Piano – MUSIC:ED https://musiceducation.global The global community for music education Thu, 05 Nov 2020 17:16:06 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6 https://musiceducation.global/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/cropped-MUSICED-ident-f64c72-round-light-with-stroke-960x960-1-32x32.png Piano – MUSIC:ED https://musiceducation.global 32 32 Helpful tips to improve your piano fingering https://musiceducation.global/helpful-tips-to-improve-your-piano-fingering/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=helpful-tips-to-improve-your-piano-fingering https://musiceducation.global/helpful-tips-to-improve-your-piano-fingering/#respond Thu, 05 Nov 2020 17:16:06 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=165736 Play It Again

Play It AgainFingering is a crucial element in piano playing and, surprisingly, it’s often overlooked even at advanced levels, says Melanie Spanswick

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

Fingering is a crucial element in piano playing and, surprisingly, it’s often overlooked even at advanced levels, says Melanie Spanswick. 


Fingering is necessary because it helps a pianist to remember which one of their four fingers or thumb (in each hand) is required to play a particular note or notes. It’s a really useful skill to cultivate as without it, piano playing can become haphazard and uneven, and it’s challenging to achieve any kind of consistency or fluency without sticking to the same finger patterns in a piano piece.

Some pieces will have all the fingering written in whilst others will need it annotated on the score. A good teacher will write the necessary fingerings on the music so that when you practise you will know exactly which finger goes where. This is vital for smooth, fluent playing. Initially, your piano scores will show you how the fingers are numbered (from 1–5, starting with the thumb). It is advisable to use the same fingers each time you practise your pieces so that the fingering becomes a habit. This will help you play the piece accurately every time.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to fingering as every one of us has a different-sized hand, but, hopefully, the following suggestions may be helpful.

  1. Aim to know all the standard fingerings for scales (particularly contrary motions), arpeggios, and broken chords. If you know these fingerings, you will have a substantial advantage when learning any repertoire, but especially in Baroque and Classical styles, where scale passages, arpeggios and broken chords abound. It might be prudent to learn two or three different fingerings for chromatic scales, and a couple for chromatic thirds as well.
  2. Know where your thumbs are at all times, and where they should be! Even when passage work isn’t symmetrical, the thumbs can stabilise the hand and being aware of where they fall in rapid figurations aids the memory, making fingering easier to grasp.
  3. I advise my students to play ‘in position’ as much as possible. This involves limiting turning the hand or changing hand positions. Many hand turns can easily lead to a bumpy, uneven musical line (this happens when there are too many thumbs on the scene!). If you can use the outer parts of the hand, or the fourth and fifth finger, as much as the inner part (the thumb and second finger), not only will the hand appear balanced, but it should also feel more natural to play without so much movement. However, the fourth and fifth finger will need to be sufficiently firm in order to do this.
  4. Finger substitution and finger sliding both ultimately provide legato. Changing fingers or finger substitution involves playing a note, and, once the key is depressed, quickly replacing whatever finger you used to play the note with another, whilst keeping the key held, allowing for smooth note transition, honouring the musical line. Similarly, sliding fingers, using the same finger to slide, from one note to another, almost without breaking the musical line, virtually connecting the notes, also offers an overall impression of legato.
  5. Once you’ve decided on your fingering, DO NOT change it. This is a cardinal rule: when you change or substitute fingers after working at the original fingering for a while, the brain has already wired these finger movements and cancelling them will be awkward, to say the least. Practice tends to make permanent, so spend some time writing your fingering in the score before you begin studying a piece, and be quite sure your chosen fingerings suit your hand and you are happy with them.

About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five tips for instantly improving your piano performance https://musiceducation.global/five-tips-for-instantly-improving-your-piano-performance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-tips-for-instantly-improving-your-piano-performance https://musiceducation.global/five-tips-for-instantly-improving-your-piano-performance/#respond Fri, 18 Sep 2020 10:22:47 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=154224 Play It Again

Play It AgainWhether you are a younger or older player, or a beginner or very advanced pianist, the following suggestions will hopefully help to instantly improve your performance, says Melanie Spanswick

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

Whether you are a younger or older player, or a beginner or very advanced pianist, the following suggestions will hopefully help to instantly improve your performance, says Melanie Spanswick. 


