The Night Before Christmas

  This year my piano students have been absolutely mad keen on learning Christmas carols. Not so much keen to work on them in the lesson, but enthusiastic to the extreme about having sheet music they can easily read to produce a performance of some of their favourite Christmas songs. I’ve been under serious pressure to get the right books in for each of these students – in time for them to be able to play at least one or two Christmas tunes with family and friends in the lead-up to Christmas. Jingle Bells is the clear winner in the popularity stakes, but We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Silent Night and Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer have also been excitedly greeted by students flicking through their new Christmas collections. Now, I have no idea whether my students really did end up playing these songs for their families at Christmas. My own family has a tradition of hosting a back-yard carols-by-candlelight

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A Piano Teacher’s Manifesto

Originally published some years ago as What Are Piano Lessons For? this is my manifesto on the purpose of piano lessons.  This is a manifesto that emerges from my experience, that reflects my values, and that frames everything about my piano teaching, about my writing for piano teachers, and about my composing for piano students. 1. Piano lessons are for learning how to do cool stuff on the piano. Cool stuff starts with things like playing familiar melodies, creating glissandi, using the sustain pedal, and moves on to more sophisticated cool stuff like creating a balance between the melody and accompaniment, voicing two parts within one hand, being able to control tonal variation, learning to recognise and perform any number of patterns (both by sight and by ear), knowing how to make different chords and chord sequences, being able to play a chromatic scale – fast, being able to play scales in contrary motion, or thirds apart, or sixths apart, creating different effects

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Thirteen Mistakes Pianists Make

  No one likes getting things wrong. It can be embarrassing, messy, expensive, damaging. But sometimes we fixate so much on avoiding micro mistakes we don’t notice how we might be missing the bigger picture. Here are thirteen mistakes pianists make, and only a few of these are specifically related to playing the right notes. MISTAKES OF ACCURACY 1. The Mistake of Omission – something is supposed to be there and it’s missing. 2. The Mistake of Difference – something is supposed to be there, but we put something else in instead. 3. The Mistake of Addition – nothing was supposed to be there, but we put something in. MISTAKES OF INTENTION AND ACCURACY 1. The Mistake of Misreading – we do what we think the score asks us to do but we misread the score. 2. The Mistake of Misunderstanding – we read the score correctly but we misunderstand what it means. 3. The Mistake of Misprints – we read the score correctly and perform it accurately but

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What To Do When You Make A Mistake

Mistakes are a big fixation in the life of a piano teacher. Students come to piano lessons and play their pieces and sooner or later they play wrong notes, wrong rhythms, wrong articulations, wrong dynamic shapes, and so forth. Once upon a not-so-long-time ago (let’s say 50 years ago) a particular breed of teacher would respond to a mistake with a physical action – a smack across the knuckles with a ruler, say – with the idea that this would focus the student’s mind on not making mistakes. (It’s more likely that this focussed the student’s mind on not being tortured, but, well, we’ll talk about that another time.) Even though piano teachers don’t do that now, this idea of not making mistakes still looms large in the learning-to-play-the-piano scene. Students are taught to avoid them. When they do make a mistake the teacher puts a big circle around the note in the music, and a list of these mistakes is compiled for the student to

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