Tag Archives: Graham Fitch

Exclusive Reader Offer from Practising the Piano Online Academy

Readers can enjoy a 20% discount on the special annotated study edition of Chopin’s Nocturne in c sharp minor, op Post. which includes detailed notes on approaching this music, together with background information and links to video demos, all prepared by acclaimed teacher, pianist and writer Graham Fitch.

Use voucher code GPPYDEH7Y7G7 when ordering

The following links go directly to checkout for specific products with voucher applied (which include the Chopin):

Readers can also enjoy 20% off any of the eBooks in the Informance online store https://dfp.informance.biz/ebooks/products

Diploma Day with Graham Fitch

The London Piano Meetup Group is holding its second Diploma Day on Sunday 9th July 2017. This full day event is aimed at adult amateur pianists who are considering, or planning to take, a post-grade-8 performance qualification, or piano teachers who want to observe several hours of inspirational teaching.

The event takes place in the Holst Room at Morley College, near Waterloo Station, which has a beautiful Steinway D concert grand to perform on. The day will run from 9am to 5pm and is intended not only to provide resources and information for participants, but also to network with other like-minded (and diploma-aiming!) pianists.

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The day will include:

  • Performances of diploma repertoire from participants preparing for their exams
  • Feedback in a masterclass-style format from acclaimed teacher and pianist Graham Fitch
  • Workshops, discussions and Q&A sessions with Frances Wilson (a.k.a. The Cross-Eyed Pianist), covering the planning, preparation, practice and execution of a performance diploma, plus supporting components including understanding and managing performance anxiety and stagecraft

Feedback from participants at last year’s Diploma Day:

“The introduction was helpful as I’m at the planning stage of my diploma”

“I got the feeling that a diploma is an achievable goal for me”

“A hugely valuable day”

“I appreciated the positive, supportive atmosphere”

“I enjoyed hearing lots of different repertoire, some well-known and some new”

“Graham was fantastic at getting to the nub of things quickly and was hugely inspiring to performers and observers alike”

The organisers are looking forward to seeing familiar and new faces at this event, and hope that it will be a valuable and useful day for all attendees. For any questions in the meantime please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Claire Hansell at londonpianomeetup@gmail.com.

Tickets for participants (to observe) are £17 each

BOOK TICKETS

Please book by midday on Wednesday 5th July, as there is unfortunately no facility to pay on the door on the day.

Link to Facebook event

graham-fitch-750x750Graham Fitch has earned a global reputation as an outstanding teacher of piano for all ages and levels. He is a popular adjudicator, a tutor for the EPTA Piano Teachers’ Course, and a regular writer for Pianist Magazine with several video demonstrations on YouTube. His blog www.practisingthepiano.com features hundreds of articles on piano playing and together with his multimedia eBook series is read by thousands of musicians all over the world.

avatars-000208691703-0he3lq-t500x500Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger on classical music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. A passionate advocate of adult amateur pianism, Frances co-founded the London Piano Meetup Group in 2013 and is co-administrator of Piano Network UK on Facebook. She has hosted and participated in workshops, masterclasses, courses and meetups for adult pianists, and completed Licentiate and Associate Performance Diplomas (both with Distinction) in her late 40s, having returned to the piano after a long break. Frances writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for Pianist Magazine’s online content and is a guest blogger for classical music website InterludeHK.

Practising the Piano Online Academy

Those fortunate enough to have studied with acclaimed pianist, teacher and writer Graham Fitch will be very familiar with his intelligent, insightful, inspiring and highly accessible approach to piano playing. The internet allowed Graham to share his expertise and knowledge initially via his very popular and readable blog ‘Practising the Piano‘. This was followed by the hugely successful eBook series. Now Graham’s tried and tested methodologies are taken to the next level with the Practising the Piano Online Academy, a comprehensive library of lessons, video masterclasses, articles, and other material combined with insights from other leading experts. Aimed at piano teachers and pianists, these materials are presented in an intuitive, interactive and accessible manner, and provide a comprehensive range of resources to support pianists of all levels, and piano teachers too. The result of many years of experience teaching at the highest level in specialist music schools, conservatoires and universities around the world, and privately, Graham draws on his own practice tools, strategies and techniques, which he has tested and refined in his work with students of varying ages and levels of ability, to offer a significant new online learning resource.