The start of the academic year brings fresh hope and promise. Many will consider learning the piano, either at school or privately, and more mature players may wish to ‘return’ to the piano after a few years of absence.

Even if your hands and fingers feel a little ‘out of practice’, I hope these ideas provide some inspiration and food for thought during practice sessions.

1. Pedalling

It can be a major issue, particularly for nervous performers, because there is often a tendency to ‘ride’ the sustaining  or right pedal.

It’s a real a shame to work so hard with the fingers, playing accurately and beautifully, with clear articulation, only to hide under a cloud of pedal. Admittedly, it’s not easy to judge acoustics, especially if you aren’t used to the hall or piano; however, if in doubt, stay away from the sustaining pedal!

It can be a good idea to practise your piece completely without pedal.

Most of us sectionalise pieces when we practice, generally without pedal, and we get used to this, but try to become accustomed to playing through any piece sans pedal. Once confident with the sound, add smaller amounts of sustaining pedal, for a cleaner performance.

Listening is crucial. Aim to know your work inside out so you can think only about the sound and how the pedal changes that sound; particularly observe ends of phrases, rapid passagework and chordal passages.

2. Legato

The knock-on effect of a heavy right foot, that is, the sustaining pedal, can be a lack of smooth, legato playing.

It’s too easy to forget to join notes effectively when the pedal is readily available to do it for us. Once students are stripped of the pedal ‘security blanket’, they can be upset by the sheer clipped, detached nature of their playing. Bypass this by preparing a piece using fluent legato fingering from the outset, adding the pedal only once notes have been fully assimilated.

You may be pleasantly surprised by the sound of the fingers alone, once legato has been achieved. If you have already learned your piece, go through it without any pedal, checking you have used adequate legato fingering, creating a smooth contour, which is usually vital in melodic material.

3. Tempo

Beginning and ending in the same tempo can be an issue for some, and this ties in with the problematic matter of thinking before you start playing.

Once seated to play, resist the urge to start at once. Instead, take a few seconds to think; ten seconds should be ample  – although it will probably feel like two minutes! This will not only provide time to collect your thoughts, but it will also allow space to set a speed which is both comfortable and realistic.

To be sure about your pulse, count two full bars before playing – think of it as an introduction! Use this time to think about the fastest  passages or smallest time values in the chosen work; semi-quavers or demi-semi-quavers can be negotiated with ease at a carefully chosen tempo.

Feeling the pulse religiously can also be helpful, and can stem the compulsion to rush or slow down.

4. Body movement

As many know, too much movement – whether nodding of the head, exaggerated arm movements or swaying around on the stool – can be detrimental and distracting.

However, even more debilitating, is not to move at all. Rigidity can be the cause of a harsh sound and wrong notes. But this can also be caused by nerves, or perhaps lack of preparation.

In order to play in a relaxed manner, it’s important to develop freedom in body movement and cultivate a relaxed stance at the keyboard. Start with mindful observation; watch posture, hand positions and wrists, during practice. Try to focus on how you move around the piano.

Basic tips are to keep shoulders down, wrists free and use arms to transport hands easily around the keyboard. If this issue is worked on consistently and consciously in practice sessions, it will become a good habit, and one which will continue to linger in performances too, even under pressure.

5. Staying close to the keys

It might seem contradictory after reading tip number four, but  a good plan is to keep fingers close to the keys as much as possible, even if body movement is considerable.

Whilst wrists and arms must be flexible and able to shift around if necessary, fingers and hands are best kept hovering over the keys ready for action; this may sound obvious, but many don’t adhere to it.

Moving, that is, being in place a split second before playing in order to prepare fingers, and thinking ahead all the time, particularly at the beginning of a performance, will help instil confidence and proffer accurate playing.

Conclusion

These points are fairly easy to implement; try to work at them one at a time, and slowly if necessary, building them into weekly practice routines.

