Play it again: the review

I imagine most writers wait for reviews with bated breath. I certainly do. Writers spend a significant period of time alone. I enjoy the solitude. It offers ample thinking time and space to consider piano practice and performance. But once a book is written and ideas are set in stone, the only option is to hope that it is useful and that the relevant information has been offered in a logical manner so that it can be easily understood.

Play it again: PIANO has been a popular series so far, and Book 1 and 2  have both sold successfully around the world. Adding Book 3 seemed to be the natural progression, however it was a much more complicated book to write than the previous two volumes, mostly due to the complexity of the music and the detail required for advanced learners. You can, therefore, imagine my delight at receiving the following review earlier this week.

Renowned writer and reviewer Andrew Eales runs a successful blog called Pianodao. He regularly features new piano publications on his blog, and has already written a lovely review for the first two books in my series. The following wonderfully positive and detailed article includes information about Book 3, and offers an excellent overview of each book. Over to Andrew…


Melanie Spanswick’s Play it Again: Piano series launched with two books published by Schott Music back in 2017. At the time, I heaped praise on those books, and I have subsequently used them with adult “returners” who have also loved them.

Now, with a third book joining the series, it’s time for another look. This new review covers all three books in the series, so let’s dig in…


Who is it for?

One of the first questions I ask myself whenever looking at a new sheet music product is – “who is this aimed at?”

Popular author, teacher and composer Melanie Spanswick makes her target crystal clear from the outset, with a subtitle, ‘The perfect way to rediscover the piano’, and with a back cover description that reads:

“Aimed at ‘returning’ players who have spent some time away from the keyboard, Play it Again: Piano gives you the confidence to revisit this fulfilling pastime and go beyond what you previously thought you could achieve. Each piece in this two-book course is accompanied by constructive and easy-to-understand practice tips to help get your fingers speeding comfortably across the keys once again! The Piano Technique and Theory sections will help secure a fuller understanding of music and technique.
If you often find yourself saying ‘I used to play the piano…’ but wish you still did, then Play it Again: Piano is the resource for you!”


The first two volumes between them cover the full range of the eight grades offered by leading UK exam boards, meaning that the returning player can either recap from the start, developing good new habits while revising well-loved music and encountering new pieces, or else jump straight in at the level that suits them.

Meanwhile, the newly available third book covers post-Grade 8 and Associate Diploma level, making it ideal for those working towards professional qualifications, as well as those who are simply intent on taking their personal piano journey to the next level.

The Publications

The outstanding quality of these books is immediately apparent. The high gloss card covers contain 116 (Book 1), 120 (Book 2) and in the case of the third book 156 pages, printed on high quality paper with a slight sheen to it. The binding is very good, allowing even the third book to lie flat on the music stand, while also remaining durable.

The design itself is simply beautiful (and I mean seriously very good indeed!), and at a first skim through the books it is clear that they include a wealth of nicely engraved sheet music alongside plentiful text.

Just on the notation, I should mention for fellow purists that pieces from the Baroque and Classical Eras sometimes (including at Diploma level) include editorial dynamics and phrasing rather than taking a clean urtext approach.

There are helpful fingering suggestions throughout, again including in the third book.

In More Detail

Each book starts with a technique primer section, offering a few pages of excellent advice supported with clear black-and-white photographs. These sections cover posture, hand positions, flexibility and alignment, and advice is expanded and developed throughout the three books.

The first two books follow this with a section covering general tips about practice, including some positive suggestions for working on scales, arpeggios, finger warm-ups, and sight-reading.

The first two books each ends with a short section about Music Theory. In the first book this covers basic reminders of note values, time signatures, clefs and pitch, and key signatures, while in the second book the reader is treated to clearly explained information about scales, intervals, the circle of fifths, ornaments, chord progressions and cadences.

In place of this, the third book concludes with a short section about practice warm-ups, and although just a brief two pages, this is useful.

Between these various supports, the bulk of each book is taken up with the pieces at each level, always preceded by (at least) two full pages of advice covering such issues as:

  • Preparation (usually incorporating a suitable scale or short exercise)
  • Practice Techniques (offering invaluable and often creative advice)
  • Interpretation (usually a short suggestion or two about creating the right mood)

In the third book, these playing tips extend up to as long as 12 pages, and the wealth of detail and expertise here might be seen as the book’s key selling point. Spanswick has not only provided superb tips for the included repertoire, but illuminates effective strategies which players might equally adopt and apply in other concert repertoire of their own choosing.

A key question is whether this rich resource provides sufficient information for the adult player to work alone, without the help of a teacher. It does not claim to do so, but some adult returners may approach the course with that in mind.

Personally I believe that the three books provide an outstanding source for independent learning, but without replacing the need for a good teacher’s diagnostic expertise, support and guidance.

