Monday, 31 December 2012

Dave Brubeck - Jazz Piano will never be the same!

Dave Brubeck, LOC 

Piano Sage pays tribute to Jazz great Dave Brubeck, born December 6, 1920 and died December 5, 2012. 
His innovative use of unusual time signatures will keep you on your toes. With the understated appearance of a University Professor, (Buddy Holly Glasses?), Brubeck was a civil rights campaigner, and he graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1954. 

King For a Day - was on the Grade 8 ABRSM Piano Syllabus for 2011-2012

 Blue Rondo a La Turk which is in 9/8 time.

 Take Five - the original - in 5/4 time with Saxophonist Paul Desmond

 Dave Brubeck performing Take the A Train (by Duke Ellington), Brubeck had toured with Duke Ellington!   
I'm in a Dancing Mood

The Duke
 Dave Brubeck performing "40 Days"

Friday, 16 November 2012

Eccentric Pianists: Glenn Gould - Genius and Legend

While researching some performance diploma repertoire, I first heard some fabulous recordings of Bach's Preludes and Fugues, when I suddenly heard a hum, as if someone was singing alongside the music. I began to doubt my MP3 player at the time, was the recording faulty a ghost in the machine, or picking up a radio signal of someone humming? I played the track again, and yes, the humming was still there. It turned out the Bach keyboard concerto recording was Glenn Gould, and his humming during his recordings.

 Gould, legendary interpreter of Bach, is also featured on many great pianists' compilations. His artistry was chosen to represent humankind. Gould's recording of the Prelude and Fugue in C (Book II) of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier featured on the Voyager Golden Record. (which is travelling through space at the moment).

Genius and eccentricity, the two terms go hand in hand it seems.  Think of Einstein, a classic example, he had the same suit in his wardrobe, in fact 7 exact copies (suit, shirt, shoes and tie), so that he wouldn't have spend time deciding what to wear Gould would immerse his arms in hot water to "warm up" before a performance. . The video excerpt below  from the documentary - the Art of the Piano,  how many of Gould's trademark eccentricities can you spot?

You may have picked up at least 3 of the following 4:

  1. Humming during playing 
  2. Self-Conducting
  3. Finger Tapping: a technique from his teacher Alberto Guerrero 
  4. Very low posture - with arms level to the keyboard

Just listen to this sublime performance of Bach's F Minor concerto and you'll appreciate the Artistry of Gould:

JS Bach in Concerto number 5 in F Minor 

There's conjecture that Gould had aspergers, autism, where high levels of ability in music or maths are associated, which may account for his eccentric behaviour. As we know Bach's music, Gould's specialty is very mathematical! No matter the eccentricities, Gould's music has been recorded and documented for posterity to inspire future generations.

Further Reading

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Devil made me play it! Piano Pieces inspired by Hell

Happy Halloween everybody.

Triumph of Death Pieter Brueghel the Elder, src: wikipedia
Liszt and Paganini's virtuosic talents astounded so many in the late 18th and 19th centuries that they were thought to be in league with the Devil.

Paganini was said to have made a pact with the devil like Faust.

Interesting fact is that Liszt's whose career thrived on the mystery and mysticism of virtuosic demonic piano playing  was a devout Catholic and even took holy orders.

Pianist Greg Anderson sets the scene perfectly "Imagine you're in Hell, and you want out!" Greg Anderson plays Ligeti Etude 13: "The Devil's Staircase"

 The Second Mephisto Waltz by Liszt, features the Devil's unresolved tritone, which represents the Devil in Music. Here it is performed by the virtuoso Leslie Howard (who has amazingly recorded the entire works of Franz Liszt!)

Here is an inspired version of Liszt's transcription of Saint Saen's Danse Macarbre - which translates to "Dance of Death!" performed by the Florence Piano Duet

Friday, 26 October 2012

David Owen Norris Masterclass on Chopin's Mazurka in B Flat Opus 7 No.1

Srce: David Owen Norris - "National Portrait Gallery"
I had the honour of meeting the great David Owen Norris at a masterclass for the London Piano Circle a few years ago.  David was the first winner of the Gilmore artist award and his album received a double five star rating in BBC Music Magazine. He is currently a Professor of Music Performance at the UK's University of Southampton. Here's a masterclass he did for BBC Radio 3 on Chopin's Mazurka in B Flat Opus 7 No.1.


Monday, 1 October 2012

James Bond and the Concert Pianist: Talented Pianists - Emmanuel Vass -

Piano Sage Blog loves virtuosic piano transcriptions, and is pleased to feature rising star Pianist Emmanuel Vass. Vass, a Yamaha Unsigned Artist of the Year recently featured on the BBC, and has transcribed an amazing James Bond Concert Etude, which coincides nicely with this year's 50th Anniversary of James Bond.

Pianist Emmanuel Vass
Let's get to know Manny.

Please introduce us to your readers?
 Hello! My name is Emmanuel Vass, or Manny, I’m a British pianist from Yorkshire, in the North of England, but I was originally born in the Philippines to a Filipino mother and a British father.

Your James bond transcription, I enjoyed it very much, What inspired you to transcribe this? 
I’m really glad you enjoyed my transcription! Growing up, I listened to all sorts of music across a multitude of genres, by a diverse selection of bands and artists. I think one of the most fantastic things about playing the piano is the way in which the versatility of the instrument can easily allow us to perform lots of genres of music, not just classical. As such, I really enjoy creating my own arrangements and transcriptions of popular songs, and I love to add my own creative flare to the pieces so that they combine elements of my training as a classical pianist.

Do you expect me to talk Mr. Bond? No I expect you to [play]! so here's the
Video: James Bond Concert Etude for Solo Piano  - Barry/Fleming, arr. Vass

 What has the reception been?
So far the reception has been phenomenal, audiences have so far howled, whistled and laughed after hearing me play it within recitals alongside the likes of Mozart and Rachmaninov!

Is there a sheet music version of it for our readers to download?
Thus far, no sheet music version is available – everything I transcribe I keep in my head! That said, I have had a number of requests from listeners and viewers who want to have a copy of the music, so please watch this space as I will first have to seek permission from the publishers before transcribing it onto paper.