For those unable to see Graham personally for one-to-one lessons, the Practising the Piano Online Academy offers an extensive and regularly updated library of lessons, articles and resources which:

  • Illustrate Graham’s methodologies and approach in more depth with multimedia contentinteractive features and resources such as musical examplesworksheets and annotated scores which can be downloaded and printed.
  • Expand on practice tools and strategies with masterclasses and tutorials applying them to popular pieces in the repertoire, exam syllabuses and specific technical challenges.
  • Share the expertise of guest experts on subjects including applied theoryimprovisation and healthy piano playing.
  • Be regularly updatedeasily searchable and allow for personalisation with bookmarking and notes.
  • Be shaped by your input, responding to your questions and suggestions for new content to meet your needs.

Here are a couple of features which I feel are really valuable, especially to those pianists who are studying alone without the support of a regular teacher:

Learning Pieces section – collections of popular or favourite piano repertoire (for example, Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, Schubert’s Opus 90 Impromptus, Ravel’s Sonatine and Bach’s WTC, Book 1). Each work is presented as a mini-masterclass or lesson (called a “walk through”) with detailed guidance on specific technical issues, productive practising and some contextual and historical background. There are excerpts from scores and video clips to demonstrate and clarify the instructions. An additional feature for this section will eventually be links to annotated study editions, which will offer comprehensive information on how to approach the music, technically and artistically.

Technique – exercises – jail-breaking Hanon. For devotees of piano exercises, and those who are unsure about using them, this section explains and adapts Hanon’s exercises contained in The Virtuoso Pianist to make them relevant for today’s pianist and teacher. As with the “walk throughs” of pieces, these exercises are accompanied by explanatory video clips and score excerpts.

Practising. Here specific aspects of practising – slow practise, mastering polyrhythms, skeleton practise – are explained and demonstrated, with accompanying video clips and worksheets which can be downloaded to print out or saved to a tablet for use at the piano. In the Mastering Polyrhythms section, for example, the reader is not overloaded with information: instead, the subject is introduced and then explored through separate articles, allowing one to build one’s expertise gradually through intelligent, incremental practise.

Overall, the information is presented in an attractive and easy-to-read format, both on desktop computer and tablet, and the site is easy to navigate with clear menus, search functions and links, plus the ability to bookmark and save material to your personal library. The Practising the Piano Online Academy is an impressive addition to online piano study and piano teaching materials. The site is intended as a growing resource and also integrates with Graham’s blog, ebook series and forthcoming Annotated Study Editions. For more information and to sign up, visit https://informance.biz/products/practising-piano-online-academy/

Highly recommended.

At the Piano with Graham Fitch (interview with The Cross-Eyed Pianist)

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Diploma Day with Graham Fitch

The London Piano Meetup Group’s first Diploma Day, an event for people taking or considering taking a Performance  Diploma, took place in the Holst Room at London’s Morley College on Sunday 12th June. Six performers were invited to play some or all of their Diploma programme to an audience of c25 people and then receive a 30-minute one-to-one lesson with Graham Fitch. The event was intended to be friendly, supportive and inspiring to ensure that people felt as comfortable as possible when performing for others (for some this was the first time they had played in this kind of setting). The day was organised so that during breaks between teaching there was time for people to meet to discuss repertoire, performance anxiety and piano playing in general. I gave an opening talk on the need to treat a performance diploma with a professional mindset (including a full understanding of the exam syllabus and regulations, writing programme notes, stagecraft and managing performance anxiety) and the day concluded with a Q&A session at which we discussed various points which emerged from the day.

