Daniel Johnson

Professor Tech 2 – Scales or Pieces? Part 1

Many years ago, I was told a story by a student of the great pianist Claudio Arrau. It was remarked that Arrau didn’t necessarily dislike technique, but that he wasn’t especially charmed by wasting many hours on tradiational forms of technique acquisition – namely, scales and arpeggios.

me: “Impossible! how on earth did he exercise the technique he had? how did he teach it?”

The myth goes that Arrau simply believed that students acquired technique by studying more and more pieces. As such, this notion has preoccupied my thoughts as I work through the 51 Exercises of Brahms. (Thankfully, Idil Biret has recorded this exercises on her complete Brahms collection for Naxos!). My brain is 50/50 when it comes to Arrau’s ideology on technique. While I can agree that a lot of what we learn in standard technique – or, what I like to call ‘examination technique’ –  is useless (such as all scales in double 6ths! Wtf?), I disagree with technique being derived from pieces alone. As an example, I remember this passage from the Mozart Rondo in DK485:

…and what I treasure about this passage was that it felt so ‘good’ when playing it. Why? Because I knew my D major scale! In fact, we can look at any passage work in any piece and see the benefits of knowing the scales and arpeggios before we attempt what is in the score. I shudder to think how any pianist would get through a devlish work like the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Hummel without having all the scales and arpeggios in their arsenal. See this jaw dropping work here:

The Arrau legend is one I can’t stomach. It doesn’t sit right that a man who played all Mozart, all Beethoven, all Schumann, all Debussy, a huge amount of Liszt and Bach, would have neglected serious technical work. Maybe I am wrong, but it seems incredibly pretentious even for a man who was believed to be one of the loveliest and kindest souls. I shall investigate further!

Part 2 tomorrow 🙂

Perspectives – The ‘classical musician image’ – and the falsities associated with it.

“Daniel, you need to read and read and read. You need to consume books on music, composers, interpretation, teachers, treatises, journal articles”

This was what was said to me upon graduating from my first undergraduate music degree. It is a statement that I followed with an almost religious obsession, consuming tonnes of books and pedogogical knowledge. You know what, though?

It’s a load of garbage. I probably use less than 50% of that knowledge base. As someone who constantly reads and researches, I only do so regarding what I love and what is pertinent to making me a better educated pianist and pedagogue. I developed the crucial skill of reading what is necessary and disregarding what isn’t.

I always hesitate to write on perspectives such as the above. The reason is because everyone leads their own musical life differently; it’s so inherently personal that it seems trite to say ‘this is how you become a great musician’.

The above statement has stayed fresh in my head over a decade later. I’ve thought about it and how to come up with some sort of retort. I was annoyed that it had stayed with me for so long, niggling at me to no end! This niggling took a huge turning point when I had a clean out of my cupboards.


Last year, I made a huge personal decision: ‘I am not the sum total of my university qualifications’. I opened my old cupboard which housed hundreds of undergraduate assignments, postgraduate course work, and a few theses…

and I threw them all out.

I had a few friends who objected to this. Ultimately, it was a really good decision and one that illuminated a possible response to that teacher from many years ago. This response has to do with the composers Arnold Schoenberg and Guillame du Fay. (Please note, this is just a personal perspective of my own journey, however universal it may seem!)

I can tell you nothing about Schoenberg or Du Fay other than:

1) Schoenberg made some pretty crazy sounding music (based on my cursory knowledge of serialism and having performed a few of the Klavierstucke)

2) Guillaume du Fay was some guy who wrote some things (legitimately, I cannot tell you a single thing about this person off the top of my head)

Here is the thing: I wrote two undergraduate essays on both composers (2000 words each paper!). Not only that, but I achieved a distinction for both. So, why can’t I remember anything about either of these people?

It’s simple: I am not interested. I don’t believe I would have been interested then. I did it because that was what was required. It was at this point that I realised that you do NOT have to be an authority on all aspects of classical music in order to be a fantastic or WORTHY classical musician.

