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 […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 4

Continuing my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus, this week I am having a look at the pieces in the main book for Grade 4 (click here to view my previous post featuring Grade 3, and click here to view Grade 2). The following video is a preview where I highlight one piece from each list (A, B, and C) for the grade: The complete collection of video walk-throughs for ABRSM Grade 4 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. S. Bach: Prelude in C minor, BWV 999  Built from a harmonic progression and originally written for lute we can recreate some of the resonance of that instrument either by short touches of pedal, or by overholding some notes of the broken chords.  Kabalevsky: Etude in A minor (No. 3 from 30 Children’s Pieces, Op. 27)  A valuable étude for the lower intermediate player that will accelerate technical development, this piece is built from familiar scale patterns in right hand against a simpler left hand featuring slurred quaver pairs. It makes an excellent recital piece.  Schubert: Minuet and Trio, D. 41 No. 21  An elegant minuet and trio with some pleasing chromatic touches, this pair of dances is full of interest as well as challenges […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 3

I’m currently in the process of producing an extensive collection of resources for the syllabus on my Online Academy. These include detailed video walk-throughs providing practice suggestions, tips on style and interpretation and other ideas for each of the main pieces (from initial to Grade 8), and a selection of alternative pieces. Continuing my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus, this week I am having a look at the pieces in the main book for Grade 3 (click here to view my previous post featuring Grade 2). But first here is a preview where I highlight one piece from each list (A, B, and C), as a taster of the type of content you’ll find in the Online Academy’s ABRSM resources: The following are brief overviews of each of the main pieces (an index with links to the full videos for my ABRSM resources on the Online Academy is available here): LIST A Beethoven: Ecossaise in E (No. 4 from Six Ecossaises, WoO 83)  A lively dance in 2/4 time, an ecossaise is actually the French word for “Scottish”! Flexibility in the right hand is necessary to avoid tension, and flexibility in the pulse (while not indicated in the score) is essential to bring grace and elegance at the start, and then some forward movement in the forte ending. Burgmüller: Innocence (No. 5 from 25 études faciles et progressives, Op.100)  A study in delicacy of touch and articulation, tonal balance between the hands and control of scale patterns in the upper register, Innocence gives plenty of scope for developing an understanding of harmony. The beauty of Burgmüller’s études is that they develop musical as well as technical skills.  Handel: Gavotte in G, HWV 491  A model of symmetry and tightly organised musical structure, Handel’s Gavotte […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the initial selection committee for the 2021-2022 piano syllabus (grades 5-8), published last week. Along with two colleagues from the Piano Teachers’ Course UK, I spent a happy day or two browsing the library of scores in the ABRSM’s main London offices. I also received a fair number of scores through the post from various publishing houses, and got to try out loads of music (familiar and unfamiliar). In addition to this, I went through my own substantial library of scores and from all of these sources and compiled my selection. There was a subsequent committee who made the final choices, so I was not sure of the final repertoire until the exam books arrived last week. On receiving them, it was very exciting to see some of my choices in the books! I’m currently in the process of producing an extensive collection of resources for the syllabus on my Online Academy. These will include detailed video walk-throughs providing practice suggestions, tips on style and interpretation and other ideas for each of the main pieces (from initial to Grade 8), and a selection of alternative pieces. I kick off this week with a very brief overview of the Grade 2 syllabus, choosing one example from each of the three lists (A, B, and C). This will give you a taster of the sort of content to expect in the very near future. Overviews and preview videos for other grades are available via the following links: Grade 3, Grade 4 and Grade 5. *** The complete collection of video walk-throughs for ABRSM Grade 2 is now available on the Online Academy. Please click here to view if […]

Voicing in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

Beethoven’s Sonata in C# Minor (Sonata quasi una fantasia), Op. 27 No. 2, is surely one of the most famous pieces of music of all time. Completed in 1801, it was dedicated to his student, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. The name “Moonlight Sonata” was not given by Beethoven but comes from German poet and music critic Ludwig Rellstab who, five years after Beethoven’s death, compared the effect of the first movement to moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne. Given the popularity of the first movement, I decided to make my own series of video walkthroughs that guide you through the piece step-by-step. You will find advice on style, tempo, pedalling, fingering, practice method and technique, especially how to avoid tension in the right hand as it is called upon to play both the soft triplet accompaniment and to project the melodic line on top. Voicing the Right Hand How do we set about voicing the right hand when the main theme comes in? Despite the pp dynamic marking, the upper voice needs to be projected with a firmer tone than the misty triplets underneath. It is helpful to think of two dynamic levels: mp (top voice) and pp (triplets). The following exercises will help with the voicing. The process involves first playing the upper voice at the stronger dynamic, then afterwards the thumb note at the softer dynamic. Gradually allow these two events to happen closer together until you find you can synchronise them: Another practice suggestion that works wonders is to play the upper stave using two hands. Thus the right hand plays the melodic line, and the left hand the accompaniment triplets. Achieving the right sound this way is of course much easier. Once you have the ideal sound […]

