The Psychology of Piano Technique – Murray McLachlan

130bad77-b230-4f95-b01e-c0a12b4d2371This, the third book by Murray McLachlan’s for Faber Music on piano technique, takes a more leftfield approach to piano playing and piano technique, tackling esoteric, psychological and philosophical issues such as visualisation techniques, inspiration, musicians’ health and well-being (including dealing with performance anxiety), career development, and encouraging independent learning and interpretative decision-making. This non-traditional approach is underpinned by the premise that we should love the piano and its literature, and always seek joy and creativity in our practising and learning. If this sounds like a New Age self-help book for pianists, be assured it is not: McLachlan, an internationally-renowned pianist and teacher, writes with intelligence and authority based on his own experience as a performer and teacher and many years spent in the industry, and his approach is pragmatic and practical, offering wisdom for pianists, whether professional or amateur, students and teachers.

I particularly liked the chapters on finding flow in practising, visualisation techniques (something I use in my own teaching and playing), avoiding dogmatism (in teaching and interpretation) and stepping beyond urtext editions to find one’s personal voice at the piano. The book does not need to be read straight through and indeed I have enjoyed dipping in and out of random chapters. The text is eminently readable with clearly-presented musical extracts.

Recommended.

 

Publisher: Faber Music

ISBN: 0571540317

£12.99

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Faber Music Piano Anthology

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This attractive anthology contains a wealth of favourite piano pieces and gems of the repertoire, including Fur Elise, Gymnopedie No. 1, Solfegietto in c minor, La fille aux cheveux de lin, To A Wild Rose, and many other popular works by leading composers for the piano. There are also pieces by lesser-known composers such as Alkan, Guilmant, Lyadov and Maykapar. Many of the works will be familiar to teachers from piano grade exam repertoire, and for the student pianist it is a real treat to have such a rich selection of piano music compiled into a single volume. The pieces are organised by ability, starting with Bach’s evergreen Minuet in G, BWV 114, which is roughly Grade 2 level, and closing with Fauré’s Romance sans Paroles (Grade 8) thus offering a progressive and varied overview of popular classical piano repertoire. Compiled by pianist and teacher Melanie Spanswick, this large-format hardback  collection is presented with an eye-catching cover illustration (‘The Concerto’ by Cyril Edward Power) and coloured endpapers, high-quality paper and a ribbon marker.

I have to admit I found the format of the book slightly cumbersome when actually trying to play from it at the piano: the hardback cover is rather unforgiving. I would have also liked  more twentieth-century and contemporary piano repertoire included in the selection (pieces by Bartok and Prokofiev wouldn’t go amiss, for example), but the pieces are selected from Faber’s own music collection and perhaps some composers’ works were not available due to copyright constraints. Overall this anthology would make a very pleasing and long-lasting gift for pianists of all levels and ages.

To win a copy of The Faber Music Piano Anthology, please answer the following question

Who composed the piano miniature ‘To A Wild Rose’?

(Please use the contact form to reply)

Publisher: Faber Music

ISBN: 0571539572

RRP £22.00

Further information and ordering

Mindfulness – the piano collection

mindfulness-piano-collection-coverI showed this new book from Faber Music to one of my teenage students and she exclaimed “Wow! That’s so cool!”. She told me she liked the design, the selection of pieces and above all the illustrations which one can choose to colour in between practise sessions.

Mindfulness, a simple practice of meditation which encourages one to be “in the present moment”, to banish negative thoughts and alleviate stress and anxiety, is now very popular. Mindfulness has been shown to help people suffering from stress, anxiety and depression, including physical manifestations of stress disorders such as eczema and psoriasis, pain and ill health, and is approved by the UK Mental Health Foundation. It has significant a role in music making and performance, and its benefits have been recognised by practitioners, teachers and musicians – so much so that the Guildhall School of Music and Drama now runs courses on mindfulness for performers.

Adopting a “mindful” approach while engaged in music practise can lead to an increased awareness and help us reconnect with our instrument and our musical self, leading to improved concentration, physical awareness of the feel of the instrument under the fingers, tone control, quality of sound, expression, a vibrant dynamic palette, flow, musical insight and communication.