 January and February 2012 saw Emmanuel as Yamaha's "Unsigned Artist of the Month". 
Can you tell us more about this honour? How were you discovered for this, and what was the outcome of being an Unsigned Artist of the Month?
This came as a very pleasant surprise, actually! I was invited to perform at the VIP reception of the Royal Variety Show which was taking place in The Lowry Theatre, Manchester back in December 2012. Whilst trying to arrange for a piano to be transported into the VIP reception space, I came across Yamaha who offered to help me. Retrospective of the opportunity, they announced me as their “Unsigned Artist of the Month” from January-February 2012. It was a great way to start 2012, and helped me gain important opportunities at international venues such as the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, and BBC Broadcasting House in London, at which I performed as part of a BBC Radio 3 masterclass available to watch online.

[Video] BBC Masterclass on Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, featuring Emmanuel Vass

Can you tell us what you are up to at the moment, any upcoming projects? 
I’ve got a lot of things going on, which I’m really thrilled and lucky to be a part of since graduating from the Royal Northern College of Music in July 2011. Soon after graduating, I performed for the Prince of Monaco, broadcast live on BBC radio and also gave a recital for the French ambassador. Since then, I have been playing regularly in venues all across England: from Chester Cathedral and the Bridgewater Hall in the North, to BBC Broadcasting House and Kensington Palace Gardens in the South. This week just gone, I have given recitals at the Marburae Art Gallery in Macclesfield, Blackburn Cathedral in Lancashire, and Hexham Abbey in Northumberland.

In terms of further upcoming projects, I am planning on producing more videos for my Youtube channel and website, and I hope to debut in London at some point in Spring/Summer 2013.

You can find out more about what Emmanuel Vass' upcoming music projects from his official website

Further reading:

Meet the Artist……Emmanuel Vass [Cross Eyed Pianist Blog]

Friday, 28 September 2012

Improve your Grade 1 Aural [ABRSM]: Online Exams, Apps, and Resources:

Aural Book APP trainer is free!
Aural skills are important for musical development. The ability to hear and understand musical features, will improve your playing and your appreciation of music. You will develop according to ABRSM, your "inner ear" and "musical ear".

Grade 1 ABRSM Aural is a component, you can't ignore. If you do well in this element, the better your chances of moving upto the next category of achievement, if that aim is to get a Merit, or a Distinction.

Practice makes perfect, as the old adage goes. So if you're preparing for an exam and haven't even covered the Aural aspect, help is at hand. There are practice simulated exams on the Internet. These are wonderful to supplement your weekly lessons, and with Aural training, the more you practice, the better your score and skill will be.

For the non musician parents out there, the ABRSM exams are using standardised terminology, so they will use smooth and detached as synonyms for legato and staccato.

Smooth = Legato (where one note connects seamlessly to another note without a perceived 'break' in the musical line)
Detatched - Staccato (plucky sound, like you would hear on a pizzicato effect on a stringed instrument)

Online Practice Tests

ABRSM (official) Mock Aural Tests

E-musicmaestro Practice Tests

The UK Music Teachers website has example sound file questions with an answer sheet.


AURALBOOK for ABRSM Grade 1 HD - FREE on Itunes

ABRSM (official) - Aural App Trainer £4.99 for Grades 1-5 which works with the Ipod, Ipad and Iphone.

Both apps give feedback after the simulated test, to give you an indication of what needs to be improved.

ABRSM Guide to Aural Exam Requirements

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Leeds International Piano Competition 2012 winner: Federico Colli

The infamous Leeds International Piano Competition launched the careers of Radu Lupu and Andras Schiff.  This year, 24 year old Italian pianist, Federico Colli wins the prize together with a prize fund of  £18,000 prize money (nearly $30,000 USD). Enough to buy a nice Yamaha Grand Piano, but not quite a Steinway. He performed "masterly" Beethoven's Emperor concerto for the final, which sealed the prize. No stranger to winning international competitions as you'll see in the video below!

Watch Federico Colli perform Mozart's Piano Concerto #27 (3rd Movement) at the Mozart International Piano Competition in Salzburg, 2011 (which he also won!)

Federico studies with some eminent Piano Professors, one of which is
Boris Petrushansky, a disciple of the famous Pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus (who taught Richter) who wrote The Art of Piano Playing. His other teacher is Russian Konstatin Bogino, winner of the 1979 International Munich Contest.

Also not to be missed, watch Federico perform the 'monumental' Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Simple 10 finger Piano Songs - Easy Tunes for beginners

Chopin's Left Hand
It's a dillemna for many piano teachers and perhaps a frustration for beginning piano students. They want to play tunes they know and recognise, but in the interests of reading music, they'll have to plough through exercises in their tutorial book, playing one or two notes at a time. However, there's a lot of five finger piano tunes you can learn or teach quickly which we learned in a previous blog.

 Furthermore, there's merit in getting all ten fingers moving to develop finger independence early on. It's also very motivating for a student to start playing familiar tunes.

Starting on C - 10 Finger Position Pieces
Starting position: Left hand and right hand thumbs together on Middle C (sharing middle C)
Right hand on C,D,E,F,G (Fingers 1,2,3,4,5, from left to right)
Left hand on C,B,A,G,F (Fingers 1,2,3,4,5 from right to left )

If You're Happy and You Know It

If You're Happy and You Know It
GG↑     CCCC                 CC [Left Hand]
L4L4  L1L1L1L1           L1L1 [or R1 instead of L1]

Clap Your Hands
BCD  [Left Hand on B, Right Hand on C,D]

If You're Happy and You Know It
GG          DD       DD           DD
L4L4        R2R2    R2R2      R2R2

Clap Your Hands
C   D    E


If You're Happy and You Know It
CC ↑         FF          FF     ↓ AA
R1R1        R4R4       R4R4   L3L3

And You Really Want to Show it
↑ FF    EE        E   D   CC
R4R4  R3R3    R3   R2  R1R1

If You're Happy and You Know It
EE           DD     DD       C B 
R3R3       R2R2  R2R2    R1L2

Clap Your Hands!

