Richard Goode’s Master Class at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

I recently discovered this master class given by American concert pianist Richard Goode. It was filmed in London at the Milton Court Concert Hall at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in December 2016. As always, there’s much to absorb from classes such as these, and this one showcases Classical repertoire (Beethoven’s Sonata in E major Op. 109 and Sonata in C minor Op. 111, and Haydn’s Sonata in A flat Hob XVI / 46), for which Goode is synonymous. I hope you enjoy!

My Books:

For much more information about practising 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 are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece.

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

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

My Compositions:

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


The Value of Lectures and Master classes

For many pianists, teachers and students, masterclasses, lectures and workshops can play a fascinating and beneficial part of ongoing musical development (when do we ever stop learning?).

Last Friday night I attended the first event of the new London Piano Festival (of which pianists Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen are artistic directors) held at King’s Place. Legendary Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel (who has retired from the concert platform), gave a lecture entitled From Exuberance to Asceticism  focusing on Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B minor S. 178, a work which he has performed countless times during the course of his career.

Following on from the hour’s presentation, pianist Dénes Várjon treated the packed auditorium to a performance of the piece, after which Alan Rusbridger interviewed Brendel about his career and his relationship with Liszt’s music. Brendel’s many illuminating observations, during the lecture, threw light on the challenges when preparing and performing such a work, and he punctuated various musical episodes and thematic developments, with demonstrations. These ruminations were compelling both from a professional pianist or piano teacher’s perspective, as well as from a piano lover’s viewpoint.

Earlier last week, I was introduced to a series of video master classes (on Youtube) given in 1987 by the great Hungarian pianist and pedagogue György Sebők. Sebok died in 1999, however his legacy continues through those students who were fortunate enough to enjoy his teaching. A consummate teacher, he was amongst the glitterati of professors (at that time) teaching at the illustrious Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, US.

The following video clips offer a wealth of interesting advice and suggestions, which centre around Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35, played by Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam. This is a piece I performed as a young student, and I found Sebok’s ideas engaging, witty, and extremely useful, especially his thoughts regarding sound and movement. I hope you enjoy them!

A Master class with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet

Today’s post highlights an interesting chamber music master class given by French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. It was recorded live from the Daniel & Joanna S. Rose Studio at the Lincoln Center in New York on October 19th, 2015, and has been published by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The class features students from Yale School of Music, Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School.

You can find out much more about Jean-Efflam Bavouzet here.

A master class with Jerome Lowenthal

Today’s post features a master class which I hope will be of interest. Jerome Lowenthal is an American classical pianist and noted pedagogue. He is a member of the piano faculty at the Juilliard School in New York, where he was also chair of the piano department. Additionally, he is on the faculty at Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California (where this master class took place in June 2015).

It’s fascinating to watch public classes, and so much can be absorbed from observing great teachers. You can find out much more about Jerome Lowenthal here. Enjoy!

An Important Petition & Workshops in London

I rarely write about government decisions (or anything political!), as it’s just not my style, but earlier this week I was most upset to read about this government’s proposal to make English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects compulsory for all secondary school students in the UK.

Students must apparently study English, maths, a science, a language and a humanities subject (defined as geography or history). Since the government tried to introduce the EBacc as a school league table in 2011, the number of pupils studying arts subjects, including music, has declined. This proposal will simply further discourage pupils from studying any arts subjects, as they will be deemed unnecessary.

Musicians, writers and educators have written prolifically about the benefits of studying music and learning a musical instrument, and there’s ample evidence to illustrate that those benefits go way beyond the study of music. We wonder why so few children can actually read, understand or enjoy classical music?  We wonder why our concert halls are increasingly empty? We wonder why we have so few competitors participating at top levels in  international piano competitions?

I’ve seen the results of a totally different approach to music education, having examined and adjudicated in the Far East. In this part of the world, music festivals and exam centres are teeming with youngsters who play to very high standards, and who regard playing and learning music as a crucial part of their education. As a result, concert halls are full, classical music is revered, and a large majority can read music as part of a fully rounded education.

How about really changing our attitudes towards music education? It’s about time we viewed it as a highly important tool in our educational box. Pianist James Rhodes (you can follow him on Twitter @JRhodesPianist and #dontstopthemusic) is highlighting this issue, asking everyone who cares about the arts to sign a petition. Please do so. You can read more and sign it here. Thank you. Otherwise classical music will be consigned to a distant memory. Alternatively, the ISM are also running a similar petition and you can sign here. I’ve signed both.

On a happier note, (and constantly highlighting music education as much as I can!)  composer and publisher Elena Cobb and I gave two workshops earlier this week at Yamaha Music London. It was our first London-based venture and we were delighted to have such great attendance and a lovely audience too.

