Last year I wrote about strategies to cope with feelings of inadequacy as a musician and the oft-posed question, Am I Good Enough? In this article I will examine how social media can help and hinder those same feelings of inadequacy.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and many, many more platforms…..) is very hard to ignore these days and unless one takes very deliberate steps not to engage with it at all, one has to accept it as a fact of modern life. It has its uses: on a most basic level, it’s a means for people to stay in touch. It can connect like-minded people and offers opportunities to forge new partnerships, collaborations and communities, both professionally and socially. For a musician, used well it can be an incredibly powerful tool (see my article on Classical musicians and social media). On social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, one can connect easily and simply with many other musicians, music teachers and others in the music profession, and the accessibility and immediacy of these platforms allow ideas to be bounced around and shared very quickly, creating interesting and stimulating discussions. Social media can also offer useful support for one’s practising – read more here

One of the criticisms which is often leveled at social media platforms such as Facebook in particular is that some people use them as a way of parading their seemingly perfect or highly successful lives before others. Alongside one’s personal profile, there are groups which one can join for shared interests – and there is a plethora of piano-related groups. Such groups can be a great way of connecting with like-minded people and offer many benefits such as support for technical issues within specific repertoire, advice on setting up a piano teaching practice, musicians’ health or venue hire, to name but a few. But sometimes observing what others are doing, or constantly comparing oneself to others is not the best way to assess one’s abilities, progress and development. There may be a tendency too for certain individuals to criticise others, or be overly didactic in their posts or comments, and in the curious artificial world of the Internet, comments that might be shrugged off or refuted face to face, can seem negative or hurtful online.

Then there are the people who endlessly advertise students’ exam successes or seek endorsement from group members for their own achievements. Such parading of egos or desire for mutual appreciation or praise can make others feel inadequate. Sometimes it feels as if people are all over the networks are shouting “look at me!” and “look at my brilliant career, isn’t it wonderful?”

Social media puts us in touch with many other very competent people and it is all too easy to become intimidated or feel pressurised or depressed by what others are doing. A positive way of dealing with this is to accept that there are many talented people within our profession and to be happy to be amongst such a pool of musically accomplished individuals.

Many however cite the benefits of social media in relieving the feelings of isolation that often accompany the musician’s life:

I have found social media to be extremely beneficial as someone who has returned to the piano recently after illness. I have connected with many extremely stimulating and experienced musicians and reconnected with old friends as a result. Practising the piano can be a somewhat solitary affair so it has been a great blessing to find like-minded people to chat with during a practise session. There is always someone to turn to who can advise on fingering or other questions of technique…. (FW)


I feel encouraged when I read about or correspond with other amateur pianists who are serious about the piano while having non-piano day jobs. (PC)


If you find the “noise” of social media too distracting or detrimental, turn it off. Make a conscious decision to limit your engagement with it or allot a time slot during the day when you check in and then go back to work. Sometimes someone will post a link or start a discussion thread which is helpful or stimulating: take from it what you think will be useful to you, otherwise step back from all the chatter. Be confident in your own abilities and accept that there is no “right way”, that there may be many different approaches to the same issue. Ultimately, we have to get our vanities, anxieties and preconceptions out of the way and just get on with our work.

(This article was first published on the Piano Dao blog)

It may appear counter-intuitive to say that social networking, that most distracting and potentially time-wasting of modern-day preoccupations, could possibly assist in one’s piano practise. Allow me to illustrate this with an anecdote. A while ago, a renowned British concert pianist posted on Facebook that he was having trouble with a tricky passage in a work by Schumann and asked if anyone could suggest a more intelligent/efficient/comfortable fingering scheme. There followed a stream of replies, many of which offered alternative fingering schemes, while others took the conversation off on interesting by-ways and tangents. A few days later, the same pianist posted that, thanks to the comments, he had found a better fingering for the passage. This is an excellent example of “the wisdom of crowds in action” (to quote from another FB colleague of mine) and demonstrates how social media can, truly, assist in your practising.

When I first started this blog five years ago, I wasn’t very active on social media networks: in fact, the blog was the only “social media platform” I regularly engaged with. I started the blog as a way of recording my thoughts about the music I was listening to, enjoying in concerts and studying. I found it helpful to write down ideas about what I was practising – to think about it away from the piano allowed my thoughts to crystallise. As the blog became more well known, interesting discussions developed out of these posts, as people left comments or contacted me for advice about music or technical issues they were struggling with. When I took the decision to study for my first performance diploma, I charted my progress in a series of blog posts. After the diploma was completed and passed, a colleague wrote that I had been “brave” to have been “so public” in my attempt, and that  my efforts were inspiring and “liberating for so many people” (i.e. other adult amateur piansists). I was flattered that someone thought my writing and musical activities could offer support to others who were considering or actively engaged in a similar musical path to mine. In fact, in addition to writing my own blog posts about my diploma progress, I read and followed many other blogs on music and pianism which provided crucial support, especially in the final months leading up to the diploma recitals. Interacting, via comments and on Twitter, with the authors of these blogs made me feel supported and encouraged. Playing the piano is a lonely occupation (though I enjoy the loneliness) and I didn’t see my teacher that frequently for lessons. When we did meet, there was far too much work to be done on the actual music to spend time musing over more esoteric issues of, for example, interpretation, the psychology of performance and managing performance anxiety, stagecraft and presentation, and all the other myriad aspects which go into producing a slick, well-prepared and engaging musical performance. In short, my interactions with people on social networks made me feel less alone in my task.

