5 Tips to Instantly Improve a Performance

If there’s a possibility to immediately improve any performance, most of us would jump at the chance! My latest contribution to Pianist magazine’s newsletter offers a few suggestions which can be easily implemented into your practice session. I hope you find them helpful.


5 Tips to Instantly Improve a Performance

As a teacher, I’m often asked how to instantaneously improve a performance. This is a perpetual dilemma when adjudicating at competitions and festivals. During the adjudication (before announcing the winners), I strive to help pianists in their quest for improvement, offering a few tips and practice ideas. The following suggestions have been born as a direct result of hearing numerous performances and I hope they are of interest.

  1. Pedalling. It can be a major issue, particularly for nervous performers, because there’s often a tendency to ‘ride’ the sustaining (or right) pedal. Why work so hard with the fingers, playing accurately, and in many cases, beautifully, only to hide under a cloud of pedal? For practice purposes, aim to play your piece sans pedal (from beginning to end). Once confident, add smaller amounts of sustaining pedal (to start with), for a cleaner performance. Listening is crucial. Know the work inside out, so you can focus on the sound and how the pedal changes that sound; particularly observe ends of phrases, rapid passage work and chordal passages.
  2. Legato. The knock-on effect of a heavy right foot (i.e. the sustaining pedal), sometimes manifests itself in a general lack of smooth or legato playing. It’s easy to forget to join notes effectively, especially when the pedal is readily available to do it for us. Once stripped of the pedal ‘security blanket’, students can be upset by the sheer clipped, detached nature of their playing. Bypass this by preparing a piece using fluent legato fingering from the outset (depending on the piece; generally Baroque music will require a non-legato touch), adding the pedal only once notes have been fully digested. If you have already studied and learned a piece, go through it without any pedal, checking you have used adequate ‘joining’ or legato fingering, creating a smooth contour, which is usually vital in melodic material.
  3. Tempo. Starting and ending in the same tempo can prove problematic, and this ties in with the important matter of providing adequate thinking time before beginning. Once seated to play, resist the urge to start at once. Instead, take a few seconds to mentally prepare; ten seconds should be ample (although it will feel like two minutes!). This will apportion time to collect thoughts and allow space to set a speed which is both comfortable and realistic. Always feel the pulse, and aim to count two bars before playing, almost as an introduction. Use this time to think about the fastest or smallest time values in the chosen work; semi-quavers or demi-semi-quavers can be negotiated with ease at a carefully chosen tempo. Feeling the pulse religiously can also be helpful, and can stem the compulsion to rush (or slow down).
  4. Body Movement. Too much movement (whether swaying, nodding of the head, obsequious arm movements or moving around on the stool), can be detrimental and distracting. However, even more debilitating is not to move at all. Rigidity (which can lead to tension) can cause a harsh sound and, sometimes, inaccuracies. In order to play in a loose, supple manner, it’s important to develop flexibility by cultivating a relaxed stance at the keyboard. Start by careful observation; watch posture, hand positions and wrists, during practice. Try to focus on how you move around the keyboard. Basic tips are to keep shoulders down, wrists relaxed and use arms in a way so that they encourage hands to move freely. If this issue is worked on consistently and consciously in practice sessions, it will become a good habit, and one which will continue to linger in performances too, even under pressure.
  5. Close to the keys. Aim to keep fingers close to the keys as much as possible, even if body movement is considerable. Whilst wrists and arms should ideally be flexible and able to shift around if necessary, fingers and hands are best kept hovering over the keys ready for action.

Implementing just a couple of these suggestions will instantly improve and lift your piano playing, creating a more assured performance.

You can read the original post here.


My Books:

For much more information on how to practise repertoire, take a look at my new two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 are featured, with copious practice tips and advice for each piece.

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

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

My Compositions:

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

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9 Tips for Piano Exam Success in 2017

Selecting and Practising Piano Exam Repertoire is a new series on my blog, which will begin in earnest next week. Today’s post is in preparation, offering a few practice ideas to make piano exam study a more fruitful and rewarding affair.

Some of you have written (over the past year or so) requesting information about piano exam programmes and how best to select and practise various pieces, so I hope this series of posts might be helpful and of interest. Choosing appropriate pieces from any syllabus is always a major consideration; an important part of exam preparation is deciding which set works combine effectively, offering an attractive, interesting programme whilst also displaying your particular strengths.