Since then, I have wasted no time in espousing this ideal to much criticism. Some replies I get are as follows:

  1. “Oh, Daniel! How do you expect to get a well rounded musical insight when you teach?” – the same way a lot of other pedagogues gain their musical insight: by reading about things when it matters. Researching what is necessary is a skill all on its own. Researching what is NOT necessary is a worthless mission.
  2. “How do you impart musicological knowledge to your students?” – in the same manner that a student will say “I don’t want to learn that piece”, I see no point in teaching anything detailed about Schoenberg unless my students are performing a work by him (or a contemporary). I advise on what to read and I teach what is needed. Anything beyond that is encouraged but not required. This is the same as when I am doing my own research.
  3. “Aren’t you grateful for being exposed to such composers, even if you did not like them? Don’t your students feel the same?” – firstly, I wanted a music degree and aimed to have music as my career. This isn’t the same as a student in year 9 who comes to their lesson after school, after soccer, after a movie date with friends, to sit and learn piano. Personally, yes, I am grateful to have been exposed to these composers. It further strengthens my obvious informed (?) disregard of them in my own musical life.
  4. “Do you think this skews your own teaching and performing?” – absolutely not. I have never told a student they couldn’t learn a piece because I don’t know anything about the composers or the style. In fact, I try and expose my students to as many varying styles and composers as is possible at their particular level. To do otherwise would be totally unrealistic (and stupid!) in today’s world. As for my performing, I am at the level in my life where I mostly perform what I like to, not what I have to. This may sound arrogant, but I am not totally dismissive of a composer like Schoenberg (I have performed his works before), it just isn’t my go-to when choosing a program (I have written an article of my journey with Modern Music down below)

There are more, but the answer to them is mostly in the same vein.


There is an almost unspoken expectation that if you are choosing a specialist area then you are required to know every corner of it. While this may be helpful in some jobs, unless you’re in the area of musicology, it is totally impossible to have a detailed knowledge on all composers over a 300-400 year period. Universities now, more than ever, are pushing for all musicians to be experienced in multiple areas. For example, we had a lecturer who used to say “as a pianist, you now have to be a jazz pianist, a church pianist, a wedding pianist, a popular style pianist. You need to be versatile” – and, yes, they are correct, but only in one aspect.


Modern musicians do need to be versatile. They need to adapt to many musical situations and take on roles such as repititeur and accompanist. Telling a pianist that they need to be experienced in all areas of music in order to be a success is not only grossly misleading, but is merely a form of blind optimism. It is the age old saying of ‘you can’t be all things to all people’. How about training pianists to be good pianists, regardless? Secondly, universities are demanding versatiliy in their musicians but then have separate strands for Jazz studies? Jazz aural? Jazz theory? Even then, you are asked to choose your ‘strand major’. Hardly versatile by any stretch…

What universities should say is: “we are going to expose you to everything, you would be well advised to follow your strengths and interests”. I once met an amazing classical pianist who could play a Mozart, Haydn, or Clementi sonata so well that it was life changing. I was then in a recital by the same pianist when he tried to thump through a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody with a horrendous outcome (it was cringey…). After the recital, I asked what the hell had happened. The answer was simple “I can’t stand Liszt”.

So, what’s the point? Why do that? Why program it?


The issue here is image. Specifically, the classical musician image. You only need to attend a classical piano competition to see the push for pianists to be able to play all styles, speeds, and periods at an exceptionally high level. I understand this, especially considering how large the classical piano ouvre is. However, there are a few things that need to be considered from a purely subjective level:

– you only like what you like. Most good piano teachers understand this with their pupils. Students are, for the most part, brutally honest. They will tell you if they don’t want to learn something.

– you are not a lesser musician because you choose Hummel over Beethoven, or Haydn over Clementi. Similarly, if you like Miles Davis over Zez Confrey, or Noszkowski over Nickelback, you shouldn’t be subject to criticism.

– Versatility does not denote experience, professionalism, or success. Further, it brings to light the saying ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ for many musicians. For example, I simply adore Angela Hewitt’s Bach playing. It’s stunning and has cemented her as an authority on the master. Does this mean that everything she performs is of a similar excellence? Does her devoted mastery of Bach mean that she is poised to play any composer with a similar excellence? No. Personally, her Beethoven is less than ideal for my ear and her Chopin is so languid that it often lacks control for the sake of over-sentimentalism.

This all being said, this is a personal approach that is almost always condemned. The world does accommodate, still, for those who love to perform only Chopin, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. Being able to perform a rendition of ‘Hot and Cold’ by Katy Perry in a church service on an old pipe organ does not mean you’re versatile nor is it necessary to be ‘well rounded’. If you’re renowned for your improvisatory piano stylings in a Jazz bar, does that mean you are inherently better at extemporising Bach? No.

Do what you love. Play what you love. That’s what puts the butts on seats. And for teachers, listen to your students. Don’t force them to play something they don’t want to.

By the way: Guillaume du Fay was a Franco-Flemish composer of the renaissance – thanks, Google.



Professor Tech 1 – 12 Studies for Piano by Walter Carroll

Welcome to Professor Tech! This is your weekly dive into all things piano technique!

