The Piano Teachers’ Course Online

We’re delighted to announce the launch of a brand-new initiative on the Online Academy, PTC Online. Developed in partnership with the The Piano Teachers’ Course UK, this series features in-depth videos and downloadable content from expert tutors Lucinda Mackworth-Young, Graham Fitch, Sally Cathcart and Ilga Pitkevica. Aimed at piano teachers, the tutorials are based on content from the acclaimed Piano Teachers’ Course UK and provide handy teaching tips to view, download and use at your convenience.  There are six modules available, covering teaching beginners, practising, piano technique, improvisation and playing by ear, and psychology for teaching and learning. If you have wondered how to instill a genuine and long-lasting love of music in your beginner pupils, or you’ve been baffled about how to teach good technique even at advanced level, help is now available all in one place! The videos with accompanying downloads allow you to progress through each module at your own pace, return to the materials as often as you like, and start using the information straight away in your teaching. Even if you are not a piano teacher, a number of the modules will still be invaluable for the purposes of improving your playing and enjoyment of the piano, whether you are a beginner or accomplished pianist. To give a taste of what you can expect from the videos, the introductory sections of Anyone Can Improvise, and the first two videos of Graham Fitch’s Practice Tools and Piano Technique lecture series are freely available and can be viewed using the links below. These modules are all included as part of an Online Academy subscription or can be purchased individually. A complete bundle of all six is also available and can be purchased […]

By |June 20th, 2019|News|0 Comments

Introduction to the Practice Tools

I’m pleased to announce my new course, Introducing the Practice Tools, which is taking place on Saturday, 13th of July 2019 at the Victoria Park Plaza Hotel in central London.  Aimed at teachers and pianists at an intermediate level or above, this one-day course is based on my eBook Series and blog. It will introduce highly effective strategies which will assist you and your students in getting the most out of time spent practising the piano. The course will be delivered in an innovative, interactive format with introductory presentations followed by breakout sessions. Each participant will have their own private digital piano with headphones to test out a particular practice skill. There will be plenty of opportunity for feedback with question and answer sessions forming the backbone of the day. The following topics will be covered: Introduction: An overview of the practice tools Using the feedback loop: How to plan and focus your practice session for maximum benefit in every area. Slow practice: How to use ultra-slow speeds for learning notes, correcting errors and finessing sound, and when not to use it! Gaining speed: We explore two methods of taking a piece from the slow stages to performance speed, developing fluency and accuracy as well as ease and grace. Repetition in practice: We form habits by repetition, but only perfect practice makes perfect. In this session we learn how to manage repetition in our practice mindfully and creatively to achieve tangible, lasting results. Preparatory materials for breakout sessions will be provided in advance and all participants will receive handouts and complimentary online access to my video lecture series on the Practice Tools (valued at £20). Please note that participants will not be required to play in front of […]

The Myth of Evenness

This week’s guest blog post features an article on evenness and rhythmic groupings by Ken Johansen with an example from his From the Ground Up edition for Bach’s Prelude in D Minor (BWV 935). *** *** *** For many pianists, playing evenly is a bit of an obsession. We spend long hours trying to make our scales, arpeggios and passage work perfectly smooth and equal. This ideal is embodied in the famous jeu perlé, in which each note is like a pearl on a necklace – separate and identical, though united on the same string. But do we really want every note to be identical? Clearly, we don’t want unintended irregularities of tone or timing, such as bumps on the thumb in scales and arpeggios. Music, however, absolutely requires constant expressive, intended inflections of tone and rhythm. A string of equal notes doesn’t make a musical line. To modify Socrates’s famous saying, the uninflected line isn’t worth hearing. Nowhere is the need for expressive inflection more important, or its absence more noticeable, than in the music of Bach. The continuous sixteenth-note (semiquaver) motion of much of his music seems to invite the kind of uninflected, mechanical playing that used to be called “typewriter” playing. At the same time, the beauty of Bach’s writing can inspire playing of great rhythmic subtlety and vitality. For Bach designs motives and melodies to have a built-in momentum and rhythmic drive. He does this in the subtlest of ways using the simplest of means – namely, the intervals and melodic changes of direction he chooses. This subtlety is on full display in the Prelude in D minor, BWV 935, currently set in the Trinity College London piano examination syllabus, Grade […]