A number of themes became apparent in Graham’s tuition during the day, including:

  • Taking ownership of your music and playing with conviction
  • Playing with vibrant colour and expression to bring out the individual characters of each piece
  • Being pedantic about one’s preparation

Graham is an inspiring and empowering teacher – as one of the participants said “he is fantastic at getting to the nub of things quickly and it is hugely inspiring to performers and observers alike” – and everyone came away from the event with many gems of advice and nuggets of information to digest and act upon in practising.

Some comments from attendees:

“A really valuable and inspiring day”

“Really enjoyed it, especially watching Graham teach”

“A great experience for anyone around diploma level whether interested in the actual exam or not”

“It was such useful preparation

“Extremely valuable insights and advice from Graham Fitch

“Frances’s intro was a lovely welcome and very useful

Thank you to Claire Hansell of the London Piano Meetup Group for organising the event and to Graham Fitch for his expert and encouraging tuition.

A transcript of my introductory text can be downloaded here, and I’m also including links to other resources which are useful for those taking or thinking about taking a performance diploma.

Useful resources:

From these links to the three main exam boards you will find:

  • Syllabuses
  • Regulations
  • Information about exam sessions, deadlines for entry, entry fees and exam centres
  • Links to other useful resources for diploma candidates

Trinity College of London Diplomas (including information on teaching diplomas)

ABRSM Performance Diplomas

London College of Music Diplomas

Writing Programme Notes (ABRSM document)

Coping with Performance Anxiety

Why take a Performance Diploma?

For more information about the London Piano Meetup Group please email londonpianomeetup@gmail.com or join the LPMG Facebook group

Launch of Crowdfunding campaign for the Practising the Piano Online Academy

Fans of acclaimed teacher and performer Graham Fitch’s insightful, instructive and highly readable blog Practising the Piano and eBook series, his regular contributions to ‘Pianist’ magazine, his YouTube videos on piano technique, and his inspiring and supportive workshops and courses will be excited to learn of his latest initiative for pianists, the Practising the Piano Online Academy.

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The Ultimate Online Resource for Pianists and Teachers 

The aim of the project is create the ultimate online resource for mastering the piano. Building on Graham’s hugely successful eBook series and blog, this will take his tried and tested methodologies to the next level with a comprehensive library of lessons, masterclasses and resources combined with insights from other leading experts. Aimed at piano teachers and pianists, these materials will be presented in an intuitive, interactive manner and will transform the way you approach teaching and playing the piano. The crowdfunding goal is £10,000 and funds raised will be used directly for creating additional content and resources.

Graham tells us more about the project:

I’m passionate about teaching and playing the piano. The art of practising is a special area of interest to me and is rarely taught specifically enough. Our practice time at the piano is just as significant to the end product as the hours of training undertaken by professional athletes, but this time can so easily be wasted unless we have the know-how.  Effective practice is essential to mastering the piano and it’s for this reason that I have spent decades researching and experimenting in the art of practising to find the optimal approaches.

I’ve developed a methodology comprising practice tools, strategies and techniques which I’ve tested and refined in my work with students of varying ages and levels of ability. I would love to see as many people as possible benefit from my work but obviously not everyone can get to me for one-to-one lessons. Therefore I’ve embarked upon a number of initiatives to make my work more widely accessible including my blog and eBook series. These provide a conceptual introduction to my approach and I am now planning to build on this foundation with the Practising the Piano Online Academy.

  • My blog (www.practisingthepiano.com) which is regularly updated and contains hundreds of articles on subjects relating to piano playing

  • Multimedia eBook series which combines text, video, audio and numerous musical examples to introduce my methodology and approach

  • A print version of my eBook series which is currently being developed due to popular demand

 The Practising the Piano Online Academy will build on these solid, tried and tested foundations and will take Graham’s work to the next level.

The Practising the Piano Online Academy is an extensive, searchable, and regularly updated library of lessons, articles and resources which will:

  • Illustrate my methodologies and approach in more depth with multimedia content, interactive features and resources including musical examples, worksheets and annotated scores which can be downloaded and printed.

