces by the popular piano star himself. Find out more here and purchase copies here.



Banishing onerous sight-reading tests will be simple courtesy of this series! Written by British teacher Lindsey Berwin and published by Kevin Mayhew, the set consists of five books, and level 1 begins at approximately Grade 1 ABRSM standard. Each short piece is designed to develop a students awareness of key. A variety of styles have been implemented including rock, swing and latin, and the books have a useful accompanying CD. These publications will ideally help pupils to incorporate regular practice in this area, improving rhythmic awareness and crucially, the ability to play fluently. I encourage my students to obtain many different sight-reading books within each exam grade (irrespective of which they plan to prepare for), therefore a series such as this will be most beneficial. Get your copies here.


Spinning Sky


Spinning Sky for piano, written by Russian composer Aleksandra Vilcinska (featured on the cover) consists of a tuneful, wistful melody evoking hopes, dreams and happiness. Published just last month by EVC Music Publications Ltd. Spinning Sky is a beautifully balanced piece to add to a teenage student’s repertoire, particularly those who enjoy the ‘new age’ genre. Suitable for students at Intermediate level (or Grades 5-6 ABRSM standard). Listen to the piece and get your copy here.

8 Children’s Pieces for Piano

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Celebrated British composer Malcolm Arnold‘s highly evocative and colourful 8 Children’s Pieces for Piano have been republished in a new edition by Queen’s Temple Publications. They range in difficulty from about Grades 2 – 6, and represent a wonderful set of imaginative and fun pieces to learn, play and perform. Melodious, often dramatic, and with interesting and occasionally unexpected harmonies, they are audience and young pianist friendly. Titles include Dancing Tune, Two Sad Hands, Across the Plains and The Buccaneer. You can find out more and purchase your copy here.


Piano Kaleidoscope

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This new volume, published by German publisher, Barenreiter, is a special edition; a mix of classics at an affordable price, featuring a cross-section of Bärenreiter’s extensive piano catalogue. The pieces and movements range from the 18th century through to the first decades of the 20th century.  Fifteen composers are represented in this edition, from J S Bach and Schubert through to Debussy, Satie and Smetana. The pieces also vary in national style and are fairly wide-ranging in terms of technical difficulty, although many are intermediate (grades 5 – 6) level. You can find out more and order your copy here.



newsletter-enTomBooks is a new type of e-book combining text, images and audio content in an innovative manner. The goal of these books is to ‘immerse the reader in a world of culture, music and art through an interactive, multi-sensory approach’. TomBooks’ first editions are dedicated to music and painting: biographies of composers, interactive music scores, galleries and games linked to painting, and books dedicated to works of art.  The majority of the books involve a dedicated network allowing readers to communicate with each other by means of a platform created for each book. The piano music ranges from pop and musical theatre, to classical and film music, and various accompaniments are also available. You can explore the piano music here.


The Miami International Piano Festival Academy


This course offers an intensive summer programme designed to explore the Art of Piano Playing. Distinguished teacher Giselle Brodsky is artistic director of this three week session, which takes place from July 3rd – 24th 2016 in Miami. The Academy provides pianists with the opportunity to take part in intensive private and open lessons with international master artists and teachers. There will be opportunities to participate in technique clinics, enjoy discussions with the faculty, and explore the world of different composers and specific repertoire, as well as learn  to improvise, strengthening skills as performers. You can find out much more here.


London Piano Festival


I enjoy spotlighting new piano festivals and this one looks most innovative. The London Piano Festival takes place at King’s Place in London in October 2016, and has been created by pianists Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen. Their shared love of the instrument has initiated this weekend especially for the city’s many piano lovers. The music will range from Bach, Busoni and Rachmaninoff through to Messiaen and Piazzolla. A particular highlight will be the world premiere of a new two-piano work by the American composer Nico Muhly. performers include Alfred Brendel, Kathryn Stott, Noriko Ogawa, Julian Joseph, Stephen Kovacevich as well as Katya and Charles. You can find out much more 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.