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This past Saturday, I embarked on a brand new venture – an interactive workshop on The Practice Tools, using technology to maximum advantage.

Sponsored by Casio Music UK, we hired a large conference room at the Victoria Park Plaza Hotel in London, which was set up with 15 Casio CDP-S100 digital pianos – and a Grand Hybrid GP-500 on the stage. Delegates were easily able to get to this central location and arrived not only from the UK but also from Europe to take part in the day.

We met at 9:30 for welcome tea and coffee and started with an introduction to Casio’s range of pianos by Chris Stanbury, and then moved on to our introductory session – a demonstration of how to use The Feedback Loop as the basis for all we do in piano practice. 

There followed four sessions, aimed at the intermediate to advanced player as well as piano teachers. Each 60-minute session was divided up into three segments – a presentation from me on a particular topic, a breakout session where each delegate was able to plug their headphones (provided by Casio) into their own piano and try out the practice techniques I had just demonstrated, then a Q&A session where people could ask questions or give feedback. I provided practice worksheets for each topic, but the practice during the breakout session was not restricted to the repertoire extracts I had suggested – people brought their own music and practised what they wanted.

There were many benefits to this format. 

  • People got to try out very specific practice tools immediately after an explanation and demonstration, so that they could experiment with them while they were still fresh in the memory
  • Questions and further explanation or demonstration could be offered immediately, so there was no confusion
  • Nobody needed to play in front of the group unless they chose to, so there was no performance anxiety or nerves whatever associated with the workshop

The first session was all about slow practice, how to use ultra-slow practice speeds to hear and feel every single atom and molecule of the phrase so that nothing slips by our radar. Practising slowly is really quite challenging, and the mind and ear need to be fully engaged to derive the benefit. The second session was all about various ways to bring a piece up to speed (when not to use slow practice) with a special focus on up-to-speed chaining (using The Feedback Loop to correct errors and to refine and finesse). I had the feeling this was an especially important session for those who had struggled with fluency and coordination when playing at fast tempos.

After an elegant lunch, when we were able to chat and socialise a bit, we had a session on controlled stops – how to use the Floating Fermata in our practice to plan ahead and digest the music in our heads before laying our hands on the keyboard. 

The final session was all about managing repetition in practice. I demonstrated many different ideas to the group who seemed very keen to try some of these out in the breakout session.

After tea, we ended with a 60-minute wrap-up where we gathered around a piano and had a mini-masterclass on aspects of practice as well as technique. By that time, everyone seemed well and truly nourished and probably slept very well that night!

We are planning more workshops along these lines, not only in London but also in other main UK cities. If you would like to hear about this, make sure you are on my mailing list and you will receive notification well in advance of general publicity.

Some of the practice techniques we covered in the workshop can be found in the free Grand Hybrid taster e-book.

For news of more workshops, offers and resources it’s worth joining Casio’s Piano Teacher Network.

***   ***   ***

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)

The post The Practice Tools Workshop appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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Practising the Piano by Graham Fitch - 1w ago

In the nineteenth century there was a widespread belief that hours a day spent practising finger exercises would lead to mastery of the instrument, and many method books were published, filled with exercises and studies. The prevailing opinion was that you needed to separate the study of technique from the study of music – by practising endless drill, you would be able to play the repertoire more easily. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way.

Hours spent on exercises and boring studies leads to playing that is fixated on mechanics, to the detriment of artistry or musical merit. It can also lead to a lack of coordination, pain and injury. Not only is this kind of mechanical practice largely a waste of time, it can actually do more harm than good.

The word technique comes from the Greek word technikos, meaning “of, or pertaining to art; artistic, skilful”. This should highlight to us the close connection between the technical, and the musical or interpretative. Interpretation and technique are one and the same, since every sound that we strive to produce has to be achieved by physical means. Many modern piano pedagogues discourage their students from separating purely technical work from music for this very reason. And yet, we do need to understand how to meet the demands of the music we play. Is a thorough training in the mechanics or gymnastics of piano playing essential, or can we develop our technique solely through the music?