  • Expand on practice tools and strategies with masterclasses and tutorials applying them to popular pieces in the repertoire, exam syllabuses and specific technical challenges.

  • Share the expertise of guest experts on subjects including applied theory, improvisation and healthy piano playing.

  • Be regularly updated, easily searchable and allow for personalisation with bookmarking and notes.

  • Be shaped by your input, responding to your questions and suggestions for new content to meet your needs.

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What will it do for you?

Whether you are a budding student, keen amateur, passionate piano teacher or a professional musician, the Practising the Piano Online Academy will provide you with the knowledge and resources at your finger-tips to:

  • Get the best possible results from your time spent practising the piano.
  • Avoid injury and overcome technical difficulties with panache.
  • Learn new pieces quickly and master trouble spots or challenging areas within the repertoire.
  • Deliver performances or achieve examination results which reflect your full potential.
  • Inspire your students and enhance their enjoyment of the piano.

How can you be involved?

We’ve already started creating content for this project and are now seeking the further support of pianists and teachers via our crowdfunding campaign to help us make this resource as good as it can possibly be. A number of great rewards ranging from discounted subscriptions through to opportunities to sponsor lessons and obtain a one-to-one consultations with me are on offer. Supporters will also have an opportunity to shape the Online Academy by suggesting and voting for topics and content they would like to see featured.

To show your support for the project and to read about it in more detail, please visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-practising-the-piano-online-academy#/

https://www.indiegogo.com/project/the-practising-the-piano-online-academy/embedded

Development of the Practising the Piano Online Academy is already underway with Informance (see below), with an expected launch in July 2016.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

8481e4cf3afe7f10c19eGraham Fitch has earned a global reputation as an outstanding teacher of piano for all ages and levels.  He is a popular adjudicator, a tutor for the EPTA Piano Teachers’ Course, and a regular writer for Pianist Magazine with several video demonstrations on YouTube.  His blog www.practisingthepiano.com features hundreds of articles on piano playing and together with his multimedia eBook series is read by thousands of musicians all over the world.

 

ABOUT INFORMANCE

Informance ™ is a publishing imprint which creates rich, interactive digital publications aimed at musicians.  By combining state of the art technology with expert insight, Informance enables musicians to reach their full potential in the most effective and enjoyable manner.  It offers a modern way to engage with the timeless art of music making.

Informance is published by Erudition (www.eruditiondigital.co.uk), a next generation digital publishing company which partners with publishers and content owners to create purposebuilt digital publications from new or existing content.

Bach Masterclass for EPTA Brighton with Graham Fitch

Renowned teacher and pianist Graham Fitch gave a masterclass to the Brighton EPTA group on the keyboard music of J S Bach. The class took place at the home of one of the members and proved both instructive and convivial.

Bach’s output for the keyboard is vast and offers the pianist many challenges, both technical and artistic. The class hardly the scratched the surface of Bach’s oeuvre with the performance of four pieces, but these were all excellent examples of Bach’s keyboard writing and provided much useful food for thought for performers and observers.

These notes are by no means comprehensive, merely a record of what I perceived to be the salient points which emerged through the study of two Preludes & Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier, a Toccata and the Prelude from the First Partita.

Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C major (WTC Book 1)

Prelude

  • Use the harmonic structure of the music to shape phrases and to give emotional depth/lightness. Practising the RH figures as block chords can help this.
  • Be aware that the expressive range of this Prelude comes from within the music itself through, for example, the use of major or minor harmonies, dissonance and suspensions.
  • Create a sense of ‘breathing’ in the music, an ebb and flow within phrases.
  • Use of techniques such as over-holding and finger pedal can increase sonority and richness of sound without additional use of sustain pedal.
  • Feel fully connected to the bottom of the keys when playing the RH semiquavers to create a rich, authoritative sound.

