The Spring Repertoire Challenge is ideal for players of all ages, and offers a great starting point for developing and building an Active Repertoire at the piano. Are you up for it?Continue reading Spring Repertoire Challenge
Following on from her previous collections of original pieces inspired by works of art Piano Gallery (reviewed here) and Piano Seascapes (reviewed here), Piano Meditations is the latest from best-selling composer Pam Wedgwood, brought to us as ever by publishers Faber Music.
Here we have 12 brand new compositions which are, according to their composer, “inspired by contemplative works of art”, and once again the publication includes a gorgeous full colour pull-out poster featuring images of all the paintings which served as Pam’s muse.
Intermediate players who enjoyed the previous collections, along with Wedgwood’s many fans, will undoubtedly already be rushing to their music supplier for a copy; for the benefit of those wanting more information, let’s take a quick look…Continue reading Pam Wedgwood: Piano Meditations
A guide for beginners by an almost-beginner
Guest Post by Garreth Brooke
Switching to video lessons at short notice is stressful!
I live in Frankfurt, Germany, where all the schools are now closed and I made the switch on Thursday afternoon. I’ve taught 6 lessons so far and overall it has gone pretty well. Here are some things I learnt that you might find useful…
With the World Health Organisation’s confirmation of a pandemic, it’s natural that most of us have become preoccupied, concerned and even scared about what the rapid spread of coronavirus might mean for our lives and livelihoods.
Piano teacher forums are awash with teachers seeking advice and support, but clear, practical and proportionate advice isn’t always available.
A common theme in the advice teachers are sharing is that the best option for many will be to use a video link to continue tuition wherever possible.
For several years, my students and I have already been doing just that, using FaceTime and Skype as a fallback option when coming to my studio proves impossible. And we have found that tuition via video link, while having some obvious limitations, can also offer some unique insights and opportunities.
By minimising disruption to lessons, we can help our pupils to stay motivated and maintain momentum, while as teachers we continue to earn our living.
There are of course dangers inherent in closing down our studios prematurely, stoking alarm, and creating a situation where tuition via video link is used for an unnecessarily extended time to the possible detriment of pupil progress.
Some teachers feel overwhelmed by the technological aspects of setting up a video link; they needn’t. The present situation creates an opportunity for us to embrace new technologies and learn alternative approaches that will both enhance our ongoing teaching and benefit our businesses.
An effective video link, where offered as a temporary solution for students who generally come to lessons, depends on using an easy, no-fuss setup that can freely be adopted by all our students straight away, regardless of their age and technical know-how.
In this post, I will share the advice that I am simultaneously sending to my students, outlining studio policy and explaining to them how easy it is to have their lesson via video link. While some have previously used this option, many haven’t, so I’ve included reassuring instructions.
I should preface this by recognising that most teachers will understand straight away that their studio policies differ from mine. And that’s good. There is no “right and wrong” way of organising a teaching studio, and the fact that we all operate a little differently is a huge positive, enabling those looking for a teacher to select one whose approach best fits their needs.
I should also add that the advice given below is predicated on current official advice in the UK; should I be forced to close the studio at a later point in our national response, I will need to revisit some aspects of the policy.
In the meantime, my aim is to be as flexible and supportive as possible, and offer as much choice to students as I can.
I hope that the thoughts below will be of some help to those teachers who are still considering their options, and in that spirit, here is my letter to students and parents…Continue reading Coronavirus and Piano Lessons
Alan Bullard will be known to many readers for his many contributions to popular educational series and in particular the excellent adult piano method series Pianoworks, co-written with his wife Janet, and recently reviewed here.
In addition to his educational publications, Bullard is a busy and accomplished composer of concert works, including the recently published Twelve or Thirteen Preludes for Piano Solo: Set Two (Minor Keys), a collection that follows on from the first Set (written in each major key), which was published back in early 2017 by Colne Edition, and distributed by Spartan Press.
With this new publication, Bullard joins the ranks of composers (including J.S. Bach, Heller and Chopin) to have written a Prelude in each and every one of the 24 major and minor keys. And I think they make a very solid collection, one that deserves wide currency…Continue reading Alan Bullard: 24 Preludes
The 22-year-old Chinese-American pianist Eric Lu is one of the brightest rising stars in today’s classical music firmament, his playing revealing both an exciting engagement with the repertoire and a fresh and compelling new perspective on it.