They will instantly improve piano playing, helping to create an assured performance.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jamie Cullum’s piano seeks new owner via Yamaha competition https://musiceducation.global/jamie-cullums-piano-seeks-new-owner-via-yamaha-competition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jamie-cullums-piano-seeks-new-owner-via-yamaha-competition Wed, 09 Sep 2020 14:38:15 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=150327 Jamie Cullum © Yamaha Music

Jamie Cullum © Yamaha MusicJazz legend Jamie Cullum and Yamaha Music are donating a very special grand piano to a worthy cause

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Jamie Cullum © Yamaha MusicJamie Cullum © Yamaha Music

Fresh from winning an Ivor Novello award for his track Age of Anxiety, world-renowned musician Jamie Cullum has joined forces with Yamaha in a unique song-writing competition that will see his beloved Yamaha S6 grand piano going to a good cause.

The Yamaha artist has been playing the Yamaha S6 piano for over five years in his studio, where he recently wrote and recorded his critically acclaimed album Taller as well as The Man from the blockbuster movie King of Thieves.

The piano also went out on the road with Cullum earlier in 2020 and took centre stage during the first leg of his UK and Ireland ‘Taller’ tour.

Yamaha’s Piano Product Specialist, Phil Power said, ‘Through this initiative, we hope that Jamie’s piano will inspire music making and creativity within communities.

‘Our ambition is for the piano to make a real difference to the winning organisation, its community and all those who will have access to it.’

Jamie Cullum said, ‘If you’re a school, charity or community group this is a truly amazing opportunity. This phenomenal instrument has been living in my studio for a few years now and I’ve written loads of songs on it.

‘It’s coming out with me one last time on my 2020 Taller tour, and then… it could be yours!’


About the competition

As always with Yamaha and Jamie Cullum, there’s a creative twist.

To be in with a chance of winning this unique piano, Jamie wants entrants to write and record an original song telling the story of how their nominated good cause would benefit from winning the piano. This could be a school, a community organisation or charity, essentially any group that does great work in inspiring and making a great contribution to their local community.

The song should tell the story of how the piano will positively impact people’s lives and how it will inspire more music making, more enjoyment and more creativity.

Songs will be judged on melody, composition, originality and lyrics.

Songs can be recorded as video or audio and should be uploaded via the competition page at uk.yamaha.com, where full terms and conditions can also be found.

The competition will close on 31 October 2020 and the winning entry will be selected by Jamie himself and announced on 30 November 2020.

Click here to find out more

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The importance of breath control for pianists https://musiceducation.global/the-importance-of-breathing-for-pianists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-importance-of-breathing-for-pianists https://musiceducation.global/the-importance-of-breathing-for-pianists/#respond Tue, 11 Aug 2020 08:50:27 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=137839 Play It Again

Play It AgainOnce you have assimilated breath control, this useful skill can be added to the smorgasbord of performing tools in your pianist’s ever-increasing armoury, says Melanie Spanswick

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

Once you have assimilated breath control, this useful skill can be added to the smorgasbord of performing tools in your pianist’s ever-increasing armoury, says Melanie Spanswick. 


Breath control. It might be a topic more closely associated with singing than piano playing, but developing secure breath control can by a most helpful asset, especially for those who regularly perform.

A ‘deep breathing session’ such as the following can be a beneficial and fun way to begin (or even end) a practice session. I often begin piano courses with this exercise.

  1. Stand up straight: your feet should be parallel with the width of your shoulders. Knees should ideally be flexible and not at all stretched, so that moving is easy (imagine you are preparing to ski, with the knees in a slightly bent position). Sway from side to side freely, and find your centre by allowing body movement to become smaller and smaller.
  2. Breathe through the nose and imagine your stomach is filling with air, encouraging the diaphragm to contract downwards (wear elastic or comfortable clothes!). When you take in air, make sure the belly is totally supported, so it can expand fully.
  3. Hold the air-filled stomach for a moment, then change the breath direction from breathing in to breathing out. Start breathing out by pursing the lips, making an ‘F’ sound, thus allowing yourself to feel a connection between the air-filled stomach and the mouth. Aim to be aware of a pillar of air between the stomach and mouth. Hold this position for as long as possible.
  4. As you release the diaphragm, the muscles of the stomach will take over, supporting your breathing as the air releases. Watch how the stomach caves in and finish with a ‘shh’ sound, making sure all air has been expelled.
  5. Then, once again, change direction of your breath, as you repeat this process. When executed correctly, you may feel slightly dizzy to begin with, and if so, take more time and slow down (or stop for a while and try again later). Repeat the process around five times at the most to start with. It should be done rhythmically and with purpose. Breathing out must take longer than breathing in. Breathing in could be considered the passive part of this exercise, and breathing out, the active part (it’s possible to stand or sit whilst doing this exercise).

