Practice Resolutions

Featured Image: Wolfgang Lonien

Guest post by Liz Giannopoulos

As the New Year begins, my thoughts turn to my practice routine, and I’m full of good resolutions about what, when and how I will practise.

The new term also provides an opportunity to reflect on my students’ practice habits and how I can encourage them to commit to regular and effective practice.

Continue reading Practice Resolutions

Active Repertoire Challenge 2019

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 2019

Accomplishment

The Fermata Series

”In the beginning of training, it may seem as if you are doing very little. You compare yourself to your teachers and to more accomplished people, and you may despair at ever reaching their levels.

“But if you are diligent, then it is inevitable that you will make something of yourself. Once you reach such a plateau, you will be able to relax a bit and contemplate where you are on your journey.”

Deng Ming-Dao,  365 Tao Daily Mediations (204).

Piano students, and adults in particular, often underestimate the time it will take to become proficient players, to play the music they aspire to, and to sound as good as they hoped.

When newcomers ask me, “how long until I can play really well?” I typically answer, “How does ten years sound?

It’s an easy (if entirely random) guess, but can be qualified by pointing out that if “really well” equates to ABRSM Grade 8 (the highest amateur qualification), then in real terms it means progressing by around one Grade per year, with a bit of slack thrown in for good measure!

But the more important truth, which I quickly bring up, is that EVERY STEP of the journey is actually a real ACCOMPLISHMENT in which the player should take satisfaction.

We may wish our skills could be multiplied, but often moving a single step at a time counts for more. Two PLUS One is actually more than Two TIMES One.

And ultimately, as piano playing is a journey with no fixed destination, it’s important that we really take time to enjoy the scenery.

If patience is really a virtue, perhaps it is because learning to appreciate each moment leads to a rewarding lifetime of happiness and health.


Fermata Series

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


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Slow Progress

The Fermata Series

”Often we find ourselves in trouble simply because we are going too fast, disregarding signs of trouble that we would have seen if only we had been going a little slower.
All too often we get caught up in the rush; our whole culture is based on it.  Get ahead!  Do it now!
Sometimes the right thing to do is not to do anything.”

Solala Towler, Cha Dao (Singing Dragon, 2010)

These comments (which are taken from a book about the preparation and consumption of tea) offer golden advice which can be applied to pretty much any aspect of our lives. No wonder so many of us feel completely worn out most of the time!

For our purposes, I want to touch on the value of taking our time in two areas:

•  firstly teaching and learning
•  and then our personal piano practice

Continue reading Slow Progress

ABRSM: New Directions 2019

Exclusive Interview with Michael ElliottChief Executive, ABRSM


Having attended a few ABRSM conferences in recent years, the teachers’ conference last Saturday was notable in many ways. On a visible front, it was noticeable that having sold out well in advance, the venue was teeming with enthusiastic professionals.

More subtly, it seemed to me that ABRSM as an organisation was invigorated, the spring back in its collective step, its message an overwhelmingly positive one, in spite of the challenges which presently face music education.

Against this backdrop, it was unusual too that in his welcome address, ABRSM’s Chief Executive Michael Elliott refrained from listing a string of achievements and announcements for the future, as has typically been the case.

Happily, I later in the day had the chance to sit down with Michael, together with ABRSM’s new Communications Officer Kerry Sheehan, to follow up on a few announcements from previous years and other rumours doing the rounds.

Michael gave generous and full answers, outlining his vision and a raft of forthcoming developments which will undoubtedly please readers here. And he was happy for me to audio record our interview and publish this full transcript, in which I hope readers will capture something of his enthusiasm and positive message!

Continue reading ABRSM: New Directions 2019

Learning to Play with Precision

In my recent article  Why Bother with Scales?  I considered the many benefits that arise from regularly playing and teaching scales and arpeggios.

In this shorter post I’m going to hone in on one especially important advantage which is sometimes overlooked entirely:

Regular scale and arpeggio practice trains the brain and the fingers to develop precision in judging and playing all intervals up to a fourth, using any standard combination of shapes and fingerings, and in all the standard keys.

This significant benefit is certainly not to be sniffed at, and fosters a technical ability that is otherwise unlikely to develop during the formative stages of learning the piano.

Let’s consider how this works…

Continue reading Learning to Play with Precision

Becoming a Virtual Virtuoso

Guest Post by Mark Tanner

In this post Mark Tanner – author of The Mindful Pianist and Mindfulness in Music – considers the benefits of virtual ‘ghost’ practising …

Continue reading Becoming a Virtual Virtuoso

Christmas Repertoire Sheets 2018

Christmas is one of those times in the year when having a few party pieces up our sleeves is particularly important – and of course family and friends are often keen to hear us play their seasonal favourites, so it’s worth adding those into the Active Repertoire mix over the next two months!

With this in mind, here’s a special Christmas gift to Pianodao readers – a Christmas Repertoire Sheet which can be used alongside your and your students’ standard Active Repertoire Sheet.

pdf-logo   Christmas Repertoire Sheet 2018  [PDF Download]

The Christmas Repertoire sheet can of course be used how you like, but my own suggestions are shown on the Sheet itself, and will hopefully be clear to those taking part in the ongoing Active Repertoire Challenge.

As always, the choice is with each player. And however you use the Christmas Repertoire sheets, I hope that it will make a positive contribution to your piano journey over the next two months!

Continue reading Christmas Repertoire Sheets 2018

Curved Fingers, or Flat?

This post is an exclusive excerpt from the new monthly online newsletter from the UK branch of EPTA, The European Piano Teachers’s Association.

In order to reach a wider audience, Chair of EPTA  Murray McLachlan  has kindly agreed to Pianodao exclusively hosting the newsletter for non-members, as well as picking a short piece each month to feature as a guest post here.

This month, I’ve picked this short but very helpful and thought-proving piece written by Murray himself… and below you can download the full newsletter for additional free articles!


Curved Fingers or Flat Fingers?

Guest Post by Dr. Murray McLachlan

A big subject, but in essence I would say a lot depends on the style of the music…

If I want to play rapid semiquavers in pre-Beethoven repertoire then I naturally curve my fingers for more articulation.

If I wish to have more legato and sonority in the romantic repertoire, then they tend to flatten instinctively.

Of course, we should all try to find power, focus and physical control from the knuckles. It is fundamentally bad practice to collapse the first and second joints of the fingers.

However, pupils with hypermobility may well find it difficult not to collapse their finger joints inwards as they play. Perseverance, patience and awareness of what they are doing can help.

Stress, tension and stiffness should be avoided at all costs. It can certainly help to focus on the knuckles and visualize internally a mental picture of finger movement from the ‘bridge’ of the hand (knuckles).

But in terms of how curved fingers should be in terms of a default position, try experimenting:

To find a pianist’s natural finger curve, get them to pick up a pencil without thinking about it. Just say have the thumb on one side, and the fingers on the other. After this is done, look at the curvature of the fingers.

What is there is what is comfortable – the correct curvature for that pianist at that time in most normal contexts.


EPTA Piano Teacher Talk No.1 (September 2018)

This article is drawn from the EPTA Teacher Talk newsletter. If you would like to read more from and about EPTA UK, please download:

pdf-logo   Piano Teacher Talk No.1

Special Thanks to Karen Marshall, Murray McLachlan and Liz Dewhurst. 

Musical Focus is Paramount

The Fermata Series

Musical focus is paramount.
So many pupils are concerned with technical problems divorced from their musical raison d’être. Their focus is solely on the hurdle and it’s insurmountability.
But the problems virtually disappear and the road opens when they are seen within a musical context. Even the most difficult passages, given musical motivation become not only approachable but achievable.”

Norma Fisher
International Piano, Sept/Oct 2010

So often as a teacher I come across players who “learn the notes” first, only later considering the expressive intentions of the music they are studying.

“For next week, why not try to add the dynamics…”

It’s certainly an easy trap to fall into – reading the notation, working out finger patterns, discovering the music with a systematic, segregated scheme in mind, rather than trying to “run before you can walk”.

And yet I always recommend that players try to pay attention to the dynamics, articulation and other expressive details as early as possible in the learning process. Adding these as an after-thought has always seemed to me a slightly odd way to do things.

More important still, surely we benefit from seeing the “big picture” when starting any musical endeavour or project. Best, where possible, to first discover any piece of music sound before symbol – it is in the hearing of a piece that its content is most powerfully and memorably communicated, and unless we have some aural concept, it can prove difficulty to muster sufficient motivation to commit to learning, absorbing and mastering the detail.

Learning becomes uninspiring.

Looking at the photo at the top of this post, we so could easily, finding ourselves in this scene, study the detail of the plant and insect life, without noticing the golden sun which illuminates it all.

In the same way, I believe that the expressive intention of a piece of music is the very thing which brings light to it, giving it meaning.

As Norma Fisher so eloquently puts it,

“…the problems virtually disappear and the road opens when they are seen within a musical context. Even the most difficult passages, given musical motivation become not only approachable but achievable.”

Fermata Series