The Musician’s Tool Bag

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

In my previous post, which you can read here, I considered the importance of reflecting, both in teaching and learning. As such, it was a thoughtful and ‘serious’ article. However, that is not necessarily the best way to approach teaching reflection to our students. Nothing engages the student and gets the message across like a bit of creativity and fun.

This article, therefore, is focused on incorporating reflection as part of the lesson and practice process.

The trouble with reflection is that it often seems long-winded. All the amazing advice along the lines of think 10 times play once is actually very hard to carry out. Whereas, it is very easy to get locked into a cycle of thinking with your fingers – at least then it sounds like something is happening!

In teaching students to incorporate reflection, unconscious learning with the support of tools to interrupt the spell of trial and error practice is immensely productive and enjoyable.

The Musician’s tool bag, The Box and the Language of Reflection are all ways to unconsciously build in reflection time.

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The Intermediate Pianist

Sheet Music Review

The Intermediate Pianist series is a fresh and ground-breaking approach which is full of brilliant musical ideas. It’s sure to enable pianists to play with greater understanding and engagement, and comes very highly recommended.

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Easy Concert Pieces: Book 3

Sheet Music Review

Reviewing the first two books in this series last year, I concluded:

No need to beat around the bush: I really like this series!

Put simply, the two books so far both include a really appealing range of pieces in varied styles, beautifully presented and well-edited, and with a well recorded CD as a bonus. The first book contains 50 pieces, the second 48, and each has a recommended retail price of just £11.99, which represents excellent value for what’s included.

I would certainly want to use these books alongside some more contemporary repertoire, but overall I think they are likely to become standard collections used in my own teaching practice in the coming months. And I can’t wait to see Volume 3 when it comes out!

Since writing that, both books have indeed become resources that I use in my own teaching practice, particularly with older beginner/elementary players, and the students using them have been uniformly enthusiastic.

And now Book 3 is with us, completing the series. So let’s take a look!

Continue reading Easy Concert Pieces: Book 3

How much musical baggage do you carry?

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

One of the things I love about teaching is hitting upon that perfect explanation, aural, visual or verbal, which offers immediate clarity. Sometimes the answer comes after much reflection and thought and sometimes it seems to hit, apparently, from nowhere.

This is what happened recently with an adult student. After a strong start to her piece she began scrambling, reacting to the notes on the score rather than working with control. I pointed out that to keep playing at her current speed would be to create musical baggage.

This was the first time I had used the term, but her comprehension was immediate simply because she already understood the common phrase, emotional baggage. The idea of musical baggage resonated with her and so has proven to be a simple but powerful aid to her practice.

Naturally, I developed the idea so it could benefit more than just one student.

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The Art of Piano Fingering

Book Review

CoverCompleteRami Bar-Niv is one of Israel’s most acclaimed and sought after pianists. He performs worldwide as a soloist with orchestra, recitalist and chamber musician, and has become an ambassador of goodwill for Israel. He has made several well received recordings for CBS, several of his compositions have been published and recorded, and he is widely in demand as a teacher.

Though some UK readers may not have come across Rami, those who are active networking on Facebook will have seen, and no doubt benefitted, from his erudite, constructive and generous support of other pianists, especially in the Piano Technique Discussion group, which he helps to administer. In short, Rami has won many friends around the world with his warmth, charm, and passion for the piano.

The Art of Piano Fingering

The Art of Piano Fingering is essentially a large manual for piano playing, published as a 212 page book via CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Several readers have asked me about it, and my opinion can effectively be summed up in just two words: Buy it.

Books about piano technique are rarely page-turners, and the idea of a large book that just deals with the nitty-gritty of piano fingering may not immediately appear enticing, but don’t be put off. In this review I will explain why I believe this book is an essential purchase for anyone who plays or teaches the piano…

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Time to rethink Practice Notebooks?

Sheet Music Reviews

As a child learning the piano, almost all of my teachers used a notebook to write down practice instructions, and more often than not included messages to parents and assessment of progress. As a teacher I have generally adopted a similar practice, asking each student to bring a simple shorthand pad (or more special writing book) to their lessons. Whether or not they read my notes (and in many cases I doubt it!) the notebook has always been a useful reminder during the lesson itself, and makes it easier to track progress towards specific goals.

Quite apart from whether pupils read their notebooks (according to Paul Harris, research indicates that 85% don’t) the use of a basic writing pad can be problematic. I often find that student practice notebooks have been used for other purposes, with pages missing, doodles, shopping lists, inexplicable messages and stains of unknown provenance.

On one occasion a child even brought a notebook that included his mother’s sums working out the cost of a cannabis order!

So the case for using a special bespoke notebook is a strong one – especially if it incorporates additional information to help students…

Continue reading Time to rethink Practice Notebooks?