Tag: advanced piano exercises


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

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‘How to ‘spring clean’ your piano practice’ by GéNIA

April 11th, 2017 — 12:27pm
GéNIA, founder of Piano-Yoga®

GéNIA, founder of Piano-Yoga®

Spring is one of the most beautiful times of the season: plants are starting to grow, flowers are blooming, the sunshine is becoming stronger and birds start singing earlier and earlier. Nature starts waking up and ‘smiling’ at us, and the same is happening with people; we feel that there are more new possibilities, new beginnings and, in general, life becomes ‘sweeter’ and happier, in comparison with the dark and cold months of winter.

However with regard to piano practice, many people feel that they would rather spend more time outside (whilst the weather is so beautiful) and less time inside, which in turn affects their daily piano regime. Many start feeling guilty for not practising enough.

Also this time is the time for holidays, Easter and Pesach, or just family time together. This is the period when we start thinking more about our lives, relationships and family matters. During these days it is very popular to do spring cleaning in the house, getting rid of ‘stale’ habits and banishing the darkness of winter. The good news is that you can do the same with your piano practice routine: learning new pieces, practising in a different way, start doing new piano warm up exercises; all these can contribute to rejuvenation of your piano practice.

So are you ready to renew your piano practice?Playing Hands (Non Classical) No White window

Below are some tips that will help you to do just that:

Drink a glass of fresh water (ideally with lemon or cucumber) before your practice, in the mornings or afternoons or even early evenings

or

Drink a glass of herbal tea (with honey or lemon, according to taste) before your late evening practice.

Do a few stretches before you start:

Stand with your feet parallel, a hip-width apart, engage your inner legs, draw your abdominals inwards, align your lower back (which often means bringing your hips slightly forward, to avoid creating a big curve in your lower back), keep your shoulders relaxed (lower them if necessary) and slightly back if your shoulders tend to turn inwards, stretch through your arms, as if someone is pulling your fingers down to the ground, make sure that your neck is not protruding forwards (if it is, you can end up with a lot of problems in your upper shoulders and neck, and even experience headaches and problems with vision).

Take a deep breath, inhaling all the way from your diaphragm, while lifting your hands over your head along the sides of your body, then start slowly breathing out whilst bringing your hands to the original position in the same way.

Keep thinking of maintaining your alignment (which means don’t feel sloppy).

Repeat 3 times.

On the 3rd time, instead of returning your hands to the original position, bring the palms together over your head on the in breath and, on out breath, slowly bring the hands together down through the centre line of your body.

Then take 2 breaths whilst keeping your hands firmly against your naval: palms pressed together on the level of your diaphragm.

This simple stretch will revitalise your body and help you to concentrate.

Choose a brand new exercise routine. 

Piano-Yoga® Book of Exercises

Piano-Yoga® Book of Exercises

I am a big advocate of doing exercises, as you can improve your playing dramatically by working separately on technical issues. Identify up to 3 of the weakest areas of your practice (scales, thirds, octaves, etc) and choose exercises that will help you to tackle these. Amongst my favourites are Clementi-Tausig ‘Gradus ad Parnassum’, H. Berens ‘Training of the left hand’, M. Long ‘Le Piano’ exercises, some pages from Chopin and Liszt etudes (it is absolutely fine to use those as exercises) and, of course, Piano-Yoga® exercises, as they promote not only the stretch but the strength in the fingers, especially in the bottom parts (proximal phalanx), and therefore allow you to do all the other exercises much more efficiently.

Choose at least one new piece.  I think it is very important always to work on something new, and especially during the spring. I love variation form, as then you feel that you are not just working on one piece, but on many different pieces. Some of the great examples are Beethoven Six Variations on ‘Nel cor piu non mi sento’ WoO70, Beethoven 32 Variations on an Original Theme’ in C minor WoO 80, Schumann Abegg Variations Op.1, Schumann Pappilons  Op.2 or Mendelssohn Variations Sérieuses’ Op.54 to name just a few.

