Breathing with Bach

Lesson Notes

Please note: “Eva” is not this student’s real name.
However, her story is told here with permission, and with my gratitude.

Eva learnt piano as a child, but took a break in early adulthood. A few years ago she returned to playing. Since coming to me for lessons she has completed the higher ABRSM grades and gained a DipABRSM performance diploma.

Eva continues coming for a 90 minute consultation lesson once a month. Her focus is on expanding her repertoire, and at present she is working on Bach’s Partita No.1 in B flat major.

In this lesson, we address the importance of the breath in alleviating shoulder tension, using three dance movements from the Partita as example repertoire.

Continue reading Breathing with Bach

Clifford Curzon plays Schubert

Sunday Sounds

In times of uncertainty, music can provide wonderful consolation and a measure of hope and clarity.

One thing that I know for sure is that Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B flat Major D.960 is among my favourite pieces of music.

And so it was that, earlier this week, I posted this on my social media page:

“Starting the day with Schubert’s B flat Major Sonata D960 played by Wilhelm Kempff … wonderful pianism, and a balm to life’s uncertainties.”

The much respected John Humphreys commented:

“Wonderful – now try Clifford Curzon on YouTube!”

Well, here it is! And I’m sure you’ll agree that this is indeed a deeply enriching performance of this life-affirming masterpiece.


Sunday Sounds showcases great keyboard music featuring players past and present,
from classic recordings to great new music discoveries.


Pianodao is free to all, but funded with the help of reader donations. Regular supporters can enjoy additional benefits by joining online piano club The Pianodao Tea Room

Samantha Coates in Conversation

Exclusive interview with best-selling author Samantha Coates

Sydney-based music teacher and author Samantha Coates dazzled at this year’s Music Education Expo event, with a presentation brimming with energy and enthusiasm.

It was a pleasure to catch up with her afterwards to talk about her publications. In a warm, wide-ranging conversation, we discussed the importance of literacy, music theory and sight-reading, as well as Samantha’s recently developed passion for rote teaching.

But first I wanted to know more about Samantha’s back story …

Continue reading Samantha Coates in Conversation

How to motivate the demotivated student

Guest Post  by Amy Wakefield Taylor

Lack of motivation in our students is a problem that all teachers of piano can expect to encounter at some point in their practice, so it seems important to develop strategies for tackling it…

Continue reading How to motivate the demotivated student

Compassionate Boundaries

The Fermata Series

“It’s hard for us to understand that we can be compassionate and accepting while we hold people accountable for their behaviours. We can, and, in fact, it’s the best way to do it…

“We can confront someone about their behaviour, fire someone, or fail a student, or discipline a child without berating them or putting them down. The key is to separate people from their behaviours – to address what they’re doing, not who they are.”

Brené Brown, Ph.D, LMSW
The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden Publishing, 2010)

Online forums see daily requests for advice and support from teachers who are struggling with tricky pupil and parent relationships. For piano teachers, the problem often seems to stem from a lack of agreed boundaries around issues such as prompt fee payment, lesson attendance, punctuality, respectful behaviour and effective, regular practice.

How do we balance on the one hand enforcing contractual obligations and appropriate behavioural expectations and, on the other hand, offering compassionate support, putting musical learning needs first, and positively enthusing our pupils?

I would suggest that the only effective balance here is to give 100% to both.

Pupils and parents do not, cannot, and should not need to know every detail of how a teacher organises their personal world. Effective studio policies, clearly communicated, fence off our personal and professional lives, and are especially important for those of us whose studios are based within our homes.

Boundaries help us devote ourselves to our shared objective of pupil progress, giving of ourselves wholeheartedly and without distraction.

Only when our personal and professional boundaries are securely in place, enforced in a firm, fair and friendly way, can we move on from the sense of resentment which develops when we feel others are taking advantage of our compassionate commitment.

In my experience over the years, the vast majority of my students (and their parents) have respected my professionalism when I have offered, explained clearly, and stuck to fair policies.

And in turn, this has created a studio environment where commitment, friendship, respect, compassion and enthusiasm have thrived.

Let me close this Fermata pause for thought by handing back to Brené Brown:

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice…

“For our own sake, we need to understand that it’s dangerous to our relationship and our well-being to get mired in shame and blame, or to be full of self-righteous anger. It’s also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we’re going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability.”

Brené Brown, ibid.

