The New ABRSM Syllabus Workshop & Grade 1

The next instalment in my exploration of the new ABRSM piano syllabus features video walk-throughs of all of the main pieces from the Grade 1 syllabus. The following video provides a brief preview of the type of content featured in these walk-throughs: With this new instalment, the Online Academy’s resources for the new ABRSM syllabus now features over seventy video walk-throughs for grades 1 – 8 (with a set of videos for the Initial grade to follow very soon!). The videos offer guidance and demonstrations for players and for teachers on style and interpretation, technique, practice method, fingering, pedalling and more (click here for links to previews for other grades). Please click here to view the index of available walk-throughs if you are an Online Academy subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe. Full Day ABRSM Workshop Sunday, December 6th (9:00 – 5:00 GMT) We’re delighted to be bringing you a new interactive online workshop this coming Sunday on all aspects of exam preparation from Grade 1 though to Grade 8. The first session explores ways to keep scale and arpeggio practice creative and vibrant, offering technical suggestions as well as practice ideas. We move to a session on the aural and sight-reading tests, looking at ways to improve our results and incorporate these into lessons and the routine practice. After a coffee break we move on to the repertoire. In two 90-minute sessions (the first featuring Grades 1-5, the second Grades 6-8) we will look at how to begin a new piece step by step, with plenty of advice on effective practice, problem solving, interpretation and creating teaching. The last session of the day covers strategies for exam preparation, including practising a performance, the psychology of […]

“Everything You Know Is Wrong!”

When I first witnessed international piano guru, Peter Feuchtwanger, demonstrate his exercises in a class I was so shocked by them that I had to leave the room for a short while. They struck me as diametrically opposed to everything I had come to understand about playing the piano, but as I later came to realise, this was exactly the point. The traditional exercises pianists practise aim to solve specific technical issues using muscular or athletic approaches, whereas Peter’s exercises are effectively anti-exercises. Putting the playing into neutral, they rely on flat fingers, hanging hand positions and a completely loose, passive arm that generates most of the motions involved in putting the keys down.  It took a leap of faith to embrace these exercises and, while I did not need to throw out the technical approach I had received from my main teachers, I found I was able to incorporate Peter’s ideas into my playing and into my teaching. They certainly made a significant difference. Having spent some time working on the exercises under Peter’s supervision, I began to feel a significant difference in the amount of effort I needed to use at the piano. Often, I just needed to do much less to get the same, or a better result.  Because I find these exercises very useful in my own playing and my teaching, I decided to include a feature giving my take on them in the Online Academy. To get the best out of the exercises, you would really need to study them with someone who has received them from the source, but I offer them here as a tribute to my work with Peter and to satisfy the curiosity of the many […]

By |November 19th, 2020|Technique|0 Comments

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 8

The next installment in my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus features some of the main pieces in the Grade 8 list, along with some from the alternative syllabus. In this post I provide an overview with notes on a selection of pieces from the list and a video preview of some highlights and tips for works by Bach, Haydn, Brahms and Bartok (click here for links to previews for other grades): The complete video walk-throughs for the pieces featured in this video are now available on the Online Academy with further works by Schubert, Schumann and Khachaturian to follow. Please click here to view the index of available walk-throughs if you are an Online Academy subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe. Online Workshops As a complement to my Online Academy resources on the ABRSM syllabus, I am also running a series of online workshops. These workshops will cover repertoire in addition to topics such as scales, sight-reading and preparation.  Next workshops Part 4 (Grade 7) – Thurs 12th Nov @ 15:00 – 16:30 GMT (includes 4 videos) – Click here to purchase tickets Part 5 (Grade 8) – Tues 17th Nov @ 19:00 – 20:30 GMT (includes 7 videos) – Click here to purchase tickets Tickets can be purchased for individual sessions using the links provided above or you can save 20% by purchasing a combined ticket here! If you’ve missed a session then you can still purchase tickets for a past session (or a combined ticket) to obtain access to the event recording and included resources. Grade 8 Repertoire Overview LIST A1 J. S. Bach: Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906  This highly chromatic and brilliant piece featuring hand crossings and running triplets shows Bach trying his hand at the new galant and […]