The Repertoire

The diversity of music selected across the three books is superb, and covers so many bases that the supporting writing is able to equally deal with a very broad range of piano playing styles, techniques and piano playing issues.

Here, then, is the full list of included pieces:

BOOK ONE:

Elementary (Grades 1-2)

  • Henry Purcell: Air in D minor
  • Christian Petzold: Minuet in G
  • Henri Bertini: Andantino
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Sick Doll
  • Edward Elgar: Salut d’Amour
  • John Kember: Calypso
  • Elena Cobb: Super Duck

Late Elementary (Grades 2-3):

  • Jeremiah Clarke: King William’s March
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Allegro in B-flat major
  • Robert Schumann: Soldier’s March
  • Cornelius Gurlitt: Allegro non troppo Op.82 No.65
  • Ludvig Schytte: Study Op.108 No.25
  • Scot Joplin (arr. Spanswick): Maple Leaf Rag
  • Tim Richards: Jump Shuffle

Early Intermediate (Grades 3-4):

  • J.S. Bach: Prelude in C minor BWV999
  • Henry Lemoine: Study in F major Op.37 No.20
  • Charles Gounod: Les Pifferari (The Italian Pipers)
  • Fryderyk Chopin: Prelude in A major Op.28 No.7
  • Trad. arr. Barrie Carson Turner: The Sailor’s Hornpipe
  • John Kember: Mississippi Rag
  • Bill Readdy: Three ‘Outasight’ Mice

Intermediate (Grades 4-5)

  • Muzio Clementi: Sonatina in G major Op.36 No.2 (first movement)
  • Carl Czerny: Study in C major Op.849 No.29
  • J.F.F. Burgmüller: Ballade Op.100 No.15
  • Mozart, arr. Heumann: A Little Night Music Kv525
  • Erik Satie: Gymnopédie No.1
  • Jürgen Moser: Fried Chicken
  • Melanie Spanswick: Karma

BOOK TWO:

Late Intermediate (Grades 5-6)

  • C.P.E. Bach: Solfeggietto in C minor H.220
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Für Elise WoO59
  • Felix Mendelssohn-Batholdy: Song Without Words Op.30 No.3
  • Hermann Berens: Study in F major Op.88 No.18
  • Elena Cobb: Lavender Haze
  • Melanie Spanswick: Seahorse Dream

Early Advanced (Grades 6-7):

  • George Frideric Handel: Allegro from Suite in G major HWV441
  • W.A. Mozart: Allegro from Sonata in C major Kv545
  • Beethoven: Adagio Sostenuto from Sonata Op.27/2 “Moonlight”
  • Johann Baptist Cramer: Study in C major Op.50 No.1
  • Johannes Brahms: Waltz in A-flat major Op.39 No.15
  • Sven Hormuth: Sweat Feet Stomp

Advanced (Grades 7-8):

  • Franz Schubert: Impromptu in A flat major D.935 No.2
  • Stephen Heller: Warrior’s Song Op.45 No.15
  • Claude Debussy: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair L.117 No.8
  • Trad. arr. Barrie Carson Turner: Londonderry Air
  • Joaquín Turina: Fiesta Op.52 No.7

Late Advanced (Grade 8+):

  • J.S. Bach: Prelude & Fugue in C minor BWV847
  • Fryderyk Chopin: ”Raindrop” Prelude Op.28 No.15
  • Scott Joplin: The Entertainer
  • Sergei Rachmaninov: Prelude in C-sharp minor Op.3 No.2

BOOK THREE:

Post Grade 8 Diploma

  • Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in E major K. 215
  • Edvard Grieg: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen Op. 65 No. 6
  • Claude Debussy: La Puerta del Vino L. 223 No. 3
  • Alexander Scriabin: Prelude in B minor Op. 11 No.  6
  • Paul Hindemith: Interludium and Fuga Decima in D flat
  • Melanie Spanswick: Frenzy, Etude for Nimble Fingers

Associate Diploma

  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in C minor ‘Pathetique’ Op 13
  • Johannes Brahms: Intermezzo in A major Op. 118 No. 2
  • Edward MacDowall: Wild Jagd from Virtuoso Etudes Op. 46 No. 3
  • Issac Albeniz: Asturias Leyenda Op.  47 No. 5
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12

This is a wonderfully nourishing, enriching and fascinating selection on many counts.

Firstly, the author has made a virtue of selecting contemporary pieces in popular and jazzy styles, as well as pieces equally representing Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century playing and compositional styles. And at almost all levels, there is a technical study.

Secondly, it is refreshing to welcome three of Spanswick’s own compositions here: the minimalistic Karma, more lyrical Seahorse Dream, and the dizzyingly enjoyable Frenzy: Étude for Nimble Fingers. The inclusion of two pieces by Elena Cobb is also most welcome; Lavender Haze has proved hugely popular with my students; it’s a particularly ravishing discovery!