Once practised a few times, you will hopefully feel a sense of  tranquillity by the end of the process. The ‘flight or fight’ instinct will calm sufficiently and this may help alleviate nerves, or at least help to control the rapid breathing associated with nervousness before and during a performance, as well as aiding concentration whilst playing.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten tips for tonal beauty https://musiceducation.global/ten-tips-for-tonal-beauty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ten-tips-for-tonal-beauty https://musiceducation.global/ten-tips-for-tonal-beauty/#respond Mon, 13 Jul 2020 13:47:50 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=138916 Grand piano

Grand pianoTechnical virtuosity is only one part of the pianist's armoury. Melanie Spanswick offers MUSIC:ED readers her checklist for creating a beauty of sound which goes beyond the skin-deep

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Grand pianoGrand piano

Technical virtuosity is only one part of the pianist’s armoury. Melanie Spanswick offers MUSIC:ED readers her checklist for creating a beauty of sound which goes beyond the skin-deep.


Start by sitting correctly at the keyboard; make sure you feel comfortable and the spine is straight. Keep your shoulders down, and drop your arms by your side, so they feel ‘heavy’ and relaxed. This is the feeling to aim for whilst playing and practising.

A flexible or loose wrist motion plays a crucial role in sound quality, so practise laying your fingers over the keys and then move the wrists as each note is played: up and down, from side to side, then with a circular movement. The wrist should ideally be malleable and able to move wherever and whenever necessary.

Use a five-finger pattern (place the fingers and thumb over middle C, followed by nearby D, E, F, G); using the fingering 1-5 (or 5-1 in the left hand), and whilst holding down the first note (middle C), encourage the wrist to make a complete circular motion, keeping the thumb (of the right hand) firmly attached to the note (even though the sound has dispersed).

Now continue playing D-G (and back down again, from G to middle C) using the same motion (taking time between each note), focussing on sinking deep into each key, feeling the key bed every time. The hand, wrist and arm should feel relaxed between every note.

Use a soft, elastic, but heavy arm movement, which literally allows the fingers to drop down into the keys, providing plenty of gravity, support and arm-weight behind the wrist. The fingers should ideally play on their ‘pads’, the padded, soft area of skin on the finger-tip, because this will further cushion the sound; but you can also use fingertips here, if preferred.

Your fingers must remain firm; this is developed over time by engaging the finger joints fully, combined with playing on the tips.

Try using the musical example below as a vehicle for creating different tonal possibilities; work at creating sound variations, from as quiet and soft as possible to all-out fortissimos, checking your torso for tension regularly; the more powerfully you play, the more wrist and arm movement you will need to support the hand and fingers.

You can also employ the same example (below) to practise voicing specific lines, that is, highlighting the top of each chord, then the bottom note of each chord in either hand, followed by some of the inner notes, as well. This will help to gain finger control, and attune the ears.

When producing a powerful fortissimo, guard against the urge to ‘hit’ the notes, playing as loudly as possible, because beyond a certain level the sound tends to become astringent and unpleasant. Use your arm-weight combined with a ‘cushioning’ wrist and hand circular motion to form a rich sound.

Have some sound in reserve too; try to avoid playing at full capacity (whether fff or ppp) all the time, keeping some power or delicacy for certain performance situations, in order to cope with different instruments and acoustics.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Between the notes – why breathing space matters https://musiceducation.global/between-the-notes-why-breathing-space-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=between-the-notes-why-breathing-space-matters https://musiceducation.global/between-the-notes-why-breathing-space-matters/#respond Wed, 27 May 2020 17:11:57 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=106505 Play It Again

Play It AgainAn overriding issue for many students is the need for breathing space during performance. This is seemingly such an obvious point, but it’s one which is challenging to put into practice

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

An overriding issue for many students is the need for breathing space during performance. This is seemingly such an obvious point, but it’s one which is challenging to put into practice. Melanie Spanswick explains. 


