How long have you been playing the piano? 

I have been playing for 36 years  – since the age of 5! But for 20 of these years my playing was very occasional.  I have only taking it up again seriously in the past 6 months.

What kind of repertoire do you enjoy playing, and listening to? 

I still tend to return to the pieces I played well as a child/teenager: Beethoven, Scarlatti and a bit of Debussy.  I have just started attempting some of the Bach Preludes and Fugues but have never formally learnt any Bach before so finding it a challenge! I love to listen to Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Debussy.

How do you make the time to practise? Do you enjoy practising? 

Practising during the week can be a struggle as I work full time and am often not home in time to be able to practise without being an anti-social neighbour! But I try to practice at least 2 evenings a week and then for a hour or more each weekend. I do love to practise as I find it incredibly therapeutic – because you have to concentrate so much there is no ‘mind space’ available to think about the day-to-day hassles and worries that too often will encroach when doing other, less taxing, activities.  And, of course, when I practise in the privacy of my own home I always play superbly!

Have you participated in any masterclasses/piano courses/festivals? What have you gained from this experience? 

As a child and teenager I would regularly perform in festivals but nothing since.  I would love to at some point – perhaps when I am a little less rusty.

If you are taking piano lessons what do you find a) most enjoyable and b) most challenging about your lessons? 

I started lessons again a few months ago although didn’t get very far with the teacher.  However I have just recently started learning with Graham Fitch who is inspirational and brilliant!  In just my first hour with him I learnt more than I have in many, many years.

Has taking piano lessons as an adult enhanced any other areas of your life? 

Immeasurably.  Life in the corporate world (which is my current day-job) can be stressful and soul-less.  Recently things have become very difficult in my particular job and, partly because of this, I have found myself returning to those things that mean the most to me, and one of these has been returning to more serious piano practice.   Being able to ‘zone-out’ and concentrate on specific musical challenges is a wonderful way of switching-off from the stresses.  It reminds me of what is truly important and who I really am!

Do you play with other musicians? If so, what are the particular pleasures and challenges of ensemble work? 

I have not done so since being at school where I would often accompany friends in their exams and also accompanied the school choir and orchestra.  All a very long time ago!

Again, when I am less rusty I would love to do so again.

Do you perform? What do you enjoy/dislike about performing? 

Not since the 1980s!

What advice would you give to other adults who are considering taking up the piano or resuming lessons?

Do it. It can be life-saving.

If you could play one piece, what would it be? 

Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.   Maybe not a very original choice!

Rebecca grew up in Southampton where she started playing piano at age 4: her father has always been a very keen amateur pianist and she learnt to read music at the same time as learning to read.   She took all my grades and passed grade 8 at the age of 14.   Soon after that, real life took over.   She had her daughter very young (she is now 25), and then went to Southampton University where she studied English Literature. Rebecca then moved to Teddington and took her PGCE at Roehampton University.   She taught English for 2 years in a secondary school before re-training in Finance.  She spent 15 years in various finance roles – including 10 at a large Education and Publishing Company where she was a Divisional CFO.  Rebecca recently left this job to sett up a piano teaching practice. She has a particular interest in teaching early-years children as well as adult beginners and returners. Rebecca lives in Teddington with her daughter, Carmen, and studies piano with Graham Fitch.

PeteCHow long have you been playing the piano?

Started with lessons at school 60-odd years ago, but never did any exams or grades; Kept it up, informally and somewhat chaotically, until after retirement; (I’ve usually had a piano in the house); started lessons again 3 years ago.

What kind of repertoire do you enjoy playing, and listening to?

Mostly romantic standards: learned a few Chopin pieces recently, earlier did some Granados Spanish Dances. Also, Ravel, but I find most of it too hard, Debussy: a bit easier!

How do you make the time to practise? Do you enjoy practising? 

I’m retired, so I practise an hour or so most days when at home. Yes, I enjoy it or I wouldn’t be doing it.

Have you participated in any masterclasses/piano courses/festivals? What have you gained from this experience? 

Masterclasses at Broughton in Furness with Anthony Hewitt, Martin Roscoe and others. I feel I get more from the fact of performing in front of people than from what I learn at the class

If you are taking piano lessons what do you find a) most enjoyable and b) most challenging about your lessons? 

Making discernable progress: e.g. attempted a piece 2 years ago (Ravel: ‘Menuet’ from Tombeau de Couperin) and gave up as it seemed beyond my abilities. Took it up again a month or two ago and realised that it was now quite feasible. I feel I am hampered by having done little work on scales, arpeggios etc – there is no infrastructure to my playing!

