New books for pianists from Trinity College London

It’s good to see Trinity College London extending its publishing programme to include more books for pianists, including collections of pieces from beginner to advanced level, and a compilation of piano exercises, selected from past exam syllabuses, all of which offer excellent resources for teachers and students alike.

Raise the Bar is a new series of graded pieces from Initial to Grade 8 showcasing favourite repertoire from past Trinity exam syllabuses. Edited by acclaimed teacher, pianist and writer Graham Fitch, each book contains an attractive selection of pieces in a range of styles and periods. Teaching notes for each piece are included, highlighting aspects such as technical challenges, structure, rhythm and expression, and each book contains a summary at the back containing the composer, title, key, time signature, tempo markings and characteristics of each piece. There is a good range of music to suit all tastes and the teaching notes can be used as a springboard for further discussion between teacher and student or a basic starting point for independent study. These books provide useful additional repertoire for students preparing for exams or simply for playing for pleasure and broadening one’s repertoire and knowledge of different style of music.

Piano Dreams is an attractively-designed series of books containing pieces for beginner and early intermediate pianists composed by Anne Terzibaschitsch. The pieces will particularly appeal to younger children with their imaginative titles and fun illustrations. Programmatic text weaves elements of story-telling into the pieces to stimulate the player’s imagination and encourage more expressive and colourful playing. There are notes on each piece highlighting aspects of technique or expression. In addition to the solo pieces, there are two books of piano duets in the same format.

I am a big fan of Trinity’s Piano Exercises which students learn as part of their grade exams. The exercises are designed to develop particular aspects of piano technique and many directly relate to pieces in the exam syllabus, offering the teacher the opportunity to introduce students to the concept of the ‘Etude’ or Study. This new compilation of selected exercises ranges from Initial to Grade 8 and each has a descriptive title to inspire students to interpret the music imaginatively (thus reinforcing the idea behind Etudes by Chopin and Liszt – that pieces should be both challenging and musical, testing technique and musicality). These exercises provide a useful resource for developing secure technique and can be used alongside repertoire to inform and extend students’ technical and musical capabilities.

More information about Trinity College London music publications here

Be a concert pianist in your own home

Do you dream of playing Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto to a packed house at Carnegie Hall? Do you long to play the graceful slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 with a full orchestra?

When I was a teenager there was Music Minus One, which consisted of an LP and a score. I had Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, because in those days, I had grandiose aspirations that I could hack it as a concert pianist, but the set up was never that satisfactory because I had to leap between the record player and the piano in double-quick time in order not to miss my cue.

That was some 35 years ago, and technology has moved on apace. There are a number of score-reading apps available now, some of which are simple PDF readers while others offer more sophisticated interaction between device and user. Tombooks Tomplay is a new app for iPad and PC/Mac which revolutionises score reading and offers musicians a unique experience – the opportunity to play your instrument accompanied by a full orchestra, just like in a concert hall!

The app has a varied and growing library of scores for many instruments, not just piano, including concertos, chamber music, piano four-hands, pop songs and film soundtracks. You can instantly download a score in PDF format to your PC or tablet, and thanks to Tombooks’ unique technology, Tomplay scores are interactive: they scroll automatically on-screen with a special cursor to guide you through the music. The app allows you to slow down or speed up the accompaniment in order to adapt to your level, with no loss of sound quality, and there are also options to self-record and annotate the score. There is also a function allowing you to practise a specific passage of a piece, in a loop, as well as a metronome to help you maintain a regular pulse.

Add the orchestral accompaniment and the playing experience is transformed.

Tomplay can be used by amateur musicians, teachers and students to explore and study repertoire, and to experience playing with other musicians without leaving the comfort of one’s home or practise room. It makes learning music simpler, more enjoyable and more effective

Tomplay is available for iPad, Mac or PC. Further information at

Beautiful music in motivating pieces

Why I love playing and teaching Ludovico Einaudi’s piano music – guest post by Maria Busqué

Ludovico Einaudi’s piano music is a delight to play. That aside, there are many advantages to teaching it. I’m still grateful to the person who first introduced me to his pieces.

Einaudi’s music is beautiful and unpretentious. It’s sincere, simple, and allows for a direct emotional connection. Why? Because it stems from improvisational work, fully open to the player’s fantasy. You can take the pieces as a starting point, a kind of “choose your own adventure”. Some of my students feel inspired, after playing a piece by him, to compose a new one exploring this style. That speaks for the openness of his work.

With teenage students, it’s especially important to keep the repertoire fresh, exciting, and relevant. This music is the perfect fit for all three, creating motivation out of itself.

There’s a reason why Einaudi’s music is so popular with students: It leaves them with a sense of accomplishment. He presents a few musical ideas, that he develops and varies. A genius move: students aren’t challenged every ten bars  and still can play beautiful long piano pieces.

Einaudi’s music prepares inexperienced players for long pieces and for other classical repertoire. They train rhythmic and technical aspects without the feeling of playing an etude.

As we know, piano players are expected to have a sense for harmony and structure. And you can never be too young to start. Einaudi’s music allows for straightforward musical analysis. His writing is very clear in that sense. I let students take a look at the whole piece. Which rhythmical patterns appear? These could be the indicators for the different sections. Basic analysis helps them gain a sense of structure and have it in mind when performing.

It’s a joy to play Einaudi’s works at first sight, discovering the emotion of the music as you go. You can just let him take you by the hand and explore together. And that’s really fun. And then, I keep coming back to those pieces of him which have touched my heart, and I can play them over and over again. Some of my favourites are: ‘Stella del Mattino, ‘I Giorni’, ‘Life’, ‘Run’, ‘Una Mattina’, ‘Divenire’, ‘Limbo’, ‘Bella Notte’.

We want to encourage in our students a love for sound and music as a means to self-expression. Einaudi’s works do that exactly, while at the same time bringing players forward pianistically. The perfect blend.

Maria Busque

Be kind to your students

I’m sure I am not alone in having several students who are currently immersed in revision and study sessions ahead of their GCSE and A-level exams which commence next month. Some young people cope well with the pressure of revision and exams, but sometimes even the most confident or well-organised students find that something has to give – and that something might be piano practise or even regular piano lessons. In such instances, it is especially important to be kind and sympathetic to students, and I believe they must not feel pressurised to complete their piano practise if they are busy with revision or tired from exams. This may seem counter-intuitive: shouldn’t I be encouraging them to keep up regular practise? Of course, but I also appreciate the need to cut them some slack during this crucial period in their educational lives.

Instead, I’ve suggested that piano practise should be regarded as a pleasant break from revision and exams, that it should be enjoyable and stress-free, and that I don’t mind in the least if students arrive at lessons and tell me they haven’t practised. My students know that I am not the kind of teacher who gets cross if they haven’t practised and they are comfortable about telling me how much they have or haven’t done. And we can always find other things to do in lessons, such as playing duets, listening to and talking about music, exploring what goes on inside my grand piano, or simply doodling on the keyboard.

For students who have grade exams in the summer, I have made sure that the bulk of their learning is already done. Pieces now simply need to be kept going, gently finessed; ditto technical work. And sight-reading and aural can be practised in a relaxed way in lessons, or by using apps or listening to the radio or looking music up on YouTube at home.

Students often find it helpful for their teacher to give them a practise schedule to enable them to focus on what needs to be done and how to do it if they have limited time available. Even 10 minutes of focused practising is useful, and during lessons I encourage students to identify what needs attention and how to prioritise their practising. Above all, I encourage my students to enjoy the piano and their music, and I hope that by being kind to my students, they appreciate that I care about them and I understand what their priorities are at the moment.