Category: Guest Blogger


“But it Takes Me Ages to Learn a New Piece!” – Guest blog post by Graham Fitch

June 13th, 2017 — 9:55am

Graham FitchIt gives me a great pleasure to introduce a renowned pianist, teacher, adjudicator and writer Graham Fitch, who is also a regular writer for Pianist Magazine with his own video series on the magazine’s YouTube channel. Graham has also written teaching notes for Trinity College London’s series, Raise the Bar, as well as for the advanced grades of the new syllabus. He has recently published a series of ebooks available at www.practisingthepiano.com, and also launched an online resource for pianists and piano teachers, the Online Academy. Graham runs a very busy private practice in London, and counts among his long-term students Daniel Grimwood, James Baillieu, and Gemma Webster – with many others active in the profession. In addition to teaching talented youngsters, tertiary level piano students and working with piano teachers, Graham is very interested in helping amateur pianists develop their playing. Graham is a principal tutor on The Piano Teachers’ Course (EPTA) UK, and is also a tutor at the Summer School for Pianists at Walsall, and gives weekend courses at Jackdaws. Graham also gives regular workshops and classes across the UK. Read on for Graham’s thoughts and advice on learning new pieces. Enjoy this article below! GéNIA

‘One of the saddest things about our exam culture is spending the best part of a year on three pieces and a bunch of scales, polishing every little detail until perfect. A couple of weeks after the exam, the student has nothing to play because they have forgotten their old pieces and won’t be ready with the new ones for a while yet. This structure means they often have very poor reading skills and are ill-equipped as practical musicians. It is hard to fathom is that a supposedly advanced piano student with years of lessons behind them would not be able to get up and play Happy Birthday by ear at a party, or to read at sight simple accompaniments when called upon to do so.

A very distinguished colleague who taught high-level conservatory students would only ever hear a piece once or twice. Even first year students had to bring something new each week, and while the pressure was often quite intense every single one of them developed the skills to assimilate music very quickly. They had to! Apart from playing extremely well, the best of them became excellent sight readers capable of working out complex scores within a few days. They were flexible and marketable pianists with a large repertoire, just what you want from a conservatory education.

Quick Studies

Not every one of our students would be able to handle this sort of pressure of course, and don’t get me wrong – spending weeks and months polishing and refining certain pieces is absolutely imperative! There is no way we can develop pianistic excellence and finesse without this. To redress the balance between the type of painstaking and time-consuming practise involved in perfecting a piece and the ability to read well and learn fast, I am a great believer in quick studies. Learning a piece from scratch involves different skills and different parts of the brain from playing pieces we already know. If we are constantly keeping these particular grey cells active, they get faster and stronger and this makes processing new material quicker and easier. This is where quick studies come in.

I will give a student a short piece usually well within their capability one week and expect to hear it from beginning to end the next, no matter how sketchy or ropey the playing might be. In the next lesson, we will spend a few minutes on it. I’ll comment on a particular aspect (such as pedalling, tonal balance, rhythm, etc.) rather than give a list of corrections (over and above obvious clangers we can fix there and then). We might discuss the composition and how it’s put together and then try it again immediately, or parts of it again. Whether the student continues to play the piece for themselves is up to them, but I won’t hear it again.

Regular quick studies help speed up the learning processes in general, because the information from the score has to be absorbed and digested very quickly. Playing the piece in the lesson is the performance deadline they have to meet. Whether you do this once a week or twice per term depends on the individual student, but eventually this skill spills over into all they do at the piano. Not only will they beef up their learning skills, they’ll also get better at sight reading and have a number of repertoire pieces to play. Intermediate students can tackle repertoire a couple of grades lower than their current level. For more advanced players, how about taking a set of pieces such as the Beethoven Bagatelles, Prokoviev’s Visions fugitives or Schumann’s Kinderszenen and committing to learning one a week in this way? Devote 10% of your practice time to it, and no more. It doesn’t count unless you play it for someone at the end, though!

