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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Pianodao is Two!

Happy Birthday to Pianodao …

That’s right – it’s been a massive, erm, two years since the Pianodao site launched. In some ways it seems like only yesterday, while in other ways it seems an age. And already I can look back on a huge amount of work, and be immensely grateful for the loads of support from readers.

In raw statistics, Pianodao has welcomed approaching a quarter of a million visits from more than 90 countries. It has recently been listed as one of the Top 20 piano blogs in the world, and became the first piano blog featured by WordPress in their Discover section, which spotlights the cream of the blogging community.

I literally had no idea it would be possible to gain this sort of reach, so the journey has been an unfolding and sometimes emotional surprise to me. And I would encourage any aspiring writer with some good ideas to commit them to a blog – it’s a great and unfettered way to engage with others!

What better time to say THANK YOU to all who support the site!

And in keeping with the theme of the site, it’s a good time to reflect. I’m going to do that by highlighting just a few of the posts which for me, as a writer, stand out as important in my personal journey as a writer here so far…

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A Policy for Touch

The hottest potato on UK Piano Forums within the last couple of weeks has been the issue of using touch in our teaching.

One good thing to come from the discussion has been the reminder that UK professional associations usually have Codes of Conduct requiring teachers to obtain written permission from parents before using touch with students under the age of 18.

This post considers how we can create such a policy, and why it is actually useful to do so.

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The Pianist’s Anxiety

The Pianist’s Reflections

“Leave your thoughts in a place you will not visit …”

Most of the pianists that I have met are easy to describe as “deep thinkers”, and I would argue that an aptitude for analytical thinking is an essential skill for the advanced piano player.

But the jump from analytical thinking to overthinking is a small one. And here’s the problem. In recent years, we have become increasingly aware that overthinking any problem can break rather than solve it, and can often lead us to bizarre conclusions. Overthinking is inextricably linked to anxiety.

If we overthink an upcoming performance, this can undoubtedly contribute to performance anxiety. And in the same way, if we overthink life in general, this can have a significant and debilitating effect on our whole lives.

A growing body of research supports our suspicions that many physical health problems are rooted in the activities of the mind. Overthinking can be associated with anxiety, fear, paranoia and mental instability, all of which can have serious physical as well as social consequences.

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The Pianist’s Handshake

The Pianist’s Reflections

Do you ever feel a bit uncomfortable about shaking hands with people when you meet them?

Concerned about hygiene, and all those germs you’ll pick up “pressing the flesh”?
Worried about having your piano-playing fingers crushed by the over-enthusiastic clench of Mr. Assertive?

Then read on, and I will go over a few points that might help!

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The Effects of the Gendered Musical Canon

Guest Author, The Reverend Professor June Boyce-Tillman writes about the effect that the lack of female composers in music syllabuses had on a young child’s aspirations…

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