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.


 

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.


 

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.


 

Etude op. 97 No 1 by Anton Reicha

Some readers will know that I write a regular ‘how-to-play’ article for Pianist magazine; If you’ve yet to discover this magazine, you can find out much more here. My article focuses on elementary level pieces for students of around Grade 1 – 3 level. It’s actually called a ‘beginners how-to-play’, but in reality few students start with such repertoire. Our audience is mainly adult amateurs, teachers and students, and I always appreciate your kind comments (and there are many!) regarding the magazine and my articles when I visit various parts of the world, adjudicating and giving workshops.

Around 900 words in length, my column aims to shed some light on the style of each chosen work whilst offering some detailed practice ideas. Pianist magazine ensures that readers can listen to and play each piece, and every edition contains the score of the piece and a recording, which is played by Chinese pianist Chenyin Li.

A particularly wonderful aspect of my brief is that it has brought me in contact with the music of a myriad of lesser known composers. In this respect it has been a real education. Magazine editor Erica Worth and I are constantly searching for suitable material and this has led to the discovery of whole collections of various educational piano pieces. Always mindful of the level and difficulty of the piece, occasionally we unearth a composition which may be slightly trickier than the expected level, but which we feel just must be included. The featured piece in Pianist magazine edition 105 was one such piece.

Etude Op. 97 No. 1 (see above image) was written by Anton Reicha (1770 – 1836), who was a friend and contemporary of Beethoven; the two composers studied at the University of Bonn together.  Reicha is probably best known for his wind quintet literature and the important role he advocated as a teacher, numbering Liszt, Berlioz and Franck amongst his pupils. He wrote treatises on various aspects of composition and theory, but due to his apparent aversion to being published, his music largely fell into obscurity soon after his death, and his life and work have yet to be studied in detail.

Reicha contributed to the piano repertoire via a series of fugues and etudes, as well as larger scale works, including a set of variations lasting over 45 minutes in length. Inventive and imaginative, he was an early advocate of polytonality and asymmetric meters. Reicha’s fugues were also renowned for breaking the usual strict rules. However, his music is predominantly tonal, with a spontaneous quality, and his scores are relatively free from the ubiquitous composer’s musical directions, leaving interpretation solely to the performer.

The Etude Op. 97 No. 1 is an extremely beautiful, contemplative little piece; the melody  largely floats serenely above a series of repeated left hand chords, and then roles are reversed later in the piece. This Etude is an exercise (or a study) in balance between the hands, chordal balance and cantabile. Yet ultimately, it’s all about developing an elegant, personal reading with a depth of colours via a rich sound and judiciously balanced phrases. Irrespective of your level as a player, I urge you to consider playing this piece, if only to revel in the delectable harmonic twists and turns combined with a simply delicious melodic line. You can enjoy pianist Ivan Ilic’s performance by clicking on the link below. To  subscribe to Pianist magazine, click here.

You can read my ‘how-to-play’ article on this work here:

Etude Op 97 1a by Anton Reicha

If you would like to purchase and download the music for this piece, click 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.


 

5 Tips to Create the Illusion of Legato

Every pianist knows the importance of legato, or the creation of a smooth musical line or phrase, notes joining evenly from one to the next. But there are many instances in piano music where we can’t join the notes; the melodic line might leap beyond our comfortable stretch, for example. How do we overcome this inconvenience and lull our listeners into believing that we’ve created a beautiful legato line? In my recent article for Pianist Magazine’s newsletter, I offer a few ideas to instigate the illusion of legato. I hope it’s of interest.


Legato, or playing smoothly, is probably one of the first techniques we master as beginner pianists. We learn how to transfer our finger weight evenly from note to note, joining them all neatly. But what do we do when notes are difficult or impossible to join? Whether a large leap or an awkward, widespread melody line, we simply can’t reach the notes purely with our fingers, and yet there still must be a sense of shape and legato. That’s where the illusion of legato comes in handy.