Aged 20, Lu was unanimously voted winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition 2018, an achievement which propelled him firmly into the limelight and rewarded him with a management deal, major label recording deal with Warner Classics, and a concert commitment which might overwhelm the less assured player.
For his part, Lu would seem to have taken all this in his stride, the embodiment of a dream he has nurtured from a young age growing up in a house where classical music was cherished.
I briefly met Lu and heard him perform Mozart’s 23rd concerto at the Chetham’s Summer School last year (shortly before he made his BBC Proms debut with the same work), and was struck then by his poise onstage and off, his quiet confidence and calm energy.
But listening to his Warner Classics studio debut, a disc which includes Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op.28 as well as short works by Brahms and Schumann, it is the emotional range he brings to his playing which most immediately strikes me…Continue reading Eric Lu: Chopin 24 Preludes
Once in a while, a publication arrives for review which is based on a great concept and is itself essentially a very good product, but where the mismatch between the original intention and its actual delivery is a glaring one, as though at some point in the developmental process there was a communication breakdown.
Core Classics: Essential Repertoire for Piano, a set of seven progressively “graded” solo repertoire books published worldwide today by ABRSM, is a striking example of this phenomenon.
So let’s see what went awry, and more positively, what this beautifully presented new series actually has to offer…Continue reading ABRSM “Core Classics” – The Review
For 2020 I am pleased to present an updated feature on the adult method books I most highly recommend.
I’ll start with in-depth reviews of my TOP 5 CHOICES.
After that I will also include shorter reviews of some other great alternatives.
One of the most exciting developments over the course of my piano career has been the huge increase in adults taking up lessons. I have lost count of the number of adult beginners I’ve had the pleasure of teaching over the last three decades; at present I teach more than 30 adults.
I’ve seen adults taking up the piano for many reasons; some wish they had learnt when they were younger, while for others taking up piano as an adult is the next chapter in a growing musical interest.
Whatever the reason for starting lessons, the last thing most adults want is to be presented with Jimmy Timpson’s First Piano Lessons for Tiny Tots, or a minor variation with the word “adult” cannily stamped on the front cover.
And that’s perhaps one reason why my round-up of the adult beginner method books was by far the most-read article on Pianodao in 2019.
Fully refreshed for 2020, I’m delighted to present this updated and expanded version, including two major methods not mentioned last year.
But we’ll again begin with my top tips (also updated!) about what to look for in an adult method book, and why adults learn the piano differently to younger beginners…Continue reading Which Adult Piano Method 2020?
Around this time last year I reviewed James Welburn’s Musical Escapades (you can read that review here), and was very positive about his original piano music, concluding:
“What impresses me most of all is the infectious good humour and the compelling imagination that runs throughout the whole collection…
James Welburn has with this collection made a stunning Editions Musica Ferrum debut; he is clearly a composer to watch, and among this publisher’s rich and growing catalogue, Musical Escapades becomes one of their best publications yet.”
Now Welburn is back with a new collection, once more published by Musica Ferrum. Reflections in Waltz offers seven new original pieces, again suited to players at late-intermediate level…Continue reading James Welburn: Reflections in Waltz
Recently, my wife Louise had a minor kitchen accident which resulted in her breaking my favourite tea cup.
As she tells the story (on her social media):
“So I broke Andrew’s favourite teacup. I felt I should make him a new one in pottery.
It lists a little bit but it works!
Andrew said that it’s the best thing that anyone has given him. He then went on to say that most people would’ve given up and started again once they noticed the listing.
Clearly I’m not most people!”
As you can see from the photo above, my new cup is a thing of great beauty! But as Louise admits, it’s hardly perfect from a functional point of view. The “listing” perhaps doesn’t look serious, but when pouring tea into the cup it’s quite obvious that when one side is full to the brim, the other side is only two-thirds full.
There’s another problem too. Inside the cup, there are quirky recesses that somehow trap the tea, making it impossible to empty the cup when drinking from it in a genteel, civilised manner. Only tipping it upside down really does the trick!
