Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp Minor (Op. Post.)

We’re delighted to announce a new Annotated Study Edition and Online Academy walk-through of Chopin’s beautiful Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. Posth. Dedicated to his sister, Ludwika “as an exercise before beginning the study of my second Concerto”, the work was not published until 1875. Two different versions of the score exist, with the Henle Urtext being the most commonly accepted. The Nocturne has an illustrious history. It was played by Holocaust survivor Natalia Karp for a Nazi concentration camp commandant, who was so impressed with her playing that he spared her life. It was also featured in Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist. The work is included in the ABRSM Grade 7 examination syllabus, and while one of Chopin’s more accessible pieces it still poses several challenges even for accomplished pianists. Our edition and walk-through feature detailed footnotes and practice worksheets designed to assist in tackling everything from balancing the opening chords, creating beautiful trills, shaping the left hand melodically and managing the fiorature in the coda. Annotated Study Edition The Annotated Study Edition is a downloadable, printable PDF featuring the following content: Introductory notes and Urtext score Annotated score with footnotes and QR codes linking to practice worksheets and online videos Four practice worksheets with detailed exercises and numerous video demonstrations focussing on specific areas of the work such as the opening chords, left hand accompaniment and the coda The study edition is available for purchase and download via our eBook store either as a stand-alone publication or as part of one of our bundles via the following links: Annotated Study Edition Annotated Study Edition bundle (includes four current Annotated Study Editions and ongoing updates) Practising the Piano & Study Edition bundle (includes all four volumes of Practising the Piano […]

How to Analyse: Mozart K283

Players who have made some sort of preliminary effort to understand the shape and structure of the music they are about to learn before they rush to the piano tend to learn it quicker and more thoroughly than those who allow the musical design to seep in unconsciously as they learn the piece phrase by phrase from start to finish, repeatedly playing the piece through over time. I consider it essential to have a clear mental map of any piece of music we learn, especially if we plan to memorise it, in advance of ingraining muscular habits at the keyboard.  It should be obvious that while some background in theory is extremely useful when it comes to playing an instrument, not everyone who is capable of playing advanced piano music has had the benefit of a formal education in music theory and harmony. I would like to offer a taste of what I have come to call “quick and dirty analysis” as an example of how to approach analysis freely and personally without too much textbook theoretical or harmonic knowledge. Quick and dirty analysis is something you can do at the keyboard by exploring the music according to the shapes and designs that you notice and that are meaningful to you. Pretty much anything you notice is fair game, and can help you create a mental map of what is going on on the page. In this post you will find a short video of me doing a quick and dirty analysis of the opening few bars of Mozart’s G major Sonata, K283, at the piano using a stream-of-consciousness approach that I think most people could do themselves if given some gentle encouragement (I am assuming anyone who approaches this piece will […]

At the Noodle Bar: Developing Speed in Grieg’s Puck

This is the first in a new series I’m calling “At the Noodle Bar”, where I take a question or a problem and noodle with it at the piano. Here is a question that reached me from Dean from Perth, Western Australia. Dean writes: Q. “I have been having tremendous fun discovering the endless repertoire of classical piano (rather than doing things to pass grades), I came across a piece which I am finding challenging to get up to speed. I was browsing through your website and came across your two blog entries on double notes, and wondered how you might recommend practicing this. Specifically, it’s the double notes that are found embedded adjacent to some single-note quavers, first occurrence in bar 3 of Grieg’s Op 71 no 3 (“Puck“) in the right hand. This kind of pattern repeats its self several times throughout the rest of the piece. Playing this at half tempo is fine, but as soon as I try to speed things up a little bit, I find that I can no longer play the thirds precisely at the same time, making the whole thing sound sloppy. I have tried practising this slowly and staccato, with limited success. Have no idea how one might get this up to the 176 minim per minute!? Listening to various different performances online, it appears to be at least humanly possible to get it fast and crisp, but have absolutely no idea how one might go about practicising this, and if a staccato approach is even productive? This performance appears to be up to the tempo of Grieg’s intentions.” A. Thanks so much for this excellent question, Dean. It raises some interesting points. There is no […]