I’m going to focus on two exam boards: ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) and Trinity College London (starting with the old syllabus (2015-2017), moving to the new one over the coming months). Every post in the series will feature three pieces (for each grade) which complement one another, are fun to play, and supply engaging technical and musical demands.

These pieces are usually contrasting in style and character, which is an element I will emphasise in my selections. These selections are merely personal preferences, because all works within the syllabus lists have already been carefully chosen to present engaging programmes. My objective is to provide a few tips and practice ideas for the chosen three pieces (much of which can be transferred to other repertoire too), and I hope you find these helpful and informative.

Before I launch into the repertoire, I offer a few suggestions for those preparing for piano exams. Whether you’re a young student taking Grade 1 or a mature student taking Grade 8, there are many ways of making sure you achieve your goal. Here are a few practice ideas to utilize during the months leading up to the big day.

  1. A piano exam practice schedule is a good idea. It doesn’t need to be fanatically followed, but if you can make a promise to yourself to practice little and often, your playing will immeasurably improve. Decide just how much time you can devote to piano playing every week; it might be 20 minutes per day, or 20 minutes twice per day. The regularity of your practice is important, as is focused, mindful concentration. Five days per week is optimum, and it can be useful to work in two sessions as opposed to one.
  2. Include all exam elements in each session. Piano exams normally consist of three pieces, scales & arpeggios (or technical exercises), sight-reading and aural (there are other options too, for some exam boards). Aim to include all (or at least three of the four tests) elements at every practice session, perhaps working with a stop watch or clock, so you don’t spend too much time on one area.
  3. A set routine can be profitable. During the practice session try to establish a ‘rota’; perhaps start with sight-reading and follow this with scales and technical work at every session. By doing this, you will quickly cover two important parts of your exam whilst you are still fresh and able to fully concentrate. Leave the set pieces until later in the practice session.
  4. Sight-reading usually requires your full attention, and although it might seem tedious and onerous, if you can regularly devote time to it, improvement will be significant and will make all other piano endeavours feel easier. Ten minutes at the beginning of every session is ideal.
  5. Moving onto scales, arpeggios and technical work, you may need a quick pause between sight-reading and scales; it’s best to take regular breaks. If you’re preparing for a higher grade exam (Grade 6 or above), you might need to practise scales and arpeggios in rotation, as aiming to include all in one session can prove taxing and take too much time. Work out a timetable whereby all technical  work is practised thoroughly, allowing you to concentrate fruitfully on each one.
  6. Set pieces; each piano piece may also benefit from a rotational approach, particularly if they are advanced and complicated. It’s a better plan to practise slowly and assiduously as opposed to skimming over lightly, which may necessitate working at a smaller amount of material at each practice session.
  7. Performance goals. Once the pieces are within your grasp i.e. you can play them through slowly, aim to finish the final practice session of the day with a ‘play-through’ of at least one piece. This can be a valuable exercise to gauge your progress, note what has been achieved weekly (or daily), and become accustomed to establishing the mental thought process required to think from beginning to end without any breaks or hesitations.
  8. Time keeping. A worthwhile exercise is to play each piece slowly with a metronome. Set the metronome to a very slow speed and go through your piece, playing along precisely to the electronic pulse. This can highlight any technical problems, as well as instilling accurate pulse-keeping, and it will also consolidate fingerings, notes and rhythms. Many find it beneficial to ‘play through’ a work slowly, devoid of emotional content, proffering the space and time to think about physical movement around the keyboard i.e. how flexible, relaxed and comfortable you feel whilst playing each piece (for me, a really important aspect of piano playing).
  9. Aural. Surprisingly, it is possible to practice parts of this element on your own. Singing can be done at the piano, testing yourself on the expected patterns, such as intervals and scalic movement (I provide my students with various intervallic ‘tunes’). You can even play (and sing) the actual singing tests yourself. This is also true of cadences and any chord progressions; you can ‘learn’ how they sound whilst playing. More tricky tests such as recognising styles of music should ideally be honed over a period of time; YouTube provides all the music you’ll ever need in order to become familiar with how various genres ‘sound’.

These ideas can be easily implemented. Piano exams can be daunting, but if prepared carefully and not left until the last-minute, they offer much enjoyment and the perfect opportunity to really improve your playing.

The first post in my new series will feature the ABRSM Grade 1 piano exam. You can find out more about Grade 1 here.


