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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 Beta Launch We’re pleased to announce that we’ve successfully launched the “beta” version of the Online Academy and have emailed details for early access to everyone who purchased subscriptions via our crowdfunding campaign. We will now be making a few further refinements to the site and will be adding more content in the run up to launch. Please check your spam or junk mail folder if you purchased a perk which includes a subscription and haven’t yet received an email with access details from us. If you’re unable to find the email, then please email us at support@eruditiondigital.co.uk and we will assist you further. A number of supporters have also purchased perks which included additional rewards such as study editions, consultations and lessons. We will be in touch to arrange the fulfilment of these rewards following the launch of the Online Academy later on in September. 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.

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 […]

Getting it Right

There is a hypothetical test to find out how accurately a pianist responds to the expressive details in a piece of music. Someone with an acute ear sits with a special copy of the score – one that has had all the dynamics, articulations and other marks of expression removed. As the pianist plays, the listener has to fill in all this information from what they hear by dictation – distinguishing between a forte and a mezzo forte, a tenuto and another type of accent, noting precisely where a diminuendo begins, and so on. When you’ve been practising a piece for a while (especially from memory), it is easy to let the focus slip here and there. What about those syncopated accents after the double bar – are you really making them clear and meaningful, or do they now exist only in your imagination? Is it possible that you’ve forgotten about them altogether?  How can we be absolutely sure that how we imagine we are playing is actually what comes across to the listener, and that what we are doing matches the composer’s text? Before I go on, I would like to distinguish between honest mistakes or omissions and careless ones. I have written about this in a recent blog post – follow this link to The Speed of No Mistakes. It is careless mistakes that I speak of below. Not executing the expressive details is one thing, but suppose the next level down on our downward spiral to impending mediocrity is to turn a blind eye to slips and stumbles as they happen in our practice. I am not only thinking of notes and rhythm but also other parameters such as fingering, pedalling, etc.: I smudged that passage but it’ll be OK tomorrow, it’s not really that difficult. I think I may have paused for a moment before […]

An Interview with Penelope Roskell: Part 2

I am very happy to be working with a number of guest experts who will be contributing to the Online Academy when it launches in September. I now continue my conversation with Penelope Roskell, acclaimed pianist and teacher, professor of piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London and expert on healthy piano playing and injury prevention and cure. Penelope will be contributing a number of resources to the Online Academy – covering topics such as warming up, yoga, posture, fingering, healthy playing and injury prevention. Here is the second part of our interview (part 1 is available here). You have created a DVD on Yoga for Musicians – could you say a bit about this and why you consider yoga is important? When I first started studying yoga in a class, the general health benefits were obvious, but I struggled to see how it could be related to piano playing.  I also struggled with many of the more extreme postures as they often required more flexibility than I as a Westerner had. I later spent some time with an excellent private teacher exploring how the principles of yoga could be applied to piano playing and then distilled some of these thoughts into my DVD. I have now nearly finished writing a book more specifically about all aspects of piano playing, based on holistic principles. You have also written a book on piano fingering: how does that relate to your interest in holistic playing? I have always been fascinated by fingering, and the positive effect that good fingerings can have on our interpretation of a piece. Many years ago, I realised that a lot of the fingerings that we have all been traditionally taught are not ergonomic […]

By |July 21st, 2016|Uncategorized|1 Comment

An Interview with Penelope Roskell: Part 1

I am working with a number of guest experts who will be contributing to the Online Academy. This is the first in a series of interviews in which I’ll be giving guest experts an opportunity to introduce themselves and their work to our readers.  I’m delighted to be speaking with Penelope Roskell, acclaimed pianist and teacher, professor of piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London and expert on healthy piano playing and injury prevention and cure. Because Penelope has so much interesting and useful information to give, the interview will be in two parts (with the second part coming next week). Penelope will be contributing a number of resources to the Online Academy – covering topics such as warming up, yoga, posture, fingering, healthy playing and injury prevention. Healthy playing and injury prevention are specific areas of focus for you in your career both as a teacher and performer. Can you tell us how this came about? When I was about twenty, I suffered from tenosynovitis (painful inflammation of the thumb tendon sheath) after practising Liszt’s second piano concerto with a faulty octave technique. I learnt the hard way that there was a limit to how much pressure my hands could take. At that time I couldn’t find anyone who could help me, so I started on a long journey of exploration, searching for a technique that didn’t cause further pain. I discovered to my delight that each time I adapted my technique it not only benefitted my thumb, it also improved my sound, general dexterity and expressiveness. I still continue to experiment, both with my own playing and with students, and find that the exercises I have devised help students as much […]

