This is my final post for 2018, just in time to wish you all very happy holidays and a joyous festive season. I look forward to bringing you new content in 2019 and if there is anything in particular you would like to see covered in the blog, please do let me know in the comments section below.
Thanks to your support, the Online Academy has grown significantly over the past year and now includes over three hundred articles, thousands of musical excerpts and hundreds of videos (a full index of all of the available content can be viewed here). We have many exciting plans for next year and the site will continue to grow and expand.
My thanks also go to the fantastic team of pianists whose contributions make the Academy what it is and it’s a pleasure to have welcomed a number of new contributors for 2018:
Lastly, huge thanks to Ryan Morison, Director of Erudition Digital, without whose tireless work, expertise, and enthusiasm the Online Academy would never have got off the ground.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could assimilate a new score by reading the piece through a few times, perhaps stopping to sort out some fingering here and there, and unravelling the odd problematic spot as you go. A few practices and you’ve got it.
You’ll probably find you can learn like this with music that is well below your current standard, but if you’re approaching a more complex piece that is not so readable you’re going to need to break it down to learn it properly. If you are planning to play the piece from memory, it’s absolutely essential to learn it extremely thoroughly from the very start – a process that takes time, commitment and patience.
I have come up with an easy-to-remember term for the most basic practice strategies we use when breaking a piece down – “The Three S’s” (slowly, separately and sections). We first work at the speed of no mistakes – slowly enough to give us ample thinking and planning time between one note and the next, avoiding to the best of our ability ingraining any wrong notes, faulty rhythms or fingerings we won’t end up using. We absorb the music by repeating and finessing small sections until our mind and ear have fully digested what is going on, and until the physical movements we use at the keyboard have become automated (meaning we don’t have to think consciously about which finger goes where). Because it is often simply not possible to play both hands together reliably and accurately at the start of the learning process, we practise each hand separately out of sheer necessity.
Even though most piano teachers seem to advocate separate-hand practice, there are some who believe it is not helpful beyond the elementary level. Detractors of hands-separately practice argue that we need to be hearing the complete soundscape right from the beginning of learning a piece, and that it is impossible to acquire the coordination for playing hands together by practising one hand without the other (and futile to attempt it) – you are permitted separate-hand practice only after you have acquired the basic hands-together coordination. The problem here is that piano playing is not an exact science; consequently there are disagreements about many things and it can be confusing to players who are presented with conflicting advice. Some pianists of repute say one thing, and others say the opposite. This should tell us one thing – that there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to pianistic matters such as technique or practice methodology. In my work as a teacher, I am discovering more and more as the years go by how differently one student learns from another – what works for one might not work for another.
Many great pianists swear by hands–separate practice (according to his students, Liszt was a great fan), while others don’t seem to use it much, if at all. In Linda Noyle’s book Pianists on Playing: Interviews with Twelve Concert Pianists, Jorge Bolet is quoted as saying:
I’m a very firm believer in practicing hands separately, and slowly. I’m never concerned about getting anything up to tempo until I really know the piece well.
In the same book, Janina Fialkowska also claims to practise hands separately a lot, working the accompanying left hand so she can play it from memory by itself (have you noticed that many insecurities in a memorised performance come from not knowing the left hand well enough?).
Pianist Magazine has just published my latest article on separate-hand practice, where I demonstrate a few creative ways of using it in our day-to-day work at the piano. Specifically:
You’ll be able to see exactly what I mean in the video that accompanies the article.
Separate-hand practice is a practice tool and it is there to be used. For me it is very important that each hand be continually reinforced by itself, especially the left hand. This is why I come back to separate-hand practice again and again; it’s not just something we do when we are learning the notes (ingraining the note patterns, organising the fingering, solving intricate technical issues, and so on), but an activity we can also use for maintenance.
I first published this article in 2016. Now that I have made a new video demonstrating the differences between the Couperin piece in his original notation versus what we see in the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook, I decided to republish. I hope this subject will be food for thought, leading to some experimentation with finger pedalling as an added means of creating resonance.
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Pianists have always felt that the music of J S Bach is accessible to them. The Early Music Movement (1970s wave) did put some pressure on those of us who presented Bach’s music to do so in particular ways that were perhaps more suitable to the instruments of his day than our mighty grand pianos, but fortunately the greatness of the music transcends the medium – harpsichord, piano, synthesiser, whatever.
