Snapchats Duets & Trios

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

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

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

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

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

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


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Fruitful Fingering Part 2

This is the second article in my series for Piano Professional Magazine, published by EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association): a teacher’s publication, for which I write the technique feature. You can read the first article, here, and in Part 2, I look at different methods of applying certain fingerings, offering various options  for students.


Teachers all know the importance well-placed fingering has in the context of learning a new piece, and this fact remains true irrespective of a student’s level or ability. My previous article examined several expected fingering techniques, and in this article I will endeavour to venture a little off-piste, with a few different ideas around this vast subject. Our goal, as teachers, must be to equip our students so that they can eventually think for themselves, writing their own fingering on every score.

Firstly, I return to reiterate perhaps the most vital concept when learning to finger fruitfully, and that is the assimilation of scales, arpeggios and broken chords; if students have thoroughly learnt these patterns, then adding fingering to most piano pieces will feel simple and natural. This point cannot be stressed enough, as without these symmetrical note patterns and their fairly rigid fingerings, pupils simply won’t be able to grasp the basics of piano playing. If your student hasn’t been taking exams, it might be prudent to suggest the acquisition of a scale manual – both the ABRSM and Trinity College London publish separate volumes with all keys, scale permutations, and fingerings.

Knowing your fingering is paramount, and as a general rule, once a fingering has been chosen, written into the score and played through, it’s highly advisable not to change it. This cardinal rule certainly rings true for less experienced players. Our brains seem hard-wired to play patterns or sequences, but once these patterns are even slightly distorted, it causes us much grief and cancelling them altogether will feel very unnatural.

Practice tends to make ‘permanent’ as many teachers will attest, so aim for students to be quite sure of their finger selections before they leave the lesson. Try going through a piece slowly with them, hands separately, checking that they are actually using the fingering which has been added to the score. This will be key to successful absorption of each hand’s fingering, and will stop the inevitable corrections which will occur at the following lesson if this stage in the learning process has been side-stepped.

After advising our students to religiously stick to one fingering for their pieces (especially for any fiddly figurations), it can be extremely liberating to throw out this rule when returning to study a piece for the second or third time. This may only apply to more advanced pupils. Occasionally students will play a piece, leave it for a while, only to return at a later date to find that the fingering which once fitted like a glove, now feels less than ideal. In this case it’s time to revise the original fingering and search for something more convenient. Whilst it may appear akin to climbing Everest, a more advanced student can reconfigure passages with relative ease, especially when they are able to work out the new fingering for themselves.

Smaller hands inevitably struggle with certain elements, namely wide intervals and large chords, which can be challenging, particularly when playing extended passagework. Fingering must be very carefully applied when taking this fact into consideration. Sometimes the only option is to ‘rearrange’ passages, leaving out notes which don’t disturb the flow or the construction of a piece. Adding a spread chord where the original is too large, or rewriting chords in some cases, may provide a simple solution. Dividing passages between the hands is another beneficial tactic. It may appear as though cheating, but it can be a workable option if the sound and character of a piece remains largely unaffected.

Octaves are renowned for causing smaller hands grief, but with regular flexibility exercises and a relaxed wrist and arm, most students can handle them. There is much debate over the fingering of octave passage work. Some schools of thought are insistent on using the thumb and fifth finger for all such passages, whereas, others believe the thumb combined with a fourth or fifth finger provides a better option. Certainly when playing fast chromatic passages, the fourth is a welcome addition (and if a student has a large hand, a third finger may also be used):

This passage from Study No. 49 of Czerny’s Art of Finger Dexterity Op. 740 illustrates how the fourth finger, if implemented scrupulously and only with a relaxed or loose arm and wrist, can be an excellent method of moving quickly around the keyboard.

Sliding from two black keys when playing octaves, can be a helpful way to join notes smoothly (I’ve written about ‘finger sliding’ in more detail in my previous article: Fruitful Fingering Part 1). It should also be remembered that using the thumb on black keys is now regarded as acceptable, whereas previously, this practice was sometimes considered ‘unsuitable’ fingering.