It is no secret to friends and colleagues that I have an unhealthy obsession with sheet music collecting. In my travels, I have garnered some amazing contacts within libraries all over the world and I have met some truly inspirational people who have the same compulsion. In this department, sites like Ebay have been a ‘best friend’; I have found it without equal when searching for some diamonds. Then, of course, there is IMSLP. No words can be said about such a website other than ‘necessary’, ‘brilliant’, and ‘jaw dropping’. It is through websites such as these that one begins to realise just how much piano music has been published over the last 200 years and how much has been overlooked.

Which brings me to Walter Carroll.

Carroll (4 July 1869 – 9 October 1955) was an English organist, composer, lecturer, and pedagogue. Much like composer Stephen Heller, he is best remembered for his charming piano pieces for the student pianist. He began his professional life in accounting/office administration before pursuing his undergraduate and postgraduate music studies. He performed as a church organist, church composer, and studied advanced theory with Henri Hiles, himself a leading music educator and Oxford scholar.

In Australia, Walter Carroll isn’t totally unknown. His music has featured in our exam syllabus publications for many years and his descriptive piano suites ‘River and Rainbow’ and ‘Sea Idylls’ are still to be found in most piano teacher collections. His pieces suit levels including elementary, late intermediate, and early advanced. The pieces are always descriptive and programmatic and he often provides student pianists with titles that aid in the process of learning.

The 12 Studies for Piano –

Some years ago, whilst in Katoomba, New South Wales, I was fortunate enough to have some time off from recording my first Miriam Hyde Complete Works CD and spent the day going through many of the antique stores across the Blue Mountains. If any of you get the chance to visit the Blue Mountains, your days can easily be occupied with curio-hunting of the most fascinating kind. I had known of the store Mr. Pickwicks via Ebay. Over the years, I have purchased many secondhand scores from them. Their sheet music collection is massive and is housed in the basement of the building. It was here that I decided to spend an enormously large amount of money on a pile of scores. Amongst those pieces was the Forsyth Edition of the Twelve Studies for Piano by Carroll. I can remember flicking through the score then and singing the melodies in my head. I was immediately interested in the harmonic language of a few of the studies. Then there was piqued curiosity at Carroll’s use of a range of time signatures. He starts with the simplicity of 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 before using complex signatures such as 6/8, 9/8, and *gasp* 4/8. I figured I had a good find on my hands…

Moving forward, I have used these studies A LOT in my studio – they do deserve much wider recognition. For the majority of my intermediate students, they are drawn to the soundscape that Carroll utilises for all 12 works. They do not contain difficult key signatures and are not excessively speedy with their metronome markings. Particular favourites are Study No. 4 and Study No. 5. Students tell me how easy the studies sit within the hands and how the arpeggios feel ‘easy’ to play after a while. The magic of some of these etudes is that they SOUND more difficult than they actually are. Let’s take a closer look…


Carroll Intro

I just love an edition that comes with composer notes! These days, it is still a rare thing in a lot of new music publications. Carroll gives detailed notes concerning each study within the collection. The instructions are concise and contain definitions of terms and aural guides for students as they learn. These notes are a blessing for any piano teacher. I take all composer-notes on board in my teaching, even though I prefer to take some of these studies a little faster than asked. Interpretation wise, they’re invaluable additions to any printed score. The following brief glimpse of each piece comes with ‘focus for the student’ and ‘focus for the teacher’ notes underneath. The ‘focus for each student’ is the immediate challenge of the piece. The ‘focus for the teachers’ concerns the challenges which may slip ‘under the radar’ as the student is learning.

Study No. 1 “At a moderate pace” – G Major

Carroll 1

Focus for the student:

– Mezzo Staccato,
– Two Note Slurs,
– Melody Notes in Weaker Fingers,
– Loose Arm/Shoulder Playing

Focus for the teacher:

– Tone. As Carroll states “through looseness and listening, we achieve a beautiful tone”.
– Shape of a 6th (especially as a precursor to octave work).
– Ideal piece for introducing large intervals for small hands.
– Introducing advanced chord playing (the intervals are a form of mixed, blocked broken chords in 6ths).
– Tension observation in weaker fingers (a main focus within all intervalic playing)

I have asked an advanced student to play this piece with the mezzo staccato removed and to be played only legato – this helped with the melody projection and also targeted more advanced techniques. This method is, however, problematic for small hands. It is much easier to perform when students are shown how to move a loose arm in the direction of the next 6th, rather than just using ‘fingers’. This study is about shape of the 6ths as much as it is about looseness of the arms.

Grade: AMEB 2-3, SMP Level 3

Study No. 2 “Rather Quick” – C Major

Carroll 2

Focus for the student:

– Cultivation of wrist staccato.
– No pedal unless marked (the last 6 bars)

Focus for the teacher:

– Wrist suppleness
– Flexibility
– Projection of melody in outer fingers (interval balance) in harmonic intervals/chords
– Dynamic control (leggiero playing required rather than bombastic or ‘banging’ approach)
– Tone colour in short crescendo and diminuendo passages

Grade: AMEB Grade 2, SMP Level 2/3

Study No. 3 ‘Graceful, and rather quick’ – C Major

Carroll 3

Focus for the student:

– Arm Crossing
– Chords
– Tone Colour

Focus for the teacher:

– Loose arms
– Chord shape
– Dynamic control
– Pre-planning and opportunity to introduce theory to help with memorisation (simple chord analysis. Chord I, IV, V, transitions to relative minor, V of Minor)
– Pedalling/Special Effects

Grade: AMEB Grade 2, SMP Level 2/3

Study No. 4: ‘Flowing and Ebbing’ – D minor

Carroll 4

Focus for the student:

– Phrasing
– Melody between the hands

Focus for the teacher:

– Creating the ‘ebb and flow’ soundscape
– Movement (climax points in melody. The ‘up and down’)
– Carroll states that there is something ‘of the sea’ in this piece and should be imagined as such to help with the pushing and pulling of the waves
– Touch and release correctly in phrasing
– Arm movement and weight

Grade: AMEB grade 2, SMP Level 2

Study No. 5 ‘Rippling’: E Minor

Carroll 5

Focus for the student:

– Hand rotary movement
– Finger touch/Control
– Exactness, smoothness, evenness in tone
– Broken Chords

Focus for the teacher:

– Chord blocking
– Articulation changes
– Pedalling
– Buiding speed, agility
– Non-exaggerated movement/neatness

Study No. 6 ‘Crisp’ – A Minor

Carroll 6

Focus for the student:

– Staccato intervals
– Forearm staccato
– Speed with alternating hands

Focus for the teacher:

– Chord blocking
– Displaced chordal playing
– Accenting
– Alternating chords/hands
– Evenness and control at high speed
– Dynamic shading

Grade: AMEB Grade 4, SMP Level 3/4

Study No. 7 ‘Dim and restful’  – C Major

Carroll 7

Focus for the student:

– Melody and Accompaniment
– Arpeggios/Intervals

Focus for the teacher:

– Balance/Aural Acuity
– Left hand stretches
– Pedalling
– Mixed articulation
– Loose arms/Projection

Grade: AMEB Grade 3-4, SMP Level 3/4

Study No. 8 ‘Swift’ – D minor

Carroll 8

Focus for the student:

– Melody and Accompaniment
– Viruosity (finger work)
– Balance

Focus for the teacher:

– Broken Chords
– Arpeggios
– Phrasing/mixed articulations (left hand)
– Low fingers/Close to keys
– Relaxation of arm but controlled
– Evenness
– Longer lines/phrase work/singing

Grade: AMEB 4/5 SMP Level 4/5

Study No. 9 ‘Leisurely’ – G Major

Carroll 9

This is, perhaps, the most difficult of all the studies for two reasons:

  1. The chromaticism (namely the use of intervals of a second) make it hard to grasp the key ‘aurally’
  2. The soundscape and constantly changing formations make it difficult to sound ‘leisurely’.

Focus for the student:

– Control
– Accuracy
– Co-ordination between the hands

Focus for the teacher:

– Harmonic dissection and investigation (revealing the melodic material for the less aurally advanced student by way of removing chromaticism)
– Phrasing, specifically, execution of complex two-note slur patterns
– Pedalling (specifically to avoid harmonic ‘clashes’)
– Swift arm movement/Pre-planning gymnastically

Grade: AMEB Grade 5, SMP Level 4/5

Study No. 10 ‘Fairly Fast’ – E Flat Major

Carroll 10

Focus for the student:

– Rhythm and variations on upbeats
– Left hand melody
– Alternating hands/Speed
– Co-ordination

Focus for the teacher:

– Stability and control
– Variety of articulation
– Demisemiquaver
– Melody and accompaniment between the hands
– Balance
– Virtuosity in broken chords

Grade: AMEB Grade 5, SMP Level 4/5

Study No. 11 ‘Rather Slow’ – A Flat Major

Carroll 11

Focus for the student:

– 9/8 time signature
– Scale playing
– Melody and Accompaniment
Focus for the teacher:

– Legato interval playing
– Chordal melody playing (outer fingers)
– Cantabile playing

Grade: AMEB Grade 4, SMP Level 4

Study No. 12 ‘Full of Life’ – C Major

Carroll 12

The final study is similar to study three but in a broken chord fashion. The considerable virtuosity required for this study and the large coverage of the keyboard, make for a big finish of the full set. It is, however, not as difficult as some of the previous studies.

Focus for the student:

– Rapidity and control
– Arpeggios
– Free arm movement

Focus for the teacher:

– Block chord practice methods
– Pre-planning of hands for rapid crossing
– Posture for freedom of movement (arms)
– Carroll refers to a ‘good teacher’ being able to help the student recognise the sequences within the formation of broken chords/arpeggios

Grade: AMEB Grade 4, SMP Level 4

Professor Tech says:

In reality, these studies really are not beyond the grade 2/3 student. Musically, a lot of care needs to be taken to perform them convincingly, especially with the instability of No. 9. From a technical standpoint, there is a lot of ground covered in this collection. For me, personally, the appeal is the harmonic language of the studies. With these 12 pieces, we escape the dryness of a lot of technical work which is common at this level. The excitement that composers like Czerny, Clementi, and Bertini, bring with their studies really only appears in their more advanced pieces. I enjoy the fact that there is a lot of pedal usage in this collection. That, in and of itself, is an appealing aspect of these compositions.

I would definitely recommend this collection for any teacher library. Here, in Australia, we have an ‘extra list’ option on our piano exam syllabus. Students are able to choose pieces on or off the syllabus. As such, these studies would be perfect for inclusion in exam repertoire. The beauty of these small pieces is that they can double as stand alone compositions, aside from being under the title of ‘study’. If there was any criticism, it is that Carroll might have used the title ‘prelude’ or ‘song without words’ for some of these. Also, some of them could be played slightly faster than noted. However, that’s all purely subjective.

Professor Tech Rating:
Professor Tech Rating 5-5

This collection of studies is still available. You can purchase it from the following website:


Now, get back to practice!

Prof. Tech

In The Studio: Why is technical work always left till the “last minute”? – Part One

The short answer: because the majority of students just, plain and simple, don’t like it.

The long answer: it is difficult to be objective in this area of pedagogy, mainly because I love technical work. I love studies – I love Hanon – I love scales and arpeggios. Every time I convey this to a student, I get “you’re crazy” or “wow, what is wrong with you?” which, normally, then encourages  bouts of laughter before moving on to something else. There is something immensely satisfying about seeing your hands glide up a piano or swiftly taking an arpeggio at break-neck speed without fault. The majority of my students, however, just don’t see it this way (with the exception of one or two), and even when I present a masterclass, a top question that is always asked is “how can I get them to practice technical work?”

It really does come down to HOW you teach it and not WHY you teach it. We all know that the concept of technical work consists of the building blocks for successful pianism. So, why then, are there so many famous pianists (past and present) who lay claim to NEVER utilising a scale or an arpeggio in their practice? Why are there so many pianists who believe that it is the repertoire itself which provides all the technical work they need? It is because they have found ways of making technique work for THEM and not the other way around. Many of them DID start with scales and arpeggios when they were younger and later evolved into pianists who started deciphering, unraveling, and using the technical challenges in their repertoire to their advantage.

While I appreciate this, I am not an exponent of using JUST repertoire to teach technique (even though I can see the advantages), instead, I believe in a combination of all things from collections of exercises, scales, and repertoire. My aim as a teacher is to always try my best to provide pathways to solutions regarding current physiological hurdles (tension, posture, injury) and technical inadequacy. In discovering various methods of teaching technique (of which there are thousands), there are some core fundamentals I like to teach my students aside from the usual “scales and arpeggio manual” – first and foremost, I like them to become investigators. To me, this is the most important skill I can give to any of my students. Without it, technique is a pointless and, dare I say it, obsolete journey.

The concept of the ‘mistake’, why it happens, and when student needs to become investigator:

“When a car crash happens, the impact is NOT the mistake. The mistake happens before hand. When someone is illegally talking on their mobile phone while driving, someone has run a red light, or a driver misses a “Give Way” sign, THAT is what we need to be looking at. Anything that happens afterwards is the RESULT of the mistake.”

This is how I explain mistakes to my older pupils. The point is that so many people believe the crash itself to be the mistake when it isn’t. If this were the case, there would be no need for Crime Scene Investigators, Traffic Control, or forensic teams to rush to the scene of the resulting accident. These people are required to investigate the circumstances leading up to the crash in order to determine WHY it has happened. These “accidents” in music happen the same way.

By encouraging students to become investigators, we open up the doors for a “critical thinking” or “self-directed” approach to analysis of their playing and of their technique. For example (and one that I see a lot of) is the Dominant 7th of F. The keys which need to be played are C-E-G-Bb with the fingering of 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 ascending and 4-3-2-1, 4-3-2-1, descending. It is when the arpeggio descends that I tend to see a banging 4th finger (akin to hearing the triplet accented sound in three note arpeggios) it also when I have heard many a piano teacher say “stop banging that 4th finger” which, unfortunately, puts all of the focus on the fourth finger. The banging fourth finger is the RESULT of a mistake that happens previously. There are a tonne of reasons for this: incorrect hand position, inability to touch and release with correct weight, lazy or late movement of the wrist, lack of rotation, incorrect direction – the “where am I going to?” effect, flat fingers and inflexible forearm, shoulder and tension across the scapular, hunching and poor posture. This is precisely the moment where teacher needs to be encouraging student to investigate more thoroughly. One of the most popular “old wives” techniques of getting rid of this 4th finger accent is asking a student to count in 5 when playing the four note arpeggios (similarly, count in 4 when playing three note arpeggios), but, as successful as this can be, it alone is not going to fix the problem if it happens to be rooted in tension and poor posture.

I have seen many exciting outcomes with technique by teaching my students to investigate why something is going wrong, or, what is happening in the lead up to the “car crash”. Teaching technique can be a struggle, mostly because it isn’t fully understood by the student (and sometimes, too, by the teacher!). Furthermore, an analytical framework is often just left up to the teacher, when understanding mistakes should be encouraged between student and teacher. This stepping stone is paramount in all aspects of technique, from the physical to the mental.

In part two: questions to guide a student through the investigative process, methods for exciting technical work approaches such as books, games, resources, and personal studio tools. And also…why technique really DOES tend to be left till the “last minute”.



Rarity Wednesday: “Chopin” from Lanterne Magique Op. 66 no. 2 – Benjamin Godard

As explained in an earlier post, Rarity Wednesday is just a brief little post that comes out mid-week with the idea of presenting a rarely heard/performed piece for your consideration. I appreciate that not every piece will be to the liking of all, but it is hoped that, regardless, it encourages further research. The Romantic period is a mind-blowingly excellent example of a period of time that produced such treasures of the unknown! Benjamin Godard, relatively famous for a small amount of works, fits into this category with the majority of his compositions hidden from the limelight.

Chopin’ op. 66 no. 2 from Lanternes Magiques – Benjamin Godard

Aside from the many transcriptions of the Berceuse from the opera, Jocelyn, French composer Benjamin Godard (1849-1895) had an enormous output which remains, unfortunately, untouched. His life was a short one, dying from tuberculosis at 45, with many works (including large symphonies and no less than 8 operas) absent from the modern concert program. Although originally a violinist, Godard left a sizeable amount of piano music which includes Mazurkas, Waltzes, Etudes, and Character Pieces. None of the works are daringly virtuosic like other pianist/composers of the time; they are more comfortably placed beside the highly stylised piano music of Moritz Moszkowski. The piece we are looking at today comes from the collection of pieces divided into five books called Lanterne Magique (The Magic Lantern) Op. 50, 55, 66, 110, 115. Each opus number contains a handful of character pieces either based on dances from foreign lands, scherzi, nocturnes, programmatic pieces,or characterisations of composers. Incidentally, the most famous piece across all of the collections is the piece Chopin Op. 66 No. 2

The Polish style is alive and well in Godard's waltz!

The Polish style is alive and well in Godard’s waltz!

The piece is a perfect homage to the Polish composer Frederic Chopin. One only needs to look at the score to see direct rhythmic and harmonic quotes from a handful of Chopin’s waltzes, Mazurkas, the Nocturne Op. 32/1, and the Fantasie Impromptu Op. 66. It isn’t above a grade 7-8 AMEB standard, and thanks to John Thompson’s Modern Piano Method, gets some coverage with student pianists. Chromaticism abounds with a few twists and turns for the student:

A few little tricks and turns in these mysterious and nostalgic chromatic runs.

A few little twists and turns in these mysterious and nostalgic chromatic runs.

We have melodies which are interchangeable between left and right hands (reminiscent of a certain “Grande Valse Brilliant”) and an overall harmonic flavour that is very much in line with the style of the Polish master. The piece wouldn’t be complete without a sweeping, ascending run of chromatics and then an arpeggio cascade to finish:

A beautiful and unexpected turn of harmony reminiscent of the Nocturne Op. 32 No. 1

A beautiful and unexpected turn of harmony reminiscent of the Nocturne Op. 32 No. 1

A pastiche of Grand Valse Brillante and Impromptu all woven into a new and beautiful soundscape

A pastiche of ‘Chopinesque’ Valse and Impromptu all woven into a new soundscape

A delicious blend of Fantasie Impromptu and Nocturne with the previous left hand melody now in the right

A salon blend of Impromptu and Nocturne with the previous left hand melody now in the right

A sweeping

A sweeping “drawing room” finish!

I’ve been wanting to teach this piece as a “regular” with my advanced students for many years now. I thought about it the other day and immediately raced to grab it from the shelf for a play-thru. Here is the best recording I could find on YouTube: The score is readily available on IMSLP (links provided below) http://imslp.org/wiki/Lanterne_magique_III,_Op.66_(Godard,_Benjamin) Enjoy! Dan xo

Books and Resources: Purrfect Practice

Each year, I am invited to the lovely community of Camden, New South Wales, to perform in honour of my last piano teacher, Dr. Marilyn Meier. As well as a wonderful teacher, Marilyn was a great friend of mine who welcomed me into her family and who became my two-piano partner professionally. She believed in me above all and sang my praises constantly; she was critical and investigative and made me strive for bigger, better things. Even though she is no longer with us, the boost she gave to my career is something I’ll never forget as long as I live. However, this line of thought is a story for another time.

The Amazing Grace Academy of Performing Excellence (AGAPE) is directed by pianist and teacher, Heather Bieman. Heather is a lovely, accommodating woman who fosters a love music in her students and is a kind, caring, knowledgeable mentor to her teaching faculty. It is always a pleasure to attend AGAPE each year and work with students on some beautiful repertoire. I am also very fortunate to meet a number of piano teachers in the area who come along for a chat and who always have a barrage of questions for me. Last year, I conducted a masterclass and was terribly excited because I was hoping to finally meet Jackie Sharp. Jackie is a pianist, pedagogue, and professional teacher, whose YouTube videos and pedagogical research was inspiring a great many private instructors both nationally and internationally. At this point in time, Jackie had been developing her Purrfect Practice Technique Trainer 1 e-book and a lot of interest was generated within the Australian pedagogical community. I didn’t get to meet Jackie on this occasion and discuss her technique trainer, which is a shame, but I did acquire my own copy of the e-book version to use and review for this blog post – I am sure we will get to meet in the future.

I have reviewed many technique books as part of university work/literature studies and, at one stage, as part of a thesis which heavily critiqued certain evolutionary aspects of the etude in everyday piano practice. As with a lot of this research, I obtained books of etudes and finger exercises and spent my days playing through them to assess their value overall (technical and otherwise!). There were always supplementary writings, pictures, and anecdotes to accompany a lot of the studies I practiced which was great help from an analytical standpoint. Purrfect Practice Technique Trainer 1 combines a lot of these similar approaches into one handy reference guide for teacher and student alike. These are the two main areas which were huge deal makers for me:


If there is one area where Technique Trainer REALLY succeeds, it is with the videos that Jackie uses in conjunction with her book. Jackie, herself a fine pianist, provides links to YouTube videos at the top of each exercise in the book. Once the link is clicked, we are taken to a clip that isn’t just another grainy hand demonstration with no sound (as is common with a lot of example videos given by some shoddy “pedagogues” on YouTube), but we listen as Jackie talks us through the exercise slowly, then, in some cases, with more speed. Her camera angles are more than helpful as we can actually see important movements of the hand, wrist, and fingers, making the illustrations in her book more pertinent. More often than not, many videos have camera angles which are missing the important aspects of hand movement and coordination.

The combination of technology with piano teaching nowadays is, I feel, par for the course. Jackie has more than succeeded with this approach.


Technique Trainer 1 encourages students to think before they play, think while they are playing, and think after. Each exercise comes with a checklist of things to be aware of while you play as well as things to think about after you’ve played. Checklists contain markers that focus on areas like strong joints, up-down motions, rotation, etc. These checklists promote positive re-inforcement of technical work as the book progresses. Quite often, Jackie will revisit certain areas of the hand just to keep things in perspective – you don’t just do something once and think you’re a master!

I, and other teachers whom I have spoken with, have found that some students are making an effort to focus better on what they are doing to the point where they will actively engage in a discussion about it afterwards. For me, that’s just another selling point for books like this.

(Let me tell you, getting students to converse on aspects of technique/musicality after they’ve finished is, by far, not the easiest thing in the world)

The format of the exercises is clear and concise. The colours are minimal but bright and contrasting. The book is certainly not exhaustive when placed alongside the likes of Joseffy and Berringer, but then again I don’t think that is Jackie’s aim either. Whereas these two books assume that a fundamental knowledge of piano playing has already been achieved, Jackie takes us right back to a bare bones approach. It is an approach that facilitates gracious piano playing with ease RIGHT from the beginning stages. It is an approach that promotes less tension in the limbs/joints/muscles by fostering carefully considered movements and motions. Finally, it is an approach that promotes musicality – that is the most important aspect about this book.

I don’t believe that this resource should only be in the hands of the beginner – it should be in the hands of every teacher. Jackie’s work is not a regurgitation of bygone pedagogical principles, it is a fresh work that has been made easily accessible to teacher and student. It is very affordable and comes in a studio licensing format or a single copy. It has used the advent of technology in the studio to its advantage and it doesn’t sacrifice musicality EVER for the sake of a dry exercise.

Well done, Jackie! I cannot wait for the other volumes.

5 Stars

Please Visit: http://www.purrfectpractice.com.au

Perspectives: Why Miriam Hyde?

Perspectives: Why Miriam Hyde?

Easy: because her music appeals to every aspect of my teaching and performing practice.

Over the years, especially as a ‘student’ pianist, I always wondered if I was going to find my niche. Much the same as Ashkenazy, Lortie, and countless others have traversed the complete works of Chopin, I wanted to find the composer who was going to be just for me; I was so frightened of becoming a modern-day pianist who was required to “specialise” in everything. It’s not that I don’t see the value in being multifarious in an approach to music, I just wanted a composer where the passion would be continually ignited; playing their music would be “my” thing.
Thankfully, I found that in the music of Miriam Hyde. Oddly enough, this has been going on for years without me recognising it.

It began with a grade 6 exam – my first ever piano exam, I might add. I remember hearing a piece by Hyde called Woodland Sketch and wanting to learn it. The girl in my class who used to play it was, herself, a marvellous pianist and I was forever asking her to perform it for me; it was my first Miriam Hyde experience. The piano exam allowed for the last piece to be an “own choice” item, so I leapt at the opportunity to play Woodland Sketch. The rest is history and I have recorded it and performed it ever since. I use it for encores, I teach it to my students, and I am fairly certain that it will remain a piece very close to my heart for years to come.

This lead to experiences with other, beautifully characteristic pieces on the AMEB exam list: Ear Rings from Spain, Minarets, Study in A minor, Water Nymph, and Scherzo Fantastico. At university, I performed many of her concert works and even accompanied a few of her songs. This opened the doors to many of her poems and her autobiographical work, Complete Accord. Among all of this, I got to perform The Fountain and Study in Blue, White, and Gold for her in a workshop environment. I always viewed her as quite a stern woman in her approach but, after the workshop, I experienced a gentle nature which I continue to remember fondly; it remains my last interaction with her.

Since then, my research has been concerned with investigating her pedagogical and concert works for piano. Miriam was a fine concert pianist with a formidable technique – the evidence of this can be found in the recordings of her piano concerti among others. These pianistic elements filter their way through to her compositions from Preliminary to LMUSA and many of these works (Woodland Sketch included) remain the favourites of piano student and piano teacher alike.

With companies like The Keys Press in Perth, Wirrapang Publishers in NSW, along with wonderful people like Dr. Rita Crews, Phillip Wilcher, Hyde’s daughter Christine Edwards, and Professor Larry Sitsky, there is now a growing collection of information regarding her life, pianism, and seemingly endless list of achievements. I am fortunate enough to be adding to that with what is the largest recorded collection of her works for piano (80 videos so far on youtube!). Even though I have a long period of work ahead of me, I am indebted to many of these Australian luminaries for their help. Their writing and, in some cases, their friendship, has helped motivate me even more. I am always discovering new things about Miriam Hyde – there is never a dull moment. I continue being in love with the process of shining light on her work as I progress with honours and masters research.

My first CD will be released in August. It has been recorded and is now in post production. The Complete Piano Music of Miriam Hyde Volume 1 is a labour of love. I specifically searched for recording studios in Sydney and was over the moon when I found Sound Heaven Studios in The Blue Mountains – a place Miriam admired. It felt good to record this music surrounded by such beautiful scenery, which, in essence, is what Miriam’s music is all about.



Woodland Sketch: