Learning Pieces

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 […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 7

The next installment in my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus features the main pieces in the Grade 7 list. In the following video I provide some highlights and tips for a selection of pieces from each of the three lists (A, B, and C) for the grade (click here for links to previews for other grades): The complete video walk-throughs for a selection of four of the ABRSM Grade 7 pieces are now available on the Online Academy. These include detailed video walk-throughs with practice suggestions, tips on style and interpretation. Please click here to view if you are an Online Academy subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe. You can get further updates on my resources for the ABRSM syllabus by signing up for our mailing list here and subscribing to our YouTube channel for additional video previews.  New workshop series! As a complement to my Online Academy resources, 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. The format will be interactive with opportunities for questions and answers. Please click here further information.   Grade 7 Repertoire Overview The following are brief overviews of each of the main pieces (an index with links to the full videos on the Online Academy is available here): List A A1  J. S. Bach: Sinfonia No.15 in B minor, BWV 801  Bach’s aims for the Inventions and Sinfonias were to encourage composition (an understanding and appreciation of musical structure), to foster good playing in two and three parts (or voices), and above all “to arrive at a cantabile style of playing”. Apart from good tone, a singing style relies on phrase shaping, an appropriate range of dynamics and colour, as […]

Pieces to Play – Birthday Offers

The next instalment in our “Pieces to play” series features a selection of popular works at a more advanced level for which we have published annotated study editions and other resources. JS Bach – Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor from WTC Book I The prelude for the work is built on a continually repeated pattern of broken chords with sharp, often dissonant accents on main beats and constant movement in-between them. This makes the score conducive to simplification using blocking to discover the underlying harmonic progression. Click here to find out more about simplification methods or click here to hear a recording of this work on Spotify. Fugues are one of the most complicated musical structures and as a result, many pianists shy away from them. However, there are ways to approach learning a Fugue that make the challenge less daunting. One of these is to use the “practice stepladder” which is based on learning voices separately (or in various combinations) rather than hands. Click here to find out more about the practice stepladder. Click here to purchase our study edition for this work. Beethoven – Sonata in C# Minor (Moonlight), First Movement Beethoven’s Sonata in C# Minor (Sonata quasi una fantasia), Op. 27 No. 2, is surely one of the most famous pieces of music of all time. Completed in 1801, it was dedicated to his student, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. The title “Moonlight” was given not by Beethoven, but by poet Ludwig Rellstab; even though Rellstab dreamed this up five years after Beethoven’s death, his nickname stuck. One of the particular challenges of the piece is voicing. In this video, Graham Fitch demonstrates exercises to help projecting the melody in the right-hand […]

The Story Behind Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu

Even though the Fantaisie-Impromptu was composed in 1834, the world had to wait until 1960 to hear the piece as Chopin intended it. This much-loved work was made popular through the version published by his close friend and musical executor, Julian Fontana, but it contains quite a number of textual discrepancies.  How Chopin’s autograph came to light makes a fascinating story. In 1960, Artur Rubinstein acquired an album owned by Madame la Baronne d’Este. The album contained a manuscript of the Fantaisie-Impromptu in Chopin’s own hand, dated 1835. It would appear that the reason Chopin had not published the work was because he had received a commission from the Baroness, and the piece was therefore her property. It is possible this manuscript might be a later copy of the work, which could explain the gap of a year between its composition and the date in the album’s copy.  Even though the autograph manuscript has since been published, many pianists prefer to play from the much more familiar Fontana edition. This is the version I learned as a student, and because it is very ingrained in my fingers, I have stuck with it. It seems like I am in good company. Let’s look at a few excerpts from the autograph score so we can see some of the differences. In the opening material Fontana adds pedal, and removes the accents in the left hand. Some left hand notes are not the same – the autograph has G sharps in the second groups of bars 5 and 6, and the layout of the broken chord in the second group of bar 7 is different.  In the autograph, the broad melody that appears in bar 13 in crotchets (quarter notes) continues in the […]

