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Celebrating the Online Academy’s Third Birthday

Three years ago, the Online Academy was officially launched with the intention of creating the ultimate online resource for playing and teaching the piano. Our mission was to curate and aggregate some of the best information on the subject of piano playing and make it available to as wide an audience as possible in an inspiring, informative and non-dogmatic manner. From humble beginnings with a few articles and videos, the Online Academy has grown to feature over three hundred articles and five hundred videos on the subject of piano playing. Initially an extension of Graham’s popular blog on practising and eBook series, the Online Academy now includes extensive content from a number of leading experts on topics such as improvisation, sight reading, learning pieces, healthy piano playing and teaching. In reflecting on the last three years, we’ve compiled the following video which tells a bit more about Graham’s background as a pianist and teacher, the story behind the Online Academy and how it has evolved. Where to from here? We have a number of exciting developments in store which will be building on the foundations we’ve developed so far: New content and resources – Extensions to existing resources e.g. Burgmuller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Etudes and Quarantine Spots, a comprehensive library on piano technique, numerous additions to our collection of walk-throughs on works within the repertoire and more resources on teaching in partnership with the Piano Teachers’ Course UK. Features and enhancements – New features for personalising content, a question and answer function and further improvements to tools for finding and navigating content. Additional contributors – We are delighted to be welcoming a number of new contributors to the Online Academy over the coming months! […]

By |October 10th, 2019|News|1 Comment

Schumann’s Romance in F Sharp

In 1839, Clara Wieck received a Christmas present from her fiancé, Robert Schumann – a set of three Romances (published with some slight alterations the following year as opus 28). She was particularly smitten with the second one, describing it as “the most beautiful love duet”. Fast forward several decades to her deathbed, when Clara asked her grandson Ferdinand to play her husband’s F sharp major Romance for her. It was the last music Clara Schumann heard; she died on May 20, 1896. Robert Schumann’s Romance in F sharp major, op 28 no 2, remains one of the composer’s best-loved short pieces for the piano. In ternary form, the mood is contemplative, serene and tender in the outer sections, somewhat turbulent and dark in the middle section. It is an ideal repertoire piece for the intermediate student and I think it makes a great encore.  Written on three staves to make the main melodic line clear, the piece is still a bit of a trap when it comes to reading it (the key signature is six sharps, and there are plenty of accidentals along the way). Take care when learning the notes and you’ll find after a while that the plethora of black notes means the piece lies very well under the hands.   On closer inspection we find that the profiled melodic line is shadowed in the other hand, giving the sense of two companions staying close together. I hear two cellos, and I imagine Robert and Clara walking hand in hand. The arpeggiated chords radiate outwards from the melodic lines in such a beautiful (and very pianistic) way. The two melodic lines could be played using just the two thumbs, but you may find […]

Q Spots Series: Bach Invention in D Minor

For my first piece in the Q-Spots Series I have chosen Bach’s Two-Part Invention in D minor, and identified two Q-spots that very often cause players to falter (click here for an introduction to the series). If you are a piano teacher you will immediately know that I am referring to the places where one hand has a long trill, and the other hand a passage of even semiquavers (16th notes): Bar 18 – Downbeat of 23 Bar 29 – Downbeat of bar 35 The idea behind Q-spots is to identify and isolate awkward places where we stumble and fumble, and go through a systematic sequence of practice activities that helps us break the section down into stages. We practise each stage until our inner quality control inspector is happy to sign it off, before moving on to the next stage. We repeat these stages for a few days in a row, by which time we should find the passage is not only possible but actually feels easy. Let’s look at the first Q-spot in the Bach Invention and analyse the nature of the difficulty. There are two main problems here – coordinating the two hands together at the required speed, and managing the trill without tightening up. Part of the solution is to play a rotary trill (from the forearm) rather than lifting the fingers from the main knuckle; for the trill to fit together with the left hand we will need to organise it rhythmically. Probably the neatest way of doing so is to play a measured trill in demisemiquavers (32nd notes), beginning on the upper auxiliary (D) and stopping on the main note on the last demisemiquaver before the tie. Before we […]