The composer Claude Debussy said that ‘Music is the space between the notes’. This space can be created in many ways, but it’s a vital component, both in approach to a performance or actually between notes and phrases of a piece.

Creating space isn’t about changing the pulse in a piano piece, using copious ritenutos (or accelerandos)  or using excessive rubato (taking or ‘pulling’ time), but rather giving a small amount of time to breathe; this provides the audience with the opportunity to savour each note, each phrase and enjoy the music.

It isn’t just the audience that benefits here either: all performers require time to refocus and process musical thoughts during their performance. This space is even more crucial for less experienced or anxious performers because if they can ‘build-in’ space into musical phrases, they will be able to control their playing so much better, discouraging the ever-present problem of rushing or ‘speeding up’; an issue which so often affects even the most talented young players.

Create more ‘thinking’ or ‘breathing’ time

Public performance of any kind is all about control and focus, so if you are able to develop a way of creating more ‘thinking’ or ‘breathing’ time, then the level of your performance skills will increase dramatically.

Apparently, Winston Churchill regularly inserted ‘pauses’ into his speeches and he even calculated the exact time or length of each break! Here are a few ideas to help create breathing space in piano playing;

  1. Whilst learning a new work ensure each phrase is not only given its full length, but also a very slight space between each one. The length of space will totally depend on the speed of the piece, but even if it’s just an extra second, this allows every new phrase to be introduced properly with an expansive sense of time and without any sense of rushing or hurrying (a problem which can kill musicianship).
  2. Before starting to play any work, always count a bar in your head (at the intended tempo). This focuses the mind and gives the audience a sense of expectation. It will help determine the speed from the outset as well (it’s amazing how many performers start at an ‘unexpected’ tempo) and it can also establish a certain sense of calm.
  3. Space can be created within each phrase. If a work consists of a series of large chords and they are given slightly more time to sound than usual (we are talking nanoseconds here!), this allows them to reverberate, resonate, and reach their full measure of expression. A performance will suddenly take on a new level of musicianship and sensitivity, if each and every note is ‘placed’ carefully.
  4. Staccato (or short, detached) notes especially need to be given full space or time. If you have a group of staccato or non-legato crotchets, each one will be articulated much more quickly than legato crotchets (ie leaving the key bed swiftly), but there must still be a clear ‘space’ between one sound and the next, particularly in slow music, otherwise the beat or pulse will be perpetually unstable and there will be a sense of rushing throughout. As mentioned above, every note must be placed with care.
  5. Extra time between movements of pieces – especially at the end of a work – generates an atmospheric quality perpetuating the expression in the music; it allows the emotion to linger in a positive way, for moments beyond the expected time.
  6. It is said that pauses can make a musician, so with this in mind, build in a clear sense of space when playing any work. This also applies to use of the sustaining pedal, which should generally be used sparingly to enhance the piano sound rather than obscure it. Clean pedalling will also encourage breathing space between chords and thematic material.
  7. What feels like a slow tempo or long pause to a performer, is often interpreted  quite differently by the listener. It’s true to say that a performer in a state of focus, concentration and stress, perceives speed to be slower than it really is; we often play much quicker than we intend. So with this in mind, longer pauses or gaps between sound are sometimes a good idea and again, can be addressed during practice time.
  8. Pianists needs to remember to breathe too! An obvious point, but occasionally performing can be an overwhelming experience and fear takes hold. Young pianists do sometimes forget to breathe, literally. Alleviate this issue by breathing deeply when practising and perform frequently in front of an audience (or small group). Experience is crucial when learning to play in public.

The more space created generally, without disturbing the pulse, the more beautiful and harmonious the performance. This is a subject worth musing on for any performer because it really can make all the difference.

 


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Five tips for keeping in time at the piano https://musiceducation.global/five-tips-for-keeping-in-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-tips-for-keeping-in-time https://musiceducation.global/five-tips-for-keeping-in-time/#respond Mon, 13 Apr 2020 14:33:20 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=86757 Play It Again

Play It AgainIt may seem counter-intuitive, but spending structured practice time away from the instrument can reap rewards for pianists, improving memory and visualisation skills

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

Keeping time, or playing rhythmically, can be a challenge for many, and particularly for pianists, as they are often playing alone and therefore have the opportunity to change the tempo as often as they wish! Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – offers five tips for the rhythmically challenged.


