I was recently asked for some tips on returning to the piano after a long absence.

I stopped playing the piano at the age of 18 when I left home to go to university and I didn’t touch the instrument again seriously until I was in my late 30s.

It may be two years or twenty since you last touched a piano, but however long the absence, taking the decision to return to playing is exciting, challenging and just a little trepidatious.

Here are some thoughts on how to return to playing:

Stick with the familiar and play the music you learnt before

To get back in to the habit of playing, start by returning to music you have previously learnt. You may be surprised at how much has remained in the fingers and brain, and while facility, nimbleness and technique may be rusty, it shouldn’t take too long to find the music flowing again, especially if you learnt and practised it carefully in the past.

Take time to warm up

You may like to play scales or exercises to warm up, but simple yoga or Pilates-style exercises, done away from the piano, can also be very helpful in warming up fingers and arms and getting the blood flowing. This kind of warm up can also be a useful head-clearing exercise to help you focus when you go to the piano.

You don’t have to play scales or exercises!

Some people swear by scales, arpeggios and technical exercises while others run a mile from them (me!). As a returner, you are under no obligation to play scales or exercises. While they may be helpful in improving finger dexterity and velocity, many exercises can be tedious and repetitive. Instead try and create exercises from the music you are playing – it will be far more useful and, importantly, relevant.

Invest in a decent instrument

If you are serious about returning to the piano, a good instrument is essential. It needn’t be an acoustic piano; there are many very high-quality digital instruments to choose from. Select one with a full-size keyboard and properly weighted keys which imitate the action of a real piano. The benefits of a digital instrument are that you can adjust the volume and play with headphones so as not to disturb other members of your household or neighbours, and most digital instruments allow you to record yourself and connect to apps which provide accompaniments or a rhythm section which makes playing even more fun!

Posture is important

You’ve got a good instrument, now invest in a proper adjustable piano stool or bench. Good posture enables you to play better, avoid tiredness and injury

Little and often

Your new-found enthusiasm for the piano may lead you to play for hours on end over the weekend but hardly at all during the week. Instead of a long practice session, aim for shorter periods at the piano, every day if possible, or at least 5 days out of 7. Routine and regularity of practice are important for progress.

Consider taking lessons

A teacher can be a valuable support, offering advice on technique, productive practising, repertoire, performance practice, and more. Choose carefully: the pupil-teacher relationship is a very special one and a good relationship will foster progress and musical development. Ask for recommendations from other people and take some trial lessons to find the right teacher for you.

Pianists at play at a summer piano course in France

Go on a piano course

Piano courses are a great way to meet other like-minded people – and you’ll be surprised how many returners there are out there! Courses also offer the opportunity to study with different teachers, hear other people playing, get tips on practising, chat to other pianists, and discover repertoire. I’ve made some very good friends through piano courses, and the social aspect is often as important as the learning for many adult amateur pianists.  More on piano courses here

Join a piano club or meetup group

If you fancy improving your performance skills in a supportive friendly environment, consider joining a piano club. You’ll meet other adult pianists, hear lots of different repertoire, have an opportunity to exchange ideas, and enjoy a social life connected to the piano. Piano clubs offer regular performance opportunities which can help build confidence and fluency in your playing.

Listen widely

Listening, both to CDs or via streaming, or going to live concerts, is a great way to discover new repertoire or be inspired by hearing the music you’re learning played by master musicians.

Buy good-quality scores

Cheap, flimsy scores don’t last long and are often littered with editorial inconsistencies. If you’re serious about your music, invest in decent sheet music and where possible buy Urtext scores (e.g. Henle, Barenreiter or Weiner editions) which have useful commentaries, annotations, fingering suggestions, and clear typesetting on good-quality paper.

Play the music you want to play

One of the most satisfying aspects of being an adult pianist is that you can choose what repertoire to play. Don’t let people tell you to play certain repertoire because “it’s good for you”! If you don’t enjoy the music, you won’t want to practice. As pianists we are spoilt for choice and there really is music out there to suit every taste.

Above all, enjoy the piano!


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Pianist friends Alison Bestow and Claire Vane set up Pianissimi, an adult piano course, five years ago. I caught up with them to find out how their venture is progressing….

Pianissimi has been running for five years now; what is the secret of its success?

