Dulwich Piano Festival 2014

Now in its third year, the popular and extremely well-organised Dulwich Piano Festival takes place on Sunday 15th June at The Old Library, Dulwich College, London SE22. There are classes for all levels from beginner to advanced, and adult learner, and there is even a harpsichord class. This year’s adjudicators are Emmanuel Vass, Elena Cobb and Rosa Conrad.

Dulwich PIano Festival is a competition for amateur musicians of all ages including adults. All musicians perform for the adjudicator and an audience. All competitors receive a Comment Sheet and Certificate with a category award. Certificates and Comment Sheets will be distributed from the front desk at the end of each class. Adjudicators may choose only to give verbal feedback on medal place winners if the timings of the class do not allow for individual verbal feedback. Medals are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place (subject to class numbers of 9 entrants and above for the full 3 medals). Cups are awarded for many classes thanks to the generosity of our event supporters. Outstanding: 90+ Highly Commended 87-89 Commended 84-86 Pass 83 and below. A trophy will only be presented for a mark of 87 or above. For a mark of 86 and below, the Adjudicator will offer a Medal for first place and 2nd and 3rd if class numbers are sufficient.

Full details of all the classes and syllabus plus online entry can be found on the Dulwich Piano Festival website

Adult amateur pianist Jack Thompson performing in the first Dulwich PIano Festival in 2012

New Piano Techniques app from ‘Pianist’ Magazine

All the enjoyable and engaging features of ‘Pianist’ magazine are included in this new piano techniques app: informative and easy to understand articles on technique and repertoire, how to play a particular work with guidance from a top teacher, free sheet music (18 pieces in fact, from beginner to advanced level), an interview with Lang Lang, contributions from expert teachers, and more, all presented in an interactive and accessible format.

The organisation of the content will be familiar to anyone who reads Pianist magazine regularly. Clear, well laid out articles are enhanced by video tutorials by renowned teachers and pianists, and soundclips, which enable the reader to listen to the pieces presented in the free sheet music section.

The app is easy to navigate, with clear swipe commands and helpful notes and asides which enhance the articles. In effect, the app offers the very best of ‘Pianist’ magazine in a user-friendly and portable format – read it at the piano or in bed – and is ideal for the beginner, intermediate or more advanced pianist.

Download the app from the iTunes app store

Win a Ukulele!

The Ukulele, a stringed instrument hailing from Hawaii, has enjoyed a massive surge of popularity in recent years,  with ukulele festivals around the country and many new artists taking up the instrument or using it within performances and compositions.

Making Music Magazine and Alfred Music are offering readers of this blog the chance to win a Daniel Ho Starter Pack.

One lucky winner will receive a Daniel Ho Ukulele Starter Pack.  The Starter Pack Includes:

  • High-quality Firebrand concert ‘Ukulele
  • ‘Ukulele strap
  • Full-length instructional DVD, ‘Ukulele: A Beginning Method, by Daniel Ho
  • Sheet music and promotional sticker for the hit song “Pineapple Mango”
  • Daniel Ho’s CD, ‘Ukulele Collection
  • ‘Ukulele Chord Chart

Click the picture to go to the Making Music Magazine website and enter the competition


MJusic Shorts

My talented friend Madelaine Jones, a final-year student at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where she studies with my piano teacher Professor Penelope Roskell, has begun a series of short films covering various musical genres and concepts, aimed at intermediate level music students (GCSE/A-level).

She begins with Neo-Classicism, offering a clear and concise introduction to the music of composers such as Stravinsky, Poulenc, Hindemith and Busoni. Her engaging manner and approach, interspersed with musical examples played by Madelaine herself, makes this short film both informative and enjoyable. Follow Madelaine on YouTube for updates.




Courses and Summer Schools for Pianists

Is your practising getting you down? Do you need inspiration and encouragement? Would you like to meet other pianists and learn from the professionals? Then why not try a course or summer school this coming year…..