Thirdly, for players looking for a balanced selection of appealing pieces to work on between grades, these are near perfect anthologies, with an ideal mix and juxtaposition of lesser known material and contemporary pieces alongside several of the most evergreen favourites of the traditional repertoire.

Conclusion

There is undoubtedly a significant and growing market of piano players returning to the instrument later in life, having learnt as children, and looking to progress their skills as adults.

Play it Again: Piano in my view exactly hits the spot for these players, and deserves to be a huge success both for Spanswick and for Schott Music.

From retracing the earliest steps in learning, right through to preparation for a professional diploma, Play it Again: Piano furnishes the adult pianist with a wealth of insight, information and inspiration. It is a genuinely useful, groundbreaking and to the best of my knowledge unique course, certainly deserving of a place in every pianist and teacher’s library.

It is abundantly clear that a huge amount of thought, work and expertise has gone into each and every element of these superb books, and it’s all paid off handsomely: Play it Again: Piano is simply one of the most brilliantly conceived and stunningly produced sheet music publications of recent years.

Writing reviews can at times necessitate an element of speculation, but this inspiring series has already passed the ultimate test: my own adult students love and are truly inspired by the first two books; the arrival of the third is welcome news indeed!

OUTSTANDING

www.pianodao.com

You can read the original review,  here. And you find out more, watch my videos, and purchase the series from Schott’s website, here. You can also purchase on Amazon, here.


My publications:

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

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


 

PIANO WEEK 2019

It’s always a pleasure highlighting various piano courses, but I particularly enjoy featuring this one. PIANO WEEK has been running for seven years, and since 2018 I have had the good fortune to be a faculty member. It’s a wonderful way to spend a week; you can immerse yourself in piano music and meet many new friends, and that’s just for starters! I invited PIANO WEEK directors, Samantha Ward and Maciej Raginia, to tell us more about this innovative course and piano festival…


If you want to venture away from the ‘tried and tested’ this summer, combine your love of music with travel and new cuisine, read on! The touring aspect of PIANO WEEK and its non-selective character alongside our passion for music, have contributed to creating a steadily growing community of like-minded people, music lovers, concert pianists, authors and world-famous guest artists. We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have established long-lasting collaborations with Steinway & Sons (in the UK, Japan & China) and Schott Music, which have allowed us to enhance the quality resources on offer. With PIANO WEEK growing organically over the last seven years, we have ensured that a feeling of family remained at the heart of our operations and the festival’s ethos. You can still pick up the phone and talk to us directly if you want to know more about what we do or if you need help weighing up your options. If you are intrigued, here is what our participants say about us:

Since its humble beginnings in North Wales in 2013, PIANO WEEK has travelled to Weston Rhyn (UK), Rugby (UK), Foligno (Italy), Sankt Goar (Germany), Tokyo (Japan), Beijing (China) and has welcomed major names in the industry such as Stephen Kovacevich, Leon McCawley, Chenyin Li and David Fung alongside our in-house team of international concert pianists. We are particularly excited this year that Leslie Howard will join us at Weston Rhyn (Moreton Hall School) on Saturday, 3rd August 2019 in a performance of works by Percy Grainger for six hands on two pianos (tickets will soon be available for purchase on www.pianoweek.com/whats-on). All of the festival concerts are free to attend for our residential and non-residential participants and form an integral part of the PIANO WEEK experience.

The course part of PIANO WEEK is packed full of a variety of different classes, with a great emphasis placed on the performance aspect of piano playing. We accept entries from participants of all ages and abilities, with an age range spanning eighty-four years so far, from absolute beginners through children of all levels, to conservatoire students and adult amateur pianists. We pride ourselves on our all-round, holistic approach to learning the piano and apart from a generous amount of one-to-one tuition and master classes on offer, the programme boasts duet lessons, multiple participant performances as well as theory, composition, listening, harmony, sight reading and memorisation classes. There is a lot of fun for all involved too, as well as ample amounts of chocolate on offer!

Our courses for the summer of 2019 include a week in Foligno (Scuola Comunale di Musica) between 14th and 21st July, two weeks in Weston Rhyn between 21st July and 4th August (Moreton Hall School) and a week in Rugby (Rugby School) between 18th and 25th August. For those of you looking further afield, PIANO WEEK returns to Tokyo (Symphony Salon) between 30th April and 5th May 2020. In the meantime, here is our personalised mini guide to what’s going on:

PIANO WEEK Foligno

When: 14 – 21 Jul 2019

Where: Scuola Comunale di Musica

Price: £1345 – £2190

About: A beautiful ancient town in Umbria, nearby the famous vineyards of Montefalco. The music school is situated in the heart of the old town, with restaurants and bars serving delicious local cuisine at fair prices, coupled with generous aperitivi and gelato which we simply cannot resist…!