My Books:

For much more information on how to practise repertoire, take a look at my new two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO. Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 are featured, with copious practice tips and advice for each piece.

If you are thinking about playing the piano, my guide-book, So You Want To Play The Piano? is full of useful information.

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


Play it again: PIANO Book 1

The piano is an intoxicating instrument. Those who have played in their youth often harbour a desire to return to it later in life. Piano ‘returners’ make up an increasingly large cohort of amateur pianists. Whether younger or older, it’s usually fairly easy to pick up again and  progress can be swift, proffering the opportunity to fall in love with this majestic instrument (and its colossal repertoire) all over again.

My new two book piano course, Play it again: PIANO has been written with the ‘returner’ in mind. Book 1 was published just last month (and Book 2 will be available from the beginning of July). The first book takes pianists almost back to the beginning (but not quite; this isn’t a piano tutor or method book).

The course consists of 49 piano pieces, the majority of which are drawn from standard repertoire (with emphasis on pedagogical works), starting at elementary level (Grade 1) through to advanced (Grade 8). Each book has an extensive ‘technique’ section at the beginning, with plenty of technical reminders and practice recommendations, and a ‘theory’ section at the end. Each piece contains at least two pages of practice ideas and tips, as well as many musical examples, diagrams and photographs. 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 (which is what I suggest, as this can be beneficial, even your playing is at a much higher level), whilst others may prefer to ‘drop in’ at Book 2 or a later stage.

In Book 1, the technique section focuses on flexibility, posture, and keeping relaxed during practice sessions, with a few warm-up exercises, posture suggestions, and scales, arpeggios, and sight-reading practice tips. The theory section offers note reading reminders and exercises, how to keep time, time signatures, and all the information needed to understand the music within the book.

Each book is divided into four parts, and Book 1 looks like this: Elementary, Late Elementary, Early Intermediate and Intermediate. Although this course is not necessarily exam based, it’s helpful to know the approximate grades for each level; Elementary is roughly Grades 1 – 2 level (ABRSM exam standard), Late Elementary, Grades 2 – 3, Early Intermediate, Grade 3 – 4, and Intermediate, Grades 4 – 5.

Each level contains seven pieces (therefore 28 in Book 1); a technical study, an arrangement and a selection of standard repertoire. My brief was to include a wide variety of styles and genres, so there’s plenty for those who enjoy rock, latin, jazz, blues and even a piece for those who want to try their hand at improvisation. I’ve endeavoured to add a number of favourite original works throughout both volumes, and have balanced these with some terrific lesser-known gems.

The Elementary section includes works by Purcell, Petzold, Bertini, Tchaikovsky, Elgar (an arrangement of Salut d’Amour), a latin number by John Kember and Elena Cobb’s improvisation piece, Super Duck. Whilst the Late Elementary portion features Clarke, W.A. Mozart, Schumann, Gurlitt,  a study by Schytte, a Scott Jopin arrangement and a rock piece by Tim Richards. In the Early Intermediate section you can expect to find works by J.S. Bach, Gounod, Chopin, a study by Lemoine, The Sailor’s Hornpipe (an arrangement), a ragtime piece by John Kember, and a blues number by Mike Readdy. And the final collection, Intermediate, offers Clementi, Burgmuller, Satie, a study by Czerny, an arrangement of Mozart’s A Little Night Music, a rock piece by Jurgen Moser and a minimalist inspired Contemporary piece (Karma from Digressions) by myself.

I’ve included the scale and arpeggio of each key (where appropriate), and warm-up exercises, tailored to certain pieces. There are a myriad of practice ideas, and different methods of breaking pieces down, resembling them with ease and with 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.

This book could be used by a plethora of students; adults returning to this pursuit (it could be useful for study on your own or whilst learning with a teacher), teenagers (or anyone of any age!) who fancy a progressive course with a variety of music (it could be used alongside piano exam preparation too), and piano teachers may find it a beneficial selection of repertoire to use with adult students in particular (several piano teaching friends have already started using Book 1 for this purpose).

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The pages are well laid out (see above) and are designed with ‘Tips’ and ‘technique’ box-outs (the books are published by one of the world’s leading music publishing houses, Schott), and I hope it’s an easy to use course, inspiring pianists to rekindle their love for the piano.