  1. Sit down at the piano and with your right hand play a middle C and then the D next to it; use your thumb followed by your second finger. Practice playing legato, transferring weight from thumb to finger, listening to the smooth sound you create. Now play both notes with a rich tone, using just your thumb, and listen to the sound ‘gap’ between the notes as you play them one after the other.
  2. To create the illusion of legato, we must close that sound gap. Play the C with your thumb using a deep touch. Keep your thumb depressed on the key until a millisecond before you move it to play the D, also using your thumb. The D must be played slightly lighter than the C, and by moving the thumb from the C to the D extremely quickly and lightly, the ear shouldn’t be able to detect a gap in the sound between the notes. Aim to match the sound of the second note (D) to that of the dying C.
  3. It can help to employ the ‘drop-roll’ technique’; a pair of slurred or joined notes are played with the hand and wrist dropping as the finger or thumb plays the first note, then rising up as the second note is played. Using the wrist and hand to ‘drop’ into the C, as you reach the bottom of the key with your wrist in a lowered position, ‘catch’ the D (played with the thumb) as your hand and wrist rolls upwards.
  4. Practice until the legato is smooth and fluent; you will need to listen carefully. You can then experiment with other fingers; try playing two consecutive notes using your fifth finger. Then try using your fourth finger. Also practice the same note patterns using the left hand too.
  5. Finally, introduce larger intervals. Play from a middle C to an E; the drop-roll technique, slurring the two notes with your thumb, will be most beneficial with larger note skips. Drop the hand and wrist into the C, playing it with your thumb, via a flexible downward movement, and as you turn the wrist to move upwards, manoeuvre the thumb extremely quickly to play the E softly. As always, match the sound of the dying note (C) to that of the new note (E).

Work will be required in order to close the sound gap and create the illusion when playing larger intervals, but with practice it is possible to ‘join’ notes without using consecutive fingering or the sustaining pedal.


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 workshop at Millers Music

For anyone in the Cambridge area (UK), I will be presenting a workshop at Millers Music next Friday. This free workshop is essentially for teachers, but anyone is most welcome to come along. I’ll be focusing on topics which run throughout my Play it again: PIANO course; with a brief walk-through of both books (touching on Book 3 too), followed by a practical workshop highlighting the suggested practice techniques intended for technical improvement which feature at the beginning of Book 1 and 2.

There will be plenty of opportunity for audience participation, and hopefully lots of discussion. Each audience member will be given a copy of my workshop notes detailing the considered topics, which will mostly examine the importance of cultivating a tension free technique.

The workshop will be held from 6.30-8.00pm on Friday 16th November, and you will find Millers Music in the heart of the city: Millers Music, 12 Sussex St, Cambridge, CB1 1PW, UK.

If you would like to find out more about Play it again: PIANO, which is a course for students returning to playing the instrument after a break, click here. You may also be interested in the following video, which has been recorded by piano returner Tommy, who runs a ‘piano corner’ on Youtube; this is the first video in a series which will survey each piece in Book 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.


 

No Words Necessary: 12 Piano Pieces

It’s been a busy year so far, with several publications nearing completion. One new volume, about which I am particularly excited, has been released this week. It marks my debut as a composer for my German publisher, Schott Music. Whilst I already write for Schott as an author, I hadn’t previously published a book of my own compositions. The new collection is called No Words Necessary and it is a selection of twelve piano pieces for intermediate level, or for students of approximately Grades 3 – 6 standard (of ABRSM, Trinity College London or London College of Music exams).

I wrote the pieces earlier this year during my stay in Hong Kong, working as an adjudicator for the Hong Kong Schools Music Festival. Adjudicating is a demanding job, but I frequently enjoyed unusually long lunch breaks  of around an hour and a half in length. Adjudicating sessions often took place in splendid theatres with lovely well-tuned grand pianos, so I decided to put this time to good use. Within a few weeks I had written all twelve, albeit scribbled on manuscript paper as opposed to using my Sibelius software.

The pieces are characteristically tonal, with a nod to Minimalism. The title, No Words Necessary, was inspired by German poet and writer Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856):

‘Where words leave off, music speaks’

Each work is intended to evoke thoughts, emotions or images in the mind. Many are reflective in character, with melodious tunes and poignant harmonies, but there are also more energetic, lively pieces too, for those who want to get their fingers moving. When composing for students, my aim is to write in a tuneful, expressive style, which I hope resonates with pianists of all ages, levels and abilities; these works are equally suited to younger or more mature players. Each one is comfortable to learn and rarely employs large chords or overly elaborate passagework, and they are intended as concert or festival pieces, examination pieces or simply to learn and play for pleasure.