Here, for comparison, is a cup that has none of these issues:
A bit boring, right?
The beauty of my new mug is in its imperfection: its quirkiness, vibrant personality, its energy. And central to all that, the fact that it was borne of relationship, made with love.Continue reading The Pianist’s Imperfection
Guest Post by Karen Marshall
These days when I catch up with teaching colleagues, there is often a common theme:
“I need to recruit some new students as I’ve got X amount leaving (especially in the summer term).”
The numbers vary from just one to as many as twelve.
As most are self employed with bills to pay, adverts are out, websites are being updated, and they are doing their very best to fill those gaps – and fast!
We will always have some students leave as families move out of the area, or a student leaves for work or University. However increasingly (from anecdotal evidence) it appears that students are giving up in greater numbers. With lots of other activities going on, children heavily tested with demanding national examinations along with technology distractions, instrumental learning can suffer.
In my own teaching practice, I have tried to become much more conscious about any signs that perhaps I need to adapt a little in order to keep a student coming through the door…Continue reading How do we stop students quitting?
“Installing air filters in classrooms can raise children’s scores in tests by the same amount as cutting class sizes by a third, research has found…
Mike Gilraine, author of the paper and assistant professor of economics at New York University, said the improved scores were equivalent to ‘roughly two-and-a-half months of extra learning’.”
So blazes a news story published in The Times on January 10th 2020. The article quotes from research suggesting,
“The results indicate that air filter installation is a highly cost-effective policy to raise student achievement “
And it goes on to point out that several London schools, having installed air filters in classrooms. have reported reductions in absence because of sickness, which teachers attributed to cleaner air.
Given my previous writing about the centrality of breathing in piano playing, regular readers will no doubt anticipate that none of this comes as a surprise to me; indeed, I believe that quality of air in my teaching studio is a paramount concern, and have encouraged players and teachers to take the issue seriously long prior to these new findings.
In this article I will offer some simple advice about air quality and the need to create a suitable environment for piano learning. But rather than focusing on the educational benefits in isolation, we need to consider the health benefits first and foremost…Continue reading The Pianist’s Air
New from Universal Edition, Adieu is a short and highly accessible solo piano piece by Luxembourgish composer and pianist David Ianni.
Composed in homage to Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg following his death in April 2019, the piece is suitable for players at upper intermediate to early advanced level.
Let’s have a listen to the piece and take a quick look at the UE publication…Continue reading David Ianni: ‘Adieu’
Gershwin’s Three Preludes for solo piano have been a staple of the American piano repertoire since their first publication in 1927.
Like many, I have long relied upon the 1992 Boosey & Hawkes edition, so I was intrigued to receive a new edition by Brendan Fox and Richard Walters, recently published by Hal Leonard.
Interest piqued, it wasn’t long before I found myself won over…Continue reading Gershwin: Three Preludes
New releases are usually a bit thin on the ground in January and this has proved true again in 2020, the respite providing the perfect chance to revisit the best albums of the last year.
2019 was a solid year for new jazz piano releases, many of which I have enjoyed repeatedly. Highlights have included Keith Jarrett’s superb Munich 2016 recording, Ahmad Jamal’s gorgeous Ballades, Abdullah Ibrahim’s Dream Time and Chick Corea’s double live trio CD Trilogy 2.
My personal favourite of the many good recent jazz albums has to be Hiromi Uehara’s Spectrum, however.
Following a succession of brilliant trio, ensemble and collaboration albums, Spectrum is Hiromi’s first solo piano studio album for a decade, and is a remarkable musical tour de force.
Speaking to The Japan Times, Hiromi said of the recording,
“As a pianist, making a solo album is really like, kind of being naked. There is nowhere to hide. There is no other instrument to play with in order to cover the sound. It’s really challenging, but at the same time, it’s the best way to fully enjoy this instrument…
It’s like having a conversation with myself. I can be really free, if there is nobody there to restrain me. I can go anywhere that I want in improvisation.”
Let’s find out where Hiromi’s playing led her …Continue reading Hiromi: Spectrum
In addition to their recent new editions and reissues of the music by Brahms and Busch, Breitkopf & Härtel continue to bring us fresh and brilliant new concert works.