Find out more:

http://pianoweek.com/scuola-comunale-di-musica-di-foligno-it/

PIANO WEEK Weston Rhyn

When: 21 – 28 Jul 2019 &  28 Jul – 4 Aug 2019

Where: Moreton Hall School

Price: £1290 – £2035

About: Here, you can breathe in fresh air and enjoy the English countryside around the extensive, safe grounds encircling Moreton Hall School. Enjoy a state-of-the-art Steinway D concert grand piano during all of your performances. If you join us in the second week (28 Jul – 4 Aug), Leslie Howard will be closing the festival (and you’ll have your complimentary ticket!)

Find out more:

http://pianoweek.com/moreton-hall-school-uk/

PIANO WEEK Rugby

When: 18 – 25 Aug 2019

Where: Rugby School

Price: £1290 – £2035

About: We have a state-of-the-art music school at our disposal with an impressive fleet of concert grand pianos and ample practice facilities. The atmospheric Memorial Chapel as well as a second concert hall in the music school will be used for faculty and participant concerts. Currently, this residency has attracted mostly adult participants. A limited number of single rooms on campus are available.

Find out more:

http://pianoweek.com/rugby-school-uk/

PIANO WEEK Tokyo

When: 30 Apr – 5 May 2020

Where: Symphony Salon

Price: ¥225000 – ¥325000

About: For those of you who love travelling long distances and value top notch Japanese cuisine, this is an easy choice! In Tokyo, we are offering a non-residential course option only, with all classes and concerts taking place at Symphony Salon’s in-house concert hall. With its perfect location in the equivalent of London’s East End, there is a feel of old Tokyo just around the corner. Fantastic restaurants with fair prices in every direction…

Find out more:

http://pianoweek.com/symphony-salon-tokyo-jp/

You can apply for any of the above courses by visiting the PIANO WEEK home page (www.pianoweek.com); click on the APPLY ONLINE button in the upper right hand corner (of your desktop computer) or APPLY ONLINE at the top of the page (for the mobile version).

If you cannot join PIANO WEEK this year, we would love to welcome you at the following locations in 2020:

PIANO WEEK Foligno: 12 – 19 July 2020

PIANO WEEK Weston Rhyn: 19 – 26 July  &  26 July – 2 August 2020

PIANO WEEK Rugby: 16 – 23 August 2020

PIANO WEEK Tokyo: 30 Apr – 5 May 2020


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 Holiday Competition!

This weekend Pianist magazine and Schott Music are holding a competition which takes place on Pianist’s social media sites. One of five copies of Play it again: PIANO Book 3 are available for five winners. You can enter and find out more about this competition by clicking here. And you can find out more about the whole Play it again series, here.

For regular piano updates subscribe to Pianist’s newsletter, which consists of more practice tips and piano information, here. Good luck!

 

 

I’d like to wish you and your family a very Happy Easter weekend.

www.pianistmagazine.com

www.en.schott-music.com


My publications:

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

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


 

Play it again: PIANO Book 3

Play it again: PIANO Book 3 is now available, and, as I know some readers have been eagerly awaiting its arrival, today’s post provides some information about this new publication. I’m very excited about the third book in this series. Each book has its own character and unique collection of pieces, but this one is my favourite!

As a recap, Play it again: PIANO Book 1 and 2 were both published in 2017. Play it again is a progressive and graded piano course, published by Schott Music, intended for those who are returning to piano playing after a break. However, this course has also proved popular for students wanting to explore different repertoire between exam grades too. You can find out more about Book 1, here, and Book 2, here.

The course moves happily alongside the U.K. examination board system. Book 1 takes students from Grade 1 -4 and Book 2, from approximately Grade 5 – 8 level. Book 1 features 28 mostly original pieces taken from standard (as well as more unusual) repertoire, and Book 2 contains 21 pieces. Each ‘level’ consists of a group of pieces focusing on different aspects of technique and musicianship.  For many, particularly those learning alone, the most important facet are the copious practice notes and suggestions which accompany every piece. Piano teachers who fancy an anthology of pieces to work through with their pupils may like to explore this course too.

Play it again: PIANO Book 3

Book 3 will take students on from where Book 2 left off; approximately Grade 8 level through to Associate Diploma level. The new book is much larger than Book 1 and 2 (at 156 pages), and the practice notes which accompany each piece are, as may be expected, far more extensive.

What you can expect to find in Book 3

Book 3  consists of 11 piano pieces,  the majority of which are drawn from standard repertoire (with emphasis on pedagogical works and those suitable for exams). Similar to Book 1 and 2, there is a ‘technique’ section at the beginning of Book 3, with practical exercises and suggestions; these are especially helpful for those with tension issues. In the ‘technique’ section I have included hand flexibility exercises, information on the Bridge position, and exercises for developing finger agility  (especially for the fourth and fifth fingers), as well as thumb exercises. The Warm-Up exercises at the end of the book focus on ways of developing a more holistic approach to pre-practice preparation.