The perennial question of pedal always comes up when discussing Bach style on the piano. The argument goes that, because Bach’s instruments were not equipped with any sustaining mechanism, we should steer clear of our right pedal (for some players this means completely).
“The pedal is to the piano as the vibrato is to string players. Both must be applied with care, control and in moderation. Clarity is essential with Bach, the purity of counterpoint and voice leading must be self-evident, never muffled or confused. Thus a discreet use of the pedal is not forbidden as long as these rules are observed. The question remains whether it is beneficial to the music to look for easier solutions. A perfect legato on the piano is an impossibility, and one can only create an illusion of achieving it. To attempt this with the hands alone is much more difficult but it’s well worth trying. Bach certainly didn’t want his music to sound easy; it’s demanding for players and listeners alike.” – Sir András Schiff.
Here is Sir András discussing the subject with Arie Vardi in a television interview (watch from 1:17).
How interesting to discover that, in his remarkable performance of the Goldberg Variations in last year’s Promenade concerts, Sir András did make discreet use of pedal in the cavernous space of London’s Royal Albert Hall (you can watch the performance here).
When I was a harpsichord student, one of the first things I learned was overlapping touch – or “finger pedalling” – and this opened up a whole new world of sound possibilities for me when I came back to the piano. We pianists have been taught to hold notes for their written duration – and no longer! However, harpsichord players control the dampers (yes, harpsichords absolutely have dampers) by their fingers, since this is the only means at their disposal to add resonance to their sound. Thus in a harmonic texture and even in melodic lines, they hold notes beyond their written value. It’s not only a good idea, it’s a necessity.
Here is the opening of Bach’s Partita no. 6 in E minor as notated by Bach.
And here is how it would be notated if we transcribed the finger strokes of a typical harpsichordist. Way too cumbersome to write it out fully in this way – and unnecessary, since overholding was an aspect of style players in Bach’s day (and well beyond) would have completely understood.
For a video demonstration of this opening, please follow this link to my Online Academy article on spread chords in the Baroque period.
Have a look at F. Couperin’s Les Bergeries and Anna Magdalena Bach’s copy of it in her famous notebook. Couperin writes the LH in what looks like two voices, using complex double stems and ties, whereas Frau Bach dispenses with such intricacies of notation.
Couperin and other French composers of the period were control freaks in matters of notation, German composers assumed the player would know what to do. However, it gets a little confusing when you compare places in Bach’s music where he does indeed write in such overholdings in a more deliberate way, such as the LH of the Goldberg Aria. This compositional technique has come to be known as style brisé – broken up in imitation of the lute. Sometimes Bach writes in style brisé, other times not – but the execution is undoubtedly the same (check out the first and second endings of the Allemande from the Partita no. 1 in B flat – the first ending written in overlapping style, the second ending in simple notation).
A great piece for pianists who wish to develop their finger pedalling skills is F. Couperin’s miniature masterpiece Les Baricades Mistérieuses, from the Ordre 6ème de clavecin. When I play it, I trick listeners into believing that I must be using the pedal – but I use none! All of the resonance is created by my fingers alone.
Click here for the score
I find myself using finger pedalling in music from all periods, including in this example from Liszt’s Concert Study, La leggierezza.
I tend to hold on by hand to the first note of each beat in the LH, producing a legatissimo touch. This frees me up from relying solely on the pedal for resonance. I keep my foot in contact with the pedal, adding short, shallow dabs to my sound to liquify – being careful not to drench it.
For more on finger pedalling, follow this link to my video series on pedalling for the Online Academy
As part of the Online Academy’s series on Trinity College London’s current syllabus, I am happy to let you know that four more video walkthroughs have been added this week (with plenty more still to come). This week we are presenting Telemann’s Rigaudon (Grade 2), Ben Crosland’s The Clown and the Ballerina (Grade 3), Mozart’s Minuet in D, K. 355 (Grade 7), and C. P. E. Bach’s Allegro Assai (Grade 8).
Telemann: Rigaudon (Grade 2)
This video explores some possibilities for touch and articulation in this baroque work, and looks at some of the technical considerations for the elementary level. Specifically, how to develop touch varieties using five-finger positions that are easily played from memory, while looking at the hands. Having experienced these touch varieties in the exercise, we can more easily transfer the skills back to the piece. Click on the video to view the preview or click here to view the full video on the Online Academy.