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
GG ↑      DD         E E      D
L4L4     R2R2      R3R3   R2

How I Wonder What You Are
↓ CC     BB        AA          G
L1L1     L2L2      L3L3        L4

Up Above  the Sky    So High
↓  DD  C  C   BB     A  A
R2R2  R1R1  L2L2  L3L3

Like a Diamond in the SKy
↓  DD    CC       BB AA
R2R2  R1R1  L2L2  L3L3

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
GG ↑      DD         E E      D
L4L4     R2R2      R3R3   R2

How I Wonder What You Are
↓ CC     BB        AA          G
L1L1     L2L2      L3L3        L4

Happy Birthday Song

Happy Birthday To You!

GG       AG      C    B

L4L4    L3L4    L1   L2

Happy Birthday To You!

GG       AG      D    C

L4L4    L3L4   R2    R2

Happy Birth  .................Day Dear  " name here"
GG   G (octave higher) E   C           B A
L4L4  R5                          R3  R1           L2 L3

Happy Birthday To You!
↓ FF       E C      C

R4R4    R3R1     R2R1

The Wheels on the Bus

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round
G   CCCC                           E   G   E    C
L4  L11111                         R3 R5 R3 R1

Round and Round, Round and Round
DDD    B A G
R222   L234

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round
G  CCCC                        E   G   E    C
L4 L11111                      R3 R5 R3 R1

All Day Long
D   G   C
R2 L4 L1

Further Reading

Monday, 13 August 2012

Piano Athletics: Leaps (jumps) on the Piano - technical tips from Alan Dorn, LRSM

Guest blogger Alan Dorn, LRSM (Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music) gives us technical tips to approach leaps, such as those found in Chopin's Etude Opus 10 #1 and Liszt's 'La Campanella'.

What is a leap?
A leap is a large, quick movement from one note or chord to another (requiring a change of hand position).

Why are leaps difficult?
To leap accurately we have to move our arms, not just our hands/fingers.  We might not be used to doing this quickly and accurately.  Poor posture can lead to tension in the back, shoulders and upper arms which can make leaping more difficult.

If we miss a leap it’s often very exposed and so the error is easy to hear.  This can make us anxious – again causing tension and making accurate leaps harder.

Technique for leaps
Many leaps are best handled by a shift of the whole arm.

  •  Make sure you are sitting in a balanced posture so that your shoulders and arms can move freely.
  •  Make sure the arm is moving enough.  It is tempting to move the arm only part of the way and do the rest with the hand, but this results in cramped and awkward hand positions.
  • Allow your weight to shift on the stool if necessary.

Free Whole Arm Movement 
A good example of free whole arm movement is Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Watch how his right arm movement allows his hand to remain in a comfortable position throughout.

However, some leaps need different approaches such as forearm shifts or rotation.

Alice Sara Ott uses rotation here .

The best strategy for you will depend on the passage and your capabilities – try various options and see what works.

Repeated leaps up and down the keyboard can give an awkward ‘stop-start’ feel.  Try to integrate the leaps into a larger circular motion.  Your movement should be as graceful and flowing as possible.

What’s going wrong?
If you’re having trouble with leaps the first step is to isolate the problem.
-     Make sure you know exactly what notes you should be playing.  Play very slowly if necessary.

-     Work out which exactly which notes are being missed when you play up to tempo.  Sometimes this kind of attention will reduce your anxiety levels and the problem will go away.

-     Focus on how you are missing the notes.  Are you jumping too far or not far enough?  Once you are aware of what you are doing, you can consciously think about widening or narrowing the leap as you practice.

Practising leaps
To build security in your leaps, you can try some of the following practice suggestions:

  • Play the note or chord before the leap, and leap to the next note or chord as quickly as possible without playing it.  This will link the leap in your mind to the action of playing the previous note or chord.
  •  If you have to leap and also change hand shape (for example from a triad to an octave), try working on each of the two things separately first, and then put them back together.
  • Try practising on the surface of the keys without pressing them down.  This has two benefits:

1.       You can focus on feel rather than sound, and make sure you’re touching every key cleanly.  This is harder than just playing the right notes and builds in some margin for error.

2.       You get into the habit of touching the keys for an instant before pressing them down (‘prepared’ playing) – this gives more security in leaps.

  •  Break the passage down into very short sections (can be as short as a bar or half a bar).  Think through each section up to tempo, then play it, then think how successful it was before you move on (‘plan, play, judge’).  If you need to repeat a section, think it through again first.  This lets you practise at full speed while focusing fully on each leap.
  •  If you have to leap outwards with both hands at once, you can’t see where they both land.   Decide which hand you’re going to look at and make sure the other hand can locate its target by feel.  An example is the last chord of Chopin’s second scherzo.
  • Practise with your eyes closed.  This promotes a feel for the size of the leap and helps locate the note or chord by touch.  This skill can be greatly improved with practice – note the number of successful blind pianists.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Selection of ABRSM Grade 8 Piano Pieces 2013-2014 Syllabus VIDEOS by Alan Chan

Alan Chan, is a bit of a Youtube phenomenon when it comes to finding ABRSM (Associated Board Royal Schools of Music) Piano pieces. He has at the time of this blog, over 8000 videos. He also has 669 fans on his facebook page. He must have phenomenal sightreading skills to learn entire syllabi so quickly. On the day that the ABRSM Piano Books came out, he already uploaded videos on the day.

