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.

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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

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

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 Newsletter, September 2018

If you enjoyed this post, would like to read more, or find out about EPTA, please download the full Newsletter here.

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

Your Story: William Minter

Your Stories

William Minter is a teacher and composer living in Connecticut. He is the author of Journeys, a piano series for intermediate learners.

Here, William reflects on his piano journey, and sets out the many motivations which have kept him engaged in playing …

Continue reading Your Story: William Minter

Are You a Fanatic?

The Fermata Series

“If you’re invited for tea by a connoisseur of Pu Er (tea) in Yunnan, be prepared to deal with a fanatic, for Pu Er inspires a zealous devotion among its advocates, who, like missionaries of a mysterious cult, will try their best to coax you away from your own acquired taste in Chinese tea, and persuade you instead that Pu Er is the high and mighty lord in the entire pantheon of Chinese tea.”

Daniel Reid
The Art and Alchemy of Chinese Tea (Singing Dragon, 2011, p78)


I can think of several parallels in the world of the piano, where advocates of a particular approach or style present themselves as zealots for their cause.

It seems to me that there’s nothing wrong with such passion, so long as we each remember to show respect for one another, and present our views and ideas with dignity, generosity and grace towards others.

I have been, and remain, a fanatic for many musical and other causes. If something works for me, there’s a good chance it will equally work for others, and I am happy to share my experiences and insights if they might help.

But what works for one, although it may work for all, need not do so.

We are, each of us, unique. Each must find their path, and few of us like to feel coerced or pressurised into accepting a rigid model stipulated by another.

Experience ultimately always triumphs over dogma. As the saying goes,

“The older I get, the less I know.”

So let’s keep the fires of healthy fanaticism alight, but in our passion we must remember humility, keeping our hearts and minds open. Above all, pursuing kindness.

Fermata Series

The Summer Holidays are coming!

Many of my students and teacher colleagues will no doubt be breathing tired sighs of relief at the prospect that they will soon be “on holiday” … a time not just for sandy beaches, but for taking a break from the routines and responsibilities that can crowd our lives throughout most of the year.

Even those of us who continue teaching in some capacity throughout July and August will no doubt enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere and warm evenings over the coming weeks, and hopefully be able to catch ourselves at least some time away from the job!

But I noticed early in my teaching career that, come September, my returning students had often all but forgotten how to play the piano! So that’s a concern…

The relaxation of August can give way to a rather depressing start to the Autumn Term. Is there any way that as teachers (and parents) we can address this common problem?

One common approach is for teachers to set students a summer challenge of one sort or another – and for those students who haven’t yet developed an Active Repertoire this might be the ideal moment to introduce the idea…

Continue reading The Summer Holidays are coming!

More Breathing at the Piano

Piano Qigong Exercise

In my article about Breathing at the Piano, I shared some tips and simple exercises to help you reconnect with your breathing while playing.

Breathing at the Piano was warmly received. I have heard from, and worked with, many players who found the simple exercises helpful – even revolutionary for their playing. If you’ve not already printed off and tried the FREE exercises, please check them out before going on.

The aim here is to help players easily check in with our breathing when at the piano. To understand the importance of this, please read about “Awareness in Breathing” in my article What is Piano Qigong? and refer back to my article András Schiff and Natural Breathing for more background.

In this article, I will now build on the foundation of the exercises and ideas previously shared…

Continue reading More Breathing at the Piano