Welcome to WorldOfPiano.wordpress.com.
This blog is the story of what I have learned about the joys and the problems of returning to serious study of piano playing relatively late in life. Here you can read about all kinds of piano-related topics, but especially about the difficulties and trials of learning the piano as an adult. Most of what I have to say will also be relevant to adult beginners.
But first a bit about me:
WHAT IS MY BACKGROUND?
My name is Kenneth T. Rose (Tom to my friends) and I am dedicated to becoming as good a pianist as is possible for me. Although I have played the piano for most of my life for many of those years playing the piano was something I did but did not work at. I returned to studying with great seriousness only in 2007. As a teenager I thought I was working hard at developing piano playing skills, because I put in so much more time and effort into it than any of my school friends, but I was mistaken. I just did not yet know what really hard, focussed, disciplined work is.
I was born in Lancashire in 1955 into a working class family. I had wanted to learn to play piano for a few years, but as we had no piano at home the best I could do was to practice, for a few minutes a couple of times a week, things my grandmother had taught me on her beaten up old upright. As I was in the habit of taking up new things enthusiastically, then losing interest and dropping them, my parents were understandably reluctant to buy a piano, especially as we were not affluent, and it would have been a financial struggle.
A PIANO OF MY OWN
Everything changed when I was 12 and a generous friend of my father gave us his piano. A year later, convinced that this was not a passing fad, my parents bought me a good quality reconditioned upright piano, which stayed with me for 40 years. [It finally wore out in 2009, was uneconomical to repair, and I have replaced it with a Yamaha baby grand].
These days many children take lessons because it is what their parents want and not because they want to do it. Half of the teachers job then is to get the student genuinely interested. For me that was never a problem. I had waited so long for this chance that instead of being reminded to practice I had to be dragged away from the piano. I also had the advantage that I had developed some co-ordination of the hands and arms, and had learned to work out both melodies and simple harmonies for myself without having to struggle to learn notation at the same time.
So I started formal lessons with my first “proper” (qualified) teacher – the “lady around the corner”. I enjoyed my lessons with her, and I think she enjoyed teaching me. I could not read a note, so the first job was to master musical notation. As I could already play a bit and knew some musical concepts I was able to concentrate fully on learning notation and grasped it quite easily. I stayed with my first teacher for nearly 3 years, passed grade 5 with her, but failed grade 6. That was partly because my teacher had no previous experience of teaching to that level and had not made me aware of how to interpret the pieces well, nor of how much more stringently grades 6 to 8 are assessed compared to the earlier grades.
[Note to non-UK readers: In the UK there is a system of graded exams for singers and instrumentalists that runs from Grade 1 to Grade 8. Achieving grade 1 means that you are no longer a beginner. And it is a higher standard than many non-musicians and some advanced musicians think! Achieving grade 8 means that you play well enough to start working towards a professional diploma or a performance degree (although it says little about your general musicianship). Several examining organisations offer exams of slightly different content, but roughly equal standard. The best known is the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM). Two others that are less well-known outside the UK, are the London College of Music (LCM), and Trinity College, London (TCL). These colleges also offer three levels of professional diploma (Associate/Licentiate/Fellowship) at standards well beyond anything needed for grade 8]
MORE ADVANCED LESSONS
My next teacher was a more advanced pianist (LRSM) and had more advanced pupils. I was with her for two years (until I was 17), did a lot of technical work, passed grades 6 and 8, then stopped lessons to concentrate on my school examinations (A-levels).
I wanted to study music at college or conservatoire, but the careers master, parents, and friends all thought it was a bad idea, as there is little chance of a good career, or any career at all, as a classical performer. There are just too many good pianists in the world. Looking back it is rather disappointing that professional educators should have such a narrow view of the usefulness of a music degree. But the result was that I ended up studying Biology, in the immature, and mistaken, belief that I could go on to save the world from ecological disaster. At University I supplemented my grant by playing popular music in a couple of pubs. On completing my studies I continued to play the piano for pleasure.
LESSONS WITH A CONCERT PIANIST
In 1980, at the age of 25 I returned to college to study for the PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) a British qualification that allows you to teach in state schools). Luckily I was allowed to make music my specialist subject, despite not having a bachelor’s degree in music, and discovered that it allowed me to get free lessons with the British concert pianist Alex Abercrombie. After completing the PGCE I stayed with Alex for a further 2 years, and he vastly improved both my technique and musicianship, as well as putting me through my first performance diploma. Whilst with Alex I played regularly as soloist and accompanist at events in NW England, but then moved to Buckinghamshire and put piano on the back burner for the next 20 years.
RETURN TO SERIOUS STUDY
No sooner had I started to work hard at the piano again in 2007 than I moved to Utrecht (Netherlands) for a job that I could not afford to refuse. I thought this might end my ambitions. The opposite was true! In Utrecht there is an Arts centre run by the University that has piano practice rooms. Members of the public may use them for a modest annual fee. For the first time in my life there was no limit to the amount of practice I could do without disturbing neighbours or driving family mad!