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Top 10 Tips for Piano Performance Practice

Posted on 16 October, 2016 at 6:00 Comments comments (0)

Top 10 Tips for Piano Performance Practice


Tip 1 - Clearly define your Performance event


Where will you be playing? At what date? To whom? What is the audience expectation?


This will be unique to your piano performance. The venue may have much influence as to the instrument available, the time of day, the atmosphere, the audience. The time of day will influence the type of performance you offer. The age range and expectations of your audience will reflect the music you play. Are you the soloist, one of a number of performers, an accompanist, a contestant, or are you providing background music while people chat? What impression do you intend to make? Will this reflect your music choice or the way you play?


And how long do you have to prepare your program? Are you playing familiar pieces or need you learn new material? Have you enough practice time?


Tip 2 - Wear comfortable stylish clothes to make a statement


The clothes you choose will unavoidably make a statement about you as a performer and may set your audience expectations at a different level to your original intention. Comfort and utility within performance is key. Avoid too much colour - plain darker colours work well with perhaps one bright colour in your tie or sash, or even your shoes. I avoid wearing all jewellery, even a watch. I want to feel completely free to focus on each aspect of bringing across the music. Are you happy with your clothes? Is everything clean, pressed and a good fit on the day? It is a good plan to have several choices so you can wear exactly what feels best on the day of your piano performance.


Good choices for pianists include a roll neck jumper, loose trousers, formal shoes, a loose fitting shirt or blouse with medium length sleeves, or a formal dress provided it does not restrict your movement in any way. You must feel relaxed and presentable!


Tip 3 - Choose Your Piano Repetoire Wisely


A flexible repetoire is ideal, even if you provide a published program for your event. On the day you may feel less confident with one piece than another. I like to judge the audience appreciation and choose pieces as I go to suit the mood of my listeners. Whenever possible I opt for a flexible mix of classical piano, contemporary, own arrangements, jazz, pop and folk music. I want my audience to relax. Few will be as highbrow as an expensive symphony hall audience expecting top quality Beethoven and Chopin!


Many audiences will enjoy popular songs and medleys and may even sing along! Certainly everyone enjoys some toetapping dance numbers, from classical waltzes and polkas to 40's bigband era songs. If you can play with an infectious rhythm and flair for keeping good time, you are assured of a hearty response! Be bold. Never be drab. Never be boring. Mix those yawn inducing pieces with some rousing melodies! Keep your audience on edge in a positive manner!


Tip 4 - Ensure You Have Sufficient Encores!!


Many a child will play their three exam pieces but have nothing left for an encore! So as a piano teacher I first encourage students to develop a small repetoire of good fun serviceable encores. Many lasting around 30 seconds. People want to applaud to show appreciation. Never bore your audience. The encore is an opportunity to shine and to entertain. Get the audience on your side and give them a memory to take home. Suit your encore to the mood of the moment. Don't follow up Beethoven with Yankee Doodle! Please..


I recall a piano concert at Symphony Hall Birmingham with Evgeny Kissin - I have no recollection of his repetoire but he played around twelve amusing encores to thunderous applause. Another occasion Alfred Brendel played Beethoven's Hammerklavier wih much mopping of the brow, and encored Fur Elise! Like a delightful sorbet after a heavy meal. Hardly a dry eye in the auditorium - he played on pathos. But I suspect he had a number of encores ready and chose that piece in the moment of audience atmosphere. Few artists could pull such a sweet stunt! Yet these two piano concerts I recall from many I have enjoyed and forgotten - because of the artists' approach to the encore!!


Tip 5 - Entertain not bore!


Your primary task as piano performer is to entertain. You may choose slapstick music or highbrow classical but you are an entertainer! Avoid a repetoire of lengthy tedious dry difficult music. (Conversely, if at all possible, avoid Yankee Doodle!) Schubert daily wrote sweet dances to play amongst his friends in the cafes of Vienna. He loved to provide entertainment of a light cheery kind.


As pianist you could prepare a variety of short dance tunes or popular songs as one program piece. Shorter pieces povide a welcome change for your listeners. Chopin's 24 Preludes make a grand concert number or you could play a number of Schubert dances or Bach's inventions. Just because music isn't on the grade eight piano syllabus does not mean your audience won't listen! You should entertain, not educate!


Which accolade do you desire? "A long and tiring evening" or "A bright vivacious performance enjoyed by all"?


Tip 6 - Give 100% for every Piano Performance


When you play to half a hall give 100% just like the world's great artists do! You don't know how far the influence of any listener. Try to capture a jubilant mood and rouse your audience to great acclaim whether you play to two or two thousand. You want people to talk of your performance for the rest of their lives! Aim to achieve just that! By playing well! Assume people will talk about you and post you all over online!


Tip 7 - How Long Do You Have To Practice?