Has taking piano lessons as an adult enhanced any other areas of your life? 

Socially, we have a Piano Circle, hosted by my piano teacher. We meet once a month and play our pieces to each other. Most of the other members are more advanced than me, but we all encourage each other and I get some compliments about my playing, which is good for my confidence. I find that the challenge of playing to others means that I have to get a piece up to a presentable standard rather than giving up when the going gets tough. (For example I have played the first two pages of Debussy’s Clair de Lune for years but always gave up when the arpeggios begin). I’m planning to learn it properly when I’ve done my present piece.

In addition, we go to local concerts, for which I might not be motivated without social pressure.

Do you perform? What do you enjoy/dislike about performing?

I play at Piano Circle and at masterclasses. I’m a nervous performer, and tend to play much worse than I do at home in private. I wish I could stop making careless mistakes!

What advice would you give to other adults who are considering taking up the piano or resuming lessons? 

Go for it!

If you could play one piece, what would it be? 

I’ve been trying to learn the Chopin’s Prelude no 17 in A flat. It’s a wonderful piece with those amazing chromatic episodes: trouble is, it’s just a bit too hard for me at present! I gave it a trial outing at Piano Circle a few months ago and made a bit of a mess of it, but doubtless it will come! As we’re thinking about Alan Rusbridger and ‘Play It Again’, perhaps it is my G minor Ballade! 

Peter Cockshott lives in the Lake District. He studied physics at University and went on to a career in industry, working in physics and electronics, retiring from this some 10 years ago. From an early age he has spent his spare time climbing or running in the hills, but now has to fit in piano practice as well.


He has piano lessons with Rosemary Hamblett in Ulverston.

I met Jack Thompson at the Dulwich Piano Festival in 2012, at which he gave an atmospheric performance of Godowsky’s transcription of Isaac Albeniz’s sensuous ‘Tango’.

I have been playing the piano for (too) many years – say, 70. I enjoy playing Ravel, Debussy, J.S. Bach, and the Spaniards – Albeniz and Granados. I rarely try Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin – I have decided they are just too difficult to play and therefore to enjoy. But I have returned to Brahms recently and took pleasure from the ‘Intermezzi’.

I enjoy practising but find it hard to timetable it. In my younger days, I played a lot of jazz and wrote music for songs and revues. I also earned a bob or two playing in working people’s clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Latterly, I attended The Oldie magazine piano weekends for many years until the death of its much loved director, Raymond Banning, in December 2012. I had some lessons from him and they opened my eyes to the possibility of tackling material I otherwise thought too difficult.

Playing the piano is all part of an attempt to understand life and art in general. It is almost a religion. Together with reading and the writing I indulge in, plus attending theatre, film and art exhibitions (like the current Murillo at Dulwich Gallery), playing the piano persuades you to think through intellectual problems.

To adults considering taking up the piano or resuming lessons, I would say, in one word – “Patience”! But persist.

As for the one piece I would love to play perfectly it would be Ravel’s ‘Sonatine;, not least the third movement. I might swap that for ‘Evocacion’ in Albeniz’s Iberia suite. Hard to choose.

Jack Thompson was born in the north of England and studied Law at Trinity College, Cambridge. After a series of jobs – teacher, bus conductor, industrial spy and pianist in working men’s clubs –  he joined the BBC and eventually landed the post of foreign correspondent for the World Service. He reported from South East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He followed the Vietnamese army into Cambodia as it overthrew the Khmer Rouge and saw the grisly aftermath of Pol Pot’s killing fields. He was nearly blown to bits by militiamen in Lebanon and verbally pilloried by Saddam Hussein’s information ministry for a report on human rights abuses in Iraq. His bosses at the BBC described him as “curmudgeonly and subversive”, a badge he wears with pride.

Jack left the BBC in 1995 and became a newscaster for Deutsche Welle TV in Berlin. Since 2002, he’s written books and articles for a variety of periodicals. He’s played the piano again and tried to help with the upbringing of his grandchildren. In March 2006 Jack Thompson won the Scottish Association of Writers Pitlochry Award for Crime-writing with his first thriller ‘A Wicked Device’. That was followed two years later with another thriller ‘Breaking The Cross’.

Visit Jack’s website:

Entries are now open for this year’s Dulwich Piano Festival. See the website for further details, syllabus and entry form

How long have you been playing the piano? 

I guess, in total, nearly 20 years. I started when I was 7, and had lessons until the age of 18. Then restarted again at around 25-ish after spending too long at university doing science degrees.