How the fingers physically play notes is another often forgotten factor when discussing fingering. I work with students until they can easily use their fingertips when playing fast figurations or scalic passage work. The tips are best incorporated via a flexible wrist and a ‘hooked’ finger position:

This fosters firmer finger and rhythmic control. However, flatter fingers can work well too, for chords, especially those on black notes, and they are generally more conducive to achieving a completely different timbre. Some impressionistic repertoire might be best played with this approach.

Two notes, one finger! An effective tactic for large chords, such as the following, which employs a spread thumb:

Chopin Prelude (Op. 28 No. 7 in A major), is easier to grasp when using the thumb over the C sharp and A sharp:

This also works for white notes:

And, for certain repertoire, playing ‘in the crack’ might be a practical alternative:

Two fingers playing the same note can have a real impact on certain passages, carrying more weight and drama, and the thumb is also able to support the other fingers creating a deep, rich sound.

The thumb might also be extended slightly when playing back notes, therefore avoiding mishaps involving slipping off or missing notes (example below, to the left):

Fingers have their own character and personality, and, again, this is a very personal element when considering how fingering might be applied to a passage. As a general rule, the thumb and possibly the third finger appear stronger than the others, perhaps due to their positioning on the hand. We aim to encourage students to ‘strengthen’ their fingers, but realistically everyone’s hand is different, and this applies to finger strength as well. I ask students to examine their fingers, observing how they work at the keyboard, deciphering which they feel is the strongest or most powerful. Once then have done this, they are in a better position to work at instigating a more secure technique; developing power in the fourth and fifth fingers especially. However, this must be done with great care, using flexibility in the wrist, arm and hand so as not to cause tension issues.

Finger pedalling is a topic which must be mentioned here. It’s not pedalling as we know it, but it does create a similar effect, as if depressing the sustaining (or right) pedal. The technique of finger pedalling is essentially the over-holding of notes i.e. holding down the keys whilst continuing to play other notes over the top (or underneath). This was a popular technique used for the harpsichord and other early keyboard instruments before the pedal was invented, and as a result it is often synonymous with Baroque music. Before the sustaining pedal (which was implemented from approximately W.A. Mozart’s time onwards), holding down the keys was the only way of sustaining the sound. The following is a well-known example:

Here, the two lower notes in J. S. Bach’s Prelude in C major (No 1 from the Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues Book 1), are held, as the top line (played by the right hand) plays the melodic material. This example has been ‘written in’, but it’s often the case that a player must use their own artistic judgement when employing this technique.

Fingering can have quite an impact on tonal balance. A suitable fingering will enhance chordal balance, and will allow melody lines to come to the forefront of the texture. Guided practice is required when voicing any chord; whilst firm fourth and fifth fingers are generally a prerequisite for melodic playing in the right hand, much suppleness in the wrist and hand will be necessary behind this firmness, supported by the Bridge position or the knuckles. Where possible, it can be practical to introduce the thumb for melodic material, even if it involves much movement around the keyboard.

Finally, if we can guide students to think about fingering before the learning process begins, they will become aware of the fundamental impact this can have on their learning capacity.

You can read the original article, here:

Fruitful Fingering Part 2


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

 

 

 

Teaching Improvisation to Groups Part 2 by Christopher Norton

Today’s guest post has been penned by renowned composer and educationalist Christopher Norton. This is the second post in a series which offers practice ideas and suggestions for those teaching group improvisation (you can read Part 1, here). Christopher’s work has, for many years, involved teaching students how to improvise using his imaginative and very popular music. Over to Chris…


Having looked at right hand chords (with a track) using root position G, first inversion G and second inversion D chords, with a bass pattern added, we can now talk about some simple techniques for right hand improvising on Samba Sand from Connections for Piano 3. Here’s the piece again:

With the track, play this left hand pattern 3 times:

Once this feels comfortable, almost automatic, you are ready to try adding right hand.

With students, I often find they are happier tapping than playing initially, so I would try tapping unaccented quavers (eighth notes!) on the right leg while playing the left hand chords:

Now for the magic moment – miss one eighth note out. For example:

Now we play right hand notes, playing the same rhythm. I suggest starting with G, A, B, C, D, but play around to see which ones sound good where! My first solution:

I’m already using some principles of melodic development – repeating a phrase with one note changed (bars 1 and 2) repeating an idea (bar 3) and having a contrasting idea (bar 4) The tune also joins the left hand rhythmically for the final bar of the phrase.