Most Popular Posts and Articles for 2018

We hope all of our readers are having an enjoyable Festive Season! We’ll be resuming regular posts and content updates in the New Year and have a number of exciting developments lined up. In the meantime, here is a listing of popular posts and Online Academy series for 2018: Blog posts: Enjoying Ultra-Slow Practice “But it Takes Me Ages to Learn a New Piece!” The 20-Minute Practice Session Rediscovering Bach’s Prelude in C Burgmüller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Studies Online Academy series: Burgmüller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Etudes The Well-Tempered Clavier – Part 1 (Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor) A Guide to the Trinity College Piano Syllabus Intermediate Scales & Arpeggios Rachmaninoff Prelude in C-sharp Minor From the Ground Up – Little Prelude in F (Bach) Playing Double Notes at the Advanced Level Anyone Can Improvise! Create First! The Art of Piano Pedalling ***   ***   *** If you enjoyed this article then please click here if you’d like to sign-up to our mailing list to receive future articles, content updates and special offers. You may also be interested in the following resources: Practising the Piano eBook Series  There are surprisingly few books that deal with the art of practising. This multimedia eBook series contains hundreds of videos, audio clips, music examples and downloadable worksheets to show you exactly what need to do in order to get the most out of your practice time. Click here for more information. Practising the Piano Online Academy Building on my blog posts and eBook series, the Online Academy takes my work to the next level with a comprehensive library of lessons, masterclasses and resources combined with insights from other leading experts. Aimed at piano teachers and pianists, it will […]

By |December 27th, 2018|General|0 Comments

Change Your Technique by Changing Your Mind

This week’s guest blog post features an article on using mental practise techniques when learning new pieces by Ken Johansen. In this post, Ken uses an example from his From the Ground Up edition featuring Chopin’s Waltz in E minor (Op. Posth.) to illustrate how to use a rhythmic context to achieve evenness in passage work. *** *** *** Change Your Technique by Changing Your Mind We pianists tend to think of technique as a purely physical matter, a sort of gymnastics for the hands and arms. We imagine that if we develop the right muscles and make the right movements, the music will somehow come out right. But the way we move at the keyboard is deeply influenced by the way we think the music inwardly. It is therefore possible to make technical changes and improvements simply by hearing and thinking the music differently. In this way, a clearly imagined musical goal calls forth the technical means of achieving that goal. One of the technical challenges we work on most is evenness in passage work. We spend countless hours learning to play smooth, even scales, without unwanted accents at the changes of hand position. We work on the smooth passing of the thumb, the correct hand positions and arm angles, and so on, as indeed we must. But all this work will be in vain if we do not first hear inwardly what a smooth, flowing scale should sound like. This inward hearing is really a matter of rhythmic imagination. If we imagine a scale to be a series of equal, uniform notes, without nuance or direction, it will come out that way. If instead we give the scale a rhythmic context (two notes per beat, for example), then […]

Create First! Teaching Improvisation from Lesson One 

This week’s guest post features an article by pianist, composer, and educator Forrest Kinney. In his post, Forrest introduces his approach to a creativity-based model for music education in which improvising (or what he prefers to call “creating” or “free play”) is taught alongside traditional approaches from the outset. *** *** *** Create First! Teaching Improvisation from Lesson One  Improvisation. It means many things to many people. To me, it’s a rather clumsy five-syllable word that could easily be the name for some sort of invasive medical procedure. It doesn’t convey the delight that comes from freely creating music, an activity that has enriched and sustained my musical practice for over four decades. I prefer to call it “creating” or “free play.” For hundreds of years, improvisation has been taught in a certain way when it has been taught at all. First, you learn to play a song—melody with accompaniment. Often this means you will learn about chords in the process and how to style them. (I call this activity “arranging” because it can be taught without involving improvisation.) Then, as you play and repeat the tune, you vary it while keeping the harmonic pattern of the accompaniment. And so, you might first play Amazing Grace in the key of G, then embellish the melody, and then perhaps freely create melodies using the notes of a G major scale. This time-honoured approach is undeniably practical. After all, keyboardists in churches and dance bands have been varying tunes for hundreds of years. And this is largely what jazz musicians do today—they learn and play tunes and then freely improvise over the chord progression, the “changes.” However, there are some serious drawbacks to this approach. The main one […]

By |September 24th, 2018|Teaching|2 Comments

The New Look Online Academy!

We’re delighted to announce that after some extensive development work during the course of the summer, the new look Online Academy website is finally live. The Online Academy’s content has grown substantially since its launch and therefore it was necessary to make some improvements to the way the site is navigated. In addition to these improvements, we’ve also taken  suggestions provided by our users into account and have made a few further refinements and cosmetic enhancements. The following is a summary of the new features and functionality updates: A new sidebar menu with quick access to main topics, search and other quick links More intuitive navigation of content by grouping articles within series or collections and new series landing pages which provide an index of articles within a series Redesigned user dashboard with new methods of accessing content including a “recently viewed” article listing Browse tabs and carousels (or sliders) which make it easier to browse, find and access multiple content items on a single page A simplified search interface which allows for filtering by criteria (including tags) and sorting by most recent or most popular content Grouping of search results by series for greater simplicity with text searches providing more granular results at article level thus giving the best of both worlds Improved handling of bookmarks with articles grouped and managed by series (Click in image to enlarge) Following on from these updates, we will be rolling out a number of further developments over the remainder of the year. These will include better personalisation of content, improved subscription management and new purchase and licensing options for teachers, schools and other institutions. Click here to sign-in to view the new site or click here for more […]

