examinations

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 […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 5

Continuing my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus, this week I am having a look at the pieces in the main book for Grade 5 (click here to view my previous post featuring Grade 4, click here for Grade 3, and click here to view Grade 2). The following video is a preview where I pick out a selection of pieces from each main list (A, B, and C) for the grade: The complete collection of video walk-throughs for ABRSM Grade 5 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 J.F.F. Burgmüller: La chevaleresque (No. 25 from 25 études faciles et progressives, Op.100)  The last étude from Burgmüller’s evergreen op. 100 set, La chevaleresque. We can see the little horse trotting – maybe in a circus or maybe showing off at a dressage event. Either way the moves are highly organised, elegant and controlled. Sometimes translated as “The Spirit of Chivalry” the title has connotations of gallantry (courtesy between men and women). T. A. Arne: Presto (2nd movt from Sonata No. 6)  A lively and joyous English jig from the composer of Rule, Brittania!, there are plenty of opportunities to explore various different touches, textures and articulations. Don’t let the ornaments put you off – trills placed on quavers may be […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 4

Continuing my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus, this week I am having a look at the pieces in the main book for Grade 4 (click here to view my previous post featuring Grade 3, and click here to view Grade 2). The following video is a preview where I highlight one piece from each list (A, B, and C) for the grade: The complete collection of video walk-throughs for ABRSM Grade 4 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 J. S. Bach: Prelude in C minor, BWV 999  Built from a harmonic progression and originally written for lute we can recreate some of the resonance of that instrument either by short touches of pedal, or by overholding some notes of the broken chords.  Kabalevsky: Etude in A minor (No. 3 from 30 Children’s Pieces, Op. 27)  A valuable étude for the lower intermediate player that will accelerate technical development, this piece is built from familiar scale patterns in right hand against a simpler left hand featuring slurred quaver pairs. It makes an excellent recital piece.  Schubert: Minuet and Trio, D. 41 No. 21  An elegant minuet and trio with some pleasing chromatic touches, this pair of dances is full of interest as well as challenges […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus – Grade 3

I’m currently in the process of producing an extensive collection of resources for the syllabus on my Online Academy. These include detailed video walk-throughs providing practice suggestions, tips on style and interpretation and other ideas for each of the main pieces (from initial to Grade 8), and a selection of alternative pieces. Continuing my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus, this week I am having a look at the pieces in the main book for Grade 3 (click here to view my previous post featuring Grade 2). But first here is a preview where I highlight one piece from each list (A, B, and C), as a taster of the type of content you’ll find in the Online Academy’s ABRSM resources: The following are brief overviews of each of the main pieces (an index with links to the full videos for my ABRSM resources on the Online Academy is available here): LIST A Beethoven: Ecossaise in E (No. 4 from Six Ecossaises, WoO 83)  A lively dance in 2/4 time, an ecossaise is actually the French word for “Scottish”! Flexibility in the right hand is necessary to avoid tension, and flexibility in the pulse (while not indicated in the score) is essential to bring grace and elegance at the start, and then some forward movement in the forte ending. Burgmüller: Innocence (No. 5 from 25 études faciles et progressives, Op.100)  A study in delicacy of touch and articulation, tonal balance between the hands and control of scale patterns in the upper register, Innocence gives plenty of scope for developing an understanding of harmony. The beauty of Burgmüller’s études is that they develop musical as well as technical skills.  Handel: Gavotte in G, HWV 491  A model of symmetry and tightly organised musical structure, Handel’s Gavotte […]

The New ABRSM Syllabus

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the initial selection committee for the 2021-2022 piano syllabus (grades 5-8), published last week. Along with two colleagues from the Piano Teachers’ Course UK, I spent a happy day or two browsing the library of scores in the ABRSM’s main London offices. I also received a fair number of scores through the post from various publishing houses, and got to try out loads of music (familiar and unfamiliar). In addition to this, I went through my own substantial library of scores and from all of these sources and compiled my selection. There was a subsequent committee who made the final choices, so I was not sure of the final repertoire until the exam books arrived last week. On receiving them, it was very exciting to see some of my choices in the books! I’m currently in the process of producing an extensive collection of resources for the syllabus on my Online Academy. These will include detailed video walk-throughs providing practice suggestions, tips on style and interpretation and other ideas for each of the main pieces (from initial to Grade 8), and a selection of alternative pieces. I kick off this week with a very brief overview of the Grade 2 syllabus, choosing one example from each of the three lists (A, B, and C). This will give you a taster of the sort of content to expect in the very near future. Overviews and preview videos for other grades are available via the following links: Grade 3, Grade 4 and Grade 5. *** The complete collection of video walk-throughs for ABRSM Grade 2 is now available on the Online Academy. Please click here to view if […]

Trinity Syllabus – More Videos!