Solving a Rhythmical Problem

It should be obvious that playing in time and playing rhythmically are two rather different things. It is possible to play in time according to a fixed beat but still be unrhythmical, and – in my book – the only way to be truly rhythmical is to feel rhythm in the body. Rhythmical mistakes can often be fixed by counting a steady beat out loud and clapping or tapping the rhythm of the passage in question. You could do it the other way around if you prefer, and clap or snap a steady beat while you vocalise the rhythmic pattern on the page using words or syllables; it is important to really bring the rhythm to life physically (using more of you than just your fingers) before trying it again on the piano. Bach Prelude in C Minor Students often come adrift in the Adagio bar (bar 34) of Bach’s Prelude in C minor (WTC Book 1), not because the rhythm is especially difficult to feel but because it is confusing to the eye. All those beams, it can be hard to discern where the subdivisions of the beats fall! A simple way of solving this is to grab a piece of manuscript paper and rewrite the passage in note values that are twice as long (quavers become crotchets, etc.). Clap the pulse underneath the stave and vocalise the rhythm using “ta” syllables (or whatever you like). If this still looks a bit foreign, double the note values yet again. The following example is a useful crib to mastering the rhythmical patterns and need only be done two or three times before it has served its purpose. Remember – this bar is cadenza-like and needs to sound free (as though improvised). In […]

How to Analyse Music – Part 1

Why is it important for us pianists to analyse the music we play? Surely analysis is an academic activity that belongs in a classroom? When we dig below the surface to discover how a piece of music is built, we search for its form and structure, and what makes it tick. This helps us not only appreciate the music more, but also helps us to learn it deeply and thoroughly. When we take a bit of time and trouble understanding the shape and structure of a new piece before we rush to the piano to play it, we find not only can we learn it more quickly but we also retain what we have learned over time. Analysis is also absolutely essential for secure memorisation. Despite the importance of analysis, I have noticed how unwilling many players are to spend a chunk what little practice time they have away from the piano. Practice is only meaningful to them when they are making sounds, it seems. Others are scared of analysing, especially if they have not had the benefits of a thorough musical education. The good news is there are many different ways to analyse music, and you don’t have to get bogged down in complex methods (such as Schenker) to find deeper meaning in the music you are playing, and to benefit from the endeavour. Analysis does not have to be textbook, it can be very free and very personal. Whatever you notice about the music is fine and you can see it from many different – and equally valid – angles. Last week I offered two mind maps, one of an elementary piece created (with a little help) by an 8-year old, the other of a more advanced piece done by an adult. Each of these is a type […]

Mindmapping for Enhanced Performance

Part of what induces anxiety among many pianists when performing from memory is just how the kinaesthetic sensations (muscle memory) may change when an audience is present. It doesn’t seem to matter if that audience is one person hovering over the piano in an informal situation or a concert hall filled with people. What we know we know when playing in the comfort of our own studio risks becoming unfamiliar when adrenaline enters the picture, and many excellent pianists and musicians find themselves crumbling inside as fingers refuse to cooperate and the mind freezes and goes blank. For myself, when preparing a programme from memory I find I need to devote a considerable amount of time in my practice to making sure I know the music upside down, inside out, backwards and sideways. I aim to bolster aural and analytic memory while steering clear of muscle memory as far as is possible. Nobody spends a lot on insurance hoping they’ll need to make a claim, but it does offer peace of mind – even if you are not planning to play from memory, a certain amount of memory work (which after all is just deep learning) is indispensable to the security and quality of the eventual performance. For more on analytic memory, follow this link to my blog post Mind Maps In recent years, as part of my work as principal tutor on the Piano Teachers’ Course (EPTA) UK, I have discovered the benefit of mind maps in learning and memorising. A musical mind map is a diagram that represents aspects of a piece (structure, poetic meaning, story line, etc.) in colours, symbols, pictures and/or words. The traditional mind map as described by Tony Buzan in his book Quick Steps to a […]

Stain Removal Tips

I recently started to teach a mature student who, after a successful career in the banking world was itching to get back to his piano playing. He brought a bunch of pieces to his first lesson that he had learned in his youth, ones he had continued to play over the years when time allowed. He explained his frustration at not being able to get through any of these pieces fluently or to his satisfaction, and really wanted my help. When he played for me it was clear he had a firm grasp of the music, and I commended him on the high quality of his sound and his ability to shape phrases artistically.  When fingers don’t go where they are supposed to, or go where they’re not supposed to, it is tempting to seek a technical solution. The root of the problem may be mechanical, or it might arise because of a lack of perception as to the requirements of a passage, or simply because of carelessness allowing approximations or sloppy habits to creep in. It was a lack of basic maintenance that was at the root of many of the stumbles. They had become ingrained like stubborn stains. It felt safe to assume that a banker would appreciate the difference between investing and spending. I told him he had would have been engaging in the latter activity if he expected to have all his old repertoire on tap, and that if he wanted to experience tangible results from lessons he would need to invest a certain amount of time and energy between lessons engaging in practice activities that were the opposite of playing through. I could guarantee he would notice progress, as long as he did not expect dramatic results […]

