How to Practise when Learning New Pieces

When learning a new piece, not all practice makes perfect. We’ve all had occasion to stumble at the same learned-in mistakes that originated when we first started learning the notes, and weren’t perhaps as careful as we might have been. To establish good habits we need a thorough, mindful approach from start to finish. Here are some tips and suggestions for how to break down the process of learning and refining a new piece to avoid typical pitfalls: Prepare your mind Making time vs. instant gratification You have chosen a new piece and are excited to get stuck in to learning it. One or two read-throughs is a good idea, but take care to avoid the repeated read-through method or you risk ingraining all sorts of sloppiness. What to do away from the piano & why This is the start of a new relationship between you and your new piece. Laying the groundwork starts with some research into the origins of the piece, its raison d’etre. Listen to recordings, make notes and begin to explore the score away from the piano. By the time you start work at the piano, you will already have an idea of what you want to convey with your interpretation. Analysing the music Study the music and analyse its structure in whatever ways are meaningful to you. Look at the various sections, phrases, tempo relationships, patterns, chords, and so on before your fingers even touch those keys. Have a sense of the overall design and what you want to bring out in your performance means you can hit the ground running. Taking a logical, patient approach Learning a new piece takes time and discipline, also a certain amount of patience. […]

Pieces to Play – ABRSM Highlights

Are you looking for a few ideas for some new pieces to learn? Or are you a teacher searching for interesting pieces for a student? In our new Pieces to Play series we will be featuring a selection of works to provide you with some ideas and inspiration. These will include links to resources with tips and suggestions for each work. Instalments in this series will be published on our blog, and you can get updates from our mailing list. We hope that this series will give you some interesting ideas for what to learn next and perhaps introduce you to some exciting new discoveries! Highlights from the ABRSM Syllabus We’ve recently embarked upon an ambitious project to create a detailed collection of guides to the pieces in the new ABRSM syllabus. The first instalment in this series kicks off with some highlights from the syllabus at the late elementary (grades 3 and 4) and intermediate levels (grades 4 to 6). Even if you’re not preparing for an examination, the new syllabus contains a curated selection of graded pieces, many of which are open domain and therefore freely available online. Exploring this rich and varied collection of works is highly recommended as you are bound to find some delightful additions to your repertoire! JS Bach – Prelude in C minor (BWV 999) Grade 4 Originally written for the lute, this piece is based on a harmonic progression that Bach opens out into figuration (we find one texture throughout). It makes an ideal preparatory piece for the C major and C minor Preludes (from Book 1), constructed in similar ways. Click here for links to the full video walk-through, open domain score and a Spotify recording […]

Get It Right from the Start

It’s the start of a new school  year! With it comes new challenges, new examination syllabi and many wonderful pieces to learn. Whether you do it for pleasure or an exam, here are seven tried and tested steps to help you lay a solid foundation when starting a new piece. 1. Familiarise yourself Get to know the piece better before you start: Reading up on the piece beforehand will give you context Tune your ear by listening to several recordings of the piece  Analyse the piece by considering its form and character 2. Select your fingering Organise and condition your fingers at the start: Note down your chosen fingering for both hands in the score Adjust as learning progresses until you find the perfect fingering Once you’ve found your fingering sweet spot, stick to it! 3. Divide & conquer Avoid overloading your working memory by: Separating the piece into smaller, more manageable sections Exercising mindful repetition using the bar by bar plus 1 method Learning one section at a time before you move onto the next! 4. Take it slow! Learning a piece correctly is more important than developing speed: Start slowly to get your notes, rhythms and fingerings right Give yourself enough time to think and plan in between notes Patiently repeat small sections of music as often as you need it 5. Start in different places Avoid developing weak spots and superficial learning of the work by: Exercising tracking to test and strengthen your memory Working backwards through sections of your piece Starting with any Quarantine spots identified early on 6. Separate hands & strands Simplify the process by deconstructing the piece: Tackle separate-hand activities Break your piece into simple strands Isolate notes […]

Your Practising Questions Answered!

