General

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

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

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

Festive Good Wishes!

This is my final post for 2018, just in time to wish you all very happy holidays and a joyous festive season. I look forward to bringing you new content in 2019 and if there is anything in particular you would like to see covered in the blog, please do let me know in the comments section below. Thanks to your support, the Online Academy has grown significantly over the past year and now includes over three hundred articles, thousands of musical excerpts and hundreds of videos (a full index of all of the available content can be viewed here). We have many exciting plans for next year and the site will continue to grow and expand. My thanks also go to the fantastic team of pianists whose contributions make the Academy what it is and it’s a pleasure to have welcomed a number of new contributors for 2018: Forrest Kinney Charlotte Tomlinson  Ken Johansen  Lastly, huge thanks to Ryan Morison, Director of Erudition Digital, without whose tireless work, expertise, and enthusiasm the Online Academy would never have got off the ground.

By |December 20th, 2018|General|1 Comment

Eunice Norton on Schnabel and Matthay

It can be awe-inspiring to talk to someone who studied with a legendary musician about their personal memories, anecdotes and experiences of their lessons. I have a particular fascination with two great figures from the past who contributed so much to the legacy of piano playing – Tobias Matthay and Artur Schnabel. It was a great privilege to have participated in Leon Fleisher‘s weekly piano classes for piano majors at Peabody during my year there in 1982, and to have received so much of Schnabel‘s wisdom (Fleisher is connected via Schnabel to a tradition that descended directly from Beethoven himself, handed down through Carl Czerny and Theodor Leschetizky). A student of both Schnabel and Matthay was American pianist Eunice Norton (1908 – 2005). She studied as a child at the University of Minnesota with William Lindsay, who later introduced her to Dame Myra Hess. Hess was so impressed with the 15-year-old Norton’s playing that she arranged for her to study in London in 1923 with Hess’s own mentor, Tobias Matthay, with whom Norton would remain in association for 8 years. A glittering career then followed. A decade later she heard Schnabel’s performances of Beethoven’s sonatas and spent three successive seasons under his tutelage in Berlin and Italy, and later enjoyed many rewarding years of friendship and association with him. Fortunately, Eunice Norton has documented her experiences with both Matthay and Schnabel in a series of extended video lecture-demonstrations, and there is a substantial archive of her work available on this YouTube channel. Schnabel (Part 1 of 18)   Matthay (Part 1 of 10)   There is a little book I can highly recommend to anyone playing music from the mainstream classical period, and that is Schnabel’s Interpretation of Piano […]

Happy New Year – and Plans for 2018

Many thanks to those who entered the Christmas competition. Two lucky winners who correctly identified each extract will each receive a signed hardback copy of Neil Rutman’s Stories, Images, and Magic from the Piano Literature. Congratulations! The answers were as follows: Mozart – Gigue in G, K574 Debussy – La plus que lente Schubert – Sonata in C minor, D958 (2nd movement) Schumann – ABEGG Variations (theme) Byrd – Pavane for the Earl of Salisbury Liszt – Sonetto 123 del Petrarca Beethoven – Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio, Op. 129 (‘Rage over a Lost Penny’) I’ll resume my regular posts from next week but in the interim, here’s a listing of some of the most popular blog posts and Online Academy content from 2017: 1.  “But it Takes Me Ages to Learn a New Piece!“ 2.  Enjoying Ultra-Slow Practice 3.  On Practice versus Playing Through 4.  Exercises for Trills 5.  Developing Sight Reading Skills And now onto the top five Online Academy series & articles: 1.  Burgmüller: 25 Easy and Progressive Etudes, op. 100 2.  Scales & Arpeggios – Basic Introduction  – The Basics of Playing Scales 3.  Solfeggietto in C Minor   4.  ABRSM Grade 1 Scales & Broken Chords 5.  Anyone Can Improvise! Plans for 2018 There are several projects on the go at the moment. Those who have enjoyed my series on Burgmüller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Etudes, op. 100 will be glad to know I’ll be continuing with this until we have all 25. Each study is presented with teaching notes and a video walkthrough. I will also be adding more scale and arpeggio groups to the intermediate scale manual, and embarking on some new things. Current projects under development include: […]

By |January 4th, 2018|General|0 Comments

Happy Holidays!

This is my final post for 2017, and I hope I am just in time to wish you all very happy holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas or if you are enjoying a bit of down time at the end of the year. I thought I would share a few favourite pieces associated with the season – by Franz Liszt, George Crumb, Arnold Schoenberg and Adolf Schulz-Evler. Some of these might be unfamiliar to you, but one of the best-known piano works associated with Christmas is Liszt’s set of 12 pieces entitled Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree) composed from 1873–76, with revisions in 1881. The suite exists in versions for solo piano as well as piano four-hands. Here is Gunnar Johansen in a recording from the 1970s. A piece I love to play is George Crumb’s magical A Little Suite for Christmas ‘AD 1979’, a piece using “extended techniques” involving reaching into the piano to pluck, strum and mute strings. The sounds that come out mimic the effect of harps, bells, and otherworldly resonances. Here is Andrew Brownell in a live recording, so you can get a good look at what the pianist has to do. Arnold Schoenberg was born Jewish but converted to Lutheranism in 1898. He composed some little chamber pieces for his family to play at home, including this beautiful little miniature for two violins, cello, harmonium and piano. The main tune is the German carol Es ist ein’ Ros’ ensptrungen, but listen out for ‘Silent Night’ in the strings. And finally a piece I associate with New Year’s Eve – Schulz-Evler’s transcription of Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube Waltz – ‘Concert Arabesques on The Beautiful Blue Danube‘, played here by Benjamin Grosvenor. Happy holidays, everyone!  

