Is it essential for amateur pianists perform in public?

imagesI have a number of adult pupils and recently acquired another pupil who is an adult learner. She did learn for a while as a child and on and off has played and had occasional piano lessons throughout adulthood. Her children are now older and embarking on their own lives and now seems to be a good time to have regular piano lessons.

At our first lesson we discussed what sort of music she likes to play and listen to and what she is aiming to do with the piano. I also made suggestions as to how to develop her playing, etc etc, all usual things in a first lesson.

Then something I hadn’t expected happened. I suggested that if she wished she could come along and play in one of my adult pupils concerts. My group of adult pupils enjoy getting together to play to each other and having a chat afterwards about their piano playing over a glass or two of wine. When this was put to my new pupil, her immediate reaction was ‘why on earth would I do that?’ canstockphoto4121695

At first I was a little taken aback. However on reflection, it is a really good point. Why on earth would we put ourselves through all that stress as well as all that hard work in preparing for that event? Oh and there is no financial reward at the end either, just a glass of wine!

There are many reasons to learn to play an instrument such as the piano, there is a great deal of scientific research to show that it is good for a person’s health and overall wellbeing at any age.

  1. Playing the piano can increase cognitive development. Playing piano stimulates the brain in ways that almost every other activity cannot.
  2. Eye-hand coordination is developed while playing. Reading music trains the eyes and hands to work closely together.
  3. Fine motor skills are also developed. Nimble hands move efficiently only because of consistent practice. The practice is the training that produces the agility needed to play demanding piano pieces.
  4. Playing piano requires dedication. To become an accomplished pianist daily practice will be needed and this learned discipline can then be applied to many other areas of life.
  5. Music itself can reduce anxiety and stress. Sitting down to play a piano can help the mind refocus and relieve stress.
  6. It has been shown that playing piano can improve mental health of an individual. Pianists may see a reduction in depression and other mental health issues.

I cannot think of any bad side effects from playing the piano, there are only benefits which are good for the body and mind. Piano playing encourages discipline and creativity and all this in an activity that can be done by anyone with a desire to learn.

That is all well and good but only emphasises why it is good to learn to play piano and is not an explanation as to why we should perform in front of all those people. canstockphoto7379222

imagesThere is a deep down instinctive need to see music performed live and I really believe that is the same when it comes down to performing. There is something elusive and special about being in the presence of a group of people making music live. Music can express so much more than mere words and it is with this that I think lies an answer. It is simply about a very human need to communicate. There is a lot of evidence. Have a look at the streetpiano project. There are over 1000 pianos in 45 countries with a simple instruction on them saying ‘play me I’m yours.’ They are in all sorts of unlikely places, parks, bus and train stations etc available for anyone to play. It has been a great success. If you look at the website streetpiano.com you will see photographs of groups of people gathered round having fun both as performers and listeners. images

Playing piano in front of others isn’t for everyone and each person needs to feel that it is right for them. The satisfaction of making music and transporting oneself to a magical place in the privacy of your own home is plenty. For those who are brave enough to have a go at playing piano in a public performance there awaits a great sense of achievement after the performance boosting self confidence.

Brand New Bentley

2013-03-01 23.21.28Here’s your chance to own a Bentley. This beautiful piano as the title suggests is a brand new instrument and is a delight to play and hear. It has a lovely tone and medium/light keys.

It is a piano that is very suitable for all pianists from beginners to the advanced players.

We are supplying this piano with a 5 year warranty, free adjustable stool, free first tuning and free local, ground floor delivery. 2013-03-01 23.20.30

Our Bentley you see pictured measures 155cm tall, 149cm in length and 60cm deep.

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If you would like more information about this and our other pianos please call Julian on 020 3645 3930 or write to julian@pianolobby.co.uk

To gather more useful tips about buying a piano there is a lot more information on this website. Click on the #Used Piano and #The Easy Way to Buy a Piano on the home page.