Ben Crosland: The Clown and The Ballerina (Grade 3)
There is so much to enjoy in this beautifully written piece. Aside from capturing two contrasting characters most imaginatively, we are presented with one of the most basic pianistic problems – how to move from white key to black key positions by moving inwards and upwards. Click on the video to view the preview or click here to view the full video on the Online Academy.
Mozart: Minuet in D, K. 355 (Grade 7)
One of the most interesting stand-alone minuets from the Classical era, Mozart’s Minuet in D, K. 355 is surprising in its use of chromaticism. It is an ideal piece for the upper intermediate player’s repertoire, and I am very glad to see it on the Trinity syllabus. In the texture of a string trio, we begin in the right hand with two violins. In the video I demonstrate a variety of practice tools that will help you voice and control the double notes. Click on the video to view the preview or click here to view the full video on the Online Academy.
C P E Bach: Allegro Assai (Grade 8)
C. P. E. Bach wrote many sonatas for his favourite keyboard instrument, the clavichord. They are very rarely played by pianists, yet make a refreshing change from the more standard late Baroque/early Classical repertoire. In my video on the Allegro Assai from the Grade 8 syllabus, I look at style and texture – in particular a harmonic progression that appears twice in two contrasting ways. Think of the same person appearing in two completely different outfits. Click on the video to view the preview or click here to view the full video on the Online Academy.
The full index of the Online Academy’s series on the Trinity College London piano syllabus is available here.
I am often asked about what to practise to make the left hand feel strong, and equal in technical ability to the right hand. Are special exercises necessary?
In 2011, researchers in Germany published an article which showed a surprising fact:
Whether the pianist identified as right- or left-handed, the performance of the right hand always displayed a higher degree of evenness between notes, and therefore a higher degree of motor control, than did the left hand. And the more practice time that a left-hander had accumulated, the better the performance of his or her right hand.
Another statistic that came up is perhaps more understandable and obvious – we often listen more to the right hand, because in most music from 1750 onwards it assumes greater importance. The melodic interest tends to be more on the top, the left hand in a supporting role. Not that I’ve counted them up myself, but in Beethoven’s sonatas there are apparently 122,650 notes in the left hand and 133,064 in the right! If we really want to develop our left hand, perhaps we should always be working on contrapuntal music – especially fugues, where both hands are completely equal in terms of input.
German Romantic composer, Hermann Berens published his Training of the Left Hand in 1870, at a time when mechanical exercises were especially lauded. I have noticed that many players seem to enjoy practising technical exercises and studies. As I always stress, it is how you do them that is important and if you follow a middle path and do them mindfully and in small doses, Berens’ left hand exercises can certainly be of some value.
But why not include one or two pieces of music written for the left hand in your practice regime? There are many beautiful and completely worthy pieces in the repertoire. One of the best-loved is Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne, op 9. Like all the best music written for left-hand alone, the listener is fooled into believing both hands are being used, and this piece is absolutely ravishing.
Follow this link to the Petrucci Library for music for left hand alone
If you are looking for something very special, I highly recommend Frank Bridge’s Three Improvisations. Written in 1918 for pianist Douglas Fox, who lost his right arm during the First World War, these three miniatures are exquisitely written and unjustly neglected.
No post on left hand piano music would be complete without mention of Paul Wittgenstein, the Austrian pianist who lost his right arm at the age of 27, while serving as an officer in the First World War. Determined to continue his career, he commissioned some of the best-known music for left hand, including Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand in 1929. Wittgenstein published his own School for the Left Hand, comprising exercises, studies and transcriptions. Here is his version of Schubert’s Imprompu op. 90 no. 4, worth practising in this arrangement even if you are playing the original.
Today I present an excerpt from my walkthrough of Max Bruch’s delightful Moderato from the Sechs Klavierstücke, Op. 12, No. 4 (currently on the ABRSM Grade 6 syllabus). In the video I illustrate three practice tools that will help gain control of the jumps.
You may think my demonstration is a bit long-winded and laborious, but the idea is to show you principles of practice that you can apply to any jumps that cause difficulty – no matter the grade or level. In the Bruch piece, the jumps are in the left hand and it is important that the left hand be very comfortable with what it has to do, so that you can put your full attention on making the right hand sing expressively.