Grade 8 A:1 A1 Soler Sonata in B Major 27 Sonatas No.11 Performance

Grade 8 A:2 A2 Bach Prelude and Fugue in A BWV 888 Fugue Performance
Grade 8 A:3 A3 Schumann Fughetta Op.126 No.4 Performance
Grade 8 A:4 A4 Bach Praeambulum BWV 829 Mvt 1 Performance
Grade 8 A:5 A5 Faure Fugue in E Minor Op.84 No.6 Performance
Grade 8 A:6 A6 Handel Fugue in F HWV 611 Performance
Grade 8 A:7 A7 Scarlatti Sonata in D Kp.492 L.14 Performance
Grade 8 A:8 A8 Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue in D Fugue Performance
Grade 8 B:1 B1 Haydn Allegro Sonata in Bb Hob XVI/41 Mvt 1 Performance
Grade 8 B:2 B2 Beethoven Allegro Molto e Con Brio Op.10 No.1 Performance
Grade 8 B:3 B3 Weber Minuet and Trio Sonata in C Op.24 No.1 Performance
Grade 8 B:4 B4 Beethoven Allegro Sonatai in F Op.10 No.2 Performance
Grade 8 B:5 B5 Clementi Allegro con Spirito
Grade 8 B:6 B6 Mozart Rondo in D Major K.485 Performance
Grade 8 B:7 B7 Mozart Allegro Sonata in F K.533 Performance
Grade 8 B:8 B8 Pinto Allegro Moderato con Espressione Op.3 No.1
Grade 8 C:1 C1 Brahms Intermezzo in Eb Major Op.117 No.1 Performance
Grade 8 C:2 C2 Debussy Prelude Suite Bergamasque Mvt 1 Performance
 Grade 8 C:3 C3 Halffter Habanera Performance
Grade 8 C:4 C4 Arvo Part Allegro Sonatina Op.1 No.1 Movement 1
Grade 8 C:5 C5 Oscar Peterson Hallelujah Time Performance
Grade 8 C:6 C6 Skryabin Poeme Op.69 No.2 Performance
Grade 8 C:7 C7 Aubert Romance Op.2 Performance
Grade 8 C:8 C8 Boulanger D'un Vieus Jardin 3 Morceaux No.1 Performance
Grade 8 C:9 C9 Chopin Waltz in F Op.34 No.3 Performance
Grade 8 C:10 C10 Dvorak In the Old Castle Op.85 No.3 Performance
Grade 8 C:11 C11 Ireland The Darkened Valley Performance
Grade 8 C:12 C12 Lyadov Prelude in Db Op.10 No.1 Performance
Grade 8 C:13 C13 Mendelssohn Presto Agitato Two Musical Sketches No.2
Grade 8 C:14 C14 Poulenc Alerte Mouvements Perpetuels No.3 Performance
Grade 8 C:15 C15 Rachmaninov Polichinelle Op.3 No.4 Performance
Grade 8 C:16 C16 Tansman Etude-Scherzo Performance

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Selection of ABRSM Grade 7 Piano Pieces 2013-2014 Syllabus VIDEOS by Alan Chan

Alan Chan, is a bit of a Youtube phenomenon when it comes to finding ABRSM (Associated Board Royal Schools of Music) Piano pieces. He has at the time of this blog, over 8000 videos. He also has 637 fans on his facebook page. He must have phenomenal sightreading skills to learn entire syllabi so quickly. On the day that the ABRSM Piano Books came out, he already uploaded videos on the day.

Grade 7 A:2 A2 Mozart Allegro Sonata in C K.279 Mvt 3 Perfromance
Grade 7 A:3 A3 Scarlatti Sonata in F Minor Kp.46 L.476 Performance
Grade 7 A:4 A4 Beethoven Allegro Cantabile WoO 47 No.1 Performance
Grade 7 A:5 A5 Handel Allemande Suite in D Minor HWV 449 Performance
Grade 7 A:6 A6 Paradies Presto Sonata No.10 Mvt 2 Performance
Grade 7 B:1 B1 Bridge Berceuse Performance
Grade 7 B:2 B2 Liszt Piano Piece in F# S.193 Performance
Grade 7 B:3 B3 Schubert Scherzo and Trio D.845 Performance Grade 7 B:4 B4 Elgar Andantino Dream Children Op.43 No.1 Performance
Grade 7 B:6 B6 Tchaikovsky Marz March Op.37b No.3 Performance
Grade 7 C:2 C2 Schoenberg Lightly Delicately Op.19 No.1 Performance
Grade 7 C:4 C4 Gershwin Do it Again Performance
Grade 7 C:6 C6 Prokofiev Con Vivacita

Monday, 9 July 2012

Selection of ABRSM Grade 6 Piano Pieces 2013-2014 Syllabus VIDEOS by Alan Chan

Alan Chan, is a bit of a Youtube phenomenon when it comes to finding ABRSM (Associated Board Royal Schools of Music) Piano pieces. He has at the time of this blog, over 7800 videos. He also has 589 fans on his facebook page. He must have phenomenal sightreading skills to learn entire syllabi so quickly. On the day that the ABRSM Piano Books came out, he already uploaded videos on the day.

Grade 6 A:1 A1 Bach Invention No.14 in Bb BWV 785 Performance
Grade 6 A:2 A2 Dussek Rondo 2nd movt from Sonatina in Eb, Op. 19 No. 6
Grade 6 A:3 A3 Kellner Fugue Six Fugues No.2 Performance 108 bpm
Grade 6 B:1 B1 Brahms Waltz in Ab Op.39
Grade 6 B:2 B2 Granados Dance of the Rose Performance
Grade 6 B:3 B3 Schumann Frightening Op.15 No.11 Performance
Grade 6 B:4 B4 Beethoven Andante: 2nd movt from Sonata in G, Op. 79
Grade 6 B:6 B6 Heller Etude in D Op.46 No.8 Performance
Grade 6 C1 Berkeley Allegro Five Short Pieces Op.4 No.5 Performance
Grade 6 C:2 C2 Rebello A Wise Bud
Grade 6 C:3 C3 Trad Chinese arr Zhang

Selection of ABRSM Grade 5 Piano Pieces 2013-2014 Syllabus VIDEOS by Alan Chan

Alan Chan, is a bit of a Youtube phenomenon when it comes to finding ABRSM (Associated Board Royal Schools of Music) Piano pieces. He has at the time of this blog, over 7800 videos. He also has 589 fans on his facebook page. He must have phenomenal sightreading skills to learn entire syllabi so quickly. On the day that the ABRSM Piano Books came out, he already uploaded videos on the day.