The pieces in Mindfulness – the Piano Collection have been specially selected to reflect the meditative aspects of mindfulness and to encourage one to play in the moment. There are popular classics such as the first movement of the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata and a transcription of Ravel’s ‘Pavane pour une infante défunte’, simplified to suit cGrade 3-4 level players. There are also works by living composers/musicians including Nils Frahm, Howard Goodall, Evelyn Glennie and Ludovico Einaudi (his ‘I Giorni’ perhaps being the most meditative piece in the collection). The general level of the collection is cGrade 4-7. Each piece is preceded by a short introductory paragraph suggesting a simple mindfulness technique to be used while playing, for example:

The simplicity of this piece allows you to give all your attention to the sounds you’re creating. Focus on the hypnotic patterns, harmony and chord changes and if you notice your mind wandering bring your attention back to the music.

[introductory note to ‘Earnestly Yours’ by Keaton Henson]

Of course, students and pianists of all levels should ideally engage in mindful piano playing at all times, but the mind does have a tendency to wander, and the text at the beginning of each piece provides a useful focus. Teachers can work together with students on aspects such as technique, dynamics, articulation and expression.

The book is attractively-designed with an eye-catching treble-clef design on the front cover. A CD of the music might be a useful addition in a subsequent edition, but overall there is much to enjoy in this new collection, and I think it will have a particular appeal for teenage students.

Published by Faber Music RRP £9.99

Mindfulness and Piano Playing

Mastering the Piano with Lang Lang

Lang Lang approved image“The piano is my passion. Through the Lang Lang Piano Academy I hope to inspire today’s kids to explore the piano and celebrate the wonderful world of music. There are no short cuts to learning the piano and playing it well, but the journey along the way should be imaginative and rewarding as well as challenging. My aim in this series is to develop a more creative way to study the piano that appeals to the next generation of pianists – wherever they are in the world!”

LANG LANG

 

Superstar Chinese pianist Lang Lang is credited with inspiring some 40 million children in China to take up the piano and is a passionate advocate of the instrument and education. His sold out concerts captivate and inspire audiences of all ages, and he has now turned his charisma and passion to a new series of piano tutor books, designed to encourage the next generation of pianists.

Published by Faber Music, the books range from established elementary to intermediate (Levels 1-5 equate broadly to exam system Grades 1-5), and feature masterpieces by composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Schumann, as well as more familiar tutor book fare by Heller, Burgmuller and Le Couppey. The books also feature a selection of characterful world music, with arrangements hailing from around the globe including Europe, Africa, Asia and America, reflecting Lang Lang’s assertion that music is for everyone, everywhere.

Each book contains:

  • 8 units that develop key aspects of piano technique
  • Specially devised exercises and core studies focussing on each technical area
  • A diverse selection of piano repertoire including Lang Lang’s best-loved works
  • Beautiful arrangements of music from around the world
  • Inspirational commentary and guidance from Lang Lang himself
  • Stunning photo section of the pianist and examples of art that has inspired his own playing
  • Additional supporting materials will be available to download from the website, in addition to exclusive audio and video content.

The books also contain personal messages and hints and tips written by Lang Lang himself to accompany the sheet music, as he shares the secrets of his piano technique, along with exclusive photos of Lang Lang demonstrating at the piano. These suggestions are in place to encourage and inspire, as well as to present a more informal approach to studying the piano:

“For me, phrasing is like having a conversation. Each phrase is a sentence in that conversation – sometimes you include a comma because you have more to add and sometimes you finish the sentence.” Lang Lang

He also uses imagery to explain aspects of piano technique: for example, for good staccato he encourages the student to “think about a beautiful, very light, very naughty cat!”, and for legato he suggests imagining a gecko, whose feet are really connected to the keys. The books are well-designed with a clear, accessible layout and easy to read scores and text.

LANG LANG PIANO ACADEMY: MASTERING THE PIANO
Published by Faber Music, Levels 1, 2 and 3 (September 2014, £8.99), Levels 4 and 5 (October 2014, £9.99).

Further details at

http://www.fabermusic.com

http://www.langlangpianoacademy.com

http://www.langlang.com