Read about Samuil Feinberg’s ideas on what constitutes an exercise

Although practising repetitive mechanical exercises is out of favour amongst many teachers at the moment, I believe that it is very possible, and sometimes preferable, to study a particular aspect of the mechanics of playing by using an exercise. Exercises serve three main purposes:

  • to warm us up
  • to build and maintain technique
  • to tackle trouble spots in our pieces 

The same types of exercises might be used for any of these goals, but the focus and intention would differ. No matter the type of exercise, our work with them must be done consciously, with a specific goal in mind. We need to concentrate fully on the sound we are producing and the feelings and sensations in our hands, arms and body. The number of repetitions does not need to be excessive. Two or three repetitions with the full involvement of the mind and the ear will usually suffice, and this is infinitely preferable to mechanical repetitions with the mind somewhere else. The single most important thing to remember about exercises is not which ones you do or how many you do, but how you do them.

Hanon, for example, which has for more than a century carried with it the stigma of boredom, can be exceedingly rewarding when approached both musically and with a variety of choreographic movements.

Seymour Bernstein

Celebrated British virtuoso, Peter Donohoe, is also a keen Hanon devotee.

I was unwilling, but I was persuaded to do Czerny. And more specifically, or more relevantly actually, I was persuaded to do Hanon. And the reason that’s become very relevant is because I do it now. And I recommend other people do it now as well. And I know plenty of my colleagues who would say that was the opposite of what we should do; that it was some kind of anti-musical experience that you don’t need to do. And I don’t agree with them because I have definitely felt many improvements in what I do from playing those exercises.

Peter Donohoe

When it comes to beginners, many piano methods of the past perpetuated the tradition of the fixed hand spanning a five-finger position (usually middle C). Each finger is supposed to lift up in a curved position, independently of the other fingers which rest either on their key surfaces or on the key beds (depending on which method or which exercise you are following). Nowadays this seems prehistoric – modern trends in piano pedagogy tend not to isolate fingers (fingers 2, 3, 4 and 5 lift together as a unit), but the weight of tradition makes it hard to rethink methodology from the past that was delivered by illustrious, respected and successful teachers who in turn received it from their teachers. 

One such exercise comes from the Bartók-Reschofsky Piano Method, published in 1913. Apparently, it was Sándor Reschofsky who was responsible for the technical exercises. He had come from the grand Hungarian tradition, and from 1946 to 1958 he taught piano at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. 

In this preliminary exercise, the notes in the circles are touched by the fingers but not depressed. At the rest sign, you are supposed to lift the finger in readiness (the fingers on the keyboard are not supposed to move). The raised finger then approaches the keyboard firmly, and always from a distance. 

Bartók-Reschofsky Piano Method

Even though I was given exercises like this by my early teachers, I do not assign them to my students and find I cannot recommend them. Much of my work lies in undoing the unhelpful effects of isolating fingers from the hand and from the arm, instead finding ways of movement that are coordinated and holistic rather than tense and awkward. However, and I think this is important to state, many great pianists have come from this tradition and there are bound to be teachers who use such exercises who get great results from their students.

In my new video lecture series on technique on the Online Academy, I offer this introductory video in which I discuss and demonstrate this Bartók-Reschofsky exercise:

Piano Technique Lecture Series - Finger Exercises (Preview) - YouTube
Click here to view on the Online Academy

I came across this fascinating interview with the young Martha Argerich, where she discusses the subject of scales and technical exercises. Apart from a few days as a teenager, the great virtuoso has never practised scales and works on technical skills directly from the music itself.

If you study in a book of exercises considering only a certain aspect of the difficulty you won’t necessarily be able to achieve this in the piece. Because it is settled in differently. Quite often if you train thirds you won’t necessarily be able to play the thirds Chopin Étude. If you train octaves, you’re not necessarily going to be able to play the octaves in this or that piece. I always have technical problems for sure, but technique is not a separate matter. You cannot say I possess my technical skills and that’s it. I think each piece involves a specific and quite personal difficulty. In my case I always felt it like this. Some people say you have tremendous technical skills so everything is easy for you, but when I begin to study something it’s difficult for me also!

Martha Argerich

Martha Argerich sur la technique pianistique - YouTube

On the flip side, Josef Lhévinne (no less of a virtuoso by all accounts) seems to have been a stickler for scales.

