More Videos on the Trinity College London Series

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.


The Trinity College London Series

Good news! The Online Academy Trinity Series is now complete, and in this post I shall be looking at a representative selection of pieces from some of the grades. In the full series, each piece that we’ve featured comes with some teaching notes and a detailed video tutorial – here are samples and excerpts from the most recent works published:

Nathalie Béra-Tagrine: Conversation (Grade Initial)

Let’s start with Nathalie Béra-Tagrine’s Conversation. This is an excellent little study in combined touches, beginning with three-note drop-roll slurs in the right hand against a legatoline in the left. There is plenty of articulation detail to work on here between the hands, relying on mobility in the arms and hands. 

Felicitas Kukuck: The Rowboat (Grade 2)

The Rowboat is a miniature tone picture relying on imagination and a sense of storyline to convey the musical message. What story is this piece telling? Remember this is personal, and every player can come up with their own version of what is going on – for them. Sensitivity to phrasing, developing a cantabiletouch and the technique of chord legato are explored in this video. Here is a snippet of it.

Michael Proksch: And Now Let’s Handel (Grade 5)

German composer Michael Proksch gives us a fun piece in neo-baroque style. And Now Let’s Handelfeatures a simple harmonic progression based on a cycle of fifths that repeats three times, each time with a different texture. The quaver patterns give each hand in turn the opportunity to develop forearm rotation while shaping the line. In this video extract, I demonstrate the technique.

Joaquín Turina: Fiesta (Grade 7)

Fiesta is one of a set of eight pieces entitled Miniaturesby Spanish composer Joaquín Turina. It makes a very effective recital piece for the intermediate pianist, containing elements of showmanship (especially in the repeated notes) and display but also calling for imagination and the ability to paint a picture in sound.

Ulrich Kallmeyer: Six-Eight Prelude (Grade 8)

This piece comes from a collection of easy to moderate piano pieces in different popular idioms, Cool Cat Piano Goodies by German composer Ulrich Kallmeyer. The mood is relaxed, possibly even a little lazy. In this extract from the full video, I demonstrate the practice tool often referred to as chaining, showing how to take a passage from a slow learning speed up to full performance tempo accurately and reliably.

Jean-Philipp Rameau: Fanfarinette and La Triomphante (Grade 8)

Here is an excerpt of a walkthrough of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Fanfarinette and La Triomphante from the Suite in A minor (third book), in which I take the second piece and experiment with touch, mood and dynamic possibilities to discover the character of the music and bring it to life. 

Further resources & links

This video is part of an Online Academy series featuring articles and over 30 video demonstrations of repertoire from Trinity College London’s 2018 – 2020 piano examination syllabus. The full collection is available for once-off purchase here or as part of an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.

Trinity College London is also conducting a survey to obtain feedback on their syllabus and support resources. Please click here if you would like to participate and provide your feedback.


A Piano Day in London

On Saturday 15th Jan we celebrated the Online Academy’s fifth birthday with a day of piano-themed events in central London at the delightful Fidelio Cafe. It was wonderful to meet many of our supporters in person for the first time in a while and we were also thrilled to be joined online by an audience from all over the globe! In this week’s blog post, we bring you a write-up and some video excerpts from the day’s events.

Performance workshop

Our programme kicked-off with a performance workshop facilitated by Graham Fitch. Five fabulous pianists performed a piece (or part thereof) of their choice and then worked with Graham on specific areas. The following works were featured:

  • Scarlatti – Sonata in D (Kp 443)  
  • Beethoven – Tempest Sonata (Op. 31 No. 2, 1st mvt)
  • Brahms – Capriccio in F-Sharp Minor (Op. 76 No. 1)
  • Rachmaninoff – Etude Tableau No. 2 in A minor (Op. 39)
  • Bortkiewicz – Etude from Trois Morceaux (Op. 6 No. 3)

A wide range of topics were covered across these pieces, from interpretation and creative a narrative through to tackling various technical challenges, with frequent discussions throughout on the use of the pedal and sound quality.

“Pedaling is an art you never come to the end of”

Bringing Baroque Music to Life

In the first of the afternoon’s “lecture-performances”, Graham looked at how Baroque music can be played expressively despite the scores having few (if any) dynamic, articulation or pedal markings. Using a Gavotte by Handel, Graham demonstrated creative approaches to articulation and then explored the question how and when to use the pedal. He also demonstrated the under-used technique of “finger pedalling” using Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses.

“The printed page only tells us part of the story…”

Further examples of works by Bach and Scarlatti were used to show how various factors such as dynamics, ornamentation, articulation and touch could be applied to deliver creative, stylistically appropriate performances of Baroque music on the piano.

The following excerpt from the full recording shows how Graham applies these elements to go beyond what’s provided in the score in the Allemande from Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825:

Mozart Sonata in B-Flat Major (K333)

The next presentation featured a walk-through and commentary on Mozart’s Sonata in B-Flat Major. This turned out to be a particular hit with the audience, many of them having played it! Following from the previous session, Graham explored how touch, pedalling and dynamic variation could be used despite there being limited indications in the score and highlighted many of the work’s interesting features.

In this excerpt from his presentation, Graham shows how an overholding touch can be used instead of the pedal to create resonance and harmony:

Schubert’s Sonata in B-Flat Major (D960)

Rather fittingly, the day ended with a presentation on Schubert’s last sonata by Penelope Roskell. Penelope gave us some background context to the work, including how it is considered by some to be a swansong with beautiful melodies and harmonies often interrupted by ominous or somber motifs. After exploring various aspects of this monumental and complex work, the audience were treated to a performance of the first two movements!   

In this excerpt from her presentation, Penelope Roskell illustrates how the opening theme is interrupted with a trill on an unexpected note, giving the indication that this piece is not quite as serene as it might seem!

Many thanks to all of you who made the trip to London to attend or who supported us online. We hope you enjoyed the event as much as we did and found it both inspiring and informative!

London Piano Weekend

Join us online or in person on 24th & 25th September 2022 for the first of our London Piano Courses taking place in our new studios in central London! This weekend course features a variety of presentations, performance workshops and several Q&A sessions. 

For those able to join us in London, it’s an ideal opportunity to get feedback on your playing, help with specific challenges and trouble spots, and general encouragement in a convenient central location.

If you aren’t able to participate in person, you can still learn and gain inspiration from observing the sessions online. There will also be opportunities to ask questions via chat during various sessions and in advance for the Practice Q&A. The sessions will be streamed and all participants will receive high-definition recordings of them after the event.

Click here to find out more and to book your place!


An Un-Master Class in London

On Thursday 27th April, our studios in London hosted a very special event! William Westney, author of best-selling book The Perfect Wrong Note and contributor to the Online Academy presented a demonstration of his unique Un-Master Class ® performance workshop with a group of in-person performers and participants.

If you’re not familiar with the traditional masterclass format, what usually happens is several musicians will perform and then receive feedback on their playing from a pedagogue or artist. Although it can be incredibly useful for the performer, it can also be rather daunting. Furthermore, the audience is largely passive throughout.

William’s approach with his Un-Master Class is entirely different (he discusses the background to his format in a previous blog post). He introduced the class by talking about how music is a universal human birth right and something that children naturally move to and enjoy. So often our focus on getting the notes right, judgmental thoughts, insecurities and inhibitions get in the way of our expressive intentions and rob us of this child-like joy.

William Westney introducing his Un-Master Class

The class starts with a series of warm-up exercises that engage the full group from the outset. These exercises may seem a bit wacky, but they are cleverly designed to create a safe space and to help the group engage with music as a felt sense in the body rather than their minds. Although some participants were understandably apprehensive at first, there was a palpable energy and enthusiasm throughout the group by the end of the warm-up which lead beautifully into the performances.

What did you get?

William introduced the performances by explaining how feedback is facilitated in the session. Instead of giving advice to performers as to how things might be improved, feedback is restricted to a category William calls “Here’s what I got from what you did” rather than “How about you try this” or “Wouldn’t this be better”. This approach is very effective in that it respects the performer’s own creativity and authenticity. It allows them to solve their own problems in response to honest feedback and resists the temptation to step in and do it for them.

For the purposes of this session, the performers were required to perform from memory. This is can be incredibly challenging but there is a good reason for it – one of the objectives of the class is to create a sense of freedom in performance which is difficult to attain when bound to a score.

Once each performer had played their piece, the group provided them with feedback on what they got from the performance. William then worked with the performers by using a variety of different methods to help them solve problems and break barriers to expression. Often these activities involved other members of the audience in interesting ways!

Connecting with the audience

Our first performer played a Nocturne by Howard Blake and explained that she chose it because she felt her spirit soar the first time hearing it. Her intention was to be able to have the same impact on her audience and to communicate a sense of freedom. Although beautifully played and well received, one of the feedback points was that sometimes the journeys the melodies were taking the listener on were disrupted leaving them incomplete.  

The diagnosis was that these disruptions were caused by slips in concentration brought on by nerves and William’s remedy was ingenious. He had another participant stand directly in front of the performer at the piano with him. Then the performer was asked to play and attempt to look at them in the eye. Although this made it difficult to play the right notes, it was incredibly effective in enabling the performer to focus on the essence of music as a form of communication and connection.

William Westney and a participant working with a performer

Loving every note

Our next performer opted to play a Prelude by Bach and shared that he found Bach incredibly challenging to perform (a sentiment echoed throughout the group!), but that he wanted to communicate his feeling of joy at playing the piece without worrying about the technical challenges. William’s approach to helping him achieve his objective was to encourage him to play a difficult section and to “love every note” in order to feel a sense of delight in playing. You can watch the process of working towards an exuberant rendition unfold in this video excerpt:

You can read more about what the participants had to say about their experience of the class here. You can also purchase the recording here if you missed the event and would like to watch it.