Do you have a question about practising? Or are you struggling with a particular part of a piece and are not sure how to go about practising it? Join us on our Facebook page at 12:00 BST on September 16th for our next practice clinic in which Graham Fitch answers practising-related questions submitted in advance by online academy subscribers (please see further details below on how to submit your questions). Frequently Asked Questions I’m a subscriber to the Online Academy, how do I submit a question? If you are a subscriber then you will receive an email with a link to a form which you can use to submit your question (please make sure that you are signed-up to receive emails from us!). You can also access this link on your dashboard by signing into your account (it’s listed under “Subscription benefits”). Please note that to allow sufficient time for preparation, submissions will be closed two weeks before each event. We are also unable to accept questions that aren’t submitted via this form. Unfortunately we can’t guarantee that we will respond to every question directly, but we will review all of the submissions and endeavour to cover as many as possible either in this event or in a subsequent one. I’m not a subscriber, can I still participate? Although question submission is only available to our Online Academy subscribers, you are most welcome to attend the session on Facebook Live or to watch after the event on Facebook or our YouTube channel. If you are not an Online Academy subscriber and would like to find out more then please click here. I’m not on Facebook, how do I view the session? That’s no problem at all! […]

By |August 27th, 2020|News|0 Comments

Tips for Improving Your Sight-Reading

Improving your sight-reading is not just about getting a good score in an examination. It enables you to derive more pleasure from your playing through discovering new music and broadening your repertoire. It also opens up more possibilities for enjoying making music with others. As with any skill, it requires practice and can be challenging to develop. The following are some tips to help make sight-reading less daunting and practising it more enjoyable! Use pieces you like – Instead of playing through numerous dry exercises, find pieces you want to play and treat your sight-reading as a journey of discovery. There are many collections of varying styles on sites like the Petrucci Music Library which are suitable for sight-reading. Examples at an intermediate to advanced level include Bach Chorales, Czerny Studies, Schumann’s Album for the Young and Bartok’s For Children. Keep your eyes on the score – Avoid looking at your hands and focus on the score. You can test your ability to do this with this diagnostic test and this simple, but effective device can also be useful for training your eyes. Read ahead – Our natural tendency is to look at the notes we are currently playing, but this leaves no time to prepare the next move. Reading ahead is one of the most important skills in sight-reading. A good place to start is to use natural resting places e.g. long chords, phrase endings, fermatas as opportunities to look ahead. You can also use this app which provides an interactive way to develop this skill. Keep going – Sight-reading is different to practising because it requires us to play a piece straight through, without stopping to correct errors. A more flexible attitude is required to keep […]

Online Workshops Update

We’ve expanded our increasingly popular online workshops programme further this month by adding sessions on several new topics. The first of these were on developing sight-reading skills and healthy piano playing. The next workshops towards the end of the month will look at memorisation and learning new pieces. Sight-Reading & Healthy Piano Playing In our first event of the month, Ken Johansen provided an interactive demonstration of how to develop sight-reading skills. Based on his advanced sight-reading curriculum, Ken shared his structured approach to training the eye and adopting a flexible attitude in order to keep going no matter what! “This has been the most useful and comprehensive set of strategies I have found for working on sight reading. I feel enthused!” The next sessions featured expert in healthy piano playing and pianists injuries, Penelope Roskell. In the first part, Penelope introduced key principles behind a healthy technique and demonstrated her “parachute” touch for controlling arm weight and minimising effort. The second part was an injury clinic in which Penelope responded in detail to numerous questions from our audience all over the globe! “Thank you so much for the sessions today. This was the best event I have ever attended and more successful than I could have imagined a Zoom meeting could be. Penelope was so generous with her advice and I have learned so much that will stop me incurring further injury!” We are planning on repeating these sessions due to their popularity. Therefore please sign-up for our mailing list if you missed them and would like notifications of future dates. Learning Pieces & Memorisation Our next workshops will be presented by Graham Fitch on Friday 31st July. The first features a step-by-step guide to learning […]

Why a Healthy Technique is Important

This weeks’ guest blog post by Penelope Roskell looks at the importance of a healthy technique and how to go about acquiring it. *** *** *** Should we suffer for our art?  Piano playing is a physically demanding activity. Just as elite athletes understand and care for their bodies, so should pianists and their teachers think carefully about their approach to playing and practising.  A healthy piano technique not only avoids injury, ensuring a life-long enjoyment of music-making – it also helps to achieve a more beautiful sound, greater artistic freedom and faster progress.     Minimising effort The old maxim ‘no pain, no gain’ has been proven wrong over and over again, but still musicians find it difficult to ignore that inner voice that tells you that unless you are working very hard, then you are not really progressing.  A healthy technique, however, prevents injury by minimising the physical effort we use to play the piano. Movements become more co-ordinated: the small muscles are supported by the larger muscles; the sound is produced naturally by gravity rather than pressure; and stretches are minimised to avoid build-up of tension. Real progress comes, not from endless hours of mindless mechanical practice but from acquiring the technical know-how which allows the fingers, hands and arms to move freely around the keyboard.    Minimum effort for maximum expression  Every movement we make at the piano affects the quality of the sound; the freer the movements, the more flowing the musical phrase. Our technical skills must always serve a clear musical purpose – to express the meaning of the phrase as eloquently as possible, without exaggeration or inhibition – just enough and no more.  Achieving balance If the body is out of balance, […]