Each piece contains between 3 and 10 pages of practice ideas and tips, as well as many musical examples, diagrams and photographs. The layout is very similar to that of Book 1 and 2. As this is a progressive course, it’s possible to ‘return’ to a level to suit your current standard; some may want to start at the beginning of Book 3,  whilst others may prefer to ‘drop in’ at a later stage.

Book 3 is divided into two parts:

1. Grade 8 – Post Grade 8 Diploma

2. Post Grade  8 Diploma –  Associate Diploma

As Book 3 is a much more advanced level than that of Book 1 and 2, the repertoire is classical and the book is geared towards those who want, or are possibly considering, taking post Grade 8 exams. It’s possible to create a suitable post grade 8 diploma (ARSM/DipLCM) or Associate Diploma (DipABRSM, ATCL, ALCM) programme entirely from this book.  The former section consists of six works, and the latter, five. Each section contains a concert study (in the same manner as Book 1 and 2), alongside a collection of standard, as well as lesser known, pieces.

I hope you like my selection! This choice was based on many factors: the need to include pieces which employ particular techniques, musicianship, and, most importantly, works which display the chosen composer’s overall style effectively, and it was imperative to represent many different styles of music. Each work also had to be enjoyable to play, and, as with most commercial publications, some works simply had to be well-known. Other more practical aspects, such as overall programming of the book and the length of the piece, also came into play.

Book 3 Repertoire

Grade 8 – Post Grade 8 Diploma:

Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in E major K. 215
Edvard Grieg: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen Op. 65 No. 6
Claude Debussy: La Puerta del Vino L. 223 No. 3
Alexander Scriabin: Prelude in B minor Op. 11 No.  6
Paul Hindemith: Interludium and Fuga Decima in D flat
Melanie Spanswick: Frenzy, Etude for Nimble Fingers

Post Grade 8 Diploma to Associate Diploma Level

Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in C minor ‘Pathetique’ Op 13
Johannes Brahms: Intermezzo in A major Op. 118 No. 2
Edward MacDowall: Wild Jagd from Virtuoso Etudes Op. 46 No. 3
Issac Albeniz: Asturias Leyenda Op.  47 No. 5
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12

Layout

I’ve included the scale and arpeggio of each key, where appropriate; or I have linked it to those already featured in Book 1 and 2.  There are warm-up or pre-practice exercises, tailored to every piece. My aim was to highlight a myriad of practice ideas and different methods of breaking pieces down, hopefully re-assembling them with ease and with a greater understanding.

Each piece contains fingering, dynamic suggestions and (where necessary) some pedalling. Although you may choose to ignore this and add your own. All the information provided for every piece is transferable to an infinite number of piano works, therefore building solid practical methods for tackling different styles and genres. There are four videos online already, on Schott’s Youtube channel, and we will add another three teaching videos to this playlist very soon.

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The pages are well laid out and are designed with ‘tip circles’ and ‘technique box-outs’, and I hope it’s an easy to use course, inspiring pianists to rekindle their love for the piano (see gallery above for an example of the page layouts).

Play it again: PIANO is now sold worldwide and many piano schools are using it as their course of choice for students. Schott Music and I launched Book 3 on April 4th at the Frankfurt Musikmesse (see image at the top; pictured with my editors, Robert Schäfer and Schott Editor-in-chief Rainer Mohrs, and the Cristofori Singapore team).

This year I will be travelling around the U.K. visiting various music stores giving Play it again workshops, so if you would like to find out more about the books, please keep an eye on this blog for updates about my travels. I’ll also be visiting the Far East twice for book tours, as well as Germany and Italy.

You can purchase Book 3, watch my teaching videos, and find out more about the Play it again: PIANO series, by clicking here.

Alternatively, purchase from Amazon, here.


My publications:

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

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


 

Play it again workshop at the Frankfurt Music Fair

I’m really looking forward to giving a presentation and workshop at this year’s Frankfurt Music Fair or Musikmesse which takes place from April 2nd – 5th.  My workshop will be held on Thursday April 4th at 2.00pm. This presentation focuses on Play it again: PIANO Book 1, 2 and 3. Book 3 will be officially launched next week at the Fair, after which I’ll add links as to where it can be purchased for those of you who have kindly enquired.

I very much enjoy giving workshops and presentations. They nearly always include references to my books, and this one will be no exception. I’ll start by speaking about all three books within my piano course, which, as many readers know, is intended for those returning to piano playing after a break. The workshop highlights the importance of developing physical flexibility in piano playing, with audience participation and some relaxation exercises too.

The new addition to the Play it again course, Book 3, begins where Book 2 stops. It takes students on a journey from Grade 8 to the Associate Diploma level, via the new Post Grade 8 Diploma. As a quick recap, Play it again Book 1 is approximately Grade 1 – 4 level, and Book 2, Grade 5 – 8. Each book contains a collection of pieces mostly selected from standard repertoire. There are twenty-eight pieces in Book 1, and twenty-one in Book 2.