A Personal Story

Some of the solo playing I am most proud of took place about twenty years ago. I was asked at four days’ notice to play a concerto at a black tie charity concert, standing in for a colleague who was nursing an injury. I agreed to do it even though I was teaching way too many hours during that period, and playing mostly chamber music. I had to be very creative with the way I used the time during those few days – it was a piece I had played many years before so I had to use what little practice time I had very wisely. I didn’t have time to get too nervous nor to luxuriate in the details, I had to get a professional job done. When it came to the concert, I surprised myself with how everything came together so well (because I am usually guilty of giving myself too much time to prepare for big things). I had managed to achieve in a few short days what I would probably have devoted much more time to under normal conditions, probably more time than would really be necessary. This experience taught me that sometimes it is worth taking a calculated risk and getting outside of my comfort zone.

Parkinson’s Law

Last week I spoke of The Pareto Principle in relation to our work at the piano. This week, I would like to bring in another principle from the field of time management, Parkinson’s Law. The following adage was coined by public administrator Cyril Northcote Parkinson in his 1955 essay for The Economist:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

If you allow six months to complete a project, it will take six months to complete. If you decide you’re going to do it in three months, it will take three months! Setting a deadline focusses the mind and changes the way we learn and practise. If we have set a time frame to achieve a goal, whether that applies to a component of an individual practice session, or learning and performing a piece from scratch, our mind will tend to focus our energies so as to achieve this. In making the decision we are stating an intention and then focussing on what it’s going to take to get it done. This means that we are more likely to be successful at completing the task within the given time frame than if we had an open-ended attitude.’

If you enjoyed reading this post, you may like to visit Graham’s website: www.grahamfitch.com and blog: www.practisingthepiano.com

Comment » | Guest Blogger, Music

‘The Kate Way’ – Guest blog post by Kate Lovell

May 25th, 2017 — 8:11am

Kate Lovell © Genevieve Stevenson-1-10Kate Lovell is a Yoga Teacher and Holistic Health coach based in London.  Kate grew up in a small town near Boston in a musical family where she learned to play the piano, but her passion for languages and Europe brought her to France, then Italy and eventually London to live and work.  While working in the media, Kate trained to teach yoga and studied nutrition and holistic health in order to turn her passion for well-being into a career.  She discovered Piano-Yoga® and my teaching approach quite by chance while looking for a piano teacher in London.  Kate loves teaching yoga to beginners and believes in making yoga accessible to everyone.  She equally loves offering support to her coaching clients to help them develop habits and awareness that feed a healthy approach to eating and living for the rest of their lives.  She weaves her insights into monthly newsletters and her blog so that more people can help incorporate healthy habits into their lives. Read on below to hear about Kate’s experiences playing the piano and visit her website for further advice on health, nutrition and well-being! GéNIA

 

It’s been a long time since I have been called upon to perform a piano piece in front of an audience, but I can remember the nerves and anxiety that accompanied my bi-annual recitals like it was yesterday.  I started playing the piano around the age of nine and performed in recitals up until the age of twenty, a time period that unfortunately preceded my many years practising yoga and studying nutrition as a means towards improving my well-being and reducing stress.  I have been teaching yoga for a decade and health coaching just slightly shorter than that, and believe that if only I had the tools and knowledge I do now to help me stay grounded and centred, I would have welcomed more opportunities to perform and perhaps have even enjoyed the experience.

 

I have always been interested in the food-mood connection and how what we eat affects how we feel.  If people drink coffee or consume sugar as a pick-me-up, then surely there are foods that also do the opposite?  And the opposite of feeling overly stimulated and jumpy is exactly what one needs to perform well.  I remember my piano teacher telling me to eat something that made me feel calm before a recital where I was playing one of my most challenging pieces yet.  She recalled an incident where she and a close friend who were performing a four-hand piano piece decided to have a coffee together before going on stage.  The performance was like a car crash – they couldn’t control the tempo and their hands were shaking from the caffeine.  Not all of us responds to caffeine with the same sensitivity, but often if our stress hormones have been activated and our autonomic nervous systems sent into fight-or-flight mode (for example, because of stage fright or fear of forgetting one’s music), consuming foods or beverages that are ‘yang’ (energetic) in nature just adds fuel to the fire.  Imagine Flight of the Bumblebee but inside your body!

 

With nutrition, there is no one way.  We are all programmed a bit differently and require different diets depending on our body types and lifestyles (as is taught in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine).  However, I generally I find that given our stressful lifestyles and the increasing demands placed upon us due to technology (in the case of city-dwellers especially), we are living in more of a yang (energetic) state than a yin (cool) state and thus require foods that are more calming or ‘sattvic’ in nature to balance these energies.  Calming foods are generally easy to digest, have nutrients that steady the nervous system and have textures and temperatures that are soothing to the body and mind.