New Series on the Quarantine Spots

We’ve probably all come up against difficulties in a piece where our fingers seem to baulk – we hesitate, stumble, or approximate the notes with a mañana attitude to fixing them. Our unconscious thoughts go something like: “All I need is a few days, it’ll sort itself out eventually”, or “I’ll wait for my teacher to correct it in the lesson”, and so on. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and unless we address these problem passages thoroughly they are likely to let us down in performance. The Problem We all know that in a performance we commit to playing from the beginning of a piece to the end, with no stops or corrections. However, unless we are practising a non-stop run-through of a finished piece, we will likely need to stop regularly in our practice. And not only to make corrections, but to go through certain practice procedures that make our end result technically strong and secure. The Solution: Quarantining The concept of quarantining is firstly to identify as precisely as possible where the problem spots in our piece are, and why they might be occurring. We mark these quarantine spots (or Q-spots for short) in on our score, perhaps using a square bracket, and begin our practice session by doing some proper work on these spots using the practice tools, as opposed to just playing them through a few times. We could even devote a separate practice session to the Q-spots from all of our pieces. Rather than rummaging through our scores, it is a good plan to take photos of the bars in question and insert them into a slideshow. That way, we can practise from a tablet and […]

New Piano Pedagogy Course at Morley College

I am delighted to announce that the PTC (Piano Teachers’ Course) UK is going to teach a new Piano Pedagogy course at Morley College in London. This course is specifically for pianists and piano teachers who wish to enhance their professional teaching skills, come together for inspiration and become part of a motivated & supportive musical network. The PTC is delivered by a dynamic team of experts, each specialists in their field, in classes, lectures and workshops exploring the very latest in piano teaching pedagogy. By the end of the course you will be able to expand your knowledge of good practising habits demonstrate skills for deep learning, memorisation and security in performance deal with difficult situations piano teachers face demonstrate skills on how to motivate your students present yourself as a piano teacher is a professional way overcome the particular challenges in teaching different compositional styles of writing Class format and activities This is a 10-week course and each workshop will focus on a different aspect of piano pedagogy. The course will be delivered by Graham Fitch (Course Leader), Lucinda Mackworth-Young, Sally Cathcart, Ilga Pitkevica, Masayuki Tayama and Beate Toyka. Workshop 1: The Practice Tools Workshop 2: How to Introduce Style and Texture in the Early Stages Workshop 3: Practical Psychology 1: New Beginnings Workshop 4: Beginners Need the Best Teachers Workshop 5: Being Professional Workshop 6: Baroque to Modern Style Workshop 7: Working with Intermediate Pupils Workshop 8: Demystifying pedalling Workshop 9: Practical Psychology 2: Dealing with Difficulty Workshop 10: Developing Skills for Deep Learning, Memorisation and Security in Performance In order to ensure that you make the best possible progress on your course, you will have regular feedback from your tutor, in a constructive and supportive environment. Entry requirements You should […]

By |September 17th, 2019|News|0 Comments

Online Academy – What’s Coming?

The Online Academy will soon be three years old and we have a number of exciting developments in the pipeline to celebrate this milestone. Following from our previous post which provided an overview of existing resources and content, this article will give you an idea of what you can look forward to from the Online Academy over the coming months. New content The Practice Tools – A detailed collection of resources building on Graham Fitch’s workshops and eBook series will be published as a complement to existing resources. These will include a course teaching the fundamentals of effective practising and a revised index of practice tools. Quarantine Spots Series – We will be launching a focussed series which takes one of the practice tools, Quarantining, and expands on it with demonstrations of how it can be used in context of challenging examples from popular works within the repertoire. Technique Library and Resources – A comprehensive library of resources focusing on improving technique and tackling technical challenges for all levels. This will include detailed demonstrations of various areas of techniques, guides to exercises and studies with contributions from current and new authors. Walk throughs – Our library of resources for the piano repertoire will continue to grow and will feature words by Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach to name a few. Resources for examination syllabi will also be added on a continual basis. Burgmüller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Etudes – The final four walk throughs are currently in production and will be added to complete this comprehensive series shortly. Healthy Playing – Our set of resources on healthy playing by Penelope Roskell will be extended to include information on preventing and recovering from common pianist […]

