The Intermediate Pianist: The winners….

Many thanks to all those who took part in my weekend competition, which was to win one of three new books written by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond.  I really enjoyed reading all your comments. The Intermediate Pianist is a new piano course for those from Grade 3 – 5 level.

The winners are:

Liz Gethings wins Book 1

Flora Tzanetaki wins Book 2

and, Rebekah Hanna wins Book 3

Congratulations! Please send your address via my contact page here on the blog, and your books will be on their way.

You can find out much more about these publications here.


 

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Weekend Competition: the winners…

Many thanks to all those who took part in my weekend competition. The prizes include five volumes of the Relax With Series of piano music edited by Samantha Ward and published by Schott Music.

The winners are:

Lisa Lewis wins Relax With Baroque Music

ADA wins Relax With Classical Piano Music

Antonina Lax wins Relax With Romantic Piano Music

Katherine Farr wins Relax With French Impressionist Piano Music

and, Ann Coleman wins Relax With Folk Piano Music

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

For more information about each book, click here.


My Books:

For much more information about practising repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece.

If you’re thinking about learning to play the piano, my guide-book, So You Want To Play The Piano? (Alfred) is full of useful help and support.

The Faber Music Piano Anthology (Faber) is also a valuable resource for those who desire a collection of standard repertoire from Grades 2 – 8, featuring 78 pieces in total.

My Compositions:

I have written a selection of educational piano music (both solo and duet) and you can hear it and find out much more here: EVC Music Publications.

Contemporary Music Festival Repertoire

I enjoyed an interesting and fun couple of days at the Music & Drama Education Expo at Olympia in London at the end of last week. My music publisher, EVC Music Publications Ltd, hosted a vibrant and busy stand at this event, and some composers (including myself) gave several presentations, enabling us to meet and chat to teachers whose students play our music, which was a real pleasure.

elena-cobb-star-prizeA particular highlight this year for me, is the inclusion of some of my pieces in the Elena Cobb Star prize, which is available to music festivals affiliated to the British and International Federation of Festivals.

Music festivals are essentially mini competitions for students of the arts (whether that be music, dance or speech). The Star prize can be implemented by any festival; there is a £50 prize for the winner of the class (as well as a Star Prize badge and certificate). This prize aims to encourage students to play music by living composers and there’s a whole syllabus of pieces from which teachers and pupils can choose (for beginners up to advanced level). You can view the complete syllabus here, which includes works by all EVC Music composers.

My compositions are featured in Grade 1 (Witch Cackle from Piano Magic), Grade 2 (Fairy Dust from Piano Magic), Grade 5 (Waltz on a Sunken Ship from Piano Waves), and Grade 7 (Digression from Digressions). My book of duets, Snapchats, can also be played in the duet classes.

Snapchats have proved popular with students and teachers around the world; these 11 duets are short (8 -10 bars), succinct, and use a variety of piano techniques which may be new to pupils of this level (written for those between grades 1 – 3 (ABRSM level)). Whilst the title, Snapchats has been inspired by the social media platform, the pieces themselves have been influenced by meditation and Taoism, and are therefore rather ‘atmospheric’, creating various moods, The primo and secondo parts are of similar standard, therefore they can be played by two students, teacher and student, or parent and student, and are therefore a useful addition to any studio recital or school concert programme.

I was recently sent three performances; Shanti Shanti, Light and Sutra (all from Snapchats) played by very talented brothers Arthur and Alex Anderson, who performed them in a concert in York (UK). I hope you enjoy these recordings. Find out more about Snapchats here, and you can hear all the pieces in the set here.




My Books:

For much more information about practising repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece.

If you’re thinking about learning to play the piano, my guide-book, So You Want To Play The Piano? (Alfred) is full of useful help and support.

The Faber Music Piano Anthology (Faber) is also a valuable resource for those who desire a collection of standard repertoire from Grades 2 – 8, featuring 78 pieces in total.

My Compositions:

I have written a selection of educational piano music (both solo and duet) and you can hear it and find out much more here: EVC Music Publications.

15 Top Piano Resources for 2015

Happy New Year!

I’ve discovered many great piano tutors or methods, educational piano books, sheet music and online resources  over the past year, some of which have already been reviewed or mentioned on my blog.  So here’s a round-up of useful and interesting publications for pupils,  teachers, and piano lovers everywhere. This is a random selection, but I have included resources for all levels, and hopefully these recommendations might be helpful.


