Uncategorized

On Studies and Exercises

I follow a middle path when it comes to the studies and exercises I suggest or assign to students, preferring to work on technique from the music itself rather than have them learn a whole slew of dull and dreary studies they won’t especially enjoy. I supplement the repertoire with carefully chosen material, often culled from a variety of unusual sources  – and some of it of my own invention. I am a fan of taking some exercises and using them off-label (finding a different way to use an easily memorable pattern of notes than what the author may have had in mind). There are three main ways of categorising such material. I’m going to make one or two suggestions for each. 1. Exercises The shorter and simpler the better. Exercises should be easy to memorise, so that the whole attention can be focussed on the specific mechanical or technical goal we’re aiming to master. Exercises have no pretensions toward artistic merit, although they can be played musically. Hanon patterns are good examples of the exercise genre. Do them with a definite purpose and they can serve you; do them mindlessly and they will waste your time as well as ingraining whatever you are doing with them. If you practise them without aligning your hand and arm to the finger that is playing you are automating the habit of not aligning your hand and arm to the finger that is playing (seems so obvious, doesn’t it?) and you will develop technical problems and most likely tension. The exercises themselves are neutral, it’s how we do them that counts.  There are numerous books of technical exercises on my shelves. One I especially like for beginners is […]

By |September 21st, 2017|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Which Hand?

It is an integral part of my own work to practise each hand alone on occasion. I have a little twist on this though, because I will expect my left hand to be able to play the music the right hand needs to play, and of course the other way around too. If I can do this comfortably and accurately from memory, then I know I know the music on a deeper level than just from muscle memory – and this gives me greater security in performance. Even with my younger students, if we need to work on one hand by itself, I might ask for it with the “wrong” hand on the last repetition – just to see how well they really know it. And if they are working on an étude, such as Burgmüller’s Arabesque, op 100, no 2, it would be a shame if we did not take the opportunity for the left hand to develop the same skills as the right hand has to acquire. So, we practise little exercises in contrary motion with both hands together based on the three- and five-note slur patterns the right hand plays in the étude. It takes only a little extra effort but adds huge value: These ideas are nothing new. Chopin’s first Etude from the opus 10 set is a tour de force for the right hand, the left hand just planting down octaves. The great virtuoso, Leopold Godowsky recreated this work not once but twice, involving the left hand fully. In fact, the second version is for left hand alone. Here is the first version, played by Marc-André Hamelin. And here is the second version, for left hand alone, played by Ivan Ilić. A while […]

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 […]

My Jackdaws Course in November

Have you ever sat at the piano, uncertain as to what you should be doing in your practice time or wondered why it takes you so long to learn pieces? Would you like to eliminate mistakes and find a level of consistency and greater ease in your playing? I am offering a weekend course at Jackdaws from Friday 24 November – Sunday 26 November 2017, all ages and levels are welcome and the fee is only £210! In this weekend workshop we will look at what we should be doing in our daily practice to reach our musical goals. Feel free to bring along whole pieces, sections of pieces or even just questions. We are looked after amazingly well – cordon bleu food is freshly prepared for us at each meal, and there are homemade cakes and biscuits during the breaks. All this in the beautiful surroundings of the English countryside! Because the course is limited to 10, there is a friendly and supportive group dynamic and you will leave refreshed and inspired. I always do! However, there are only 2 places left on my course so if you are interested in attending, book now to avoid disappointment. For full details and to register follow this link

Mozart’s Shorter Piano Pieces

A volume that is in almost constant use in my studio is the shorter piano pieces by Mozart in the Henle edition. It contains the tiny pieces Mozart wrote as a child, as well as the Rondos, Fantasies, and other pieces that don’t fall into the sonata or variation categories. All of them are fascinating, and the volume includes some real gems that pianists don’t seem to know. For the Henle Urtext edition, follow this link Among my very favourites is the Adagio in B minor, K. 540, a personal and profound work full of wonders. The magisterial performance of Daniel Barenboim I once owned on LP record still haunts me, but I cannot seem to find it anywhere. Here is Murray Perahia’s equally beautiful performance, and I hope it inspires you to include this piece in your repertoire. From the sublime to the ridiculous, it is known that Mozart had a great sense of humour. In one of his most tragic pieces, the finale of the C minor piano concerto, K 491, instead of writing repeat signs in the conventional manner, he wrote a little smiley face that looks back to where he wants the players to return. The autograph is in the library of the Royal College of Music, London, and when I was a student there I was given the rare privilege of handling the score (yes, I did have to wear gloves). Mozart also wrote a funeral march – as a joke. One of his students, Barbara Ployer, was a fine pianist but apparently did not enjoy her counterpoint studies with him. In order not to discourage her, he wrote a very short piece entitled Marche Funèbre del Signor Maestro Contrapunto, K 453a, in […]

A Bar at a Time

When I was going through the early grades myself as a lad, my teacher would instruct me to learn my new pieces bar by bar, and with each hand separately. I’m not sure how much I obeyed her when I was home alone though! I really do believe that if we teachers expect our students to practise in a particular way, we need to hear that practice in lessons – or there is little incentive for them to do it. It doesn’t have to take much lesson time – hearing just a bar or two, with words of encouragement and suggestions for improvement (if necessary) is all that is required to help them along in the learning process. I am very happy to announce that we’ll be adding further works to our  Online Academy articles and worksheets on the new ABRSM syllabus, beginning with a selection of pieces from the early grades. The format is somewhat similar to the other study editions I have previously published, featuring text, musical examples and short embedded video demonstrations (as well as video walkthroughs) designed to help teachers and players in the learning process. Naturally, there are detailed practice suggestions suitable for the grade. Bar by Bar – Plus One One of the practice suggestions I use in my worksheets is working in small sections, and a bar is a neat unit. Here’s how it works. In Bar by Bar Plus One we work one bar at a time. If we do this by stopping on the first beat of the next bar, the note(s) we end on will be the same note(s) we start on when we move on to the next bar. When we form good habits at […]

