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.

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.