Book 3 features eleven works by a variety of composers and genres, with copious practice notes for each piece (some pieces have up to 8 pages of notes). It’s possible to form a Post Grade 8 Diploma or Associate Diploma programme from this book. Book 3 will be on sale at the Frankfurt Fair, and I’ll be publishing a much more detailed survey of the book next week.

If you would like to attend my presentation, you can find more information here. I look forward to meeting you.


My publications:

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

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


 

A Workshop at Forsyths

For anyone in the Manchester (UK) area, I will be presenting an afternoon workshop at Forsyths music shop on Saturday 26th January 2019. Based in Manchester city centre, Forsyths is a major music store which holds regular events and workshops. My workshop starts at 2.00pm and will finish at around 4.30pm, and it is intended for teachers, parents and students.

The afternoon will focus on piano technique basics; how to keep relaxed and flexible at the keyboard and how to apply relaxation methods to various technical patterns such as scales, arpeggios, broken chords, and so on.

There will be an opportunity for audience participation too, and I will also be presenting my books, Play it again: PIANO Books 1 & 2, and Book 3, which will be published very soon. The books will be on sale throughout the afternoon, and we will finish with a Q&A session. Read more about my piano course on Forsyth’s blog this week by clicking here.

To find out more and book your ticket for this event, click  here.


My publications:

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

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


 

Five New Year Tips to Seriously Improve Your Piano Playing in 2019

Happy New Year! It’s January 1st 2019 and I hope you have all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s Eve. At the start of any new year, we make resolutions, create new goals, or perhaps re-evaluate or reflect on existing goals. It’s the perfect time to revisit our hobbies, or investigate new ones. Many have written over the past year, telling me how they have really loved learning to play the piano again, after a lapse of one or two, or indeed many, years. Today’s New Year’s post is intended for those who have taken a break from their piano playing and have decided to start playing again. It is possible to move from intrepid pianist to competent, confident player with the help of an excellent teacher and solid, regular practice.

Here are a few ideas to help your practice regime over the coming weeks. Piano practice can tend to fall into a rut and it usually requires an occasional overhaul, so that interest is kept and improvement, monitored.

  1. Regularly monitor your progress. It doesn’t matter how you do this; you might decide to write your updates in a notepad, noting what you feel has improved, or it could be that you ask for judicious feedback from your teacher, or perhaps perform regularly to fellow students, who might provide a candid opinion (this usually only works if you reciprocate the favour!). However, as a pianist it’s too easy to lock yourself away, playing only for yourself, where it can be challenging to be honest about improvements. Try to remain pragmatic about your own playing, because this is the most effective way to change for the better.
  2. Record your pieces. Recording our playing reveals far more than we might imagine. It doesn’t matter how you do this, and you may prefer to record short passages, phrases, or a few bars at a time, but as long as you listen carefully to the results, you will be able to find a starting point from which to build and improve your technique and interpretation. We rarely sound how we think we do, so it can be a shock at first, but it proffers a realistic perspective which can really help in the long run.
  3. Only play a piece through at the end of a practice session. This goes for sections or movements of works too. A common misconception when practising is that it is beneficial to perpetually play your pieces through. There is no doubt that this can be advantageous for memorisation and for structural practice, but during the early stages of learning particularly, it is generally more useful to spend time working at small sections. The ability to break pieces down, almost reconstructing them, enables our brain to think about them in a different way and can certainly aid mastery. When you’re happy with your sectional practice, you might feel it necessary to ‘play’ the piece in its entirety, either at a slower tempo or up to speed at the end of your session.
  4. Slow practice is key. Many articles sing the praises of playing slowly. But it is such an important facet that it’s definitely worth adding to your new list of practice tools for 2019. My suggestion to students is to implement several practice speeds whilst working at a piece (or a technical exercise or study). The slowest tempo must be one which works for exaggerated practice, whereby you can equally focus on both hands, fingerings, movements, notes and sound at the same time. Therefore you should ideally think about a subdivided beat (if the piece is in quavers, practice in semiquavers or even demisemiquavers, for example). The second tempo can be a little faster, allowing you to ‘move’ around the keyboard, but still keeping in check all the above technical considerations. The final tempo could be similar to the speed of the piece, but slightly slower, so that you still have crucial thinking time, for accuracy and sound.
  5. Articulation will make or break your performance. Clarity, neatness and precision in your finger work will make all the difference when it comes to clean playing. It’s vital for almost every style or genre, but of special importance in Baroque and Classical music. Clean finger work can be developed by ensuring fingers not only play every note with a full sound, but also by paying attention to the end of a note too, that is, how long you leave your finger depressing each key. If you are playing rapid scalic passages, for example, make sure notes are equal in length by employing a very firm pulse. Such articulation is more of a challenge for the weaker fingers, such as the fourths and fifths, but it can be honed with spot practice and a flexible, loose arm, wrist and hand (remembering that only the fingers and knuckles should remain firm).