There are courses and summer schools for pianists of all levels, from single days and “taster” courses to piano weekends and whole weeks of piano goodness in the company of some of the finest pianists and teachers from around the world. Courses are a great way to connect with other pianists and like-minded people and are brilliant for improving skills such as technique and performance. Here is my round up of some of the best courses in the UK and beyond:

Marina Petrov’s Piano Course & Workshop (new) Sunday 23rd March 2014. Workshop with teacher Marina Petrov covering aspects such as improving technique, relieving tension, developing memory skills, developing aural and self-listening skills. Minimum ability level: Grade 6. Deadline for applications 10th March. Participants £25, observers £10. Full details and booking here

Jackdaws Music Education Trust. Courses throughout the year for pianists, instrumentalists and singers of all levels. Piano faculty includes Philip Fowke, Elena Riu, Margaret Fingerhut, Mark Tanner and Julian Jacobson. Details here

Chethams Summer School for Pianists. Known affectionately as “Chets”, this is probably the most famous summer school and boasts a fantastic faculty of international artists and teachers. Masterclasses, concerts, ensembles and more. 2014 faculty includes Leslie Howard, Carlo Grante, Leon McCawley, Murray McLachlan, Ashley Wass and Noriko Ogawa, amongst many others. Full details here

Walsall Summer School for Pianists. Formerly the well-established and popular Hereford Summer School for Pianists, the course successfully moved to a new home at the University of Wolverhampton in 2013. Mixed ability classes. Tutors will aim to cover both technical problems and interpretative points which will be of interest to the entire class. Faculty for 2014: James Lisney, Christine Stevenson, Graham Fitch, Lauretta Bloomer, Karl Lutchmayer. Details here

Penelope Roskell’s Advanced London Piano Courses. An inspiring and supportive weekend course (3 full days) focussing on repertoire, technique, and yoga for pianists. Ideal for pianists preparing for concerts, competitions, diplomas or auditions, or for anyone suffering from technical problems, physical tension, injuries or nerves. The course is run as a series of masterclasses with plenty of opportunities for discussion and exchange of ideas, and ends with a concert on the Sunday afternoon. Ability level: post-Grade 8 to post-diploma. Due to the popularity of these courses, Penelope will be running three courses in 2014. Full details here.

Penelope also runs one-day workshops for pianists and piano teachers exploring aspects such as performance anxiety and teaching technique. Further details of all courses here

Piano Week. Based at Bangor University in North Wales, Piano Week offers courses for adults and children of all levels. Masterclasses, recitals, talks and workshops. Artistic Director: Samantha Ward. Full details here

Hindhead Summer Piano Course. Held at Hindhead Music Centre in the picturesque South Downs, the 2014 course will have a special accent on the last three piano sonatas of Beethoven. Masterclasses, lectures, faculty and student concerts, discussion groups, “recorded treasures”, and more, plus fine food and a relaxed country house atmosphere. Taster and single day options. Faculty: James Lisney and Simon Nicholls. Ability cGrade 6 to post-diploma. Details here

Lot Music. A convivial course, now in its 17th year, in a beautiful part of France. Fine food and a relaxed atmosphere for pianists of around Grade 8 ability. 2014 faculty: Susan Tomes and James Lisney (1 week each). Further information here

Music at Ambialet. Summer school for professional, advanced and amateur pianists in the Tarn region of France, established by renowned teacher and Debussy scholar Paul Roberts. The courses are select, with a maximum of 20 resident participants on each of the three eight-day courses throughout August. Full details here

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Summer Schools This five and a half-day intensive summer schools aims to inspire pianists who are currently studying at conservatoire level or considering studying at a conservatoire. Students on the music summer school will benefit from using the Royal Conservatoire’s leading training and performance facilities, including a fleet of new pianos, wonderful concert venues and a state of the art recording studio. Full details here

London Piano Meetup Group. Not strictly a course, the LMPG, run by myself and Lorraine Liyanage, offers monthly performance platforms and masterclasses with visiting tutors for pianists of all levels in a friendly and supportive environment. Full details of all our events here

Dartington Summer School. The Summer School runs for five weeks, with 20-30 courses week-long courses taking place every day during each week – from individual instrumental and vocal classes to chamber music, large ensemble courses and composition. You can take part in up to four courses per week, and stay for one or all five weeks! Full details here


How to help your child enjoy and succeed at piano lessons

The role of parents in piano lessons is crucial, by encouraging their children to practise, reinforcing the teacher’s instruction, and offering support and encouragement.

