Your Piano Journey

Pianodao – The Way of Piano – seeks to inform, challenge and inspire piano players, teachers and students.

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Revelling in the moment

Guest post by John Pitts, composer, teacher, and author of the book How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano

As a pianist, I’ve always loved the actual sound of the piano. It is a very personal instrument. I’m not knocking the usefulness of an electric keyboard, but for me nothing beats the responsiveness and the intimate resonance of a real piano, with the unstruck strings reverberating in sympathy with the played keys. Intimate, because the physical sound is at its most absorbing up close and personal.

Andrew Eales has kindly invited me to chart the journey that lead to my book of Indian raags (ragas/rags) for piano. In contemplating this, two related thoughts strike me:

  • first, that enjoying the piano’s sound itself (before and above the emotional journey of a piece) has been a common thread throughout my musical life, both as pianist and composer.
  • and second, that the slow exploration and enjoyment of sound is an intrinsic part of Indian classical raags.

This ‘revelling in the moment’ has been a big part of the appeal of Indian music for me: it resonates with what I’ve always done at a piano – doodled, improvised, composed.

It is music which organically grows – from slow, peaceful and pulseless, focussed on a small group of notes, with space to enjoy each note and gesture, gradually developing to fast and furious, rhythmically thrilling, filled with energy and joy.

The typical structure of a raag is a wonderfully crystallized miniature of the whole creative process – starting with slow, spacious improvisation, playing around with tiny ideas, gradually unveiling and exploring each small characteristic of an exotic collection of notes and motifs. This is followed by the main body of the raag – a kind of loose ritornello, based on a pre-selected melody (that may include a number of variations on the theme) interspersed with episodes of ever-more-exciting improvisation.

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Personalised Learning

Every aspect of music is personal.

A good performance depends on the player’s personal interpretation of the music. Enjoyment, for the listener, depends on their personal response to the music. Which in turn is informed by personal musical taste and experience.

And in the same way, learning to play a musical instrument is a highly personalised experience. In this post we’ll consider why that is true, and what it means in practice.

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The Eight Chord Trick

In this post I am going to share a simple trick that will help prompt you to compose and improvise your own music.

This also provides an excellent strategy for helping more advanced students develop their creativity, and move beyond written music.

When making up our own music it’s useful to have a “trigger” that helps get things started – or perhaps a set of “rules” or self-imposed limitations within which we will work. Far from limiting our imagination, this can stimulate our creativity as we explore the boundaries we have set ourselves.

The Eight Chord Trick can be used in exactly this way.

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Boosey’s Bartók Bonanza

Sheet Music Review

Along with their outstanding new version of The First Term at the Piano – which I recently reviewed here – Bossey & Hawkes (in conjunction with Hal Leonard) have just released a couple more Bartók collections: a complete edition of For Children, and the Bartók Piano Anthology.

Here’s a look at each of these additions to the Bartók catalogue…

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NEW Piano Music from Breitkopf & Hārtel

Sheet Music Review

Over recent months, esteemed and enterprising German music publishers Breitkopf & Hārtel have unleashed a succession of interesting new piano sheet music publications, and in this group review I’m going to introduce you to the whole lot:

  • Ulrich Mahlert (editor): Spielbuch für Klavier
  • Friedrich Grossnick: More Catchy Tunes
  • Luis Zett: Busy Lizzy & Lazy Daisy
  • Alexey Shor: Childhood Memories
  • Martin Reich: Primo & Secondo  (4 hands)
  • Manfred Schmitz: Jazz Parnass  (6 hands)
  • Jairo Geronymo: 4 Prima Vistas  (2 pianos, 4 hands)

Here goes…

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First Term at the Piano

Sheet Music Review

Bartók’s Mikrokosmos has – since the first half of the 20th century – been a potent force in the pianist’s repertoire, hugely impacting pedagogy worldwide, while his charming collections of pieces For Children have delighted elementary to intermediate players of all ages. But what of his other little collection, The First Term at the Piano?

Largely overlooked, except as a curiosity for completists to consider, this seemingly innocuous sequence of 18 short pieces has passed under the radar of most piano teachers, and even though some of the pieces are brilliantly inventive and melodic, they have too rarely surfaced in other collections, exam syllabi or student performances.

Now the US-based pianist, teacher, lecturer and editor Immanuela Gruenberg is looking to turn the tables, resurrecting this work for a new century, and for a new audience.

Her stunning new edition of the pieces – which comes with complete commentary, imaginative lesson plans, and a series of online videos – has recently been published by Hal Leonard in association with Boosey & Hawkes. And as we shall see in this review, it is a genuine must-have purchase for anyone who teaches beginners.

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Christopher Norton’s ‘Jazz Piano Sonata’

Sheet Music Review

Christopher Norton’s educational piano music – from the bestselling Microjazz series for beginner and elementary players through to his acclaimed series of Preludes Collections (the most recent of which I have reviewed here – Eastern Preludes and Pacific Preludes) his music has delighted millions of players and listeners of all ages around the world.

It’s great to be presented with a more substantial work from this ever-popular contemporary composer: the Jazz Piano Sonata follows the traditional three-movement form, and is a significant concert work for the advanced pianist.

Jazz-Piano-Sonata

Originally written for, and premiered by US pianist Jovanni-Rey de Pedro in 2013, the work has been performed in several countries already, and is now published by Christopher’s own company 80dayspublishing, courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes.

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Improve your sight-reading!

Sheet music Review

“When pupils can sight-read, not only do they do well in exams but (rather more importantly) it allows them to learn pieces more quickly, which frees up much of our teaching time, allowing us to concentrate on developing the musician. Ultimately, it gives them independence: they are able to learn music on their own – the greatest gift we can give.”

So says best-selling author Paul Harris in the introduction to Improve your sight-reading: Teacher’s Book – latest addition to his ever growing Improve Your Sight-Reading series, just published by Faber Music.

Written to work alongside the well-known, long-published Improve your sight-reading ‘pupil’ books, the Teacher’s Book mirrors the introduction of keys and concepts in those, as well as offering useful tips for teachers.

Most important of all, the Teacher’s Book includes dozens of new progressive practice tests for each of Grades 1-5, which can be used in lessons to complement the use of the pupil books for home practice.

As such, the book offers the potential to elevate what was already a great resource into a more complete sight-reading system which bridges both lesson and home use.

Let’s find out how well it succeeds in this aim…

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