Keep a good number of serviceable pieces under your fingers at all times, along with a variety of styles of encore, and you won't need too long to polish your performance! Keep up flexible scale and arpeggio practice to hone in your technique, and never avoid sight reading! Aim to compose two or three light pieces which show off your technical style - you never know when you may get a chance to play these.


Constantly work on practicing pieces to provide a variety of programs - a full classical evening, jazz songs, contemporary piano - mix and blend whenever you can. The worst scenario is having a few weeks to learn a difficult all new program, so choose your events a year or more ahead but also be ready to fill in for someone at short notice if the opportunity arises. Your audience will understand if you change some of the program.


Tip 8 - Will You Annouce Your Piano Repetoire?


A formal classical piano performance will provide concert notes and a list of playing pieces - but most concert pianists say a word or two during their performance. Or you can surprise your audience on the day and announce each piece as you play. When playing for weddings I neither provide a playing list nor introduce my pieces - bacground music does not require a speaker, I simply play nonstop! If playing in a pub I rarely introduce the music but aim to play a continual flow of fun contrasting pieces, often alternating classical items with jazz or songs. Both events acclaim my playing - but if I play as soloist to a particular audience then I would speak a few words before each piece to introduce the mood of the piece and entertain. Perhaps you may feel the occasion warrants someone to speak for you.


Tip 9 - Are You Happy With Your Pay?


You may or may not be paid to play, but you will be playing for some recompense - perhaps for publicity or to raise funds for the church hall! In future would you like to be paid? Find an agent! Prepare a good selection of contrasting pieces and practice like a demon! No one will hinder your piano performance career if you feel you have something to offer a keen audience! What is your main motive for playing? Where would you like to play? To whom? Obviously, if money has been agreed, be sure you receive your pay - this is easier done before the event!


Tip 10 - What Acclaim Do You Anticipate?


Naturally I hope to be remembered for a lifetime, and if I play at a wedding I'm sure a few people will remember my playing for a long time, but as a favourable memory of the event, rather than for its own sake. Great presentation will spark good memories, and capturing the mood of the occasion without any false notes, either in your playing or your approach! Presentation involves your costume, the appearance and facilities of the venue ("remember that time we all huddled shivering in the village hall.."), program notes or speaking - a blend of the anticipation you built within your audience compared to the impression you gave. It's the impression you leave in the mind that lingers, more than your playing, more than the program. You want to be invited again, and elsewhere! You want acclaim.


Careful detailing will ensure good presentation, and good sleep, rest, exercise and diet in the days before your event will ensure you are fit on the day, but have you considered the media angle? Invite your local press correspondent, with the best free seat and refreshments! Invite music magazine writers if appropriate. Ring music agents and ask them to attend.


Do you have a recording you can hand out? Or something to sell as a momento? Be sure to have a classy business card to hand out!


How will your event appear on social media? Encourage people to video your playing! Work something up for your own YouTube channel. Tweet your event and your feelings afterwards! Write your own blog and post videos of your playing. You want acclaim, you desire recognition!


Don't play in the dark! Set your light before all and you will receive many invitations to play! The play's the thing!


Louise Woodcock Pianist performs and teaches Piano, Brass and Woodwinds in Kent and East Sussex @KentPiano

Which Should I Learn How To Play Trombone Or Saxophone?

Posted on 9 August, 2016 at 20:00 Comments comments (0)

Which should I learn how to play - Trombone or Saxophone?


Both trombone and saxophone are heavy instruments suited to adults, teens and older children from age eleven. Younger pupils should start on Clarinet or Trumpet initially.


The saxophone is heavy and can only be played wearing a neck strap or full body harness strap to support the weight of the sax as you play.


The trombone requires a long arm to reach the lower sixth and seventh positions and few people realise how fatiguing this instrument is to hold up with the left shoulder. Even ten minutes of playing will leave you aching!


Consider the style of music you enjoy listening to - do you like jazz? Watch videos of players on either instrument - with whom do you most identify?


I teach a person who played sax for years and has changed over to learning trumpet so think about the long term enthusiasm you have.


I want to learn how to play trombone!


Watch trombone players on video - do you identify with this sound?


A first trombone and book and music stand will cost you around £250. You could try the new plastic pbone in various bright colours!


The trombone is a brass instrument - you produce the sound through the brass mouthpiece by buzzing your lips and you use the slide to correct the pitch.


You need to allow daily practice time to develop the lip muscles we call the embouchure. The trombone uses a medium size brass mouthpiece you buzz into, so later you can also play euphonium, a valved tenor tuba.


Scales and arpeggios are essential to correctly find the 7 slide positions. You will cover a tenor voice sound down to a low bass.


The trombone plays harmony notes mid range supporting the higher pitched clarinets and trumpets and can play some nifty solos of its own too!


Trombones play in jazz band, dixie, swing big band, classical orchestra, chamber groups, trombone choir, brass quartet & quintet, circus bands, town bands, wind orchestras and concert bands, military bands, marching bands - pretty much every type of music except the string quartet!


