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 (you can read it here) 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 two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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 two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

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


 

Play it again workshop at Millers Music

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

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

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

If you would like to find out more about Play it again: PIANO, which is a course for students returning to playing the instrument after a break, click here. You may also be interested in the following video, which has been recorded by piano returner Tommy, who runs a ‘piano corner’ on Youtube; this is the first video in a series which will survey each piece in Book 2.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

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


 

No Words Necessary: 12 Piano Pieces

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

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

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

‘Where words leave off, music speaks’

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

The titles are as follows:

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

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













My Publications:

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


 

 

 

How loose are you? Piano teaching in Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Surabaya, Indonesia, with piano teachers at my workshop

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

Working with a student at a master class in Hong Kong

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

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

 

You can watch all four videos in this series by clicking here. Huge thanks to my publisher Schott Music for their fantastic worldwide support. I look forward to next year’s Far Eastern adventures.


My Publications:

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

Book tours are fun. They could be referred to as the ‘pinnacle’ of the whole writing journey; by this time the books are safely published, usually after countless rewrites and corrections, and the writer is free to speak about the process through those rose-tinted glasses. This week I leave for my third book tour over the past year; retracing my steps in the Far East as well as visiting pastures new. I’ll be touring for my publisher, Schott Music, with my piano course Play it again: PIANO Book 1 & 2.

The tour will take me to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong. In each place, I will be giving a series of workshops and master classes (and also private lessons in Singapore and Hong Kong). I’m extremely excited about this prospect; travelling has always been a way of life for me, and yet I still crave the buzz of excitement it offers, irrespective of the destination.

The tour begins in Singapore with a piano teacher’s workshop (details above), focusing on many elements mentioned in my books. The Kawai Music School in Katong has already been using Play it again: PIANO with many of their students. In my workshops, I enjoy involving teachers and students as much as possible with plenty of hands on participation and discussion. These workshops predominantly highlight various aspects of piano technique, an important element for teachers in particular, as without such knowledge, helping students achieve their potential is challenging.

After a few days, Malaysia beckons, and I’ll be moving to Malacca, which is to the south of Kuala Lumpur. Here, there will be a two-day workshop (including seven different presentations) and a student master class, all purely for piano teachers. Encore Music Centre is a popular school in this region, and the teachers have also been using Play it again: PIANO as their course of choice over the past few months. I can’t wait to see how they are getting on with it, and I’ll be hopefully able to answer questions and make suggestions regarding the content.

Kuala Lumpur is a buzzing metropolis, and is where I join Dr. Sigrun Jantzen, from Henle Verlag, and fellow Schott author, Samantha Ward. British pianist and artistic director of PIANO WEEK Samantha Ward, has her own series published by Schott (Relax with), but on this occasion, she will be presenting Piano Junior, the new beginner’s method written by German composer and writer Hans-Günter Heumann. Dr. Jantzen will present Henle’s extensive range of publications.

Together, we will embark on three large piano teacher seminars in three different cities. After Kuala Lumpur (see flyer above for details of the Kuala Lumpur seminars), we fly to Jakarta (Indonesia), and then on to Surabaya, to the East of Jakarta and the capital of East Java, (see image to the right for more details).

Finally, I fly to Hong Kong on my own for a special series of Play it again: PIANO workshops, master class and private lessons for piano teachers and students (see below for details). Tom Lee is one of the leading music retailers in Hong Kong, and as an adjudicator and examiner, I have worked many times at their various centres which are peppered across Hong Kong. Our venue is at the Megabox in Kowloon Bay; a large concert hall situated on the tenth floor.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to meeting new friends, teachers, and colleagues, and experiencing many aspects of music and music education in this region.  If you live in this part of the world and are relatively near any of the venues, please do come along; it would be lovely to meet you.