Record yourself playing one of the pieces that you are working on and then give yourself a day’s rest. Afterwards listen to the recording with the sheet music and a pencil and pretend that you are listening to someone else’s playing and giving them a lesson. Mark all the places, with details and nuances that you think need improvement.

Set-up a goal.  I think it is very important to know why you are learning to play the piano, whether you just want to learn it for yourself or you are more ambitious and you’d like to do some public performances or/and take some exams. Your goal can vary from ‘memorising a piece of music’ and ‘performing in public’ to ‘establishing a practice routine’. Whatever you do, decide on the goal and when you intend to achieve it. This could transform your practice, as it will give it direction.

Get professional advice.  If you are not having lessons at the moment and practicing by yourself, it is a good time to see a professional musician (whether a piano teacher or a performing musician) to get some tips and advice, even if you cannot take regular lessons. If you are already taking lessons, consider signing up for a master class or a workshop, as it is always good to hear fresh new opinions, even those different from your teacher’s.

I always encourage my students to play at festivals and masterclasses, as not only do they get the experience of performing in public, but they also gain professional feedback which is sometimes different from mine, but is always useful.

Piano-Yoga Student Concert

Piano-Yoga® Student Concert

And finally… Set up a date for your ‘public’ performance.  Even if you are the most shy person in the world, it would do you a lot of good to play in front of someone else, as this is where your knowledge and skills will be tested. If you manage to keep your cool and play swimmingly through this, then you have learnt well what you have been working on, but if not, it means, that you still need to continue work on what you have been doing. And if you are an experienced player, then sign yourself up to an interesting performance opportunity, such as a local festival or masterclass.

Alternatively, you can make a recording that you can then give to all your friends and family as a present! Maybe for Christmas?  This will force you to be really thorough in your playing and practising.

I hope that you found these tips useful. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via my website www.piano-yoga.com or our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pianoyogaeducation/

Enjoy your practice

&  happy Holidays!

GéNIA

Comment » | GéNIA, GéNIA's Articles, Music Lessons

How to Obtain the Best Sitting Position at the Piano. Part 1

May 20th, 2013 — 6:30pm

I am often asked what it the best way to sit at the piano, as various piano teachers recommend different approaches. When we watch famous musicians, we cannot help but notice how differently they sit:  Glen Gould with his unbalanced low sitting position, Arthur Rubinstein with his almost perfect and static way of sitting, Lang Lang who generously uses body movements and Ivo Pogorelich who is very minimal in his physical expression… So how can we decide what is the best way to sit at the piano?

According to the Russian Piano School that I have been taught, you need to sit closer to the edge of the piano stool, with the forearms parallel to the piano, ideally keeping about 90 Degrees between your upper arm and forearm. The distance from the piano should be equal to the length of your forearm. This way gives you a freedom to move your hands correctly and without a restraint.

However, after teaching a number of students over the years and performing myself on different concert platforms, I noticed that sometimes this is not enough.

Why? Because, all the pianos are different: some are loud and some are soft, some have a heavy action and some are light, additionally to that the acoustics of each venue vary from one another, ranging from ‘dry’, where the player needs to give more sound, to ‘wet’, where the sound needs to be carefully controlled, as otherwise the venue amplifies the sound.

On top of that students have different physique, where some are tall and limber, and some are petite and prone to rigidity. Sometimes the upper body is considerably longer than the lower part, or vice versa. All this needs to be taking into consideration when you play the piano. So how can one find the best sitting position?

 First of all there are some basic rules that apply to all body types, all kinds of pianos and all environments. This is my personal conclusion, reached after experimenting a lot on myself and with the help of my wonderful students. The method is represented in detail in my book,  “Piano-Yoga®: Transform Your Hands” in Chapter 1: Preliminary Piano-Yoga®, Exercise 6. However, here I will give you a quick outline: the main objective for finding the best sitting position at the piano, is that you need to feel grounded at all times. So what exactly does it mean, and how is this achieved?