Grade 5 A:1 A1 JCF Bach Allegretto in F Performance
Grade 5 A:2 A2 Beethoven Minuet in D WoO 7 No.7 Performance
Grade 5 A:3 A3 Handel Allemande in A Minor HWV 478 Performance 84 bpm
Grade 5 A:5 A5 Krebs Allegro in G Toccata Performance
Grade 5 A:6 A6 Rameau La Joyeuse Performance
Grade 5 B:1 B1 MacDowell To a Wild Rose Op.51 No.1 Performance
Grade 5 B:2 B2 Schumann *** Op.68 No.26
Grade 5 B:3 B3 Tarrega Adelita Performance
Grade 5 B:4 B4 Gedike Miniature Op.8 No.7 Performance
Grade 5 B:5 B5 Palmgren Vestfinsk Dans
Grade 5 B:6 B6 Tchaikovsky Douce Reverie Daydream Op.39 No.21
Grade 5 C:1 C1 Darius Brubeck For Lydia Performance
Grade 5 C:2 C2 Kabalevsky Cavalryman Op.27 No.29 Performance
Grade 5 C:3 C3 Villa Lobos Samba Lele Guia Pratico No.4 Performance
Grade 5 C:4 C4 Benjamin Haunted House Performance
Grade 5 C:5 C5 Milhaud Modere Performance
Grade 5 C:6 C6 Christopher Norton Sierra Rock Preludes No.4 Performance

Friday, 6 July 2012

Selection of ABRSM Grade 4 Piano Pieces 2013-2014 Syllabus VIDEOS by Alan Chan

Alan Chan, is a bit of a Youtube phenomenon when it comes to finding ABRSM (Associated Board Royal Schools of Music) Piano pieces. He has at the time of this blog, over 7800 videos. He also has 589 fans on his facebook page. He must have phenomenal sightreading skills to learn entire syllabi so quickly. On the day that the ABRSM Piano Books came out, he already uploaded videos on the day.

Grade 4 A:1 A1 Anon March in Eb BWV Anh.II 127 Performance
Grade 4 A:2 A2 Muller Scherzo in F Performance
Grade 4 A:3 A3 Scarlatti Sonata in G Minor Performance
Grade 4 A:4 A4 Diabelli Moderato Cantabile Op.168 No.1 Performance
Grade 4 A:5 A5 Hammel Minuetto in F Op.59 Performance
Grade 4 A:6 A6 Mozart Allegro in G Nannerl Notebook No.35 Performance
Grade 4 B:1 B1 Alwyn The Sun is Setting Performance
Grade 4 B:2 B2 Latvian arr Garuta Silta Jauka Istabina Performance
Grade 4 B:3 B3 Grieg Alvedans Dance of the Elves Op.12 No.4 Performance
Grade 4 B:4 B4 Heller Con Moto Scherzando
Grade 4 B:6 B6 Reinhold Melancolie Op.39 No.24 Performance
Grade 4 C:1 C1 Emmanuel Oriol Don't Shoot
 Grade 4 C:2 C2 Federico Ruiz The Little Peruvian Girl Performance
Grade 4 C:3 C3 Poul Ruders Swinging Bells Performance
Grade 4 C:4 C4 Valerie Capers Billie's Song Portraits in Jazz No.7
Grade 4 C:6 C6 Carl Vine Semplice from Red Blues Performance

Selection of ABRSM Grade 3 Piano Pieces 2013-2014 Syllabus VIDEOS by Alan Chan

Alan Chan, is a bit of a Youtube phenomenon when it comes to finding ABRSM (Associated Board Royal Schools of Music) Piano pieces. He has at the time of this blog, over 7800 videos. He also has 589 fans on his facebook page. He must have phenomenal sightreading skills to learn entire syllabi so quickly. On the day that the ABRSM Piano Books came out, he already uploaded videos on the day.
Grade 3 A:1 A1 CPE Bach Allegro in G H.328 Performance
Grade 3 A:2 A2 Haydn German Dance in C Hob IX/12 Performance
Grade 3 A:3 A3 Wesley Vivace Sonata in A Op.5 No.1 Performance
Grade 3 A:4 A4 WF Bach Allemande in G Minor BWV 836 Performance
Grade 3 A:6 A6 Mozart Menuet in A Nannerl Notebook No.12 Performance
Grade 3 B:1 B1 Chopin Wiosna Spring Performance
Grade 3 B:2 B2 Kirchner Poco Allegro Op.71 No.26 Slow Demo
Grade 3 B:4 B4 Carroll By Crystal Stream Performance
Grade 3 B:5 B5 Mayer Study in C Op.340 No.1 Slow Demo
Grade 3 B:6 B6 Swinstead In the Bay Performance
Grade 3 C:1 C1 Sullivan The Policemans Song arr Bullard Performance
Grade 3 C:2 C2 Manfred Schmitz At Sunset Performance

 Grade 3 C:3 C3 Dave Stapleton Blue Sky Blues Performance
Grade 3 C:4 C4 Bartok Jest For Children Vol 1 No.27 Performance
Grade 3 C:5 C5 Brian Chapple Blues from Lazy Days Performance
 Grade 3 C:6 C6 Gillock The Juggler Sheet Music

Selection of ABRSM Grade 2 Piano Pieces 2013-2014 Syllabus VIDEOS by Alan Chan

Alan Chan, is a bit of a Youtube phenomenon when it comes to finding ABRSM (Associated Board Royal Schools of Music) Piano pieces. He has at the time of this blog, over 7800 videos. He also has 589 fans on his facebook pageHe must have phenomenal sightreading skills to learn entire syllabi so quickly. On the day that the ABRSM Piano Books came out, he already uploaded videos on the day. 

So here' s a selection of Grade 2 Piano Videos from the 2013-2014 ABRSM Syllabus.