By |September 13th, 2018|News|0 Comments

Mid-year Wrap-up and What Lies Ahead…

We’re now just over half way through 2018 and as always, it’s been a very eventful year for both the Practising the Piano blog and Online Academy. With the summer holidays soon upon us, we will be winding down briefly before resuming an extensive schedule packed with publishing of new resources and updates for the remainder of the year. Therefore, we’d like to take this opportunity to review some of the highlights from the year so far and to share some insights as to what’s in store. Online Academy Highlights It’s been almost two years since the launch of the Online Academy in September 2016 and the site has grown to over 300 articles, 1000 music excerpts, 200 videos and 100 downloads (more information on featured content and resources is available here). Some of the highlights of the year so far include: A new series of resources focussing on technique kicked-off with a comprehensive guide to playing double notes at the advanced level. This guide is comprised of several chapters featuring over 100 musical excerpts, 40 video demonstrations and downloadable worksheets. Click here to view the introduction and index. Launch of an extensive new collection of walkthroughs called From the Ground Up devoted to learning individual pieces using outlines and reduced scores that help you to practise more effectively, memorize more consciously, and interpret music more creatively. Each From the Ground Up edition starts with a reduced score or foundation to which detail is then added in layers with successive scores. Click here to find out more about this series or here to view a listing of available works. Two new Annotated Study Editions and online walkthroughs featuring Debussy’s Girl with the Flaxen Hair and Brahms’s Intermezzo in A Minor (Op. […]

By |July 17th, 2018|eBooks, News|0 Comments

Where Do We Find Musical Expression?

This week’s guest blog post features an article on finding musical expression when learning new pieces by Ken Johansen. In this post, Ken suggests practise methods using examples from various pieces featured within his From the Ground Up series to help you discover an interpretation for yourself from the inside rather than relying on external instructions. *** *** *** Where Do We Find Musical Expression? Some years ago, I took a class and several individual lessons in the Feldenkrais Method, a technique developed to improve physical functioning by imparting an awareness of how we habitually use our bodies. In this training, the instructor doesn’t issue prescriptive instructions (“keep your back straight,” “don’t let your shoulders sag,” etc.). Instead, she guides the students through simple movements and exercises that allow them to experience new sensations. Simply by being consciously aware of these sensations, the students re-program their own brains to learn new, healthier movements and habits. It immediately struck me that this kind of instruction, in which the teacher is more of a facilitator who creates conditions that allow students to make their own discoveries, rather than a master who dictates the “correct” way of doing something, was of great relevance to music teaching. So much music teaching relies on correcting mistakes (“your left hand is too loud,” “don’t accent that note”) and giving instructions (“make a diminuendo here,” “slow down there”). What if, instead of correcting mistakes, teachers could help their students to discover the logical, natural expression of a piece from the beginning? Perhaps instead of just giving students instructions about how something should sound, we could devise exercises that would help them to experience the music directly and develop their own responses to it. Why, one might ask, […]

Making the Well-Known Our Own

This week’s guest blog post features an article on how to approach interpretation of well-known works by Ken Johansen, author of the From the Ground Up series. In this post, Ken shares his thoughts on preparing a new edition for his series featuring Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9, no. 2 (please see further information at the end of this post) and provides some suggestions as to how one can develop a personal interpretation of popular works. *** *** *** Making the Well-Known Our Own Thoughts on Learning Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Why do certain piano pieces become so well known? A catchy title seems to help, whether given by the composer or not. One thinks immediately of Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, and Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude. In addition, these popular pieces combine high musical quality, compelling emotional content, and technical approachability. And of course, the more they are performed and recorded, the more other people hear them and want to play them, making them still more popular. Playing a popular piece of music brings a certain pleasure, like visiting a monument we’ve seen countless pictures of (the Eiffel Tower, the Little Mermaid). We already have an emotional connection to the piece, and our aural familiarity with it gives us easier access to it. But familiarity also poses challenges. It’s difficult to explore a score with fresh eyes and ears when we’ve already heard others play it countless times. Rather than searching for our own understanding of the music, we may subconsciously be trying to recreate a recording we admire. These thoughts occurred to me as I was preparing an edition of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9, no. 2 for my series, From the Ground Up. […]

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