Presenting the New Trinity Syllabus

A while ago I was asked by Trinity College London to write the teaching notes for the new piano syllabus, Grades 6-8, and I was delighted to receive the publications through the post last week! In addition to the pieces published in the official exam books, there is also a comprehensive selection of alternative pieces for each grade (the teaching notes available in a separate booklet). The range of repertoire is excellent, with plenty to choose from in a wide variety of style periods. Trinity’s graded piano exams provide choice and flexibility to allow candidates to play to their strengths, enabling you to gain recognition for your own unique skills as a performer – it’s about the music you want to play and the performer you want to be. The supporting tests and technical exercises are performance-grounded and specifically designed to develop skills through the music and the piano. You will be assessed through an internationally recognised and regulated exam system you can trust (it has a 140-year heritage!), and gain UCAS points for Grades 6-8.  Please follow these links to the piano syllabus page and to the piano supporting resources page . Cambridge Lecture-Demonstration If you are in the Cambridge area on Monday, July 10, why not drop by and hear my short lecture-demonstration on the new syllabus. I’ll be demonstrating pieces from the Grade 6-8 books and the lists of alternative pieces, offering advice on choosing the best repertoire for each student from the wide-ranging lists available and suggesting teaching hints, technical  tips and practice ideas on selected pieces. Before my presentation, you are also welcome to come along and have a cup of tea, meet some of the Trinity team. You’ll hear about: • the range […]

Pedalling the Moonlight Sonata

Beethoven wrote the Sonata No. 14 in C♯ minor (Quasi una fantasia), Op. 27, No. 2 in 1801, dedicating it the following year to his pupil, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. The title “Moonlight” was given not by Beethoven, but by poet Ludwig Rellstab; even though Rellstab dreamed this up five years after Beethoven’s death, his nickname stuck. At the start of the first movement, Beethoven directs the performer to hold down the sustaining pedal throughout the whole movement, so that the strings are never damped. Above the opening bar, Beethoven instructed “Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordini” (the entire piece should be played with the greatest delicacy and without mutes), followed by another direction between the staves “semper pp e senza sordini.” “Senza sordini” is an instruction to play “without mutes,” or with the dampers raised off of the strings – or, in other words, with the pedal down. Beethoven must have meant something important by this, since he felt it necessary to give the same instruction twice. On the pianos of Beethoven’s time the sustain was shorter than the pianos we have today, and this effect surprisingly subtle. Obeying Beethoven’s marking literally on a modern piano, with its much longer sustain, produces chaotic and immediately unacceptable results. However there are ways of pedalling artfully that recreate the type of effect Beethoven was after. I’ll show you in a minute how to produce an aura around the sound, obeying the spirit if not the letter of Beethoven’s instructions. But first listen to Matt Bengtson demonstrating the opening on a fortepiano: Beethoven would have remembered a day, not so long before, when pianos were equipped with a handstop that lifted the dampers away from the strings. […]

On Singing

I had always sung in choirs and choruses from my childhood to the end of my student days, and one of the highlights of my week as a postgraduate student in New York was my voice lesson. I came away from it feeling energised and exhilarated (as well as hungry) from the wonderful sensations I felt in my body as it became my instrument. This background in singing prepared me extremely well for my life in music, and I firmly believe that every pianist needs to know how it feels to shape music by singing the lines – be they melodic lines, bass lines or humble inner parts. I would go so far as to say I believe if you can’t sing a melodic line, you can’t really play it. You might be able to move your fingers over the right notes but you probably won’t be shaping it or feeling it expressively. The roots of music lie in rhythm and song, and we pianists devote our time to making our so-called percussion instrument sing. String players connect notes with their bow and wind players with their breath, but the way pianists achieve a singing style is mostly illusion, of course, since the moment we play a note on the piano the sound begins to decay. Keeping moving at the keyboard is one solution – not letting the arm stop as we move through a phrase and remembering to breathe, as Chopin taught, through the wrist. From the very first lesson to the very last, piano lessons need to be filled with singing, and no pianist should be shy to sing a melodic line in the practice room until they have found the ideal tempo, shaping, […]

“I Haven’t Done As Much Practice As I Wanted This Week”

“I haven’t done as much practice as I would have liked this week” seems to be a very popular statement at the beginning of a piano lesson. Before one note has been played self doubt, anxiety and guilt are already in the room, and impending disaster is sure to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I try to calm the situation by reassuring the student that even seasoned concert artists at the top of their game might sit in the green room before a performance with similar doubts, feeling they could have done more if they had only had a bit more time. And how many exam candidates stew in the waiting room thinking: “If only I had a couple more weeks, or if only I had done this and that, I would be fully prepared”? There is always more we can do, yet we need to trust that what we have done is enough, for now – provided we have not been lazy or negligent in the process of preparation. A lesson does not always have to be a performance! Unless the lesson is in the run-up to an exam, diploma or recital (when a non-stop complete performance is necessary) work in progress is extremely welcome in my studio. I would rather help people to get things right from the beginning of the learning and practice process than go through the arduous task of unpicking and correcting careless errors or learned-in problems. Detailed work involves the opposite of playing through from beginning to end, and in a lesson it should be possible to focus on this – offering a model of what should happen in the daily practice. What do you want from your piano playing? In a recent lesson, […]

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close