I first published this post a few years ago, but I have recently been sent details of brand new piano meetup groups in the UK, and decided to republish this post with all the updates. Please let me know if you run a piano group and I will be happy to include your details.

* * *   * * *   * * * 

When we perform, we call on a different part of ourselves from when we practise or play alone, because these are completely different activities.

The concert stage is no place for shrinking violets. In performance we need to project our ideas about the music – as well as our sound – outwards to the listener, and we must make sure we do this convincingly so they really get it!

When we perform authoritatively we summon feelings of abandon, spontaneity, and creativity. These qualities are associated with right-brained activity, whereas practising relies on thoughtful, analytic procedures where we constantly evaluate – repeating and refining our results until we are satisfied they are correct. These are more left-brained activities.

We must be prepared to go with the punches – there’s no point worrying about the piano, or that you weren’t happy with how you played that opening phrase. In practice we go back and get it right, in performance we have to accept what comes out and just deal with it.

Performance Mindset

In performance, we need to leave our inner critic in the green room and go into another state of mind once we are on the stage, one where we are not engaged in thinking, but rather in being and doing.

We probably all know an excellent pianist who is not able to make the transition from the one state of mind to the other. While they may play wonderfully, they can’t seem to put themselves through what they perceive as the torment of public performance.

Letting go of our critic is easier for some than others. What makes a good performer is the combination of natural talent and the capacity for sheer hard work, together with the ability to let go and surrender control when on stage. Some relish the act of showmanship – performance with all its theatre – while others shrink from it, seemingly unable to believe in their own abilities or to get out of their own way.

Franz Liszt by Nadar, March 1886

Franz Liszt (a few months before his death)

Even though these words are from violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz, they apply absolutely to us pianists:

Practice like it means everything in the world to you. Perform like you don’t give a damn.

Like most other things in life, the more we do something, the easier and more familiar it becomes. Smart piano teachers have regular student concerts where everyone gets up and plays – they are all in it together. Exams and (more usefully) festivals or eisteddfods are wonderful ways of developing performance skills. You are usually playing in a fair-sized hall on a grand piano, to a built-in audience and a professional adjudicator.

At the conservatory level, there will be many opportunities for performance: concerts in front of teachers and peers, as well as higher profile events where there will be a public audience. Outside of formal exams, there will be a portfolio of in-house competitions you will be eligible to enter, and there will probably be weekly performance classes where you test out your pieces. Use as many opportunities to perform as are on offer to you, or that you can generate yourself.

Remember: The very best way to learn performance skills is to perform regularly!

For my students, I have a rule that a programme needs to be aired three times in safe, smallish situations before it is ready to be presented to a paying audience or an examiner. These smaller performances could be to an invited audience in a private home, a lunchtime recital in a church, playing in a hospital or old people’s home, etc. The run-throughs are themselves prefaced by a week of playing the programme through in its entirety daily as part of the practice regime. Only then is the programme properly seasoned and ready to be taken on the road.

For more on developing performance skills, follow this link to my blog post Cavaliers and Rounheads (click here) and to Part 4, Volume 1 of my eBook Series (click here)

The Amateur Pianist

I work with a number of amateur pianists and this is a very special part of what I do. What a privilege to be able to help people improve their playing and to express their love of music more freely and more skilfully! I notice time and time again how vital piano playing is in the lives of amateur players, who approach it with a passion that would put many a professional musician to shame.

It is of course quite possible to take piano lessons and play only for yourself at home. Many people do just this, because they are fearful when playing for others. They imagine they will make all sorts of mistakes and their playing just wouldn’t hold up under pressure. What a shame, though, not to share your playing with others who might be able to appreciate it and also support you!

Haeckel Orchidae

Think of your playing like an exotic plant, such as an orchid. You love, care for and tend to it and are proud to show it to others. It brings joy not only to you but to other people too – it really is a beautiful thing.

My advice is to take the plunge – jump in the deep end and give it  a shot. Playing the piano is probably essential in your life for recreation and self expression, and you might want a safe opportunity to perform when you have something ready to play.

Resources for Developing Pianists and Amateurs

I would really like to make this list of resources as comprehensive and international as possible. If you run a piano circle, club or meetup group anywhere in the world and would like to have it listed here, please get in touch with me via this website (click here) and I will update this post.

Meanwhile, here is a current list of resources of places, groups and organisations that offer performance opportunities.

UK – London
The London Piano Meetup Group is run by two dynamic pianists who organise regular gatherings in various small venues in London. There are also regular events such as classes and workshops. The atmosphere is friendly and supportive and it is an excellent way of socialising. For those not on Facebook, you may contact them on londonpianomeetup@gmail.com

The London Piano Circle is a members’ organisation of proficient non-professional pianists, which organises small informal playing gatherings in some members’ homes, concerts and masterclasses.