For Beginners:

My Piano Trip To London

COVER NEW FRONT copy

My Piano Trip To London will be a hit with beginners everywhere. Written by British composer and piano teacher, Elena Cobb (who is the creator of the popular Higgledy Piggeldy Jazz Series), it combines lots of fun games, stickers (yes, stickers!), and inventive musical ideas, with sound learning tools and advice (there is a Top Tip on every page). I particularly like the duet aspect; pupil and teacher playing together in virtually every piece. Not only does this provide a confidence boost for the student (more often, helping them to keep time), but it also makes any piece sound wonderful (the teacher’s parts being more complicated, definitely enhance each little piece). All centred around famous images of London, Fab Facts are interspersed with swift learning. Highly recommended! (All Elena’s books are available in the US from her distributor.)

Dogs & Birds

Written by Hungarian pianist and teacher Elza Lusher, Dogs & Birds, is already a popular method for very small children. Little children can find reading conventional notes tricky, and this tutor book introduces them to reading music via beautiful colour illustrations and adventures with animals. Learning through familiar animals is more fun, and progress can be quick too; each animal shows the position of notes on the keyboard and staves, using small animal tiles and coloured staves. There is no need to know your alphabet and pupils sing each animal as they play, reinforcing learning. A supplementary book, Notes & Lesson Plans for Parents and Teachers enables parents to understand and help their children practice, which is crucial. An excellent approach.

Tales of a Musical Journey

Irina

This piano method is written by highly experienced Russian teacher, Irina Gorin. Irina regularly publishes her piano lessons on YouTube and has a large following around the world (she lives in the US). Tales of a Musical Journey employs a fairy tale setting and characters to introduce and expand musical concepts. Entertaining and magical, the stories develop a pupil’s understanding of music and piano playing. The book comes with a ‘kit’ comprising a foam squeeze ball (for hand positions), picture cards, a plush monkey, music alphabet cards, and noise putty for ‘jelly keys’ exercise! There are ear training exercises and theory too (very important), and a CD with musical examples is also included to accompany students. Good fun and cleverly devised.

Delightfully Easy Piano Duets Book 2 

The Delightfully Easy Piano Duets Series provides a great introduction to ensemble playing.  I reviewed Book 1 here on the blog. Written by British music teacher and writer Rosa Conrad, these books are really useful for beginners who want to perform tunes with their teachers (or parents). The second book is equally bright and cheerful, with slightly more complicated Secondo parts (for teacher), and great little diatonic melodies for the young pupil. It’s not easy to find simple duets, as Rosa says herself, and these will be a welcome repertoire addition for teachers everywhere.

Fun, Games and Party Pieces

Fun, Games and Party Pieces is intended for the young solo pianist. It is designed to be used alongside other piano tutor methods, adding more interest and variety to lessons. The composer, Rosa Conrad, has added a myriad of imaginative ways to learn pieces, and there are important elements such as learning about the major and minor, modes, the pentatonic scale, improvisation and the Twelve Bar Blues structure. They are presented in a way which is easy to grasp, and pupils are encouraged to explore, with plenty of experimentation. I like the illustrations too, which are by Catherine Eley.

For Intermediate to Advanced:

Jazz Exercises, Minuets, Etudes and Pieces for the Piano

Oscar

An interesting pedagogical publication written by legendary Canadian Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. A colleague suggested this book for all those who enjoy playing written out jazzy pieces, but who aren’t confident with the jazz idiom. It’s suitable for those around Grades 3 – 5 exam standard, and provides an excellent introduction. The exercises provide a base for those wanting to get to grips with this style, and they are placed next to repertoire pieces, so ideas can be immediately transferred. The studies  increase in difficulty as the book progresses.

Daily Expressions

Daily-Expressions-by-Paul-Birchall

Daily Expressions are written by British composer Paul Birchall. They are suitable for Grade 5 level upwards, and could be described as mood music, verging on Minimalist. Paul wrote one new piece everyday for a month, then included seven of the compositions in this new volume. Students will enjoy the various ‘moods’ conjured by the different feel depending on the days of the week. Perfect for those who want to play modern pieces without a strictly Classical edge. You can listen to a sample of each work and purchase them here.

Variations for Judith

I was asked to write an article recommending ten easy (ish) piano pieces (between Grades 4-6 exam standard) for amateur pianists, for the Classical music website SinfiniMusic.com (you can read my article here). The brief was to include at least two or three Contemporary pieces, so I set off on a mission to find suitable works, and what I found was a revelation. This  volume of short pieces was written for Judith Serota by various Contemporary British composers including Judith Weir, Tarik O’Regan, Michael Berkeley, Diana Burrell and others. The collective title is  Variations for Judith for Piano, 11 short reflections on “Bist du bei mir” by G H Stölzel arranged by J S Bach. You can read my blog post on the history behind these little gems here. From around Grade 4 – 7 standard, and a must play!