The titles are as follows:

  • Lost in Thought
  • Inflections
  • Voices in My Head
  • Pendulum
  • Phantom Whisperer
  • Dancing Through the Daffodils
  • Walking in the Woods
  • Beneath
  • China Doll
  • Balletic
  • Tinged with Sadness
  • Spiralling

Recorded at Moreton Hall School in Shropshire, and at Jaques Samuel pianos in London at the beginning of August, you can hear each piece by clicking on the links below. The book can be purchased as a hard copy or digital download (either the complete book or each piece separately), here: No Words Necessary.













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 teaching in Asia 2018

Returning from another enjoyable and successful book tour, I find myself reflecting on a perennial piano teaching issue; one which seems to occur all over the world.

This tour was the busiest yet with visits to four countries and multiple cities; Singapore, Malaysia (Melaka and Kuala Lumpur), Indonesia (Jakarta and Surabaya), and Hong Kong.  On this trip I was fortunate to have company: I gave teaching workshops alongside colleagues Samantha Ward, who is artistic director of PIANO WEEK and also a fellow Schott Music author (she was presenting Piano Junior, the new Schott beginner’s method), and Dr. Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, president of G. Henle Verlag (who spoke about Urtext editions), as part of the Arrow Vision/Schott Music/G. Henle Verlag tour, which formed the middle segment of my trip.

Whilst our workshops were open to students, teachers and parents, the majority of the audience consisted of piano teachers. It’s a real pleasure connecting with teachers around the world, sharing a few (hopefully) useful ideas, as well as highlighting the benefits of using my piano course, Play it again: PIANO. Several teachers had previously attended my workshops last year, and it was lovely to see them again. I also appreciated their feedback regarding Play it again, and it was wonderful to hear how much their students have enjoyed using the books.

Teachers are generally very receptive to this two-book course (pictured above), which, as readers of this blog will know, contains an anthology of 49 piano pieces progressing from Grade 1 – 8 level, with copious practice suggestions for every piece. I was delighted to be able to talk about Book 3 for the first time too. This new addition will focus on works of approximately Grade 8 level up to the DipABRSM diploma, and it was written due to vociferous demand from teachers! Many thanks to all who have been in contact over the past year.

At the Encore Music Centre in Melaka, Malaysia, giving a two-day workshop for piano teachers

Play it again: PIANO Book 3 will be available at the beginning of next year (2019), and it will follow the same format as Book 1 and 2, featuring a select group of pieces drawn from mostly standard repertoire with plenty of guided practice tips and advice. The practice ideas, which run throughout the books, are certainly not designed to replace teachers; piano teachers are irreplaceable. However, in my experience, students tend to ‘forget’ much of the advice we offer from week to week, therefore my suggestions, which primarily focus on breaking pieces down to enable swift, successful learning, are intended to serve as reminders and ‘extra’ help between lessons.

In Singapore and Hong Kong I gave private lessons as well as workshops and master classes. The level of playing was consistently high; many of the students were teachers, and they were nearly all advanced diploma level. This isn’t unexpected, but what I often find surprising is the amount of time I spend on teaching physical flexibility.

Physical movement at the piano is, for me, probably the most crucial factor when playing the piano, because without a flexible, relaxed technique, playing accurately and with a rich, full sound are both challenging. But, perhaps more importantly, a tight, tense technique also tends to make playing a very uncomfortable experience for the pianist.

I spend a large percentage of lesson time working with students to sort tension issues. I always pose the question: “how loose are you?” or “how loose do you feel?” as this is often the easiest way to help students understand the desired ‘feeling’ necessary in several parts of their upper torso. It’s interesting to note that tension can occur at any level or stage of piano playing, and it’s this that fascinates me. The more advanced the student, the more demanding my job! Although it isn’t a ‘job’, but rather a pleasure and privilege to help.  Advanced students might have habits which are inextricably ingrained. The fun part is being able to unravel their issues, and replace the old habits with new, healthier ones.

In Surabaya, Indonesia, with piano teachers at my workshop

Repetitive strain injury and tendonitis are just two of the conditions resulting from piano playing laced with tension. Over the past few years I have worked with students who had developed quite serious pain issues, and we carefully reconstructed their technique over a period of around twelve months (it can take less time with a very dedicated pupil). Boring and painstaking work? Actually, I find it very rewarding. Witnessing a student’s progression from pain and dejection  to mastery and confidence is very gratifying.

