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Virtuosic Pedalling

The subject of pedalling emerged as one of the most sought after topics amongst my readers in surveys I ran prior to the launch of the Online Academy. Therefore I decided to create a substantial video demonstration series on pedalling for the Online Academy. I’ve just added an additional video, Pedalling According to Basses which brings the series to a total of seven. I’ll be adding further videos one by one on an ongoing basis. The pedal markings that have become standardised in our scores seem to cause quite a lot of confusion. The “Ped” sign to indicate where the pedal goes down and the “*” sign to show the release is an approximate and often arbitrary notation; the release often strikes me as having more to do with the whimsy or practical considerations of the typesetter of the particular edition we are using. With this notation it would appear there should be a small gap after the release before the foot goes down again, implying a direct pedal rather than a legato pedal. If we read Chopin’s pedal marks according to the letter, we will be using direct pedals. But are we to assume that a pianist of the calibre of Chopin, say, never used legato pedalling – despite the less efficient damper system on the pianos of his day? We tend to think that legato pedalling was invented by Anton Rubinstein, but is Czerny describing it in 1839? “The quitting and resuming the pedal must be managed with the utmost rapidity, not to leave any perceptible chasm or interstice between the chords; and must take place strictly with the first note of each chord…The rapidly leaving and resuming the pedal must be practiced…till such passages…sound as if the pedal was held down without interruption.” – Carl Czerny, Complete […]

The Online Academy Has Officially Launched!

After over six months of hard work, I am delighted to officially announce the launch of the Practising the Piano Online Academy at https://online-academy.informance.biz. The site already features almost 50 articles and resources containing over 70 videos and almost four hours of footage. There are also copious musical examples and printable worksheets for download. A number of articles are available free of charge and the following subscription options are now available: Free trial – Register for free (no credit card required) and access up to five premium articles in addition to a number of free articles Monthly subscription – Subscribe for £7.99 a month to get full, unlimited access to all Online Academy articles and updates Annual subscription – Save over 15% on the monthly subscription with an annual subscription which gives you access to all articles and updates for £79.99 per year. Subscription plus eBook bundle – Purchase an annual subscription for the Online Academy (£79.99 per year) and for an additional, once-off payment of only £20 you also get: The complete Practising the Piano Multimedia eBook series in four parts (valued at £36) The complete Annotated Study Edition bundle and updates (valued at £20) I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported the crowdfunding campaign prior to launch. The Online Academy wouldn’t have been possible without your support and I very much appreciate your vote of confidence in the project. Lastly, I would also like to say a huge thank you to my team, especially Ryan Morison, Director of Erudition Digital, who has been working tirelessly over the past few months doing all the complicated tech stuff, managing the team and bringing this whole project together. My […]

The Online Academy – Two days until launch!

With just two days to go until the launch on Thursday (22/09), we’re busy putting the final touches on the Online Academy website. We’ve also been adding lots of new content to the material from the beta-launch, including: A detailed video walk-through of Chopin’s beguiling Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 68, No. 2 Additional articles on using “Deconstructing the Score” to learn new pieces and tackling Polyrhythms An essential 5-minute warm-up routine from Penelope Roskell with video demonstrations of easy and effective exercises in the Healthy Playing section A walk-through of the 1st movement of Ravel’s Sonatine to accompany an Annotated Study Edition on the work More content in the pedalling series, including another video featuring the “damper cam” to demonstrate the concept of “flutter” or “fractional” pedalling The launch of the Online Academy is just the beginning as we will be adding content on a continual basis thereafter. The next round of content we’re working on at the moment includes: Walkthroughs and Annotated Study Editions for a number of pieces including Chopin’s C# Op. Post. Nocturne, Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses and Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca Articles on new topics that we haven’t covered before such as improvisation and applied theory Further videos in our comprehensive series on the art of piano pedalling More videos demonstrating the practice tools in context, starting with the feedback loop A series of articles on spread chords If you’d like to see more, we have prepared a brief, guided tour of the features which you can view in advance of the launch here: Subscription options The following subscription options will be available following the launch of the site: Free trial – Register for free (no credit card required) and access up […]

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

Are Exercises A Waste of Time?