New Study Edition – Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu

We’re pleased to announce the publishing of a new annotated study edition featuring one of the most iconic works by Chopin, the Fantasie-Impromptu (Op. Posth. 66). New edition features This new edition is an extension to our original series of six videos providing a walk-through of the work and it’s various technical challenges. In addition to these original videos, the edition features: Urtext and annotated versions of the score with 34 detailed annotations covering everything from interpretation, hand distribution, technical exercises, ornaments, practice tips, fingering and pedalling Three practice worksheets which offer a step-by-step approach to tackling specific challenges within the work, including the polyrhythms Fifteen demonstration videos linking to annotations and worksheets via QR codes (if using a print copy) or clickable links (if viewing digitally) The following is an example of one of the annotations illustrating how to approach the right hand patterns in bar 12 using forearm rotations and inward / outward movements when playing on the black or white keys: How to access it? If you have an annual subscription to the Online Academy then this new study edition and the accompanying multimedia content is included within your subscription. Click here to download the edition from your library or click here to view the online content. The edition can also be purchased as a stand-alone product from our store. Click here to purchase for £13.99. Other study editions Brahms Intermezzo in A Major (Op. 118 No. 2) Brahms Intermezzo in A Minor (Op. 76 No. 7) Debussy The Girl with the Flaxen Hair Chopin Nocturne in C# Minor (Op. Posth.) Schubert Impromptu No. 2 in E-Flat Major (Op. 899) JS Bach Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor (Book 1) […]

Mozart’s Sonata in G, K283

Arthur Schnabel famously said that “Mozart is too easy for children and too difficult for adults.” The modest technical difficulties and seemingly straightforward musical expression in his sonatas make many of them more approachable to younger players than, say, most of Beethoven’s. But it is this very simplicity and purity that make performing Mozart on the piano such a challenge. The notes may be few in number, but every one counts. A successful performance hinges on mastering numerous small details while retaining a sense of the long lines that contain all this detail. New From the Ground Up edition Our latest addition to our From the Ground Up series features the first movement of Mozart’s fifth sonata in G major (K283). Mozart composed his first six piano sonatas in late 1774 to early 1775. At eighteen, Mozart was already a highly-experienced composer with a masterful and mature style of his own. The fifth sonata, in G major, is one of the most often played and studied of these early sonatas. Its sophisticated phrasing, rhythmic vitality, and engaging lyricism make it a perennial delight to play, and to hear. Edition features Full score with numbered sections which map to an extensive collection of practise routines Practice routines break down each of the challenging spots, providing exercises to help you to master all the technical and musical details from the outset Reduced score illustrating the large-scale rhythmic structure of the movement’s exposition showing the measure groups (phrase lengths) and hidden meter changes beneath the music’s surface detail Glossary of general practice methods to help learning a new piece more effectively This new edition can be purchased separately from our store here or as part of a combined […]

How to Practise when Learning New Pieces

When learning a new piece, not all practice makes perfect. We’ve all had occasion to stumble at the same learned-in mistakes that originated when we first started learning the notes, and weren’t perhaps as careful as we might have been. To establish good habits we need a thorough, mindful approach from start to finish. Here are some tips and suggestions for how to break down the process of learning and refining a new piece to avoid typical pitfalls: Prepare your mind Making time vs. instant gratification You have chosen a new piece and are excited to get stuck in to learning it. One or two read-throughs is a good idea, but take care to avoid the repeated read-through method or you risk ingraining all sorts of sloppiness. What to do away from the piano & why This is the start of a new relationship between you and your new piece. Laying the groundwork starts with some research into the origins of the piece, its raison d’etre. Listen to recordings, make notes and begin to explore the score away from the piano. By the time you start work at the piano, you will already have an idea of what you want to convey with your interpretation. Analysing the music Study the music and analyse its structure in whatever ways are meaningful to you. Look at the various sections, phrases, tempo relationships, patterns, chords, and so on before your fingers even touch those keys. Have a sense of the overall design and what you want to bring out in your performance means you can hit the ground running. Taking a logical, patient approach Learning a new piece takes time and discipline, also a certain amount of patience. […]