Arabia

Arabia

An advanced piece written by Elena Cobb. This dramatic work is primarily  a concert study for those wanting to hone their octave technique. Arabia was inspired by a family train journey across the desert taken by Elena as a young child. These memories are heard clearly at the opening, where a couple of recitative or improvisatory style solo treble passages create the necessary Arabic flavour. This flavour pervades the piece. All kinds of octave passagework is explored plus thoughtful places to ‘rest’ the hand (vital in a stretchy piece so as to not cause injury). This is around Grade 7 or 8 level, but those working towards their diploma will also enjoy this piece, and you can read my review here, which was published in the International Piano Magazine last year.

Ypakoë and In Memory of Two Cats

John Tavener Ypakoe for Piano (Music Sales America)

Students tend to enjoy meditative or reflective music. There are many composers who comply; Satie, Glass, Einaudi, for example. However, it’s always preferable to be able to recommend something different, and these works by British composer John Tavener (who died in 2013) are perfect. In Memory of Two Cats (1986), is the ideal introduction to Tavener’s style. It’s reflective with interesting harmonic progressions; great for those of approximately Grade 5 or 6 technical level upwards. You can listen here. Ypakoë (published in 2008) was commissioned by the city of London Festival in 1999 (and first performed by pianist Elena Riu), Tavener comments ‘Ypaköe, in Greek refers to the Yapöe of Easter, Why seek ye among the dead, as though He were mortal man? Ypaköe for solo piano is a meditation on both the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.’ This work has 5 movements.  It will please those who want to explore contemplative, yet dramatic, Contemporary music. Listen here. Approximately Grade 8 or diploma technical level.

Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter

VPS-Harry-Potter-PD-Cover-Art

I discovered these great arrangements of popular film music last February, when one of my students insisted on performing them both in a couple of concerts. American pianist and composer, Jarrod Radnich has created extremely effective transcriptions. They are not for everyone (purists look away now!), but are fairly demanding technically, and require careful preparation. I like the way they use the entire keyboard and are a useful vehicle for practising finger technique too. Around diploma level. Listen here: Pirates of the Caribbean or Harry Potter.

Resources for pianists, teachers and pupils:

The Foundations of Piano Technique

This splendid new volume, published by Faber Music, has been written by Scottish pianist, Head of Keyboard at Chetham’s School of Music, and Professor of Piano at the Royal Northern College of Music,  Murray McLachlan. Murray has written an ongoing series of articles for the International Piano Magazine, many of which have been included in this publication. All aspects of technique are considered (this is the first of three books), and there are relevant exercises too. Intended for all levels and abilities, there is much emphasis on a healthy approach to technique (so important), and the realisation that piano technique does not need to be divorced from artistic creativity. This book will work for all different standards.

The Art of Piano Fingering

The Art of Piano Fingering

Written by Israeli pianist and expert teacher Rami Bar-Niv, this helpful and very detailed guide examines countless fingering permutations. I reviewed The Art of Piano Fingering earlier in the year, and you can read my review here. Beginning with simple scale and arpeggio fingering, progressing through to creative and innumerable ideas for the advanced player. There are many photos and musical examples, and a positive emphasis on healthy hand and finger positions too. Lots to learn in this volume.

Practising the Piano e-book Series

Practising the Piano

British pianist and expert teacher Graham Fitch has written a series of four e-books on the subject of practising the piano. Graham writes an illuminating and very popular blog (practising the piano), and he has transferred many of his teaching ideas and tools to his e-book series. There are copious demonstrations and videos, plus lots of sound advice and innovative practising strategies. Great for all levels, but particularly beneficial for more advanced players, teachers and good amateurs.

E-Music Maestro

E-MusicMaestro

This is a superb site with bountiful different musical aspects designed for the music teacher and pupil. E-music maestro is an American site, and essentially a resource website providing access to knowledge about teaching, learning and playing the piano. It employs up-to-date technology combined with a continually expanding database, and it is simple to navigate. You can buy a subscription or just log on and make immediate purchases, there are plenty of free samples and a continuing professional development section too. It is exam based, so there is much information on the various exam syllabuses. Very handy!


If you haven’t yet subscribed to Pianist Magazine or Piano Bench Mag, then this could be a good New Year’s resolution! These publications provide a wealth of information on how to play (Pianist) and great ideas for piano teachers everywhere (Piano Bench Mag).