Play it again: PIANO Book 1 & 2 will be on sale throughout all the classes and workshops, but you can find out more about them, watch my videos, and purchase them by clicking, here. They can also be purchased on Amazon.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

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


 

A Piano Day at Ackerman Music

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

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


My Publications:

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


 

Playing to Your Strengths

I haven’t written many guest posts over the past six years (the length of time that I have been running this blog). There’s no particular reason for this, but when the superb writer, author, journalist, and presenter, Jessica Duchen, kindly invited me to pen a post for her excellent blog, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Published today, Playing to Your Strengths is a subject I am quite passionate about and believe it’s a most important element for any instrumentalist to consider. You can read it by clicking, here. Hope you enjoy it, and I wish you all a very happy, relaxed Bank Holiday Weekend.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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 2

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I have recently written a new two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Book 1, released in April 2017, was featured on my blog a few months ago (you can read about it here), but I haven’t really focused on Book 2 as yet (it was published at the end of July). Following on from Book 1, Book 2 is also a progressive, graded course, takeing students from intermediate level up to advanced (approximately Grade 4/5 up to Grade 8 +).

Who is this course for?

Play it again: PIANO is designed for those ‘returning’ to the piano after a break (whether a teenager or adult), it would also be useful for students who want a course running in tandem with the British examination boards (great for repertoire between exams, plus helpful information on piano technique, scales, arpeggios and sight-reading). Teachers who fancy an anthology of pieces to work through with their pupils, may like to explore these books too.

What you can expect to find in the books

The course consists of 49 piano pieces (28 in Book 1, and 21 in Book 2), 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 valuable, even if your playing is at a much higher level), whilst others may prefer to ‘drop in’ at Book 2 or a later stage.

Each book is divided into four parts, and Book 2 looks like this: Late Intermediate, Early Advanced, Advanced, and Late Advanced. Although this course is not exam based, it’s helpful to know the approximate grades for each level; Late Intermediate is roughly Grades 5 – 6 level (ABRSM exam standard), Early Advanced, Grades 6 – 7, Advanced, Grade 7 – 8 and Advanced, Grade 8 and above.

Every level contains a group of pieces; 6 in the Late Intermediate and Early Advanced levels, 5 in the Advanced section, and 4 pieces in the Late Advanced. My brief was to include a wide variety of styles and genres, so there’s plenty for those who enjoy lighter Contemporary styles (rock, ragtime and blues).  There are also plenty of well-known original classical pieces and some lesser known gems too.

Book 2 Repertoire

C.P.E. Bach: Solfegietto C minor H 220
L.v. Beethoven: Für Elise WoO 69
F. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Song Without Words, op. 30/3
H. Berens: Study F Major, op. 88/18
E. Cobb: Lavender Haze
M. Spanswick: Seahorse Dream
G.F. Händel: Allegro from Suite G Major HWV 441
W.A. Mozart: Allegro from Sonata C Major KV 545
L.v. Beethoven: Adagio Sostenuto from “Moonlight” Sonata, op. 27/2
J.B. Cramer: Study C Major, op. 50/1
J. Brahms: Waltz A-flat Major, op. 39/15
S. Hormuth: Sweat Feet Stomp
F. Schubert: Impromptu A-flat Major D 935/2
S. Heller: Warrior’s Song, op. 45/15
C. Debussy: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair L 117/8
Trad/B.Carson Turner: Londonderry Air
J. Turina: Fiesta, op. 52/7
J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue C minor BWV 847
F. Chopin: Raindrop Prelude, op. 28/15
S. Joplin: The Entertainer
S. Rachmaninoff: Prelude in C-sharp minor, op. 3/2

Layout

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, re-assembling 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.

The pages are well laid out and are designed with ‘Tips’ and ‘technique’ box-outs, and I hope it’s an easy to use course, inspiring pianists to rekindle their love for the piano.

‘Melanie Spanswick’s Play it again: Piano in my view exactly hits the spot for these players, and deserves to be a huge success both for her and Schott Music.

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.

I write lots of reviews for the benefit of readers, but this inspiring series has passed the ultimate test: I will certainly be recommending and using these books with lots of my own students in the coming months and years, and I’m really looking forward to it!

Genuinely Brilliant!’

Andrew Eales, Pianodao.com Blog

You can purchase the books on Amazon in the UK, Book 1 and Book 2, from the Schott website, or from many other internet outlets. If you are in the US, you can purchase here: Book 1 and Book 2. Canada: Book 1 and Book 2. Japan: Book 1 and Book 2, as well as many other online sites worldwide.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

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


 

 

 

 

A few thoughts on piano teaching in Singapore & Malaysia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find out much more about Play it again: PIANO here.


My publications:

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