Autumn Repertoire Challenge

The Autumn Repertoire Challenge is ideal for players of all ages, and offers a great starting point for developing and building an Active Repertoire at the piano. Are you up for it?

Getting Started

As we all return from summer holidays and look ahead to the cooler weather and darker evenings, we can feel daunted.

What can we remember about piano playing? Hopefully we have several pieces ready to play, thanks to the Summer Repertoire Challenge, but also there’s a sense of the new, and that in the months ahead it’s time to work on new projects, prepare for concerts and exams later in the season, and leave behind what we’ve played before.

Having new projects is always exciting, but let’s not forget to continue playing our favourite pieces, ensuring that we always have a good answer to the simple question What Can You Play?

And it’s this question which underlines the importance of developing an Active Repertoire…

An Active What?

I have written here before about the need for pianists to take the time to enjoy playing the piano, not just working at it. 

And I am on a mission to enthuse players everywhere to develop an Active Repertoire. The Autumn Repertoire Challenge is rooted in this vision. 

There are two parts to the challenge:

Firstly, the Challenge encourage players to list three pieces that are performance-ready. Throughout the coming season commit to:

1. Play the three pieces regularly – if possible, daily. For most players this should only take a few minutes.

2. Try to memorise them. Allow the memorisation process can be as natural and unforced as possible over the coming months.

3. Play the pieces to others. Perform to family and friends as much as you can this autumn. 

Perhaps this season, with many moving to new schools, colleges and jobs, will bring an opportunity to play to a brand new audience.

Secondly, the Challenge encourages players to learn a selection of brand new pieces over the coming months.

The Autumn Repertoire Sheet includes nine spaces to list a new set of pieces you would like to have a go at learning.

These longer evenings can offer a good opportunity to sit down at the piano and tackle a host of new pieces which can later be honed and polished for performance as required.

Your Autumn Sheet

Use the sheet to hold yourself (and your students) to account:
Making a written list makes it official!

You can download your FREE Autumn Repertoire Challenge Sheet here, and distribute the sheets to other players and students:

pdf-logo   Autumn Repertoire Sheet

What’s Next?

If you are a teacher, think about opportunities for your students to perform their Active Repertoire pieces, and listen to them regularly in lessons.

If you are a player, make sure you keep your Autumn Repertoire Sheet with your piano music and use it to the full.

Challenge yourself and others to develop an Active Repertoire!

More Info: Getting Started Guide

Pianodao is FREE to all, but funded with the help of reader donations.
Supporters enjoy extra benefits by joining The Pianodao Tea Room.

The View from the Pavilion

An original short story.

The following story is written in the manner of an old Chinese folk tale. The meaning, perspective of the characters, and relevance to the world of piano playing, is for the reader to determine…

Continue reading The View from the Pavilion

The Pianist’s Brew

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

I used to be a coffee addict. Seriously. I had several pots of fresh coffee a day, and when I tried to cut back I experienced acute withdrawal symptoms.

Unfortunately though, coffee has some fairly unhelpful side-effects; among other things, it is especially bad for us if we suffer from anxiety (which is so common among pianists).

Having read about the virtues of tea drinking, I decided to try a switch. My previous experience of tea was the warm, milky, teabag variety. I realised that this is not exactly the drink that the great Daoist sages spoke of, so I jumped into the deep end and started to explore the wide variety of Chinese leaf teas that are available without straying too far from the beaten track.

To cut a long story short, switching to tea has proven one of the best choices I’ve made. Aside from tea drinking being better for my health (physical and emotional), my exploration of different Chinese teas has become a fascinating and absorbing journey in its own right.

It may seem odd to encounter an article about tea drinking on a piano site, but I will explain some of the reasons why tea might actually be the perfect brew for all pianists (and, well, people in general).

Also bear in mind that Pianodao addresses my interest in Daoist philosophy and practices; hence the “dao” part of the site name. Tea drinking is so embedded in Daoist culture and practice and that it might as well be described as a core tenet of the Daoist worldview.

As the contemporary Daoist master Zhongxian Wu explains:

Pin Ming Lun Dao is a commonly used Chinese phrase which means ‘to discuss and understand the Dao through the taste of tea‘. This phrase embodies the lifestyle of the most traditional Chinese sages and scholars, whether they be a master of Daoism,, Confucianism, Buddhism, martial arts, music, calligraphy, and/or Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

foreword to Daniel Reid, The Art and Alchemy of Chinese Tea, Singing Dragon, 2011.

With all this in mind, this article will address the following questions:

  1. Why is tea good for pianists (and people in general)?
  2. How does one get started with drinking Chinese tea?
  3. What different types of tea are there?

Tea is by far the single most popular beverage on earth today, so chances are that many reading this are already tea drinkers.

I hope that for those readers, the article will add to your enjoyment of tea, while for those who haven’t yet considered this fascinating subject my hope is that this article will pique your interest, and give you good reason to try something new!

Let’s start by going back in time….

Continue reading The Pianist’s Brew

Pianodao at Four, and the Knowledge Economy

It has now been four years since the launch of Pianodao

It’s been a rollercoaster journey, and over these years I have published more than 500 articles (with plenty more in the pipeline!), all of which are available to readers worldwide for FREE.