Now try missing out the 5th eighth note. Tap first:

This suggests different tunes. For example:

Notice I’ve added a low D and an E (so a sixth note) Students often do this – adding new notes – quite naturally (and so do I!). If a tune suggests itself, go for it, whether the notes are the given ones or not.

Now experiment with missing other eighth notes out to create different rhythm patterns. Always tap first, then play. And don’t be worried if slight variations happen spontaneously, while tapping and while playing. The left chord rhythms may also vary spontaneously as well…

Another useful tip: play the left hand chords and try playing right hand rhythm patterns starting on one note. G is the best starting point. Then try 2 notes (G and A) 3 notes (G, A, B) and 4 notes (I like G, A, B, D – when in doubt, keep it pentatonic!)

Here’s an example of a tune which gradually build the number of notes:

This is another principle of melodic development – playing the same rhythm with different notes. And I’ve also done a new rhythm in bar 7 and I have also repeated a pattern higher up (bars 1 and 2, then bars 5 and 6).

In the next lesson, we will look at various other right hand tricks – grace note, chords (ie more than one note at a time), pedal notes, arpeggio figures and changing direction. Lots of fun!

Until next time…

The Connections for Piano series, with tracks, are available from www.80dayspublishing.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.


 

Are you all Fingers and Thumbs?

My most recent article for Pianist Magazine’s e-newsletter focuses on the thumb. As always, my intention is to draw attention to an area of piano playing which may benefit from concentrated practice. I notice in my own teaching that students perpetually work to achieve and maintain finger strength, but then leave the poor old thumb to its own devices. Here are five practice suggestions.


Thumbs. They might just be appendages stuck on the side of our hands, but for any pianist, they are important additions to our armoury of articulation. If used optimally, the thumb can enable easy turning (both under and over the hand) for smooth passagework, and can take the lead during chords and octave passagework, creating assured playing. Here are a few practice ideas to strengthen our thumbs.

  1. Start with a thumb exercise away from the keyboard; I like to use a circular motion exercise. Observe the three thumb joints; the first at the bottom of the thumb, next to the wrist, the second, at the thumb base, and the third, in the middle of the thumb. By moving the whole thumb in an upward (almost above the hand) then downward motion, so that the movement finishes with the thumb under the hand, whilst keeping the arm relaxed but still, you can start to loosen the fleshy areas, so that they feel pliable and soft. Aim to keep the movement flexible and free of any tension.
  2. Observe your thumb position on the keys. The thumb is naturally lower than the other fingers, and it should ideally make contact with the keys on the tip of the thumb nail; at the left tip for the right hand, and right tip, for the left hand. The nail just touching the keys. Try to avoid the whole side of the thumb flopping down on the keys, as this position makes thumb control challenging.
  3. To practice thumb positions and get the thumb moving, play a one octave C major scale ascending with the following fingering: 12121212 (right hand), 21212121 (left hand), you can then switch fingers starting with 21 in the right hand, and 12 in the left. Practising with 13131313 (right hand) can be helpful too. Ensure a flexible thumb movement every time the thumb moves over or under the hand.
  4. Now try a one octave chromatic scale using the same fingering; when you move to the black notes, try to ‘place’ the thumb tip with care as these notes are narrower therefore demanding greater accuracy. Thumbs will also need to employ a larger movement in order to negotiate these notes.
  5. Finally, practise intervals i.e. a C and E in the right hand using the third finger on the C and thumb on the E, and in the left hand, the thumb playing the C and third finger, the E. This seemingly unnatural position (practising the turning motion) will require a tension free hand so ensure the ‘fleshy’ part of your hand is relaxed as opposed to taut and ‘locked up’. When playing these intervals, sound them together as chords, and keep both notes in place whilst relaxing your hand; this is a useful preparation exercise for arpeggios. When comfortable, move on to larger intervals such as a C (played with a third finger) and an F (thumb) in the right hand.

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.