Originally published from 1922 – 1929, Alberto Jonás’ series of seven books entitled Master School of Modern Piano Playing and Virtuosity is a treatise on piano technique designed to embrace “all the technical, aesthetic and artistic features required for the highest pianistic virtuosity”. The series contains original exercises by Jonás himself (he was one of the most sought-after piano teachers in the USA in the early 20th century), as well as exercises he commissioned from some of the most important pianists of the day (Ferruccio Busoni, Leopold Godowsky, Alfred Cortot and Josef Lhevinne among them). This fascinating resource and historical document came to my attention only fairly recently, with the republication in 2011 of the first two volumes by Dover, with an introduction by Sara Davis Buechner (click here to purchase on Amazon). You can watch a video of Ms. Buechner talk about the first extension exercises here. But surely in the modern age such exercises should be consigned to the dustbins of pianistic history? A quaint reminder of how things used to be done, until we came to know better. Some authorities are very vocal about this. What disturbs me about the (often vicious) fighting that goes on in the pedagogical community is the scorn and venom that come up at the very mention of the word “extension exercise” or “finger exercise”. Normally civilised and well-mannered folk get on their high horse, thinking nothing of trampling on colleagues’ work with a kind of fundamentalist, religious fervour. How fascinating, then, to find an interview with Stephen Hough in Pianist Magazine recently (Issue 88), in which he discusses how he has made a return to practising exercises. “You can warm up by playing pieces, of course, but you might not have a real finger-by-finger warm-up so that your whole hand, by the time you come […]

A Technical Problem?

My new teaching term began this week with a new student, a young lady preparing for an advanced ABRSM exam. She told me she was having technical problems with some of the minor scales beginning on black notes, and needed some help. When I asked her to play Eb harmonic minor, it was clear to me the problems she was experiencing were not technical in any mechanical sense but rooted in a lack of perception about the patterns of black and white notes that make up this particular scale. I asked her to play the scale in one hand using just one finger – something she struggled to do. After the shape and structure of the scale had become clear in her mind and she could play it fluently with one finger, I invited her to try the scale again with both hands together. She was most surprised to discover she could now play it easily. Clearly not a technical problem, then! I have noticed a tendency among pianists to address issues such as this by immediately going into elaborate technical detail, when this might not be the correct diagnosis at all. In order for the fingers to cooperate, they need to be given very clear commands from our brain as to exactly where they are supposed to go, and what they must do when they get there. If we are woolly-minded about the patterns in a piece of music or the type of sound (mood, character, etc.) we are after, how can we expect any kind of fluent or meaningful result? As the young lady left at the end of the lesson, she asked me the best way to practise her scales during the week. My answer was […]

Online Academy “Sneak Preview”

Following the launch of the Online Academy beta site, we’re now hard at work preparing the site for launch and therefore thought we’d take this opportunity to share a “sneak preview” of what is coming… Content The beta site already contains over 35 articles and 30 videos, including: A number of videos which form part of a series on piano pedalling featuring demonstrations, musical examples and a “damper cam” to provide an in-depth treatise on the subject A series of text articles including musical excerpts and video demonstrations on the art of piano fingering by author Penelope Roskell Video introductions to Graham Fitch’s Practice Tools, starting with The Three Ss Initial articles in a series which shows you how to tackle those pesky polyrhythms with videos and downloadable worksheets A series of articles which show how to use skeleton practice to approach learning popular works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and Chopin. We’ll be adding lots more content in the run up to launch and on an ongoing basis thereafter. Content still to come includes more articles and videos on healthy playing, a series on how to improvise at the piano, a “crash course” in practical theory, extensions to the technical exercises library, more walk-throughs of popular pieces, additions to existing series and articles featuring new topics from our surveys. Features The beta site is also fully functional and provides a number of ways to browse, search and interact with the content outlined above. We’ve also added a useful “bookmark” feature which enables you to bookmark a page for easy access at a later stage: Home page with featured content, browse, quick search and bookmarks Advanced search with filters for category, sub category, […]

By |September 1st, 2016|Uncategorized|4 Comments

Summer Holiday Reading

Graham is currently away and will be back in the beginning of September. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some summer reading, here’s a listing of the most popular posts on Practising the Piano this year so far: Speed of no mistakes But it takes me ages to learn a new piece Securing a fast passage The three little pigs Enjoying ultra-slow practice ***   ***   *** Online Academy Launched! We’re pleased to announce that The Practising the Piano Online Academy has been launched and is now available! Click here to find out more or click here to visit the site, view free content and to subscribe.