Fugue

  • Be aware that the P&F were intended to be performed together. Anticipate the Fugue from the closing cadence of the Prelude and create a connection between to the two works.
  • Highlight the way the music rises through the register to create a sense of climax and dying back.
  • This fugue has a distinctly ‘processional’ flavour – feel the sense of the music ‘arriving’ at cadences, in particular in the final quarter, and maintain a sense of energy, before a quieter closing cadence.

The study of this Prelude & Fugue led to some general discussion about playing Bach expressively, with Graham suggesting that one should not shy way from playing Bach’s music with expression. Too many of us feel we should play in a more restrained way, and yet Bach writes much scope for expression into his music, through the use of devices described above.

Toccata in E minor BWV 914

The Toccata is related to the Fantasy or Fantasia, and contains improvisatory sections as well as the strict toccata elements (usually rapid passagework).

Opening section

  • Create a sense of freedom and improvisation in the opening measures
  • Walking bass – highlight the sounds with different types of attack
  • Aim for consistency of articulation

Toccata section

  • Keep the semiquavers vibrant and mimic bowed strings in the articulation
  • Create a sense of energy which runs through the entire section
  • As in the P&F, use the harmonic changes to shape the phrases and create a rise and fall in the music

Prelude from Partita No. 1 in B flat

  • Ornaments should be on the beat, and it’s important to maintain a sense of the underlying rhythm. Practise without ornaments
  • Be aware of the rising intervals in the opening measures – 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, octave – and use these to shape the phrase and create a climax
  • Overhold the semiquavers for greater cantabile sound
  • F major section – allow the secondary vocal lines to sing out and create filigree in LH.
  • Create a sense of grandeur in the G minor section and at the end.
  • Again, use the harmonies to inform phrasing and to add expression.

Prelude & Fugue in F minor BWV 857 (WTC Book 1)

Prelude

  • Create a sense of the opening crotchets supporting the upper parts
  • Lighten the semiquavers in the LH lower register so that the texture doesn’t become too thick.

Fugue

One of the most dramatic fugues – spiritual and tragic. Highlight each entry and exploit the grandeur of this piece, particularly the beautiful F major closing cadence.

 

Graham’s blog

http://practisingthepiano.com/

http://www.grahamfitch.com/

Piano Notes – Rebecca Singerman-Knight

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.

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At the Piano With……Graham Fitch

Graham Fitch
Graham Fitch

What is your first memory of the piano?

It is a very strong memory of visiting my grandparents and being drawn to this huge thing against the wall, with its ivory teeth, ornate carvings and candlesticks! We didn’t have a piano at home, so every time I visited I sat for ages completely fascinated and oblivious not only to the passage of time but also to the irritation my infantile experimentation must presumably have caused my captive audience. I was completely passionate about the piano from that time onwards!

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

I started formal lessons very late, so I learned everything the hard way – through sheer hard work and determination. I was lucky to have had extremely good teaching every step of the way but because of my age, it all went in consciously. I wish I had been through that unconscious stage that young children experience, when playing the piano is as natural as breathing and you don’t have to think about anything. Because of my enquiring mind, I always asked my teachers a lot of questions. I needed to understand how it all worked. I think I was destined to be a teacher from the start, I really do see it as a vocation rather than a choice.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