You can find out more here, watch my taster videos by clicking on the links below, and order your copy from many outlets worldwide, including:

For those in the UK: Schott Music or Amazon (there are many other online shops also selling the book).

For those in Europe: Schott Music

For those in the US: Amazon

For those in Canada: Amazon

For those in Japan: Amazon

If you’re an EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association) member, Schott are offering a free copy of Book 1 for 20 members (on a first come first serve basis); to claim your copy send an e mail to this address: marketing@schott-music.com (this offer is open for 2 months only) and please provide your name, address, gender, and information about how many years you have been playing and teaching the piano.  I really hope you enjoy using this book with your students!





 

2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition

Those who read this blog regularly will know how much I enjoy adjudicating; it’s always a fascinating experience, and one from which I’m constantly learning.

On Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to sit on the jury of the 2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition. Organised by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, the competition is held every year and proffers young pianists the chance to perform a programme built entirely from the German Master’s extraordinary output. Each participant attends one of the conservatoire junior departments or specialist music schools in the UK, and had been selected to represent their particular institution.

Pianist, teacher, writer and editor, Nils Franke, and pianist and piano professor at the Royal College of Music and Birmingham Conservatoire, Julian Jacobson, were my distinguished fellow jury members.

Standards are consistently high at such competitions, particularly when competitors hail from notable music institutions, enabling them to study with excellent teachers. But on this occasion, we witnessed exceptional pianism.

This year’s competition was held at Trinity School in Croydon (South London). A splendid modern concert hall housed a full-bloodied, rich, warm Steinway Model D (those who played it commented vociferously on its beauty). Beethoven’s Bagatelle in B flat Op. 119 No. 11 was the set piece, and to accompany this work, the ten competitors were free to select a sonata of their choice. Rather fortuitously, none of the sonatas chosen were duplicated, so we were able to listen to a fair representation of Beethoven’s thirty-two works in this form.

Repertoire included early, middle and late period sonatas: Op. 2 No. 1, Op. 2 No. 3, Op. 10. No. 2, Op. 14 No. 2, Op. 28, Op. 31 No. 2, Op. 53, Op. 54, Op. 57, and Op. 111. Most pianists began with the Bagatelle, which is a small and ostensibly straight forward work (compared to the sonatas), yet, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the whole afternoon, was the contrasts between interpretations. Not simply speed, phrasing, sound quality, or articulation (as might be expected); there were those who imposed their own interpretation and therefore ‘made something of it’, whilst others were happy to simply let the piece unfold more organically (as instructed in the score).

Each pianist dispatched their sonata with virtuosity, control and generally a high standard of musicianship. Some unleashed the full colour and power at their disposal (made possible via such an instrument), with greater aplomb and command than others. Those who dared to play beyond the notes, even beyond the instrument in some respects, revealing a distinct oneness and spiritual affinity with the music, were the triumphant.

The winner displayed these attributes in spades. Our decision was completely unanimous; Adam Heron (pictured below) treated us to a breathtaking performance of Op. 111, and he will no doubt be a future star of the piano world. Currently studying with Hilary Coates at Wells Cathedral School, from September Adam will attend the Royal Academy of Music in London. We wish him every future success.

Second place was shared by Rebecca Leung (from the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department) and Ellis Thomas (from the Royal Northern College of Music Junior Department), and the third place was shared by Tomos Boyles (from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Junior Department), and Gorka Plada Giron (from the Yehudi Menuhin School).

For those eager to hear Adam Heron, he will be giving a prize-winning recital at St. Barnabus Millennium Hall in London on Friday June 23rd 2017.

The Beethoven Piano Society of Europe is an international forum for pianists, teachers, musicologists and music lovers for the greater appreciation of Beethoven’s piano music in all its aspects. The Society’s primary aims are ‘the promotion of the authentic interpretation of all of Beethoven’s music for or involving piano, orchestral, chamber or vocal genres, and the deeper awareness of his pianistic oeuvre as a whole’; you can become a member, and find out much more here.

www.bpse.org

Adam Heron – winner of the 2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition


Weekend Competition: Piano Notes 2017-18

PNotes17_18_001_Cover_0812BWM.inddPiano Notes were published last month and offer students and teachers a wealth of practical advice for the entire ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music examination board) piano syllabus from Grade 1 through to Grade 8, which started in January 2017 and goes through to Spring 2019. The notes include all alternative pieces as well as those printed in each graded book, so they make for a very beneficial and handy guide, irrespective of your standard or ability (and are great to keep by the piano as a reference).