Scales, it seems to me, are the basis of the development of a perfect technic. I always have been a firm believer in them. I am aware that some seem to think that they are not necessary, but anyone who has sat beside pupils and watched the almost magical effect that the right kind of scale drill produces upon pupils at a certain stage of advance could not fail to be convinced

Josef Lhévinne

The subject of whether scales, Hanon and other finger exercises are good or bad for pianists has been polemical for decades. The debate is set to continue, and while it does let’s aim to be polite and respectful to those whose opinions might differ from our own.

The Practice Piano Technique Lecture Series which includes further videos is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.

Further information & resources
  • The Piano Technique Lecture Series (click here to view the series index)
  • Practising the Piano multimedia eBook series – Part 2: Mastering Piano Technique (click here for more information)

***   ***   ***

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)

The post On Technical Exercises appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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The subject of pedal in the music of Bach always arouses keen debate. Ought pianists to steer clear of it and control everything by the fingers, or is it possible to use a bit of pedal?

If I play Bach on a small piano in a furnished drawing room with a thick carpet, I might well need touches of pedal to help my sound. If I play the same work on a concert grand in a large church with a lot of acoustic reverberation, the building itself would add a certain amount of resonance without my having to do anything. There would be a lustrous halo around my sound, and I might not need to touch the pedal at all. If the acoustical resonance was excessive, I would probably find myself slowing down the tempo and sharpening up my articulation a bit too, to preserve clarity. Nothing is cast in stone, we always need to adapt depending on our surroundings.

Some pianists (who should know better) state that the harpsichord does not have dampers. Of course it does, or finger pedalling would not be possible (more about this in a moment). It is true that none of Bach’s keyboard instruments had a sustaining device, but piano sound without pedal tends to be dry and boring. Short shallow dabs of pedal can add welcome colour and resonance, but of course this has to be done well or we risk ruining the music.

This helpful video gives a basic overview of the harpsichord action.

Harpsichord 101 - How It Works - YouTube
Finger Pedalling

Foreign to many pianists, the technique of holding onto notes beyond their written duration is an integral part of harpsichord and fortepiano technique. Before you lurch for your pedal, consider whether you can add resonance by hand. I have written about this subject before; I can also direct you to this video I made for Pianist Magazine.

Finger Pedalling in Bach and the Classical composers - YouTube
The Sustaining Pedal

When I played for the András Schiff in the early 1980’s he did not complain about my use of pedal in Bach, so I suppose I must have been doing it unobtrusively enough for it not to bother him. Later, Schiff went through a period of not using the pedal in his own playing, which worked extremely well for him. I see he has come back to using it again. I think there is an important point to make here. Schiff is one of our greatest pianists and musicians, playing (magnificently) the very best pianos in the very best concert halls in the world. Most of us would find it extremely difficult to engage an audience if we avoided the pedal. The maestro wrote a short essay on the subject in May, 2012, published on the Vancouver Recital Society’s blog. It makes fascinating reading. In case you missed his monumental performance of the entire Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, from last year’s Proms, here it is for posterity.

Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II (complete). Sir András Schiff, piano. BBC Proms 2018. - YouTube

Murray Perahia became obsessed with Bach’s music when an injury put his career on hold for a while. “It took me many years to find my voice in Bach,” he admits. It is crucial “not to imitate a harpsichord, to play freely and yet not romantically, because that’s not part of the spirit of the music. If tonal colouring can enlighten the music, it should be used so that the listener gets what’s underneath the notes when he’s listening to a piece. You can use a certain amount of pedalling – not overdone – because that’s part of the piano.” In this video of a live performance of the fourth French Suite, we can clearly see his foot connecting with the pedal (wait for the subtitles to disappear) and on the repeat we get a good view of the dampers in action.

Bach: French Suite No 4 - Murray Perahia - YouTube

Celebrated Bach pianist, Angela Hewitt, has reached a similar conclusion:

The secret is to figure it out with the fingers first – is to do all the articulation, all legato, whatever you want to do, do it all with the fingers first and then bring in the pedal if there’s something you really can’t join and want to have joined. That’s the secret, I think, to use it only when required. How beautiful it can sound without pedal in the B flat minor. It’s very difficult to do and takes great, great control. 