Preparing for a Piano Exam

Preparing for a piano exam relies as much on logistics as it does on a commitment to regular practice, and keeping a positive mental attitude throughout the process. How do we ensure that all the components of the exam peak together, and how do we plan our day-to-day practice routine in the days and weeks before the exam? Routine Showing up to our practice on a daily basis creates a habit that after a while will be hard to break. This is what we want! Some people prefer short task-specific practice sessions spread throughout the day (you can schedule these in your diary) rather than practising in one block. Whatever works for you. Timeline One of the most important aspects of preparation is having deadlines in place to help us structure and reinforce our practice. Let’s work backwards from the end point. For example, if my exam date is December 15th I will need to aim to be fully prepared by the end of November. Just before that, I’ll need to arrange one or two mock exams in front of different people if possible (peers, teacher, family, etc.).  From mid-November I plan a series of regular daily run-throughs of my pieces for myself – recording some of them and reflecting on what went well, as well as highlighting areas I was not so happy with. Identify these weak areas and work on them in special practice sessions – I call this “spot practice”. We’ll also need to do some general maintenance practice, where we continue to work on accuracy and finesse to keep our playing polished. This often involves using the same practice tools we used when we initially learned the notes (for example slow […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 7

The next installment in my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus features the main pieces in the Grade 7 list. In the following video I provide some highlights and tips for a selection of pieces from each of the three lists (A, B, and C) for the grade (click here for links to previews for other grades): The complete video walk-throughs for a selection of four of the ABRSM Grade 7 pieces are now available on the Online Academy. These include detailed video walk-throughs with practice suggestions, tips on style and interpretation. Please click here to view if you are an Online Academy subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe. You can get further updates on my resources for the ABRSM syllabus by signing up for our mailing list here and subscribing to our YouTube channel for additional video previews.  New workshop series! As a complement to my Online Academy resources, I am also running a series of online workshops. These workshops will cover repertoire in addition to topics such as scales, sight-reading and preparation. The format will be interactive with opportunities for questions and answers. Please click here further information.   Grade 7 Repertoire Overview The following are brief overviews of each of the main pieces (an index with links to the full videos on the Online Academy is available here): List A A1  J. S. Bach: Sinfonia No.15 in B minor, BWV 801  Bach’s aims for the Inventions and Sinfonias were to encourage composition (an understanding and appreciation of musical structure), to foster good playing in two and three parts (or voices), and above all “to arrive at a cantabile style of playing”. Apart from good tone, a singing style relies on phrase shaping, an appropriate range of dynamics and colour, as […]

New ABRSM Workshop Series

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the selection committee for the new ABRSM piano syllabus, 2021-2022. Following on from the publication of the graded material, the Online Academy has embarked on a project to create an extensive collection of resources for candidates, piano teachers or anyone using the syllabus as a guideline for their learning. As a complement to these materials, I will be running a series of online workshops which will provide a more interactive format than the existing resources, allowing for questions and answers. Each of the workshops in this five-part series will look at the following topics for one or more grades: Repertoire – Practice suggestions for learning selected pieces in addition to tips on technique, style and interpretation Scales & arpeggios – Overcoming technical problems, practice suggestions and tips General tips – How to prepare for an exam, practice strategies and dealing with performance nerves Sight-reading – How to include sight-reading in day-to-day practice and as part of the weekly lesson The following video provides a whistle-stop overview of the Grade 5 pieces and gives an illustration of what to expect for repertoire walk-throughs in both the sessions and the accompanying Online Academy resources: This workshop series will be useful not only for candidates and piano teachers following the syllabus, but also for those who want to learn some exciting new repertoire, make progress with scales and arpeggios, improve their sight-reading, and learn strategies for performance preparation and dealing with performance nerves. As with all of our workshops, the sessions will be recorded. Included in the ticket price is also the full set of Online Academy video walk-throughs available for the grades featured in each session. […]

By |October 20th, 2020|Events, News|0 Comments

The Story Behind Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu

Even though the Fantaisie-Impromptu was composed in 1834, the world had to wait until 1960 to hear the piece as Chopin intended it. This much-loved work was made popular through the version published by his close friend and musical executor, Julian Fontana, but it contains quite a number of textual discrepancies.  How Chopin’s autograph came to light makes a fascinating story. In 1960, Artur Rubinstein acquired an album owned by Madame la Baronne d’Este. The album contained a manuscript of the Fantaisie-Impromptu in Chopin’s own hand, dated 1835. It would appear that the reason Chopin had not published the work was because he had received a commission from the Baroness, and the piece was therefore her property. It is possible this manuscript might be a later copy of the work, which could explain the gap of a year between its composition and the date in the album’s copy.  Even though the autograph manuscript has since been published, many pianists prefer to play from the much more familiar Fontana edition. This is the version I learned as a student, and because it is very ingrained in my fingers, I have stuck with it. It seems like I am in good company. Let’s look at a few excerpts from the autograph score so we can see some of the differences. In the opening material Fontana adds pedal, and removes the accents in the left hand. Some left hand notes are not the same – the autograph has G sharps in the second groups of bars 5 and 6, and the layout of the broken chord in the second group of bar 7 is different.  In the autograph, the broad melody that appears in bar 13 in crotchets (quarter notes) continues in the […]