Sit, as described above, closer to the edge of your piano stool, aiming to have your forearms resting on the keyboard parallel to the floor, with a 90 Degree angle to your upper arm. Make sure that your wrists are in line with your arms and hands, and not above or below them. Keep the forearm distance away from the keys.

Start from the feet – make sure that they are firmly connected to the ground. To do that you should keep you legs a hip-width apart, with feet parallel, close to the pedals, and sit with the back straight. Lift your toes, spread them, one by one if you can, and then slowly put them down. Then continue with you heals, lifting them as high as you can and placing them slowly down.

Piano-Yoga® Sitting Routine

Piano-Yoga® Sitting Routine

Then engage your abdominal area, as it holds the spine and keeps all the energy of your body (according to the eastern philosophies). Slowly draw your abdominals in, but not too much, as you do not want to prevent your diaphragm from expanding (breathing fully).

Next, make sure that your shoulders are down and back, if necessary.  To do this, stretch your arms, with the fingers widely spread, pointing to the floor and knuckles parallel and facing the keyboard. Hold this position for a few seconds and then turn your palms so they are now facing the keyboard. This will increase the stretch deeper, and facilitate lowering of the shoulders. If your shoulders are prone to be rolled inwards, then pull them slightly back; however, avoid over-arching your back (as this would add the additional pressure to your lower back)

Piano-Yoga® Sitting Routine

Piano-Yoga® Sitting Routine

 

Finally, make sure that your neck is aligned with your body and is not protruding forward.

Pulling the neck forward can lead to heightened blood pressure, headaches and even blurred vision, as well as pains in the upper shoulders.

Once you master this sequence, it will take you about 1 minute to perform, but will considerably improve the quality of your playing and facilitate the best sitting position for you.

To be continued.

GéNIA’s Piano-Yoga® Oxford Retreat will take the place on the 16 June 2013 in Oxford at St Hilda’s College. With the programme covering Exercises for the Perfect Sitting Position, How to Create Individual Piano Technique, New Approaches to Sight-reading, Masterclasses and Exercises for De-stressing, GéNIA will be addressing each sitting position individually. For more information and to book a place please visit our website.

GéNIA’s Piano-Yoga® Book is available here.

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Piano-Yoga® 30 Second Tips No. 4

April 18th, 2013 — 10:23am

In this video, GéNIA demonstrates how important it is to always engage the Thenar Muscle (thumb). Recorded at the Piano-Yoga® EPTA Workshop 2011.

These bite sized videos contain essential advice on piano playing from the founder of Piano-Yoga® itself, virtuoso concert pianist GéNIA, with all the material taken from the large database of Piano-Yoga® workshops, retreats and presentations that took place in the last few years.

Video Production & Audio Production: Richard McDonald

To  attend the masterclasses and lectures given by GéNIA visit the Piano-Yoga® 1 Day Retreat with GéNIA at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG, on Sunday, the 21st April 2013 at 10:30am-5:30 pm in London. View the webpage of the daily schedule here.

Comment » | Piano-Yoga®, Practical Advice, Video

Piano-Yoga® 30 Second Tips No. 3

April 12th, 2013 — 9:26am

In this video, Russian pianist GéNIA, the founder of Piano-Yoga®, demonstrates how important it is to understand the hand muscles and how they relate to piano playing. Recorded at the Piano-Yoga® EPTA Workshop 2011.

These bite sized videos contain essential advice on piano playing from the founder of Piano-Yoga® itself, virtuoso concert pianist GéNIA, with all the material taken from the large database of Piano-Yoga® workshops, retreats and presentations that took place in the last few years.

Video Production & Audio Production: Richard McDonald

Our next Piano-Yoga® Retreat is at Kings Place, London on the 21st April 2013

Click HERE to view Piano-Yoga®’s other videos.

Comment » | Piano-Yoga®, Practical Advice

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