What kind of repertoire do you enjoy playing, and listening to? 

I have very broad listening tastes – any type of music from anywhere really. I’m a composer too so I think listening widely is really important for broadening your musical horizons. I’m much more conservative when it comes to playing though. I recently discovered I love playing Bach, which is great for the fingers, brain and soul! I played a lot of classical repertoire at school, but now love playing the Romantics (Brahms, Chopin and Rachmaninoff particularly) and really enjoy Debussy. I’d like to learn some works from more modern composers too, particularly Kapustin and Ligeti. I also like playing jazz – Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Herbie Hancock, anything really.

How do you make the time to practise? Do you enjoy practising?

I think people make time for what’s important. I love practising so I usually find time at the expense of other things (like exercise!). I play at least an hour a day, often more. Learning to play a really great piece is quite addictive I think – and really life enhancing to spend so much time in the company of a great work of art. Usually I play in the evenings, but sometimes manage 45mins before work too.

Have you participated in any masterclasses/piano courses? What have you gained from this experience? 

Yes, both, multiple times. My masterclass experiences have been mixed – some have been wonderfully enlightening and encouraging, and some rather soul destroying! I think it depends on how well you know the piece (don’t even consider doing it unless you know the piece absolutely inside out!) and the personality of the teacher. As for summer schools – I like to go to one every year or so, to sort of turbo-charge my enthusiasm for practising. I’ve been to Chetham’s a few times, which is amazingly invigorating but absolutely exhausting! I always come back fresh with new ideas for how to practice, and an enormous wish-list of pieces to learn. I’ve also done a week at Dartington and been to the COMA (Contemporary Music for Amateurs) summer school a few times, which are much more varied as they don’t just focus on piano. It’s always a real pleasure to meet like-minded people at summer schools and share you passion.

If you are taking piano lessons what do you find a) most enjoyable and b) most challenging about your lessons?

I think being challenged to think and hear in a different way is the most enjoyable aspect of lessons, as well as being introduced to new repertoire. The most challenging aspect of lessons is probably not playing as well as I know I can when I’m home alone. Which is really frustrating!

What are the special challenges of preparing for a piano exam as an adult? 

Fear of making an idiot of yourself! I was scared of having a memory lapse, as I always play from memory. Finding enough time and courage to practice the whole program in front of people can be a challenge too. But overall I’ve really enjoyed preparing for the two exams I’ve done as an adult (ATCL and LTCL performance diplomas).

Has taking piano lessons as an adult enhanced any other areas of your life? 

I’ve certainly met more pianists through lessons, which has been great. I think playing piano and challenging yourself to continue learning has enormous benefits in all areas of life, and makes you more mentally alert.

What advice would you give to other adults who are considering taking up the piano or resuming lessons? 

Do it! But find a teacher who enthuses you and makes you want to practice, not one who makes you feel like you have to start from scratch every week.

If you could play one piece, what would it be? 

Something very long – like Bach’s Goldberg Variations – so I didn’t run out of music!

Though actually it might be Chopin’s Fourth Ballade

Caroline Wright has an MMus in musical composition from the University of London, and a Licentiate Diploma in Piano Performance from Trinity College of Music, London. She is a scientist by profession, and blogs about musical memory at

So, the trouble all started when a friend asked to park her Bechstein upright in our house, 21 years ago. Pregnant with my first child and lit up with enthusiasm, I applied my hands, but the brain failed: it had been too long since the Grade 5 exam in 1974. So the lid went down. This was London, where nobody confessed to an enthusiasm they couldn’t back up with expertise. Why spend hours toiling away at an activity you were clearly not talented at, when there were so many other distractions or annoyances to attend to? Also, the really cool people who could turn their hands to the keyboard played improvised blues or at least popular songs that everybody could sing to after a glass or three of wine. What on earth was the point in making painful, grinding progress with a piece of Schubert that anybody who was interested could listen to at the flick of a switch, played by Paul Lewis or Mitsuko Uchida or any other of the great contemporary pianists of the day?

Then when I hit forty, the desire to learn kicked in. We now know that music lights up circuitry in the brain that cuts across most of the areas understood by magnetic imaging. Listening to music does that: learning even more so.