Grade 2 A:1 A1 Purcell Hornpipe from Abdelazer, Z.T683
Grade 2 A:2 A2 Telemann Tres Vite TWV 33:21 Performance
Grade 2 A:3 A3 Attwood Allegro Sonata No.2 in C Performance
Grade 2 A:4 A4 Duncombe Giga Performance

 Grade 2 A:5 A5 Handel Menuett in G Minor HWV 453/4 Performance
Grade 2 B:1 B1 Nicolai Podgornov Bear Dance Performance
Grade 2 B:2 B2 Stanford Lullaby Six Sketches No.5 Performance

Grade 2 B:3 B3 YingHai Xiong Mao The Panda 熊貓 Performance

Grade 2 B:5 B5 Glinka Polka Performance

Grade 2 C:1 C1 Hanna Barbera Curtin Meet the Flintstones Performance

Grade 2 C:2 C2 Seiber Polka from Easy Dances Book 2 Performance

Grade 2 C:4 C4 Julian Anderson "Somewhere "
Grade 2 C:5 C5 David Blackwell Cat's Eyes arr Hall Performance

Selection of ABRSM Grade 1 Piano Pieces 2013-2014 Syllabus VIDEOS by Alan Chan

Alan Chan, is a bit of a Youtube phenomenon when it comes to finding ABRSM (Associated Board Royal Schools of Music) Piano pieces. He has at the time of this blog, over 7800 videos. He also has 589 fans on his facebook pageHe must have phenomenal sightreading skills to learn entire syllabi so quickly. On the day that the ABRSM Piano Books came out, he already uploaded videos on the day. 

So here' s a selection of Grade 1 Piano Videos from the 2013-2014 ABRSM Syllabus. Grade 1 typically although sounds rudimentary, is usually taken after 2 years (or earlier) of piano study.

Grade 1 A:1 A1 Mozart Minuet in G K1e Performance

Grade 1 A:2 A2 Rowley Fugue Performance

Grade 1 A:3 A3 Turk Das Ballett The Ballet Performance

Piano 2013-2014 Grade 1 A:4 A4 Neefe Minuetto in G Sheet Music

Grade 1 A:4 A4 Neefe Minuetto in G Performance

  Grade 1 A:5 A5 Purcell Prelude Suite No.1 in G Z.660 Performance

Grade 1 B:1 B1 Gedike Moderato Op.6 No.2 Performance

Grade 1 B:2 B2 Swinstead Sailor's Song Work and Play No.11 Performance

Grade 1 B:3 B3 Rybicki Na Lodce In a Boat Performance

Grade 1 B:5 B5 Gurlitt Die Klappermuhle Clappermill Op.117 No.33

Grade 1 B:6 B6 Wohlfahrt Allegretto Performance

Grade 1 C:1 C1 Richard Rodney Bennett Thursday Performance

Grade 1 C:2 C2 Shostakovich March Op.69 No.1 Performance

Grade 1 C:4 C4 Elias Davidsson The Merry Bagpipe

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi - her upright piano, anger management and Leeds International Piano Competition

 Aung San Suu Kyi and Prime Minister   Source:
Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will this year attend the Leeds International Piano Competition in Leeds, UK, as its honorary ambassador. 2012 is the Competition's 50th anniversary. Over the years, the competition helped launch the careers of Radu Lupu, Andras Schiff and Marray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, and many more. Aung San Suu Kyi's favourite composers are Telemann, Mozart and Clementi.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a keen amateur pianist, and it was her only means of self expression during the years of house arrest.  Her Yamaha upright piano is often seen as a symbol for the struggle for democracy in Burma. According to the Independent UK passerbys  would slip by roadblocks, just to be reassured,  she was still alive  by the sound of  piano music coming from her house.  Her house arrest inspired
Damien Rice, Irish singer-songwriter to write the song 'Unplayed Piano,' to campaign for her release, for her 60th birthday, which he performed at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo.

Her piano had to be repaired many times, as her frustration and anger was taken out on the piano as she told journalist John Pilger I told you, I have a hot temper, and many a string would break. Nyan Win, who has heard Suu Kyi play, said it helps her relax.

Further Reading

Friday, 22 June 2012

Valentina Lisitsa at the Royal Albert Hall Recital Interview VIDEO

Valentina Lisitsa performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 19th June 2012 to an audience of 2,500.
Royal Albert Hall is the main venue for the annual proms where eminent pianists such as Lang Lang perform.
How did she get the gig? Ukrainian born Valentina is a Youtube sensation with her high quality videos, she's had over 43 million hits,  I can appreciate this as my own youtube channel has had 77,000 views. As a result of her astonishing success, Valentina has been signed by Decca Classics record label.
I was listening to an interview Valentina had with BBC Radio 3's Sean Rafferty, and she practices an astonishing 13 hours a day!

Her programme at the Royal Albert Hall, which was based on a vote from her fans includes:

F. Liszt
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12

Fantasy in C minor K.475

3 songs:  Des Mädchens Klage, Der Doppelgänger, Erlkönig

Sonata Op 27 No. 2 'Moonlight'

Etude–Tableau  Op.39 No. 6
4 Preludes: G major Op 32. No. 5, G sharp minor Op 32 No. 12, B minor Op 32 No. 10, G minor Op 23 No. 5

2 Poèmes Op. 32
2 Etudes: Op 42 No. 3 'Mosquito', Op 65 No. 1

3 Nocturnes: C minor Op 48 No. 1, D flat major Op 27 No. 2, E flat major Op 9 No. 2

Totentanz S.525

Here's the concert! 

An interview from Valentina Lisitsa

Interval Interview
During the interval, there was a video interview with Valentina. From the interview, we learn that Valentina has a 7 year old son. In 2007, she posted her first Youtube homemade video, mainly because she was looking for an audience. The first video caught on, and went viral, and more videos were subsequently uploaded.  Every day, about  50-60,000 people watch her videos,  equivalent to an entire stadium's audience. And she answers questions from Twitter, and her favourite piano is the Bosendorfer, and the piano she plays at the Royal Albert Hall is the Imperial model. She enjoys playing Fur Elise as a charming relaxing piece, that contrasts all the virtuosic works she plays.  She loves listening to pianists of the golden age such as Backhaus, Hoffman, and Rachmaninov. Valentina has absolute pitch.

Official Release Party at Royal Albert Hall

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Happy 30th Birthday Lang Lang! Birthday memories and concert celebrations

June 15th is Chinese pianist Lang Lang's birthday.

