Learning Pieces

Expanding Your Repertoire with Quick Studies

In this week’s post, Ryan Morison discusses how quick studies can be used as an effective tool to broaden your repertoire and develop good habits and skills when learning new pieces.

Clara Schumann’s Prelude and Fugue, Op. 16 No. 2

This week’s blog post features Clara Schumann’s Prelude and Fugue in B-flat which is currently included in the new ABRSM 2021 & 2022 Grade 8 syllabus.

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.

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 […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Initial Grade

The final instalment in my exploration of the pieces from the new ABRSM piano syllabus is now available on the Online Academy. This features video walk-throughs for each of the main pieces for the Initial Grade, an important exam on the path to Grade 1 (where a large number of technical and musical skills are already a requirement for success). In each of the videos, I stress the importance of developing a strong technical foundation that needs to get laid down right from the word go, at the most elementary level of piano instruction. These videos demonstrate the movements involved in the Initial grade, some of the pitfalls to avoid, and how to stimulate the imagination so that we might play with a sense of narrative. There are plenty of tips that will be helpful to the teacher and player. The following video provides a brief preview of the type of content featured in these walk-throughs (click here for links to previews for other grades): How to access? Please click here to view the full videos for the Initial Grade or click here for an index of other grades if you are an Online Academy subscriber (further information about the Online Academy is available here). 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. What’s next? With the addition of the Initial Grade, I have now covered repertoire from all of the grades (over seventy pieces!) in the new syllabus. These will now be followed by: General […]

Happy Birthday Herr Beethoven!

Although there’s no authentic record of Beethoven’s day of birth, the registry of his baptism on 17th December 1770 has survived. Since it was custom to baptise within 24 hours of birth, the consensus is that his birthday was the 16th of December. To celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birthday tomorrow, we’ve created an instalment in our #piecestoplay series featuring a selection of piano works at various levels and our resources for them. Ecossaise in E-Flat (No. 4 from Six Ecossaises, WoO 83) A lively dance in 2/4 time, an ecossaise is actually the French word for “Scottish”! This piece is currently set as Grade 3 in the 2021 & 2022 ABRSM piano examination syllabus. Click here to view a video-walkthrough for this work. Sonatina in G (Anh. 5 No. 1) Although there are some questions as to whether this work is correctly attributed to Beethoven, it offers an excellent opportunity to assimilate essential elements of the Classical style: articulation, balance, ornamentation, and clear phrasing. Click here to view our From the Ground Up edition which provides a step-by-step approach to learning or teaching this piece. Für Elise (Bagatelle No. 25 in A Minor) This evergreen miniature of Beethoven scarcely needs any introduction at all and many pianists attempt it before they are ready for it. This video from our Q-Spot series shows how to use quarantining and other practice tools to tackle two challenging spots within the work. Bagatelle in E-Flat (No.1 from Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33) Beethoven wrote short pieces (which he called “trifles”) throughout his creative life, which he published in three collections. This piece is the first from the earliest set, Op. 33 and is set as Grade 7 in the 2021 & 2022 piano examination […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 8

The next installment in my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus features some of the main pieces in the Grade 8 list, along with some from the alternative syllabus. In this post I provide an overview with notes on a selection of pieces from the list and a video preview of some highlights and tips for works by Bach, Haydn, Brahms and Bartok (click here for links to previews for other grades): The complete video walk-throughs for the pieces featured in this video are now available on the Online Academy with further works by Schubert, Schumann and Khachaturian to follow. Please click here to view the index of available walk-throughs if you are an Online Academy subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe. Online Workshops As a complement to my Online Academy resources on the ABRSM syllabus, I am also running a series of online workshops. These workshops will cover repertoire in addition to topics such as scales, sight-reading and preparation.  Next workshops Part 4 (Grade 7) – Thurs 12th Nov @ 15:00 – 16:30 GMT (includes 4 videos) – Click here to purchase tickets Part 5 (Grade 8) – Tues 17th Nov @ 19:00 – 20:30 GMT (includes 7 videos) – Click here to purchase tickets Tickets can be purchased for individual sessions using the links provided above or you can save 20% by purchasing a combined ticket here! If you’ve missed a session then you can still purchase tickets for a past session (or a combined ticket) to obtain access to the event recording and included resources. Grade 8 Repertoire Overview LIST A1 J. S. Bach: Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906  This highly chromatic and brilliant piece featuring hand crossings and running triplets shows Bach trying his hand at the new galant and […]