With a gradient that started at Distinction in Grade 1 (aged 9), plateaued at Pass in Grade 5 (aged 12), things weren’t looking promising for my efforts, at the age of 40, to rise to the challenge of Grade 6. That Grade, incidentally, carries with it the humiliating requirement that you have to have passed Grade 5 Theory. This meant that I had to take time off to sit the exam, along with 6,000 13 year olds, in some LSE exam warehouse behind Bush House where I worked, to the puzzlement of my boss (“Didn’t you do that when you were at school?”). Anyway, I passed, and the rest is history. After Grade 6 was the “gentle” Grade 7, which real pianists don’t bother to do because it’s such a small gradient. I thought I might get some leeway from the examiner when I staggered into the room on crutches with a knee injury – perching the damned things on the piano in order to wind down the seat after the 6 year old who’d preceded me – but ABRSM assessors are, quite rightly, armour-plated against individual appeals to mercy. I was despatched with barely 10 points over the pass mark. By Grade 8, I was slaveringly grateful to have passed by 1 singular point.

So why do I do it? Alan Rusbridger puts it so well, and his book led me to this site. The activity is a forbidden fruit, in a way. Not just the classical repertoire, but the attendant costs of the space needed for such a demanding piece of furniture. Of course it attracts accusations of elitism. But Rusbridger puts it so well when he describes his working day as somehow incomplete without the slight adaptation of brain chemistry that results from just twenty minutes at the keyboard. We don’t understand it yet, but I suspect when we do, the unglamorous process of struggling to learn a piece of music, or even playing a scale or an arpeggio, will have the same status as the celebrated endorphin release that we get from a long run or session at the gym.

And of course it’s so much more than that – the business of learning a piece of music gives you a view of its underside, its working parts. Even if you never reach the level of competence that enables you to play the damned thing to yourself, let alone anybody else, it opens up an entirely new dimension when you listen to the expert rendition. So that’s how that scale works! Ah – the bass chords there are a pianissimo rumble, not a statement. Oh, a dotted rhythm, not a triplet? Interesting interpretation!

Thank you, Frances, for this site. Let’s hope that Alan’s book – which celebrates, amongst many other things, the online amateur pianist – will be the source of many exchanges. Piano playing is one of the most privileged and interesting pursuits, but quite solitary in its way. For those of us not able to sightread our way through dazzling trios, or to pop in and out of duets, this online community is a source of encouragement for a hobby that seems to the rest of the world as eccentric in the extreme.

Rosalind is a former academic who now edits the Human Rights and Public Law Update online Journal and undertakes comparative and public law research for members of chambers. She also records and edits audiostreamed seminars for the resources section of the Chambers website. She edits and contributes to the National Health Legal Service’s Authority’s Human Rights NewsLetter.

Rosalind lives in Norfolk and takes lessons with pianist Christopher Green Armytage.

In another incarnation, Rosalind runs the annual Burnham Market Literary Festival in North Norfolk.

UK Human Rights Blog

Twitter: @rosalindenglish

I met Chris at one of my teacher’s weekend courses in March 2011, where he impressed us all with a very committed performance of Liszt’s ‘Vallée d’Obermann’.

I started to take an interest in the piano at around the age of 9. My father, a keen amateur pianist and dance band leader, died when I was very young and I have no clear recollection of him.  What he bequeathed to me – apart from some vestiges of his musical talent – were an old but still functioning upright piano in the living room – a Challen, if memory serves – and a huge stack of sheet music which included much of the pianist’s basic repertoire – the Beethoven sonatas, numerous Mozart and Haydn sonatas, Book 1 of the 48, lots of Chopin, almost everything by Mendelssohn and Weber, a few pieces by Liszt and one by Debussy – Reflets dans l’eau, which remains my favourite Debussy piano piece to this day.  Plus some more popular stuff, in particular a selection of pieces by Billy Mayerl…

My mother, a keen music lover, guided me in the early stages and taught me to read music and the rudiments of piano playing. Once I got hold of the basics there was no holding me back. I soon acquired a huge appetite for trying out the pieces available to me – bashing them out note by note, chord by chord, determined to reach the end. The musical results were of no value, but that wasn’t then the point: what it did was to breed in me an ability to sightread and a constant need to seek out new music, both of which have remained with me.

This early phase, before any formal training, culminated in my performance of Mozart’s D minor Fantasy at a primary school concert at the age of 10. How did I manage it? No idea. What did it sound like? I shudder to think – mercifully no recording of this event exists.

Ah, the confidence of youth… How one’s attitudes change. That’s the sort of piece I would now spend weeks or months getting up to performance standard. And even then be dissatisfied with the result.

After that I had lessons with an excellent local piano teacher and went through the usual run of exams – Grades 5 to 8, an LTCL diploma, then on to university where I met many other musicians and had the chance to play in ensembles for the first time. After university I spent a year at the RCM under David Parkhouse. He was a very good teacher but alas I was not a good student; 3 years of the relative freedom of university life had ill prepared me for the relative straitjacket (as I saw it) of music college. Yet despite that the things I learnt from him about piano technique – notably phrasing and how to relax and avoid stress in performance – have stood me in good stead ever since.

My life then followed a predictable course – building a career, marriage, children, a mortgage… I never stopped playing the piano, though time and opportunity were not always on my side. Not to mention the fact that in the pre-digital age living in flats, terraces or semis limited the time in which you could play for fear of annoying the neighbours. Thank heaven for the brilliant Clavinova which I’ve had for the last 10 years and which does everything a mechanical piano does, and more, with only a very limited downside. In the last few years I’ve had a little more available time, during which I’ve become a member of an excellent London music club, the OCMC, which is full of talented amateur instrumentalists, singers, composers and conductors and has opened up to me a wealth of possibilities for making music in groups large and small.

The piano is the ultimate solo instrument and you can be self-sufficient in your music making, as I was for years. But there’s a strong social aspect too, especially if you’re interested in performing in chamber groups and accompanying, or if you’re lucky enough, as I have occasionally been, to play concertos with an orchestra. Through the piano I’ve got to know, and to make music with, a whole range of people I would never otherwise have met and my life is richer as a result. One opportunity leads to another and I now do more playing than I’ve ever done since my student days.

Despite cajoling from friends I haven’t yet tried my luck at any summer schools. I have attended some of Penelope Roskell’s 3-day courses and found them beneficial. The social aspect of gatherings like these is just as important as the playing; it’s another way of meeting fellow musicians, making contacts and exchanging ideas about piano playing.

For those wanting to take up the piano, or who had lessons as children and want to start where they left off, I’d say don’t hesitate – do it. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at; making an effort to create something beautiful, however imperfectly, as well as the sheer physical thrill of running your fingers across the keyboard, are enriching experiences. And there’s surely nothing better to keep body and brain working in harness.

I don’t play scales and arpeggios much – too boring. I prefer to get my exercise through playing real music. It’s the difference between taking a walk through a beautiful landscape and pounding away on a treadmill in a gym.

There’s only one book of exercises that I’ve ever bothered with – the ones by Dohnányi. They’re totally cut to the bone – they make no claim to any musical quality but just concentrate on mechanical processes – scales, thirds, octaves, broken chords, wrist-, arm- and finger-strengthening and flexibility. You can spend five or ten minutes a day on that sort of stuff if you want to and it’s enough.

As for repertoire, I flatter myself that my tastes are fairly broad. They range from Bach and Scarlatti onwards, but I find the 19th and early 20th century repertoire the most congenial – Beethoven (the sonatas are probably the first ‘big’ music that I got to know), Liszt, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms (the early work far more than the later stuff), and somehow I feel a particular affinity with the Central and East European repertoire – Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček, Bartok, and Russian masters like Balakirev, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. And I’m a recent convert to the music of Nikolai Kapustin, with its unique take on classic-jazz fusion .

Nowadays my appetite for sight-reading new music has to some extent been replaced by an urge to spend longer getting pieces up to a high standard. I practice far more than I ever did when I was younger. Whether that’s because the goals I set myself are higher or simply because advancing age makes learning that much harder, I don’t really know. Probably a bit of both.

Practicing can be a frustrating activity since you often feel that you’re making massive efforts for little gain. Yet it does bring results in the long run if you stick at it. I don’t work to any specific number of target hours but I’m always ready to grab an opportunity – a few spare moments in the morning before leaving for work, waiting while the microwave warms up the food, last thing at night before going to bed as well as longer periods at weekends and on free days. I’m lucky to have an understanding wife who puts up with my presence at the piano and the music that flows from it. Well, not music exactly – more likely the click click of the (to her) silent keyboard, while I hear things with perfect clarity through my headphones.

Despite determined efforts there are some special pieces which remain obstinately beyond my reach. One that has sat for decades on the top of my piano and which I try from time to time to get to grips with, but never quite succeed, is Rachmaninov’s transcription of the ‘Scherzo’ from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think this is the greatest piano transcription ever – a near perfect recreation of a near perfect original. There are a few little piquant harmonic twists typical of Rachmaninov but other than that it’s pretty much note for note. The ingenuity of the way Rachmaninov transforms a piece which seems quite unsuited to the piano into an elegant pianistic tour de force leaves me amazed. Oh, and giving a half-decent performance of the Hammerklavier would be rather nice. I like to aim high and challenge myself to the limits. That’s all part of the fun.