 

The Inception and Development of PIANO WEEK

Today’s guest blog post has been written by British pianist Samantha Ward. Samantha is director and founder of PIANO WEEK, the popular piano Summer school and festival which is now offering students of all ages and abilities the chance to study the piano in various locations around the world. I was keen to ask her how she had developed this concept and why it had become the focal point of her musical activities. Over to Samantha….


When Melanie asked me to write a short article about my experiences with International Festival & Summer School PIANO WEEK since its inception in 2013, I very much enjoyed looking back over the last five years of my professional life.  The fast-paced life of forging a career as a concert pianist, author, self-taught entrepreneur, promoter, fund-raiser and strategist, all of which I had to either develop upon or become in order to make this enterprise work, didn’t allow me to reflect much on the past until now.  Since the very first day of the festival, when it poured with rain one Welsh summer’s day of 2013, my mind has been geared towards the future and to how much I can push PIANO WEEK forward.  So why did I do it?!

The idea of creating my own piano festival and summer course by combining top-notch performances from world-renowned artists alongside the younger generation of concert pianists with exceptional, all-round music education accessible to players of any age and ability was born with the realisation that I was really going to have to become my own agent if I was going to form any kind of career as a concert pianist.  Rather than fighting for the same spot on the stage, already too small to hold the big names and the new arrivals, I ventured to create a new concert platform elsewhere.  Five years on, the results are overwhelming.  PIANO WEEK has transformed into a multicultural and hugely diverse community of music lovers, professional and amateur pianists, world-renowned guest artists, outstanding concert pianists, educators and steadily growing international audiences in the UK, Italy, Germany, China, Thailand and Japan.

The buzz of PIANO WEEK is something which you need to experience first hand as no written word can offer a meaningful substitute.  It’s not just a piano course; some of our returning participants dubbed it a ‘holistic affair’ with music.  Our performance-based programme of master classes, one-to-one and duet lessons, composition, sight reading, memorisation, listening and harmony and theory classes interconnects throughout the week with the expert advice given by all faculty members.  As a participant,  you can choose whether to visit our UK base in the English countryside in Shropshire (Weston Rhyn) or to travel further afield to the picturesque Upper Middle Rhine UNESCO World Heritage Site in Germany, sunny Umbria,  or jump on a long-haul flight to Thailand and celebrate Songkran, or China.

I like to think that the development of PIANO WEEK reflects the very essence of music, with no boundaries of age, ability, country or language.  As I am sure every entrepreneur has, I have long dreamed of taking my enterprise global.  With overseas expansion not being the easiest of tasks, it took a lot of determination as well as finding the right partners abroad to make it a reality.  My pianist husband Maciej Raginia came on board as the festival’s creative director when no amount of self-induced lack of sleep was enough to keep things moving! Today, we share responsibility for every aspect of the festival from creating the syllabuses and concert planning to setting up new PIANO WEEK residences abroad.  It’s very much a ‘do-it-yourself’ ethic born out of the decision to forge our own futures as performing artists.

It is wonderful that PIANO WEEK is extremely popular amongst participants. The high rate of those returning every year (or sometimes even twice or three times a year!) is a true testament to the quality of the tuition offered, our expanding faculty of concert pianists and pedagogues as well as concerts given by world-renowned guest artists.  In the last five years, the festival has welcomed Stephen Kovacevich, Leon McCawley, Chenyin Li and David Fung as our guest artists alongside an impressive list of international concert pianists and educators: Alexander Karpeyev (Russia), Annabelle Lawson (UK), Diana Ionescu (Romania), Grace Yeo (South Korea), Madalina Rusu (Romania), Maiko Mori (Japan), Mark Nixon (South Africa), Melanie Spanswick (UK), Nico de Villiers (South Africa), Niel du Preez (South Africa), Olivia Sham (Australia), Roberto Russo (Italy), Sachika Taniyama (Japan), Sam Armstrong (UK), Warren Mailley-Smith (UK), Yuki Negishi (Japan) and Vesselina Tchakarova (Bulgaria).

You can find out much more about PIANO WEEK, here: www.pianoweek.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.