I hope these ideas may inspire you to focus rigorously during your practice time, so that you make the most of your sessions irrespective of whether they are long or short. Good Luck and enjoy your piano playing.

For those returning to playing the piano, you may like to take a look at my piano course written especially for the returner. Play it again: PIANO is published by Schott Music, and currently consists of a two-book course which contains 49 graded, progressive piano pieces from the standard repertoire, as well as including many more unusual works, from Baroque through to Contemporary (also including Jazz, Blues, Rock, Improvisation, and Latin styles). Each piece has copious practice tips and suggestions, as well as a whole technique section at the beginning of each book, and a music theory section at the end of each book. Book 1 is approximately Grade 1 – 4 level, Book 2 is Grade 5 – 8 level, and Book 3 (to be published in February 2019) is Grade 8 – Associate diploma level. Find out more by clicking here, and you can purchase all the books on Amazon too.


My publications:

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

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


 

No Words Necessary Competition

This week Pianist Magazine and Schott Music are kindly running a competition on Pianist’s website; the prize is a copy of my new piano pieces, No Words Necessary published by Schott Music. This volume features 12 original piano pieces intended for students of around Grade 3 – 6 of the ABRSM examination board level.

These pieces are melodious and comfortable to play, and they are suitable for children or adult learners. If you or your students enjoy playing music by composers such as Ludovico Einaudi, Yirumi and David Lanz, then they might like to try these compositions. You can find out more about the pieces, and hear them, here. And you can read a recent review on Pianodao website, here. To enter the competition (there are three copies to giveaway), click here.

‘These are pieces which I believe could easily find their place in the intermediate player’s heart, combining easy-to-master patterns, melodic charm, and simple structural cohesion. They give players a vehicle through which to develop expressive, engaged playing. And with plenty of variety on offer, too, the collection offers good value. If you’re looking for a fresh collection of accessible contemporary pieces, do give this a try! Warmly Recommended.’

Andrew Eales (Pianodao)

www.pianistmagazine.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.


 

 

Basic Tips for Healthy Piano Playing

Earlier this month I presented a workshop for piano teachers at Millers Music in Cambridge. This activity will become increasingly important during 2019; Schott and I have organised several workshops across the country, and I’m really looking forward to meeting and working with teachers and students. The following article was published on Millers Music website earlier this week and it offers basic relaxation ideas, which is why I thought it useful to publish today. Hope it’s of interest.


My workshops for piano teachers offer a few ideas for developing basic flexibility in piano technique, with a view to harbouring positive habits during piano practice and piano performance. It’s a privilege to work with teachers, talking about technique, how to develop it, and more specifically, how to keep students free from pain, discomfort and tension.

The following tips serve as elementary suggestions; some can be done away from the instrument, and, as with piano practice, regularity is the key to success.

Before a practice session begins, sit at the instrument and drop your arms by your side, so that they hang loosely from the shoulders. Ensure your upper torso is really relaxed; it’s sometimes difficult to notice tension – this is why a good teacher can prove crucial. Relax from the shoulders and arms, through to the wrist and hand. The feeling should be one of looseness and ‘heaviness’. Remember this feeling, as it provides a useful reminder of relaxation during practice sessions.

From this relaxed position, swing your arms up (from the elbows), and literally rest the hands on the keyboard or a table top; it’s the ‘feeling’ that you need to cultivate, so it doesn’t matter if there’s no instrument present. Keep your upper body relaxed and loose as your hands rest on the piano keyboard. And don’t worry if you are not in the ‘correct’ playing position (your hands and wrists will probably be in a hanging position). This is not about playing, but rather about understanding the feeling of relaxation required for the concept of ‘tension and release’ necessary in developing technique. Assimilation may take time, especially in older students.

The next step is to use a simple five-finger exercise: try middle C – G with both hands in either minims (half notes) or semibreves (whole notes). Start with the thumb (in the right hand); play and hold the note (middle C) and then drop the hand and wrist afterwards. Keep hold of the note; you may need the other hand to help here, as both the thumb and fingers have a tendency to fall off the keys at first. As you drop your wrist, ensure that it feels loose; the wrist should be relaxed, and will probably be ‘hanging’ down from the key.  It’s not the position you would ever use to play, but it can provide the key to promoting flexibility, fostering relaxation. Work at each note in this way and then try with the left hand.

The final step for basic relaxation, would be to use the five-finger exercise again, but this time introduce a circular wrist motion technique. That is, using the same note pattern, but forming a circular motion with the wrist between every note whilst keeping it depressed.  They key here is to make sure that the whole arm, wrist and hand feel totally loose. If done after every note, this motion can really instigate complete flexibility, both physically and mentally, that is, students learn to remember the feeling and start to implement this into their practice regime. I encourage pupils to play to the bottom of the key bed, or play heavily and powerfully on every note, establishing a firmer touch.