London Adult Piano Learners is for adults doing classical grades to gain performance experience. Informal and friendly, the sessions take place at a school in Chelsea which has a good grand piano and facilities to accommodate around 10 performers. There’s no workshop, training or expert pianists – just a chance to meet other learners and perform pieces before exams. Anyone at grades level is welcome, there’s no joining fee, and the cost on the night goes to the school for piano tuning and music dept. costs.

The London Amateur Piano Meetup provides opportunities for pianists to share their playing with others. All levels welcome and we use “Safe Circle” approach to create a comfortable and enjoyable environment for all. Material is free choice, though we anticipate most of it will be intermediate or advanced classical, although other musical styles are welcome.

UK – Regions

Let’s Play The Piano

Let’s Play the Piano has been running since early 2015 and now comprises eight groups – Cambridge, Norwich, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and Birmingham – with a ninth group in Sheffield recommencing in April. There have been around 300 events to-date. There are eleven regular venues used, including four retailers, arts centres, universities and two conservatoires. Organiser Ben Richards is a passionate advocate of amateur piano gatherings and was inspired by the many groups and societies already established in the UK, some going back decades. In particular an article in Pianist magazine in 2014 and his attendance from the start of Scott Barron’s Edinburgh Group along with the example set by the London Piano Meet-up Group and others. Interestingly, there are well over a hundred piano meet-ups globally, the largest being AmateurPianists in San Diego, formed in 2011 https://www.meetup.com/APSanDiego/

Let’s Play The Piano host multiple types of events including social outings and members’ concerts. In Newcastle, Ben has invested in a new Kawai GL50 Grand Piano which is used by the group and is also available for use at relatively low cost to others for concerts. In Leeds, Ben partnered with Leeds Piano Competition on their community engagement programme, including a exciting full day tour by 25 members of the Leeds Piano Trail. Ben recently appeared on The Heart Of The Piano podcast with Bob Rose

The Edinburgh Piano Meetup Group gives adult amateur pianists, of all abilities and ages, the chance to gain valuable performance experience in front of a friendly and supportive crowd of fellow pianists. The meetups take place in the beautiful Edinburgh Society of Musicians, who have two Steinway grand pianos.

Cardiff Piano Group is a collective of Cardiff pianists, teachers and piano enthusiasts who love to get together for performances, discussions about piano, teaching, and who, through EPTA (European Piano Teachers’ Association), can develop their skills through performance opportunities, workshops, presentations, teaching sessions and group discussions.

The Gosport Piano Circle is a friendly group which meets four times a year in the United Reformed Church, Bury Road, Gosport. Pianists of all ages and levels are welcome to come and play or listen in an informal and supportive environment. The piano is a good Yamaha grand. For more information please contact Helen Morris on helen.morris62@gmail.com, or Diana Swann on swanndt@btinternet.com.

The Wells Piano Club is affiliated to, and funded by, the outreach department of Wells Cathedral School, a school with an outstanding musical tradition. We meet once a month in term time on a Wednesday morning in the school music department concert hall, which has a superb grand piano.We think that Wells Piano Club is a great opportunity to share in each other’s enjoyment of piano music, whilst providing the opportunity to play a wonderful piano in front of a small, friendly audience, who will be sympathetic to wobbles and stumbles. We hope that one of our strengths is to give this opportunity to any aspiring pianist regardless of age or ability. Sometimes, simply part of a ‘work in progress’ is played and sometimes, a polished performance. Nervousness will no doubt be experienced, however, we are a very understanding and supportive group. Anyone interested please contact Robin Pellowe by email: robinpellowe@gmail.com.

The Orchard Piano Club is a small group of pianists who meet informally to share each other’s playing and chat about all things piano. Learning to play the piano can often be quite a solitary experience except of course when you are performing in front of others. Many piano payers also find that playing for an examiner or at a recital however informal a significant challenge and the piece that went perfectly at home can suddenly fall apart under your fingers. Our focus The Orchard Piano Club provides an excellent focus for polishing those pieces in front of a friendly audience before those grade exams or maybe starting the piano again after a break. Our meetings The meetings of The Orchard Piano Club are held once a month in a private home near Ilminster, South Somerset. There is no charge and an excellent Steinway concert grand with tea and yummy cake are provided. Everyone is warmly welcome regardless of standard from beginner to the more advanced, with every style of music being performed. Your questions You will find more information under any questions. What our piano players say See what those who have attended the Orchard Piano Club say about their experience Resources Here are links to some great resources to help you practice and progress. Get in touch Contact Chris Kaday on chris@chriskaday.co.uk or ring him on 07717 411382 for more information, directions to the venue and the date of our next meeting.

