Social media, specifically Facebook, has been getting a lot of bad press recently, but the medium should not be regarded as wholly bad or evil.

I’ve had an “online presence” for nearly 10 years now. I found Twitter rather confusing when I first started using it and tended to only share links to my blog articles rather than actively engage with others. But I quickly got the hang of it and now largely prefer it to Facebook.

Many people think social media platforms such as Twitter are basically an advertising tool, which completely misses the point – the clue is in the word “social”. I like to view Twitter as an online version of the parish pump, or a busy cafe, where one meets others to converse, exchange news, share ideas and resources, or have a laugh.

In the midst of all the negativity surrounding social media at present, I’d like to put in a personal plea for the benefits of the medium. My online experiences have largely been very positive and have led to some very fruitful/interesting connections, freelance work and friendships, in cyberspace and In Real Life. Many of the connections I’ve forged via Twitter are, unsurprisingly, fellow bloggers; others are piano teachers or music educators; many more are the musicians and composers who have taken part in my Meet the Artist interview series. I greatly value the connections I’ve made, both personal and professional, and enjoy daily interactions with people whose tweets and discussions stimulate, enlighten, amuse, move, delight and more….. I’ve even made friends in Real Life with some of my ‘Twitterati’.

Call me naive, but I find my Twitter experience is greatly enhanced by the “tweet unto others as you would have them tweet unto you” rule. Be nice, be friendly, thank people for retweeting or sharing your stuff, don’t be an “ego-tweeter” (i.e. only sharing your own stuff or tweets in which you get a mention). In short, observe good “Twitterquette” and you get a lot back in terms of positive interactions with others using the platform.

So a big “thank you” to my friends and connections, online and in Real Life


Further reading

Classical Musicians and Social Media

The Curse – and Benefits – of Social Media

 

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

“How do you find the time to do it?”

“What on earth do you to talk about?”

“What’s the point of it?”

Just a handful of comments I receive fairly regularly from those who do not Tweet. Unless you have been dwelling in a cave in Timbuktu, you probably know that Twitter is a social networking platform; a “micro blogging service” which allows individuals and organisations to share comments, news, thoughts, information, links, pictures and more in the form of short bulletins (maximum 140 characters – that’s 140 characters, not 140 words). Twitter was probably made famous by Stephen Fry, who is an active member of the Twitterati, and infamous by various ‘slebs’ (celebrities) who choose to air their dirty laundry in the Twittersphere. For the rest of us, Twitter offers a quick and easy way to connect with other people: it’s like Facebook, only better.

I joined Twitter two years ago, initially to promote my blogs. Then, last spring, I was co-opted to help with the publicity for a series of concerts pianist Peter Donohoe was giving at a small arts venue in north London. And that’s when I learnt the usefulness and power of Twitter.

Twitter is the “postcards in the shop window” of the digital age; but it’s also like a big noisy café or pub, full of friends chatting away, sharing stories, information, thoughts, comments, moving swiftly from one subject to another, while also eavesdropping on lots of other interesting conversations. Every day on Twitter (and yes, I hold my hand up and admit I am on Twitter every day: you only have to look at my Tweet count to see how much I use it, 9460 tweets as of just now – some 175 times more tweets than a friend of mine) I find useful and interesting things to read, gather information, share information, have “a larf” with friends, or simply pass the time of day with like-minded people (that café/pub analogy again). I use Twitter to promote my writing: tick a box on your blogging platform (WordPress, Tumblr etc) and your posts automatically stream to Twitter (and Facebook, and LinkedIn, if you so desire). I use Twitter to share recordings I’ve uploaded to SoundCloud (another social networking platform where people can share music, their own and other people’s), or videos I’ve uploaded or favourited on YouTube. I use Twitter to promote other people’s concerts, events, exhibitions, book signings. I’ve made friends via Twitter – and I even met some of them in person at the Wigmore last winter. Because we had chatted on Twitter, we got all the small talk out of the way before we met, so we could concentrate on the “big talk” (music, books, art, chocolate) while enjoying pre-concert drinks, which was far more interesting! And at a party for Bachtrack reviewers earlier this year, an exchange between myself and another reviewer went something like this:

“Hello @CrossEyedPiano!”

“How nice to meet you, @AltoJane!”

So how do you get the best out of Twitter? Here are my tips for optimal Twitter enjoyment:

  • I only follow people who really interest me (fellow pianists, piano teachers, music journalists, writers, foodies) and who tweet regularly with interesting things to say. I am not keen on users who tweet profanities, slag off other people, or use Twitter as a place to rant.
  • The more you tweet, the more you are likely to be noticed and earn new followers. Dormant Twitterers just aren’t that interesting. Sorry.
  • Try not to go in for too much flagrant self-promotion. I know I am guilty of this, to a degree, but I do try to keep my tweets varied and interesting.
  • Using another user’s Twitter name (with the @ prefix) is called a mention. By doing this you alert other users to that person so they can check out that person’s profile – and maybe follow them!
  • Ask other users to retweet your tweets and watch the results of the “ripple effect” (this is what I did with Peter Donohoe’s concert series).
  • Twitter can react very quickly to certain comments, events, news etc. Take the angry reaction by the Twitterati to comedian Ricky Gervais’s off-colour remarks last year. So be careful what you tweet. No slagging off colleagues, students, etc (except in direct messages between friends!).
  • Remember – unless you direct message (DM) someone, all your tweets are public (hence see above!)
  • I tend to avoid the inane and profane: for this reason I follow neither Stephen Fry nor James Rhodes.
  • “Follow Friday” (#ff) is a Twitter tradition: on Fridays recommend users to others.
  • You can undo a rewtweet and delete one of your own tweets.

Twitter as a promotional tool:

  • Tweet upcoming concert dates (try to include a link for ticketing info etc), appearances, signings, CD releases. But don’t just tweet once two months before the event. Keep up the momentum: you want your concert/exhibition/signing to be at the forefront of people’s minds – and remember, the Twitterati have short memories. Twitter is very “here today gone tomorrow”.
  • Tweet reviews and other press coverage ahead of your event (again, remember to include a link, preferably to one of my reviews!)
  • Retweet any mentions by your agent/manager/PR/concert venue/friendly bloggers/other interested parties
  • If you have samples of your work on Spotify, iTunes or SoundCloud, share them on Twitter. (I was applauded for my ingenuity in including some links to Dutch composer Jan Vriend’s work on SoundCloud ahead of the premiere of his new work for piano earlier this year. It was a great way to offer a taster of his work ahead of the concerts.)
  • Use the hashtag (#) to facilitate easy searches (I regularly use #piano and #pianoteaching).
  • Enable a Tweet button on your website/blog so that readers can tweet to others.
  • If you’re on tour Tweet some bulletins of what you’re doing/where you’re playing. Pianist Peter Donohoe tweeted rolling updates from the Tchaikovsky competition last summer, which gave a real flavour of the tension and excitement of the event.
  • Don’t tweet “had a dry biscuit and a cup of tea at 11” or “rained again. took dog out”. We only tweet things like that in an entirely tongue-in-cheek way when we’re all enjoying the hashtag “original Twitter”.

Caveat emptor!

Beware spammers and sexbots. At the moment, Twitter seems fairly “clean” and free of spam, but just like anywhere else on the internet, it is liable to spam/inappropriate usage. You can block and report users whose tweets you feel are spam or inappropriate. We’ve all been followed by the sexbots whose tag line says “next summer I am having sex on the moon”, or offered a free iPad2. In many ways, Twitter is self-regulating, so help to keep it clean and enjoyable by reporting users who are there for the wrong reasons.

Just in case he reads this, many thanks to @Mangofantasy, who was my very first follower on Twitter, and who has subsequently become a friend, on Twitter and in Real Life, sharing my love of music, art, literature, blogging, food and more. Also thanks to all those people who retweet my tweets, share my blog posts via Twitter, and generally help to make life on Twitter engaging, amusing and informing.

There’s an amusing, silly season thread doing the rounds on Twitter at the moment called “Less Ambitious Operas” (search tag #lessambitiousoperas). Here are some of my favourites (and some of my own):

Boris Not Quite Good Enough

The Love of Two Pears

The Tweets of Hoffman

Flu in Venice

La Spinta Gentile del Destino (The Gentle Push of Destiny)

Dildo and Aeneas

Nixon in China Town

The Semi-Functional Flute

Einstein on the Couch

Infidelio

The Floor Sweeper of Seville

Orpheus in the Cupboard Under the Stairs

The Mild Embarrassment of Faust

The One-Penny Melody

The One Night Stand of Figaro

The Turn of the Corkscrew

I could go on (and on)……….but I won’t. Plenty more on Twitter, or add your own in the comments box.