Working with a student at a master class in Hong Kong

There are a profusion of effective teaching methods which can be employed to reverse tension. I use one which is easy to understand, and one which emphasizes relaxation (or a ‘loose’ feeling). The tension/release concept is relatively simple to comprehend, and if it is implemented with a series of loose wrist and hand movements, which are all exaggerated to start with, improvement can be almost instantaneous. Although it can take a while for such movements to become an instinctive, natural habit.

I aim to continue my work with pupils who require such teaching, and my trip served as a vital reminder of its value. I examine the basics of flexibility in the opening section of Play it again: PIANO, Book 1, 2 and 3, and you can also watch my videos online for more ideas (see below):


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


 

Fingering: Part 1

Today’s weekend post focuses on fingering; a topic about which I often write for the reason that I feel it’s particularly important for students of all levels. This article is the first in a two-part series written for the September 2018 edition of Piano Professional, published by EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association), for whom I regularly write a technique feature.


Fruitful Fingering Part 1

Fingering comes in all different guises and there is certainly no ‘one-size-fits-all-approach’; much can depend on the size, shape and disposition of the hand. However, there are certain fundamentals which might be applied to most hands, and with that in mind, some of following suggested techniques will hopefully prove advantageous for all kinds of repertoire. This is the first of two articles examining various fingering strategies and ideas which may be useful for your students.

If you use Urtext editions, fingering will have generally been written in to the score by an editor or in some cases, the composer, but irrespective of who has added the fingering, it’s always possible to change it and replace with your own. As a teacher, I often spend a significant amount of time during lessons either adding or changing fingering, and sometimes fingering may have been drafted in to the score at the very start of the learning process only to be changed after a week or two, if a more suitable one miraculously comes to light.

A crucial factor, when educating our students about the benefits of idiomatic fingering, is the practice and absorption of scales, arpeggios and broken chords. Students and teachers frequently bemoan their existence in exams, but they do serve a myriad of purposes. I have written extensively about the importance of scales as technical exercises, but another, often overlooked, factor is that by assimilating all the scale and arpeggio technical work properly, students learn ideal fingerings for much passage work.

Baroque and Classical repertoire is routinely constructed from standard scale patterns, and therefore it’s both pragmatic and practical to base fingerings for such passages on those learnt from scales. The following is a good example; hailing from the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor Op. 10 No. 1, the scale passage in the right hand can be clearly identified as that of E flat major (starting on the third of the scale), and if the same fingerings are employed as in the scale, the passage is that much easier to grasp:

Contrary motion scales prove a useful tool for learning symmetrical playing. If the thumbs or same fingers (in either hand) can play together when moving in the opposite direction, coordination feels comfortable. This won’t always be possible, but when our students are starting to play scales, aim to begin with simpler objectives.

Symmetry is also at work when learning arpeggio patterns. Fingering must be well-defined in arpeggios; the left hand, particularly, relies on the careful use of the third or fourth finger:

In this example, it might seem taxing to use the fourth finger on the E (the second note in the C major arpeggio), but using the third finger here, as suggested in some exam manuals, renders an awkward position for the hand. Eventually, the fourth becomes accustomed to the second note, and this helps with chordal playing too. However, when playing a major third at the start of an arpeggio, such as in D major, the third finger would be ideal:

Encouraging students to learn these patterns accurately from the start is a good plan, as it becomes tricky to change them at a later date. The brain seems hard-wired to play the first fingering pattern it learns – changing always feels alien.

Aim to play in position as much as possible. This involves limiting turning the hand, or changing hand positions. Hand turns can lead to uneven playing, especially when a melodic line is involved. Bumpy or jerky playing can happen when there are too many thumbs on the scene. If students can be coaxed into using their fourth and fifth fingers as frequently as the inner part of their hand i.e. the thumb, second and third fingers, not only will the hand be more balanced whilst playing passage work, but it will also feel more natural, with considerably less movement. In order to do this, the outer fingers will require sufficient practice, so that they are able to cope with the demands of playing crisp passage work. With this in mind, it might be pertinent to use a few daily exercises, but only with the guidance of a teacher, as it’s easy to ‘lock-up’ or become tense without cultivating flexibility in the hand and wrist when working at developing finger strength.