Beautiful Bechendorfer

2013-03-01 23.31.11This fantastic instrument has recently arrived at Pianolobby and is only 3 years old. It looks and feels like a brand new instrument. The tone is warm and the keys are medium to light in touch and this piano would be an ideal choice for pianists of all standards. It benefits from having a traditional case which also has subtle and elegant detailing. 2013-03-01 23.31.59

We are offering this piano to you with a 5 year warranty. As well as that you will have a free stool, free first tuning and free local delivery to a ground floor room. 2013-03-01 23.32.16

If you would like more information about this and our other pianos please call Julian on 020 3645 3930 or write to julian@pianolobby.co.uk

To gather more useful tips about buying a piano there is a lot more information on this website. Click on the #Used Piano and #The Easy Way to Buy a Piano on the home page.

Striking Streicher Piano

2013-03-01 23.11.29We have just had this piano come in. It is a super little piano and we love it. It is in great condition and feels and sounds great. The action through the keys is medium to light and produces a clear sound in the upper register and has a surprisingly rich warm sound in the bass given its size.

It was built in 1995 and has had moderate use. It is an ideal piano for a beginner pianist through to pianists approaching their upper grades.

It measures 108cm in height, 143cm in length and 58cm deep and is ideal for smaller living spaces. 2013-03-01 23.14.19

Pianolobby will deliver this piano for free to a ground floor room, give you a free stool and free first tuning.

To gather more useful tips about buying a piano there is a lot more information on this website. Click on the #Used Piano and #The Easy Way to Buy a Piano on the home page.

2013-03-01 23.33.01If you would like more information about this and other pianos, please call Julian on 020 3645 3930 or send an email to julian@pianolobby.co.uk

Piano Teachers: an adult learner’s perspective

Learning piano is an exciting journey and like life itself is full of ups and downs. It is difficult at times and a good relationship with your piano teacher is very important. As in all human contact, not every piano teacher is suitable for every piano student even with the best will in the world. Pianolobby is fortunate to have a contribution from Tim Tarrant who is an adult learner and below outlines some of his experiences with piano teachers.


canstockphoto13473693‘Rather foolishly I decided that I would like to learn to play the piano when I retired. Foolish in thinking that I would have more time available. However, I have persisted over the last 4 years and one of the interesting aspects is my contact with piano teachers. I have come to several conclusions – admittedly from a very personal perspective which will mean that my conclusions will not necessarily apply to other students. I am now on to my fourth teacher and before you assume that I must be a particularly difficult student I should add that one moved away, another agreed to just help me through the next exam and only one did I choose to leave. There was a fifth I tried for two lessons but she missed the next two and it became apparent that it was going to continue in the same vein.

The first point is that I think having a piano teacher is at least as important for an adult as a child. It is not just that developing technique is just as important for an adult, it is about maintaining progression and motivation – particularly, if like me, you do not come from a musical family or have any one interested in hearing you play. Children and teenagers taking lessons will normally have adults taking an interest in their playing and the opportunity of playing with others at school. They will also, of course, be linked into the principle of study and exams.  canstockphoto22412132

My second point is the need for the adult student to maintain the student/teacher relationship. It is very easy to get into discussions about performers, styles and anything else which is not directly relevant to your progress as a pianist. Particularly if you have not put the time in for practice since the last lesson! The teacher that helped me through my last exam never wavered from the student/teacher model and I have concluded that it was one of the main reasons why I made progress during that time. I have also concluded that it is as much up to the student to maintain that relationship as up to the teacher. In fact I would go further and say that it is the student that has to ensure that the student/teacher relationship is in place.

My third point is that there has to be a structure to the lesson. My first teacher made it clear to me that he wanted  to teach to the ABRSM syllabus. imgresI had no pre-conceived ideas on how to learn and was happy to go along with that. Had I not been we would have needed an alternative structure and one that worked for both of us. My own current structure, agreed with my teacher, is to improve on my weaknesses – such as sight reading – so that I gain in confidence and can be ready for the next graded exam – should I wish to take it.