That’s a lot of work – and a lot of words!

Some would of course question the wisdom of spending so much time creating all this, but these words by Deng Ming-Dao have long been important to me, and underpin my outlook:

“Nowadays, many people regard knowledge as a mere commodity to be packaged, marketed and sold… We live in a world where the selfless sharing of knowledge is no longer a virtue.
The more knowledge that you give away, the more will come to you. The more you hoard, the less you will accumulate. Be compassionate to others. What do you have to fear by being open?”

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations (1992)

This doesn’t mean that we should give away all our professional expertise for free. But the internet offers us an unparalleled opportunity to be generous with our knowledge, raise awareness, promote discussion, disseminate ideas and improve the quality of communication and understanding. It offers a valuable supplement that can coexist alongside our professional work.

When I launched Pianodao I hoped of course that there would be those who would discover and enjoy the site, especially the Daoist philosophical angle.

But I couldn’t have anticipated that, four years on, the Pianodao site would have welcomed readers from almost every country, more than half a million times, and have established a reputation as a source of reliable information and advice. Goodness… THANK YOU!

I’ve often explained why I choose to write here, but mostly I would simply sum up Pianodao as being a “labour of love”.

Pianodao is truly my online journal, and the place where I can explore my thoughts, experiences, and enjoy the gift of writing for its own sake.

And it’s good to be able to share the journey.

I always hoped there would be an element of community around the site (and the Pianodao Tea Room has become a particular embodiment of that.)

Of course I’ve also welcomed the donations of those who appreciate the site, and who so generously choose to support it.

But the core of Pianodao has been, and will remain FREE.
It is not simply my gift to you: it is my gift to myself too.

Why not check out the very first post I ever wrote here, four years ago today: the vision outlined there still holds true!

How about You?

What does Pianodao mean to you? Please leave a comment below!

And if you have appreciated Pianodao and would like to make a donation to help towards the next four years, please do so right here:

Lingering Awhile with Friends

The Fermata Series

“Morning rain in Wencheng dampens rising dust.
Sprouting willows colour the guest house green.
Sir, let us drain another cup of wine.
Once you’re west of Yang Gate, you’ll have no friends.”

Seeing Yuan Er off on a mission to Anxi, Wang Wei (699-759)
translated Deng Ming-Dao, Each Journey Begins with a Single Step (2018)

This simple, if somewhat oblique verse has been bearing down on my thoughts in recent weeks. Ever since encountering it, it has stuck in my mind as a salient reminder of the importance of cultivating lasting relationships and savouring friendships.

It is also, in context, a poem about journeying. The writer entreats his travelling friend to wait awhile before taking the next step, not simply because it is wise to be circumspect, but because the security of the present moment provides the best launchpad into the uncertainty of the next.

Many will be starting out in new jobs, classes and positions as we enter a new academic year, or as the next concert season gets underway. We may, or may not, have friends lined up as travelling companions.

Soon there will be change, bringing fresh challenges, adventures and new faces into our daily lives. But for today, it’s important to treasure the friendships we have.

For those enjoying a holiday this month, I hope you will have a refreshing and relaxed time in the company of those close to you. I hope that you will linger in special moments, and craft wonderful memories that will strengthen you for the future and add incredible value to your life.

I have to confess that I too often rush my “goodbyes”, impatient for the next moment. But life does not comprise next moments; it is made up of the present ones. Let’s take time to enjoy them, and treasure our time with friends!

Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to the metaphorical link between this verse and our piano playing…

There will always be new repertoire to explore, including the latest compositions we’ve discovered as well as the manifold treasures of the keyboard literature from generations past…

But there’s really no hurry. So before stepping into new territory, remember to spend time with familiar favourites: the Active Repertoire with which you can relax, express and enjoy yourself.

As in life, so too in our piano playing,
let’s take time to linger awhile with our old friends.

Fermata Series

The Fermata Series offers short reflective posts, and a chance to PAUSE.
Read more from The Fermata Series here.

Pianodao is FREE to all, but funded with the help of reader donations.
Supporters enjoy extra benefits by joining The Pianodao Tea Room.

Tips for Playing at Sight

Tea Room Tips from the Pianodao Tea Room

Announcing our latest discussion event for Pianodao Members, I asked the following questions about sight reading:

  • Do you find it easy or difficult to play at sight? 
  • What approaches have helped you to improve? 
  • Do you have advice that might help others develop their sight-reading fluency?

Here are some of the highlights from the discussion which followed, which offer a wealth advice both for piano players and teachers…

Continue reading Tips for Playing at Sight

Can we really trust educational research?

I recently came across an article by Elizabeth Gilbert of the University of West Virginia and Nina Strohminger of Yale University presenting their findings that only a third of published psychology research is reliable.

Another article confirms that in the field of biomedicine (the basis of so much news coverage of medical advances) less than 50% of research proves reliable when the “reproducibility factor” is applied.

And astonishingly, we read elsewhere that “just 11% of preclinical cancer research studies could be confirmed”.