In your piano playing, do you sometimes need to curb a tendency to rush or linger? Here are a few ideas to implement at your practice sessions.

To create the best tempo in any work (for you), locate what you feel is the most taxing area of the piece being studied and decide what speed is most comfortable in order to achieve clarity, fluency and a musically coherent performance.

It’s easier to attain rhythmic precision when notes are separated from the rhythm

Once you’ve instigated a speed, when learning a new piece, go through the piece and tap the rhythm of the right-hand part with your right hand (on the lid of the piano), and the left-hand part with the left hand (also on the piano lid). Try hands separately at first, then both hands together. Ensure that you count as you do this, thus establishing a firm, steady beat. It’s easier to attain rhythmic precision at the start of the learning process when notes are separated from the rhythm.

For fluency and rhythmic accuracy, consider using a metronome at the beginning of the learning process. Listen to the ‘tick’: both the speed of the tick and the ‘space’ in between. One of the most useful methods to attain accurate pulse keeping is learning to ‘sit’ on the metronome tick. This skill can be acquired by playing exactly with the tick every time it occurs – as opposed to just before or after, both of which can happen with alarming regularity if you’re not used to attuning your ear and mind to decisively following a pulse. To do this effectively, it’s best if notes are securely learned, so you’re free to focus on time-keeping.

Count out loud as you play

Once the metronome has been used for a period of time and you’ve got used to playing along to an omnipresent beat, aim to count out loud as you play, or count along to the beat you have established. It can be a good idea to sub-divide the beat for this purpose. If your piece is in crotchets, count in quavers, and if it is in quavers, count in semiquavers, and so on. It may be exhausting, but by playing along to your verbal counting, you’ll quickly become accustomed to where you are in the bar and should eventually be able to ‘feel’ the pulse. As a general rule, the smaller the sub-division, the more accurate your pulse keeping.

Finally, curb any sense of rushing, or slowing down, and encourage excellent articulation (or touch) by paying attention to the ends of notes; experiment by employing ‘active’, strong fingers, placing every finger precisely, producing a full, rich tone, paying special attention to the fourth and fifth fingers. Each note (or chord) must ideally be in its rightful place at any time, and shouldn’t be ‘cut’ or brushed over.

As with many facets of piano playing, listening will prove to be a vital element when learning to play in time. If you can train your ears to be really aware of what is being played, then you’re on your way to honing rhythmically sound performances.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

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Practising the piano – without the piano https://musiceducation.global/practising-the-piano-without-the-piano/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=practising-the-piano-without-the-piano https://musiceducation.global/practising-the-piano-without-the-piano/#respond Sat, 29 Feb 2020 10:14:26 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=69066

It may seem counter-intuitive, but spending structured practice time away from the instrument can reap rewards for pianists, impriving memory and visualisation skills. Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – offers five tips for piano-free practice.

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It may seem counter-intuitive, but spending structured practice time away from the instrument can reap rewards for pianists, improving memory and visualisation skills. Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – offers five tips for piano-free practice.


Practising away from the instrument can be a beneficial practice technique. Taking the music off the page is a most valuable facet for any pianist. If you’re able to hear it, imagine playing it, and visualise or recall any passage, you are more likely to be at ‘one’ with the music, thereby producing a performance of integrity and musical depth.

Here are my five suggestions for how to organise your time.