A few days ago, I tweeted a picture of the final bars of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A, D959, which I am working on at present. This is a long-term project, but my tweet was to celebrate the fact that I had, finally, after 7 months work, learnt the entire sonata. (By which I mean, it is “in the fingers”, but is by no means finessed – that hard work begins now, and for the next half year, or more.) A number of people responded to the picture with words of congratulation and encouragement, while others expressed their liking for this sonata or offered links to their favourite performers and performances of the work. As is often the way with social media, an interesting discussion ensued, all of which, for me, feeds into my continuous circle of practise, study, discussion, interaction, teaching, listening, concert-going, and more.

Across the social networks, by which I mean the most widely-used platforms of Facebook and Twitter, there is a plethora of musicians, music teachers and musically-inclined people who regularly post about the music they are enjoying as a listener/concert-goer or studying and practising as a performer and/or teacher or enthusiastic amateur. In addition to people’s personal timelines, there are groups and forums where like-minded people can get together to bounce ideas around, often providing invaluable support, advice and solidarity for those of us who might be “stuck” in a musical impasse. Sometimes someone might flag up difficulties they are having with a particular section of a piece, or ask for suggestions for new repertoire for themselves or their students, or post a recording they have made for others to critique. Sometimes we just have a collective grumble about how difficult it all is! And often Facebook and Twitter simply provide a pleasant antidote to the enjoyable hardship of trying to refine Schubert’s “heavenly length” or get to grips with a knotty section of a Bach fugue.

On a more practical level, Twitter in particular is the place where you will daily find a wealth of links to blogs, articles, videos and other material which can assist in your piano practise – from the simplest “how to do it” videos to academic writing offering detailed critical analysis and commentary on specific works. Sifting through this material can be daunting, but both Twitter and Facebook have functions which allow you to “favourite” or save links to read later.

Here are some comments from people with whom I am connected on social networks about the usefulness of these platforms to the musician and music teacher:

I have learned FAR more useful teaching ideas and techniques from Facebook groups than I did by studying for a teaching diploma!

it really helps me as practising can be lonely and it’s nice to have piano chat during breaks

Facebook has helped me considerably (and less so Twitter) both to research piano-related information and has helped me hugely with practice through the support of specialised Groups, and of pianist friends on my News flux. Even my face-to-face teacher (not a lover of the social network society) has noticed!

For me it’s solidarity!!! Knowing that I’m not the only one having problems.

We can find solutions to more than just fingering issues. Plus lots of varying opinions. Without it we’d be at risk of only teaching in the way we were taught!

I think one of the most important aspects of social media is solidarity – it’s so good to be able to share problems, find that others are experiencing the same etc. I think that has a huge influence on our own well-being as musicians.

I think there is an almost unlimited amount we can learn from each other, and social networking helps build those connections both online and (hopefully) in the real world too

Selected resources

Practising the Piano (Twitter @PractisingPiano)

The Musician’s Way (Twitter @klickstein)

Piano Addict blog (Twitter @pianoaddictblog)

Stephen Hough’s blog (Twitter @houghough)

Pianist magazine (Twitter @pianistmagazine)

Musical Orbit (Twitter @musicalrbiter)

Piano Network UK (Facebook group)

Professionalism in Piano Teaching UK (Facebook group)

London Piano Events (formerly the London Piano Meetup Group)

The Bulletproof Musician

This is an article I wrote for HelloStage, a social media platform which allows musicians, promoters, agents and other music professionals to connect.

social media

noun: social media; plural noun: social medias 

1. websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. 

If you are reading this article, I can almost guarantee that you found it via a social media platform – a blog, a blog embedded in a website, a link shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, or via a “discovery engine” such as Stumbleupon or Reddit. Or indeed via any of the other myriad platforms that allow people to create and share content across the internet.

Social media offers musicians quick and easy ways to build and enhance one’s profile, and connect with one another, promoters and agents, venues and audiences, radio stations and recording companies across the web. It has created international stars and opened up the world of classical music to a broader audience and fan base. The barriers to entry are low, and costs minimal or non-existent, and a robust online presence will make you more attractive to presenters, managers and record companies who will look at the size of your fan base, the number of views, and how actively you engage with your fans.