I’m looking forward to making lots more exciting piano resource discoveries over the coming year, but in the meantime I wish you health, happiness and peace in 2015.

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Do pianists really need to play the entire piano repertoire?

This is a topic relevant to performers of all standards and abilities. How can we build an effective and enjoyable recital programme which is varied, interesting and more importantly, will compliment a pianist’s abilities and talents? For younger, inexperienced performers, teachers are paramount here, hopefully suggesting works beyond the scope of those found in various exam syllabuses. Not that there is anything wrong with examination set pieces, quite the contrary in fact, but if students only stick to them, they will develop a very limited set of skills. Learning three pieces (or four depending on the exam board), a few scales, minimal sight-reading and aural tests, does not constitute an all-round musical or piano education, and parents would do well to bear this in mind. It is a subject hotly contested by many instrumental teachers; the main complaint always appears to be the almost inevitable parental ‘pushing’ towards the next exam or grade which will not help overall improvement in a student’s playing in the long run, as all good teachers know.

Beyond exams, it’s a good idea to start compiling programmes or collections of works you particularly enjoy playing and crucially, those you play well. A common misconception amongst students playing classical music is that they must demonstrate many different pianistic styles and historical periods. Whilst this may be true for examinations and competitions where set works must be adhered to, concert programmes do not need to be devised with this in mind. Surely a much better plan is to highlight those composers and works which show case a pianist’s personality in the most complimentary way?

Music colleges and conservatoires tend to perpetuate this; it’s mandatory (or certainly was when I was student) to include a Prelude and Fugue (by J S Bach or similar), several Etudes or concert studies (usually by Liszt, Chopin or Rachmaninov), a Twentieth Century work and a Classical or Romantic sonata (all played from memory) at the end of year exam (for which you must pass or face losing your place on the course). This may be great for working at technical skills and obtaining thorough knowledge of the piano repertoire (and I certainly don’t regret my wonderful training at all), but in the saturated world of the concert platform, how often will young players really need these works after graduation? We’ve all heard pianists, whatever their ability, play mediocre and random cross sections of the repertoire, only to leave the concert thinking that we loved their Mozart (or whatever) but what a pity they didn’t play more of it.  Pianists should always play to their strengths.

Those who specialise in particular composers or areas of music most certainly attract attention and are often viewed as more interesting propositions to concert organisers and promoters because they offer something different. As many world-class classical pianists will attest, their specialisms have become their trademarks. So with this in mind, is it prudent to encourage ‘specialising’ in younger students and pupils?

Most of us gravitate to works we really enjoy and those we play well anyway, but these may not necessarily be the most demanding or virtuosic show pieces, on the contrary, they may only demonstrate certain aspects of musicianship, but if that is your métier then so be it. Luckily the piano repertoire is so vast it’s relatively easy to do this. A handful of pianists are associated with the works of J S Bach for example, (think Glenn Gould) but have performed this demanding repertoire with such panache and élan; they have become revered for their specialism. Not that Gould didn’t or couldn’t play anything else, but rather he became synonymous with Bach’s music.

So when developing short recital programmes, or even pieces to play to family members and friends, choose works you love and can play with total conviction as opposed to offering the obvious show pieces or works with which you have little affinity. At a recent music festival, several competitors chose to play a couple of pieces by Einaudi. Not everyone’s favourite composer and only on the fringes of ‘classical’ music at most, but these pupils played with such joy producing beautiful colours from the instrument that they waltzed off with first and second prize. Their playing convinced me of their love for the music and the instrument.

Another moot point is the need for a ‘varied’ programme. Certainly playing the same type of music for an hour would be dull, but it is possible to perform works by the same composer (or genre) which are both complimentary and completely captivating. It’s more important to ensure variety of colour, tempo and character than selecting multiple composers or periods of music. So if Minimalism is your love (it certainly is one of mine), then find a few pieces illustrating different emotions and sonorities within that genre. Perform these exquisitely and you may just have found a winning combination. However, it does take a brave pianist, at whatever level, to feel so comfortable with a particular composer or musical genre, that they are confident enough to ‘champion’ that, and only that, music. It also takes a brave teacher to recognise the strengths of their students and ‘allow’ the student to specialise.

It’s really not about abandoning those works which must be studied to ensure a well-formed musical education, but rather finding music beyond this, in order to inspire and encourage improvement and personal growth. By delving into the depths of the piano repertoire you may find exciting new musical paths and hopefully it will be a happy voyage of discovery too.

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