 

So if, like me, you get really nervous, agitated and flustered before a performance, consider some yoga practices but also think about what foods you could eat to help reverse that feeling. Below are just a few suggestions that work for me:

  • Avoid any caffeinated beverages like coffee or tea, and opt for a herbal tea like chamomile and plenty of pure, room-temperature water to stay hydrated (but maybe not too much just before going on stage!)
  • Have a warm, nourishing and fresh cooked meal with root vegetables (because they come from the ground, they help you stay grounded!) before performing – something like baked sweet potatoes with some brown rice (contain Serotonin) or a warm porridge with nut milk, cashews, almonds and brazil nuts (their Omega 3 Fatty Acids feed the brain)
  • If you get a really upset stomach when you’re nervous a warm vegetable or chicken broth could just the thing to calm your tummy and feed your brain
  • I often drink a warm nut milk with a bit of ghee and some spices like cardamom to help sooth me before I sleep and find this is also good when I want to feel more grounded
  • Avoid refined sugar and high sugar energy drinks, instead have fruit like bananas (good for Potassium to support brain function) and kiwis (good for Vitamin C) but keep in mind that too many raw foods might challenge your digestion

Visit Kate’s website here for further information on health coaching, well-being and yoga.

Comment » | Guest Blogger, Practical Advice, Yoga

Sight-reading: Eight Tips – a guest blog by Melanie Spanswick

April 27th, 2017 — 10:39am
Melanie Spanswick, pianist, composer, educator and blogger

Melanie Spanswick, pianist, composer, educator and blogger

‘It gives me a great pleasure to introduce a wonderful educator, pianist, pedagogue, blogger, author and international judicator, Melanie Spanswick.  

Melanie kindly offered to write a blog especially for Piano-Yoga readers, covering one of her ‘specialities’: the subject of sight reading.

 Melanie has also just published the first series of her new book ‘Play it again: PIANO’ with Schott Music. Here, she offers some useful tips for pianists who would like to improve their sight-reading.’ GéNIA

Sight-reading is a subject feared by many a pianist. Reading at speed is a real skill, and one to be prized; if you can read quickly, learning repertoire will be a much swifter and more pleasurable experience. Contrary to the often misguided belief that it’s a skill you ‘either can or can’t do’, I’ve found if students are taught and guided carefully in this respect, they can and do make substantial progress. The key is a slow approach with plenty of practice material, and time to devote to this cause.

I hope the following tips will prove interesting and useful for those who feel they need a practice method to which they can apply to every session.

  1. Sight-reading is all about the preparation. Begin by allowing at least two to three minutes of preparation time, looking at the score, and then separating the various tasks (as described below).
  2. On first glance, check the score for the key signature, noting the major and relative minor of that written; get into the habit of ‘spotting the key’ of every piece you read. Note the time signature (particularly if it changes during the piece), obvious note patterns such as scales, arpeggios, chords, octaves and the like (also aim to decipher fingerings for such figurations before you play).
  3. Separate the rhythm from the notes (this is very important). Focus on the general pulse; always start with very slow speeds when learning to read (perhaps a third or even a quarter of the intended tempo). Then tap the rhythm of the treble clef in the right hand, and the rhythm of the bass clef, with the left hand (at the same time), keeping in mind the slow pulse you have already set.
  4. Now play through the left hand alone (without adhering to any pulse), locating note patterns, hand positions changes and fingering (and remembering the key!). Then repeat this with the right hand. If you’re preparing for an exam, you will probably have just enough time to run through each hand separately in the 20 or 30 seconds allocated inspection time beforehand. However, irrespective of exam sight-reading tests, allow plenty of time for this vital part of the preparation process.
  5. Decide how you will keep time during the exercise. A metronome may be helpful (for ‘sitting’ on the pulse), but counting out loud along to your playing is also a reliable method (providing your count is rhythmical!). Try to sub-divide the beat (i.e. if crotchets are the main beat, count in quavers, but if quavers are the main beat, then count in semiquavers etc.). Counting a bar’s rest at the beginning can be useful too (for setting a firm tempo).
  6. Once you have spent time on the preparation stage, and are quite sure of the notes, rhythm, fingering and hand position changes, play your chosen exercise hands together, very slowly, reading ahead all the time, whilst aiming to play through your mistakes. It’s tempting to stop and correct errors, but by playing slowly, you will eventually be able to resist this urge.
  7. When reading, keep in mind the overall rhythmic structure and play the notes to the pulse as opposed to the other way around. This way, you can always keep going, missing out notes or chords if you can’t find them in the time (if this happens frequently, probably a slower tempo is required).
  8. Eventually, when you are comfortable playing sight-reading exercises slowly, gradually add speed.