Published by Rhinegold (the leading music education publishers, who also organise the Music and Drama Education Expo Event held in February 2017 at Olympia in London), the notes can be purchased from Rhinegold’s website.

Piano Notes have been written by a team of five writers, all of whom are  experienced teachers; Fiona Lau, Katharine May, Michael Round, Murray McLachlan and myself, and we wrote around 200-350 words on each piece (depending on the grade), detailing the most important elements, advocating various practice tips and performance suggestions.

My contribution was to write notes for all list C pieces from Grades 1 – 6. I was pleased to find a fairly widespread selection of works; from masters such as Kabalevsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Bartók, through to vibrant piano arrangements, and many Contemporary composer’s works too. Although for my taste, there is probably too much emphasis on the ‘jazz’ inspired style, and not enough on Contemporary classical music (which I believe should be introduced to students from the beginning).

I’ve two copies of Piano Notes to give away this weekend, so please leave your comments in the comment box at the end of this post and I will announce the two winners on Sunday evening (British time). Good luck!

You can find out more about Piano Notes here, and order your copy here.


Manchester Music Festival Young Artists Program

yapHere’s a wonderful chance for young pianists and string players to attend a Summer course in Vermont (US) with an illustrious faculty and exciting performance opportunities.

The Manchester Music Festival (MMF) Young Artists Program is a full scholarship, six-week intensive chamber music festival for string players and pianists, aged from 18 – 26. Occurring annually every summer in scenic Manchester (Vermont), the 2017 Young Artists Program will take place from July 3rd to August 13th, 2017. Young Artists will receive daily coaching sessions by a faculty composed of world-renowned artists and pedagogues.

The primary focus of the Young Artists Program is to intensively study and perform chamber music at a high level, and to benefit from outstanding musical guidance on a daily basis. During the course, students can expect to study several chamber masterworks, with ensemble sizes ranging from duos to octets in a broad spectrum of repertoire spanning the centuries, from Baroque to Contemporary. Groups will also be selected to perform in the weekly MMF Young Artists concert series.

On August 3rd, 2017, Young Artists will participate in one orchestral concert, performing Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, with Ignat Solzhenitsyn conducting and pianist Alexander Kobrin.

Young Artists will also have the opportunity to perform in public masterclasses and take private lessons with many of the faculty members. In addition, they will benefit from forum discussions addressing principles of entrepreneurship and career development which will assist in forging successful paths as professional musicians.

‘This is a full-scholarship program, meaning that we offer this opportunity to outstanding students at no cost to them, other than the application fee. This makes us quite unique in the world of expensive summer programs’ –  Adam Neiman  (artistic director of the MMF, concert pianist and professor of piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts (Roosevelt University)).

Each MMF Young Artist receives a scholarship providing full tuition, free accommodations, and a modest weekly stipend. Students are responsible for their own meals.

Scholarships are made possible by the generous contributions of individual sponsors and endowments, and all of the Young Artists will have opportunities to interact socially with their patrons during their stay in Manchester.

The closing date for applications is February 15th 2017.

Download the Young Artists Program brochure

Visit the website here


Recommended Piano Resources for November 2016

Badge Graphics Draft 3In the run up to Christmas, many of us are on the lookout for gift ideas for friends, family, piano teachers, students and piano lovers everywhere. I hope this fairly substantial selection will inspire a host of piano related shopping. As usual, there’s something to interest all levels. I’ve made a few exciting composer discoveries (which is always fun); today’s list features a historical novel, a new piano method, a practice notebook, a Children’s piano concerto, and new compilations, as well as publications from our favourite publishers. Enjoy!

Beginners/Elementary

Piano Junior

ed_13801-heumann_648_This new method published by Schott Music consists of a series of books (8 books in total) and has been written by German pedagogue and composer, Hans-Günter Heumann. I was a consultant on this method, and it has been exciting to see the finished product. PJ is a robot who is the main ‘character’ (he has a friend called ‘Mozart’ the dog too!) in this tutor series for youngsters (age 6 and above). Piano Junior is designed as a ‘fun and interactive’ piano method, starting with black notes, employing innovative, user-friendly graphic notation before introducing white notes, traditional staves, clefs and time signatures. In addition to each book, there is also extra material on the website, which includes videos, audio demos and play-alongs for all the pieces, as well as downloadable rhythm checks, workouts, sight-reading exercises and other resources. Find out much more here and purchase here.

