Bartók: For Children

Sheet Music Review

Bartók’s seminal collection For Children is, in my view, one of the few absolute essential classics of the piano pedagogy repertoire – a work which has in equal measure both charmed and challenged generations of young pianists, and seems as popular with my students today as ever.

Two new versions of this milestone have appeared in recent months: a single-volume complete edition from Boosey & Hawkes, and a brand new urtext edition from Henle Verlag in partnership with Editio Musica Budapest.

In this review I’m going to present each, with some concluding thoughts on their relative merits, and recommendations of which edition will suit whom.

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Working Positively with Parents

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

Pushy Parent Syndrome

Is this something you are experiencing in your studio?

I recently attended a teacher meeting where a teacher was relaying her recent experiences with a very difficult parent of a young 6-year-old student. As I pondered the topic I realised that ‘pushy parent syndrome’, luckily, has not been something that I’ve recently encountered as regularly as in my young teaching years.

I felt it may be helpful to share some practices I’ve developed which have certainly made my teaching life far easier.

My approach is partly a conflict resolution one.  I would add its a “work in progress” – I would never claim to have all the answers and I’m still learning constantly after over 25 years of piano teaching!

I say conflict resolution because a relationship between a teacher and parent has potential for conflict, simply because the parent purchases the lessons and the child receives them. The relationship is a triangle – if anyone has ever had a dotted line with two managers you will know first-hand the problems that can cause.

  • The parent’s needs may be different to the child’s – conflict.
  • The parent’s expectations may be different to the abilities of the child – conflict.

Before you know it, you are jam-sandwiched between the child and the parent. So, what are the practical things I try to employ to make things easier and – most importantly – best for the student whilst maintaining good professional practices?

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Pianodao: Review of 2017

2017 has been a fabulous year in so many ways!

I want to start by thanking everyone who has supported me – personally and professionally – and the Pianodao site this year,

The site has welcomed 120,000 visits, coming from almost every country in the world (more than 90 – but there just a few central African countries still resisting the site’s charms!) and has been recognised as one of the top 20 piano blog sites worldwide.

THANK YOU!!

Here are some highlights – specifically I will list the Top Ten Most Read Reviews of 2017, as well as the Top Ten Most Read Articles.

Phew! Here goes…

Continue reading Pianodao: Review of 2017

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.

Continue reading How much musical baggage do you carry?

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?

Educational Resources

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 most cases I doubt it!) the notebook has always been a useful reminder during the lesson itself, and make 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 her next 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?

Dustin Hoffman’s Dream

The Fermata Series

Ever wished you could be one of the top Hollywood movie stars of your generation? It turns out that Dustin Hoffman had a different dream, as he relates in an interview with the Radio Times magazine (5-11 March 2016):

“I always wanted to be a piano player.
I grew up studying piano, particularly jazz.
I just didn’t have the talent.

I had the desire. I had the feeling for it – and I still have it – but I didn’t have a very good ear.
I couldn’t just sit down and play something if you whistled it, like many musicians can.
I could not read regular classical music quickly; it was all laborious for me.

I still feel I missed my calling in life.
If God said today, “You will be what you always wanted to be, starting right now, and that is a really good jazz pianist”, I’d quit everything and be quite happy.”

This collection of thoughts and statements suggests to me many ways in which we use language quite loosely. What, for example, is “a piano player” or for that matter “a really good jazz pianist”? Are these labels limited to those who can earn a living as a performer? At what stage in one’s development as a pianist is one allowed to use the term?

And then there is the question of “talent”. If ever there was a word that is used to convey so much, but actually conveys so little, “talent” is surely a contender!

Why did Dustin Hoffman believe that he “didn’t have the talent”? Did a teacher or parent take him to one side and gently break the news? Did he fail an exam or lose a competition? Or did he simply submit to the worst insults leveled at him by his own inner critic?

The answers to these questions are perhaps not for the knowing, but it is interesting that Dustin Hoffman goes on to talk about the ideas contained in Kung Fu Panda 3, the latest movie he is involved with.

Hoffman concludes the interview with this thought:

“One of the themes of Kung Fu Panda 3 is that they use the word “Chi”, in other words finding your inner self; the purpose of life is to find your inner self. Your essence.
And I think you spend a lifetime doing that.”

For me, being a pianist is a real part of my “inner self”, regardless of whether I have a successful concert career or not. And I suspect many readers will identify with piano playing in the same way – as a core part of our identity and means of self-expression.

If so, do not listen to your inner critic, to the teacher who puts you down, to the competition judge who overlooks you, or to the audition board that pass you over.

Be sure to pursue your dream, because the rest is just noise.

Fermata-Series