As part of the Online Academy’s series on Trinity College London’s current syllabus, I am happy to announce that three more video walkthroughs have been added – with plenty more to come. This week we are presenting one new piece from each of grades 5, 6, 7, and 8, beginning with the Moderato from Diabelli’s rather charming Sonatina in F, op. 168 no. 1 (Grade 5). Grade 5 (alternative) – Diabelli: Moderato (from Sonatina in F, op 168 no 1) Anton Diabelli (1781-1858) was an Austrian music publisher, editor and composer. Today he is most familiar as the composer of the waltz on which Beethoven wrote his set of 33 Diabelli Variations, but he also wrote a number of sets of sonatinas that are certainly worth playing, and which make very good teaching pieces. The first movement of the  F major sonatina is a model of sonata form in miniature, and an ideal piece for the intermediate player to learn about form and structure. In this video walkthrough, I demonstrate the art of finger pedalling in the left hand Alberti patterns to create resonance by hand (instead of by foot, which would cloud the texture too much). I also show how to use deconstruction techniques in a tricky left hand passage to improve control and coordination. To watch the full video walkthrough, click here Grade 6 – Max Reger: Versöhnung (Reconciliation) Max Reger’s Versöhnung (Reconciliation) demands from the player a vivid imagination, and the ability to tell a story in sound. This delightful late Romantic piece describes a character asking someone to be their friend again after a disagreement – pleading, commiserating and even dancing to win back their affection. In the video walkthrough, I show how to project a melody […]

Zen In The Art Of Plate Spinning

I am sure we have all seen that circus act where the showman puts a few plates on some poles, sets them spinning and then adds more plates to more poles. He keeps on doing this until there is a bewildering array. He needs to keep returning to the original plates before they run out of spin, and the excitement of the act is wondering how he can possibly keep all this going with no breakages with just one pair of hands. Preparing a programme for recital or examination poses similar logistical problems. How do we ensure that all components of our programme peak together on the day, and how do we plan our day-to-day practising so we give enough attention to everything and neglect nothing? This takes some planning, as well as some know-how. Routine I’m a great believer in making lists, or rotas, but flexible ones that take into account the realities of life and also that leave room for spontaneity. Rigid schedules are impractical and demotivating, since they are impossible to stick to. However you plan your work, you will absolutely need to get into a routine. A regular routine helps us to frame our work so that the act of practising becomes a habit. Sure, this takes discipline, but nothing worth achieving is possible without steely determination and self-discipline. Therefore, it is extremely helpful to set aside a regular time during the day for practice. This gives us direction and impetus. Since no two people are the same, it is impossible to come up with an exact formula for the length of time needed, or the best format to organise our work. Some people work best in the morning, others later in the […]

There’s a Hole in my Bucket

Imagine a situation where you have to fetch water using a bucket. The problem is your bucket has a few holes in it, and on the journey from the well to your bathtub most of the water leaks away. You’ve got two choices – either make dozens of journeys before the tub is filled, or fix the bucket! Now imagine you are preparing a recital or examination programme, and there are holes in that. That part of your fugue where you know you haven’t organised a good enough fingering, those few bars on the third page of your Schumann that always seem to trip you up, and you’ve never quite sorted out the coda in the first movement of your Beethoven sonata. Of course, you will finally start practising your scales soon, it’s just that there never seems to be enough time to practise the pieces… How tempting it is, having become aware of these issues, to carry on playing with thoughts like: “Oh darn, that keeps happening. Still, let’s hope it will correct itself tomorrow”. This is rather like trying to enjoy a bicycle ride in the countryside aware you have a slow puncture or your saddle is loose. The Pareto Principle The Pareto Principle, or the 80-20 Rule, is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who had a eureka moment when he made two unrelated observations. He noticed that during 1906, 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, and that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the pea pods! This principle is widely used in the fields of business- and time management, and is very useful to know about in relation to practising […]

Managing Arpeggios

Scales and arpeggios are an important part of the developing pianist’s technical regime, especially for those who go through graded examinations. Having looked at scale playing in recent posts, I thought I would explore arpeggios a little. Arpeggio playing relies on similar technical skills to scale playing, only an arpeggio is more demanding for two main reasons: A scale is built up of eight notes per octave (counting the key note twice), the arpeggio four (for major or minor). Thus, arm and whole-body movements are twice as fast in an arpeggio. The greater distance the thumb has to cover compounds the difficulty – in a scale the distance from one thumb note to the next is a fourth or a fifth, in an arpeggio it is a whole octave. Unless the correct technical conditions are met precisely, an arpeggio is likely to be accident-prone and to feel awkward and precarious – like walking on ice. The Arm Looking at a beautifully controlled and choreographed arpeggio, we notice a smoothness and fluidity in the way both arms move across the keyboard, seamlessly connected together and describing a gentle curve. If the arpeggio is played continuously as though on a loop, the curve turns into a figure of eight (or the infinity symbol), all angles rounded out. My general advice for arpeggios is to hold the elbows slightly higher than in scale playing. There will be a bit more space under the arms, as though a current of air from beneath were lifting the arms up slightly so that they appear to float. The golden rule is never drop the elbow down onto the thumb!  The Thumb There are three main approaches to the thumb in arpeggio playing, all […]

Making Scales Sound and Feel Good

Some years ago I was invited to give a class on scales and arpeggios for a piano teachers’ association. There was one advancing student who was really struggling with them – everything was faulty and she could barely manage to get through. I only had a brief time with her, and I decided not to spend too long trying to correct the technical faults because they were just too numerous. Besides, I knew her teacher had already shown her what needed to be done. I asked her if she knew Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto, and she said she did. I then invited her to imagine the piano entry in the first movement and, when she was ready, to play a scale of C minor in that style. To everyone’s surprise (including her own), she played the scale flawlessly. Instead of trying to remember what her elbows and her thumbs ought to be doing, she had an artistic goal in mind before she played – a definite mood and character. This is what enabled her to forget about the “how” and instead focus her mind on achieving her musical intention. This is how it is when we play real music; we can’t be thinking about the means in performance. Scales are not music of course, but we can still imbue them with character and imagination.   Styles When playing a scale, rather than simply thinking of the note patterns of that particular scale, have a style or character in mind. Here are some examples useful at a more advanced level (there are loads more you can come up with). Take a moment or two before you play to get in character: E major in the style of […]