My Practice Palette

my-practice-palette-coverWritten by British teacher Roberta Wolff, this book can be enjoyed in paperback or e-book version and is designed to assist students and teachers in their quest for effective practising. My Practice Palette  is essentially a notebook which aims to educate parents, teaches, and students about how to practise while eliminating the need for teachers to write practice notes. This is done by teaching practice methodology and metacognition. Roberta recommends using My Practice Palette from grades 1-5. Teachers can also work through the Practice Palette during lesson time. The benefits of this are, no extra time is required for planning, and teachers can be spontaneous yet easily keep track of a student’s progress. It’s certainly a colourful volume and would no doubt encourage those who might otherwise find practising dull. Find out more and get your copy here.

14 Easy Pieces for Piano

lane_richard_14_easy_pieces_for_piano_pno73American composer Richard Lane (1933 – 2014) has written a group of charming little pieces for those of around Grade 1 level (ABRSM). I discovered Richard’s music through the ABRSM list C pieces (for 2017/8), whilst writing the Piano Notes series (due to be published by Rhinegold in January). These works, which are published by Swiss publisher BIM Editions, are tuneful, attractive and all feature particular technical elements (important for teaching repertoire). Duets, an arrangement and original pieces all feature in this volume. Find out more and purchase here.

Piano Star

9781848499249This is a new series published by the British examination board, ABRSM, for beginners (or for those up to prep test level). There are three books in the series, each containing new arrangements and original pieces written by a host of different composers and teachers, all associated with the popular British exam board. The volumes include solo pieces and duets, offer a mix of styles, plus fun extension activities and plenty of illustrations. There are 74 pieces in total, written by 20 composers including Christopher Norton, Paul Harris, Mark Tanner and Mike Cornick, and children will love the tuneful simplicity of the pieces; this is certainly useful teaching material. Find out more and purchase here.

Intermediate

Piano Concerto No. 1 For Children

pno18-chkolnik_concerto_for_children-web

An interesting discovery, written in 1993 by Russian composer Ilia Chkolnik and published by BIM Editions, in their Junior Series. Piano concertos written solely for children are becoming increasingly popular, with many, particularly Russian composers, highlighting this potential gap in the market. This score has an orchestral reduction (or second piano part), and at first glance, could be mistaken for advanced level. However, it consists of idiomatic, essentially tonal writing and lasts just 11 minutes. There are three movements, two fast outer sections, and a beautiful slow movement, which reminds me of Shostakovich’s Second Concerto in F major Op. 102. Teachers looking for varied contemporary repertoire will enjoy this piece. To hear, find out more and purchase, click here.

Intermediate to Advanced

My First Chopin

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A new publication from Schott Music, compiled by German pianist and pedagogue, Wilhelm Ohman. This collection of 20 pieces lies well within the capabilities of the advanced player, and contains some of Chopin’s best-loved works including a group of Preludes, Waltzes, Mazurkas and Nocturnes. These genres are popular amongst students, and with the Raindrop Prelude Op. 28 No. 15, Prelude in B minor Op. 28 No. 6, Waltz in B minor Op. posth. 69 No. 2, Mazurka in B flat major Op. 7 No. 1, Nocturne in C sharp minor No. 20 Op. posth., Funeral March (from Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35), to name a few favourites. An excellent addition to any student’s library. Find out more and purchase here.

The Piano Playlist

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A large selection of 50 popular classical pieces arranged by British arranger and editor Barrie Carson Turner, and published by Schott Music. Arrangements have always been a favourite with pianists, and this offers a comprehensive list of music across several centuries, all transcribed for intermediate up to advanced players. From opera arias (Habanera from Carmen by Bizet, Nessun Dorma from Turandot, and O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi both by Puccini), to ballet numbers, famous gems from orchestral works (Ode to Joy (Beethoven), The Swan (Saint-Saëns), Adagietto (Mahler’s 4th Symphony)), to piano concertos, instrumental music and  arrangements of piano pieces. My choice piece is When I am Laid in Earth from Dido and Aeneas by Purcell. This is a beneficial volume for those wanting to discover some of the best-loved works in the Classical repertoire. It would also serve as excellent sight-reading material. Find out more and purchase here.