Everybody loves a trombonist so you will be in demand the world over!


If you are an extrovert and wish t be a music personality then learn how to play trombone!


Louise Woodcock teaches trombone in Kent & East Sussex - ring today 07989 370 624


I want to learn how to play saxophone!


Watch videos of saxophonists - do you want to play soprano sax (like a clarinet, high pitch for tunes, John Coltrane), alto sax (mid range pitch, the most popular choice, Charlie Parker), tenor sax (heavier and lower pitch, most popular with guys, Lester Young) or Baritone sax (huge, lower notes)? The smaller saxes are easier to carry about!


Go to a sax shop to try out different sizes and makes - ask for free advise. There are many price ranges from £400 to thousands! A cheap one is fine to begin to learn how to play saxophone quickly! Buy a starter book and music stand too, and a neck strap.


The saxophone is a reed woodwind instrument. It is very popular, especially for jazz and military band music. You will easily find a group, a band or orchestra to play in. You can buy backing tracks to play along at home.


Go to concerts to watch trombonists and saxophonists whenever you can. Be inspired and dig the music!


Work towards exams, meet other players, book workshop days, and above all enjoy learning how to play trombone or saxophone!


Louise Woodcock teaches saxophone and trombone in Kent & East Sussex - ring today without delay!


Louise Woodcock Trombone Saxophone Tutor 07989 370 624


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When is My Child Ready for Music Grade Exams?

Posted on 20 March, 2016 at 14:15 Comments comments (0)

"My child has been learning music privately for some time now but our teacher has not mentioned music exams. Does this mean my child is not yet ready? When does a child normally take their first grade?"


Not all private tutors enter their pupils for music grade exams so first ask if this is the case?


In general pupils progress one grade level a year but not necessarily ready for grade 1 until one to four years depending on the age & ability of the pupil - once the first grade is taken, one yearly is likely progress, although it is possible to take three exams in one year! Don't rush the first one - let your child find their stride! If you wish to avoid a buildup of music theory enquire about Practical Musicianship or take Jazz grade 5. This allows you to the exclusive higher grade 6 - 8 which carry UCAS points!!


Your tutor may be nervous to offer the first exam in case of failure. Failure of a first exam could discourage the child from making future attempts. However, we all have to begin somewhere! ABRSM offer some instrments a Prep Test which is a very useful fun first attempt at grade exams. No pass or fail: your child will present prepared mterial for an expert assessment at a centre near you. Find out more:-  http://gb.abrsm.org/en/home


ABRSM also offer grades 1 - 5 as Jazz syllabus - you buy the sheet music along with a CD containing backing tracks & a full version for practice. My younger pupils love these & do well from grade 1.


Grade 5 is GCSE Music level so consider the first four grades as steps towards this. The higher grades lead on to professional qualifications such as diplomas. Any musician attaining grade 5 will have a fine array of musical skills to enjoy music making as a life long hobby so it is really worth the pursuit! Have you thought of joining a local band? They will be glad to hear from you!


Must we take every grade from 1 to 8?


It is not necessary to take every grade - sometimes waiting will halt a pupil's momentum - you can take grade exams in the spring, summer & autumn only. There will be a centre near you, usually no more than 20 miles. The exam certificates are very highly prized & preparation for an ABRSM exam will give your child confidence in taking academic exams. Kids love to pass well!


So if you have had lessons for a year or so then begin to think about grade exams, perhaps an early Prep Test to start. You can always retake a failed exam or go onto the next level. Plan ahead carefully with your music tutor to give your child adequate practice. Have a positive approach to long term success.


"Have a positive approach to long term success!"


The exam consists of 3 pieces from a list worth up to 30 marks each - Aural which is music ear tests worth 18 marks - Sight reading worth 21 marks shows how well your child thinks at this level - Scales & arpeggios worth 21 marks. Ask your teacher to help you prepare in depth for these as they are worth 60 marks & the pieces worth 90 marks - total 150 marks. You must get 100 to pass. Don't throw any marks away! Prepare lovingly & thoroughly as each level assumes you learnt the previous material well & gets harder!


Many parents do not understand the intensive study required at each level to achieve a good pass. Listen to what your teacher feels about the amount of time you need to prepare & set aside daily practice time. Input achieves output! Don't rush. It takes years to learn any musical instrument really well. A labour of love... and FUN!


It takes around three weeks after your exam to receive the result. Get yourself a beautiful A4 frame ready to proudly display your certificate!


I hope this has been helpful. If you live in Kent or East Sussex I am happy to travel to assess your child's ability & current study level. Contact Louise Woodcock on 07989 370 624




Should My Child Learn Trumpet or Clarinet? Kent Music Lessons

Posted on 20 March, 2016 at 13:50 Comments comments (0)

You'd like to start music lessons but you don't have a piano or keyboard?