For a link to the score, click here
You will probably want to begin by playing and singing the right hand, to get a sense of the character of the melody. Next, look at the left hand and notice there are two components – a bass line in single notes (on the main beats, played with the pinky) and a harmonic filler (on the off beats). For the second step, play the melody line against the bass line (omitting the chords). Then, to help you relate one chord to the next, you might try playing the left hand chords without interrupting them with the bass notes to create a harmonic progression (just make sure you use the fingering you will end up using when you put everything together).
Now we are going to work at the left hand by itself, using the three practice tools:
Play the bass note and hold it. Prepare yourself to move to the chord that follows it.
When you are ready, in your own good time, use a fast but free and loose motion of the arm to move like lightning to the surface of the keys of the chord. Do not play it yet!
Before playing, check to see that you arrived at the centre of the keys, so that no finger is in the cracks between the keys and no finger is hanging half over the edge of a black key (where appropriate). You are aiming for a millimeter-accurate measurement of the distance involved across the keyboard and within the hand.
If you were 100% accurate, and you got there fast, then go ahead and play the chord.
Sit on this chord, and prepare for the next quick movement down to the new bass note. We are not playing rhythmically here, our only concern is to form the reflexes involved in making the jumps very fast and very accurate.
If your measurement was not 100% accurate, or if you overshot, undershot or otherwise fumbled, then do not play the notes. First, learn from your faulty measurement so that you can make the necessary adjustments when you try it again. Perhaps the span between the second finger and the thumb wasn’t quite wide enough, so that the second finger was too far to the right? Diagnose where you went wrong before trying it again.
Place the hand on the surface of the key(s), without playing.
When you are ready, use the key(s) as a springboard to the next position. As you play the note(s), propel your hands off the keys and land on the next note or chord. Feel this as one motion, and do not prepare the position. Make sure that when you move, your arms are loose and free.
Freeze! The golden rule is to hold on to whatever you land on, whether this be the correct chord, nearly right or a fistful of clangers. The point here is to see how accurate your measurement was.
If you were totally accurate and dead centre of the keys, release to key surface and use this as your springboard to the next position.
If not, your instinct will be to make the necessary corrections immediately but resist this. Instead, examine what went wrong and learn from it before going back and repeating the process from the previous position.
This is similar to springboarding, except that instead of landing on the complete new chord position with all the notes, we select those notes we wish to land on, and then fill in the remainder just afterwards. This is a particularly useful process when we wish to see (and feel) how a particularly awkward chord is built up. We can effectively play it in stages. Note that this does not have to be done rhythmically.
And finally! Here is the excerpt of the video where I demonstrate the three practice tools.
Let common sense prevail when applying these tools in your practice. It would take quite a bit of time if you went through all three stages one after the other, so you might want to do one stage one day, and another the day after, etc. Or work on a few bars at a time going through all three stages. You will certainly want to repeat the steps several times before you can expect to feel tangible results, avoiding busking through the piece at the end of your practice session in the early stages of the note learning.
For more information on measuring distances, and other aspects of technique, follow this link to my eBook series (Part 2)
If you would like to explore our full guide to the ABRSM examination syllabus, click here
For the full article and video on the Bruch piece, click here
The subject of technical exercises is a thorny and controversial one. At one stage in the evolution of piano playing, it was mandatory to spend hours a day practising technical exercises and studies that were often extremely dry and unmusical. In the nineteenth century many method books were published, filled with them. Some teachers even instructed their students to read a book while doing all the copious repetitions, to ward off boredom!
The rationale behind all this was that such gymnastics would allow the pianist to cope better with the greater size of the pianos being manufactured, the increase in the touch weight of the keys and of course the increase in difficulty of the music composed for the instrument. Rather than find a new technique more suited to the heavier keyboard and the greater technical demands, players and teachers stuck with what they knew. Without realising it, they were flogging a dead horse. Unfortunately, endless drill often led to playing that was fixated on mechanics, to the detriment of artistry or musical merit, as well as the real risk of pain and injury. So not only is this kind of mindless mechanical practice largely a waste of time, it can actually do more harm than good.
Although spending a lot of time practising repetitive mechanical exercises is out of favour amongst many teachers at the moment, it is very possible, and sometimes preferable, to study a particular aspect of playing by using carefully chosen exercises and studies that have enough musical interest to hold the attention. Exercises serve three main purposes: to warm us up, to build and maintain technical skills, and to help us tackle general difficulties or specific trouble spots in our pieces. The same types of exercises might be used for any of these goals, but the focus and intention would differ.