  1. Instigate a happy positive mind-set before practice begins; it’s amazing the effect this can have on learning capacity. Before practice commences, aim to sit at the instrument with a relaxed posture: shoulders down, hands hanging freely by your side, breathing slowly, and thinking positively.
  2. Consider the piece you are about to practice: how does it make you feel? Feelings take on a new meaning when practising away from the keyboard, and this may be what produces deeper expressivity. As you observe the score, note what happens in each hand: the movements, fingerings and gestures required to play the patterns. It can be particularly helpful to pay special attention to the left hand here too. Aim to do this without the piano.
  3. Some find it helpful to write the piece out on manuscript paper (recalling it from memory). As you work at the piano, begin to test your memory during practice sessions; by repeatedly returning to the same phrases and passages over a period of time, the thought responses become stronger and clearer. Now do this away from the instrument, hearing each passage in isolation.
  4. Play the piece through in your mind. The effort and assimilation required can come as quite a shock, but once you become accustomed to the relevant mind-set needed, a calmness and stillness is acquired, and it becomes possible to ‘think’ through the music increasingly accurately. And you can do this anywhere at any time!
  5. Visualise watching yourself play your piece at the keyboard, as an image in your mind. It can be a good idea to envisage every detail: fingerings, movements, and everything necessary to play the piece from beginning to end successfully.

If you can work at some of these suggestions frequently, memory and visualisation skills associated with practising away from the keyboard will gradually develop, and this method could eventually become a worthwhile part of a practice session.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

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Listening and focussing at the piano https://musiceducation.global/listening-and-focussing-at-the-piano/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=listening-and-focussing-at-the-piano https://musiceducation.global/listening-and-focussing-at-the-piano/#respond Fri, 31 Jan 2020 15:21:32 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=57942

Don't play with closed ears – keep focussed. Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – offers advice for efficient and effective practice.

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Don’t play with closed ears – keep focussed. Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – offers advice for efficient and effective practice.


There are numerous considerations when playing the piano. Elements requiring attention include co-ordination, notes, fingering, rhythm, pedalling, colour, sound, and so on. The list is endless, and the success of all important technical and musical issues depends on how carefully we listen and focus on what we are doing.

It’s too easy to play with closed ears, that is, not really focussing on what we are playing and perhaps not being fully engaged during practice sessions.  That may sound ridiculous, particularly as we are making music, but it’s a very common problem. There are two main issues: the first is being fully focussed and engaged as we practise, and the second is being able to cultivate our minds objectively in order to ‘hear’ what is being played, both technically and beyond the notes.

So how do we learn to listen and focus astutely?

All musicians must ideally adhere to the score, which should be learned and assimilated thoroughly; but beyond the notes, musicianship takes over, or it should do. If you find that you are not dealing sufficiently with technical issues, then perhaps learn a slightly less demanding piece which will allow you to concentrate fully on the music. This may be the crux of the problem; technique often demands a great deal of mental work, which can result in the sound world and musical structure taking second place, when really it should reign supreme. When practising, there can be a tendency to enjoy the physical sensations of playing and not really focus on the sound being produce.

To ensure focussed technical practice, try to observe body movements as you play – are you flexible when you move? Is there any tension in your upper body? If so, how can you release stiffness and work more positively with firmer fingers and a relaxed arm, hand and wrist? If you can master physical flexibility, moving around the notes instinctively becomes easier.

Aim to ‘hear’ the music in your head before you play it and then try to reproduce those sounds as you are playing. It’s a form of singing, but in your head: visualisation but in sound instead of pictures – although visualising pictures may be useful, too. This technique can be especially helpful if you are memorising a work.

Singing is a crucial element in any form of music making, but is particularly effective when applied to piano playing. It’s not actual singing (although this can be a good idea) but more specifically hearing melody lines in your mind, deciphering which musical lines need to be emphasised and coloured, where nuances lie within a phrase, and what material can be allowed to disappear within the texture.

Thinking about musical texture in this way requires mental work, so it’s not really possible to do it without engaging our ears and minds fully. This especially applies to pedalling, where far more can be achieved by listening to the sounds being produced as opposed to purely taking note of written signs. Concentrating on various musical lines and textures can help create appropriate tonal sonorities, and the chances are, you will produce a more beautiful sound. You will also learn to ‘hear’ where the music is going and be able to deliver a more convincing rendition.

Pianists generally don’t have as many opportunities as other instrumentalists or singers to work in a group, whether that be a choir or ensemble. This is a pity because playing with others also focusses our minds, encouraging engaged listening. Whether playing chamber music or piano duets, it’s not possible to rehearse or perform successfully without total absorption.