Trumpet or Clarinet Lessons?


Both these popular instruments can be learnt fom an early age, 5 years or even younger if you choose a special clarinet in C, designed for young children. Or even a plastic trumpet! Most children younger than 11 years will not have the arm reach for trombone so begin on trumpet. The sax is also best learnt from 11 years as it isa heavy instrument. So try the clarinet to begin!


Clarinet & Sax belong to the woodwinds - these create sound via a reed on the mouthpiece.


Trumpet & Trombone are brass instruments - you buzz through a circular metal mouthpiece & create the sound through your lips. Tighter lips produce higher notes.


Either trumpet or clarinet is suitable from 5 - 15 years. Both are straightforward although it will take a few months to easily centre the notes on either, as you have to develop your facial muscles. Both have uses in many styles of music, jazz, classical, band, pop. Watch some videos to see which your child prefers. A mute may be purchased for trumpet if noise is a consideration.


Just give it a go!


Your child need not be specially gifted - steady application of basic practice principles will develop a good player over ime.


You will benefit greatly from joining in a local band or orchestra if you can find one close enough. Here the player learns to keep time, play by sight, follow the conductor & harmonize with others - you can't do this at home alone!


Choose your trumpet or clarinet with confidence, treat it with respect, practice daily & join a band - you have a hobby which will last all life long & make you many friends!


I recommend Normans for their excellent choice & service:-  http://www.normans.co.uk/  they send by post with guarantee.


I hope this is useful & if you live in Kent or East Sussex please contact me on 07989 370 624



A New Hobby 2016 Piano Lessons in Kent

Posted on 16 December, 2015 at 10:40 Comments comments (0)

2016 - a new start - a new hobby!


Increase your positivity this New Year by starting a new hobby! I recommend taking Piano Lessons in Kent.


Studying music has many rewards and positive benefits to your physical and mental health, and will also improve your intelligence and increase the awareness of your senses plus inspiring your creativity and learning new skills like improvisation, memorization and composition!


No one is too old to begin - you just need a keyboard or piano and a few minutes four or five times weekly to practice your pieces and songs.


What music really inspires you? Make a resolution to learn the songs you love!


If you live in Kent or East Sussex now is the time to begin!


Piano Lessons in Kent and East Sussex


It only takes between te to thirty minutes four or five times a wek to become proficient at playing piano, even from scratch! It is a myth that you need a gift or talent, since playing the piano is similar to learning to type; whoever heard it said that a secretary is "gifted" at typing? It is a motor skill anyone can learn with repetitive practice. In fact, the co-ordination you need at the piano is very similar to driving your car! So get started now!


Determinine to learn three of your favourite songs within three months! Expect your piano teacher to encourage you. There is no mystery about music - you can accompany any song with two or three simple left hand chords - in the key of C (no flats or sharps) I would use C+E and F+A and G+B to harmonize the melody. Keep your music very simple so you can easily play in time. It is much better to play well with simple ideas than to stumble over difficult voicings.


Learn a few simple scales one and two octaves (C, F, G, D) but don't get hung up about them! Don't waste time - get on and learn the notes and play what pleases you. This way, you will find the time to practice easily and practice makes perfect.


There are different levels to piano playing but essentially the crucial target is to play a song you love with a simple effective accompaniment in the left hand. Gradually increase the number of songs you play well - one a month is twelve a year!


Start piano lessons in Kent or East Sussex today - keep it simple, make it fun!


Make 2016 the year your musical dreams come true! Book your first piano lesson today!


Louise 07989 370 624 


Exploding Popular Piano Myths! Are You Too Old To Learn?

Posted on 19 October, 2015 at 19:40 Comments comments (0)

Are you too old to learn piano?


Here are some popular piano myths and the truth! :):D


Children learn much more effectively than adults..


Absolute nonsense! Most of my adult pupils learn in four lessons the music my child pupils take over one year to learn! Truth. Why is this? Adults focus on the subject on hand - not their dog, their phone, their toys, their aches and pains, the latest joke. Adults invariably listen to me without losing attention, and do as I say, immediately. Adults learn from their errors immediately. Adults want to learn! Children want to chatter.

Adults see the whole picture where a child only sees the nuts and bolts. Adults comprehend patterns and trends rapidly.


So you are never too old to learn piano: my oldest pupil plays at 92 years!


A digital piano is not as good as an acoustic upright piano


Myth! Most pupils would be far better to practice regularly on a new modern digital piano (from £600 new) than an old worn upright piano. So many parents say: "It belonged to my grandmother.." I think: "Yes, I can see that; do you keep her mangle too?" Worn pianos have faulty keys, poor tonality and are generally out of tune. How would your child feel being offered a newdigital piano with perfect touch and tone? Do you think they will be eager to learn? Invest in their future! (And my ears).


