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On Trills and Twiddles

I am dusting off the Goldberg Variations for a couple of performances early next year, and I decided to consult my Kirkpatrick edition (Schirmer, 1938). When I have the best modern editions on my shelves, why would I choose to revisit such an old and surely outdated source? Well, there is much to gain from using an interpretive edition such as Kirkpatrick’s alongside a modern Urtext. The lengthy preface is divided into 9 chapters on the origin of the work, its form and the instrument. Then Kirkpatrick delves into the topics of ornamentation (general rules as well as each ornament treated individually), phrasing, fingering, tempo, dynamics and general interpretation. His scholarship has withstood the test of time and this edition still has much to offer. The score itself presents the canons in open score (a great plus point), and is mercifully free of fingerings and other editorial tamperings. Having not played the work for 5 years, I wanted to refresh my memory on the exact shapes of each ornament and I am always fascinated to discover how great performers realise them. Kirkpatrick decided to write each ornament out in full. While this is helpful to a certain extent it is also problematic. Certain ornaments that fulfil a rhythmic function in fast music might well be played in a clearly discernible rhythmic way; others need to sound more expressive and free. Kirkpatrick’s realisations of the ornaments in Variation 7, for example, will sound just fine if played metronomically according to his recipe. However, there is no way Kirkpatrick or anyone else can possibly notate the necessary freedoms in inflection in slower or more expressive music such as the Aria. The mordants in the first couple of bars feel more or less fine as they are […]

New Elementary Level Resources Available Now!

We’re pleased to announce that a number of new resources for elementary musicians and their teachers are now available via the Online Academy. As mentioned in a previous post, we decided to start off by picking a few sample pieces from the early grades in the new ABRSM syllabus and creating walkthroughs with downloadable, printable worksheets that players can take with them to the piano to guide them in their practice. The first example was JC Bach’s Aria in F from the Grade 1 syllabus. The next piece featured is Handel’s Sonatine in G from the Grade 3 syllabus. Also under development are worksheets which serve as a creative way to introduce a new piece to a learner. The first two examples feature pieces in the ABRSM syllabus that are arrangements of folksongs or well-known melodies – When the Saints (Grade 1) and The Piper o’ Dundee (Grade 2). The worksheets can be assigned by teachers a week or so before introducing the arrangement as it appears in the exam book. In addition to resources featuring specific pieces, we’ll be adding other material aimed at the elementary level, including: General tips for exam preparation The Practice Tools adapted for beginners A guide to elementary level scales and arpeggios Click here to view an index of the available and forthcoming content in these series or click here to find out more about the Online Academy. ***   ***   *** The Practising the Piano Online Academy If you enjoyed this blog post, then you may be interested in The Practising the Piano Online Academy. Building on my blog posts and eBook series, it takes my work to the next level with a comprehensive library of lessons, masterclasses […]

By |November 29th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Exam Resources for Elementary Players

When I started this blog in 2011, I wanted to set out what I called The Practice Tools. These are universal principles for what we do when we practise, applicable to all ages and levels of ability no matter our pianistic heritage or technical approach. You could even think of these tools as techniques of learning. Even though I do not teach many beginners nowadays, I have taught plenty in the past – and continue to do so from time to time. Based on survey results and feedback I have had, there is a desire for more material in the Online Academy geared towards beginners and elementary level players and their teachers. I am happy to report my first offerings in this direction are coming soon! In this post, I offer a few suggestions regarding practice tools for elementary level players. Clapping and Counting Aloud Virtually everything we do at the piano is connected to a pulse. That includes scales, exercises, studies and what we do when we practise. In my work as a principal tutor on the Piano Teachers’ Course (EPTA) UK I notice that the trainee teachers do not help their pupil set the pulse before they play. It can be as simple as counting a bar or two, or clapping or snapping your fingers while speaking a few words rhythmically (…“can you hear the qua-ver beats?”). This should be done relentlessly before every activity until the pupil learns to do it for themselves. To make sure we are really feeling the rhythm, not just thinking it in our head, clapping and counting aloud is a great thing to do before we practise each phrase. Rhythmical errors can be fixed, or preempted, by clapping and counting aloud before […]

On Editions

When we learn a piece of music from a score, it is important to be able to distinguish those markings that are from the pen of the composer, and those that have been added by an editor. There are two main types of edition available to us – Urtext (the composer’s original intentions reproduced as exactly as possible) and interpretive editions (where a famous player or scholar offers their personal opinions on how to play the work). There are a couple of problems with Urtext editions. One is the editorial fingerings that appear on the same level as the composer’s otherwise unadulterated text. So often I find these fingering solutions just don’t work for the particular student I am teaching. In a score of Bach these editors’ fingerings can be particularly unhelpful and misleading, since they generally don’t factor in how our choice of articulation influences the fingering we settle on. Pianist and teacher Hans-Martin Theopold at first refused Henle’s invitation to select the fingering for their publications, saying “For fingerings are and remain something individual no matter what their quality”. He later relented and produced 226 fingered editions in total. When we work from Urtext editions, and indeed from any edition, we need to feel completely free to change fingerings in the score and come up with something that works for our hand and for the phrasing and articulation we have in our imagination. For more on this subject, follow this link to my blog post Bespoke Fingerings. The other obstacle in Baroque and Classical period Urtext scores is the relative lack of performance directions that in the day would have been up to the individual performer to decide. 21st century musicians often feel uncomfortable and ill-equipped making such decisions, and end up playing safe by playing grey. If you’re short on […]

Pedalling by Hand

Pianists have always felt that the music of J S Bach is accessible to them. The Early Music Movement (1970s wave) did put some pressure on those of us who presented Bach’s music to do so in particular ways that were perhaps more suitable to the instruments of his day than our mighty grand pianos, but fortunately the greatness of the music transcends the medium – harpsichord, piano, synthesiser, whatever. The perennial question of pedal always comes up when discussing Bach style on the piano. The argument goes that, because Bach’s instruments were not equipped with any sustaining mechanism, we should steer clear of our right pedal (for some players this means completely). “The pedal is to the piano as the vibrato is to string players. Both must be applied with care, control and in moderation. Clarity is essential with Bach, the purity of counterpoint and voice leading must be self-evident, never muffled or confused. Thus a discreet use of the pedal is not forbidden as long as these rules are observed. The question remains whether it is beneficial to the music to look for easier solutions. A perfect legato on the piano is an impossibility, and one can only create an illusion of achieving it. To attempt this with the hands alone is much more difficult but it’s well worth trying. Bach certainly didn’t want his music to sound easy; it’s demanding for players and listeners alike.” – Sir András Schiff. Here is Sir András discussing the subject with Arie Vardi in a television interview (watch from 1:17). How interesting to discover that, in his remarkable performance of the Goldberg Variations in last year’s Promenade concerts, Sir András did make discreet use of pedal in the cavernous space of […]

Guest Post: Making Piano Practice Stick

I am very happy to publish this informative and detailed guest post from fellow blogger Tim Topham. I hope you enjoy it! ***   ***   *** Making Piano Practice Stick Tim Topham There is an old adage in sport that says: “Practice like you play and you will play like you practice.” Never more true is this than in piano practice and performance. One of the most important roles of a piano teacher is to help our students understand not just what, but how to practice. In fact, I would argue that this is almost the most important thing that we can teach our students. In this article, I’d like to share my thoughts on what the research says about making practice stick. Whether you’re a pianist, piano student or piano teacher, let me show you the evidence-based research about how to make your practice time (or that of your students) as effective as possible. As students only get busier and more time-poor, a relentless focus on efficiency of practice becomes all the more important. Students these days simply don’t have time to waste. Let’s make it stick! What the Research Says In my never-ending pursuit of helping students practice more effectively, I’m always interested in what the research says about learning. While there are many ways you can make practice more effective (that’s why you’re reading Graham’s blog, right?), today’s article will focus on the research presented in Peter Brown’s excellent book, Make It Stick. While not specifically about music, this book explains the results of a number of studies into learning which I’ll break down into five key tactics: Spaced Practice Interleaved Practice Reflection Quizzing Let’s take a look at how these work […]

eBook Series – Revised Editions Launched!

The Practising the Piano eBook series was originally launched in 2012 and has been read by thousands of pianists all over the world. We’ve been working on publishing revised editions in conjunction with the development of the Online Academy and are pleased to announce that the first two parts are now available via our catalogue. The revised editions feature a number of enhancements and updates, including: New supplementary content Numerous content updates and refinements A printable PDF download option and additional download options for PC and Mac Various formatting improvements Enhanced video streaming via Vimeo Improved download speeds from upgraded hosting infrastructure The remaining parts (Part 3 and Part 4) are currently in production and will be added shortly. Our catalogue also features a discount bundle containing all four parts (Part 3 and Part 4 will automatically be delivered to bundle customers when they become available) for 20% off the combined individual part prices. In addition to this, we’re offering a further 20% off all of our products to celebrate the launch of the revised editions. Please see further details at the end of this post to take advantage of this offer. How it works The eBooks website has been combined with the Online Academy therefore you will be able to access your eBooks and subscription in the same place. If you already own any of our eBooks, you can still access them via our previous eBooks site. In addition to this, we will be providing all customers who purchased the complete,  original Practising the Piano eBook series with upgrade vouchers for the revised editions shortly via email. If you do not own all of the publications then we will also be running an upgrade campaign which […]

By |October 20th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Q&A: Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata

I had a question from a reader this week who requested some suggestions for the tremolos in Beethoven’s Sonata op. 31 no. 2, often referred to as the “Tempest Sonata”. Q: I find it difficult to make the development section of this piece interesting. The rolled chords seem boring when I play them, and I get self-conscious. Maybe this is why the tremolos in the right hand afterwards feel stiff and awkward too.  I find it most interesting that you relate your awkwardness in the long tremolo section to feelings of self-consciousness in the previous few bars, rather than any specific technical (mechanical) difficulty with the tremolo itself. The opening bars of the development section (marked Largo) are not difficult to play from a technical point of view, but they require some organisation and imagination. The Largo The most obvious practical issue with the Largo (bars 93-98) has to do with how we organise the rolled chords. We are clearly going to need to make a decision about which hand plays what, and there are several solutions to this. My suggestion is to try not only the solution in the edition you have, but to consult other editions too. I work from a Henle score, but I have several others on my shelves for reference. Schnabel has an excellent way of doing this, but here are two from editions freely available in the Petrucci Library – from Sigmund Lebert’s and Alfredo Casella’s editions.   After you’ve decided on which hand plays what, you’ll need to think about the speed and shape of the spread chords. Are you going to play each at the same speed, or are some faster than the others? How do we decide? I suggest first playing the progression […]

Anyone Can Improvise!

Dedicated to helping everyone play the music they love and long to play, Lucinda Mackworth-Young has developed a step-by-step system for learning to play by ear and improvise, so that even classically trained pianists can play spontaneously, anywhere, anytime – and say “Yes!” when asked to play Happy Birthday! Hello Lucinda, I am delighted to be welcoming you as a contributor to the Online Academy. At present, we are happy to present the first installment of your series on playing by ear and improvising. You are one of the most passionate, inspiring and committed teachers I know – can you give us some background on your own pianistic journey? Hello Graham, it’s a real pleasure and privilege to be invited to contribute. Thank you, and for your kind words! My earliest piano memory is hearing my oldest sister play when she was 10 and I was 4. To me it sounded fast – and glittery, and I knew then that that was what I wanted to do – play-the-piano-very-fast! Lessons began when I was 8, and I was well (if conventionally) taught. The fun was with my three sisters at home playing Chopsticks and Heart and Soul etc. We played them over and over, and rhythmic and melodic variations evolved naturally. It never occurred to us that we were improvising – but we were! So have you always been able to play by ear and improvise? Far from it! Aside from Chopsticks and so on, I could hardly play without books at all unless I’d made a conscious effort to memorise. And, since I was supposed to be quite good, it was annoying and embarrassing that I couldn’t even play Happy Birthday spontaneously at social events, […]

Writing the Piano

WRITING THE PIANO Tuesday 18th October, 6.30-9.30pm 1901 Arts Club, London SE1 The piano, in all its complexity and beauty, is a source of constant fascination, for those who play it and those who enjoy hearing the instrument being played. This special event will explore how that fascination and engrossing engagement with the instrument translates into words. Three leading UK bloggers on the piano and piano teaching will explore different approaches to writing about the piano, pianism, being a pianist, piano playing, the instrument and its literature. The event will be of interest to pianists of all levels, professional or amateur, piano teachers, piano enthusiasts and music lovers in general, and takes place in the intimate and convivial surroundings of the 1901 Arts Club. Pianist Elspeth Wyllie will give a short recital of music by Gabriel Faure and Nicholas Sackman to open the event Guest speakers: ​Graham Fitch – acclaimed pianist, teacher, writer and author of the Practising the Piano blog and ebook series, founder of the Online Academy Andrew Eales – pianist, teacher and creator of the Piano Dao blog Frances Wilson – pianist, teacher, concert reviewer and author of The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog The bar and lounge at the 1901 Arts Club will be open before and during the event for the exclusive use of guests. Early booking is recommended due to the small size of the venue Book tickets https://billetto.co.uk/en/events/writing-the-piano

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