The teacher should be prepared for the lesson and provide some variety to the lesson. This seems an obvious point but the teacher I left gave me the impression that no thought had been given to the lesson before I arrived. The onus on what we were going to do and how we were going to do it was entirely with me. This is in stark contrast to my current teacher who has relevant music and tries out duets and other strategies to develop my skills. I should have left the earlier teacher sooner than I did and this brings me to my next point. Some teachers would prefer you to sign up for ten or twenty lessons. Unless you have been with the teacher for some time and are absolutely confident about them, I would avoid doing this. I believe that it takes a number of lessons before you can be sure that the teacher is the right one for you and you are the right student for them.’


 

Barber August 2014 084Check out our other blogs. Topics are varied, from discussing issues such as piano fingering to Pianolobby activities to new stock coming into our showroom. Why not download our guides? They are free!

#A Guide to Caring for Your Piano

#Your Guide to Buying an Upright Piano 

 

 

Coming Soon…

canstockphoto12108892This post should be headed as Coming VERY soon.

We have been shopping, it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it! I have to say that it was a very successful expedition. The fruits of our labours is that 3 fantastic pianos will be heading our way on Monday. image7

The first piano is a brand new Bentley piano, it is a superb piano with a lovely sound. Next is a 3 year old Beckendorfer and lastly is a Streicher piano. These are stunning instruments and will be great value for money. images

Through next week we will add these pianos to the Pianolobby site, so do keep your eyes open.

If you would like more information about these pianos, please feel free to give us a call on 02036453930 or write to julian@pianolobby.co.uk

Top Tips for Sight Reading

canstockphoto5231136In the 19 years I have been teaching piano the one aspect that seems to put fear into the vast majority of my piano pupils has to be sight-reading. I have spoken to other teachers about this and it’s the one thing we seem to completely agree on. Many pupils who learn a musical instrument take music exams and sight-reading is a requirement of the test. I have approached this little issue in a variety of ways over the years from playing duets to having seasonal fun playing through easy carols. Ideally sight-reading needs to form part of everyday playing rather than just anxiously tackled a week before an exam. Here’s a few general things listed below that may help.

  1. Check out the key signature. How many sharps or flats and what notes are affected? Keep them in mind all the time you are playing.
  2. Scan the general shape of the melodic line, look to see where it rises and falls and also watch out for repeated notes. There may be easy to play arpeggios, chords and scales. It isn’t possible to read every note so spotting these well know patterns is important. At this time have a look at the fingering as well. canstockphoto1824353
  3. Tempo (speed) is crucial. At the beginning of every piece of music there is a tempo marking such as Moderato or Allegro, this will give an idea of the speed and indicate character as well. Generally I would suggest playing very much under speed and especially for those who find sight-reading difficult.
  4. Next on the list is to check out the rhythm. It might be worth tapping out some of the trickier rhythmic patterns.
  5. Establish a steady pulse. It may be worth discretely tapping a foot to keep to one speed and don’t be afraid to subdivide the beat. Avoid rushing at all costs.
  6. Try to look ahead as you play, this will be easier if a steadier speed has been taken. There is always time to find the notes. My advice is to treat sight-reading as you would reading a book out loud. We never look at the word we are saying, but rather a few ahead, do the same with music.image490
  7. There is a great deal of information to take in all at once. Count a complete bar before starting and keep playing. Don’t stop! If hesitations are occurring then an even slower tempo will be needed. Coping with mistakes is all part of the learning process. Eventually, mistakes will cease to be distracting and it will become easier to give a good overall performance.
  8. It is essential when developing sight-reading skills to start with something easy. If it is fairly simple it will make the experience more enjoyable and build confidence.
  9. Over time the reading will speed up. Patterns will recur and will eventually become easy to spot. It will then be possible to add other detailing such as dynamics.
  10. A wise teacher once told me that the art of good sight-reading is knowing what to miss out. I used to worry about this as I could never be sure what I should miss out, but sight-reading is just about giving an impression of a piece of music. As with everything, the skills will develop with regular practice and time. imgres
  11. What else? Reading through hymns will help with chord reading. Play lots of very easy pieces and gradually build them up in complexity. Team up with other pianists to play duets. Even play ‘regular’ pieces, one hand each and then swap over. Accompanying other instrumentalists is great fun as well as a brilliant way of improving sight-reading because stopping really isn’t an option.
  12. There are many books on the market which can be of help. Here are 3 popular publications, they move through the grades too…
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I hope this has been of some help. Most importantly of all is to enjoy the journey and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Good sight-reading can open a whole new world of exciting music making.