Know your thumbs! Thumbs can be pivotal for secure playing; knowing where they occur in both hands, and where they don’t need to occur, will create confidence. Once students are aware of thumb placement, the other fingers tend to fall in to place. Although thumbs provide stability when playing, as they tend to ‘anchor’ passage work, the challenge is to listen optimally so they do not dominate; they must ideally be tonally equal to all the other fingers, therefore we must strive to find ways to camouflage thumb ‘accents’ which can happen due to thumb physiology.

When writing fingering in the score, it can be enough to pen where thumbs arise, as opposed to marking every finger, but I still tend to write in much more fingering than this for my students. If possible, try to ensure that hands work in tandem; occasionally what seems like the best fingering in the right hand might become unworkable when both hands play together.

Repeated patterns or sequences can be an excellent way to absorb fingering quickly. Sequences of notes or note patterns may lend themselves to replica or repeated fingering i.e. the same patterns over and over again. Repetition is key here, and the ‘blocking-out’ technique can prove a suitable method of learning i.e. playing note patterns all together in one go, enabling pupils to find the notes and their corresponding fingerings at once. This can be seen in the following example, which shows two bars from the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor Op. 10 No. 1. The first example illustrates how the Alberti Bass pattern in the left hand appears in the score, and the second, how it might be practised (keeping the same fingering throughout):

Further to the second example, for even swifter learning, the entire bar could be played as one or two chords (where possible).

Repeated notes are a different fingering issue altogether. There are often two schools of thought; some believe it’s better to change fingers on every note during a repeated note passage, whilst others find using the same finger achieves a more pleasing result. I encourage students to try both methods, and decide for themselves. Let’s examine the following passage, which is the opening of Turina’s Fiesta Op. 52 No. 7, right hand:

Both fingerings are acceptable. By using the same finger, or the top fingering in the example, you may find that students are able to create a smoother, more even repeated note passage. For clarity and control, advocate keeping the second finger close to the keys and employ a gentle finger tapping movement.

Finger substitution is a preferred method of playing legato. It’s too easy to rely on the sustaining pedal to ‘join’ note passages. If a pianist can continually substitute or change fingers on one and the same note, fluent, smooth playing should be the happy result. Finger substitution entails holding a key down with one finger whilst quickly swapping to another finger or thumb, ensuring the same note is held for the entire procedure. This technique enables pianists to form an unbroken musical line whilst playing other note figurations or patterns underneath (or above).

Finger sliding utilizes the same finger to literally ‘slide’ from note to note. I call this the ‘illusion of legato’ and it may also be a useful technique for larger intervals too; notes don’t actually need to be next to each other to benefit from the sliding approach.

Sliding requires a very smooth manoeuvre, where the second note of any ‘slide’ must not only match the sound to that of the dying first note, but should also aim to avoid gaps in the sound between notes. Astute listening is paramount.  Students might like to work at the following exercise. After practising this exercise using the thumb, play it with the second finger, and then third finger:

Fingering is of utmost importance when learning to play smoothly, evenly and proficiently. It’s for this reason that we must offer our students a thorough grounding, so that they are eventually able to annotate scores for themselves.

Click on the link below to read the original article:

Fruitful Fingering Part 1


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 Piano Day at Ackerman Music

For those based in the South East of England, I will be presenting a workshop at Ackerman’s music shop in Hove, East Sussex, on Thursday 16th August (later this week). This workshop, which is primarily for piano teachers, spotlights several Schott publications: Play it again: PIANO and Piano Junior, the new piano tutor method written by Hans-Günter Heumann.

My workshop will focus on helping students develop flexibility (as featured in my piano course, Play it again: PIANO), and will be particularly useful for alleviating tension at the piano. There will be plenty of demonstration and an opportunity for attendees to try out various exercises. I will be joined by pianist, teacher and author, Samantha Ward, who will present Piano Junior, Schott’s new interactive beginners method. And there will also be a chance to explore Casio’s Hybrid instruments. Lunch and refreshments are provided. The event begins at 11.00am and will finish at 4.00pm; it will be held at Ackerman’s Music Shop, 163 Portland Road, Hove, East Sussx, BN3 5QR.


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.