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Keyboard Skills for Reluctant Pianists (includes CD)
Marco Publications, ISBN: 0-9552933-0-8
Distributed by South London Music
Review by: Gordon Stewart, August 2006
A book about playing the piano in a Voice journal? If you give your voice lessons while coping with those black-and-white teeth waiting to bite you, you'll see the relevance in a flash. A keyboard is a vital part of the teacher's tool-box. If only to give your client a note from which to start, and a harmonic background in which to operate. (Yes, I know you can do it with mouth organs and guitars…).
Sue Anderson's book is aimed at anyone who wants to play the piano, most likely someone who sings or plays another instrument already.
Posture, useful chord patterns, how to relate the horizontal keyboard to the vertical look of the music when it's written down. The solutions are here. But the seriously imaginative move is that instead of starting with middle C, that floating note which doesn't seem to belong to either the bass or treble clef, you have to pick out tunes, with visual prompts about which keyboard notes you will need (black ones to start with). From the beginning you are concentrating on the most important part of music - the noises it makes in your head. There's a CD to remind you of the melodies, in case the details of Old MacDonald or Hot Cross Buns momentarily escape you.
Admirably set out, written in a tone of voice which is direct and non-patronising, the book will help you cover a great deal of useful ground. How to simplify song accompaniments, for example. As singers we don't have to play our own accompaniments when we're learning songs, but it helps if we can get a fair idea of what's going on behind our backs as we turn to face the audience. For a teacher it's pretty well obligatory to fill in the necessary harmony and the basic character of the aria or song. Sure, it's good to have an accompanist in your studio, but it costs, and even in the conservatoires, which you would have thought were teaming with young pianists, it's remarkable how few of them will spend an afternoon playing for a singing teacher, when they could be practising that Rachmaninov concerto they intend to play at the Proms. Some time in the future. The distant future.
Improvisation, transposing - using your ear's imagination. This is a very good approach to the business of playing the piano - and, more, to being a musician. I wish I'd been brought up that way. Instead of the Cadbury's chocolate pennies on the end of the piano…
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