The Ultimate Easy Piano Songlist

e20016ac-d186-4c15-a350-c7c3873fd590A new publication from Faber Music. Containing 45 arrangements of best selling songs, this will please those who enjoy a wide variety of pop and easy listening music. Numbers from artists such as Adele, Cilla Black, Cole Porter, Ella Fitzgerald, Chris Rea, Michael Buble, Eagles, One Direction, Wham!, Nina Simone, Muse, Vera Lynn, David Bowie, Justin Beiber, Jamie Cullum, and Radiohead, to name a few. This is designated ‘Easy Piano’ but few elementary pianists will manage these arrangements; I would suggest intermediate level as minimum. Complete with lyrics and chord indications, this is a lovely volume, and would make a perfect stocking filler! Find out more and purchase here.

Piano Collection by Jevdet Hajiyev

indexThe first book of a special centenary edition of selected piano works inspired by Azerbaijani traditional music, written by Azerbaijani composer, Jevdet Hajiyev (1917 – 2002). This volume is published by EVC Music Publications, in a project commissioned by the Muradov family archive. For intermediate to advanced level players, this book will be a useful addition to any piano teacher, advanced student or keen amateur’s piano library. With the expected Russian inflections, this music is generally tonal but with a direct influence of Twentieth Century masters such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich (Jevdet Hajiyev’s teacher). Some pieces are short (such as those from Musical Sketches), whilst the Scherzo and Sonata are more substantial. Listen to the music, find out more and get a copy here.  

Online

Flowkey

flowkeyFlowkey is a piano learning-app geared for all levels, whether beginner or advanced. It’s also a useful music education tool for parents, teachers, and adult learners, as it’s easy to get started. A wide spectrum of music is covered, from classical music to pop songs. You can apparently practice interactively and receive instant feedback; progress can be tracked and piano lessons are also on offer, in the form of various courses. Flowkey is partnered with Yamaha, and can be easily connected to digital pianos. Find out much more here.

Books

Ghost Variations

getattachmentthumbnailThis is the latest novel by British author, writer, and critic Jessica Duchen. Whilst not strictly focused on the piano, it is a very interesting musical tale. Jessica tells the true story of Hungarian-born violinist Jelly D’Aranyi’s quest to recover Robert Schumann’s forgotten violin concerto. It’s also the story of an aging woman in a world which is becoming progressively more hostile. Jelly negotiates her way through the changing world of 1930s London. War is ever-present, and the heroine has to come to terms with her fading powers and upcoming young stars such as Yehudi Menuhin. As a woman, she faces the ultimate decision, choosing between music or love.  Find out more here and buy your copy here.


You can find out more about my new Faber Music Piano Anthology here.

And my beginner’s guide, So You Want To Play The Piano? here.

Weekend Competition! Safari by June Armstrong

safari-cover-238-236-225-light-backgroundMy competition this weekend features a new collection of beginner to pre-grade one piano pieces written by composer June Armstrong.

Safari consists of 23 elementary pieces and follows the course of a day in Africa, starting with African Dawn and ending with Night Sky with Stars.  You can meet all the animals along the way – gazelles, flamingos, lions, giraffes, hyenas, monkeys, elephants and many others, as well as a myriad of atmospheric scenes such as Mountain Mist and Mirage. To listen to every piece click here.

This selection contains a distinctly appealing atmospheric sound, and one which I think both adult and child beginners will enjoy. A wide range of piano techniques are introduced, and therefore these little pieces form excellent teaching material.

I have two signed copies of this volume to give away, so please leave your comments in the comment box at the end of this post, and I will select two winners (and announce them on this blog, so stay tuned!) on Sunday evening (British time). If you would like to purchase Safari, you can do so here.


A Weekend at Jackdaws Music Education Trust

jackdawsI had the pleasure of tutoring a second piano course at Jackdaws Music Education Trust over the weekend. Jackdaws is dedicated to improving participation in and enjoyment of music through residential and one day instrumental and vocal courses, various education projects, a Young Artists Programme, as well as performances by world-class musicians.

Piano courses, whether weekend courses or Summer schools, are proving increasingly popular with pianists of all levels and abilities (from beginners through to professionals). Jackdaws was recently voted second place in a UK Piano Course Ranking. According to the survey, those who attended such courses gave the following reasons as most important;  ‘the opportunity to work with leading teachers’ (something Jackdaws offers at every weekend course)  and the chance to gain ‘useful, critical feedback’.