The decision to start piano lessons should not be taken too lightly. Learning and playing the piano is highly enjoyable and satisfying, leading to a deep sense of personal fulfilment, but it is also hard work which requires commitment and consistent practise to progress and succeed.

Chose the right time to start piano lessons. I have noticed an increasing trend amongst parents to seek piano lessons for very young and pre-school children. While I do not have an issue with this per se, I do feel that young children should have mastered basic reading/literacy before they start piano lessons. Children who start piano lessons at a very young age or pre-primary school should, in my opinion, be encouraged to enjoy exploring the instrument and its special soundworld before formal note learning begins. There are a number of specialist learning methods for very young children, including ‘Dogs and Birds’.

Find the right teacher. Sounds obvious? Piano teaching is unregulated and I am sorry to say there are charlatans out there and people who set themselves up as piano teachers without the appropriate qualifications and/or experience. Personal recommendation is often the best way to find a good teacher. Always arrange to meet a prospective teacher, with your child, and do not be afraid to ask the teacher about their qualifications and credentials, and for references/testimonials from other students and their parents. A pass at Grade 8 is the very minimum requirement for a piano teacher. A good teacher will also have an up to date DBS check (formerly CRB check).

Establish a routine from the outset. Ensure your child attends his/her piano lessons on the right day at the right time each week. This is a basic courtesy to the teacher, but also encourages commitment and routine. Make regular attendance at piano lessons a rule, and avoid over-scheduling your child with too many extra-curricular activities. Try to organise piano lessons on a day when there are not other after-school activities (in particular sport: I have had rather too many tired (and muddy!) students come to me for lessons straight after football or hockey).

Provide the right environment for learning. A well-maintained acoustic piano or quality digital piano/keyboard with weighted keys is essential, as is an adjustable piano stool. Many piano suppliers offer rental schemes and interest-free loans. Good lighting and a quite room are essential to good practising. Provide your child with a space away from interference from the rest of the family, and distractions such as television, computer etc.

Establish a daily routine of practising. Your child’s teacher will advise about the appropriate amount of practising required and should offer guidance on productive practising techniques. Encourage your child to practise regularly: little and often is far better than a lot the night before the lesson and leads to noticeable progress. Practice not only makes perfect, it also makes permanent. Supervised practice is essential, especially for young children, and parents do not need specialist musical knowledge to help their children with their practising. Many children need a parent to read out the teacher’s notes in the practice notebook.

Do not over-correct or re-teach. Over-correcting your child and constantly highlighting errors can be highly dismotivating and is the fastest way to kill a child’s enthusiasm. Praise good playing and offer positive suggestions for dealing with errors. Allow your child to learn and discover at his or her own pace. If the teacher has made specific suggestions/requests for practising, do not overrule the teacher’s directions by re-teaching your child between lessons (this can be incredibly frustrating for the teacher: I speak from experience!).

Encourage your child to prepare properly for each lesson. Practising is the equivalent of school ‘homework’ and should be undertaken with the same degree of care and attention. Make sure your child completes the practising set out by the teacher, and encourage your child to make a note of how much practising has been done each day (most practice notebooks have space for this). Also note down any aspects which are proving problematic so that the teacher is aware and can offer appropriate guidance at the next lesson.

Show enthusiasm for your child’s progress. Promptly purchase new music and other materials as requested by the teacher, and pay tuition and exam fees on time. Encourage your child to enjoy not just the piano but music in general by buying CDs, listening to music together on the radio and via streaming services such as Spotify. Attend concerts as these can inspire and motivate your child.