By |August 25th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Online Academy Beta Launch!

After an action-packed few weeks of development and content production, we’re pleased to announce the launch of the “beta” version of the Online Academy. The beta version is fully functional but because it is an early release version of the site, it has a few additional features and tweaks still pending. It already features 30+ articles, videos and resources to which we will be adding in the run up to the full launch (currently planned for the latter half of September). We’re in the process of emailing all of our supporters who purchased perks that include subscriptions via our crowdfunding campaign with details providing access to the site. To ensure a smooth on boarding process, we’re doing this in batches therefore if you haven’t yet heard from us yet, you will most likely do so within the next few days. We will also follow-up at the end of the process to ensure that everyone has received access. Because this is not yet the final site, accessing the beta will not start your annual subscription period. It is simply intended as an opportunity for supporters to obtain early access to the site and to provide us with feedback if they so wish. If you haven’t yet purchased a subscription and would like access to the beta site, there are still a number of discounted annual subscriptions and subscription plus eBook bundles available via our campaign that you can take advantage of. Please click here to visit our campaign page or click here for more information on the beta launch. Thanks again for your support and we’re looking forward to sharing our work with you!

By |August 19th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Chopin’s Fioritura

When I was a boy, I was given a volume of the Chopin Nocturnes long before I was able to play them. I vividly remember staring at a page containing what looked like hundreds of tiny notes, stumped by how on earth you were supposed to play them. That image has stayed with me, as has the wonder of hearing this music for the first time from an old LP record of Moura Lympany that my first piano teacher put on for me on occasion. Now I know a little more, and I am able to share a recent video I made for Pianist Magazine on solving some of the problems these little notes pose (known as fioritura, sometimes spelled fioratura – from the Italian word “flower”). My article for Pianist appears in the most recent issue (Issue 91) and the accompanying video is now live on YouTube. For more on fioritura, follow this link to my blog post Making Friends with Fiddly Fioritura I will be taking a rest from writing this blog for a few weeks. Wishing all my readers a happy summer break, and looking forward to being back with you in September. ***   ***   *** The Practising the Piano Online Academy I’m pleased to announce that my new initiative, The Practising the Piano Online Academy is almost ready for launch. The website development is complete and we’re now just applying finishing touches to both the website and  the initial content. Our full launch is planned for the latter half of September and we will be making a “beta” version of the site available to everyone who purchased subscriptions via our IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign over the next few weeks. This beta version is not the final site but does […]

An Interview with Stephen Savage

I am delighted to announce that my piano workshop at Jackdaws in November is now full, with a waiting list in case anyone drops out. If you are interested in an intimate weekend piano course in an idyllic setting with cordon bleu home-cooked food, follow the link below for details of what’s on offer. I can do no better than suggest a brand new course running in October – given by my very first professor of piano, Stephen Savage. For details of this and other piano courses at Jackdaws, follow this link  I had my first lesson with Stephen Savage when I was about 16 and I still remember it clearly. Before I became his student at the Royal College of Music, I had a few more occasional lessons which were always as inspirational as they were energetic and informative. At the RCM, my lessons took place at 11:00 on a Thursday morning in Room 72 and they were the highlight of my week. Stephen’s approach was very hands-on – he always aimed for sound, character and musical meaning first and then explored the means of achieving it as a logical progression. I learned a tremendous amount from him about how to be a musician as well as a pianist, and came out of each lesson fired up. Here is Stephen playing Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse: Stephen Savage’s early studies brought him recognition with a Beethoven 4th Concerto with the National Youth Orchestra and success in the Daily Mirror National Competition. After his time at the RCM he was given the task of acting as Cyril Smith‘s teaching assistant while also appearing in a series of recitals at the Wigmore Hall and broadcasting a wide range of repertoire for Radio […]

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