New Online Workshops

Our online workshops and events programme for the next few months features a combination of repeats of popular events and new sessions based on requests and feedback from our participants to date. We’re also delighted to welcome two new presenters, Ken Johansen and Penelope Roskell to our programme! The following are some of the events that we have lined up for the summer: Practice Tools (Part 1 & Part 2) – A repeat of Graham Fitch’s Practice Tools workshops which give detailed demonstrations of how to apply various tools to make your practising more effective. Click here for more information or to book your place. Memorisation – By popular request, this new workshop follows-on from the Practice Tools workshops and focuses on methods and techniques for deep learning and memorisation. Click here for more information or to book your place. Developing Sight-reading Skills (Part 1 & Part 2) – A workshop in two parts by Ken Johansen based on his advanced sight-reading curriculum, providing an interactive demonstration of essential sight-reading skills, including eye training and flexibility. Click here for more information or to book your place. Healthy Technique & Injury “Clinic” – Penelope Roskell will be presenting her approach to healthy piano technique, followed by a pianist injury “clinic” in which she will answer questions on preventing and recovering from injury. Click here for more information or to book your place. Piano Technique Workshop – A repeat of Graham Fitch’s workshop on various aspects of piano technique covering topics such as technical fundamentals, scales and arpeggios, building speed and an introduction to the concept of forearm rotation. In addition to these online workshops, we regularly broadcast various free live events from our Facebook page. Videos from past […]

By |June 25th, 2020|News|0 Comments

A Lesson in Sight-Reading from Julia Child

This weeks’ guest blog post introduces the newly published second part of our advanced sight-reading curriculum by Ken Johansen, associate professor at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and Online Academy contributor. *** *** *** The first requirement of sight-reading is that we keep going and not stop to correct mistakes. This is fundamentally different from practising, where we stop to root out mistakes as soon as they occur. This requirement obliges us, first of all, to choose our sight-reading repertoire carefully, so that we are able to keep going without making too much of a hash of things. Secondly, it means that when mistakes do occur, as they inevitably will, we must be able to sail through them without fear or regret. What Julia Child said about cooking applies equally to sight-reading: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” A “what-the-hell attitude” in sight-reading doesn’t imply that we don’t care about what we’re doing, but that we give priority to our musical experience – our first encounter with an unknown piece of music – rather than to monitoring our success or failure in reading the score accurately. After all, in cooking it is our enjoyment of the food we’ve created, and what we’ve learned from making it, that matters most, not whether or not we’ve followed the recipe in all its details. Such an attitude requires flexibility, not only in the spirit with which we confront challenges, but in the musicianship with which we adapt to them. Just as experienced cooks know how to adapt when the soufflé has collapsed or the roast is undercooked, so experienced sight-readers find ways to […]

New Practice Tools Workshop!

Due to the popularity of our online workshop on the Practice Tools, we are pleased to announce a new follow-on workshop. This second workshop builds on the concepts introduced in the first and introduces additional practice tools, including: How to deconstruct the score to learn pieces more efficiently Using transposition to solve technical problems Inventing exercises from within pieces Using shadow practice for tonal and motor control Deep learning with memory tools such as visualisation and mental practice for deep learning. As with all of our online workshops, the workshop will include opportunities for questions and answers, along with practice worksheets and resources. The session will also be recorded, and all participants will receive a link to download the video. We will also be running a repeat of the initial workshop (Part 1) if you missed one of the sessions in April / May and would like to attend (We recommend attending the first workshop before attending the second). Tickets can be purchased for each workshop individually for £25 or together for both workshops for £40 (please select “Combined Ticket” when purchasing your tickets). Online Academy subscribers get a further 40% off individual or combined tickets. Please use one of the following links to book your place: Part 1 (Saturday 6th June @ 15:00 BST) – Click here for more information or to book tickets. Part 2 (Saturday 13th June @ 15:00 BST) – Click here for more information or to book tickets. Frequently asked questions How do your online workshops work? We use Zoom, a widely used platform to deliver the workshops which is free for participants and easy to use and install. The workshops are presented over video using a combination of camera […]