 

Josef and Rosina Lhévinne and the Russian Piano School

One of the joys of having pianist and piano teachers friends are the endless piano talk phone (or Skype) conversations; and by that I usually mean technique chat! There are, inevitably, disagreements; as many will know there are copious ways to play and teach the piano, but these conversations always throw up a myriad of interesting questions. It was during one such discussion that I discovered the following videos which I hope you will find of interest (I certainly did).

Josef and Rosina Lhévinne were a formidable partnership in the piano world. Both renowned teachers, Josef toured and gave many solo recitals (and two piano concerts with his wife), whilst Rosina became a celebrated teacher at the Juilliard School in New York. The two films linked here give a real insight into the Lhévinne method of teaching. In the first film, American concert pianist John Browning demonstrates elements of piano playing synonymous with the Lhévinne’s teaching, and in the second, Mrs. Lhévinne reveals details about her life and her piano teaching.  These include her pedagogical influence and her legacy (according to many of her students). A fascinating glimpse into Twentieth century Russian piano teaching.



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.


 

The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide: the winner

Many thanks to all who took part in this weekend’s competition. The prize is a copy of the new Faber Music book, The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide written by Anthony Williams.

The winner is…

JULIE REEMAN

Congratulations! Please send your address via the contact page here on my blog, and your book will be on its way!

You can find out more about this publication, 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.


 

The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide: Weekend competition!

Continuing with my recent focus on Faber Music’s Piano Month, pianist, teacher and ABRSM examiner Anthony Williams has contributed the following interesting guest post about the perils and pleasures of piano teaching, in relation to his new book. The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide (published by Faber Music). This generous volume contains so much useful information for piano teachers everywhere.

Anthony’s post is entitled, A Journey for Survival, and it first appeared in the Faber Music Piano Catalogue, which you can read here. I have one copy of this book to give away, and If you would like to win please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of the post. I will pick a winner on Sunday night, British time (do check my blog on Sunday evening to see if you’ve been selected). Good Luck! Over to Anthony…


I remember vivdly, and with some embarrassment, giving my first piano lessons to young piano pupils in North London. As a young concert pianist I had no previous experience in piano teaching but parents who had heard me play thought that this gave me the expertise and understanding to teach their son or daughter. I loved teaching but it was a huge responsibility and I fear I bluffed my way through, always acutely aware of my fallibility and failings. Despite my best efforts to find out more about teaching at this level I found it very hard to glean much advice from colleagues or to find any books which gave me the fundamental knowledge or appropriate musical strategies that

I needed to teach young pupils.

In an effort to find out more, I made the development of a free and relaxed technique the focus of my Master’s degree and, whilst continuing a performing career, devoted myself to piano teaching and to developing my own expertise and understanding. I explored, researched and analysed recordings and videos of my own teaching to discover what worked and, of course, what didn’t, and I consulted with more experienced teachers. Eventually I found myself talking to and discussing teaching in seminars and became a mentor and tutor on a number of Professional Development Courses. As a result I have had the privilege of sitting in on hundreds of piano lessons given by other teachers, naturally embracing some of their fabulous ideas to use in my own teaching and hopefully offering some of my own in return.

More recent presenting work and masterclasses over a number of years have given me the opportunity to explore areas of teaching in even greater depth, to share ideas in more detail and to pass these on to other teachers, both in the UK and internationally. It wasn’t long before I had a huge resource of material on all areas of piano performance, piano teaching and piano technique and I found myself being contacted regularly by piano teachers asking for help on specific areas of their teaching. Keen to do this, I also promised numerous times that I would eventually put all my thoughts and pooled knowledge in one place and the idea (though not the title) of The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide came to mind, and for some time was an ambition close to my heart. A sabbatical and some much-needed encouragement from Faber Music finally encouraged me to put in the work and the book became a reality.

It’s not a ‘how to teach’ book, it’s a book of ideas, thoughts and fundamental principles, and yet I wanted it to be more than just a sharing of information about piano technique and performance. In my early years my inexperience as a teacher meant I often neglected the musical imagination and creativity that inspires pupils to put in hard work and practice. I now strongly believe in putting communication, a love of the beauty of sound and an understanding of the physical relationship with the piano at the heart of teaching to nurture a truly instinctive and musical performer. Combine this with a relaxed, balanced and instinctive (rather than drilled) physical approach to the piano and you allow the natural personality of the performer to emerge. This philosophy became the overwhelming context of the book and linked all the threads together.