Fermata Series

Grieg: To Spring

Sunday Sounds

As a child I became enamoured with the music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who was without doubt one of the great piano composers of his generation. As an adolescent student I found huge pleasure in learning as many of his Lyric Pieces as I could (they are all between around Grades 4-8), including the deliciously evocative To Spring. 

The unseasonably balmy weather in the past week has put me in mind of this lovely piece, which looks forward to the coming of Spring with infectious optimism.

There are several enjoyable and interesting performances of the piece on YouTube, including an ancient recording (barely audible) of the composer himself playing it at breakneck speed.

At the other end of the spectrum, Russian icon Sviatoslav Richter plays at less than half the composer’s tempo: a ponderous interpretation that suggests the maestro wasn’t expecting the ice to thaw anytime soon!

Here it is performed by the brilliant Alice Sara Ott, who we discover is also rather a dab hand at origami …


Sunday Sounds showcases great keyboard music featuring players past and present,
from classic recordings to great new music discoveries.

Pianodao is free to all, but funded with the help of reader donations. Regular supporters can enjoy additional benefits by joining online piano club The Pianodao Tea Room

Martin Roscoe’s Dohnányi Odyssey

photo: Eric Richmond

Exclusive Interview with concert pianist Martin Roscoe

As Hyperion Records release the fourth and final disc in Martin Roscoe’s complete survey of the solo piano music of Ernő Dohnányi it was a delight to have the chance to ask Martin about his Dohnányi odyssey, which has taken so much of his time over recent years.



I was keen to know more about how this extraordinary project came about, and the impact it has made on pianist and audiences alike …

Continue reading Martin Roscoe’s Dohnányi Odyssey

Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises

Sheet Music Review

Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises is a new addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy series published in the UK by Faber Music.

Subtitled, “Warm-ups, work-outs and scale routines to develop technique, the book is introduced by its global superstar author with this encouragement:

“Everything you play should be performed with love and musicality, so all of these exercises are designed to be satisfying exercise patterns that lead you smoothly through all the key centres. Enjoy your scale practice, and your piano playing will take off!”

Let’s explore the book …

Continue reading Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises

Rare Piano Music by Arnold Bax

Recording of the Month

For her debut recording for Usk Recordings, pianist Natalia Williams-Wandoch has selected an intriguing programme of hitherto unrecorded music by the great, but somewhat neglected, English composer Arnold Bax.



As she writes in her excellent booklet notes,

“I hope that you will find this unique and rewarding music as bewitching as I have done”.

Well, let’s find out…

Continue reading Rare Piano Music by Arnold Bax

Tom Blankenberg: “Atermus”

Sunday Sounds

I’ve been enjoying the music of Düsseldorf-based German musician Tom Blankenberg since a few years ago, when he first joined the Soundcloud community for pianists which I was running at the time. And in the intervening years it has been a thrill to see his music develop, to hear that he was touring, and now that his debut album is recorded and released.

“Atermus” offers an accomplished and rounded set of reflective piano works, all superbly recorded (which is perhaps not surprising given Tom’s background as a sound designer and film editor who also records for media and advertising) and released on the Less Records label.

Talking about his piano music, which belongs to the new “neoclassical” or minimal stream, Tom says:

“I tend to call them Short Stories or Polaroids or sometimes even Calendar Sheets.”

A wonderful description, but see what you think for yourself. For me, this is one of the best contemplative and reflective piano albums I’ve heard – I love it!

I hope you will agree that from the experimental harmonies of opening track Tori and through 13 successive moments of musical beauty, concluding with the lusciously melodic November and warmly intimate Nesuto, this is a stunning album!

By the way, in case you were wondering, Tom tells me that the striking title ‘Atermus’ is just a meaningless word which occurred to him while recording:

“I like nonsense titles more that too discriptive ones…”

The album was recorded at Van Heys Studio, Kleve, and in Düsseldorf between November 2017-April 2018, and brings together pieces composed mostly between 2012 and 2018 (together with one earlier piece dating from 1987).

The cover art, incidentally, is a reproduction of a work by Hiroshi Kjawano.

You can listen to the full album below, stream on Apple Music or Spotify, and it is also available to purchase on CD or vinyl. Enjoy!


Sunday Sounds showcases great keyboard music featuring players past and present,
from classic recordings to great new music discoveries.

Pianodao is free to all, but funded with the help of reader donations. Regular supporters can enjoy additional benefits by joining online piano club The Pianodao Tea Room