I don’t believe there is any such person as the one ideal teacher for everyone. Each teacher I studied with gave me different pieces of the puzzle. My first teacher, Val Dickson, set extremely high standards and instilled in me a sense of musicianship and discipline. Philip Fowke, a consummate pianist, similarly inspired me not only with his playing but by showing me exactly how to practise. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that. Stephen Savage, my first professor at the RCM back in the mid 70s was an extremely thorough and skilful teacher of piano, and a great inspiration as a musician. He brought vibrancy and energy to each and every lesson. It is hard to overestimate what I gained from my second teacher at the RCM, Peter Wallfisch. He switched on so many lights in my mind, with lessons sprawling over three hours a week. I have written about those amazing years on my blog, so rather than repeat myself I would direct readers to the post: http://practisingthepiano.com/?p=329. Before taking up my Fulbright scholarship in 1982, I took part in Andras Schiff’s classes at Dartington, quite the most magical summer of my life! We think of him as a player of the classics and yet he was teaching Prokoviev sonatas without the need to refer to the score. After the week of classes, Andras invited me to play for him privately from time to time, which was a privilege and a great inspiration. In my first year in the USA, I studied with Ann Schein at the Peabody Institute who gave impeccable and impromptu demonstrations of anything and everything I took to her. As one of Rubinstein’s only students, I inherited some of the maestro’s fingerings for Chopin, and there was much magic in those lessons! During that year, I participated in Leon Fleisher’s weekly classes which had a huge influence on my thinking. I draw on this incredible musician’s wisdom and rich legacy every day. My final teacher, Nina Svetlanova, passed on her amazing tradition, the very best of the modern Russian school – she had studied for many years with Heinrich Neuhaus – and lessons were pure gold. During those years, I also had some marvellous lessons with Julian Martin (a teacher I would recommend to anyone) who now teaches at Juilliard, but the last influence was Peter Feuchtwanger here in London, who presented the diametric opposite of what I consider athletic piano playing. His extraordinary approach put my playing in neutral, and from that place I managed to really take off in different directions.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

I think all of my teachers were important, also the masterclasses I participated in, concerts I attended as well as life experiences that had nothing to do with music.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

It’s hard to single anything out here. It may seem that some teaching experiences are better than others, but I think that’s ultimately an ego thing. I taught talented young pianists at The Purcell School in the early 90s, then tertiary level piano students at the University of Cape Town and then at the RWCMD while giving masterclasses at such institutions as the RAM, last year at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore and the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. But a professional piano teacher should be available for anyone who is serious about playing, professional and amateur alike, and should give each student equal attention and respect.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults? (if relevant)

The main challenge of teaching adults is respecting their agenda without imposing mine. I once had a student who was a highly influential and successful person in finance, in charge of people as well as vast pension funds. His passion and solace was to retreat from this heady world into middle and late period Beethoven sonatas, his tackling and understanding of which were remarkable. After some time struggling to give him what I considered a detailed lesson and ending up frustrated because he wouldn’t let me, I learned that he simply wanted to play for someone who knew these works intimately, whose ears and opinion he trusted. That, and a few general comments, was enough for him to play better than he would by himself. Even though I knew I could have helped him improve more, this was not what he wanted. I have an elderly student at the moment who has lessons because he wants to keep his brain active. Who is to say this is any less valid a reason to come to me than my university music students? I guess the single biggest difference with an adult is the fear of letting go, of making mistakes, and the fear of being judged. Sitting in a lesson involves trust in the teacher, and I always tell them if they feel judged, it’s their own judgment, not mine!

What do you expect from your students?

That’s a very good question, as it varies from person to person. If I have a youngster doing an exam or a college student doing a degree in music, there has to be an element of discipline and pressure coming from me, so that weekly progress is evident and ongoing. It’s different with an adult with a busy life away from the piano who comes for lessons because they love playing, it’s almost none of my business why they come. In all my teaching, I think my role is to instruct, inspire and motivate rather than assume the role of ogre-taskmaster.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

There’s no denying that grade exams provide a very useful structure for learning as long as they don’t become the be-all-and-end-all. As part of an overall musical education exams are fine, but it pains me to think of kids stuck on the same three pieces and a bunch of scales for a whole year, that this is their experience of music. I love adjudicating festivals, hearing everyone present themselves in front of peers and public. Festivals were extremely positive and constructive elements of my own upbringing, and gave me invaluable performing opportunities. As for competitions, I always say to my own students just because you won something today, it doesn’t mean you’re the best thing since sliced bread, nor does it mean you’ll win something tomorrow. Conversely, if you didn’t win it just means you didn’t play your best on the day, or that particular jury preferred someone else. It shouldn’t knock you back, but unfortunately a negative experience often can.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

The number one priority must surely be the love of music and the appreciation that by playing the repertoire we do we are dealing with some of the most profound or most beautiful artistic products of the human mind. Some obvious things would be teaching them about music, how their pieces are constructed – I like to approach a piece with a composer’s-eye view. Teaching them how to listen, equipping them with a solid, reliable piano technique, how to practise, craftsmanship, a sense of freedom in self expression. .