Classical music is proper piano music: you should learn the masters before playing jazz or pop


Wrong again! Classical music takes many years to really master and if your taste is for lighter modern music then you should focus on the music you love. How many hours in a year do you really intend to devote to piano practice? I recommend you begin with boogie and pop songs if you hate classics! Learn jazz chords and improvisation. Learn rhythms and keep in time. Time is the precious stuff your weeks are made of: don't waste ANY of it on music you dislike. But do learn all your scales because they are the best substitute for hours of dull music theory! See, I am practical, and I keep it FUN!


Scales are boring


I'm the piano teacher so of course I will disagree! My pupils suppose scales are boring until I play funky rhythms up and down the keyboard! Contact me for advice on how to make scales fun :lol:


You can't learn piano on a keyboard


Many teachers only teach right hand tunes and left hand block chords on keyboard but I start all children and adults the same way.

Five finger positions in each hand, learn C scale one and two octaves hands together in contrarimotion to get a feel for finger equality. Even Franz Liszt took a silent dummy keyboard to practice on long journeys! I help my pupils upgrade to a full piano when they are ready.


You must learn to perform from memory


Not so. I have seen top concert pianists play from sheet music. I generally play from sheet music - I play over a hundred pieces each week, why would I want to memorize all those? Playing from the music helps you focus on the page and stop watching your fingers! You will omit memory lapses and play confidently. Some children naturally memorize, but few adults do.

There is no benefit at all to playing from memory.


Boogie Woogie is not proper piano music


Well, how dyed in the wool are you? I love taking countless hours to perfecting and exploring boogie bass lines. It is very good material to keep your focus from rusting up and you learn to hear chord patterns well and improvize creatively. Boogie on!


Every piece should be learned hands separately first


Try a line slowly hands together to start with. Separate hands practice is more relevant for an expert player who wants to appreciate the quality of each line than an absolute must for a beginner. If you never learn to try music hands together then your ability to read at sight will suffer. Establish a strict pulse, slow at first, gradually increasing in speed. Never fall into the dire habit of playing differet bars at different speeds depending on the difficulty! Slow to begin, gradually increase the pace!


You should never play wrong notes!


Well how perfect are you? What is a wrong note? There's no note so wrong you can't twiddle out of it! Learn to improvise and make up sounds at the piano. Lose your fear. Forget Victorian learning which says you must learn by rote, you must play what's on the page. Over the centuries pianists have "interpreted" the music, rarely have they followed the page exactly. Franz Liszt, arguably the finest technician ever, once ended a piece in D major on a high C sharp by accident! Franz Liszt! He simply rolled back down the piano on an A major arpeggio and thundered back up on D major arpeggio. To perform brilliantly is to entertain. Accept you are HUMAN (so am I) - expect to make mistakes and get out of them intelligently! The worst thing is to stop and look silly - the best thing is to make a variation for 1-2 bars and graft back into the flow of the music - few will notice, those who do will admire your skill and humanity.


To err is human, to improvise: divine!


Bach should be played on the harpsichord


Harpsichords cost upwards of £30,000 now! I have never met anyone who owns a harpsichord at home, although I am saving for one www.morleypianos.com/harpsichords-&-clavichords/harpsichords myself (plus a house to keep it in)!

So why deny yourself access to the best study material of all time? Bach is the supreme master - play Bach every day!


You should not simplify difficult piano music


Why not? Most of the concert pianists from 1800 to 1950 did! They omitted notes, bars, repeats, chords, and slowed up in difficult passages; in fact, they invented a fashionable rubato style of sentimentalising the music to coincide with their technical ability! The public loved them for it. Only recently has it become unacceptable for concert performance but you are not aiming to play on stage so simplify all you like at home! All that matters is that you play, play, play (and enjoy)!


You should not skip grade exams


If grade exams are relevant for you (few of my adult pupils take them) then you need to prepare for the one you are ready for.

If that means missing a level then miss it! Don't hold yourself back. You don't need all eight certificates from grade 1 to 8.

If they are useful to your progess, take one. If not, leave it. Playing passionately with expression and enjoyment is key.


Fortnightly lessons give you more time to practice at home


Sorry, this one is nonsense! I have taught all ages and levels for over twenty years, weekly and fortnightly and everyone does as little practice between lessons whether weekly or fortnightly. You soon find other things to distract you, and you'll struggle to remember the lesson. If you want to learn effectively and fast the only answer is weekly lessons WHETHER YOU HAVE DONE ANY PRACTICE OR NOT! It's the regular contact with your teacher that provides momentum to progress.


I have a disability so I can't learn piano


Some concert pianists through the ages have only had a LEFT HAND! I'd call that a disability but it didn't stop them!

I have taught arthritic fingers, dyslexia, physical ailments..if you love music it's all mind over matter so start today!


My hands are too small!


Really? Well, mine are tiny so maybe you should think again! It's all mind over matter. If you want to play, you will!