So, if you find yourself losing impetus, then perhaps it may be time to find a musical partner or join a choir. Working with other musicians can be an inspiring experience which can only benefit mental discipline. We owe it to ourselves, and those we work with, to play with open ears and an open mind, embracing the music by being totally present and ‘in the moment’ every time we touch the instrument.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

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8 daily practice reminders for 2020 https://musiceducation.global/8-daily-practice-reminders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=8-daily-practice-reminders https://musiceducation.global/8-daily-practice-reminders/#respond Fri, 27 Dec 2019 12:28:57 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=45457

It's time to think about New Year Resolutions. Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – lists her top tips for effective piano practice. 

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It’s time to think about New Year Resolutions. Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – lists her top tips for effective piano practice. 


The new year is nearly upon us, so here are eight daily practice reminders to incorporate into your practice routine as the new decade dawns.

1. Develop a practice schedule

It can be useful to schedule your sessions, compartmentalising your time. Whether you want to practise for 30 minutes or two hours, be sure to allocate your time wisely, and decide what you want to achieve.

If you stick to a plan as opposed to just sitting down at the instrument and letting your mind and fingers wander, you will be far more productive.

Draw up a practice chart and tick off your goals as you surmount them, daily or weekly.

2. Always warm-up

The importance of warming up cannot be underestimated. Rather like an athlete, playing the piano is a physical pursuit (and, of course, it’s mental too!), but you wouldn’t necessarily go for a run without doing a few stretches, so it’s a good idea to do the same on the piano.

Warming-up is a personal issue, but a few ideas might include playing scales, or working at Hanon or Czerny exercises very slowly, allowing your fingers (with the help of arm-weight) to really sink into the keys. You may prefer to use other repertoire, but essentially keep your warm-up patterns slow and deliberate so that your muscles have had a chance to get used to moving sufficiently before practice commences. Book 3 of Play it again: PIANO contains a chapter on warming-up, complete with a selection of exercises.

3. Lower your shoulders

Most of us have a tendency to raise our shoulders when playing, especially as figurations become more complex. Try to combat this issue by checking your shoulders regularly during practice time; if you forget then chances are your shoulders will feel sore and strained eventually. Make sure they are relaxed, that is, not raised and in their natural position, and ensure your upper body feels free.

A relaxed body position will become a good habit over time, if constantly kept in check.

4. Watch the sustaining pedal

Another habit which pervades piano playing is the constant use of the sustaining (or right) pedal. We have a tendency to use it at every opportunity without really thinking about our actions.

The sustaining pedal is a wonderful addition to the piano sound, but used all the time, it merely masks what we are trying to do with our fingers. If possible, try to put the right foot away for a while and listen to the sound and clarity produced by your fingers alone.

5. Remember the pulse and rhythm

Much time and effort might be spent finding the right notes, so tempo can sometimes be side-stepped. One idea is to concentrate on the pulse and rhythm from the outset. Many don’t like working with the metronome, but it can prove beneficial. It takes a while to acclimatise to a regular pulse, but it is well worth the effort.

Once you develop a feel for ‘sitting’ on the mechanical pulse instigated by the metronome, turn it off and find your own reliable method for time keeping. Using the metronome for a few months should have a positive effect on your ability to keep time.

6. Fingering

It will make or break your performance. If you are a beginner, your teacher will probably write the fingering (or which fingers to use on which notes) in your score, but if you are more advanced you must become accustomed to writing it in yourself. Get used to the shape of your hand, because how you write your fingering will depend on its size and shape.

Learn to write all fingering in the score; this will prompt you every time you practise so you’ll be reminded to use the correct fingers at every session.  

7. Bar by bar practice

Discipline yourself to work in small sections rather than continually playing a piece through.

Playing through, whilst important, will not be advantageous after a while, but working assiduously in small sections, breaking a piece down and working consistently will gradually improve your playing.

8. Always remember the music!

Dynamics, phrase marks, expression marks; these will help to shape a musically considered account. Interpretation, or how you play a piece, is an essential ingredient. Start by asking how a particular piece makes you feel; why do you want to play it. Is it a happy piece? Is it sad? Reflective? Atmospheric? Children may wish to draw pictures. We tend to become engrossed in technical challenges and occasionally forget the creativity in music making.

I wish you a very Happy New Year!  


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

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