In a drier hall, I would use a little bit more pedal, but never to blur a passage. For instance, at the end of Book One, the big B minor fugue, I might use it on every sixteenth note. I would pedal each note to give it a bit more resonance.

Angela Hewitt

I notice a general tendency among students when they play Bach, a certain reluctance to play the music expressively and to take ownership of it. It is as though they are scared to do it wrongly, so they present it somewhat drily, devoid of dynamics, colour, inspiration – and love. Rather than embracing the music and making it their own, it is as though the music existed under a glass case in some hallowed museum. You can look but you can’t touch!

There are those who believe that Bach should not be played with such dynamic variation because this was not possible on the harpsichord. However, several of Bach’s keyboard concertos were transcribed for violin and for oboe; the composer himself transcribed these compositions so they could be played not just on the harpsichord but also on instruments capable of adjusting dynamics and lyrical phrasing. That should make it obvious that he would be happy if his keyboard music were played on a keyboard capable of more lyrical and dynamic expression as well. It’s incredibly shortsighted and unimaginative to believe that this is not the case – and Bach himself was hardly shortsighted and unimaginative!

Mark Ainley

When it comes to pedal my advice is to use it sparingly and lightly (pedalling shallowly so that the dampers barely leave the strings). If we avoid using pedal to make legato connections, and take care not to blur the ornaments, discreet pedalling will add some welcome resonance and improve our sound. I do most of my practising of Bach’s music deliberately without pedal and then avail myself of it in performance.

The trick is to think of the pedal like seasoning in cooking – vital in bringing out and blending the flavours of the food. However, we wouldn’t want to take our first mouthful and exclaim: “Ah, salt!”.

Resources

Some years ago I wrote a series of four fairly detailed blog posts under the umbrella title The Baroque Urtext Score. They cover various aspects of style and performance practice that I hope are helpful for the pianist who may be confused as to what’s possible, and what’s permissible.

The Baroque Urtext Score: A User’s Guide (click here)

The Baroque Urtext Score: Dynamics (click here)

The Baroque Urtext Score: Articulation (click here)

The Baroque Urtext Score: Tempo and Rhythm (click here)

***   ***   ***

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)

The post Pedal in Bach: Yes or No? appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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We’re delighted to announce our collaboration with Casio Music UK to make various resources on practising available to pianists and piano teachers alongside their Grand Hybrid Teacher Network. Initiatives arising from this partnership include a workshop on the Practice Tools in central London and an eBook titled Practising the Piano – An Introduction to Practice Strategies and Piano Technique.

Based on excerpts of popular content from our Practising the Piano multimedia eBook series, the eBook is available for free download and features the following topics:

  • Building firm foundations when learning pieces
  • Using quarantining to tackle trouble spots
  • Organising a practice session for the best results
  • The feedback loop
  • A brief history of piano technique
  • Selected walk throughs from our Online Academy series on Burgmüller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Études 

The eBook also introduces the reader to Casio’s Grand Hybrid Teacher Network, ensuring all that download the material have an opportunity to join a piano teacher community offering rich teaching resources, FREE workshops and special offers.

Click here to download ‘Practising the Piano – An Introduction to Practice Strategies and Piano Technique’ from the Casio Grand Hybrid Teacher Network site.

Links & resources
  • Practising the Piano multimedia eBook series – click here for more information
  • Practice Tools Lecture Series – click here to view the series index
  • Burgmüller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Études – click here to view the series index
  • Casio’s Grand Hybrid Teacher Network – click here for more information

The post Free Practising & Technique eBook appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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We’re delighted to announce the launch of a brand-new initiative on the Online Academy, PTC Online. Developed in partnership with the Piano Teachers’ Course UK, this series features in-depth videos and downloadable content from expert tutors Lucinda Mackworth-Young, Graham Fitch, Sally Cathcart and Ilga Pitkevica.

Aimed at piano teachers, the tutorials are based on content from the acclaimed Piano Teachers’ Course UK and provide handy teaching tips to view, download and use at your convenience.  There are six modules available, covering teaching beginners, practising, piano technique, improvisation and playing by ear, and psychology for teaching and learning.

