The Joys of EPTA!

Post Date: 26 June 2016
Post Type: Piano Things


EPTA UK Corporate Members Tour Saturday 25 June at Clement Pianos in Nottingham

EPTA always brings people together. One of the greatest joys of being associated with this wonderful association and charity is participating and observing on the professional development days and conferences that are regularly scheduled as part of EPTA UK’s remit to support and inspire all piano teachers and players. Yesterday at Clement Pianos in Nottingham was typical of EPTA at its best- we were able to gather and discuss issues that are of vital importance to pianists of all levels, motivations and ages.

First off was the indefatigable Andrew Higgins of Alfred Publishing. Andrew travels far and wide and is a fantastic communicator. His presentation showed ways in which improvisation and creativity can and should be a positive part of all piano practising and teaching- from the earliest levels onwards. He took standard elementary pieces and set works from the ABRSM syllabus (up to about grade 5) as examples of ways in which extended registers, changes of mode, additions of accompaniment patterns and simple variations can be incorporated into practising so that a vibrant sense of discovery as well as an awareness of how the music itself was put together can immediately be felt. Andrew’s practical, hands on approach to the nuts and bolts of harmony and theory means that the grammar of music is a practical playing rather than a theoretical written activity from the first lesson onwards. I feel strongly that Andrew could and should be an inspirational force for so many students who feel discouraged in lessons because of difficulties and indeed priorities in their approach h centred around reading notes and following exactly what is written on the printed page. Practising cannot be reduced to mere ‘code breaking’- Andrew’s freshness and enthusiastic creativity could refresh and energise many a disillusioned student who is struggling in the early and middle grades

Each presentation lasted an hour, though the feeling was that much more could be said! This was certainly the case with the fascinating and innovative service provided by E-Music Maestro. This is a website that has been established for a number of years and managed by the pianists, teachers and ABRSM examiners Sandy Holland and Peter Noke- two extremely distinguished and experienced musicians. I have written about E-Music Maestro before and praised their facilities, which include an enormous library of tutorials, performances and services online. The site extends its range by linking up with many internet sites, notably YouTube. Though I admired E-Music Maestro enormously when it first appeared, its subscription for membership has proved in recent years to be less attractive than it used to be. For this reason Sandy and Peter have relaunched and reformatted, making E-Music Maestro ‘free’ in terms of an enormous amount of information that it provides for teachers and pupils alike. What is now offered (for literally just a few pounds at a time) are specific services and aids for aural and sight reading tests. These are presented on a grade by grade basis. I was amazed and deeply impressed to learn that Sandy has personally composed dozens upon dozens of sight reading tests for the early grades. These are presented with a 30 second ‘timer’ so that the student knows when to start after beginning to read each test. Moreover they are presented with dyslexic friendly colouring on the computer screen, and with model performances (using state- of- the- art acoustic pianos) which are played immediately after the student has played each exercise. The Aural tests are also extremely effective and user-friendly. E-Music Maestro has lots of plans, including the launch of hypnotherapy on line tutorials to help pianists who suffer from stage-fright, and a new service planned for performance assessment whereby anyone can send in a YouTube style film of their playing and receive a professional written report (one side of A4 size) in return for a fee. It all augers well and is extremely valuable as well as innovative

After a browse of the Alfred Publication stalls and lots of informal conversations, I enjoyed talking about ‘Healthy Piano Technique’ for an hour or so. The older I get, the more I realise that sound technique comes from the thoughts and feelings one has internally. There is so much invaluable discussion and awareness of physical warm-ups, but I do feel that we must begin with our inner selves before going any further each day. Taking time to be mindful, breathing deeply, enjoying the present then visualising all that we hope to do at the piano is important. The basics of physical control can then be reviewed and enjoyed each day, as we strive for freedom, co-ordination, control and a sense of comfort in everything we do. I mentioned that come September I will have been teaching for a quarter of a century, and in all of that time I have made use of basic warm-up exercises that I devised and assimilated in the first few weeks of my teaching in 1991. These ideas are an assimilation of my own thoughts with those of Ryszard Bakst, Peter Katin, Ronald Stevenson and Norma Fisher. They are presented in an appendix in my first book ‘Foundations of Technique’ (Faber). The talk developed with a study of rotation and weight as well as thoughts on injury and the development of technique and touch in a variety of contexts.

Finally we welcome Elza and Chris Lusher from ‘Dogs and Birds’, the well-known and well-loved beginners’ course for piano playing. It is extremely successful and has proved to be of enormous benefits to the youngest of beginners, being of use especially for children from as young as 2 and ¾’s up to the age of about 7. What is new and exciting is that ‘Dogs and Birds’ is now gradually creating an enormous series of films which support each stage of the first volume of the course. The films may bring to mind the ‘Muppets’ and many a well-loved children’s TV (‘CBBS) programme, but they are all the stronger for that! In an age where online credibility and visual stimulation is all too important, it is heartening and encouraging to see a piano course embracing a populist format for extending their message. It means that piano lessons can come into the family home and support and encourage the messages given by piano teachers in weekly lessons- on a daily basis.