In his chapter, The Road to Mastery in The Russian Piano School (ed. Christopher Barnes), legendary Russian pianist and teacher, Samuil Feinberg, makes an important distinction between gymnastics and exercises. The point of gymnastics is to strengthen muscles, increase physical endurance and improve stability, whereas an exercise targets a specific movement or habit we wish to embed.
I believe that the pianist…should overcome specific technical problems by performing particular exercises, and not through indulging in general manual gymnastics. If we compare the physical features of a splendid piano virtuoso and someone unable to play the piano, it may well turn out that there is little difference in their musculature. The difference between them is simply that one of them can play the piano and the other cannot. I am the last one to deny the importance of training for piano technique. But a pianist should focus his main attention not on gymnastics but on exercise, if only because there is an element of gymnastics present in every exercise and every practising session.
The Russian Piano School, ed. Christopher Barnes, 27-28
Feinberg gives the example of learning to ride a bicycle. Nobody would think of first undergoing a gymnastic training to strengthen the muscles; instead you would simply need to practise until you acquired the coordination to keep your balance.
Feinberg goes on to list his 10 basic requirements of an exercise. So useful are these observations that I am going to share them with you here.
1. So far as possible, an exercise must relate directly to a pianist’s current artistic work. It must be directed to the resolution of a particular aesthetic problem.
2. It is essential to learn to distinguish what is difficult from what is easy, what one can do from what is unmanageable. A pianist should not work on imaginary problems.
3. An exercise should be easier than the difficulty that you want to master.
4. An exercise should be based on simple, natural elements of piano technique.
5. An exercise should be short.
6. An exercise should be based on the principle of “from the simplest to the complex”, and not vice versa.
7. An exercise must yield positive results in a short time.
8. An exercise should be based on the exchange of experience between the right and left hand.
9. An exercise should be executed with maximum technical perfection.
10. It is essential when doing exercises to concentrate on beauty of tone, and on efficiency and complete freedom of movement.
No matter the type of exercise, our work with them must be done consciously, with a specific goal in mind. We need to concentrate fully on the sound we are producing and the feelings and sensations in our hands, arms and body. The number of repetitions does not need to be excessive. Two or three repetitions with the full involvement of the mind and the ear will usually suffice. The single most important thing to remember about exercises is how you do them.
So what about studies? Some of the Czerny studies (the shorter ones) can be very useful when included in a balanced diet of pianistic work. If you really want to do some Czerny, I can recommend the Eight-Measure Exercises, op 821 (they are mercifully short and to the point) and the selection made by Heinrich Germer (offering a digest of the most representative items from several different opuses).
However, one of my favourite sets of intermediate studies is the Twenty Short Studies, op 91 by Moritz Moszkowski, in two volumes. I like these not only because they are short, but also because they come from the modern school of piano playing and are full of interest, vitality and pianistic value.
Another evergreen set is Burgmüller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Studies, op 100. I am featuring teaching notes and a video walkthrough of each of the studies on the Online Academy at the moment. Follow this link to find out more.
At the advanced level, we move to the great concert studies of Chopin, Liszt and others too numerous and well-known to mention.
Following on from the Piano Holiday at Saint Laurent I tutored last summer, this new Spring Course will include master classes, workshops, individual tuition, a student concert and opportunities to play duets. In addition, I will entertain you with a short lecture recital.
There are still a few places remaining, so book now and enjoy a week of piano, French culture, Penny and Geoff’s wonderful cooking and the beautiful surroundings of Saint Laurent.
Numbers will be restricted to 10 participants, with classes focussed on performance and practising skills. Participants should be of intermediate to advanced level, and will need to bring three pieces from the classical repertoire that they have prepared to a fluent level (memorisation is not required). The daily classes will be conducted in a pleasant, friendly, supportive and non-competitive atmosphere. Digital practice pianos will be available.
Saint Laurent is the venue for this Piano Pot-Pourri. It is situated on 27 hectares (66 acres) of land, with breathtaking views of the countryside and the Pyrenees. The fully refurbished 600 sq metre farmhouse boasts 4 apartments and extensive common space. The apartments at Saint Laurent have kitchens. There is a performance area, which can accommodate up to 60 people, with a Kawai RX2 grand piano. There is also a small swimming pool.
