“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over.
But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
As I write this, we are starting to consider and look forward to the relaxation of lockdown rules in the coming weeks, with a hope that schools will resume in March and most other activities by Easter. Being cautious, I had anticipated the probability of a return of face-to-face lessons by mid-summer, but it now seems possible that life will begin returning to some-kind-of-normal sooner. Hooray!
But what will we all have learnt in the last year?
How will we have changed in general, and as piano players?
And in what ways will the teaching and learning of the piano have been fundamentally and permanently altered?
Let’s consider the “Post-Pandemic Piano Player”…
Continue reading The Post-Pandemic Piano Player
Active Repertoire Project
For piano players, like everyone else, 2020 has been a huge struggle.
We have needed to re-evaluate our goals and quickly change many of our plans. But in the midst of the turmoil, many of us have found a renewed enthusiasm for piano playing, while many more have returned to the piano or taken up playing for the first time.
We enter 2021 with growing numbers of pianists and teachers embracing a fresh direction and revitalised piano goals.
Whether disenchanted with a dull exam-driven formula or eager to disentangle from over-prescriptive methodology, many are now hungry for a more inspired musical approach.
We want to embrace a more motivated, positive version of ourselves at the piano!
Thankfully, there is an answer…
Continue reading Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge
Building a Library
Nathan Holder’s latest book, written for children aged 8-12, bills itself as “The Ultimate Fun Facts Guide”, and works hard to fulfil its aim.
We are told,
“From Beethoven to Billy Joel, Mozart to Mary Lou Williams, and Scott Joplin to Stevie Wonder, be inspired by some of the most interesting people who have ever played the piano.
Why is my Piano Black and White? takes you on a musical journey to help you discover the weird and wonderful world of the piano, and the people who make music on it! Filled with fun fact, jokes, quizzes and music, after you read it, the piano will never be the same again!”
Let’s take our lives in our hands and jump in!…
Continue reading Why is My Piano Black and White?
The Pianist’s Reflections Series
Recently, my wife Louise had a minor kitchen accident which resulted in her breaking my favourite tea cup.
As she tells the story (on her social media):
“So I broke Andrew’s favourite teacup.
I felt I should make him a new one in pottery.
It lists a little bit but it works!
Andrew said that it’s the best thing that anyone has given him. He then went on to say that most people would’ve given up and started again once they noticed the listing.
Clearly I’m not most people!”
As you can see from the photo above, my new cup is a thing of great beauty! But as Louise admits, it’s hardly perfect from a functional point of view. The “listing” perhaps doesn’t look serious, but when pouring tea into the cup it’s quite obvious that when one side is full to the brim, the other side is only two-thirds full.
There’s another problem too. Inside the cup, there are quirky recesses that somehow trap the tea, making it impossible to empty the cup when drinking from it in a genteel, civilised manner. Only tipping it upside down really does the trick!
Here, for comparison, is a cup that has none of these issues:
A bit boring, right?
The beauty of my new mug is in its imperfection: its quirkiness, vibrant personality, its energy. And central to all that, the fact that it was borne of relationship, made with love.
Continue reading The Pianist’s Imperfection
The Pianist’s Reflections Series
The start of any new year or season is for many a time for making resolutions: a time for ambition, grit and determination.
Whether it’s a fresh commitment to healthy eating and exercise, or a renewed self-discipline in setting aside time to practise the piano, this is a month where many make a decision to turn a new leaf.
But how can we foster perseverance and ultimately success?
Continue reading The Pianist’s Resolution
Guest post by Doug Hanvey
Have you ever had (or been) a piano student who struggles to learn good technique, or to retrain poor technique previously learned?
I certainly have! As a piano teacher specializing in adult learners, many of whom have studied in the past, it’s not uncommon that I must help a student improve or even completely overhaul their technique…
For example, there’s Monique, my 60-year-old student who last studied as a child. Try as she might, Monique has continued to struggle with flying pinkies and collapsing wrists.