He had a birthday concert in Berlin's 02 World  stadium.
 Here's a link to his birthday concert Chopin Etude performance and Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. He has multiple young pianists performing Schubert's March Militaire in unison. Followed by a finale with Jazz great Herbie Hancock (and a Chinese piano piece - Autumn Moon on Calm Lake).

Here are some memories from birthdays past.

 Lang Lang doing a Birthday dance in Essen Germany, 2010

And a Sparkling Birthday cake for Lang Lang! Here's Lang Lang performing 'Happy Birthday' to his mother

Here's a surprise Happy Birthday in a concert in 2010

Further reading

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

ABRSM Grade 1 Piano Sightreading tips

As it approaches the exam period. I thought I'd share some tips for the ABRSM Grade 1 Piano sightreading element of the Grade 1 Piano exam.

Two useful books published by the ABRSM - Associated Board, Royal Schools of Music for the piano are:

Characteristics of Grade 1 Sight reading
What keys?

  • F major (B flat)
  • D minor (C#)
  • G major (F sharp)
  • C major 
  • A minor (G sharp)

Tend to have fixed five finger positions in the left and right hands. But they give you a finger number to help you anchor your hands into the correct position!

As with any sightreading, scan the time signature (2/4 or 3/4  or 4/4 for Grade 1)
Key Signature - remember from your scales that one flat will mean the key is in F major and therefore all Bs are Bb (B flat). There may be additional incidentals (sharps) in the minor keys.

Hand position: lock on
For each hand: lock on to the first note,  your  first starting note of each hand and use the suggested fingering, this will then get all your five finger position over the notes. Keep your fingers over the keys during the practice, and hold them there until you finish completing the sightreading exercise. This will ensure you don't get your fingers out of position and press a wrong note.

Eyes on the score
Once you've got your notes securely over the keys you are playing, try as best you can to keep your eyes on the score, this will help keep your pulse and and flow to the music. Constantly looking down to your hands and back to the score introduces time delays and interrupts the flow of music.

Pulse try and keep a steady pulse throughout without too many stops and starts, remember the time signature and as best you can give an emphasis on the downbeat (first beat).

Dynamics - quite often when we are just trying to get the correct notes in sightreading, we forget the dynamics, assuming you get the correct notes, remember the dynamics.
P (piano) soft
F (forte) loud

Make sure you're familiar with all the musical notation indicated in the sightreading specimen tests such as.  Remember it's not only important to know what they mean, but to actually obey them! You'll get a much better score if you do.

  • Slurs (loud soft) 
  • Phrase marks - Phrase (play legato and imagine you are singing this)
  • Staccato (detached)
  • Accents (emphasis) 

To be good at sightreading, you should do this on a regular basis, always explore new music you are interested in that's at your grade level and try and play them! Use sightreading books like the ones suggested above as guided daily practice.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Lang Lang's Piano Performance at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert

If you had to prepare a concert, fit for a Queen, what would you perform?

Well, Lang Lang had that rare honour, and on this occasion in June 2012, it was
Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #6 and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue [excerpt]. The recital was for  Queen Elizabeth II, who had her Diamond Jubilee, the 60th Anniversary since she was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom.

Here's the video below, enjoy.

On the UK Guardian newspaper's website, [8:07pm] there was a report that Elton John was refusing to go on stage after this display of virtuosity! Lang Lang's choice as performer, provoked some lively discussion, especially from pianist James Rhodes, British pianist who wrote in the telegraph blog: Why was there no British pianist at the Jubilee concert? Lang Lang playing butchered Gershwin isn't good enough.

Footage on the BBC website is also available.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Pianist Yuanfan Yang BBC Young Musician of the Year Finalist 2012 & 2010

Yuanfan winning the keyboard category 2010
Those of you who watched  the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition Final this year would have noticed a familiar face - Yuanfan Yang, twice finalist in the prestigious competition. He was up against category winners in other instrument classes such as woodwind, percussion and strings.

 Just how difficult is this competition, well to enter, you have to have achieved Grade 8 piano (equivalent level to a single movement in Beethoven's Moonlight sonata or Pathetique sonata), and applicants for this entire competition run in the hundreds.

First, take a look at his background and profile this emerging talent.
Profile of Yuanfan at the BBC Young Musician Piano Competition Final 2010

Here's Yuanfan performing Grieg's Piano Concerto at the 2012 Competition Final Here's Yuanfan performing
 Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 in A minor, S. 244 Rákóczi-Marsch (Youtube) 
Early signs of talent: Playing back tunes on the piano age 6
Started piano lessons: Age 6
Finished Grade 8 Piano: Age 8 (mark Distinction, 130 marks out of 150)
Dip ABRSM (Performers diploma): Age 10
Currently studying (as of 2012): Chethams School of Music (studies piano under Murray McLachlan and composition with Dr. Jeremy Pike)

Some competitive highlights: 

BBC Young Musician of the Year Finalist & Keyboard Category Winner
Junior Group Prize of Golden Key International Piano Composition Competition

1st Prize and the Overall Award in the EPTA UK Composition Competition 2011

EPTA UK Piano Competition (European Piano Teachers Association)
RNCM (Royal Northern College of Music) James Mottram International Piano Competition (under 19 category)
BBC Young Musician of the Year Finalist & Keyboard Category Winner


Manchester International Piano Competition for Young Pianists (age 16 and under category)
Chetham’s Yamaha Piano Competition and the 2009 Ryszard Bakst Chopin Prize (junior division)

Yuanfan's Blog and Official Website

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Lang Lang's Mozart - Masterclass: Comedy, Character, and Storytelling

Pianist Noriko Ogawa says Mozart is difficult to pull off as his music "shows off every part and potential of you as a musician, your potential as a musician, how to turn trills, how soft and loud, every little thing has to be decided by the performer, that's why all musicians say Mozart is the most difficult composer to play as a performer*"

 So let's take a successful creative concert pianist, such as Lang Lang, and examine
his approach to Mozart. We'll do this by observing Lang Lang in action in a piano masterclass which took place in New Jersey in c2009 and  discover his musical thinking.  I summarise Lang Lang's main points from his masterclass videos below with clarification and elaboration.