We might well speculate as to why such a body of inaccurate “research” is being published; certainly there are important questions here. And let’s be clear that it is academics themselves who are drawing attention to the problem, and expressing frustration.

If psychological and medical research are this unreliable, shouldn’t we also be concerned about the “research” that underpins educational theories and methods?

Continue reading Can we really trust educational research?

Flooding the Market

Researching my recent review of Joachim Raff’s brilliant piano sonatas (which you can read here), I was struck by the following quote by Liszt, included in the editor’s Foreword:

“Neither in terms of your peculiar circumstances nor in terms of their musical significance can I entirely endorse your writing and your publishing much too much.
The publishers’ interest you intend thereby to exploit will soon turn completely indifferent. In any case, you waste your talent and your name – yes, even put the stamp of commercial and artistic uselessness on your works from the outset, be they good or bad.”

Franz Liszt (1811-1882) in a letter to Joachim Raff.

Bearing in mind that Liszt’s own output of solo piano music alone takes up more the 200 hours, one might be forgiven for thinking, “pot, meet kettle”, but in Raff’s case the sheer quantity of his music has indeed made exploration and rediscovery of it more difficult.

A Contemporary Problem

But what was true of Raff in the C19th could equally be an issue for composers today, if not more so given the ease with which musicians and composers can now share their work with the world in the internet age.

Given the mounds of review materials I receive, I must wonder whether composers and publishers today risk falling foul of Liszt’s advice by flooding the market in exactly the same way that Raff did in the nineteenth century.

Surely, there has never been a larger corpus of easy to intermediate piano music on the market?

And how about the method book series which explode into exhaustive libraries in their own right.

How many books does a method series really need to comprise? Four, perhaps (such as Get Set! Piano, for example)? Maybe 16 (Piano Junior), or how about 326 (Piano Adventures, including its many permutations and the huge catalogue of supplementary materials)?

As a teacher and mentor, I really don’t consider it best practice to lock students into a single approach or, importantly, the musical output of a single composer or arranger.

And yet many composers, arrangers and publishing stables seem intent on producing sufficient material to cover every eventuality, an end-to-end solution which allows players to never explore the wealth of other musical personalities out there.

While in principle we must undoubtedly welcome this outpouring of creative activity, and the extraordinary range of musical choices and voices available, actually sifting through so much music certainly presents a significant challenge to both players and teachers.

And this challenge is even greater now that digital and self-publishing has become such an easy and universally-available way to bypass the quality assurance provided by a traditional commercial publishing house.

A Reviewer’s Dilema

This is where the role of the reviewer can prove especially helpful. But even for a reviewer, the flooded market can pose a challenge. I certainly find it difficult to stay on top of the vast amount of new material submitted to Pianodao, much of it genuinely excellent.

That’s one of the reasons that I decided a while ago to focus on reviewing just those publications that I can honestly recommend. Why spend my free time, unpaid, reviewing poor (or even “satisfactory”) material when there are better alternatives; ones which I am far more likely to play myself, or use with my own students?

I must also consider the point that as a reviewer, I too might “flood the market” with too many reviews, so that readers are left equally unsure which music to purchase or otherwise. Some of my friends have already jokingly suggested that my site is bad for their purses!

As a general goal, I aim to publish one review each week on Pianodao (occasionally more), and within that to cover a wide variety of material, from educational resources, through easy and intermediate repertoire, right up to virtuoso (often obscure) concert works and brand new contemporary music.

I always try to be clear about exactly who any reviewed publication is really for, rather than making a blanket recommendation. Of course it is for the reader to detect these nuances and work out whether a specific publication is right for them.

Likewise, I always include any reservations I might have, and try to spot any drawbacks (however minor) that make a publication less than “outstanding”.

Of course, by focusing primarily on reviewing just the best, most worthwhile and innovative publications, I leave myself open to the charge that my reviews are “hype”, and not to be trusted. But the cynic who mistakenly rushes to this conclusion is missing the point, and at their own expense.

As I continue to publish regular reviews here, I hope that I won’t “flood the market”, but that I will help Pianodao readers make discerning choices and discover the best repertoire.

And I would like to hear from you:

  • Are you overwhelmed by too many choices?
  • Do you struggle to fully use and get to know the music you purchase?
  • What reviews here do you most enjoy, and am I succeeding in helping you with your choice-making?

Please let me know or leave a comment below… thanks!

Pianodao is FREE to all, but funded with the help of reader donations.
Supporters enjoy extra benefits by joining The Pianodao Tea Room.

Hooked on Duets

Guest Post by Susan Bettaney

The Piano Duet form is an enriching experience which opens up a plethora of knowledge and repertoire dating back to the 18th Century, a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of a wondrous art form which evolved from the quills of the Great Composers ideal for the drawing rooms and salons of the times.

Continue reading Hooked on Duets

Summer Repertoire Challenge

The Summer Repertoire Challenge is ideal for young players (and their teachers!) embarking on the long school holidays, and offers a great starting point for developing an Active Repertoire at the piano!

Continue reading Summer Repertoire Challenge