Before social media, there was the personal website, the musician’s “shop-window” containing one’s biography, concert schedule, discography, media such as photographs and video clips, and perhaps some links to other people’s sites. Now, in addition to the website, most tech-savvy musicians will have a Facebook fan page (separate from one’s personal profile page), a YouTube channel, and a Twitter account – and that’s just for starters. Taken all together, these are powerful tools to create international connections and allow others to discover you and your music.

In a recent survey I conducted to explore how classical musicians use social media, the most popular and frequently-used platform was Facebook, with Twitter and YouTube following close behind. In terms of purpose, 87% of respondents said they use social media to connect with others in the profession, with 72% using it for self-promotion, and 66% for advertising concerts, CD launches and other events. The majority of respondents (77%) felt it was important to have a presence on social media as a musician in the 21st century, though, interestingly, only 41% felt social media had been “very useful” in their professional life.

In addition to networking, self-promotion and advertising, respondents to my survey also cited a number of other important uses for social media including: 

• Building community with like-minded professionals and developing a targeted client base 

• Speaking engagements, e-book promotion, increased blog traffic 

• Ticket sales, awareness of opportunities for training, meeting and contacting other musicians 

• Higher profile; creating relationships with journalists; creating relationships with other musicians 

• Greater recognition. Helps to establish an international presence. Helps to ignite/sustain/rekindle current relationships with fellow musicians & colleagues 

• Reconnecting with long lost colleagues to create new working relationships 

• Broader audience for concerts, connecting and sharing ideas with other musicians 

With these obvious benefits of using social media, it always surprises me when I come across active performing musicians who hardly use social media or claim not to know how to use it. If you’ve got a computer, it’s easy. If you have a smart phone, it’s even easier. 

Here are two examples of musicians making effective use of social media, from either end of the UK classical music spectrum. 

First, Emmanuel (Manny) Vass, a young concert pianist from Yorkshire whose active and engaged online presence has succeeded in quickly raising his profile. Manny comes across as down-to-earth, genuine and committed, and it is no surprise that his latest Kickstarter campaign, to fund his second CD (his first CD was also self-funded) has already exceeded its target. Manny uses no agent, promoter nor PR company to market himself. 

Secondly, Stephen Hough. Internationally-renowned pianist and musical polymath, Stephen’s Twitter feed is busy and varied, reflecting his many interests, including religion, food and hats, and offering insightful snapshots into the life of the busy touring musician. 

What both Manny and Stephen share in their online presence is a lack of ego: they don’t “big” themselves up – they come across as genuine and “normal”, and this is a crucial aspect of using social media. 

Some thoughts on using social media successfully. 

Twitter: Do interact with others. Observe good “Twitterquette” by thanking people if they say nice things about you, or post a favourable review. Don’t big yourself up too much in posts (because no one likes a boaster, do they?), but equally don’t sound too desperate (“Please please please come to my concert next Friday!”). Avoid capital letters – this is the Twitter equivalent of shouting – or too many exclamation marks (which just looks over-excited). Offer snapshots of your professional life – your audience are interested. Don’t get into arguments with people online, and don’t use Twitter to slag off colleagues, conductors, critics or others, or moan about the exigencies of your life. Twitter is a very powerful tool – use it intelligently and skillfully and it will reap rewards. 

Facebook: Facebook is a funny beast. At one time, it was the social platform of choice for young people, but now seems to have been taken over by their parents as youngsters move to other platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. Use Facebook wisely and think carefully about how much information about yourself you want to reveal to the public at large. (Remember, the privacy settings of all posts can customized.) Many musicians have an “artist page” which is separate from a personal profile and is the place to post reviews, information about upcoming concerts and other events, and share links which are relevant to one’s professional profile or career. Facebook also allows you to create events which can be useful in attracting people to a concert or CD launch. Again, the privacy settings can be customized. 

You Tube: It’s impossible to ignore the “Valentina effect” – how the pianist Valentina Lisitsa built a massive online following through her videos of her practise sessions and concerts. YouTube is useful for sharing samples of your work – but only if the recording is good quality. 

SoundCloud: This music-sharing platform has eclipsed YouTube in recent years, and now many artists (from all genres) use it as a place to share tracks and samples of their work. Your personal profile can be embedded on your website or blog, and tracks can be shared across other networks, or kept private and shared only via an emailable link. 

Blogging: This is more niche and requires much more commitment than the platforms above. I meet plenty of people who tell me they are going to start a blog: they get set up with an attractive template, write a handful of articles and then lose interest. A successful blog takes time and effort (see my earlier article on blogging for more detailed advice on how to get started). 

The exigencies of life as a musician in the 21st century mean that most people have to do their own promotion and PR. Very few musicians can afford the luxury of a PR company or powerful publicity machine, and you should not rely on venues to publicise your concerts – unless you are very famous. Social networking gives you powerful, and importantly, free tools to self-promote, and the more active you are online, the more your profile grows. The key to success with any social media platform is to build a distinct and compelling online profile.