Review: So You Want to Play the Piano?

Reviews

Melanie Spanswick, teacher, composer, author and blogger recently revised and updated her book, “So You Want to Play the Piano.” I have had the opportunity to review the revised edition and I wanted to share more with you.

The book is geared towards parents and/or students that may be new to the piano lesson experience. But it includes much more than I expected from a “parent or student guide”. For this reason, I would recommend that teachers even have a copy of it in their studio if you have an area for parents to sit while their child is having a lesson.

I thought I would summarize a little of what you might find inside “So You Want to Play the Piano.”

Prelude

The Prelude begins with a nice summary of what can be expected when reading Melanie’s book. She does mention at the end that this book is “primarily a British-based guide; however all the information and advice applies internationally.” In addition, she has listed suitable websites for info regarding worldwide music establishments through the book.

Chapter 1 – Why the piano?

This chapter asks good questions for students to think about before beginning piano lessons. Such as, “how do I know if my child wants to play?” Figuring out of they are serious at wanting to learn or going through a phase? Is musical talent necessary?  When should lessons begin, what are the main objectives and so on…

I loved how she didn’t sugar coat this chapter. It was clear that these were good questions to ask, addressed and thought about before making a commitment to learn to play the piano.

Chapter 2 – Will I need a piano?

Have you ever had an inquiry ask this question? For teachers, it is obvious that the answer is yes. But for parents it isn’t so obvious especially in the “instant” day and age that will live in. Many parents look at lessons as “practice” time. This chapter addresses that the answer is “yes” and guides parents to what they should look for in a piano, how the piano works, differences in the different piano purchase options. There are so many options and as we know some are better than others.

Chapter 3 – Finding a piano teacher

I love that the very first question addressed in this chapter is “Do I need one?” Melanie not only answers this question brilliantly but she addresses that bad habits are hard to fix. And follows up with resources to find a teacher. Now the websites she lists are mostly UK websites but she addresses that if they are out of the UK, an online search will help find local teachers.

Chapter 4 – What qualities should I look for in a piano teacher?

Now that we have learned that they will want to find a piano teacher, this chapter focuses on the qualities that they should look for. Some things will be very important for parents to consider while others might not be as important. Melanie does a thorough job in helping parents consider different qualities as experience and reputation will vary.

Chapter 5 – Other considerations

In this chapter, some questions that are addressed are the differences between group and individual lessons, cost, going to a studio versus a teacher traveling, meeting the teacher before beginning lessons, communicating with your teacher (most problems happen because of lack of communication), how long will it take to be proficient in playing the piano.

Chapter 6 – Which piano method?

In the beginning of this chapter, Melanie goes through the basics of learning to play the piano and what most methods will teach. Then Melanie takes the time and highlights 22 method books including a few that are for adults and teenagers. She also mentions learning methods including Solfège, Suzuki, Kodály, Orff and Dalcroze.

Chapter 7 – The first lesson, progress and words of encouragement

This is what I call the”comfort” chapter. There can be a little anxiety before that first lesson. Melanie has taken that into consideration and gives some words of encouragement with what can be expected that first day. Of course, things like practicing requirements will vary but she addresses that it is something that will be expected and how parents can help at home and so on.

Chapter 8 – Piano basics

Chapters 7-12 are the big reasons that I would have this available in my studio for parents to read while they are waiting. And the reason I would give them the link to purchase the book as well. Covered in this chapter are posture, hand positions and tensions which includes helpful pictures. Piano basics such as note reading, rhythm and so on. It also includes tips for developing musicianship and a practice schedule.

Chapter 9 – Piano technique

Helpful examples and pictures regarding piano technique are included in this chapter. Covering technique examples such as tension, wrist movement, producing good sound, five finger position, touch and articulation, staccato and legato, phrasing, dynamics and color and pedaling.

Chapter 10 – Piano exams

The Who, What, Why’s of piano exams are addressed in this chapter. It includes tips for examination day, some practice tips, technique examples including scales and arpeggios. In addition, memorization, sight-reading and aural testing is addressed.

Chapter 11 – Piano music

This chapter includes a brief history of piano music. Starting in the renaissance period through the 20th Century. Included in this chapter are suggestions for pieces students can learn in each music period.

Chapter 12 – Music festivals, competitions and public performance

This last chapter includes some tips and advice for performance experience. Whether in a public performance, being judged for a competition or participating in a festival, Melanie is a helpful guide for students to perform well and enjoy the experience.

Coda

A nice ending to the book, Melanie gives her final words of encouragement.

One of my favorite features in So You Want to Play the Piano is that Melanie closes each chapter with “5 points to remember” summarizing the chapters beautifully. If parents need to go back to review a particular chapter, this would be the ideal place to review.

So You Want to Play the Piano is currently available through Alfred Music (available in the US and UK) and Amazon UK. Eventually it will be available on Amazon in the US. I will let you know when I hear.

Melanie has graciously offered to give away a copy of So You Want to Play the Piano to a lucky reader! To enter, just click here. Deadline to enter is March 31, 2016.

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