Nicola Campogrande (b.1969, Turin, Italy) is one of today’s most exciting classical composers; his music has been performed around the world by such luminaries as Gauthier Capuçon and Lilya Zilberstein, with glowing praise from audiences and critics alike.
Campogrande’s compositions have also been featured on more than 30 CD recordings from a variety of labels.
Since 2017, Campogrande has published exclusively with Breitkopf, and an early fruit of their partnership is the recent publication of a solo piano concert work intriguingly titled Nudo.
Let’s take a peek…Continue reading Nicola Campogrande: ‘Nudo’
Celebrating their 300th Anniversary in 2019, august publishing house Breitkopf & Härtel reissued several heritage editions alongside their typically exciting new publications.
I have recently reviewed their edition of Joachim Raff’s Piano Sonatas and reissue of Clara Schumann’s celebrated edition of her late husband Robert Schumann’s complete piano works, with fingering by Wilhelm Kempff.
Now I’m looking at their reissued Complete Piano Works of Johannes Brahms, drawn from the Urtext of the Brahms Complete Edition issued by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreund, Vienna: this is the famous edition prepared by Brahms’ close personal friend Eusebius Mandyczewski (1857-1929).
And, breaking newer ground, I’ll also discuss Jakob Fichert’s new urtext edition of Adolf Busch’s (1891-1952) Piano Sonata in C minor Op.25.Continue reading Breitkopf’s Brahms and Busch
Paul Harris’s series of A Piece a Week books have been appearing at regular intervals over the last few years. Faber Music have just released the Grade 6 book, so let’s consider the series as a whole…
I’ll start with a quick reminder that while the books appear in the best-selling Improve Your Sight Reading series, they are not sight reading practice books per se. Rather they aim to support the broader development of music literacy.
In this review I will first explain the concept behind A Piece a Week, give an overview of the actual material included in the books, and explain how they develop to offer superb material across the range of playing levels from UK Grade 1 to the new Grade 6 book.Continue reading Paul Harris: A Piece A Week
Phillip Keveren’s name will be known to many readers for The Phillip Keveren Series of music books published by Hal Leonard, numbering nearly 100 volumes published in the US, with many now also available here in the UK.
Keveren, described by his publishers as “a multi-talented keyboard artist and composer”, is a superb arranger. His publications, suitable for intermediate to more advanced players, include collections of music from rock, pop, gospel, folk and jazz favourites, as well as several volumes dedicated to the music of stage, screen, worship service and Disney hits.
Those I’ve seen are uniformly excellent, combining musical authenticity with pianistic intelligence, and are rapidly becoming an indispensable resource within my teaching studio.
For his latest addition to the series, Piano Calm, Keveren has turned his hand to composing 15 original pieces, suitable for intermediate players, which he describes as ‘reflective solos’. And I think they are excellent.
So let’s take a look…Continue reading Phillip Keveren’s ‘Piano Calm’
“Advice is like the snow. The softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon and the deeper it sinks into the mind”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
One of the key roles of a piano teacher is to help their students make direct improvements in their playing. To do this we must identify the priority areas that need attention, hopefully without turning into the scolding teacher in the photo above.
In this article I will share some suggestions on how to offer helpful criticism, encouraging positive progress and enthusiastic learning.
I will cover the following points:
- Why Accuracy Matters
- The Piano Teacher as “Critical Friend”
- Golden Tips for Giving Constructive Feedback
Listening to our students play and offering suggestions for improvement is certainly not the whole of a piano teacher’s work, but in many lessons it will be a central feature…Continue reading Piano Teaching and the Art of Criticism
Wilhelm Ohmen’s My First Composers collections from Schott Music are proving to be a series which keeps on giving…
It only seems yesterday that I reviewed My First Haydn, having previously taken a look at My First Schumann and My First Beethoven. The series also includes collections of music by J.S. Bach, Mozart and Chopin.
The latest collection to join the series is My First Tchaikovsky …Continue reading My First Tchaikovsky
The start of any new year or season is for many a time for making resolutions: a time for ambition, grit and determination.
Whether it’s a fresh commitment to healthy eating and exercise, or a renewed self-discipline in setting aside time to practise the piano, this is a month where many make a decision to turn a new leaf.