The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide is a comprehensive and practical guide providing essential advice for all piano teachers. Aiming to improve and develop confidence in teaching skills and piano technique, the book focuses on the best ways to support pupils and develop their love of the piano. Featuring many case studies, musical examples and problem-solving clinics, this is a rich resource of basic principles, useful tools and thought-provoking ideas.

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.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presenting at a Piano Pedagogy Conference

Until last week I had only ever attended one piano pedagogy (teaching) conference, and had never participated in such an event; so it was with a spirit of adventure (as well as slight trepidation) that I ventured into the unknown. After a successful trip to the Far East over the Summer (where I gave three weeks of classes, lectures and workshops), I was invited to present at the UCSI University Piano Pedagogy Conference 2017, in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). It was an offer I couldn’t refuse; I’m accustomed to travelling around the world alone (having done so for years as a young pianist), and find the challenge of working in exotic places simply irresistible.

Piano pedagogy conferences appear the world over (with arguably the most well-known being held in the USA and Australia). The UK equivalent is organised by EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association) and is usually a three-day marathon. Most conferences offer a continuous stream of master classes, workshops, lectures, recitals and presentations given by various expert pedagogues, with the aim of inspiring teachers and students.

By all accounts, they can be somewhat dull, dry affairs (or so I’ve often heard), where groups of teachers might congregate to discuss the benefits of the five-finger position (or not, as seems to be the case these days if you read the raft of comments on the various online piano teaching forums!). Luckily, I have found students and teachers in Malaysia in particular, more open to different ideas and teaching practices. This was bourne out during my Summer trip, where learning and sharing were the order of the day everywhere I worked.

The UCSI University is often considered the number one higher education institute in Malaysia, in terms of music; its Institute of Music is very active, offering its student body recitals, master classes and prominent Malaysian teachers. Headed by Dr. P’ng Tean Hwa (who runs the department;  pictured above, closing the conference in the concert hall), the institute is thriving, with a new concert hall and music building (which had opened only the day before the conference). Assistant Professor Dr. Christine Tan and her team of organisers had paid meticulous attention to every detail, so that both presenter and participator should want for nothing. I stayed in the hotel at the campus; which, rather like the concert hall, had only opened very recently.

This was the university’s first piano pedagogy conference and it featured two action packed days (6th and 7th November). Conference attendees consisted of a mix of teachers and students. The students were primarily drawn from those studying at the university (fortuitous students indeed; I don’t remember anything of this nature being held at the Royal College of Music during my student days), and the teachers were largely local, although there were some from Indonesia and other nearby countries.

The key-note speaker, Professor Dr. Michael Campbell, gave a series of master classes and workshops, including an interesting improvisation lecture, where four students (using two pianos) experimented with ‘group’ improvisation. Dr. Campbell closed the conference with a recital which encompassed a large selection of styles and genres; from Scarlatti and Mendelssohn to Bartók and Fats Waller.

The Plenary speaker, jazz pianist Michael Veerapen, is a renowned figure in the Malaysian jazz scene. Michael gave a master class, several lectures and a jazz concert complete with band. Both speakers also took part in a pre-conference event the day before (5th November), offering further workshops on their specific specialties.

Sandwiched in between the keynote speakers were a group of presenters, including myself. Each presentation lasted 35 – 40 minutes, with a brief Q&A at the end. We spoke on an extensive selection of topics, and those I attended were fascinating. Musicologists picked subjects close to their heart, like Decoding Idiosyncratic Hairpins of Schubert, Chopin and Brahms—Dynamics or Rubato?  (given by Dr. Cheong Yew Choong) and then there were the practical workshops, which sometimes required audience participation, such as Nurturing Musical Abilities: A Creative Movement in Piano Lessons Using Dalcroze Eurhythmics Approach (given by Dr. Onpavee Nitisingkarin; pictured at the piano (above) with a keen group of conference attendees).

