My First Beethoven

Sheet Music Review

In my recent review of Schott’s ‘My First Schumann’ I concluded :

“This is a collection that will “keep on giving”, with such a great selection of pieces for students to enjoy over a number of years… ‘My First Schumann’ is a brilliant introduction to one of the world’s greatest ever piano composers. Highly Recommended!”

Hot on its heels comes the latest book in the series, ‘My First Beethoven’. Can it repeat the success of the previous book?

Let’s take a closer look…

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Stars: 14 Constellations for Piano

Sheet Music Review

‘Stars: Fourteen Constellations for Piano’ is the most recent publication from piano teacher and composer June Armstrong‘s Pianissimo Publishing. The pieces are for piano solo, in a contemporary style, and the level of difficulty is aimed at between grades 3 to 5.

The book joins the growing library of works from June, which include some dozen books to suit players from beginner level (‘Toy Box’ and ‘Paint Box’) up to and including the higher grades (‘Causeway Coast Fantasy’‘The Girona Suite’ and ‘Strangford Sketchbook’).

Taken as a whole, June has produced an impressive, growing catalogue of piano music written in a modern musical language which will appeal to players of all ages, and which reflects her motto “Music of the Imagination”.

Continue reading Stars: 14 Constellations for Piano

The Pianist’s Expertise

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

How do you feel when so-called “experts” say things that just don’t match your experience? Is their academic learning superior to your practical experience? Does the input of the “expert” leave you feeling more, or less confident than you were before? 

I firmly believe that practical experience and academic learning should ideally go hand in hand – the one neither replacing nor outbalancing the other.

But it’s helpful to consider how the right balance between the two is best achieved, because different temperaments tend to be drawn more to one or the other. Western society as a whole perhaps needs to redress that balance and listen more carefully to voices of experience.

So what can we learn from one another?

Continue reading The Pianist’s Expertise

My First Schumann

Sheet Music Review

Schott Music, the revered German publishers founded back in 1770, are maintaining an impressive commitment to new piano music publishing projects, including a wide range of resources and publications for players of all levels.

Of particular interest to intermediate players (and their teachers) will be there ongoing “My First …” series. The first two issues (Bach and Mozart – see below) have recently been joined by “My First Schumann”, which I am delighted to review here.

Continue reading My First Schumann

I got a nice new chair today

Sunday Sounds

This week has been a bit of a struggle, with rather a lot on my plate. On the plus side, I bought a new office chair to replace my broken one. And it’s good to celebrate small victories!

I sat down at the piano late yesterday evening and a little improvisation emerged from my fingers.

At the encouragement of my family I hit the record button, and here’s my second attempt at playing around with this simple tune. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow: Andrew Eales on SoundCloud

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Animal Jazz (Barbara Snow)

Sheet Music Review

Edition HH is a publishing house founded by Norwegian musician Per Hartmann, and based in Oxfordshire, UK. Their eclectic and ever-expanding catalogue embraces contemporary scores and scholarly performing editions of rarer items in the musical repertoire, from the Renaissance to the Romantic periods.

‘Animal Jazz’ is a recent addition, a selection of 15 brand new original short pieces for piano solo composed by London-based musician Barbara Snow.

Continue reading Animal Jazz (Barbara Snow)

“Shifting” Michael McDonald

Sunday Sounds

Michael McDonald grew up in North Carolina, USA, but has for the last 15 years lived in Helsinki, Finland, where he is the music teacher in an english-language school.

A gifted pianist, Michael enjoys exploring the sound-world of different and unusual pianos, which has drawn him to many of the more recent sample libraries from Native Instruments such as ‘The Maverick’, and ‘Una Corda’ (a prepared piano about which I will be writing more here soon!), as well as Spitfire Audio’s “Gwilym Simcock Felt Piano”, which is heard in this beautiful piece ‘Shifting’.

Michael says of this track:

“I work on music in my 6-year-old daughter’s room. My speakers are surrounded by a huge pile of stuffed animals. My daughter often asks me to ‘play her to sleep’ at night, so I work on these quiet piano pieces, mostly improvising around some simple idea, and later realize she’s fallen asleep.
I love the work of Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds and hope to include some small facet of their work in my own.”

Michael’s SoundCloud page contains a lot more tracks, many of them evocative experiments with the sounds of the latest new instruments he has acquired, and it is well worth exploring his work there:

Follow: Michael McDonald on SoundCloud

‘Magic Beans’ (Ben Crosland)

Sheet Music Review

‘Magic Beans’ is the latest collection of easy piano pieces by Ben Crosland, and will be published on Saturday 5th March 2016. Having received an advance copy from publisher Editions Musica Ferrum, I am delighted to offer this first in-depth review of the book…

Continue reading ‘Magic Beans’ (Ben Crosland)

Dustin Hoffman’s Dream

The Fermata Series

Ever wished you could be one of the top Hollywood movie stars of your generation? It turns out that Dustin Hoffman had a different dream, as he relates in an interview with the Radio Times magazine (5-11 March 2016):

“I always wanted to be a piano player.
I grew up studying piano, particularly jazz.
I just didn’t have the talent.

I had the desire. I had the feeling for it – and I still have it – but I didn’t have a very good ear.
I couldn’t just sit down and play something if you whistled it, like many musicians can.
I could not read regular classical music quickly; it was all laborious for me.

I still feel I missed my calling in life.
If God said today, “You will be what you always wanted to be, starting right now, and that is a really good jazz pianist”, I’d quit everything and be quite happy.”

This collection of thoughts and statements suggests to me many ways in which we use language quite loosely. What, for example, is “a piano player” or for that matter “a really good jazz pianist”? Are these labels limited to those who can earn a living as a performer? At what stage in one’s development as a pianist is one allowed to use the term?

And then there is the question of “talent”. If ever there was a word that is used to convey so much, but actually conveys so little, “talent” is surely a contender!

Why did Dustin Hoffman believe that he “didn’t have the talent”? Did a teacher or parent take him to one side and gently break the news? Did he fail an exam or lose a competition? Or did he simply submit to the worst insults leveled at him by his own inner critic?

The answers to these questions are perhaps not for the knowing, but it is interesting that Dustin Hoffman goes on to talk about the ideas contained in Kung Fu Panda 3, the latest movie he is involved with.

Hoffman concludes the interview with this thought:

“One of the themes of Kung Fu Panda 3 is that they use the word “Chi”, in other words finding your inner self; the purpose of life is to find your inner self. Your essence.
And I think you spend a lifetime doing that.”

For me, being a pianist is a real part of my “inner self”, regardless of whether I have a successful concert career or not. And I suspect many readers will identify with piano playing in the same way – as a core part of our identity and means of self-expression.

If so, do not listen to your inner critic, to the teacher who puts you down, to the competition judge who overlooks you, or to the audition board that pass you over.

Be sure to pursue your dream, because the rest is just noise.

Fermata-Series