This preparation will become quicker over time, as will your reading. Ensure you have a large collection of sight-reading books and materials; one or two books won’t be sufficient, as with regular practice, you’ll move through many practice examples as well as easier piano repertoire. Try to start with very simple exercises, moving to more challenging examples as and when you’re ready. If you can spend 10 – 15 minutes sight-reading at every practice session, you’ll be amazed at what can be achieved. Good luck!

Melanie Spanswick

www.melaniespanswick.com

Comment » | Guest Blogger, Music, News, Practical Advice

Melanie Spanswick publishes GéNIA’s guest blog ’11 ways to kick start your practice routine’

March 30th, 2017 — 9:19am
GéNIA, the founder of Piano-Yoga®

GéNIA, the founder of Piano-Yoga®

To celebrate World Piano Day, GéNIA was invited to write a guest blog for the website of renowned educator, pianist, composer, author and blogger Melanie Spanswick.

‘Have you ever had the familiar feeling that you really would like to do something but you just do not have the time for it? If only! In reality, very secretly, you know that you have the time, however you just cannot bring yourself into doing something.

Melanie Spanswick, pianist, composer, educator and blogger

Melanie Spanswick, educator, pianist, composer, author and blogger

I have news for you! For a start, thousands, if not millions of people, have had this feeling at least once in their life. It does not matter if it was about piano practice or learning a foreign language or simply starting a regular exercise regime. You know you want it, you even know need it, but still something is holding you back.

So what shall we do about it? How do we start? In this article I am going to concentrate on piano practice, however the tips can be applied to anything!’

To read about 11 ways to kick start your practice please follow this link on Melanie Spanswick’s website. Also check out other blogs from Melanie, offering valuable advice and tips on piano playing!

 

 

Comment » | GéNIA, GéNIA's Articles, Guest Blogger, Music Lessons, Piano-Yoga Lessons, Piano-Yoga®, Practical Advice

GéNIA writes a guest post for Melanie Spanswick’s website

December 14th, 2015 — 10:37pm

Geniaplaying_julius Beltrame_1629_8bGéNIA recently wrote a blog titled ‘Maintaining Concentration in Piano Playing and Practice’ for the website of the renowned pianist, teacher, adjudicator, author and blogger Melanie Spanswick.

Here is the extract from the article:

‘Often pianists mistakenly believe that many of their challenges manifest due to a lack of practice or lack of skills, rarely being aware that they could simply exist due to a lack of concentration. We all know about the cases where pianists work for hours, only to collapse later in their pubic performance, either playing for a group of people or just for one person! They blame themselves, and very often feel inadequate. With stress building up, and feelings of disappointment making them feeling ‘not good enough’, they do start playing even worse than they were playing before and, on some occasions, even stop playing altogether, while developing an ever-growing guilt complex. Little do they know that often this issue could be easily addressed, sometimes with only a very slight adjustment. All they need to do is just to be aware!’

To read the full article please follow this link.

We also recommend to visit Melanie Spanswisk’s website as it is full of the useful tips for pianists!

 

 

Comment » | GéNIA, GéNIA's Articles, Guest Blogger, Piano-Yoga®, Practical Advice

Piano-Yoga® & Healthy Living

November 8th, 2013 — 11:27am

Kate Lovell Blog

Inner Pace

Kate Lovell, experienced Yoga Teacher, Holistic Health Coach and friend of Piano-Yoga® has written a lovely reflective article on her experiences on learning the piano and her introduction to GéNIA and the Piano-Yoga® method. Here is a snippet of what she had to say:

 

A conscious yoga practice and a piano practice are very complementary – physically, emotionally and mentally – and meditatively.  I was thrilled when I discovered someone else had come to this realization and was working to share it with the masses.  During one of our lessons, GéNIA, the creator of Piano-Yoga®, gave me one of the most beautifully synchronistic pieces of advice when it comes to learning something new and working out a healthy practice schedule – always ever practice up to a point that leaves you craving to play again tomorrow.