Get involved. Attend workshops and student concerts whenever you’re invited. Your presence demonstrates interest and support to your child and your child’s piano teacher. Think of performance as an opportunity to share music rather than a showing off exercise. Encourage your child to take part in performance opportunities organised by the teacher, and follow the teacher’s guidance in aspects such as readiness for exams or competitions and festivals.

Talk to the teacher. Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher for progress reports, verbal or written, and to discuss your child’s progress with the teacher. Be honest with the teacher if you feel your child is being asked to do too much, or learn music which is too difficult, or not challenging enough. Respect the teacher’s methods and decisions regarding exam entry etc.

Why piano? One of the great pleasures of the piano is that it is possible to make a pleasant sound on it from the get go, which provides in instant sense of accomplishment (unlike string or wind instruments which require a greater degree of mastery before the instrument begins to sound nice). The piano repertoire is vast and varied, offering music to suit all tastes and abilities, and learning the piano provides an important foundation in the fundamentals of music, music theory and artistry.

New year, new repertoire!

This post first appeared on my sister blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist

What better way to start a new year at the piano with some new repertoire? But where to start? Perhaps the greatest joy – and frustration – of being a pianist is the vast and wonderful repertoire available to us, from Baroque arabesques to über-contemporary fancies. One could spend a lifetime exploring the piano music of Beethoven or Chopin and still only scratch the surface. For many of us, our tastes are shaped from our earliest days at the piano, usually by our teachers, and they continue to form and develop as we learn and expand our musical horizons.

With such a vast repertoire available, it can be difficult to know where to start when selecting new music. For me, a constant source of inspiration is concerts. You hear it live, which gives a wonderful sense of the music – and don’t think that just because the pros are playing it, it must be impossible. Many concert pieces are not nearly as complicated as they may sound. The radio is also a useful source of ideas, as are music streaming services such as Spotify and LastFM, which offer recommendations based on your listening habits. Spotify has a particularly large archive of classical music, with some wonderful rarities, including recordings of both Rachmaninoff and Ravel (and others) playing their own piano music – wonderfully inspiring. YouTube is another good resource.

Recommendations from friends and colleagues can be very useful too. For example, a pianist friend of mine flagged up the recordings from the annual Rarities of Piano Music festival, which have proved a rich source of potential new repertoire for me. It is also interesting to explore lesser-known repertoire.

It’s important to keep variety and spice in what we choose to play, whether we are studying for exams and diplomas, preparing for a concert or competition, or simply playing for pleasure. If we grow bored of our repertoire, we can get lazy about it and silly errors and hard-to-erase mistakes can creep in. I always have quite a broad range of music “on the go” at any given time, and lately I have tended to focus on one or two quite challenging works (LRSM/FRSM standard), music that lies easily within my playing “comfort zone”, and some easy pieces (for example, Elgar’s Dream Children, which I enjoyed playing during the autumn and which found its way into a couple of concert programmes). I like to have wide chronological sweep too, and at the moment I am working on music by Bach, Mozart, Liszt, Bartok, Messiaen, Britten and Cage. I am also looking forward to tackling some piano music which has only just been written (Portraits for A Study by Jim Aitchison).

Even if you are busy with repertoire for an exam or Diploma, I think it is important to supplement your main learning with other pieces to guard against boredom (it is also a good idea to “rest” pieces on which you have been working for some time). Maybe consider some “lateral repertoire” – by which I mean, if you like the music of Chopin, for example, why not explore the piano music of fellow countryman, Karol Szymanowski? And if you like Debussy, and would like to try some later French piano music, how about Olivier Messiaen? His ‘Preludes’ (1929) show Debussyan influences and also look forward, in their harmonies and idioms, to his greatest piano work, the Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus. These kind of musical explorations can often throw an interesting new light on existing repertoire and offer useful food for thought.
There is plenty of copyright-free music available on the internet, which can be downloaded and printed out, or saved on a tablet device. Always remain open to new ideas and inspirations, and you will enjoy a wealth of fabulous piano music.

Happy new year, and happy practising!

Copyright-free music online:

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library

Piano Street