These steps may take a good few weeks to master, after which we move on to little exercises (usually by Czerny, and these are followed by J S Bach’s Two-Part Inventions), implementing wrist motion techniques on extended passagework.



My publications:

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

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


 

No Words Necessary Review

Writers, composers, musicians, and almost anyone in the arts, tend to wait with bated breath after the completion and release of their latest achievement. Will anyone actually like it? And more pertinently, what will the critics say? Never is this more true than when publishing compositions, because our tastes in music, particularly educational music, are all very different. Therefore, I was really delighted to read this lovely review of my new piano pieces, No Words Necessary, written and published earlier this week by writer and reviewer, Andrew Eales, who owns the Pianodao blog. I’ve published Andrew’s complete article below, but you can read the original, here. For more information about the pieces, and to purchase No Words Necessary, please click, here. Over to Andrew…


Lots of piano players enjoy the contemporary stylings of popular composers such as Ludovico Einaudi, Yirumi and David Lanz, but it’s not so easy to find really good arrangements of their music that are accessible to intermediate players, and which manage to be both concise and accurate distillations of the post-minimal piano style.

The search for an educationally sound and musically engaging alternative just got easier with the publication by Schott Music of No Words Necessary, an excellent collection of 12 new pieces composed by Melanie Spanswick.

These interesting and enjoyable pieces will certainly satisfy those looking for approachable contemporary piano solos, and they further confirm Melanie as an imaginative and engaging composer.

So let’s check it out …

Concept and Recordings

Ever since it was established in 1770, Schott Music has been open to current trends and new development in music, seeking to represent a broad and colourful spectrum of new music. At present, they seem to be going through something of a golden age, with a succession of brilliant new publications in 2018, and much more scheduled for the coming months.

No Words Necessary joins their releases for this Autumn and brings well-known teacher, writer and adjudicator Melanie Spanswick to Schott’s roster of contemporary educational composers. Spanswick may be known to readers as the author/compiler of the outstanding Play it Again: Piano series, which I reviewed here last year.

According to Spanswick, No Words Necessary is:

“… a collection of 12 piano pieces intended for those who are approximately intermediate level, Grades 3-6. Consisting of melodious tunes and poignant harmonies, they are reminiscent of the Minimalist style…
Easy to learn and comfortable to play, they are equally well suited to the younger or more mature learner, and perfect for either concert performances or playing for pleasure. The collection will hopefully unleash the imagination and make piano playing an immensely rewarding experience.”

The Pieces

While reading on, you can start to discover the pieces for yourself using the composer’s own video recordings of them:

If the music isn’t your cup of tea, we’re done for today (you can discover more intermediate music here though!)

Otherwise read on for my thoughts…

The pieces appear loosely in order of difficulty, with the beautifully serene Lost in Thought providing a wonderfully contemplative opener. Inflections particularly reminds me of Philip Glass, while in Dancing Through the Daffodils there are echoes of Bach and Clementi, their motifs refreshed for the present day.

Spanswick’s melodic sensibility is more to the fore in the swaying Pendulum, the lyrical Walking in the Woods (my personal favourite here) and delightful China Doll. Other highlights for me include the restrained Voices in my Head, exotic Phantom Whisperer, and Beneath, which conjures a superb sense of hushed wonder. All these pieces are in my view well worth a look.

In terms of level, I would say most are accessible at the lower end of the advertised range; the book is ideal for the Grade 4 player wanting to explore fresh new music.

A feature of the contemporary post-minimal piano style is the emphasis given to organic flow rather than single gestures; often such music includes little in terms of suggested articulation, phrasing, and only a block outline of dynamics. Teachers will be pleased that Spanswick gives more detail here, including indications of balance between hands using a different dynamic for each.

The Publication

For the book itself, Schott have used their generic plain cover, which is a little disappointing given the target audience and imagination of the music within.

Spanswick-No-Words-Necessary

Inside though, Schott’s house style is as welcome as ever: with quality cream paper, crystal clear notation engraving and well spaced layout, the presentation is a cut above that sometimes found elsewhere. The amount and suitability of suggesting fingering throughout the collection is also, I think, spot on.

The premium quality Schott bring certainly adds to the ease and enjoyment of exploring the music itself.

Conclusion

It’s been a busy year for new piano music, but this latest publication certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.

These are pieces which I believe could easily find their place in the intermediate player’s heart, combining easy-to-master patterns, melodic charm, and simple structural cohesion. They give players a vehicle through which to develop expressive, engaged playing.

And with plenty of variety on offer, too, the collection offers good value. If you’re looking for a fresh collection of accessible contemporary pieces, do give this a try!

WARMLY RECOMMENDED


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.