What are you thoughts on the link between performance and teaching?

My teaching is enhanced and enriched by my performing career, there’s no doubt about that. Actually getting up there and doing it means I teach with a different set of skills and priorities, and there’s no substitute for that. There’s a world of difference between being able to play a piece for yourself and presenting it in front of an audience. Performance skills and performance preparation are areas that only a performing musician can really teach.


Graham Fitch maintains an international reputation as a pianist, teacher, adjudicator and writer. Recent activities include a concert tour of Singapore and Australia with Bach’s Goldberg Variations, with masterclasses at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Griffith University in Brisbane, and Melbourne’s Team of Pianists. Graham is a regular writer for Pianist Magazine, and has video tutorials on the magazine’s YouTube channel. He has recently published an ebook based on his popular blog, www.practisingthepiano.com. Graham teaches privately in London, and counts among his students Daniel Grimwood and James Baillieu, with many others active in the profession. In addition to teaching talented youngsters and tertiary level piano students, he is very interested in working with amateur pianists. He is on the staff at this year’s Piano Summer School at Walsall.


www.practisingthepiano.com

http://www.grahamfitch.com

Reblogged: Top Ten Tips for Trouble Spots

This incredibly useful article comes from Graham Fitch’s Practising the Piano blog, which is full of sound advice and guidance for productive practising. This article chimed particularly with me, as this week I have been getting students, and myself, ready for our concert next weekend, and careful, attentive practice has been the watch word of my lessons recently.

We all have ‘black spots’ in music we are learning: sometimes these are not the most difficult passages, but such places need special attention to stop them becoming major problems, which can affect the overall continuity and flow of the music.

Read Graham’s excellent advice here

Guest post: My Studies with Peter Wallfisch

by Graham Fitch

I had the great privilege to embark on my postgraduate studies with Peter Wallfisch, studying with him from 1980 for two years (but returning on occasion thereafter). During my time with this remarkable man, my playing blossomed and I grew not only as a pianist but also as a musician. I look back on this chapter of my life with gratitude and a tremendous fondness for a teacher I came to love dearly. Last year, when I visited his widow, Anita Lasker, I walked into the studio where I had had my inspiring, magical lessons and  was overcome with emotion as so many wonderful memories flooded back.

Peter Wallfisch was born in Breslau in 1924, and had sought refuge from Hitler’s Germany in Jerusalem and Paris before settling in Britain in 1952. His tenure as a professor of piano at the RCM was from 1973 to 1991, during which time he influenced many notable pianists now active in the profession. He was head of a musical dynasty that includes his wife Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, (cellist and founder of the ECO), son Raphael (international concert cellist), daughter-in-law Elisabeth (noted violinist), grandsons Benjamin (composer and conductor) and Simon (cellist and tenor). Peter was a musicians’ musician who is remembered not only a solo pianist but as an ensemble musician. His lineage was the Germanic tradition from Bach right through to Reger and Krenek, but he also championed very many British composers (including Kenneth Leighton, whom he raved about) and other slightly unusual composers (such as Novak). He confessed to having a passion for organ music, and he was not overly keen on Chopin or Rachmaninov.

One time I arrived for my lesson and Peter was not in a good mood. Sensing this, I asked him if he was OK and he pointed to a stack of scores on his desk, bemoaning the fact that he had been roped into learning it for the BBC and for concert engagements. It turned out to be by Frank Bridge, whose music at that time had fallen into neglect. The following week, I asked him how he was getting on with it. His face lit up and he enthused for many minutes on the undiscovered qualities of this music and how wonderful it was. Peter was at the forefront of the revival of interest in Bridge’s music, which rubbed off onto me. He immediately suggested I learn the two pieces “In Autumn” and I had much success with them. Among my prize possessions is Peter’s score of the sonata, littered in his inimitable way with crayon and pencil markings that only he could make sense of, certainly a testament to a practical musician!