Claire: We have both been to many other piano courses, both in the UK and abroad. We are therefore very clear about what we want from a piano course; maximum face-to-face tuition, both in masterclasses and in individual lessons, and opportunities to perform every day. We also want to create a supportive, friendly environment and excellent organisation to keep the whole thing running smoothly. Many people have been with us for several iterations of the course, so we think we’re on the right track.

What do people most enjoy about Pianissimi?

Alison: Our tutors are first-rate. Warren Mailley-Smith and Penelope Roskell have been with us from the start, and this year we have achieved our ‘dream team’ which includes Graham Fitch and Nicholas Moloney. The tuition is intensive and so we make sure to keep participants fuelled with home-made cakes during the day and wine and snacks in the evenings, which people always appreciate, especially after performing following dinner.

Claire: Participants always say how friendly everyone is. The location is really beautiful, on the side of the river Orwell with spectacular views, so the environment is inspiring.

Alison: For me one of the highlights is playing the Fazioli grand in the recital hall with its tiered seating. Although I know you prefer the Bechstein, Claire….

What are the challenges of both running and attending the course?

Alison: We split up the organisation between us, and we have very different skills, so it works very well.

Claire: I do publicity, networking and the loot. Alison does the tedious timetabling which would drive me mad.

What have been the best moments of the course?

Alison: I love all the evening concerts; there is always such a variety of performances and I always come away with something new that I am inspired to learn. I have made many new piano friends.

Claire: We did a scratch eight hands two piano duet last year which was hilarious. I loved the visit from Chris Norman of 1066 pianos who told us more about how pianos work, Steinways in particular, and how he goes about voicing them.

Alison: And the talk from Colin Hazel about women composers was fascinating.

Any sticky moments?

Claire: The accommodation is in school boarding houses, and one year we were given high bunks beds with a desk underneath – not ideal for one participant who was pregnant and another with a dodgy knee. The school sorted it out for us; never again!

Alison: The staff at RHS are brilliant.

Who is this course aimed at?

Alison: We want the course to be very inclusive for anyone who loves the piano as much as we do, so we suggest that attendees are grade 7 onwards and including diploma level and post-diploma. The levels of experience and performance are varied, but we try to ensure that everybody feels comfortable and confident playing in a group. The course is also ideal for those with a specific aim, such as preparing for a graded or diploma exam, or getting ready for a particular performance. There will be lots of performance opportunities for those who want them. But there won’t be any pressure on people to perform if they don’t want to.

How can I book?

Claire: There are a few places left for the June course. All the information about the course is on our website: http://pianissimi.wordpress.com/


Pianissimi is held at the Royal Hospital School, 8 miles from Ipswich, Suffolk.

Course dates: Thursday, 2nd June 2022 (5 pm) to Sunday, 5th June 2022 (5 pm)

View the location and facilities here

Guest post by Charlotte Tomlinson

In these last rather strange couple of years of isolation and restrictions, it feels as if music and performing has become more important than ever. The desire to learn in person along with other musicians has also taken on an extra special meaning.

Pre-2020, I had spent many years in my roles as piano teacher and performance coach, giving presentations and masterclasses for conservatoires, universities, festivals and orchestras around the world, but when the cancellations started as they did for so many musicians, I found myself thinking about what I could offer from home. After all, we were all so used to working from home. At the same time, I had a number of requests from piano students for me to run my own course.

I have been teaching and coaching one-to-one in my own studio at the bottom of the garden with its lovely Steinway for around thirteen years and had already run some one-day workshops there. And from 2000-2008, I ran my own chamber music course at the Purcell School. But it was these requests from pianists that got me thinking: could I run a piano weekend from my own house and studio? I realised that I did have the space for a small group both in my kitchen and studio, and that perhaps there might be a gap in the piano course market for a weekend of teaching in a small, supportive group within a home environment.

“Many thanks for all your warmth and total acceptance of where we’re all at. Your ‘can do’ approach is so positive and encouraging. You have the ability to ‘see’ the individual.”

So, in January 2022, Oxford Piano Weekends was officially born. The first weekend was intense, fun and stimulating. There were seven pianists and the eclectic mix of scientists, medics, writers and sport coaches along with professional pianists, made for dynamic masterclasses and some wonderful discussions at mealtimes.

“The weekend works on so many levels, musically and socially, and I thoroughly recommend it. It is so encouraging to spend time with other people who are both talented and supportive.”

Providing fresh homemade, nutritious and tasty food (with free-flowing wine in the evenings!) is important to me. I want everyone to feel nourished and refreshed for the learning part of the weekend.

“The food was excellent – all thought through and prepared with care and love!”

It was such a delight to have my house and studio full of people, that after it had all finished, I wondered why I had never thought about running this type of course before. I am now planning a number of weekends and booking has already started for the next two.

Next weekends:

April 22nd-24th 2022

July 1st-3rd 2022

For further details and to book: www.oxfordpianoweekends.com


Charlotte Tomlinson is an internationally renowned pianist, piano teacher and Performance Coach. She taught piano at the Purcell School for eleven years, the University of Hong Kong and HK Academy for Performing Arts and has worked with pianists in masterclasses at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and International Piano Academy, Konz, Germany among others. She has a thriving piano teaching practice in Oxford where she teaches students from the University of Oxford, post-graduates from the London music colleges along with international piano students who come to Oxford to study with her. She gave a presentation on the Psychology of Performance and Competition at the Leeds International Piano Competition 2018 and has been invited to work with laureates of the Sydney International Piano Competition.

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How long have you been playing the piano?

As an adult, I spent 2 years with a jazz teacher and a few additional months working with a singer-songwriter. During this period I had no classical piano training, preferring instead to focus on jazz harmony and song-writing. However, I did play a lot of scales and arpeggios, some quite creative (modes, chord-scale theory etc.) At the end of this period of rather ad-hoc and chaotic learning, I felt I could play the piano (just) but now realised that I did need to find a ‘real’ piano teacher. Technique. And I did. She diagnosed me as ‘perhaps G5’ and suggested we work together to push to G6 and G7 with all due haste. I did, but it was a lot of work. Too much, I feel. Piano coordination does not come naturally to me. Before I say more, let me explain that, as a child, I did play a little. Maybe got to G3, but my ‘gap’ and return to the piano is the ever-present chasm of forty-five years! I am, therefore, the proverbial ‘very late returning’ adult pianist. I left a lucrative career to pursue the bewitching instrument and I am only too well aware of what I call my narrowing ‘window of opportunity’. The clock is ticking. I certainly need to make more progress over the next year or two. The last eighteen months has not been easy, what with the pandemic. I chose not to do ‘zoom’ lessons. That was probably a mistake. And, to make matters worse, I suffered a cycling accident pre-pandemic, just as things were coming together for me. I was unable to play for a year. This lost time led to a loss of skills which then had to be hard-won all over again. My surgeon called it ‘retraining’. At this point I nearly lost the will to continue.

What attracted you to the piano?

Harmony. Overtones. Resonance. And dissonance. I simply love the sound. Always have; always will. The instrument is wide open to composition and improvisation. As a child, our modest upright was more an object of curiosity, an engineering marvel, than it was a musical instrument. I remember the occasions when I removed the front panel and watched, fascinated, as the hammers and levers, pecking and bobbing like birds at the taut strings, moved in synchronisation with my fingers. I was not playing the piano, I was performing a physics experiment. It was a laboratory demonstration accompanied by a cacophony of dissonance, shifting and dancing in time with the intricate mechanism. Had our piano been a musical box or fairground automaton, I suspect I would have been equally satisfied just studying its movements for hours on end in an attempt to discern its inner workings. But out of these naïve experiments came my first embryonic compositions. Some of these teenage pretensions were so complex I could hardly play them. My young mind was racing ahead, my fingers less so. And school (and my natural ability with ‘making’ and fascination with electronics) was steering me in a different direction. A career in computing during the 80s and 90s took over, and real life (children, family) intervened. Here I am, forty-five years later, regretting I had not stuck at the awkward childhood piano lessons my parents had funded. For me, the sounds and the music itself has always been the draw.

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

I want to play the impressionists, Debussy, Poulenc, Ravel. Also Delius. But let me be clear, it’s the harmony that attracts me. It is probably not a coincidence that these composers were influencing and influenced by the emergence of jazz. My return to the piano, if we can call it that, was not a planned or deliberate act. I was out shopping. It hit me like a brick. I simply had to play. I walked into a music shop and asked for a teacher. He happened to be a jazz musician. He fitted like a glove. And for anyone who thinks less of jazz than ‘classical’, think again. One of my heroes is Dave Grusin. I’ve love to be able to play his rich brew of harmonic shifts. And as I explore the ‘serious’ composers, I hear echoes of the jazz giants all the time. Even within today’s ‘cutting edge’ jazz scene. Ever heard of Sam Crowe of Native Dancer? To improvise like Sam would be a joy …. but I’d need to study a Phd in jazz harmony as pre-requisite, as indeed he has. So, for the time being my performances are rather more modest … but the harmony has to be there. I love Satie and intend to make a decent recording; if only for the family archive. And I keep tripping over cute pieces that contain echoes of the chords and colours I love so much. You know, dominant 13ths, flat 5ths, sharp 9ths, chords in 4ths, the tritone. An example: during G6 I played Petite Litancies De Jesus by Gabriel Grovlez. It’s simply lovely. And more recently I have found Giya Kanceheli. He wrote for film and stage. His collection entitled ‘Simple Music for Piano’ is gorgeous, and within my reach. Again, I intend to record.

Much of the ‘grade syllabus’ does not contain music I particularly like. But I have completed G7 including some Mozart and Schubert. I am on a journey. Bach will be there eventually, beyond the pair of 2-part inventions I managed along side my grade work.

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

I am retired. I stood down from my career to focus on music. I have all the time in the world. Any limitation is energy – mental and focus. Had my accident not occurred, and had the pandemic not led governments to close our society and activities, I think I’d be further along. Now I have to find the renewal to restart and reenergise. I fear it won’t be easy.

Certain types of practice I enjoy. I am content to repeat exercises, scales, arpeggios and the many variations required of jazz. I am at my most uncomfortable during the early stages of tackling a new work. Sight reading is poor and I don’t know how to improve it. Coordination is also lacking, especially the left hand and arm. For me, practice is a conundrum. There is always this underlying feeling that one is doing the wrong things, or taking a sub-optimal approach. The clock ticks. Time is running out. At my age, the window of opportunity will eventually close, as certain as night follows day.

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

Time. Thirty minutes is too short. One hour is OK but I often need more. And even with the time I have available to practice, I don’t feel a weekly lesson is viable or appropriate. I would not have made sufficient progress before ‘next lesson’. So its typically every two weeks (interrupted by the pandemic of course.) As a ‘late returner’ and as I tackle the challenge of transitioning from early advanced to advanced, I value a teacher willing to enter into a discussion of my challenges beyond guidance on phrasing and articulation; to look ahead and be my guide. I feel that a lot of what limits me now is either psychological or in the cortex – biology, the brain slowing down. If I could just ‘hang out’ with a talented pianist for a few hours I feel I could learn a lot. But I am probably being naïve. Mostly its just graft that is required.

Have you taken any piano exams? What is your experience of taking music exams as an adult and what, in your opinion, are the benefits/challenges of doing so?

Yes. I took ABRSM G4 and G5 theory. Sitting in a room with 150 children was certainly an experience! And I have sat both G6 practical and G7 performance. Hated those video things. But I do intend to go further, hopefully quite a bit further. I find paying for others in any context intimidating and have written before about performance anxiety. Why do I subject myself to this? Partly discipline. Partly to measure progress. And partly just to be able to face the daemons. This is also why I joined a piano circle. [The lessons Howard learnt from his piano circle are documented here  and appears as an appendix to his book charting his adventures in music: Note For Note ]

Have you attended any piano courses? What have you gained from the experience?

I have. It was like going back to school. Wonderful. And to be around other pianists of all ages and abilities; inspiring; but also sobering. Summer school is, for me, a good substitute for my ultimate aim: to return to college to study music in some capacity: theory, composition or practical. But as I’ve found, the road is steep to get there and my current progress (and deficit of energy or focus sapped by the pandemic to be frank) is not a good indicator of success. Let’s just call it my ‘unrealistic aspiration’ and leave it there for the time being.

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

At the piano circle, yes. It’s a test. I want to play at a level that people enjoy listening. Despite my piano buddies kind words at each of my attempts, I know in my heart that I have achieved beauty on only a few occasions. I have no desire to inflict on anyone (friends or family let alone the ‘public’) an ‘amateurish’ performance (or worse). In many ways I am quite happy playing for myself. But I’d like to think that one day I will be able to genuinely move another human being with a performance of music I treasure … or have composed? Isn’t that the mark of a musician?

I did once write a love song for my wife, and two companion pieces. They were performed at a ‘living room concert’ for a large group of our friends. I played. My song-writing tutor sang. Musically it was a modest achievement; emotionally a roller-coaster. But I loved every minute of it and I believe the audience did also. I hope so.

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

Who am I to give advice, but here goes. Only embark on such a costly expedition if you are clear that it is what you need, and must do. For adult first-timers it is going to take significant dedicated time input over a sustained period. Little of this journey will be easy. Nor will it always be ‘fun’. Look to your teachers to show you the way but recognise that even they, with decades of experience, will not have all the answers you need. Explore. I found it necessary to wallow in a good deal of self-reflection during my time on what I call ‘the escalator’ (you cannot get off). The road ahead will be more than a little rocky. Find your own shock absorbers and escape pods. And whatever you do, try to avoid self-inflicted accidents and pandemics.

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

The second movement (Adagio assai) of the Piano Concerto in G by Maurice Ravel. With orchestra or with second piano acting as orchestra. I then believe I will have learned to play the piano.


N4NfrontcoverHoward Smith is the author of Note for Note, a “Pilgrim’s Progress” for the amateur pianist, charting his own piano journey – the pleasures and the pitfalls, the achievements and “lightbulb moments”. More information here

Howard  Smith (1957-) was born in England and grew up in Kent. An internationally recognised chief technologist and management consultant, he wrote his first computer programs at the age of fourteen before entering university to study physics. His landmark book (2003) Business Process Management: The Third Wave, generated over three hundred articles in the IT industry media, was an Amazon #1 best seller in five categories, reaching the top 200 of all books (including fiction) and was featured in the Harvard Business Review. In 2017, Howard decided to leave the computer industry he loved to pursue a new life in music. His latest book, Note For Note: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, tells the inspirational story of how he navigated his transition from the bits and bytes of the computer industry to the world of melody, harmony and musical performance.

Howard lives in Surrey, England, with his wife.


If you are an adult amateur pianist and would like to take part in the Piano Notes series, please download the PIANO NOTES adult pianist interview.

Guest post by Lisa Davies

Having set up the office to be able to work from home, and been successfully working from home for a week or so, I receive a phone call to say that I have been furloughed with immediate effect. So what should an amateur pianist do to fill all these spare hours?

The answer is a no-brainer – PRACTICE!   So in line with Government restrictions, a routine soon built up: two hours in the morning followed by a walk (weather permitting) at lunchtime, another couple of hours in the afternoon, and then watch the ‘Rocky Horror Show’ from Downing Street at 5pm.

I am very lucky in as much as I have a brilliant piano teacher who foresaw exactly what was going to happen and helpfully suggested that perhaps it would be a good thing to abandon what I was currently looking at and learn a Beethoven piano sonata instead; he suggested Op 110 as it was a wonderful piece and had enough to keep me occupied and on the straight and narrow (if only he knew!) for the time being.  So I immediately ordered the Urtext edition, which duly arrived on my doorstep within 48 hours – and so the fun and games began.

After the initial read-through to get the overall feel for the piece and see how it was to be tackled, it was down to the nitty-gritty.  Out came the notes from the various piano courses I had attended with a view to putting all these different learning techniques in place – break it down, isolate the actual problem and get out the metronome, etc.,  and soon recognisable strains of Beethoven were emanating from the house.

So the ambitious plan was set – try and get through the whole sonata by the time I have my next lesson, whenever that would be.  The main reason I had avoided this piece like the plague was that it had a fugue or two in the last movement; however, with enough graft it should EVENTUALLY start to take shape and I was told that I couldn’t use the excuse that my hands were on the small side – so just get on with it.

Beethoven-Piano-Sonata-No.31-in-Ab-major-Op.110-Analysis-1
The opening bars of Beethoven’s piano sonata in A flat, Op 110

Now, having a practice regime is great but my husband and neighbours are not used to the constant aural bombardment.  So far they have been very polite about it and one has even provided my husband with a man-cave to retreat to.  I am sure they are all looking forward to me going back to work, whenever that might be, but in the meantime, I need to be considerate about the length of time that they have to put up with the noise and also the time of day it is inflicted on them.

As well as a superb grand piano, I am very lucky to own a Roland keyboard and this has really influenced the way in which I practice.  With a set of decent headphones, the sound is great but it also has a secret weapon – an internal electronic metronome which can’t be thrown at the wall when it doesn’t keep time with your constant internal clock!  So I can practice day or night without disturbing anyone (although I believe you know when I am playing as you can hear the noise of the keys being depressed over the top of the TV downstairs!)

Many hours of fun and bad language followed (particularly when tackling the fugues in the last movement) and then to prepare for a piano lesson with a difference – via Skype!  So a date was set and software tested with a neighbour, and come the day we couldn’t get a connection on the laptop.  But where there is a will, there’s a way. Abandon the laptop by the grand piano and use the keyboard with the mobile strapped to the top of the handle of the hoover!  I was more worried about our stack of towels by the keyboard being visible than Op 110….

Several weeks on and Skype has been mastered and the laptop is now behaving – shame about the pupil.  I am getting used to playing to a laptop balanced on a bar stool – shame there’s no bar! – and having my lesson at home with all the distractions that brings with it.  If anyone thinks piano lessons by Skype are a doddle – think again.  They work in a totally different way and are very productive, although I have yet to be convinced that pedalling is totally covered.  I still wonder if there is any possibility of rigging up YouTube and using a professional recording one week instead of me….nice thought!!!!!!

In the meantime, the horrendous disease that has been incarcerating us all seems to be receding and so, if all goes to plan, I will be attending piano masterclasses in France in late August.  Usually, I spend months preparing and memorising what I am going to take, but this year is different: the choice has been made for me – a certain Beethoven sonata.  Can I prepare it in time? Only time will tell, but due to an enforced lockdown routine, the notes are learned and it is now being memorised (slowly!).

So what have I learned over the lockdown?  On the surface the answer is very easy – Beethoven’s Op 110.

However, there is a deeper answer to that question. We have all been housebound for several months and there are people I know who have really found this period very difficult.  But at a time when the arts are suffering through lost performances, music is being cut from schools and rumours that it could be cut from curricula in the short term to make up for the loss in the Three Rs, music is a subject or way of life that gives you a code for living.

Music demands dedication – you have to practice. In order to practice you need patience, thoughtfulness and tolerance.  In the society in which we live, we need all of these in spades – particularly now.  Surely people must realise that music teaches you about life and not just the pieces for your next exam or performance?


Lisa started learning the piano at 10 and, having decided that riding professionally was not for her (or rather her parents!), she auditioned for a place on the GR Course at the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied the piano with Peter Uppard and Margaret Macdonald. On leaving the RAM, she did a short part-time stint at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama before going to work as a Director of Music at a prep school. However, the lure of the bright lights of the big city and her family relocating to the UK were too much of a draw and Lisa ended up moving back to London and working in the City for many years. She married and moved to the South West, competed in Endurance Horse Riding at the highest level both at home and abroad, and worked for a number of blue chip companies in various roles. She has recently come back to playing the piano after a gap of 30 years. Lisa is now making up for lost time and tackling all the repertoire she should have looked at years ago!  

In this guest post, pianist and teacher Helen Reid outlines her approach to teaching and the creation and ethos of her new online piano courses for advanced pianists.


The route towards creating this course – primarily during lockdown, though the idea has been in my mind for some time – has been a fascinating one. Many people have talked about lockdown being a time of creativity, and social media has seen no shortage of incredible video montages and moving living room performances. For many, however, that hasn’t been the case, and indeed the very proliferation of musical offerings on social media platforms has been confusing. Many musicians have felt the uncertainty of the next performance date putting them off playing their instruments altogether. For some, financial fears have far outweighed the desire or ability to think creatively. I found myself falling somewhere in the middle. I struggled to play the piano for myself, but the shift to online teaching, despite the crazily quick need to adapt, also inspired me to expand my teaching skills and techniques. In addition, having to find different ways to motivate students who were no longer going to perform their end of year recitals was a very interesting and important challenge, and I found that no two student routes were the same.

For some students, being released from the pressure to take the exams has allowed more time to work on technical issues around the pieces they were playing. We have explored the musical context in more depth and looked at issues of mental practice and preparation. Other students were excited about their performances and we have had to look at ways of adapting emotionally to the disappointment, devising alternative performance plans, both during and post-lockdown. I have considered this such an important responsibility to my students, to respond to each situation individually, and of course this is what we should aim for continually as teachers.

For many years, I have loved the idea of creating courses which place solo piano at the core and yet encompass many different facets. Just as we talk about portfolio careers, students (both young and old!) can benefit from a ‘portfolio course’. There are so many different skills needed to succeed as a musician. One has to be sensitive to produce beauty in performance, yet have an armoury to deal with the different types of rejection which might occur as a result of auditions, competitions and so on. Musicians must spend many hours in isolation, and yet also be happy in company, travelling to play concerts in varying locations, with different musicians and new audiences. Marketing and networking skills are important; teaching skills will more often than not be needed – the list continues. Lockdown encouraged me to put my thoughts into action, and to take time to create something which I hope can continue when normal life returns.

As Course Leader of the Professional Studies course, delivered to all the first years at the Guildhall School, I am acutely aware of how we must respond to the current situation in the content of what we offer our young musicians. We must give them the skills to help them on their way to a successful career at what is a very challenging period for music making. I am determined to address this with a sense of excitement and potential.

At the Guildhall School, I also work as a mentor on the PGCert in Performance Teaching. In 2014 I created an early years’ curriculum for 3.5 to 7 year olds, building a musical foundation in a holistic manner (www.blackbirdeym.com). I have contributed and led several research projects, primarily around the health of musicians. For the last six years, I have taught piano and accompanied recitals at Bristol University, as well as working privately with advanced students. I wanted to create a course which could combine all these aspects, and respond to some of the issues which arise frequently among my piano students.

The new online courses I have devised consist of focused one-to-one lessons, working on whatever the student wishes to bring. These are complemented by webinars, looking at issues such as structuring practice and other practice techniques, fulfilling potential in performance, keeping our body and mind healthy as musicians and considering how we communicate through our music performance. The webinars are also influenced by questions posed by the students during the course, so that we gain the benefit of exploration as a learning community. In addition, Dr Jonathan James delivers webinars looking at the wider musical context – exploring Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues and Beethoven’s Sonatas, for example. Jonathan is a fine speaker and I know he will bring an extra dimension to the courses. The students receive ongoing email support, so that they can ask advice or make suggestions as things occur to them during the course.

The first course takes place in June and is for Advanced Adult Pianists. The following two courses for advanced pianists will start in July and September, with the September course running all the way until Christmas. I was initially sceptical about online teaching, as I think perhaps we all were, and I was very nervous about how the first few lessons might go. However, given a reliable connection, I have found that it has enabled me to build more creativity into my teaching. This has been an exciting personal development and beneficial to my students. The current situation is a challenge for all artists, but the potential is there to connect with people all around the world, and expand our skills and understanding.

For more information on the courses, please visit helenreidpiano.com or email helenreidpiano@yahoo.co.uk


publicity photo.jpg.cropped525x195o73,-13s377x259Helen Reid first came to public attention when she appeared on BBC2 in the National Keyboard Finals of the BBC Young Musician competition in 1998. In 2000 she won first prize in the Karic International Piano Competition. In 2006 she was hailed as a ‘rising star’ in The Independent magazine.

Helen has given recitals all around in England, at venues including the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room, Fairfield Halls and Blackheath Halls, London, St. George’s, Bristol, Cheltenham, the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester and the Aldeburgh and Buxton Festivals. She has performed in Spain, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Concerto performances have included Rachmaninov’s second Piano Concerto with the Westmoreland Orchestra and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Aurelian Ensemble at Blackheath Halls and the world premiere of David Matthews’ Piano Concerto, at Dartington International Summer School. Helen has played a wide range of chamber music, with artists such as Paul Archibald – trumpet, John Kenny – trombone, Sheida Davis – cello, and Fenella Humphreys – violin.

Helen studied at Chetham’s School, Royal Holloway University and Cologne Music College, completing a Master’s Degree at City University and the Guildhall School of Music. She is currently professor of piano at Bristol University; runs the Professiona Studies course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and has been invited to give masterclasses at Gdansk Conservatoire, Wells Cathedral School; The Universities of Bath, Royal Holloway and Hull, Dartington International Summer School and Pro Corda.

Future plans include an exciting new solo programme – Visions of Night, featuring music by Poulenc, Martin Butler, Michael Berkeley, Faure and Schumann. Currently booking for 2020-22.