Relax with Beautiful Pieces

Sheet Music Review

For those who play the piano purely for their own enrichment (rather than for certificates or prizes) the latest series of publications from Schott Music will be of special interest. The Relax With series is aimed at intermediate to advanced pianists who play “mostly at home for their own enjoyment”.

According to British concert pianist Samantha Ward, who put these selections together :

“Schott Music’s Relax With series is designed to help you unwind with some of the piano repertoire’s greatest works, alongside lesser known pieces from the Baroque period right through to the 20th century. I have tried to include as many different styles and techniques as possible, whilst remaining within the boundaries of ‘relaxing’ pieces of music.”

So let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Relax with Beautiful Pieces

Playing the Piano “for Fun”?

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I recently asked the members of an online piano teaching forum the following question:

“I want to learn to play piano for fun…”
What do you think when pupils/parents say this to you?

Perhaps it’s no surprise that answers ranged from “Get a trampoline!” at one end of the spectrum to “Great – that’s the best reason!” at the other. And the constructive debate that followed proved to be very interesting and enlightening. 

With this in mind, I would like to share a few of my own views and hope this will encourage further thought and ongoing discussion within the teaching and piano community.

Continue reading Playing the Piano “for Fun”?

Music Collaboration Online

SoundCloud has become, since its inception in August 2007, the website of choice for collaborating musicians, offering them the ability to freely upload tracks, sharing them privately with selected recipients, downloading, and leaving timed comments.

It’s been a simple but winning formula that has won considerable popularity against more complex rival collaborative offerings.

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The Definitive Bartók Edition?

Sheet Music Review

It is 1975. In the living room of a Victorian house in the middle of Bedford sits a nine-year-old boy at the piano. Fired by a life-changing encounter with the music of Mozart he recently started lessons, and dreams of one day “going in for” music.

For now though, he stares quizzically at the somewhat forbidding book on the music stand – 32 Klavierstücke by somebody called Béla Bartók. His piano teacher has set the first two pieces this week – The Little Lane and Game.

But what kind of music is this?? Very odd… but enchanting!

Four decades later, and one of the greatest joys and privileges I experience as a piano teacher is to see – time and time again – piano students young and old experience this same epiphany, this first discovery of the beguiling beauty and brilliance of Bartók’s extraordinary music for piano.

Continue reading The Definitive Bartók Edition?

Burgmüller: 25 Easy & Progressive Studies Op.100

J.F.F.Burgmüller (1806-1875) was a popular pianist based in Paris who improvised hundreds of Salon Pieces as well as composing a wide range of instrumental music.

He is best known today for his Piano Exercises, notable the 25 Easy and Progressive Studies Op.100. Although called “studies”, and very beneficial for piano playing technique, these are actually very attractive pieces which remain favourites with students of all ages.

I have recorded all 25 of these popular pieces as a resource to help students, and am making the recordings publicly available here so that other players and teachers can have a listen and freely download.

Individual tracks can be freely downloaded from my SoundCloud page here.

I hope you find these recordings useful – and perhaps feel inspired to play these very enjoyable classics for yourself!

The Sheet Music is available from Musicroom here.

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The “8 Pianos” Project

Interview with pianist and composer Dirk Maassen

With a huge following on sites including SoundCloud, Spotify and YouTube, Dirk Maassen is surely one of Germany’s most listened-to contemporary piano composers.

Continue reading The “8 Pianos” Project

Improve your Music Theory!

Sheet Music Review

ABRSM’s CEO Michael Elliott has reportedly said:

“Separating theory from practice can’t be a good thing.”

While this is a great soundbite for those promoting theory courses, the obvious irony here is that ABRSM have themselves, for generations, separated music theory from practice in their own examination syllabus and published materials.

Paul Harris’s new series ‘Improve your Theory!’, written for students preparing for ABRSM Theory Grades 1-5, aims to change this situation for the better.

Introducing the series, publishers Faber Music explain that:

“Firmly rooted in Paul Harris’s Simultaneous Learning approach, it will transform how music theory is taught and learnt, improving every aspect of musicianship along the way. Never before has theory been so fun or seemed so natural!”

The books have already been awarded “Best Print Resource 2016” at the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence, so let’s see if they live up to the hype…

Continue reading Improve your Music Theory!

Radical Resources for Sight-Reading

Sheet Music Reviews

One of the certainties of my professional life in music has been the frequency with which I am asked to sight-read.