I don't have the time to practice regularly


No, and you would suppose my pupils don't either!

However, you can do a lot with just ten mintues three times a week.

You must be terribly busy if you can't find half an hour in 168 hours a week - try sleeping less.

It's how you practice, not how long.


No one in my family ever played music, I don't think I could learn


Then you'll be pleasantly surprised! Stop putting it off and book your first lesson today, trendsetter 8)


You need a gift for music


My pupils don't have a gift between them but we get great results! You can learn to play piano just the same as you can learn to drive or make toast. Step by step. Give it a go!


You need an ear for music


Well, you've got two ears, haven't you? And one's enough. Get weaving. People who play by ear actually use their hands, same as everyone else :D Truth.


Louise Woodcock teaches inspirational piano, trumpet, sax and clarinet from Hastings to Canterbury.

Give her a ring and arrange your first lesson today - if you want to, you can!




Start the New School Term with Piano Lessons in Your Own Home

Posted on 1 September, 2015 at 18:15

A new school term begins!

Are you ready to start Piano Lessons?


Kent Piano Teacher Louise Woodcock teaches piano at all levels, styles and age groups. And lessons take place in your own home! This can save considerable hassle transporting children about and filling in the lesson time while you wait to take the pupil home.


Perhaps your child is entering school for the first time? It's time to consider learning piano!


Kent Piano Teacher Louise Woodcock tailor-makes each pupil's music selection to include the music you love, trimming back on the traditional dull stuff!


"I believe each piano pupil begins with a personal momentum consisting of their enthusiasm, and this initial fire must be fueled from the teacher through the enjoyment of easy step approach using music the pupil has a preference for. Momentum builds allowing the pupil to discover their own inner talent and creativity. Playing piano is not a chore but an enjoyable and rewarding hobby."


It is vital to refuel your initial momentum through continued practice and study of easy pieces you love to play. The most important element of good piano playing is creating a sense of flow so the music unfolds from your fingertips and never loses control or rhythmic direction. A waltz must never become a march! Keep the pulse of the piece going! To encourage this style of controlled playing I introduce simple pieces with real appeal. A happy pianist continues to build the momentum of their playing over many years.


Music encourages students to concentrate better on all their studies. Exams taken regularly prepare the child for internal school exam preparation. As a child progresses through ABRSM music exams they gain a real feeling of progress and interaction: everything can be achieved step by step over a realistic amount of time!


Contact Kent Piano Teacher Louise Woodcock today to discuss your child's needs - the beginning of a new school term is the ideal moment to start piano lessons in your own home! No travelling through the rain this winter! Let your tutor visit you! Your child will perform best on the keyboard they regularly play.


How much practice time is required weekly?


For younger pupils I recommend fifteen minute practice sessions whenever possible - twice a day, all week if you can manage this, but no less than four sessions of 15 minutes through the week. Very young pupils will benefit from a parent suprvising their practice time, and ten minutes daily may be the best amount (age 4-6).


"Practice makes perfect" is heard endlessly - piano motor skills are best learned through regular repeated playing, daily if possible, altenate days if not. As with any learning, your reward will equate to the effort invested! It is delightful to the teacher when a pupil really knows the work set the week before! Learn step by step - master last lesson's steps before going further.


Adults may find two daily sessions of 15-20 minutes works best for them. Of course you can play for hours (I hope you do!) but I suggest a strecth or walk away from the piano every 20 minutes or so, firstly to eliminate physical strain, secondly to refresh your focus. Don't sit for a long time at one piece - a few minutes on a piece, then a scale or two, then another piece - your focus must be constantly stimulated.


The trick is - ENJOY! Have fun :) 


Louise Woodcock teaches piano in Kent villages from Cranbrook to Ashford to Rye - ask to see if I can visit you!

Playing Simplified Piano Pieces & Classical Themes

Posted on 29 June, 2015 at 10:00 Comments comments (0)

Once you have mastered enough piano technique to enjoy a wide variety of styles you will want to discover enough music to keep you challenged. When I was learning in the intermediate stage there was very little simple enjoyable music available! I persevered at exam grade pieces from earlier syllabus years, I played hymns, I picked out folk songs by ear and composed simplistic boogie pieces, and I jumped into the deep end of playing shorter sonata movements. Gradually album series including the famous Album Fur Die Jugend by Tchaikovsky and Schumann, along with selections by Burgmuller came to my notice, but much of my practice time was devoted to endless scales & arpeggios and struggling with Chopin pieces, sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, a few bagatelles, and any piece I could find by Bach (any Bach)!


So as books began to be published containing not only modern short simple works (around grade 2-6 level) but also classical orchestral themes arranged simply (for better or for worse) for piano solo, I tended to disregard this music for its urbanity. I was a musical snob! Over time the classical grade exam syllabus was enlivened with modern jazzy pieces and finally, in 1998, the ABRSM developed their superb Jazz Piano subject for grades 1-5. I bought all the books, listened to the CDs, and pieced the whole new syllabus together. It went down a storm with my younger pupils, especially teens.