If you have wondered how to instill a genuine and long-lasting love of music in your beginner pupils, or you’ve been baffled about how to teach good technique even at advanced level, help is now available all in one place! The videos with accompanying downloads allow you to progress through each module at your own pace, return to the materials as often as you like, and start using the information straight away in your teaching.

Even if you are not a piano teacher, a number of the modules will still be invaluable for the purposes of improving your playing and enjoyment of the piano, whether you are a beginner or accomplished pianist.

To give a taste of what you can expect from the videos, the introductory sections of Anyone Can Improvise, and the first two videos of Graham Fitch’s Practice Tools and Piano Technique lecture series are freely available and can be viewed using the links below.

These modules are all included as part of an Online Academy subscription or can be purchased individually. A complete bundle of all six is also available and can be purchased for £59.99:

Click here to buy the complete bundle for £59.99. Alternatively, if you’d like access to these modules along with a further 300 articles, hundreds of videos, musical examples and downloads then you may wish to subscribe to the Practising the Piano Online Academy. Click here to sign-up or click here to find out more about subscription options.

The post The Piano Teachers’ Course Online appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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Like many of us, I have come from an eclectic background as a pianist. There are strong influences from the British School, with its emphasis on craftsmanship (especially in the practice room), the German school, with its focus on musical structure and clarity of thought, and not least the great modern Russian School (the Neuhaus line from Nina Svetlanova), with its rich traditions of pianism, artistry and attention to creating an incredible sound. Since one of my teachers studied in Paris with Marguerite Long and another with Artur Rubinstein, there will be some French and Central Europe in there too.

I also undertook an in-depth study of what has become known as the Taubman Method from a student of Dorothy Taubman in New York, and I worked for a time with piano guru Peter Feuchtwanger in London on his various exercises. No description of my background would be complete without acknowledging the enormous debt I owe to Leon Fleisher, whose weekly classes for piano majors at Peabody during 1982 were among the highlights of my pianistic education. And of course my masterclass and subsequent lessons with Andras Schiff in the early 80s were hugely influential.

My own approach to piano technique is therefore rich and varied with all these various influences, and I have found it possible to use the best parts of all of them. Consequently I do not subscribe to the view that there is one correct way to play the piano – rather many different and equally valid ways depending on the physiology, mind and aesthetics of the individual.

In my video lecture series on technique on the Online Academy, I offer some very detailed instructions on how to achieve results at the piano, often suggesting alternative technical paths that can also work. Naturally, I highlight ways of doing things that we aim to avoid. This is because movements that are against the natural workings of the human physiology will cause problems with coordination, which in turn lead to tension and later injury.

What is technique?

The only reason for mastering technique is to make sure the body does not prevent the soul from expressing itself.
– La Meri (dancer)

The word “technique” has its roots in the Greek work “technikos” – of, or pertaining to art. Interpretation and technique are one and the same thing, since every sound we strive to produce has to be achieved by physical means.

I love William Westney’s definition of technique, which is “…making a physical commitment to each and every note” (The Perfect Wrong Note).

The are many different and conflicting opinions on piano technique, but surely each tradition of piano playing has its gold nuggets, and we can use them all if we can filter out those aspects that might no longer be true or relevant to the 21st century pianist. Technique is individual; there is no one-size-fits-all panacea. Indeed we might say there are as many different ways to play the piano as there are pianists!

The T Word

There is a lot of talk about tension in piano playing, and I think it’s most important that we distinguish between tension that comes from faulty or incomplete technique and tension that comes from anxiety.

I think of anxiety as mental tension, and since “the body is the heavy part of the mind” (to paraphrase a Buddhist saying), mental tension will translate immediately into physical tension. If you are feeling insecure, unconfident about your ability to interpret a particular piece of music, or nervous of other people’s reactions, the ensuing tension will inhibit freedom of movement, freedom of expression and cause stiffness and uncoordinated feelings in your body. The end result is dissatisfaction and frustration. You’ll be tempted to blame your technique, when performance anxiety – something different entirely – may actually be to blame. I’m going to talk more about this in a future blog post.

Piano Technique Lecture Series - Introduction - YouTube
Click here to view on the Online Academy

The Practice Piano Technique Lecture Series which includes a further nine videos (with more coming soon!) is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.

Further information & resources
  • The Piano Technique Lecture Series (click here to view the series index)
  • Practising the Piano multimedia eBook series – Part 2: Mastering Piano Technique (click here for more information)
***   ***   ***

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)

The post Perspectives on Technique appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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Practising the Piano by Graham Fitch - 1M ago

When it comes to what ought to go on in a practice session, we would do well to recall the saying attributed to the famous pedagogue, Theodore Leschetizsky: “Think Ten Times and Play Once”.

In his excellent (but now out of print) book, Practising the Piano, Leschetizky’s student, Frank Merrick, recounts some advice in one of his last lessons with the master.

I advise you very often to stop and listen when you are practising and then you will find out a great deal for yourself.

Frank Merrick: Practising the Piano

Merrick suggests we should sing through a phrase (or musical unit) before we play it – in real time, not at fast-forward speed. If the music lends itself to actual singing, then so much the better; if you feel more comfortable imagining the phrase, that’s fine too. But sing or imagine it in as much detail as you can before you play it, so you have something tangible to aim for when you play. After you have played the phrase, stop for a moment and reflect. Did your playing match your intentions? If not, in what ways and where – precisely – did it fall short? This moment of reflection is a very important part of the practice session, and critical to the learning process. However, it is all too easy to skimp on this because we pianists tend to believe that piano practice is all about physical manipulation of the keyboard – that every second of our allotted time should be filled with sound. 

According to new research, National Institutes of Health team members found that by taking a short ten-second break our brains may solidify the memories of new skills we just practised a few seconds earlier. The results highlight the critically important role rest may play in learning.

Everyone thinks you need to ‘practice, practice, practice’ when learning something new. Instead, we found that resting, early and often, may be just as critical to learning as practice.

Leonardo G. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.

The experiment involved healthy volunteers who were shown a series of numbers on a screen and asked to type the numbers as many times as possible with their left hands for 10 seconds, take a 10 second break, and then repeat this cycle of alternating practice and rest 35 more times. The leader of the study, Marlene Bönstrup, M.D., had assumed the widely-held belief that the brain needs longer periods of rest (such as a good night’s sleep) to strengthen the memories formed while practising a newly learned skill. But as they analysed the data from the experiment, they found the volunteers’ performance improved primarily during the short rests, and not during typing. The rests seemed to play as critical a role in learning as the practising itself. The volunteers’ brains were consolidating memories during the rest periods – short ten-second breaks improved performance and consolidated learning.

Merrick’s book is worth searching for. It contains excellent information, apart from the chapter on injury (very out of date).

I have been recommending Frank Merrick’s threefold practice ritual – plan, play, judge – for many years, and it is always heartening to find scientific evidence for how it works. When we apply this rigorously our practice session should be punctuated by regular periods of silence. Rather than hack away repeatedly at a difficult passage until we somehow wrestle it into shape, or repeat a phrase because we’re not happy with the way it sounds take a few seconds to imagine how you want it to sound, and how you want it to feel, before you plunge into the keyboard again. 

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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)

The post Take a Rest appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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I am very pleased to announce a new video lecture series on the practice tools available now on the Online Academy.

The Practice Tools

What are the practice tools?

There are some instances where in a lesson a word of instruction can cause the playing to change immediately, but there are plenty of other occasions when we need to go through a process in our practice room to achieve a certain intended result – learning notes, finessing and polishing, and correcting sloppiness. This is rather like a course of medication, one pill will probably not make that much difference – it is the cumulative effect of the whole course that counts.

Another analogy is that of a gardener. If I am planning a new garden, I will first need to have a vision of how I want the garden to look when it is finished. Then I will need to prepare the soil, which will probably involve a bit of spade work and some hard graft. Now, the real gardener will tell you that all this is part and parcel of it, taking pleasure in all the stages from start to finish. There is a certain amount of patience needed to delay gratification and not to skimp on the first stages. If I don’t fertilise my soil, aerate it, add worms to it or whatever else gardeners must do, I can’t expect my plants and flowers to blossom, grow and withstand the frosts and hardships of winter.

So when I outline a specific practising activity, I also underscore the importance of doing this type of work daily with full concentration, resisting the overwhelming temptation to finish off the practice session by playing the piece at full speed. This can immediately wipe out the benefits of the careful practising, in one fell swoop. Have other pieces to play through.

Having put my seedlings in the soil, I will need to feed and water them daily, and protect the ground from pests, trusting that if I do this patiently, they will have the best chance to sprout and grow. Once the garden is in full bloom, it will take regular weeding and pruning to keep it that way. So it is with our playing of a particular piece, no matter how long we have known it or how many times we have performed it.

In this series of video lectures, I describe and illustrate the various practice tools one by one. As with any tool, you have to know how and when to use it. You will be able to apply the tools to every piece you undertake, no matter what age, level or standard you have reached in your piano playing. If you use the tools correctly, you will be practising with consummate skill, efficiency and effectiveness, and will notice significant progress.

It is said that success breeds success; because your progress will be tangible, practising will become infinitely more satisfying and enjoyable!

Introductory Video

In the introductory video, I stress the importance of a certain amount of background work on a new piece away from the piano. When we look at the score, we find patterns, designs and shapes both on the macro and on the macro levels (the piece as a whole, and the piece in its details). Analysing music like this is creative and individual, there is no one correct way of doing it. In this video snippet of the introduction to the series, I illustrate two ways of analysing the subject from Bach’s F major Invention – one text-book style, the other much less formal, and more imaginative.

The Practice Tools Video Lecture Series - Introduction and Analysis - YouTube
Click here to view the full video on the Online Academy

Other videos in this lecture series include time management in the practice room, the importance of forming habits and reflexes from the very start that we are going to use in the finished performance, how to use The Three S’s (slowly, separately, sections), how to develop speed, quarantining spots from your pieces that cause problems, and the importance of the feedback loop in all that we do.

The complete Practice Tools Lecture Series which includes a further ten videos is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.

Further Information & Resources
  • The Practice Tools Lecture Series (click here to view the series index)
  • Practising the Piano multimedia eBook series – Part 1: Practice Strategies and Approaches (click here for more information)
A new interactive, one-day course in central London

I’m pleased to announce my new course, Introducing the Practice Tools, which is taking place on the 13th of July 2019 at the Victoria Park Plaza Hotel in central London. Aimed at teachers and pianists at an intermediate level or above, this one-day course is based on my eBook series and blog. It will introduce highly effective strategies which will assist you and your students in getting the most out of time spent practising the piano.

The course will be delivered in an innovative, interactive format with introductory presentations followed by breakout sessions. Each participant will have their own private digital piano with headphones to test out a particular practice skill. There will be plenty of opportunity for feedback with question and answer sessions forming the backbone of the day.

Click here to find out more or to secure your place at what promises to be a highly informative workshop!

The post The Practice Tools Lecture Series appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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I’m pleased to announce my new course, Introducing the Practice Tools, which is taking place on Saturday, 13th of July 2019 at the Victoria Park Plaza Hotel in central London.  Aimed at teachers and pianists at an intermediate level or above, this one-day course is based on my eBook Series and blog. It will introduce highly effective strategies which will assist you and your students in getting the most out of time spent practising the piano.

The course will be delivered in an innovative, interactive format with introductory presentations followed by breakout sessions. Each participant will have their own private digital piano with headphones to test out a particular practice skill. There will be plenty of opportunity for feedback with question and answer sessions forming the backbone of the day. The following topics will be covered:

  • Introduction: An overview of the practice tools
  • Using the feedback loop: How to plan and focus your practice session for maximum benefit in every area.
  • Slow practice: How to use ultra-slow speeds for learning notes, correcting errors and finessing sound, and when not to use it!
  • Gaining speed: We explore two methods of taking a piece from the slow stages to performance speed, developing fluency and accuracy as well as ease and grace.
  • Repetition in practice: We form habits by repetition, but only perfect practice makes perfect. In this session we learn how to manage repetition in our practice mindfully and creatively to achieve tangible, lasting results.

Preparatory materials for breakout sessions will be provided in advance and all participants will receive handouts and complimentary online access to my video lecture series on the Practice Tools (valued at £20). Please note that participants will not be required to play in front of others, unless they wish to.

The full price of the course is £125. Book now to secure your place for what promises to be a highly informative workshop!