Developing Sight Reading Skills

Sight reading at the piano is the ability to process information from a score and recreate it to the best of one’s ability on the spot. To get a high mark for a sight reading test in an exam, you might be surprised to learn that complete note accuracy is not at the top of the list. Examiners are interested in the following criteria: A performance that captures the musical essence and character of the test, with attributes such as phrasing and dynamics present A performance that flows rhythmically, sticking to the pulse as priority while allowing note errors to go by without faltering or attempting to correct them As many correct notes as possible under the circumstances; approximations, educated guesses and even omissions here and there are acceptable in the interests of unerring rhythmic flow and musical communication A note-perfect mechanical rendition of a piece of sight reading is often less impressive than one that may have some note errors and omissions and yet which conveys musical character and meaning. Over the years, I have noticed several attributes of good sight readers. Good sight readers seem to be musically literate, with a solid grasp of theory and harmony. They listen to music regularly, perhaps following along with the score, and are familiar with a lot of the standard orchestral, chamber and vocal repertoire in addition to the piano repertoire. They work with other musicians on a regular basis. Playing for a singer, a choir or an instrumentalist or playing in an ensemble tends to develop the ability to learn new pieces very fast, thereby developing reading skills. Circumstances prevent them from stopping and correcting their mistakes, so they learn to carry on regardless. They […]

Summer School for Pianists 2017

It is my privilege to have been invited back for the 6th consecutive year to the Summer School for Pianists, taking place at Wolverhampton University in Walsall this coming August, 12th-18th. If you are a pianist looking for a friendly, safe and supportive course then Walsall is for you. The six days are filled with classes, tutor piano recitals, student concerts and lecture-presentations by the tutors, with plenty of opportunities for socialising. If you don’t fancy participating, you may come as an observer – and there will be plenty to observe! Over the last 40 years, the Summer School for Pianists has established a central and unique position in the field. Combining a friendly atmosphere with musical expertise, the Summer School for Pianists has become an essential annual event for pianists of all levels. The superb facilities at the all-Steinway Performance Hub offer top-class concert instruments and plenty of practice rooms. The dates for this year are 12th – 18th August 2017, and our tutors are James Lisney, Christine Stevenson, Karl Lutchmayer, Ann Martin-Davis and myself. Some of the classes are already full, but there is a waiting list (people have been known to drop out for a variety of reasons) so it is worth applying. With freedom of movement between classes (you may drop in on any tutor’s classes whenever you wish), there’s always the opportunity hear what is going on in another tutor’s class, or to sign up for a private lesson with a tutor of your choice. For full details and how to apply, follow this link to the website

New Sight-reading Resources Added To The Online Academy

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve partnered with Anacrusis to bring their innovative sight-reading curriculum, Read Ahead, to the Online Academy. This partnership will see the addition of a comprehensive set of sample materials for sight reading added to the Online Academy. The materials can be used as stand-alone sight reading exercises or with optional apps that add further interactive functionality. What is ReadAhead? Read Ahead is an exciting new program that helps piano students to improve their sight-reading ability. This unique curriculum is based on an extensive collection of carefully ordered compositions with related exercises and quizzes that help students develop the mental and tactile skills necessary for fluent sight-reading. How does it work? The syllabus is divided up into levels based on difficulty. Each level is comprised of a number of articles which in turn each constitute one day or a practice session’s worth of material. Articles contain several exercises and sample sight reading pieces. The pieces can be used “as-is” on screen or downloaded for printing purposes. The experience can also be enriched by using accompanying apps for iPhone or iPad. Interactive exercises on each day are identified in both the article and the app with the following icons: Touch exercises introduce patterns or technical issues that will be encountered in that day’s practice. This icon indicates a Memory exercise. Touch it on the corresponding day page in the app to practice a passage while training your short-term memory and decoding skills. Read Ahead exercises are complete pieces of music for sight-reading. Instructions, quizzes and tips on how to read them more effectively can be found in the app along with a built-in metronome preset to the correct tempo for each piece. In the iPad app, the music disappears in […]

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