Blog

Top Tips for Starting a New Piece

Last week I launched a free email course on how to start learning a new piece and lay solid foundations from the outset (click here to find out more). The following is a summary of some of the tips and practice tools from my course which will help you get started on the right track: One (or two) read-throughs is enough to get the gist of the piece – aim for a rough sketch at this stage, leaving out surface detail you cannot manage. Taking the time to practise hands separately is incredibly valuable, not only in the note learning stage but regularly thereafter. Practising separately doesn’t only apply to hands alone, but also to strands. It can be useful to deconstruct a score and play voices separately and then together in different combinations. Working on a piece in small sections at the Speed of No Mistakes ensures accuracy from the start and helps you avoid embedding careless errors that may be hard to fix later. By identifying and marking tricky spots in a piece upfront, you can begin each practice session with a step-by-step sequence of activities designed to solve the problems. Dividing the piece into manageable, meaningful sections helps us structure our practice and ensure that all parts of the piece are equally solid and secure. If you would like a more detailed explanation of these tips and tools, plus examples and other resources then please do sign up for my email course! The course is entirely free, featuring seven video lessons ranging from three to twelve minutes in length. The videos are accompanied by downloads, notes and exercises to help you follow and implement each stage of the process.

How to Start Learning a New Piece

Sign-up for our free email course on how to lay good foundations from the outset when learning a new piece.

Tips & Tools for Learning New Pieces

When learning a new piece from scratch, there are a number of tools we can use to get the maximum benefit from our practice time and to lay the foundations for a secure and successful performance.

Piano Conversations with William Westney

William Westney and Graham Fitch discuss their experience with Dalcroze, desire to empower students, and the various ways they have found to achieve this.

The Hanon Debate (Part 2)

This blog post features the views of pianist Peter Donohoe on the use of Hanon’s Virtuoso Pianist as part of our debate on the subject.

By |February 9th, 2021|Technique|0 Comments

The Hanon Debate (Part 1)

As we saw from responses to last week’s post, the exercises of Hanon are a hotly debated topic. It seems there is nothing more provocative than uttering the name of Hanon to a group of pianists and teachers in a social media forum. The ensuing discussion about the use of the exercises in The Virtuoso Pianist so often becomes tainted by bias and polemic and ends up like a debate on religion, with neither side coming out the winner. Those against cannot imagine there might be such a thing as “using” the blank patterns we find in Hanon for various specific reasons, rather than “doing” Hanon as it says on the tin. I think it is very important to make this distinction. Many drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies are found to be useful for other purposes and end up being prescribed off-label. This principle can certainly be applied to Hanon’s exercises. The Controversy Modern piano teaching has moved away from an insistence on mechanical exercises devoid of musical meaning, and away from the notion of lifting and isolating the fingers from the rest of the hand and the arm (as Hanon’s exercises will do if you follow his instructions to the letter). By spending hours drilling the fingers in the way Hanon indicates, we not only risk wasting practice time that might better be spent on music but – much worse – we ingrain muscular habits that will almost certainly be detrimental and potentially injurious. The Middle Path It can be convenient to use the blank, easy-to-remember (and totally harmless) note patterns we find in the exercises as vehicles to easily experience choreography or coordination between the hands so that these skills can be transferred across to […]

By |February 4th, 2021|Technique|2 Comments

How to Use Hanon

In this week’s guest post, Ilga Pitkevica discusses the ubiquitous exercises of Hanon and shares her views on how to use them effectively. *** Mastering all core types of piano technique is essential for the freedom to successfully express musical ideas and communicate them to an audience. It can be quite frustrating to have a piece one wants to play and to be unable to do it just because some technical challenges seem impossible to master. I have heard complaints on this matter many times in many different and, at the same time, very similar contexts. In my opinion, the solution is fairly straight forward: We pianists need to exercise regularly to maintain our physical ability to play at the standard we want. And if we know how to exercise and warm-up, it does not take too much of our time at all. Hanon’s Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises Hanon’s The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises is one of the exercise books which can be used for this purpose. However, the opinions on this book are divided. On one side, I think its popularity lies in its “simplicity” of notes (in comparison to etudes, for example). In these busy times, when everyone is looking for fast problem-solving solutions, this simplicity can be very important. On the other side, because of this simplicity and plainness, “Hanon” (as its widely referred to as) is often called repetitive, boring and dull. I would argue that repetition makes things permanent. But regarding dull and boring…. well, this is up to us as the pianists! What we think and practise is what we get. If we play Hanon in a dull, boring, hammering way then that is what we will […]

By |January 28th, 2021|Technique|1 Comment

Improve Your Technique!

A collection of resources to help you improve your piano technique and achieve your pianistic goals!

By |January 26th, 2021|Technique|0 Comments

Learning Khachaturian’s Toccata

Aram Khachaturian’s Toccata is one of the most effective showpieces for the advancing pianist. Although it looks and sounds very difficult, it is actually much more approachable than you might think, with patterns that are always highly pianistic and often surprisingly simple to memorise. There is plenty of scope for narrative and imagery in this piece, the pedal bringing textures together to create a soundscape that is at times savage and barbaric, then scintillating and brooding. In this excerpt from my video walk-throughs for the piece, I demonstrate an approach to learning bar 74 which looks daunting due to numerous accidentals: The full video walk-through of Khachaturian’s Toccata featuring over an hour of detailed information on learning, memorising and performing it is available on the Online Academy here. Other walk-throughs of pieces from the 2021 – 2022 ABRSM Piano Examination Syllabus are available here. Guide to the ABRSM 2021 & 2022 Piano Examination Syllabus We have published a comprehensive collection of resources for the 2021 & 2022 syllabus. The full set of over seventy video walk-throughs is included with a subscription to the Online academy. Please click here to subscribe or click here to find out more about the Online Academy. Alternatively, the complete set of video-walkthroughs for all ABRSM grades can also be purchased separately along with recordings from our recent workshop day on the syllabus. Please click here for more information or if you have already purchased a ticket then you can access the videos by signing in to your account.

How to Broaden Your Active Repertoire

This week’s post is by Online Academy co-founder, Ryan Morison. Ryan is a devoted and dedicated amateur pianist, and I’m delighted to welcome him as guest author to share his thoughts on ways to increase our active repertoire effectively and efficiently. * * * It is the season for virtuous resolutions and a good time to ponder pianistic plans and goals for the year ahead. Many of us (myself included!) will be tempted to embark upon stretch goals, tackling increasingly difficult pieces on our repertoire “bucket list”. Although setting challenges can be inspiring, being overly ambitious has its drawbacks. It often results in one spending ages on a single piece only to fall short of doing it justice finally when (or if!?) performing it. To avoid these pitfalls, I have opted for a different theme for 2021. Instead of tearing my hair out at a few fiendishly difficult works likely to be beyond my ability and available practice time, my objective is rather to broaden my active repertoire. The focus will be more on quantity and quality than difficulty, having a wider range of pieces that I can play at a reasonable level on the spot or brush up at short notice without too much effort. The benefits of increasing your active repertoire Broadening your repertoire can significantly increase the enjoyment you derive from your playing. It exposes you to a greater variety of music and opens up more opportunities to share your playing with others. In addition to enhanced enjoyment, playing more pieces also leads to significant improvements in your playing, teaching you new things and improving your ability to learn even more works faster. A realistic approach Rachmaninoff once said, “Music is enough for a lifetime, but […]