By |September 12th, 2019|News|0 Comments

A Guide to Our Content & Resources

Since its launch just under three years ago, the Online Academy has grown significantly and now contains over three hundred articles, hundreds of videos and thousands of musical examples on playing and teaching the piano from a range of highly respected experts. Whatever your goals and ambitions for your playing or teaching for the new term ahead might be, we have numerous resources to support you in achieving them! To help you find what the content that is most useful to you, we’ve compiled the following index of some of our popular resources (a full index of resources is also available here): Practise more effectively and learn new pieces faster The Practice Tools Lecture Series – An overview of practice tools and methodologies to help you get the most out of your practice time Slow Practice – How and when to use slow practice Skeleton Practice – Deconstructing a score in order to learn new pieces faster and more accurately   Improve your playing and technique – Click here to view a general listing of resources on piano technique or on one of the following specific topics: Scales and Arpeggios – resources on playing scales and arpeggios at the elementary and intermediate levels Fingering – Learn fundamental principles behind comfortable, musically appropriate fingering Pedalling – A comprehensive treatise on the subject of pedalling Double Notes – Detailed advice on how to practise scales, exercises and studies featuring this challenging area of technique Technical Exercises – An overview of exercises and regimes and suggestions for how to use Hanon’s exercises Sight Reading – Improve your sight reading with a range of sample works and exercises from ReadAhead Learn new pieces Click here to view our library […]

Interpretation: Can it be Taught?

I am delighted to publish this guest post from Katrina Fox, a graduate of The Piano Teachers’ Course UK whom it was my pleasure to work with in my tutor group. More details about Katrina at the end of her article… *  *  * Interpretation: can it be taught? Should it be taught? How can someone be taught how to feel and think about a work of art? Defined by Wiktionary as “an act of explaining what is obscure”, interpretation involves making meaningful music from a bunch of notes on the page. My childhood teachers told me exactly how I should be playing, where I should express excitement or sadness, and as a good student I tried my best to meet their expectations. However, these efforts to force me to “play expressively” led to me expressing nothing at all – at least nothing personally authentic. I felt lost when approaching new music, unsure as to what I should think, or feel, or what I should be expressing. I often felt fraudulent as I saw “better” students playing with a seemingly deep connection to the music, and yet I couldn’t muster any. I began to wonder if I was just completely unmusical. So, should teachers address the issue of interpretation, beyond an explanation of the various dots and dashes and symbols on the page? Whilst a few pupils come along that seem to connect with the music instinctively and naturally play with expression and emotion, in my experience the majority need a helping hand. However, rather than imposing one’s own interpretative ideas on a pupil, there is a need to provide gentle and open-ended guidance so that pupils can develop their own, authentic musical voice. Notorious […]

Introducing Our YouTube Video Channel

Over the past few months we’ve been making a number of our videos from the Online Academy available on our YouTube channel. This channel now features a growing collection of over forty full length videos, excerpts and previews. The following example is one of the most popular videos on the channel so far which uses Bruch’s Moderato from Sechs Klavierstücke (Op. 12, No. 4 – ABRSM Grade 6) to demonstrate an approach to mastering the challenges presented by jumps: Other videos provide walk throughs of works featured on exam syllabi e.g. No. 2 from Mendelssohn’s Kinderstücke (Op. 72) and Byrd’s Coranto. Pedalling is also a popular theme with examples including a demonstration of finger pedalling using Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses, an introduction to fractional pedalling and suggestions for how to pedal Chopin’s sombre Prélude in B minor. Please click here to view our channel and subscribe for updates regarding new videos. You may also be interested in subscribing to our email mailing list to receive updates regarding blog posts, new content and special offers.

By |August 22nd, 2019|General|0 Comments

Write it Out!

I first published this post way back in June, 2013, and it has been buried in the archives ever since. I decided to update it and republish after the subject of copying out music by hand came up in a recent lesson. You can do this from the score or from memory. ***   ***   *** Back in the 90s when I used to commute from London to New York each month to see students there, I was thinking of a profitable way of filling in the flying time. During that period, I was preparing for my first few performances of The Goldberg Variations and decided to do something I had heard Rosalyn Tureck speak about – write out the piece from memory in manuscript. Naturally, this took many hours over the course of some months, but I succeeded in doing it and it was a real eye-opener. Did I know the music absolutely, or was I relying on fingers slyly drumming on my tray table to prod me when I hit a blank? In all honesty, I probably did recourse to some mile-high finger twiddling but my aim was to draw on my ear and my brain, which I managed to do by and large but certainly not perfectly. It was an exercise that proved far from easy, but I am extremely glad I did it. It gave me extra confidence that I ended up knowing the piece deeply from memory. This was going to extremes, I fully recognise (frankly, life is too short). However, I often do find myself writing out a small section (it might be a bar or two, or a phrase) that does not seem to succumb to the rigours of routine practising. […]

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