I was officially registered for lessons with Peter at the Royal College of Music, but after a while my lessons moved from room 68 at the RCM to Peter’s home in Kensal Rise. Not only did I occasionally get to stay for tea and wonderful conversation with Peter and Anita (and Millie the cat), but my good fortune extended to lessons which went on all afternoon.  Three hours was the norm, always without a break, and usually on just one work. He gave of himself unstintingly and generously and as I was walking down his garden path after the lesson, I felt that I had been given the ultimate secrets to the music we had just worked on. This went way beyond a mere piano lesson. There was one time I took a very half-baked Beethoven’s op. 109 sonata along, and yet after my lesson felt that I could almost have deputised for Barenboim that very night, such was the completeness of my understanding of Beethoven’s message. There were many such experiences where I left having had more than a lesson, but a Gestalt of the music – an experience of the essence of the whole picture even though my playing of it might yet be primitive. Pieces that stand out are the Brahms-Handel Variations, Bartok’s Third Concerto, Mendelssohn’s “Variations Sérieuses”, some Debussy and plenty of Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven…

It is difficult to describe how Peter taught. One thing I can say is he never, ever talked about piano playing as an activity in itself. His comments were always about the music. He would hear what I had brought in and would always give a totally honest appraisal of what he had heard. He was never one to mince his words, thus you could always rely on his reactions and comments as a very accurate barometer of how you’d done. If he didn’t like it, you would certainly know; if he did like it, he could ooze genuine enthusiasm and encouragement. You always knew where you stood with Peter.

Technical difficulties seemed to melt away, since through his lengthy verdicts and fabulous verbal descriptions of what he wanted to hear (he rarely demonstrated) you were literally infected with a mental and aural picture that left no doubt as to how the piece should go. There were so many times when, before he had finished talking, I was itching to play again because I knew exactly what he meant. After he had said what he needed, I would play again. What was difficult before now often wasn’t at all because I had an ultra clear picture of the sound, of the composer’s meaning. If you did ask for technical help – I mean specific pianistic help – he might even get annoyed. He really did not like talking about piano playing per se. Once I asked him what exercises he practised (I knew he had quite a warm-up ritual for himself). Again, he dismissed my question, saying that he did not want to burden me with it, nor did he like to do his dirty laundry in public.

There are SO many individual lessons I remember crystal clearly. During a lesson on op. 109 I missed a sforzando accent in the second movement and received a very painful dig in the ribs which taught me way better than words could have. Now, whenever I get to that place in the sonata, I feel a psychosomatic twinge of pain. There was the tail end of someone else’s lesson who crowed that he had managed to learn a Beethoven sonata in a week. Peter went red in the face and exploded: “How dare you say that! It took Beethoven months of time, sweat and blood to write that sonata, and you claim you can play it in one week!”. Another lesson that stands out for me was on a Bach Prelude and Fugue. After I finished he told me it was excellent and that he could not fault it. But I noticed a trace of disdain in his voice, and sure enough he said to stop it sounding sterile and boring, I had to find my own voice with the piece. When pushed, he made a few vague suggestions but would not be specific and it took a while before I figured out what he meant, that he expected me to take personal ownership of the piece.

Even after I had gone to America on my Fulbright Scholarship, I would return to Peter to play for him. I always received the same warm welcome and uncompromising advice. His influence is still with me to this day. I very often think of him, and I still miss him!

Graham Fitch is a London-based pianist, piano teacher, piano adjudicator, piano examiner, piano lecturer and writer/commentator on piano. www.grahamfitch.com

Obituary of Peter Wallfisch in The Independent