DULWICH PIANO FESTIVAL

Pianol10847996_781566838599146_2139433592547073257_nobby is delighted to announce sponsorship of the 2015 Dulwich Piano Festival.

Entries are now open for the fourth annual Dulwich Piano Festival held at James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS) in East Dulwich. The festival provides an opportunity for pianists of all levels to share their music making with friends and family and to hear a wide range of inspiring repertoire ranging from Baroque to contemporary music. 10

In addition to graded exam classes, the festival organisers have carefully selected pieces that will appeal to beginner pianists to encourage them to make their Debut performance. The Duet with Teacher classes as you will be accompanied on stage as you play on a beautiful Yamaha S3  grand piano in the magnificent Holst Hall at JAGS school.

In an exciting twist, lots of the music by contemporary composers will be adjudicated by the composers themselves so this is a wonderful chance to receive feedback from the person that wrote your piece!

All competitors receive written and verbal feedback, a certificate and printed programme. Many medals and trophies are presented on the day to class winners. 01

You do not need to be a resident of Dulwich to enter. Last year entrants came from as far away as Peterborough, Manchester and even Austria!

Enter online or by email via the festival web site. Entries are open from February 1st to April 1st although class numbers are limited to 15 for beginner classes and 10 for graded exam classes, so early entry is strongly advised as the festival is oversubscribed each year.
http://dulwichpianofestival.co.uk 

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A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT PIANO FINGERING

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As a child my piano teacher talked a great deal about fingering and how important it is to establish good fingering. I have to confess that I was a bit nerdy as a child about my piano playing and enjoyed the lessons where we worked on this. It must have been the challenge of sorting out a puzzle that caught my imagination.

Later on as a student when I was actively building up my music library and learning as much music as I could, I continued the pattern set by my teacher and wrote in fingerings. This was partly habit as much as anything but also at the time it helped me learn music more quickly.

imgresYears later I decided to programme a work again, it was a Chopin Ballade but my copy was very tired and with many pages missing. I bought a new copy. The trouble was it came minus my fingering. When I began to re-familiarise myself with the work, I had forgotten most of my original fingerings and had to work them out again. This was time consuming and became a problem when my old fingerings started to emerge again from my muscle memory a few days into the process of practising new and different ones.

Now I had 2 fingerings. The old one I found was pretty hard wired in my sub-conscience and was working well. The new fingering just didn’t feel as comfortable and in large part got binned. The message here has to be, write your fingerings in the score for posterity and look after you music! You will save a lot of time.

Why write in fingerings at all?

There is a school of thought that does not believe in organising and ingraining a set fingering. The belief is that the hand will find its own way, which to a certain extent is true, especially as a pianist becomes more experienced. The danger of this easy come, easy go finger memory is lack of reliability in the longer term and when playing under pressure.

I much prefer to spend time on the process of organising a fingering that suits my hand right at the beginning stages of learning a new piece.

imagesPlanning the piano fingering of a piece can feel a real chore. Using good fingering at the very start of learning a piece however, will really help you learn faster, memorise easier and play with more ease, fluidity and reliably. It is definitively worth the effort!