Burgmüller’s La candeur

At first glance La candeur, the first of Burgmüller’s twenty-five studies, opus 100, looks like any other elementary study in C major – with a stream of quavers (8th notes) in one hand and some chords in the other. On closer inspection we discover a satisfying musical structure – a clear modulation to the dominant key at the end of the first half, and an effective coda that wraps the piece up, with moments of chromatic colouring that add interest.  When we start singing the lines we discover they are rather lovely (not at all dry or mechanical-sounding), offering us the opportunity to explore melodic shaping and to concentrate on balance between the hands and beauty of tone.  In last week’s post, I introduced my new study editions for Burgmüller’s Op. 100 (La candeur being the first in the set), in which I focus not only on the technical factors but also highlight some compositional techniques used by the composer. This is an important consideration when the ability to analyse becomes necessary further along our musical journey! I have added a number of footnotes to the score that will assist you as you practise. For example, as we approach the climax of La candeur, Burgmüller divides the RH into two lines: This requires a certain amount of coordination and organisation in the hand, hence my suggestions for practice in footnote 7. If you scan the QR code a short video will pop up on your device of me demonstrating how this is done. You will notice that footnote eight points out a stock harmonic progression that can be appreciated even by inquisitive players at the elementary level.  The study editions also contain links to a detailed video walkthrough, as well […]

New Study Editions for Burgmüller’s Op. 100

As readers of my blog will know, I am not a great believer in too much separation of the study of technique from real music. Therefore, when I recommend studies and exercises they have to be really good – either easy to memorise and very much to the point (if an exercise) or on the short side and with enough musical interest to capture the imagination (if a study).   Burgmüller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Études (Op. 100) have been a mainstay of elementary étude repertoire for many generations – and deservedly so. Like all great études, the study of technique merges with attention to quality of sound and a musical purpose. The musical content of these pieces is on a level with the technical challenges they pose, so that the listener would not necessary realise they have any didactic focus whatsoever. Because each has its own descriptive title, the études inspire imagination and characterisation in the player, elevating the works to the status of real music (as opposed to the dry and boring studies that are so often the diet of pianists). I cannot imagine any young pianist or elementary player who would not immediately engage with this charming set of pieces, or benefit from learning them. Following on from my series of video walk-throughs for the full set of twenty-five études, I’ve been working on creating accompanying study editions to assist you in learning these works. These editions focus not only on the technical considerations but also on the compositional techniques used by the composer – including an appreciation of harmony. Each edition has a number of footnotes that are designed to assist you as you practise. There are also QR codes that can be […]

Simplifying the Score

When we begin work on a new piece, we might feel bewildered by all the information on the page. The score is dense with notes, fingerings, pedallings and other instructions and it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. Where do we begin? Starting from the beginning and attempting to process everything at once can often be frustrating and overwhelming, and we feel we are not getting to grips with the piece at all. Making our own simplified versions of the score can be a very useful tool when starting on a new piece, and there are many ways to do it depending on the piece. Not only does it make the music easier to process and digest, it helps with memory too. Blocking Blocking is where we take a passage written in broken chord figuration and practise it as solid chords. For example, let’s look at this Prelude by Bach (the C minor, from Book 1 of the 48) The underlying harmonic progression gives a sense of how to shape the constant stream of semiquavers (16th notes). To discover the chorale (the harmonic framework), play the first two notes in each half bar together thus: In this video, I illustrate a few different examples of blocking, starting with the Bach Prelude (above) and ending with the opening of the slow movement of Mozart’s Sonata in F, K.332. Further reading & resources Practising the Piano multimedia eBook series – click here for more information Skeleton Practice – click here to view my Online Academy series on using skeleton practice Annotated Study Edition – click here to purchase my annotated study edition for the Bach Prelude & Fugue featured in this article From the Ground Up […]

Tips for a Natural Hand Position

My approach to piano technique is based on using movements that are most natural to the body, movements that are free, loose and that feel good. It is most important that we are in touch with physical sensations as we play – our feet in contact with the ground, freedom in the legs and thighs, support from the piano stool, mobility in the torso, looseness in the shoulders and arm, and not least the absence of tension from our wrists, hands and fingers. Touching the keyboard can feel delicious and sensual, or strong and energetic. It should never feel tight or awkward. Hand position I have read elaborate descriptions for the correct hand position for piano playing, but finding the position is actually surprisingly simple. If you stand up and allow your arm to swing freely from your shoulder, you will discover your palm is facing behind you. Swing your arm up to a table or your piano keyboard and land there. Provided you have not tensed up or done anything to change the hand shape, you will have found your ideal hand position. There will be a natural curve in the fingers, and all the knuckles will be aligned and supported.  Curved, not curled We avoid the two extremes, flat fingers and overly curled fingers because they tend to lead to tension. The natural curve is the best default position for piano playing as it encourages the best coordination.  Don’t isolate the fingers Traditional pedagogy supplied the pianist with copious finger exercises in which each finger was to be lifted high in isolation from the other fingers, which were to remain on the surface of the keyboard. Modern thinking has moved on, and we don’t […]