Course details 
  • Date and time: Saturday, 13th July, 10:00 until 17:30
  • Venue: Victoria Park Plaza Hotel, SW1V 1EQ, London
  • Participants: maximum 15 places
  • Participant profile: Piano teachers and intermediate pianists (+/- Grade 5 upwards)
  • Includes: preparatory materials, tea / coffee, lunch, online resources

This event has been made possible with the support of Casio and will include a brief presentation by Chris Stanbury from Casio on the Grand Hybrid and benefits of the Casio Teacher Network.

The post Introduction to the Practice Tools appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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I first published this post in July of 2016. Here it is again with one or two updates – including a link to the Online Academy’s series on spread chords, and the recent video I made for Pianist Magazine.

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I once attended a piano recital where the pianist continually broke the hands, so that the right hand sounded slightly after the left. He did this consistently with all the repertoire on his programme regardless of its period, and after a very short time indeed this had become a major distraction to me. I found I was unable to enjoy the music or appreciate the playing, it was irritating in the extreme.

However, there was a time in the history of piano playing where this sort of desynchronisation of the hands was actually part of style. If you were trained in Leipzig in the nineteenth century you would certainly have done this without giving it a second thought, as well as arpeggiating chords at the drop of a hat. Here is Carl Reinecke in a piano roll recorded in 1905 of the Larghetto from Mozart’s K537. How times change – this style of playing, while prevalent at the time, would simply not be acceptable nowadays.

Carl Reinecke performs Mozart Larghetto KV 537 (rec. 1905) - YouTube


If this style were based on performance traditions from Mozart’s day, you might expect modern fortepianists to have picked up on it. This cleanly articulated performance by Malcolm Bilson shows otherwise; it is (mercifully) free of such excesses.

Mozart: piano concerto no. 26, K 537, "Coronation". Bilson, Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists - YouTube

Last week I wrote about how Beethoven himself spread the opening chord in his Fourth Piano Concerto.

In the Baroque period, keyboard players routinely rolled chords for expressive purposes –  either slow or fast, downwards as well as upwards. There were signs to indicate this (the wavy lines we are accustomed to today or slashes through note stems), but in music from this period you can spread chords even in the absence of such indications. On the harpsichord, a chord played dead together gives a big accent – rolling it softens the attack. How many of you spread the opening chord of Bach’s Italian Concerto? Some players do, others don’t – there is no right and wrong.

But what are the rules on arpeggiation in piano music? Do it well and it creates a wonderful effect; do it wrong and it can completely mess up your sonic canvas. How magical is this effect from Debussy’s La puerta del Vino (from the second book of Preludes), with the chords rolled inwards (starting with both 5th fingers and ending with the thumbs)?

Alicia de Larrocha plays Debussy - La puerta del Vino (Preludes, book II) - YouTube

Supposing a chord seems unplayable but has no marking to spread it? Lots of Rachmaninov’s music seems unmanageable for players with small hands, but there are ways to negotiate it. Have you found some spreads impossible to play to your satisfaction? Often the solution lies in considering the following:

  • Does the spread start on or before the beat?
  • How do I coordinate the hands with the foot?
  • Is the spread fast or slow?
  • Do I spread the chord (one note after the after) or do I split or break it by playing some notes together then other(s) afterwards?

The secret is organisation – knowing what you are doing rather than leaving it to chance or hoping you’ll fudge it somehow.

Schumann’s Träumerei (from Kinderszenen) contains a few spread chords that players often don’t consider properly, either blurring the harmonies by not pedalling cleanly or breaking the line. Here is the first one, in bar 2.

The solution is surprisingly simple. Hold the pedal through bar 1 (as marked) to the first note of the spread (the B flat in small notation). As you change the pedal on the bass B flat, make sure to hold onto the top RH F (the second quaver of the first beat) until just after you put the pedal down again. You will have changed the harmony completely cleanly and there will be no gap or hiccup whatever in the melodic line.

Here is the video I made on the subject for Pianist Magazine, where I illustrate some of these examples.

Piano lesson on spread chords, by Graham Fitch - YouTube

For the Online Academy series on spread chords, click here

***   ***   ***

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)

The post Arpeggiation in Piano Playing appeared first on Practising the Piano.

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