Piano Teaching and the Art of Criticism

“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…

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Introducing ‘Pianodao Choice'

Fresh for 2020, I am overhauling the schedule and rationale of reviews on the Pianodao blog. Here’s a quick summary of what to expect.

Previously I have tried reviewing as many publications as possible. Having long focused on those which most interest and impress me, each review has ended with a rating: Recommended, Highly Recommended or Outstanding.

Including too many reviews can prove somewhat overwhelming however, both for me as their writer, and for Pianodao readers sifting through them all in search of something suitable.

Addressing the balance from this month, my Pianodao Choice review each midweek will showcase one publication of special interest. And each month I will try to include repertoire suitable for all, from beginner to virtuoso pianist.

I am doing away with simplistic ratings, and hope that readers will approach Pianodao Choices mindfully, using the information and opinions within each review to help identify resources which for them deserve a closer look.

I will continue publishing larger group review articles as these can complement the weekly Pianodao Choice nicely, as well as the Recording of the Month and Building a Library book reviews.

And in addition to the midweek reviews, new Pianodao articles each weekend will of course continue to address the broader Way of Piano.

This all takes a lot of (unpaid!) work, so if you possibly can, please show your support by making a small donation using the red button below….

Thank you!


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The Pianist’s Resolution

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

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

Active Repertoire Challenge 2020

What can you play?

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

Musical Christmas gifts from children

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

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.  

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Paul Harris: Cancer and Positivity

Building a Library

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.

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Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body

Guest post by Doug Hanvey

Have you ever had (or been) a piano student who struggles to learn good technique, or to retrain poor technique previously learned?

I certainly have! As a piano teacher specializing in adult learners, many of whom have studied in the past, it’s not uncommon that I must help a student improve or even completely overhaul their technique…

For example, there’s Monique, my 60-year-old student who last studied as a child. Try as she might, Monique has continued to struggle with flying pinkies and collapsing wrists.

Even students with relatively good technique may need improvements. For example, I’ve studied and teach the fundamentals of the Taubman technique. Bringing awareness to the many subtle movements involved such as forearm rotation, in-and-out movements and “shaping” can be challenging for any student.

How might teachers and self-learning students facilitate the learning or retraining of technique?

Perhaps it’s first worth asking: are there any prerequisites for learning or retraining technique?

Continue reading Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body

ABRSM Goes Digital for 2020

Usually around this time of year I write a report from the annual ABRSM Teacher Conference (for more info you can follow these links to the reports from 2016, 2017, 2018, and my 2018 interview with chief executive Michael Elliott).

This year I wasn’t a media guest at the conference, but in any case ABRSM chose to make their biggest announcements online. And two of those announcements are pretty significant…

This article offers a quick update on ABRSM’s new online booking service for exams, including some details teachers may have missed, as well as taking a look at their new online learning platform, Journeys: Guitar.

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Winter Repertoire Challenge

The Winter Repertoire Challenge is ideal for players of all ages, and offers a great opportunity for developing your Active Repertoire at the piano. Are you up for it?

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Playing like the Winter Sun

Those looking to “catch some rays” may head for an exotic tropical beach, but as I drove an early morning errand a few days ago I was struck by the purity of the winter sun blazing brightly, but low, on the horizon.

The fact that in winter months the sun is lower in the sky doesn’t change its essential nature or dim its brightness, even though cloud cover might. On a clear morning, the low angle of the sun only makes it seem brighter.

Blinding, even.

The low winter sun is just as virtuosic as the blazing beast of the equator. The difference of course, is the angle of view, the more modest apex, the changed attitude towards altitude.

Piano Journey

Observing this puts me in mind of how our attitude similarly determines our view of the piano repertoire.

Some devote their piano journey to the pursuit of altitude, learning ever-harder pieces in their ascent to virtuoso prowess.

Others are more content to play “for pleasure”, perhaps neither striving for the same heights, nor ignoring them. They simply enjoy a different viewpoint.

Those who devote their lives to playing the most difficult repertoire may end up doing so with great difficulty.

Better, I believe, to devote ourselves to playing the most beautiful music, and playing it with great beauty.

As the great writer Albert Camus once wrote,

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

Albert Camus

Continue reading Playing like the Winter Sun