This can include accompaniments at rehearsals, auditions, and even public concerts. More informally I often find myself sight-reading when pupils bring their own choices of pieces to learn. So I am very grateful to those teachers who, often in spite of my protests, ensured that sight-reading was a part of my musical learning.

In this review I will give an overview of two recent series of publications which aim to break the mould and make sight-reading more relevant and pleasurable than is often the case – innovative and exciting publications which I am sure readers will want to explore…

Continue reading Radical Resources for Sight-Reading

Rhythm Games (download)

A gift to Pianodao readers, this set of 37 full-sized cards are mostly in Common time, with a handful in Compound time.

They include easy note values, rests, dotted notes, ties and syncopation. A couple of blank cards are also included for you to copy and use for your own additions to the pack!

pdf-logo  Flash Cards (download PDF)

The set is far from comprehensive, and is based on cards I used when delivering group keyboard teaching in schools – so I hope that you enjoy it as it is, and feel free to develop something similar to fit your own needs!

Some Games

Here’s a few ideas of games you can play with students which will put these flash cards to creative use.

Although the main focus here is on pulse and rhythmic development, the activities integrate many other aspects of musical learning, including the development of aural memory, sight reading, music theory and writing, improvisation and composition.

You’re sure to think of many more similar activities and games, so these are just a taster:

Sound Before Symbol

This is an aurally based activity that helps students make connections between notation and music.

  1. For this game select four cards (with the same time signature) that include rhythms previously introduced.
  2. Lay out the cards and start clapping the rhythm of one card repeatedly (as a loop). If you have an electronic keyboard you could add a drum beat while clapping, or you could use any suitable music recording as a backing track (but this isn’t necessary).
  3. Ask the student to join in clapping the same rhythm.
  4. Finally ask the student to identify which card you are both clapping.
  5. Then repeat using a different card (or selection).
  6. This game can also be extended using two cards as a repeated loop – now the student has to identify which two cards of the four have been selected.

Clapping Game

This activity helps a student develop instant visual recall of rhythms when sight reading.

  1. For this game select four cards and fix them where they can all be seen (e.g. stick them to the board/wall, or stand them on the book rest or desk).
  2. Ask the student to clap the card that you are pointing to repeatedly on a loop.
  3. When you are ready, switch to a different card.
  4. Increase the speed at which you switch card.
  5. Then try the same thing with two pairs of cards (making two bar/measure rhythms).

Create a rhythm

This activity uses the rhythm cards as the basis of composing and writing. It is excellent as a music theory activity because it links notational understanding to sound.

  1. Having clapped a set of several cards, invite the student to arrange four cards in order to create a four-bar/measure rhythm phrase.
  2. Clap the phrase together, and discuss what aspects of the rhythm work best.
  3. Make changes and try again.
  4. Finish by writing out the four bar/measure rhythm and clapping it one more time, this time using the version the student has written out.

Compose a Tune

This can be an extension to “Create a Rhythm”.

  1. Take a four bar/measure rhythm and set the student a home assignment of writing a melody using the rhythm.
  2. Encourage the student to compose an answering phrase using similar rhythms.
  3. In the next lesson the student can provide their written notation and play their melody.
  4. Check that what the student plays matches what they have written, as differences here will point to any misunderstandings they have about the rhythmic notation.

Improvisation Game

This is a really simple way to encourage a beginner to start making up their own improvisations.

  1. Select one rhythm card and ask the student to play the rhythm using one note, then two notes, and then three different ones.
  2. Expand the note pattern, using the same rhythm, to four bars/measures.
  3. Add a second card, and ask the pupil to include both rhythms in their improvisation.
  4. Expand this to 8 bars/measures.
  5. Continue adding more cards and extending the length of the improvisation according to the student’s ability and enthusiasm.

Detective Game

To finish off, an activity that links all the others back to the music that the student is actually learning.

  1. Take the cards used in previous activities, and pick the most difficult or newest rhythm introduced.
  2. Ask the pupil to find where that rhythm appears in a piece they are currently learning.
  3. Clap the rhythm within the context of the musical phrase in which it appears.
  4. Finally, play that phrase in isolation before going on to rehearse the full piece.

Good luck!

There are so many variations on these ideas, as well as many great alternative games and activities which work well with individuals, groups and classes.

So these are just offered as an inspiration to get you started, and I hope you have fun making up your own ways of using the cards to foster musical learning!

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The blog exists thanks to generous DONATIONS from readers like you.
Regular supporters are welcome to join the TEA ROOM COMMUNITY.

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…

Continue reading My First Beethoven