By |December 24th, 2017|General|0 Comments

Christmas Prize Draw Competition

Have you ever considered the back stories of the pieces you are playing? This can make a very considerable difference to our appreciation of the music; knowledge of what was going on in the composer’s life at the time he wrote a work feeds the imagination and enriches our performance – and all it takes is a little research. A popular recital piece – and one often selected for diplomas – is Mozart’s Sonata in A minor, K 310. Do you know the background to this work? Put yourself in Mozart’s shoes in the summer of  1778. He was 22 years old on tour in Paris with his mother, who was accompanying him. Suddenly Frau Mozart became ill and unexpectedly died there on July 3rd. Since his father, Leopold, had stayed at home, Wolfgang would presumably have been in charge of dealing with the situation. To make matters worse, when he eventually learned his wife had died, Leopold blamed Wolfgang. Knowing this story, we can identify with and bring meaning to the tension, despair and turbulence that pervade the work. If you hadn’t taken the trouble to find out about this, there’s a risk you might miss the point and become preoccupied only with matters of performance – what the tempo should be, how long to make the appoggiaturas, how much pedal to use, and so on. Another popular choice for diplomas is Brahms’ set of Klavierstücke (Piano Pieces) op. 118. There is a very personal and very touching background story here too.  The set was written in 1893, towards the end of Brahms life. Along with the others sets of short pieces (opp. 116, 117, and 119), these are his final works for the piano. […]

By |December 14th, 2017|General|0 Comments

Online Academy – What’s Coming?

It’s been almost a year since the launch of the Online Academy in September 2016 and the site has grown to almost 200 articles and over 700 music excerpts, 150 videos and 100 downloads (a full index of series and articles can be viewed here). A big thank you to all our subscribers who have helped make this possible, your support is very much appreciated! What’s coming? We have many exciting updates in the pipeline for the year ahead which include extending existing resources, delving into specific topics in further detail and covering new topics. The following are some examples of what we’re currently working on and will be adding during the next year: Technique – We will be creating an extensive set of resources covering various components and areas of technique with a combination of text and video demonstrations using different camera angles and playback speeds to illustrate key points. A library of exercises categorised by level and tips on how to best utilise them will also be included. Practice Tools – The current series on Practice Tools will be extended and adapted for the elementary, intermediate and advanced levels. Scales – Following from the highly popular resources on elementary scales, we will shortly be adding a set of resources focussing on scales at the intermediate level. This will include exercises, downloads, video demonstrations and further information on alternative fingerings. Study Editions and Walkthroughs – The existing collection of Annotated Study Editions will grow to include popular works at varying levels by Mozart, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven. We will also be adding walk-throughs and resources for a wide range of new works from across the repertoire. Examination Resources – Our existing resources for the […]

By |September 7th, 2017|General|0 Comments

An Interview with Stephen Savage

I am delighted to announce that my piano workshop at Jackdaws in November is now full, with a waiting list in case anyone drops out. If you are interested in an intimate weekend piano course in an idyllic setting with cordon bleu home-cooked food, follow the link below for details of what’s on offer. I can do no better than suggest a brand new course running in October – given by my very first professor of piano, Stephen Savage. For details of this and other piano courses at Jackdaws, follow this link  I had my first lesson with Stephen Savage when I was about 16 and I still remember it clearly. Before I became his student at the Royal College of Music, I had a few more occasional lessons which were always as inspirational as they were energetic and informative. At the RCM, my lessons took place at 11:00 on a Thursday morning in Room 72 and they were the highlight of my week. Stephen’s approach was very hands-on – he always aimed for sound, character and musical meaning first and then explored the means of achieving it as a logical progression. I learned a tremendous amount from him about how to be a musician as well as a pianist, and came out of each lesson fired up. Here is Stephen playing Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse: Stephen Savage’s early studies brought him recognition with a Beethoven 4th Concerto with the National Youth Orchestra and success in the Daily Mirror National Competition. After his time at the RCM he was given the task of acting as Cyril Smith‘s teaching assistant while also appearing in a series of recitals at the Wigmore Hall and broadcasting a wide range of repertoire for Radio […]

Developing Sight Reading Skills

Sight reading at the piano is the ability to process information from a score and recreate it to the best of one’s ability on the spot. To get a high mark for a sight reading test in an exam, you might be surprised to learn that complete note accuracy is not at the top of the list. Examiners are interested in the following criteria: A performance that captures the musical essence and character of the test, with attributes such as phrasing and dynamics present A performance that flows rhythmically, sticking to the pulse as priority while allowing note errors to go by without faltering or attempting to correct them As many correct notes as possible under the circumstances; approximations, educated guesses and even omissions here and there are acceptable in the interests of unerring rhythmic flow and musical communication A note-perfect mechanical rendition of a piece of sight reading is often less impressive than one that may have some note errors and omissions and yet which conveys musical character and meaning. Over the years, I have noticed several attributes of good sight readers. Good sight readers seem to be musically literate, with a solid grasp of theory and harmony. They listen to music regularly, perhaps following along with the score, and are familiar with a lot of the standard orchestral, chamber and vocal repertoire in addition to the piano repertoire. They work with other musicians on a regular basis. Playing for a singer, a choir or an instrumentalist or playing in an ensemble tends to develop the ability to learn new pieces very fast, thereby developing reading skills. Circumstances prevent them from stopping and correcting their mistakes, so they learn to carry on regardless. They […]

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