March Offer on keyboard and piano lessons in Notting Hill!

Special March offer for anyone booking piano lessons in Notting Hill!

Adult beginners to post-grads up your piano game, find out more about our piano lessons here

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Notting Hill Piano Lessons will help you to:

  • Take those ABRSM exams, prepare for that important gig piano recital.
  • Improvisation - learn how to translate the music in your head onto the piano keyboard.
  • Songwriters/Producers - understand keyboard harmony and essential music theory.
  • Learn the tricks of the trade for laying down cool, credible and unique keyboard parts.
  • Perform your pieces/songs live to the highest standard with confidence, accuracy and flare.

Free no obligation first lesson when booking a course of ten or more (pay for the 1st lesson and deduct it off subsequent block bookings)

Limited places available, book now to avoid disappointment.

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The Taubman technique for pianists

piano-lessons-postureI recently experienced difficulties with my thumbs during a concentrated spell of practise. As a result, I started to do some research on playing technique, to find out if perhaps I’d developed any bad habits. Dorothy Taubman, the creator of this discipline, developed the therapeutic approach during her lifetime, dedicated to helping people with bad injuries and conditions caused by bad technique or other incorrect habits.

I came across a collection of helpful instructional videos for pianists on You Tube by Edna Golansky, in which she goes into some detail on the approach and focuses in on some very specific examples. I recommend watching at least some of these, whether you’re experiencing problems or not, as there’s a wealth of information here.

Luckily, or perhaps not so much, my thumb issue seems to be the onset of arthritis more than a bad playing technique, however I’m currently looking at ways to improve my hand and arm work based on the ideas put forward by Taubman practitioners and plan to book myself a Skype session or two in the future (there are currently no UK practitioners).

I’d be very interested to hear from any students who have attended classes or seminars on the Taubman technique, to hear your experiences and opinions, so please contact me if you’d like to get into a discussion – or hit the comment box below.

Happy and comfortable playing!

9 Essential Tips For Smart Piano Practice

9 Essential Tips For Smart Piano Practice

Sidney Harrison, author of The Young Person’s Guide To Playing The Piano, once asked an infant prodigy “how much do you practice?” The answer came back, “as much as I need”. An admirable sentiment, but while piano professionals can spend as long as it takes to get a piece up scratch, some of us don’t have endless hours in the day to practice, so how can we make the most out of the limited time we have to spend?

1. Schedule your piano practice

It may sound a bit obvious, but it’s important whenever possible to schedule regular slots for piano practice. Randomly fitting practice sessions around your other daily activities won’t always work, especially when time is in short supply. Having a regular time that you know is dedicated to piano practice will help you focus on the work in hand and it will also become known by your family, flatmates etc not to make demands on you at this special time. Many people find the morning to be the best time, as the mind and body are fresh, but if this isn’t possible, choose a time when you’re not absolutely exhausted from a long day, or when the brain & fingers aren’t being slowed down by after-work drinks!

2. Planning practice sessions

Many musicians like to write a plan for their practice sessions. It certainly helps to identify goals and have a series of practice routines to help you reach them. If writing lists helps to do this better for you, then it might be a good idea, right? You could even tick off each task as it’s completed, increasing your feeling of satisfaction as the list is worked through.

3. Mental preparation

Even 10 minutes of fully concentrated practicing is better than hours of twiddling about aimlessly on the keyboard. Again the key word here is ‘focus’. Once you’ve planned your goals for this practice session, switch off the phone, TV, radio etc, maybe close the door or make sure that the space you’re in is otherwise clear of distractions, then give full attention to your practice. Avoid ‘mechanical practicing’ – repetition of the same material in exactly the same way without paying full attention, changing things that don’t work, or not even noticing if you’re reaching your goals or not.

4. Warming up and other physical aspects of piano practice

There is some thought that using yoga or sports related stretching exercises prior to piano practice is beneficial. I’ve even read that dipping the forearms in warm water will help to literally ‘warm up’ the arms. Others use the term simply to mean finger exercises such as scales and arpeggios leading up to the main practice session. My own take is that it’s no bad thing to prepare your body for intensive muscular work, paying further attention during your session to maintaining good posture, relaxation of the shoulders, good breathing, correct arm and hand placement etc. Although I have no affiliation to the author of it, I’ve found this video containing exercises for piano players quite informative. I personally also perform some specialised light strengthening exercises with 1kg and 2kg weights regularly at the gym, which I shall make the subject of another post.

5. One at a time please!

Now we’re down to the nitty gritty and actually working through our practice session, it’s good to approach the task methodically. Flitting indecisively from your Keith Jarrett transcription to your Chopin will only end up in neither piece receiving the attention it deserves. Much better to decide on a short passage from one of the pieces for that day and work on that portion slowly until it’s completed. If your practice list includes some scales, Hanon exercises AND the Jarrett, then include these if you’ve got the time.

6. Accuracy over speed

Yes of COURSE you want to learn the piece as quickly as possible, but even if you can KIND OF play it all the way through with just a couple of stops (to get the fingering right, or to tackle that tricky passage), it’s going to save you time in the long run to just concentrate on a short section and really nail it. Why not start with the most difficult sections first? Run each one slowly and deliberately and don’t move on until you’ve got it. Sometimes I choose just a bar, or even a fraction of a bar to work on (sometimes even one note), so don’t feel that it’s wrong to work in small sections. Play slightly over the beginning & ends of each section, so you can practice joining it up with the rest of the piece.

7. Mistakes are never ‘OK’

While I allow the freedom to make ‘mistakes’ during improvisation practice (although arguably in this context there is no such thing), when preparing a pre-written piece for performance, it’s never cool to just ‘let things slide’. By practicing mistakes into your piece, you’re setting up a long hard task for yourself later on when they need to be ironed out. They also create uncertainty, which it is your job to get rid of as part of your practice routine. Remember, by playing slowly and accurately, focusing hard on the passage, you’ll build a strong foundation that will be hard to shake, even when you’re nervous during a live performance.

8. Keeping a record/practice diary

Recording your sessions is always a good idea. I use a dictation app on my iPhone, which I can then load into iTunes at the end of my practice to listen to myself. It’s surprising how some important stuff can slip past our radar, even if we’re concentrating hard. By recording practice sessions, you can monitor your progress and be more aware of the work that still needs doing. Some people keep a diary with strict times allocated for each part of the practice session, the idea being that sticking to this schedule can help you to focus harder on each section.

9. Mental practice

I’ve lost count of the number of times I mentally run a difficult passage I’m wrestling with while sitting on the bus, or going about one of the mundane chores of the day. When I’ve come back to that passage next day, it’s as if there had been a whole other practice session that I didn’t know about – everything seems to come much more easily to me and very often this process has completely solved the problem! It’s totally possible to practice even when you’re not in front of the piano, once you’ve worked out your solutions to difficult passages, you can run the process through in your mind.

Gyorgy Sandor in his excellent book ‘On Piano Playing‘ likens a piano performance to the tip of an iceberg and the practice leading up to it as the “immense and invisible bulk” of the iceberg underneath the surface. There’s nothing quite so satisfying (well, not much anyway) as finishing a piece and performing it to an enthusiastic audience. Practicing is a real craft, working to minimise effort, maximise efficiency and digging deep inside for inspiration to produce the best performance. Hopefully you’ve picked up some useful tips from this article, do feel free to leave a comment below and let me know how you’ve got on.

Piano Tuition West London

Piano Tuition West London

“Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there” Bruce Lee

I firmly believe in combining the contemporary side of piano teaching with the traditional side of music education, as I personally feel that lack of attention to either side leads to incomplete development as a musician. My piano tuition practise in West London is dedicated to introducing students to material and techniques that’ll give them the absolute best possible grounding as musicians.

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Studying ABRSM (Associated Board Of The Royal Schools of Music) material is a crucial background for musicians who want to move around freely in an industry that in our present day frequently blurs the lines between classical and more popular styles. Additionally, the ability to improvise and reproduce a piece of music aurally (for the purposes of learning) must be cultivated in every performer in order to express their deepest musical character.

My lessons look at both sides of the coin, using popular contemporary pieces to achieve the kind of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic dexterity not available from the more traditional repertoire. A significant time is also given over to study of the jazz repertoire and work with chart-reading (‘real book’) and improvising. But for a student to stand a chance of reaching the level of dexterity such as Oscar Peterson or other performers of his level, the serious piano student needs to also include pieces such as Hanon and JS Bach (also Oscar P himself) and other composers who really hone in on finger work, exercising the hand in unique ways that are of invaluable help to those aiming at becoming master pianists.

If this hybrid approach is one that appeals to you, why not arrange a no-obligation informal chat to discuss your aims, experience, likes and dislikes?

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Teaching improvisation – is it a dying art?

I had an enquiry recently from a potential student who wants to learn improvisation, she wanted to ‘prepare an improvised piece’! I chuckled as I explained how these two terms contradict each other, though I added that I could prepare HER for improvising the piece.

It’s now the 21st century, yet too many music teachers are missing out this hugely important part of students’ musical development. Improvisation has somehow been lost in the modern ‘classical’ curriculum. It wasn’t always like this – notable composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Liszt etc were known for their great skill at improvisation at the piano.

So how have some classical teachers stopped developing this art? As a session musician in studios and on stages around the world, I know that one of the most important skills one can have is improvising. Many notable performances on contemporary jazz and pop albums are entirely improvised and it is this skill that often marks out musicians as ‘first call’ players. Of course technical dexterity is important, but practically anyone can acquire this.

Improvised music could be said to be the pure musical spirit of the individual – it is this side of musicality imho that takes the most significant effort and deepest understanding to achieve and it is this that truly makes someone a musician of great worth.

If you would like to talk to me about improvisation and how it is structured into my lessons, please feel free to contact me.

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Top Tips for a Career In Music.

An old school friend recently asked me for my thoughts about her son studying for a career in music in 2013. This is a series of blogs based on what I wrote to her….

How do I stand out in the crowd?

EVERY young person I know wants to be in a band. We know this because now every other TV advert is aimed at budding ‘musicians’. Empires are being built on the hopes of these young people, who have been promised a short cut to stardom. As a result, everyone now wants to be noticed, whether they merit it or not – resulting in a massive amount of content now on sites like You Tube, Facebook etc.

Yet some genuine talent is still out there if we care to look hard enough. The key to being noticed in a world overflowing with content is having something unique and of great quality to offer, so that you’ll get noticed when that rare opportunity arises. How is it possible to achieve this?

I believe this: only by giving ourselves every opportunity to learn all we can about our chosen field/instrument, will we be able to compete with the hoards of others who are all striving for the same thing. Knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon once said. For this reason I’m an advocate of higher education, because it gives us more CHOICES.

Qualifications vs Experience

Now it’s true that many of my successful colleagues in the business don’t have a degree or performance diploma. What I would add is that they are now very limited for choices, because now we’re all older and the business has changed, there’s very little work of the kind they prepared themselves for and a great many players are all vying for it. More every year, as each music college and ‘tech’ in the country empties out a fresh batch of talented, young, enthusiastic and ambitious players.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to fall back on the education I had at music college, renewing my acquaintance with orchestration, composition etc, as well as using the essential skills I’ve picked up running a commercial recording studio for 20 years, all adding up to an extra string to my bow in TV and production music. This has been a life-saver during the down-turn in sessions and has substantially supplemented my income, to the extent that I now wish to explore this avenue further. Educating myself continually throughout my career (learning from friends & colleagues at work, reading trade mags, visiting forums etc, it doesn’t always mean obtaining written qualifications) has given me choices and an edge over my competitors. And it’s fun and keeps me excited about my work!

Whatever your passion and talent (trying to be realistic about whether you passion IS in fact, your talent), immerse yourself in it to become the absolute best you can be, whether that means a degree, masters or just pure hard work and experience (many successful producers started as tea boys in major recording studios – although those positions are very rare now).Taking advice from professionals in the business can often help, but ultimately you are the one who has to make the decision and live with it.

Remember, there is NO short route to the top. Having the ‘X Factor’ is actually all about having the staying power, the focus, the consistency and the willingness to work as hard and as long as it takes to reach our goals.

 

 

 

Jazz Piano Lesson from one of the world’s greatest masters

One of my all-time piano heroes, Oscar Peterson gives us this amazing jazz piano lesson.

…and here’s a heart-warming documentary on the man’s life & work…

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