Approaching Rhythmic Challenges

Many musicians struggle with rhythm from time to time – we pianists are faced with many situations where one hand is required to play in one subdivision of the beat at the same time as the other hand has to play in another. Polyrhythms (2 against 3, 3 against 4, and so on) are commonplace in music from the 19th century onwards. To help solve problems like this we need to be able to set a steady pulse and internalise it as we play, pushing and pulling according to the natural ebb and flow that all music requires. This is vastly different from playing metronomically, since no performance of anything is going to conform to an unbending metronomic beat. While a certain amount of metronome practice can be beneficial if you know how to use the tool, too much of it can end up being detrimental. Swiss music educator, Émile Jacques-Dalcroze (1865 – 1950) wondered why conservatory students’ playing was not as rhythmical or coordinated as could be expected given the number of hours they spent in daily practice. He formulated a method known today as  Dalcroze Eurythmics. It has helped many people improve a weak sense of rhythm by showing them how to feel rhythm in their body in a whole variety of different ways. Through whole-body movement in space, we really feel rhythm physically in a natural way. We then experience the same rhythmic vitality and coordination through the smaller, more refined movements involved in piano playing. Muscles were made for movement, and rhythm is movement. It is impossible to conceive a rhythm without thinking of a body in motion. Émile Jacques-Dalcroze Recently I came across a book that will be of great assistance to instrumental teachers – Rhythm […]

By |September 24th, 2020|Practising|0 Comments

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 6

The next installment in my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus features the main pieces in the Grade 6 list. In the following video I provide some highlights and tips for a selection of pieces from each of the three lists (A, B, and C) for the grade: The complete collection of video walk-throughs for ABRSM Grade 6 is now available on the Online Academy and includes detailed video walk-throughs with practice suggestions, tips on style and interpretation. Please click here to view if you are an Online Academy subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe. You can get further updates on my resources for the ABRSM syllabus by signing up for our mailing list here and subscribing to our YouTube channel for additional video previews.  The following are brief overviews of each of the main pieces (an index with links to the full videos on the Online Academy is available here): LIST A Pescetti: Allegro (4th movt from Sonata No. 8 in C)  There is plenty of scope for experimentation with dynamics and articulation in this lively Allegro by Pescetti. It requires considerable agility in the right hand and solid, rhythmical support from the left. Mozart: Allegro (3rd movt from Sonata in E -, K. 282)  Composed when Mozart was just 19, this challenging and brilliant sonata form movement requires precision and clarity in touch, and imagination in characterising the different themes. We find just two dynamic markings (p and f), leaving room for the player to add more shadings in between. C. Nielsen: Snurretoppen (No. 2 from Humoreske- Bagateller, Op.11)  This witty character piece is based on spinning patterns in the right hand that require a high level of technical control. Once mastered, this piece is great fun to play. Pay attention to details of phrasing and […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 5

Continuing my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus, this week I am having a look at the pieces in the main book for Grade 5 (click here to view my previous post featuring Grade 4, click here for Grade 3, and click here to view Grade 2). The following video is a preview where I pick out a selection of pieces from each main list (A, B, and C) for the grade: The complete collection of video walk-throughs for ABRSM Grade 5 is now available on the Online Academy and includes detailed video walk-throughs with practice suggestions, tips on style and interpretation. Please click here to view if you are an Online Academy subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe. You can get further updates on my resources for the ABRSM syllabus by signing up for our mailing list here and subscribing to our YouTube channel for additional video previews.  The following are brief overviews of each of the main pieces (an index with links to the full videos on the Online Academy is available here): LIST A J.F.F. Burgmüller: La chevaleresque (No. 25 from 25 études faciles et progressives, Op.100)  The last étude from Burgmüller’s evergreen op. 100 set, La chevaleresque. We can see the little horse trotting – maybe in a circus or maybe showing off at a dressage event. Either way the moves are highly organised, elegant and controlled. Sometimes translated as “The Spirit of Chivalry” the title has connotations of gallantry (courtesy between men and women). T. A. Arne: Presto (2nd movt from Sonata No. 6)  A lively and joyous English jig from the composer of Rule, Brittania!, there are plenty of opportunities to explore various different touches, textures and articulations. Don’t let the ornaments put you off – trills placed on quavers may be […]