Elena publishes a whole range of educational piano music (EVC Music Publications) featuring a variety of composers. Marcel Zidani is one such composer, and he joined us,  performing one of his pieces at the beginning of the event, speaking eloquently about his works, which provided an interesting introduction.

Elena’s practical workshop focused on how to teach improvisation and was packed with great tips and ideas, as well as a live session with several musicians and pupils, showing everyone how it’s done, thus hopefully inspiring those for whom jazz is an enigma. She is passionate about improvisation, what with her highly popular Higgledy Piggledy Jazz Series.

My presentation focused on three elements I consider important, yet which are sometimes neglected in piano lessons: memorisation, sight-reading and crucially, tension in piano playing. I merely touched on all three topics within the hour’s workshop, but was so pleased (and grateful) to two audience members who so kindly volunteered to be part of my practical workshop! I will be speaking further about these elements at a Jackdaws weekend in October, which will include many more ideas on these subjects.

Our next event will take place in November, so stay tuned! Here are a few photos…

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Bilingual Piano Workshops in Germany

I enjoyed another wonderful time in Germany over the weekend, and love being part of a bilingual piano project, organised by singer Kery Felske, and supported by the IKM Gelsenkirchen (in the Ruhr region). The workshop concept is becoming increasingly popular, with classes running all day on Saturday and Sunday. Young (and older) pianists are now coming from further afield, from various backgrounds, and from all age groups too. Anyone can come and play, irrespective of standard or ability, and it’s always interesting to witness the improvement made by the participants; both during the weekend and over the months between classes. Several pupils have come to every workshop thus far.

Saturday’s session (which lasted around five hours), included some technical work, namely Czerny exercises and some scales. British exam boards are not popular in Germany, and some students weren’t familiar with scales, but it wasn’t long before my group digested the various keys and fingerings (the Grillo Gymnasium, where classes are held,  is equipped with several practice rooms on site, allowing pupils to work on their own). Participants practiced between classes on Saturday and Sunday, and progress was most impressive.

After a further all day session on Sunday, we host a late afternoon concert for family and friends, although classes are also open to the public. The concert provides a platform for every student, and it motivates them to work that much harder, because they know their efforts will be on display. I’m perpetually concerned as to whether two days is really enough to substantially make a difference to a pupil’s playing, but each student has risen to the challenge beautifully.

Repertoire ranged from C.P.E Bach’s Solfeggietto H.220 and Burgmüller’s L’Orage Op.109 No. 13, to Mozart’s Sonata K. 331 in A major, and Waltz in B minor Op. 69 No. 2 by Chopin. Pupils generally present standard repertoire, but I’m looking forward to eventually hearing some Contemporary music!

All classes are conducted in English, posing few problems for young German pianists. Several more workshops are planned for 2015, as well as a Summer Piano Course in 2016. The IKM Gelsenkirchen are involved with a variety of musical events, from pop and rock concerts, through to classical recitals. They stoically represent German commitment to culture and the arts, and I’m very grateful for their interest in this project.

You can purchase my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?, which is packed with practice tips and important piano information, here.

Pic 2 Germany

Working on a Mozart Sonata with one of my students: Photo by Kery Felske

Master Classes in Gelsenkirchen

I had the great pleasure of giving master classes and workshops recently in Germany. The town of Gelsenkirchen (around a thirty minute drive from Düsseldorf) provided the backdrop for a weekend of intensive piano playing. Seven students had signed up for coaching over a period of two days which culminated in a little concert late Sunday afternoon. The classes were held at the Grillo-Gymnasium, although the pupils came from various schools in Gelsenkirchen. I also taught a further six students towards the end of my visit who were all pupils at this particular school.

Our venue, the school hall, housed a large Yamaha grand piano. A small audience was present during each class, which grew substantially for the concert, perhaps indicating the interest and demand for piano classes within this area. You can see us in action by clicking on the video link below, which shows short excerpts of a few classes.

I was invited to be involved in this venture by Kery Felske, a singer, who works tirelessly promoting and organising artistic events in Gelsenkirchen and beyond. This concept is very much a community project; many of these students are self-taught or have occasional piano lessons. With this in mind, it’s quite an achievement to play at all, especially after such little preparation and practical help.

We worked on many different aspects of piano playing from the pupil’s chosen pieces (everything from pop tunes to a Chopin Waltz), to exercises and scales (and as will be evident from the video, some pupils had never played scales before). Each student had two individual lessons albeit in public and in English (this is a bilingual school), followed by several opportunities to practice in between lessons in the practice rooms provided. This was all quite a challenge for the pupils, and one which they met beautifully. There is no doubt that everyone had improved considerably from the first lesson to the concert performance, but sadly you will have to take my word on this, as the film doesn’t include any concert clips!