Austrian pianist Dr. Andreas Eggertsberger’s lecture was very informative, focusing on a much debated issue, Focal Dystonia. The talk, entitled Focal Dystonia: My Experience with the Injury, highlighted this debilitating physical problem of which many are not even aware. Focal Dystonia is, by all accounts, similar to repetitive strain injury or tendonitis. Dr. Eggertsberger carefully plotted his story, illustrating how he managed to find his way back to relative health, demonstrating  the patience and resilience required to ‘re-learn’ to play by acquiring a more secure, solid technique (technical issues are frequently the cause of physical injury).

I felt fortunate to be able to talk about my new piano course, Play it again: PIANO (it’s often deemed inappropriate to openly ‘advertise’ your own publications at conferences, but such rigid views aren’t upheld in this part of the world). My presentation (pictured to the right), entitled Developing an Effective Programme for Those Returning to Piano Playing, touched on the need for this student demographic to have a progressive, graded collection of pedagogically sound pieces, with plenty of technical help, enabling them to easily re-acquaint themselves with the instrument. My lecture was indeed popular (with around 75 in the audience; as seen in the photo below) and a fair few books were sold too.

We were treated to a splendid array of culinary delights over the two days, with a variety of tasty Malaysian dishes, all included as part of the conference. During these extended breaks, teachers and students could mingle, network and discuss the pleasures and perils of piano teaching. There was also an opportunity to purchase piano music, piano memberships and the instruments too, courtesy of a trade floor in the basement of the building.

I really enjoyed making new friends and acquaintances, and found the whole event a stimulating, worthwhile learning experience. I hope to attend many more piano pedagogy conferences in the future.


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 few thoughts on piano teaching in Singapore & Malaysia

I spent an energizing and inspiring Summer period away from home this year. For me, this was the perfect way to enjoy a substantial break from my conventional teaching and writing. After working trips to the US (New York) and Germany (Gelsenkirchen), I savoured a relaxing, short holiday in Devon (South West of the UK) before embarking on a three-week sojourn to Southeast Asia.

I was predominantly based in Singapore, but I did cram a jam-packed five days in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) too. This part of the world has always been a favourite; I have visited these shores many times as a young pianist, more recently returning as an examiner (for the ABRSM) and an adjudicator for the British and International Federation of Festivals (BIFF). The culture, colour, and sheer vibrancy of this region resonate with me completely, and I particularly admire the deeply respectful attitude to my profession.

My work began with a visit to the Singapore Performing Arts Festival, where I was invited to adjudicate (for BIFF) small classes of solo piano and strings. This festival, which is based in Katong (to the East of the city centre), is fairly new and has yet to blossom into the colossal organisation of the Hong Kong Schools Music Festival where classes of sixty are a regular occurrence  (and where I will be adjudicating for a month in March 2018). The classes in Singapore were mostly filled with students preparing for exams or concert performances, and, as always, it was a real pleasure to hear their work and hopefully help with a few constructive comments.

The primary reason for the trip was to introduce and talk about my new two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music), and under the kind auspices of the festival, I gave two days of master classes and a further two of workshops, all of which incorporated my new books. The first workshop was for students and their parents, and the second, for teachers. Both were well attended, but the workshop for teachers was especially interesting (pictured above). My chosen topics (piano technique, scales & arpeggios, memorisation and sight-reading) were subjects of concern such is the regularity with which these elements are taught, often due to examination requirements (the British exam system thrives throughout the region).

All twenty-eight teachers were not just responsive to my work, they were also keen to come to the piano, one by one, and try out my ideas and suggestions. The day flew past, and it was extremely satisfying and heart-warming to see such an animated, engaged group.

A couple of days were then spent giving private lessons for the festival; working both with children taking their graded exams, and teenagers and teachers preparing for their performing and teaching diplomas. Practice and preparation is a serious business in Singapore, which suits my style of teaching, and I relished working on the FTCL and FRSM repertoire with several students.