Pieces to Play – ABRSM Highlights

Are you looking for a few ideas for some new pieces to learn? Or are you a teacher searching for interesting pieces for a student? In our new Pieces to Play series we will be featuring a selection of works to provide you with some ideas and inspiration. These will include links to resources with tips and suggestions for each work. Instalments in this series will be published on our blog, and you can get updates from our mailing list. We hope that this series will give you some interesting ideas for what to learn next and perhaps introduce you to some exciting new discoveries! Highlights from the ABRSM Syllabus We’ve recently embarked upon an ambitious project to create a detailed collection of guides to the pieces in the new ABRSM syllabus. The first instalment in this series kicks off with some highlights from the syllabus at the late elementary (grades 3 and 4) and intermediate levels (grades 4 to 6). Even if you’re not preparing for an examination, the new syllabus contains a curated selection of graded pieces, many of which are open domain and therefore freely available online. Exploring this rich and varied collection of works is highly recommended as you are bound to find some delightful additions to your repertoire! JS Bach – Prelude in C minor (BWV 999) Grade 4 Originally written for the lute, this piece is based on a harmonic progression that Bach opens out into figuration (we find one texture throughout). It makes an ideal preparatory piece for the C major and C minor Preludes (from Book 1), constructed in similar ways. Click here for links to the full video walk-through, open domain score and a Spotify recording […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 6

The next installment in my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus features the main pieces in the Grade 6 list. In the following video I provide some highlights and tips for a selection of pieces from each of the three lists (A, B, and C) for the grade: The complete collection of video walk-throughs for ABRSM Grade 6 is now available on the Online Academy and includes detailed video walk-throughs with practice suggestions, tips on style and interpretation. Please click here to view if you are an Online Academy subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe. You can get further updates on my resources for the ABRSM syllabus by signing up for our mailing list here and subscribing to our YouTube channel for additional video previews.  The following are brief overviews of each of the main pieces (an index with links to the full videos on the Online Academy is available here): LIST A Pescetti: Allegro (4th movt from Sonata No. 8 in C)  There is plenty of scope for experimentation with dynamics and articulation in this lively Allegro by Pescetti. It requires considerable agility in the right hand and solid, rhythmical support from the left. Mozart: Allegro (3rd movt from Sonata in E -, K. 282)  Composed when Mozart was just 19, this challenging and brilliant sonata form movement requires precision and clarity in touch, and imagination in characterising the different themes. We find just two dynamic markings (p and f), leaving room for the player to add more shadings in between. C. Nielsen: Snurretoppen (No. 2 from Humoreske- Bagateller, Op.11)  This witty character piece is based on spinning patterns in the right hand that require a high level of technical control. Once mastered, this piece is great fun to play. Pay attention to details of phrasing and […]

Get It Right from the Start

It’s the start of a new school  year! With it comes new challenges, new examination syllabi and many wonderful pieces to learn. Whether you do it for pleasure or an exam, here are seven tried and tested steps to help you lay a solid foundation when starting a new piece. 1. Familiarise yourself Get to know the piece better before you start: Reading up on the piece beforehand will give you context Tune your ear by listening to several recordings of the piece  Analyse the piece by considering its form and character 2. Select your fingering Organise and condition your fingers at the start: Note down your chosen fingering for both hands in the score Adjust as learning progresses until you find the perfect fingering Once you’ve found your fingering sweet spot, stick to it! 3. Divide & conquer Avoid overloading your working memory by: Separating the piece into smaller, more manageable sections Exercising mindful repetition using the bar by bar plus 1 method Learning one section at a time before you move onto the next! 4. Take it slow! Learning a piece correctly is more important than developing speed: Start slowly to get your notes, rhythms and fingerings right Give yourself enough time to think and plan in between notes Patiently repeat small sections of music as often as you need it 5. Start in different places Avoid developing weak spots and superficial learning of the work by: Exercising tracking to test and strengthen your memory Working backwards through sections of your piece Starting with any Quarantine spots identified early on 6. Separate hands & strands Simplify the process by deconstructing the piece: Tackle separate-hand activities Break your piece into simple strands Isolate notes […]