You can purchase my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?, which is packed with practice tips and important piano information, here.

The Importance of Master Classes

It was a delight to be invited to give a master class for EPTA (the European Piano Teacher’s Association) in Brighton last Sunday. The special event entitled  ‘Young Pianists’ Performance Day’ was the first of its kind, and was superbly organised by pianist and teacher, Helen Burford, who holds the Regional Chair for EPTA. Our venue for the afternoon, The Friends’ Meeting House (pictured below) on Ship Street, was resplendent with a Yamaha grand piano and ample space for an audience.

A master class or workshop is essentially a public lesson; the actual definition (according to the Oxford Dictionary) is ‘a class, especially in music, given by an expert to highly talented students’. Classes such as these can be very useful; you don’t have to participate to learn, in fact, those who observe can often absorb more, purely because they haven’t got to worry about the stress of performing. Public lessons have been popular for many years and are frequently associated with ‘star’ performers or celebrity teachers. Most world-class artists, from the late great  ‘cellist Jacqueline Du Pre to current star Chinese pianist Lang Lang, have all at some point given master classes or public lessons, and those who participate invariably come away with greater knowledge and inner confidence.

There were two halves to my class; the first consisting of young players from around age 6 to 10 years old, and the second featured more experienced pianists most of whom were preparing for exams from around Grade 7 to Diploma level. I have given public classes before and have always enjoyed the experience very much; it’s important to share knowledge and it’s  immensely satisfying helping pianists of all abilities achieve their goal, whether that be passing an exam or to carry on improving.

The smaller pianists played a pot-pourri of arrangements and exam pieces, whilst the more experienced class presented a myriad of composers and works; Handel’s Allemande from Suite No. 12, Mozart’s Sonata in C minor K.457 (first movement), Chopin’s Nocturne in F minor Op. 55 No.1, Debussy’s Deux Arabesques, Shostakovich’s Lyrical Waltz, MacDowell’s To A Wild Rose, and Brubeck’s Take Five. Being a ‘Performance Day’ rather than a straight class, the pianists all played their entire piece or pieces first and I wrote a comment sheet for each one, in a similar way to a festival (although this wasn’t a competition, so marks were not awarded), then at the end of the mini concert, each participant came back to the piano and we started work.

One of the great aspects of classes such as these, is the performance practice instilled in all participants. I have written about the perils of performing and how to combat nerves many times before on this blog, but the act of ‘getting up and doing it’ cannot be underestimated. Most of the performers gave very competent, confident performances, but for those who weren’t so happy with their efforts, they can take heart from the fact they took part, because that, in itself, is an accomplishment. This is the reason ‘Performance Practice’ sessions such as this one are so crucial, they play a very important role in the development of young players and must be encouraged. EPTA are a wonderful organisation who do much to promote the advancement of young pianists by holding copious workshops and performance opportunities all around the country.

One interesting feature running through both classes was the similarity of piano playing issues; many young pianists have related concerns and this isn’t always due to having the same teacher (several different teachers had entered pupils at this master class). Larger tone production, more musical line and the balancing of sound between the hands, as well as sound projection, needed addressing during many of the sessions. Each pianist responded very well (it’s never easy having to change or adjust in public and at once) and there was definite improvement at the end of each participant’s class.

Using the body effectively for good tone production is crucial, so we worked on this issue and spent time exploring ways to employ arm weight, use wrists flexibly and keep shoulders down. Raised shoulders is a frequent problem especially when nerves come into play. Technicalities such as these can’t be solved in a single master class but it is possible to make students aware of these underlying matters so they can be addressed in lessons.

One other facet which ran through both classes was the subject of rhythm; it’s always a biggie and affects virtually everybody at some point or other. I have written before about sub-division of the beat; this can be one of the most compelling and potent methods of keeping and staying in time. It’s all very well using a metronome (which can be very useful incidentally), but if the beat is broken down into smaller denominations, then students are able to learn to account for every note thus neither rushing ahead or pulling behind the beat. Sometimes it can be helpful to count aloud, and this was what we did a couple of times – complete with audience participation!

Audience members consisted mainly of parents, siblings and teachers, and many remarked how much they had enjoyed and learnt by attending. For those who have never been present at their child’s lessons, this type of session can be a revelation. The whole event was great fun and I wish EPTA Brighton the best of luck with their future piano events.

You can find out more about my forthcoming master classes and workshops here.

You can purchase my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?, which is packed with practice tips and important piano information, here.

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