Even students with relatively good technique may need improvements. For example, I’ve studied and teach the fundamentals of the Taubman technique. Bringing awareness to the many subtle movements involved such as forearm rotation, in-and-out movements and “shaping” can be challenging for any student.
How might teachers and self-learning students facilitate the learning or retraining of technique?
Perhaps it’s first worth asking: are there any prerequisites for learning or retraining technique?
Continue reading Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body
Tea Room Tips from the Pianodao Tea Room
As is often mentioned here on Pianodao, learning to play the piano is the journey of a lifetime! And the further we travel, the more insight we gain, and the deeper our skills develop.
But… suppose you could turn the clock back to when you were a teenager… What do you really wish you had known and understood about piano playing back then?
This was the latest question I posed in the Pianodao Tea Room community, and as I suspected the answers given were many and varied. Each member contribution is, complete in itself, a heartwarming and insightful story…
Here for your interest are a selection of those contributions…
And please feel free to leave your own answer as a comment below!
Continue reading “If only I had known then…”
As the words boomed along the station platform, I realised straight away that they were directed at me. I turned, looked up the platform towards a burly man in an official-looking hi-vis jacket and sheepishly gave him the thumbs up.
I had been momentarily transfixed in a meditation on the nature of fear.
Looking down at the rails I realised how easy it would be (having first checked there were no trains on the horizon) to step down from the platform, hop across the tracks and explore the beautiful verge that faced me on the other side.
And yet I would never, ever actually do so.
A self-preservatory terror of the rails had been instilled into me decades ago by my mother. My guess is that most of the passengers waiting on the platform would feel something of the same fear.
When movie heroes leap onto the tracks, we regard it as derring-do, suitably convinced of the huge risks involved. Meanwhile we ignore the thought that ordinary Network Rail employees routinely mosey around the rail infrastructure on a daily basis without being vaporised on the job.
Most of us rarely question the fears or values that were instilled in us at a young age. But perhaps we should do.
Continue reading “Stand back from the edge please!”
Sheet Music Review
Back in 2008, ABRSM published a series of books called Piano Specimen Sight-Reading Tests. Although deserving an award for having the most utilitarian and uninspiring titles in my whole music collection, they have nonetheless rarely been out of action in the intervening years.
In short, they were an essential purchase for any piano teacher preparing students for ABRSM’s world-leading piano grade examinations, and have seen very active service over many years.
Since 2008, many others have brought out alternative products to help teachers and students prepare for the sight-reading element of ABRSM exams. Paul Harris’s ubiquitous and respected Improve Your Sight-Reading series has been updated more than once, and now includes audio tracks. Useful and innovative alternatives have also appeared from Alan Bullard, Samantha Coates, e-music maestro and several others.
Now ABRSM return with a new series bearing the slightly-less scary title More Piano Sight-Reading, a suite of eight new books, one to tie in with each of their grades.
A superficial look at the eight books suggests that these aren’t radically different from their predecessors (which, I should add, are still valid, as the syllabus itself remains unchanged). However, a more detailed look reveals several tweaks and changes to the format which, between them, make the new books a step-improvement on the older ones.
For this review, I will focus on five specific improvements which I think make this new series a superior alternative to the previous books.
Continue reading More Piano Sight-Reading from ABRSM
Sheet Music Review
Small Hand Piano is the latest in Barbara Arens’ series of publications from Edition Breitkopf, following on from the successful One Hand Piano, 21 Amazingly Easy Pieces (read my review here), Piano Misterioso (reviewed here), Piano Vivace – Piano Tranquillo and Piano Exotico (all reviewed here).
Small Hand Piano is also (ironically) the largest of these collections, providing 40 Pieces “without octaves”, half of which are original compositions, the rest selected from the existing literature.
I often hear players mention online that their stretch is too small for a lot of the repertoire they would prefer to play, so this publication certainly has the potential to be something of a crowd-pleaser.
Let’s take a look and see how well it succeeds in fulfilling this useful aim…
Continue reading Small Hand Piano