Clitheroe Piano Group. The group started in 2016 and meets every third Saturday of the month, 13:00-15:00 (arrive 12:45). We accept all ages and abilities, predominantly adults but also a few teenagers, any repertoire as long as it’s piano (the occasional chamber piece is fine as well). The library has a Bechstein grand that we have available to use. The contact email address is Liz at clitheroepiano@gmail.com

Gateshead Library Piano Workshop. Under the leadership of Venera Bojkova, every second Wednesday of the month, pianists, teachers and amateur musicians gather together to listen, share and discuss the pieces played, as well as aspects of the preparation work and general piano topics. Sessions sometimes include piano duets, songs with piano accompaniment and piano chamber music pieces. Everybody is welcome.

The Oxford Piano Group was founded in 2009 by Dr Sally Cathcart. The Players’ Group meets on a regular, monthly basis at the lovely Jacqueline du Pre Building in St Hilda’s College. Using the Model D Steinway in the Edward Boyle Auditorium pianists are able to discuss and develop their pianistic and music skills, through sharing and listening to each other’s music-making. Singing, improvisation and generally having fun with music are all part of the experience. Each season has a particular focus; in 2013-14 this was an exploration of 20th and 21st century music and included the music of Benjamin Britten, Russian composers and the contemporary pieces found in the Spectrum books. The current season is all about collaborative piano and members of the group have the opportunity to play in a piano duet, accompany an instrumentalist and become a part of a piano trio.

The Oxfordshire Piano Circle meets monthly at The Studio, Charlton, Wantage OX12 7HN at 2.30 followed by tea. For details, please contact Julie Craven at juliemcraven@btinternet.com.

The Morecambe Bay Group meets at approximately at six week intervals in the Salvation Army Community Centre, Morecambe, LA3 1HJ as a means of giving pianists of all ages and playing experience the opportunity of sharing their music with a supportive audience and to develop friendships with like minded people. We have at our disposal the Salvation Army’s modern Kawai grand piano in  a comfortable and welcoming performance space. People are welcome to play any style of music, bring along instruments to play with piano accompaniment, or just to listen to others.  Meetings take place on Saturday afternoons between 2-00 and 4-30pm and the next one will be on 30 March 2019. New members will be warmly welcomed. Further details, such as all future meeting dates,  are available from morecambebaypiano@btiniternet. com.

Finchcocks offers residential piano courses for adults of all abilities. Many of the guests are keen to take up the piano again, having not had time to play properly since leaving school. Equally, they cater for people who are keen to take up the piano from scratch, sometimes having not played the piano at all. At the other end of the spectrum, they offer courses for advanced players (grade 8+) who are working on their diploma as well as courses for piano teachers. I tutor regular courses at Finchcocks, and can vouch for the inspiring nature of the place, the amazing hospitality from Neil and Harriet, and the wonderful food and wine. There are nine grand pianos available.

The Summer School for Pianists. Over the past 40 years, this Summer School has established a unique place amongst an ever-growing number of summer schools being held each year throughout the British Isles. It combines an atmosphere of friendliness with musical expertise, creating a most positive and rewarding week. Within the state-of-the art setting of the Performance Hub in Walsall, people of a very wide range of pianistic levels can meet and enjoy all that’s good about music-making, without any unhealthy competitiveness or feeling of inadequacy. Participants return year after year to this keenly anticipated annual event. A warm welcome, studies with leading experts, plenty of practice pianos at this All Steinway School, good food and accommodation, recitals by tutors and students, and a final gala dinner and barn dance make the week very special indeed. I count myself privileged to have been on the tutoring staff since 2012.

Jackdaws is dedicated to improving participation in and enjoyment of music through weekend courses, education projects, a Young Artists Programme and performances by world class musicians. There are year-round programme of residential music courses that allow musicians of all abilities to come together and learn from some of the most experienced tutors in the trade. Jackdaws’ mission is to enable creative expression by bringing music to life. This goal is underpinned by the core values of inspiration, access and inclusion. Jackdaws is situated on the banks of the Mells river, surrounded by beautiful English countryside, set among the fields, rivers and valleys of Somerset. My next course will be in October 2015 – it is not yet listed on the site but please contact the organisers to register your interest.

The Chethams’ International Piano Summer School is a source of inspiration, fun, insight and focus for everyone who enjoys the piano and piano playing. Now in its thirteenth year, it continues to grow and develop as a ‘piano republic of equals’. There is no elitism on the course, though everyone is extremely serious about piano playing. There is no other summer school that manages to cater for the universal: adult amateurs, promising children and observers are as welcome on the course as concert pianists, international young artists preparing for top competitions, and professional music teachers.