Looking back on my early years as a beginner pianist I now realise that my whole focus during practice had been upon note learning and struggling to develop my hand positioning to cope with big chords - almost no time was devoted to playing rhythmically: the timing of the piece had to follow my ability to shape my hands around awkward notes and chords. I began to enjoy playing any piece with sweeping left hand arpeggios which allowed my right hand the freedom to work independently: I kept good time by memorizing the left hand and willing my right hand to keep in time!


When I read the musings of Chopin, Mozart, CPE Bach and other composers who also taught piano pupils, I find they advocate fully the concept of keeping strict time with the left hand (which provides, in classical music, the harmonic and rhythmic structure heard nowadays in the drums and bass guitar of a small band) whilst obtaining a freely flowng rubato with the right hand - artistic licence is freely encouraged, the only limitation being to play in "good taste". This concept of "taste" figures predominantly in these composers' opinion and clearly changes according to the fashion of the musical era. With the advent of the "Jazz Age" popular music became ever freer in its style whilst classical music seemed to pull back in protest: the easy improvisation of cadenzas and ornaments employed by classical pianists lost favour and was monopolized by the new jazz musicians. Why and how this happened is unclear; I believe it will be a great advance to adopt a freer approach to playing classical pieces, always provided that everything is played with "good taste", of course!


But to return to the concept of easier piano pieces. I longed to play in a flowing manner, as a beginner, but my technical struggles often sent my timekeeping wayward! I needed easier pieces to play! Now it is easy to walk into a sheet music shop and purchase a huge variety of books for intermediate players, classical, jazz, and contemporary piano music.


There is a difference between simple pieces and simplified pieces. A simple piece has been written specifically as a short easy piano solo. A simplified piece is an arrangement of a more difficult piano solo, or a classical or modern tune never intended for piano. The world of simplified arrangements opens a wide range of accessible material to developing pianists and makes practice time enjoyable and rewarding! I encourage you to consider playing all kinds of piano solos: perhaps you might group the pieces you play so you are aware of the different contexts the music covers. Pop songs have been favourite playing since publishers created the one piece sheet, certainly since the early 1900's, but whether you learn the accompaniment or attempt to embody the vocal melody into your playing denotes the difference between a piano accompaniment and an arrangement.


Some of my pupils long to explore classical pieces, Debussey being favourite, but struggle with the key signatures and big chord groups - try a simplified arrangement! The best give you the depth of the piece whilst being easier to read by exchanging five flats for none (D flat major written down to C major) and introducing much lighter chords, perhaps omitting doubled octave notes to make the piece possible for small hands. There are plenty of poor arrangements but keep hunting! Later on you will have the confidence to attempt the original piece, but how super to be able to express your love for music through approachable arrangements at any level! Within a few months my beginners are playing recognisable "Summertime"  and "Greensleeves" in my own arrangements!! You will grow into the required technique through your love of music!


I feel that pianism can best be learned and enjoyed through playing pieces that really appeal to you, in an arrangement that does not stretch your technical skill too far. After a carol, the first pieces I learnt were two previous grade one pieces ("miniatures") and then three pieces for my grade 3 exam which I took after just 8 months of beginning! My tutor had no knowledge of teaching at the earliest level and no music to suggest, so she felt it best that I overlook the early stage and quickly move on to sonata movements for my grade 5 piano exam, which I took a year later! My only light relief was Schumann's Album for The Young, which I found in my local library, and a book of songs from Les Miserables!


Fortunately, I was determined! But for years I was left with an attitude which said "if it's not written for the instrument you can't play it" although on finding a complete lack of suitable trombone music to play I mastered all the Les Miserables songs as trombone solos!


And this led to much arrangingand adapting music as solos for my own use and enjoyment, and later, my pupils'.


To increase the amount of early music for my first piano pupils I wrote very simple piano accompaniments and played a melody instrument along with my piano pupil playing the accompaniment! And this quickly taught me how vital it is to learn to play in time (even allowing for some right hand rubato!) and to establish a strong sense of pulse when playing. A waltz quickly expands to four beats in the bar without this keen elementary sense of basic pulse! It is a common error to allow an extra crotchet for the barline in three four time! Three time is an even flow, a lilting feel of continuity that four never gives us.


My early lessons had completely overlooked constant aural training so I was keen for my own pupils to become expert in this area: most lessons include some simple aural tests or listening games. However, perhaps the trickiest task for any teacher is to enable the pupil to develop good sightreading skills and this is a subject I will be paying special attention to in the forthcoming months, beginning with note pattern and key signature recognition and including well known tunes to facilitate the ability to rely on the ear and hand positioning to think ahead.


I am always really keen on pieces with a very clear development of rhythmic pattern such as JSBach's Prelude 1 (from the Forty Eight) because this teaches a thorough hand positioning, confidence in playing through realizing that the pattern played at the start of the bar is repeated and does not need to be read, allowing the player to look ahead effectively, at any tempo the piece unfolds pleasingly, but only if kept even with no hesitations, and therefore this piece encourages musicianship and beautiful playing in the most delightful way! Build the piece bar by bar, regularly going back to bar 1, stopping as your familiarity breaks down: it is no use ploughing through bar after bar searching for notes - a keen even sense of flow is vital here.


Scales should be played every lesson, and daily, to confirm the importance of developing a fluent hand shape and flow of even notes: one octave in each hand then together, and sooner rather than later, two octaves. Play the scale with a good crescendo, and on descending, diminuendo, to really build a sense of control at the keyboard. Consistent sensible fingering is absolutely essential! Try one hand legato with the other staccato. Arpeggios must be played with no jerky movement - allow the fingers to spread in readiness at every tuck, with the momentum of the flow of notes to continue through the hand over the entire length of octaves. I encourage pupils to perfect two octaves before attempting to maintain the vitality of momentum over further octaves. Speed is subordinate to even touch. Play scales as if they are a work of art, not to be rushed through as a pointless chore! If you find piano scales awkward, try learning scales on any other instrument! At least the keyboard is clearly arranged, each octave the same pattern! I love scales! Most of my technique and a good deal of my fortitude has been developed through endless practice!


But I realise most pupils will not share my passion for scale playing so the key is to include a few as a warmup in your practice and then to vary the material you play as widely as possible. Try something new, a little out of your depth but not far. Buy some easy books below your level for daily sightreading practice.


After the completion of a grade exam I encourage my pupil to expand their repetoire sideways, finding a range of different styles within the technical demands of the grade just taken, only slowly approaching more difficult material. No rushing on to the next grade - learning to play is not a race: just as my teachers neglected my early development I prefer to round out each pupil's musicianship.


So yes, play simplified arrangements but don't neglect your classics! Some scales, some pop, some classics, some jazz, some boogie, some daily sightreading and playing tunes by ear. Enjoy your music at every level. Ask your teacher to recommend you a good selection of classical miniatures: waltzes, marches, dances, bagatelles. Play to gain fluency, then add depth of expression. Listen to as much piano music as possible, everywhere!

Louise Woodcock is a Kent based pianist and home piano tutor. Ring for an assessment: 07989 370 624

Saxophone Lessons in Your Home - Kent & East Sussex

Posted on 28 June, 2015 at 9:25 Comments comments (0)

Have you ever wanted to play Saxophone?

If you live in Kent or East Sussex you can enjoy weekly lessons in your own home with Kent based professional saxophonist Louise Woodcock.

* Learn at your own pace

* Fun!

* Play the music styles you really enjoy - no boring studies!

* Take ABRSM grades Jazz 1-5 or Classical 1-8 if you wish

* Play in a band!

* Improve your memory and dexterity; build your self confidence

* Learn to improvise & read chord charts - compose your own songs!

* Choose the best SAX for you

All this and more - book your first lesson today & see how you get on.

No sax yet? I can recommend one for you.

Have you tried FIBRACELL artificial reeds? I use these! No more splits!

* Learn to master playing along with backing tracks

* Simplify fiendishly difficult passages!

Call Louise now on 07989 370 624

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What makes Charlie Parker's playing so vibrant & effortless?

Primarily his sense of urgency (extremely fast tempo) but also his unique approach to finding harmonies beyond the imagination of other players! Charlie Parker improvises neatly over scale patterns rather than just attempting to keep pace with chord changes, and this gives his music a complete sense of freeflow, of the melodic line soaring out over the bass, not just the creation of a harmonic line. Parker's melodies have a beautiful life of their own - you sense the backing is there to create a fullness, rather than hearing a lead instrument struggling to keep pace.

There seems to be a destined vitality to Parker's creations - music history would be flat without him.

You can listen breathless for a moment to catch his dynamic sense of passion and vivacity! Passion which led him to practice repetitively until every note felt pure and effortless like a swallow soaring low over a bubbling stream.


Effortless playing is attained through years of repetitive practice, an obsession with detail and perfection, a personal demand for dexterity and faultless flow. An intense approach to building complete and confident all round musicianship is required. Study your instrument's ability and limitations: work over every scale, major, minor, mode, blues, pentatonic, dominant, chords, diminished harmonies. Listen to players of all eras. Play by ear, play from your heart. Without passion for detail you cannot progress - only a complete love for great melodic innovation can begin to produce genius in your playing!

You can progress as far as you wish - greater passion = greater reward.

I challenge you to succeed - keep on & on - there is no end to playing perfection

Who do you influence? Push further! Play more. Listen more. Feel much. Believe!

Louise Woodcock is a Kent based Saxophonist & Tutor.




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