Get the fingering right and stick to it. The muscle memory gets activated the first time you play and becomes automatic so you won’t have to think about it anymore! Fingering is fundamental, but you have better things to focus on when playing the piece – like musical expression and phrasing.

How do I get started?

Start by trying out the original and see if that works. Today most piano sheet music from a good edition has fingering already written in the score, checking it out first will save you a lot of time. Do write in the fingering which feel best and stick to them every time you practise until it becomes automatic. imgres

In some music there is no fingering, so you will need to write in your own. Is it comfortable? Is it efficient? These are the two questions to ask. And unhelpfully, what works, works!

Of course it is never quite that simple and it helps to know some common rules that have been tried and tested by generations of pianists.

Some fingering will not feel right at all. What suits one persons hand may not necessarily suit another, so it is important to write in the changes that work best for you.  Never leave it to the memory only, the fingering will get forgotten and all that time working it out would have been wasted.

Planning the Fingering.

The purpose of fingering is to help us perform the piece easily and in the most effortless way. It should help us to play difficult passages with fluidity and without hesitation. A basic tool for us to be able to perform the piece as we want to express it musically.

Here are some rules to help out less experienced pianists when planning fingering:

  1. Avoid thumbs on black keys.

The thumb is very short, and getting it to the black keys make unnecessary jerky movements. As always, there are exceptions to this. A piece may be mostly on the black keys and your hand will already be over the black keys.

  1. Learn the basic fingering patterns of scales, chords and arpeggios

This will teach you fingering patterns that work. Music pretty much consists of patterns. These patterns are scales, broken chords, blocked chords or arpeggios. Knowing these will greatly help take care of most of fingering issues.

  1. Try to find a fingering that lets your hand stay in the same position for as long as possible.

Try to find the easiest way to do something, take the shortest route.  Avoid moving your hand around.

4. Fingering should always serve expression.

Think about the musical phrase you play, where does it lead to, where is the peak, where is the landing or resting point.

Finger with the phrasing. Don’t let the fingering stop the flow or direction of the phrase.

canstockphoto23946888Treating fingering as a challenge to be overcome, or perhaps a puzzle to be solved can make it more rewarding. The ultimate reward of course is being able to play that piece with ease, fluidity and reliability and having the tools to help convey the character of what you are playing.

Pianolobby Sponsors Local Festivals

Pretty much everywhere nowadays there are wonderful local festivals in so many different guises. These strike me as celebration of the wealth of talent that exists in every community.

This year Pianolobby is sponsoring 3 different events in South London. 2 are piano festivals and the other is a more general Arts event.

10426254_1387837918143593_692858298081513404_nThe first in the year in a brand new event, a competitive festival for pianists. This has been set up by Liz Giannopoulos from Encore music. It is open to pianist of all standards, but we are keen to support pianists at the beginning of their playing and we are sponsoring the grade 1-2 class. The festival is on Saturday 7th March. For more information go to www.batterseapianofestival.co.uk

 

logoNext in the year is the Dulwich festival, which celebrates everything Dulwich. It is an annual Arts festival in May and has a huge range of events. There are art exhibitions, music in all its shapes and forms, walks, street art, discussion groups, comedy and fairs where there are bouncy castles to beer tents and food stalls to jewelry stalls. The list could go on and on. We are sponsoring an event and will keep you posted which one it is when all is confirmed.Do keep an eye open for an updated website at www.dulwichfestival.co.uk

dulwichmusic_logoThe Dulwich Piano Festival is now a very well established annual event and a must for local pianists. It is run by the industrious Lorraine Liyanage who also runs the SE22 Piano School as well as so many other piano related events. Pianolobby is a proud event sponsor. The Piano Festival takes place on the 7th June at the James Allen Girls school. For more information have a look at the beautiful website which is: www.dulwichmusicfestival.co.uk

I hope to see you at these fantastic events.