Jackdaws is situated in the village of Great Elm, just outside Frome, in Somerset (UK). A picturesque venue and setting (see photo above), wonderful food (all home cooked by our chef Loo) and an excellent Steinway, make for a thoroughly enjoyable and, hopefully, informative few days.

My course focused on piano technique, sight-reading and memorisation, which are aspects sometimes forgotten or side-stepped during piano lessons, however, there was also ample time for each participant to work on repertoire too. In all, the weekend courses (which begin on Friday evenings at 6.30pm and finish at 4pm on Sunday afternoons), consist of around 12 hours of tuition, as well as a little time on Saturday afternoon to explore the surrounding area. It’s certainly a musically action packed weekend!

Course participants ranged from teenagers to the more mature, and from elementary level through to advanced; it was interesting to observe how this variety didn’t affect or impede enjoyment; the elementary students seemed to respond well to hearing advanced students perform and vice versa. By working at particular facets of piano playing, it’s possible to involve all standards and abilities, and offer a few ideas for improvement at every level.There were fewer pianists on my course this year, but those who came said they savoured the opportunity for longer one-to-one teaching sessions.

A weekend course doesn’t necessarily aim to overhaul piano playing overnight, but it can offer the possibility of change, and a realisation that certain elements can be tackled in a different way. Performance practice (i.e. the act of playing through a piece from beginning to end in front of a small audience) can be a triumph for some, and courses are useful for this aspect alone.

One of the participants on my course last year realised she needed another approach, and has since come for regular lessons; we have worked hard to alter and improve her playing, and she has just taken an ATCL diploma and is now preparing for music college and university auditions.

The prospect of meeting new and like-minded friends makes this a perfect way to spend a weekend. There are a plethora of piano courses taking place at Jackdaws throughout the year featuring a cohort of leading piano pedagogues (you can find out much more here), so you’ll no doubt find one to suit you.

www.jackdaws.org.uk

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Jackdaws Piano Course 2016

GetAttachmentThumbnailMy piano course at Jackdaws Music Education Trust will be held in October this year and the bookings open today!  This is my second visit to Jackdaws and I’m very much forward to it.

Jackdaws has a wonderful history and tradition, and is renowned for its instrumental and vocal courses, education projects, young artists programme, and performances by world-class musicians. Situated near Frome in Somerset (UK), the venue is set in exquisite countryside. There are a whole range of courses on offer featuring many outstanding teachers, and lots are residential. You can find out all about the Education Trust here.

My piano course will begin on Friday 14th of October at 6.30pm and finish on Sunday afternoon on the 16th October at 4pm. It consists of eight concentrated sessions throughout the weekend, providing ample opportunity to work on many aspects of pianism. I was fortunate to have a full house last year (10 participants), which was fun (you can read more about the weekend and repertoire presented here).

I’ll be focusing on piano technique, memorisation and sight-reading. These are topics I often offer for courses, as I believe they are frequently neglected. However, there will also be plenty of time for more traditional workshop fayre; where each pianist plays a prepared piece and we work on it in a master class format. Therefore we ask each participant to bring two short  pieces of their choice (however, your pieces do not need to be polished or performance ready – we will work on this together).

GetAttachmentThumbnailThe weekend will commence with sessions on evaluating and honing technical freedom at the piano, with full class participation. This will be followed by plenty of tips and practical guidance on memorisation, again with class participation, and the course will finish with sessions on sight-reading, and a final opportunity to work on chosen pieces.

This piano course is open to any standard or level of playing, and there are a maximum of ten places. The fee for the  course is £200 for the entire weekend, to include all meals except breakfast (there is a selection of B&Bs to choose from if you would like to stay nearby). To find out more about the course, and for booking and registration (which is now open) click here – I look forward to meeting you.

‘A very enjoyable course Melanie. A lot of information was covered. Really appreciated the technical help and also watching your approach to teaching the other students. Alex’s food was indeed wonderful, catering for so many varied food requirements. Such a high standard of skills from the variety of participants. Very enjoyable indeed. Looking forward to another course in the future – can’t have too much knowledge, always willing to learn more.Thanks again Melanie. Highly recommended!’

Maggie George: Participant on the 2015 Jackdaws Music Education Trust Course

www.jackdaws.org.uk