The 'sound' of Mozart Lang Lang agrees that Mozart's music  is hard to play, especially to get the 'sound' of Mozart. What Lang Lang means is that you must have the character of Mozart's music when you play. How do we get this character, according to Lang Lang, "Mozart always goes up" with his phrases (in other words, your fingers become lighter and uplifting towards the end of a phrase), getting softer as you rise up the keyboard. Put simply, the end of the phrase is lighter. An important element is to note the music's cheerful character within the context of this piece.

Musical Storytelling
Lang Lang really brings music to life, through imaginative musical storytelling, He encourages the participants to create a story to suit the musical passage, he explains to his amused audience: "I'm lost, where I am?" "I'm in New Jersey, No wait, I'm in New York" and so forth.  By using musical imagination, one can spot certain motifs in Mozart's music and align them to emotional colours, and Lang Lang uses an example of a 'hope motif'. There are also unexpected surprises in Mozart's music, recognise those instances and convey that feeling.


Mozart's a lightweight?  
Ornaments, highly prevalent in baroque and classical music, here Lang Lang reminds the young pianist,
to play ornaments lightly, not so heavily in the fingers. 

Sing a Song
As we all know, Mozart wrote some great Operas, and the singing voice, is probably paramount in his composition, so therefore Lang Lang, utters the words, sing.  

Split Personality - a Comical Genius
Sing in combination with the character contrasts of a particular passage which alternates between seriousness and light heartedness, encourages Lang Lang, further adding that Mozart is ' a little bit crazy, that's why he's a genius' but not only that, a 'funny guy.' Now, Lang Lang really shows he shares Mozart's comic jest (cheek) by giving some ideas for a particular passage: perhaps Mozart is Crying, maybe he's begging for Ice cream, Vanilla, no, chocolate, No [perhaps] I don't want this [ice cream anymore].  Lang Lang brings the participant's attention to the effect Mozart conveys by alternating in rapid succession between Major Minor, Major Minor modes, perhaps, in essence playing a game.

So to conclude, let's hear Lang Lang perform Mozart's Sonata in B flat Major, K.333, 3rd Movement. Certainly from Lang Lang's facial expressions, he's definitely 'in character' with Mozart.
*Noriko Ogawa quote from Saturday Classics, BBC Radio 3, 07 April 2012

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Lady Gaga playing John Lennon's Steinway Piano

John Lennon - Steinway & Sons White Grand Piano
Lady Gaga started on the piano when she was 4, MSNBC even says she started at age 2! a and wrote her first piano ballad at the age of 13. She's well known for her outrageous and  madonnaesque costumes.

Would you Lady Gaga into your home to play on your piano? Sean Lennon did, and took a picture of Gaga on his dad John Lennon's former piano in July 2010. But Beatles and Lennon fans were not impressed, and let rip their anger on twitter.

 Perhaps it was the way Lady Gaga was dressed? Sean responded:
'Pianos meant are to be played. Why is everyone so uptight? 'What should we do, lock it away in a dusty room? So judgemental...'
 Technically the white Steinway and Sons Grand Piano belongs to Yoko Ono, as it was a birthday present from John Lennnon in 1971.

The Steinway is the very same piano that Lennon wrote the classic song "Imagine".  In 2010, to commemorate John Lennon's would be 70th birthday, had he lived, Steinway and Sons pianos made a limited edition "Imagine Limited Edition Series" piano.

Here's Lady Gaga playing John Lennon's "Imagine" on another white Grand Piano, perhaps she learned her lesson from the angry twitter responses, and dressed more conservatively for the occasion!

So is there an appropriate or inappropriate way of dress when playing the piano, or is it merely the music that matters most? Your comments please.

Further reading

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Children's Party Pianist - Inspire and Entertain!

I was asked by a piano teacher to provide live piano music for my daughter's friend's 7th birthday party. In particular for a party game - "pass the parcel" where children pass a present around and when the music stops, unwrap the present (within a present) to find and keep a toy or chocolate. Usually this game is played using a CD or nowadays, an Ipod.
Pianist as Party Entertainer!

However, I was doing a live version, so I grabed the nearest Classic piano compilation book and started playing excerpts of some famous classic pieces I had learned during my piano lifetime - familiar classics like Chopin Waltz in C Sharp Minor, Fur Elise, Chopin's Minute Waltz. Fortunately I'm good at sightreading, my forte so could play most of those pieces fairly confidently (not improvising or playing by ear - but improving on that!) I even played some more contemporary pieces I was working on such as Bumble Boogie (Jack Fina) [ a boogie woogie version of Flight of the Bumble Bee], and the popular Axel F theme.

Piano Sage playing Bumble Boogie at a recital

After I played, a 7 year old girl came up to me and said, "How can you play like that!?", I must admit, I felt slightly defensive, thinking she didn't think much of my playing. So neutrally, I said, "how do you mean?". To my relief, she said, "You're so GOOD!". I was thrown and surprised by this comment, as I always compare my own playing to the great pianists, in my ideal of what is good playing. And often when you play in a non recital environment, especially when you can hear people having conversations in the background -  you wonder are people really listening to what you play? What I said in reply to this compliment was "Practice Practice Practice".

 I think this story illustrates just how personal an expression music is, when we play music, we are prone to criticism but also, praise. Sometimes we lack the self confidence in our own playing. We become self conscious of the possibility of failure in terms of wrong notes, or risk of not playing well or prepared, that we therefore, do not share our musical gifts with others, which is a tragedy. It's very likely many of the children there never heard live piano music before. And perhaps one day when their parent asks, what musical instrument they'd like to learn, they might even say 'piano'.

And what a revelation that live music works wonders, it entertains, it inspires. Just how much live music inspires was evident that evening, two children, my 3.5 year old daughter and the birthday girl's 2 year old brother who never usually go up to the piano, started experimenting and took a keen interest in the piano, then and there. The moral of this story is to go out and spread the music, find conventional and unconventional situations to share it, communicate music, and last of all, just don't keep it to yourself!