There are a plethora of piano studios and music schools in this tiny country,  some of which inhabit shopping malls! My second engagement was giving private lessons and public classes at The Musique Loft and Musique D’amour, also both based in Katong, in a mall full of beauty salons and health shops. These busy studios teach students of all levels, and we had fun working on mainly exam repertoire. Parents are generally involved with their child’s musical progress and frequently come to the lessons. Some will disagree with this practice, but I find it can be very beneficial; it ensures fruitful practice and therefore bodes well for overall improvement.

The teacher’s workshop at The Musique Loft (pictured to the right, above) was held in a studio with a beautiful Steinway grand and with another group of dedicated teachers. Memorisation is a popular topic amongst teachers; ‘I can never memorise and therefore find it challenging to teach to students’ is a remark I commonly hear. We work at this subject in several ways, but memorising on the spot is a feature of my class, and I’ve yet to find anyone who can’t do it. Observing pianists who suddenly realise they can master this aspect of piano playing is always a happy moment.

Another element which appeared popular at all the workshops, were the sight-reading classes (which round-off the day); at the end of each session, I encourage groups to sight-read altogether (one of which is pictured to the left, at the Performing Arts Festival), with three pianists per piano or six hands (there were nearly always two or three instruments in the room (and we had five pianos to work with in Kuala Lumpur!)). I use one or two pieces, both of which are well within most student’s capabilities, and we run through them with me acting as the conductor; I use the same musical parts duplicated, which makes it easier for students to ‘hear’ and feel where they are in the piece (and in the bar) at any given time.

British composer Mike Cornick has written a splendid series of trios, 4 Pieces for 6 hands at 1 piano (there are several books in the series for different abilities), and the second piece, Sempre Legato, is a winner (the front cover of this volume was photographed many a time during these sessions, by those eager to get their hands on a copy). Sight-reading in groups is a sure way to improve reading, although most work on this demanding discipline is done individually in my classes before playing as a group.

In this part of the world, piano teachers sometimes work in music shops (where jobs are coveted). After working for three days at The Musique Loft and Musique D’amour, I gave classes and shorter workshops for two days at the Cristofori Shop and School (pictured below) near Marina Bay (with an impressive view of the renowned hotel, Marina Bay Sands). The Cristofori brand is new to me – it’s popular in this part of the world, originating in Singapore, and taking its name from the ‘inventor’ of the piano, Italian maker Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655 – 1731). The Cristofori instruments I played had a slightly muffled, ‘soft’ tone and a deep touch (which students responded to favourably).I took the bus from Singapore to Petaling Jaya, to the West of Kuala Lumpur, where I stayed for a few nights. A refreshing change from flying, it was a pleasant way to spend six hours and offered a chance to enjoy the scenery. Kuala Lumpur might be viewed by some as an assault on the senses with its stunning Batu Caves (I managed a quick visit), frighteningly imposing Petronas Twin Towers, endless traffic jams, bustling night markets, open-minded cultural mix, intoxicating heat, and stupendously spicy, fabulous food!

Gloria Musica is a popular piano school in this region with many students and teachers (and it’s about to become larger with a lovely new premises). I had been invited to coach several three-hour master classes and two days of workshops; one for students and another for teachers (pictured above, at the end of the day, with Play it again: PIANO). A factor which I feel is important when giving workshops is the inclusion of all. Active workshops seem the best way to assimilate information, and to this end I urge each participant to come to the piano and engage in what is being demonstrated (although this is a personal choice; students are never forced to take part). As a result, everyone does participate and they usually comment positively on how much more is learned.

After the final classes, the tour concluded with a teacher’s concert (see poster below). A group of teachers at the school (and professors from UCSI University) played short pieces to a large and appreciative audience. I played some of my own compositions. The range of music was interesting, from a duet version of Carnival of the Animals (by Saint-Saëns) to some compelling (and previously unknown to me) Chinese pieces.

I am extremely grateful to the teachers and piano studio owners who kindly invited me to their schools during this period (and spent much time and energy showing me around these enchanting countries), to the Performing Arts Festival in Singapore for its wonderful hospitality, and to Schott Music for their exemplary distribution and vital support.

The opportunity to travel is a privilege. And to incorporate travel and work together is an aspect of my life which I have never taken for granted. I left Singapore and Malaysia with a greater understanding of the culture and complete admiration for their dedication to music study. I can’t wait to return very soon.


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.