But how can we foster perseverance and ultimately success?Continue reading The Pianist’s Resolution
This is a question which for too many pianists leads to such answers as:
- I’m working on Allegro, but it’s not yet ready to play;
- I finished learning Andante last month, but I’ve forgotten it now;
- I don’t have my music books with me, so …
What a pity!
The reality is that too many of us can’t sit down at the piano without notice, without notation, and without embarrassment, and simply play something!Continue reading Active Repertoire Challenge 2020
In addition to Mike Cornick‘s new solo piano collection Ragtime Blues and more (which I recently reviewed here), Universal Edition have just published his latest collection for one piano, four hands: Elgar Favourites arranged for Piano Duet.
Once again, it’s a collection that’s well worth a look, so let’s take one…Continue reading Mike Cornick’s Elgar Favourites
The arrival of a new collection from the pen of composer and arranger Mike Cornick is always likely to be greeted with enthusiasm.
Cornick’s latest two publications are Ragtime Blues and more and Elgar Favourites (arranged for piano duet). The latter will be reviewed separately, while in this post I will be having a look at ‘Ragtime Blues and more’…Continue reading ‘Ragtime Blues’ and more…
Like many other musicians (and having musical children) I walk into the next two weeks packed with rehearsals, performances and concerts.
It is so easy to become stressed, anxious and to not remember that Christmas is suppose to be about joy (as I mentioned in my last year’s Christmas blog post).
Yet, I want to suggest that over these next two weeks we look out for the special musical gifts we can receive from children we teach over this festive period.Continue reading Musical Christmas gifts from children
As publishers prepare for the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, several have been revisiting his Piano Sonatas, a steady flow of which have been arriving for review over recent months.
First to deliver their new version of the complete cycle are Bärenreiter, whose edition of all 35 Sonatas (including the three early Sonatas WoO 47) is now complete and available in a variety of formats.
An epic achievement, this new edition has already won the hearts and minds of some of the world’s greatest Beethoven interpreters; those giving glowing endorsements include Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Robert Levin, Leslie Howard and Igor Levit (whose recording of the cycle I recently reviewed here).
To quote Paul Badura-Skoda:
“Jonathan Del Mar’s Beethoven edition is unparalleled in terms of its precision. What I value most about it is the use of lesser-known or previously unknown sources, the commentary, which is the most extensive to date, and the discussion of problematic sections. I wholeheartedly recommend this new edition of Beethoven piano sonatas.”
So now let’s take a more in-depth look…Continue reading Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: the Jonathan Del Mar edition
One Saturday morning in March 2018, I learnt that my good friend the composer, author and educator Paul Harris had been rushed to our local hospital emergency department overnight…
Paul had for several months been battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a virulent cancer that had already seemed to take so much from him.
He was receiving excellent treatment at The Churchill Hospital in Oxford, but having taken a turn for the worse the previous night, Paul had been instructed to come straight to Milton Keynes, his nearest A&E.Continue reading Paul Harris: Cancer and Positivity
Keith Jarrett has long been one of my piano heroes, his album The Melody at Night, With You an all-time favourite recording.
I am absolutely delighted that, 20 years after its release, Schott Music have brought out a complete sheet music transcription of the ten album tracks, by Friedrich Grossnick.
I’ll get straight to it – this music is a very special recommendation.
Let me tell you why…Continue reading The Melody at Night, With You
Following her superb recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2017, leading classical music magazine Gramophone named Beatrice Rana Young Artist of the Year, noting:
“Young musicians usually impress in one of two different ways. One is to dazzle with the exuberance of youth, the sheer joy of their own talent and personality. It’s a hard thing to resist, but one would be wise to wonder if it will still be serving them so well a decade or so down the line. The other is to show technique, yes, but also the poise and wisdom often lazily assumed to be beyond the attainment of youth, but which, if you’ve got it, will surely never go away. A few minutes with the playing of Beatrice Rana leaves you in no doubt which category she is in.”
Two years later her latest recording, a dazzling account of music by Ravel and Stravinsky, further affirms Rana as one of the most extraordinary artists of our time.
No difficulty in selecting my Recording of the Month…Continue reading Beatrice Rana: “Reflexions”