For full details, and to book your place, click here
I first published this post a few years ago, but I have recently been sent details of brand new piano meetup groups in the UK, and decided to republish this post with all the updates. Please let me know if you run a piano group and I will be happy to include your details.
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When we perform, we call on a different part of ourselves from when we practise or play alone, because these are completely different activities.
The concert stage is no place for shrinking violets. In performance we need to project our ideas about the music – as well as our sound – outwards to the listener, and we must make sure we do this convincingly so they really get it!
When we perform authoritatively we summon feelings of abandon, spontaneity, and creativity. These qualities are associated with right-brained activity, whereas practising relies on thoughtful, analytic procedures where we constantly evaluate – repeating and refining our results until we are satisfied they are correct. These are more left-brained activities.
We must be prepared to go with the punches – there’s no point worrying about the piano, or that you weren’t happy with how you played that opening phrase. In practice we go back and get it right, in performance we have to accept what comes out and just deal with it.
In performance, we need to leave our inner critic in the green room and go into another state of mind once we are on the stage, one where we are not engaged in thinking, but rather in being and doing.
We probably all know an excellent pianist who is not able to make the transition from the one state of mind to the other. While they may play wonderfully, they can’t seem to put themselves through what they perceive as the torment of public performance.
Letting go of our critic is easier for some than others. What makes a good performer is the combination of natural talent and the capacity for sheer hard work, together with the ability to let go and surrender control when on stage. Some relish the act of showmanship – performance with all its theatre – while others shrink from it, seemingly unable to believe in their own abilities or to get out of their own way.
Even though these words are from violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz, they apply absolutely to us pianists:
Practice like it means everything in the world to you. Perform like you don’t give a damn.
Like most other things in life, the more we do something, the easier and more familiar it becomes. Smart piano teachers have regular student concerts where everyone gets up and plays – they are all in it together. Exams and (more usefully) festivals or eisteddfods are wonderful ways of developing performance skills. You are usually playing in a fair-sized hall on a grand piano, to a built-in audience and a professional adjudicator.
At the conservatory level, there will be many opportunities for performance: concerts in front of teachers and peers, as well as higher profile events where there will be a public audience. Outside of formal exams, there will be a portfolio of in-house competitions you will be eligible to enter, and there will probably be weekly performance classes where you test out your pieces. Use as many opportunities to perform as are on offer to you, or that you can generate yourself.
Remember: The very best way to learn performance skills is to perform regularly!
For my students, I have a rule that a programme needs to be aired three times in safe, smallish situations before it is ready to be presented to a paying audience or an examiner. These smaller performances could be to an invited audience in a private home, a lunchtime recital in a church, playing in a hospital or old people’s home, etc. The run-throughs are themselves prefaced by a week of playing the programme through in its entirety daily as part of the practice regime. Only then is the programme properly seasoned and ready to be taken on the road.
For more on developing performance skills, follow this link to my blog post Cavaliers and Rounheads (click here) and to Part 4, Volume 1 of my eBook Series (click here)
The Amateur Pianist
I work with a number of amateur pianists and this is a very special part of what I do. What a privilege to be able to help people improve their playing and to express their love of music more freely and more skilfully! I notice time and time again how vital piano playing is in the lives of amateur players, who approach it with a passion that would put many a professional musician to shame.
It is of course quite possible to take piano lessons and play only for yourself at home. Many people do just this, because they are fearful when playing for others. They imagine they will make all sorts of mistakes and their playing just wouldn’t hold up under pressure. What a shame, though, not to share your playing with others who might be able to appreciate it and also support you!
Think of your playing like an exotic plant, such as an orchid. You love, care for and tend to it and are proud to show it to others. It brings joy not only to you but to other people too – it really is a beautiful thing.
My advice is to take the plunge – jump in the deep end and give it a shot. Playing the piano is probably essential in your life for recreation and self expression, and you might want a safe opportunity to perform when you have something ready to play.
Resources for Developing Pianists and Amateurs
We’re building an online directory of resources for amateur pianists, including a listing of opportunities to play for and listen to others. If you run or organise piano-themed groups or events then we’d love to include your group in our listing! Please click here to tell us a bit more and we will notify you when our directory is due to be published.