The British and International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech works for amateur festivals everywhere. Most of the festivals are competitive, and the performers receive verbal and written educational feedback from a professional adjudicator in each classification of music, dance or speech. I am proud to be one of the piano adjudicators for the Federation. There are almost 300 amateur festivals affiliated to the Federation and a similar number of professional adjudicators (in all classes) and accompanists, listed in the Yearbook and on their website. Each year the festivals attract around 1 million performers. While most entries are from children and young people, there are classes for adults too.

Setting Up a Piano Group

If you are interested in setting up something like this in your area, why not take the initiative?

If there are a few of you, you might organise regular meetings in each other’s homes. Another thought is to contact your local piano dealership – they will relish the opportunity to build bridges and develop relationships with pianists in the area, who are, after all, potential customers. It will be a win-win situation for all.

I asked Frances Wilson, co-founder of the very successful London Piano Meetup Group, to write a few words on how she set up the group:

Organising a piano group is a great way to get amateur pianists together to play, share repertoire and socialise. Playing the piano can be lonely activity, and many pianists relish the chance to meet and perform for one another. Performance opportunities afforded by piano groups are also very valuable in improving performance skills, learning how to deal with anxiety, and preparing repertoire for exams, festivals or concerts.

You can set up an informal group amongst friends, where you meet regularly at one another’s houses, or at a rehearsal space with a nice grand piano, or you can organise the group more formally, advertising events via a website and using social media to promote the activities of the group. The London Piano Meetup Group (LPMG) was formed in Spring 2013, run by piano teacher Lorraine Liyanage and myself – we are both passionate advocates of amateur pianism. LPMG uses Meetup, an easy-to-use social networking platform that allows people to organise events and meet. LPMG organizers list events on the site and members are able to find and book the events they wish to attend. The group has around 70 active members (who pay a small annual membership fee) who meet regularly at venues in and around London for informal performance platforms, masterclasses with visiting tutors and concerts. The social aspect of the group is very appealing, as is the chance to put repertoire before a small, friendly audience, and many members have commented favourably on the noticeable improvements to their playing and confidence since they joined the group.

Finding good pianos and venues is important: pianists based in or near big cities are fortunate as there are usually piano dealers who have small performance spaces or rehearsal rooms for hire. Churches are often a good option too, though it is important to check the piano. Sometimes pianos turn up in unexpected places, such as hospitals and railway stations, and the LPMG has hosted events at such places, to add to the novelty of playing in an unusual setting.

If you want your piano meetup group, club or piano circle listed here, please send details via this website (click here) and I will be happy to keep this post updated. I’m also offering a number of specials on my eBooks, Online Academy subscriptions and Annotated Study Editions specially for piano meet-up groups therefore please get in touch if any of these are potentially of interest to your group.

***   ***   ***

If you enjoyed this article then please click here if you’d like to sign-up to our mailing list to receive future articles, content updates and special offers. You may also be interested in the following resources:

Practising the Piano eBook Series 

There are surprisingly few books that deal with the art of practising. This multimedia eBook series contains hundreds of videos, audio clips, music examples and downloadable worksheets to show you exactly what need to do in order to get the most out of your practice time. Click here for more information.

Practising the Piano Online Academy

Building on my blog posts and eBook series, the Online Academy takes my work to the next level with a comprehensive library of lessons, masterclasses and resources combined with insights from other leading experts. Aimed at piano teachers and pianists, it will transform the way you approach playing or teaching the piano!

Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or on one of the options below to subscribe:

  • Monthly subscription – Subscribe for £7.99 a month to get full, unlimited access to all Online Academy articles and updates (click here to sign-up for this option)
  • Annual subscription – Save over 15% on the monthly subscription with an annual subscription which gives you access to all articles and updates for £79.99 per year (click here to sign-up for this option)
  • Premium subscription – Purchase an annual subscription for  £79.99 per year and get an eBook bundle including the complete Practising the Piano Multimedia eBook series and Annotated Study Edition bundle (combined value of £56.00) for an additional once off payment of £20 (click here to sign-up for this option)

From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up is a series devoted to learning individual pieces using outlines and reduced scores that help you to practise more effectively, memorise more consciously, and interpret music more creatively. Each From the Ground Up edition starts with a reduced score or foundation which reveals the essential structure of the music. Detail is then added in layers through successive scores thus enabling learning a piece from the ground up rather than the top down. Please click here to find out more about From the Ground Up on the Online Academy or on one of the following links to view the first two editions: