Saturday 6 November 2021

Book review - Notes on the Piano by Christopher Russell

 I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

As a teenager I took piano lessons for several years and enjoyed being able to play at a decent standard, so I was very keen for my children to take music lessons when they were old enough. Harry has been having piano lessons since he was around six and recently passed his Grade 4. He plays beautifully now, I really enjoy hearing him practice and he can play some really lovely pieces.

So I was very interested to take a look at the book Notes on the Piano by Christopher Russell. Written by a concert performer and teacher, in the author's words it is "an encouraging companion to someone's piano lessons in the exciting journey of discovery that learning the piano is all about." 

Notes on the Piano by Christopher Russell

The book is divided into essays, each one themed around different aspects of learning, playing and teaching the piano. It's an enjoyable read for anyone that has learned the piano in the past, is currently learning, or has a child currently taking lessons.

Now that Harry has reached a slightly more advanced level he has recently started working with a new piano teacher. He's always had his lessons at home, with me half listening in from the next room. I found it really interesting to pick out some of the techniques that I've noticed his piano teachers using and to read about the theory behind this. For example, his new teacher has encouraged him to work on improvisation which he loves. I discovered that as well as being a way of helping with the aural tests in the exams it also helps to develop the musical ear which is vital for successful playing. 

I was also interested to learn about the importance of scales - for warming up the fingers, improving the strength and flexibility of the fingers and reinforcing the flats and sharps which are found in different keys - all skills that are useful when it comes to playing pieces. It's definitely information that's worth sharing with people that can't see the benefits in practicing scales over and over.

The book is clearly arranged with each chapter focussing on a different aspect of learning and playing the piano. I found the chapter on Methods of Practising particularly helpful, as Harry still needs some guidance when it comes to his practice! It was a good reminder that a shorter session of quality practice will reap better rewards than a longer session of poor quality practice. There were also some excellent tips about the different ways that you can practice a piece, as well as how this can vary person to person and is learned and improved by experience.

Another section that I found useful was about memorising pieces, as this is something that I'm terrible at. Although I can play reasonably well, I can only play with music in front of me, which is no good if I encounter a piano and someone asks me to play a piece! I hadn't really thought before about making a conscious effort to memorise a piece or two, but it's something I'm definitely going to have a go at.

I found this book a really interesting and accessible read, great for dipping in and out of, and perfect for piano teachers and piano players, whether beginner or advanced, child or adult. 

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