“Sound before symbol”: lessons from history

Pathways for Teaching

Musicians and teachers often debate the relative merits of aural-based learning versus a notation-driven approach. Seeing the topic wheeled out for discussion again recently, I was reminded of this brilliant quote by the legendary concert pianist Andor Földes, taken from his book “Keys to the Keyboard” written back in 1950 :

“There is no such thing as a proper age for a child to start playing the piano. I avoid saying ‘to start his musical education’ because I believe that an education in music should start very early, perhaps years before the child ever actually learns how to read notes, or can find his way among the black and white keys.”

Földes’ basic point – made some four decades before “The Sounding Symbol” by George Odam re-popularised the phrase “sound before symbol” – is that music is essentially an aural language, and that playing and reading must build on that foundation.

Continue reading “Sound before symbol”: lessons from history

“Get Set! Piano”: six reasons to get excited!

Sheet Music Review

“Get Set! Piano” comprises two method books, two books of supplementary pieces, and extensive free website materials, all brought to us by Harper Collins. Aimed at younger beginners, the books claim to cover everything that pupils would need to know prior to taking Grade One piano (with any of the main boards).

Continue reading “Get Set! Piano”: six reasons to get excited!

Healing with music

Guest author Simon Reich shares an inspiring personal testimony to the power of music.

With war in Syria, daily muggings, deadlock in the Middle East, domestic violence and escalating racial tensions, we are in desperate need of some good news stories.

Being a creative musician, you may not realize it, but you hold the key to giving the world some peace and inspiration.

Continue reading Healing with music

Piano Lessons: Why 45 minutes?

During a recent forum discussion I mentioned that I prefer to teach my students for 45 minutes weekly or fortnightly, usually even when they are beginners (more advanced students often come for a consultation lesson once a month for 90 minutes).

The question was asked,

“45 minutes for somebody on Grade One is a lot, surely?
Isn’t 30 minutes plenty long enough?”

Continue reading Piano Lessons: Why 45 minutes?

“Grade by Grade”

Sheet Music Review

This innovative new series of books from Boosey & Hawkes makes the bold claim to be “the complete resource for the grade ‘x’ pianist”. But does it live up to its aims?

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ABRSM Encore! A game changer?

Sheet Music Review

Over the years ABRSM have produced a steady flow of graded piano repertoire books to supplement their exam resources, with series such as A Keyboard Anthology and Short Romantic Pieces becoming standard items in the teacher’s library.

However, one could have been forgiven for wondering whether some of these selections were made up of the most obscure pieces set in previous syllabi rather than the most widely enjoyed. So when Faber Music brought out their “Best of Grade…” books a few years ago, those looking for a one-stop collection of consistently appealing and varied pieces breathed a collective sigh of relief.

This summer ABRSM have responded with the publication of Encore, a set of four books which, based on their own data, include the most popular pieces featured in graded exams over the last decade or so.

Happily these collections include some great in-house pieces and arrangements now unavailable elsewhere. So, might these books play a central role in students learning over the next few years?

Let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading ABRSM Encore! A game changer?

Arvo Pärt at 80

“I have discovered that it is enough if a single note is played beautifully. This single note, the sense of peace or silence have a calming effect on me.”

So says Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer born 80 years ago on 11th September 1935.

Pärt has become one of the world’s most recorded and best loved composers, his works bringing calm reflection, and touching audiences around the world.

Here is his piece Tabula Rasa, one of the first of his compositions that I encountered as a music student many years ago, which remains a favourite (Part 2 also follows below, and is very special) :

The timeless and inclusive spirituality of Pärt’s music acts as an antidote to the pressures and stress of life in the modern age. The composer explains:

“The more we are thrown into chaos, the more we have to hold onto order. This is the only thing that helps us to restore our sense of balance, even if only a little, and allows us to see things in perspective and to be aware of the value of these things.
The greater the sense of order and the greater our ability to stand back and feel the wing-beat of time, the more powerful will be the impact of the work of art.”

Reflecting on his process as a composer, Pärt says:

“My music was always written after I had been silent in the most literal sense of the word. When I speak of silence, I mean the nothingness out of which God created the world. That is why, ideally, musical silence is sacred. Silence is not simply given to us, but in order that we may draw sustenance from it. This sustenance is no less valuable to me than the air I breathe.

“If you approach silence with love, music may result.”

Pärt’s music brings an eternity that will stay with us. Long may he stay among us too, gracing our lives with his beautiful music.

Happy 80th Birthday to Arvo Pärt.

Lucinda Mackworth-Young: “Piano by Ear”

Sheet Music Review

Lucinda Mackworth-Young’s new book “Piano by Ear” fills a massive gap in the market. Here’s my review :

Quite simply this is the book that I, and no doubt many other thousands of pianists and teachers, have been waiting for. For years!

I even considered writing something like it myself at one point, back at the time my own Keyquest books for electronic keyboard were just out. But thank goodness – Lucinda Mackworth-Young has saved us all the effort, and has certainly done a great job of it!

Continue reading Lucinda Mackworth-Young: “Piano by Ear”

Recovery from Abuse: Interview with Fiona Whelpton

The relationship between music teachers and their students is a particularly important one. At best it can nurture young people’s development both as a person and bring out the best of their talents as a musician. But what happens when boundaries are crossed and rules get broken?

Continue reading Recovery from Abuse: Interview with Fiona Whelpton

Feeling Impatient?

One thing is certain – everything changes. But sometimes things can take longer than we hoped for, in stark contrast to the general pace of our lives today. Is it any wonder that we often feel impatient?

Perhaps there are obstacles that won’t shift from your pathway. Wounds that won’t heal…

… or simply a favourite piece of music that you would love to be able to play on the piano, but which somehow seems far out of your reach.

As qigong master Kam Chuen Lam explains, some things simply take time – and are all the better for it!

“All authentic growth takes time. So does healing and the process of deep strengthening. It is like giving birth.

In the more than thirty years that I have been teaching and treating people in the West, I have always had to tell people that nature takes time to form, nourish and give birth to new life.

I tell my students, ‘You can’t make a plant grow by tugging on it every day. You simply put it in good soil, give it just enough water and light, and let it grow. If you do that it will grow naturally. That is its nature’.”

Master Kam Chuen Lam: The Qigong Workbook for Anxiety


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