You can read the entire article on Kate’s blog HERE as well as gain valuable insight into healthy living, a must for efficient piano practice and playing.

Click HERE to read Kate’s Blog
Click HERE to visit Kate’s Website, The Kate Way
Click HERE to find out more about the Piano-Yoga® method
Click HERE to attend Day 4 of our Piano-Yoga Certificate Course Day 4

Comment » | GéNIA, Guest Blogger, Piano-Yoga®, Yoga

South London Concert Series

September 13th, 2013 — 10:08am

South London Concert Series

Launching on the 29th of November, 2013

Founded and curated by harpsichordist, pianist and piano teacher Lorraine Liyanage and pianist, piano teacher and music blogger Frances Wilson, the South London Concert Series exists to promote the careers of emerging musicians living or studying in the UK by providing a central London venue and invited audience for classical and contemporary music concerts.

The first concert will be held at the 1901 Arts Club, a converted Victorian schoolhouse close to Waterloo Station, which recreates the ambiance and decor of a nineteenth-century salon. This wonderful venue offers a comfortable setting for concerts, and afterwards guests can enjoy drinks in the upstairs bar and elegant sitting room.

The series launches on Friday 29th November 2013, with a concert featuring pianist Helen Burford. Guest performers include Daniel Roberts, Emma Heseltine, Susan Pickerill and Mark Zarb-Adami.

Click HERE for more information and to join the mailing list.
Click HERE to buy tickets.

Comment » | Events, Guest Blogger

Interview with GéNIA on Memorising Music

May 28th, 2013 — 1:34pm

GéNIA recently gave an in depth interview to the blogger Caroline Wright on Memorising Music. Here is a snippet:

Do you actively memorise music and perform without a score? If not, why not? If so, why? When in your musical development did you start to memorise?

I learn very fast and always try to play without the score because it gives me a lot of freedom. Without the score, my senses are connected to my hearing and tactile sensations. I find the score a drag as it kills the music! The score can be very limiting, and is not always a good representation of what the composer intended. I would rather play without the score and make a few mistakes, than play perfectly with the score. Having said all that, these days I do use the score sometimes for contemporary music, if I need to play at a short notice or if I know that I won’t play the piece again soon.

You can read the entire interview HERE.
You can find out more about GéNIA HERE.
All of GéNIA MUSIC’s news and events can be found HERE.

Comment » | GéNIA, Guest Blogger, Interview

Melanie Spanswick’s thoughts on the Piano-Yoga® Retreat at Kings Place

April 25th, 2013 — 9:22am

ClassicalMel Melanie Spanswick

Concert pianist and writer Melanie Spanswick (aka: blogger ClassicalMel) came to our Piano-Yoga® Retreat at Kings place on Sunday 21st April 2013. Here is a snippet of what she thought:

A series of beneficial exercises were introduced; I have done Yoga before and ended up in terrible pain so I was interested to try GéNIA’s approach. I’m happy to report that I managed every movement and am still in one piece today! The gentle exercises were useful, relaxing and calming too, allowing the back, arms, and shoulders to stretch and bend. There is no doubt that this is an excellent way to practice correct posture at the piano which is vital for good playing.

You can read the entire article at Melanie’s blog HERE.

Comment » | Events, GéNIA, Guest Blogger

Perfecting the Piano Room. Guest Blog from www.houseplansandmore.com

January 7th, 2013 — 11:13am

Have you ever dreamed of having an enchanting music room? Whether you have a gorgeous grand piano or a friendly upright piano, it is essential to create the perfect space to enjoy the melodies. A piano definitely becomes a focal point of a room and provides an inviting atmosphere. It not only is a musical instrument, but also a work of art. The piano should be showcased in a properly designed space that increases its appearance and the quality of the music. If you are planning to purchase a new piano or already own one, you should be aware of the appropriate room conditions for the instrument.

Click HERE to read the rest of the article. 

Comment » | Guest Blogger, Piano-Yoga®

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