Arpeggiation in Piano Playing

I once attended a piano recital where the pianist continually broke the hands, so that the right hand sounded slightly after the left. He did this consistently with all the repertoire on his programme regardless of its period, and after a very short time indeed this had become a major distraction to me. I found I was unable to enjoy the music or appreciate the playing, it was irritating in the extreme. However, there was a time in the history of piano playing where this sort of desynchronisation of the hands was actually part of style. If you were trained in Leipzig in the nineteenth century you would certainly have done this without giving it a second thought, as well as arpeggiating chords at the drop of a hat. Here is Carl Reinecke in a piano roll recorded in 1905 of the Larghetto from Mozart’s K537. How times change – this style of playing, while prevalent at the time, would simply not be acceptable nowadays. If this style were based on performance traditions from Mozart’s day, you might expect modern fortepianists to have picked up on it. This cleanly articulated performance by Malcolm Bilson shows otherwise; it is (mercifully) free of such excesses (listen from 13:47). Last week I wrote about how Beethoven himself spread the opening chord in his Fourth Piano Concerto. In the Baroque period, keyboard players routinely rolled chords for expressive purposes –  either slow or fast, downwards as well as upwards. There were signs to indicate this (the wavy lines we are accustomed to today or slashes through note stems), but in music from this period you can spread chords even in the absence of such indications. On the harpsichord, a chord played dead together gives a […]

Czerny Says You Can!

Have you ever pondered how many teaching hours in the course of piano teaching history have been devoted to certain famous passages from the repertoire? How much time, how much blood, sweat and tears have gone into the short introduction to Chopin’s G minor Ballade, for example? I am usually unimpressed when I hear an awe-struck student recount how their teacher spent a whole lesson on just the first phrase, sometimes even on one bar – or one chord! Is this something to be respected and admired, or is it an ego trip on the part of the teacher and actually a colossal waste of lesson time? Some places in the piano repertoire are so loaded with historic angst and baggage that the teacher feels the weight of tradition and, instead of just giving some suggestions or a few specific directions based on what the student might want to do with the passage, spouts forth from on high. No matter how well the student plays, the teacher has his or her prescription and is darned well going to pass it on. Chances are an hour spent thus on a bar of music will forever burden the student, making them feel they are never going to be able to reproduce what the teacher wanted. They will always feel unworthy – jinxed, even. Don’t get me wrong – there is no substitute for incredibly detailed and painstaking work at the piano, sitting hour upon hour day after day in our practice striving to get something just right. However, we all know that there is no such thing as the one perfect interpretation of any piece, and that great art allows a multitude of possibilities. You only have to listen to a number of different recordings […]

No Stopping!

I recently gave a consultation lesson to a diploma candidate, who told me at the end it was the most illuminating lesson he had ever had. I couldn’t think why, so I asked him. He said he had never played his pieces through from beginning to end without stopping. Apparently, his teacher stopped him every time there was a mistake, or something that needed to be corrected, improved or tweaked. It used to take ages to get through a piece this way, and what made matters worse was he took this approach home into his practice. Every time something didn’t go according to plan (real or imagined) there was this Pavlovian response to take his hands off the keyboard. All I did was to allow him to replicate the conditions of his diploma (or indeed any performance) by committing to a start-to-finish, come-what-may, warts-and-all performance. Hardly rocket science. I explained that if he doesn’t practise performing for himself and then in front of others he will never know what it feels like. Effectively, he won’t ever have practised his exam. Practising is a complex and often indefinable art. On the one hand if we don’t stop to attend to repeated uncontrolled or inexpressive playing, won’t we be ingraining it all? On the other hand stopping, especially in the same old places we’re not happy with, sets up unhelpful reflexes that can be hard to eliminate later. The Solution With new pieces in Stage 1 of the learning process, I advocate controlled stops (this is a subject for another post). With pieces that are ready to play through, we make a decision before we start practising whether we are going to stop. If we decide we will stop, […]

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