If you’re looking for opportunities to perform then please click here to visit our directory. You can also sign-up to our mailing list here to receive a free video on dealing with performance anxiety by Graham Fitch plus some additional resources to help you deliver performances that are fulfilling to both you and your listeners!
In addition to these groups, the following are some further places, groups and organisations that offer performance oportunities:
Finchcocks offers residential piano courses for adults of all abilities. Many of the guests are keen to take up the piano again, having not had time to play properly since leaving school. Equally, they cater for people who are keen to take up the piano from scratch, sometimes having not played the piano at all. At the other end of the spectrum, they offer courses for advanced players (grade 8+) who are working on their diploma as well ascourses for piano teachers. I tutor regular courses at Finchcocks, and can vouch for the inspiring nature of the place, the amazing hospitality from Neil and Harriet, and the wonderful food and wine. There are nine grand pianos available.
The Summer School for Pianists. Over the past 40 years, this Summer School has established a unique place amongst an ever-growing number of summer schools being held each year throughout the British Isles. It combines an atmosphere of friendliness with musical expertise, creating a most positive and rewarding week. Within the state-of-the art setting of the Performance Hub in Walsall, people of a very wide range of pianistic levels can meet and enjoy all that’s good about music-making, without any unhealthy competitiveness or feeling of inadequacy. Participants return year after year to this keenly anticipated annual event. A warm welcome, studies with leading experts, plenty of practice pianos at this All Steinway School, good food and accommodation, recitals by tutors and students, and a final gala dinner and barn dance make the week very special indeed. I count myself privileged to have been on the tutoring staff since 2012.
Jackdaws is dedicated to improving participation in and enjoyment of music through weekend courses, education projects, a Young Artists Programme and performances by world class musicians. There are year-round programme of residential music courses that allow musicians of all abilities to come together and learn from some of the most experienced tutors in the trade. Jackdaws’ mission is to enable creative expression by bringing music to life. This goal is underpinned by the core values of inspiration, access and inclusion. Jackdaws is situated on the banks of the Mells river, surrounded by beautiful English countryside, set among the fields, rivers and valleys of Somerset. My next course will be in October 2015 – it is not yet listed on the site but please contact the organisers to register your interest.
The Chethams’ International Piano Summer School is a source of inspiration, fun, insight and focus for everyone who enjoys the piano and piano playing. Now in its thirteenth year, it continues to grow and develop as a ‘piano republic of equals’. There is no elitism on the course, though everyone is extremely serious about piano playing. There is no other summer school that manages to cater for the universal: adult amateurs, promising children and observers are as welcome on the course as concert pianists, international young artists preparing for top competitions, and professional music teachers.
The British and International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech works for amateur festivals everywhere. Most of the festivals are competitive, and the performers receive verbal and written educational feedback from a professional adjudicator in each classification of music, dance or speech. I am proud to be one of the piano adjudicators for the Federation. There are almost 300 amateur festivals affiliated to the Federation and a similar number of professional adjudicators (in all classes) and accompanists, listed in the Yearbook and on their website. Each year the festivals attract around 1 million performers. While most entries are from children and young people, there are classes for adults too.
Setting Up a Piano Group
If you are interested in setting up something like this in your area, why not take the initiative?
If there are a few of you, you might organise regular meetings in each other’s homes. Another thought is to contact your local piano dealership – they will relish the opportunity to build bridges and develop relationships with pianists in the area, who are, after all, potential customers. It will be a win-win situation for all.
I asked Frances Wilson, co-founder of the very successful London Piano Meetup Group, to write a few words on how she set up the group:
Organising a piano group is a great way to get amateur pianists together to play, share repertoire and socialise. Playing the piano can be lonely activity, and many pianists relish the chance to meet and perform for one another. Performance opportunities afforded by piano groups are also very valuable in improving performance skills, learning how to deal with anxiety, and preparing repertoire for exams, festivals or concerts.
You can set up an informal group amongst friends, where you meet regularly at one another’s houses, or at a rehearsal space with a nice grand piano, or you can organise the group more formally, advertising events via a website and using social media to promote the activities of the group. The London Piano Meetup Group (LPMG) was formed in Spring 2013, run by piano teacher Lorraine Liyanage and myself – we are both passionate advocates of amateur pianism. LPMG uses Meetup, an easy-to-use social networking platform that allows people to organise events and meet. LPMG organizers list events on the site and members are able