Guides and Reviews.

Mrs Lau's Guide to page turning.

Recently I had the privilege of turning pages for a concert pianist colleague and it caused me to think about the skills required to do this job well. So here is my list of things to consider as you prepare to do this tricky job!

  • What to wear? Either all black or something in subdued colours. Look smart but save the tux for when you are the soloist. Non- squeaky, safe height shoes.

  • Make sure you are freshly showered, well-deoderanted (you will be leaning over the pianist...) but not perfumed- ( it might over power the pianist or they might be allergic).

  • Check what time you are required: for a rehearsal, for a quick briefing etc.  Also make sure you know where the venue is.

  • Listen carefully to where the pianist wants you to turn: are they doing all/some of the repeats, do they want to do some of their own page turns, are there any back turns/ Da Capos etc?

  • Sit on the left of the pianist (unless the piano is the other way round) and well back but near enough to see the music and get to the page turns in time.

  • As a general rule stand up and get your finger between the pages 2 lines before the end of the page but remember that if the music is fast you might want to stand up earlier, if it's slow you might stand up half a line later.

  • Turn quickly and efficiently when the pianist nods. Most pianists will nod early most of the time, it depends...Make sure the music stays turned and stays on the stand.

  • When its all over sit well back and clap. Slip off the stage as unobtrusively as possible, you are not the star.

  • Advice from a colleague and singer: always remember why you are there; its easy to get carried away listening to the performance but that's not why you are there, your job is to make the pianist's life easier, so concentrate on their music and them.

  • Enjoy the job, you will learn a lot about accompanying and it is a privilege.


Grade 5 Aural Test Guide

Test 5C

The examiner will say: “Listen to this piece then I will ask you about...” One question will be on either articulation, tonality, dynamics or tempo. There will always be a question on style and period.

Articulation: staccato or legato; say if the piece is mostly staccato, legato or detached.

Tonality: major or minor

Dynamics: what were the dynamics throughout the piece- just an outline, nothing too detailed.

Tempo: did the tempo stay the same or did it speed up or slow down anywhere in the piece.

Style and period- there will always be a question on this: The examiner may ask you what style or period the piece is in and what musical features tell you it is Baroque, Classical, Romantic etc.

1.      Baroque music often has ornamentation, the melody can be found in both parts/ hands, imitation, usually limited dynamics and range. Composers: Bach, Handel, Scarlatti.

2.      Classical music tends to have a graceful melody with a simple accompaniment, simple harmony, use of broken chords, arpeggio patterns or Alberti bass. Composers: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven

3.      Romantic music: all more extreme with contrasting dynamics, use of the sustaining pedal, a wider range, rich harmonies. Composers: Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert.

4.      20th century: jazz or blues style can include swung rhythms, syncopation, crushed notes and jazz chords. Composers: Gershwin, Joplin. Other 20th century music may have dissonance, contrast between major and minor, changes of tempo. Composers: Debussy, Hindemith.

Character: the examiner wants to know what you have noticed about the piece; so use any words to describe the piece’s rhythm, melody, tonality, or tempo. Mention if it sounds jazzy, bluesy, energetic or peaceful. Say if it is sad, calm, vigorous or lyrical. Just speak!

Scarlatti Sonata in D K492 Grade 8 Checklist 

·        Sort out, mark in and observe a workable fingering.

·        All quavers to be lightly detached.

·        Practise the ornaments so that they do not slow the tempo down.

·        Make sure that you can successfully and accurately ripple the LH guitar-like passages.

·        Keep fingers curved and towards the black keys, especially in the scale passages.

·        Check your shoulders and wrists for excessive tension.

·        Secure the start of the B section as this has new material.

·        Make sure the acciaccaturas are crushed and snap cleanly.

·        Mark in and observe the echo passages.

·        Make sure it is all one speed; practise it at a moderate metronome speed and then gradually increase it.

·        Secure starts and endings of A and B sections, memorise.

·        Memorise tricky passages and practise them eyes shut too.

Piano practice.

Piano practice can either inspire of horrify and was probably one of the biggest bones of contention between my mother and I. Her method was to set an oven timer on me and woe betide me if I stopped before it pinged! I now know that there is much more to practising the piano than the time invested.

Young Beginners.

The most important thing is that they enjoy their piano playing; this is more likely to happen if they succeed in playing their pieces well and musically, and if their family supports them and the teacher. Children often lead busy lives so they will probably need reminding, but sincere interest and real praise all help to make it worthwhile. Playing every day is the key as then good habits and muscle and aural memory will be established.

Older piano pupils.

Regular practice is important because then improvement can be built on, a wide repertoire of pieces learnt, skills secured and musicianship and technique developed. Also, being good at something is enjoyable! I hesitate to put a definite time down for every stage but these are very rough time guides for each day:

Grades 1-3: 30 mins. Grade 4 and 5: 40-45 mins. Grades 6-8: 1 hour. Diploma plus: 2-3 hours.

Of course some days you will want to do more and other days practice will be impossible, but aim for regularity. Sometimes splitting up the practice helps, for example 10/20 mins scales, technique, exercises, Baroque pieces, 10/20 mins other pieces, duets, sight-reading etc.

Top Tips for Practising

1.       Schedule your practice sessions.

2.       Structure your practice session; a teacher will set this out in the practice diary for young pianists.

3.       Always practise with a purpose, have a plan, set targets.

4.       Prepare: have a drink first, warm-up, set the stool at the right height, metronome to hand, have a pencil for marking up etc.

5.       Concentrate, don’t allow mistakes, sort the fingering out, practise hands separately, slowly, in small chunks.

6.       Variety is the spice of life and practice- vary what you do, when you do it, how you practise, the rhythms you use, what you play.

7.       Practise short sections then put them into wider context.

8.       Always review what you did in the previous session.

9.       Work on skills such as memorisation, improvisation and sight-reading as well as technique, artistry and repertoire.

10.    Read, listen and research around what you are playing. 

Mrs Lau's Guide to Surviving Exams

Before the exam:

·       Make sure you have chosen pieces you enjoy from the correct syllabus.

·       Be sure that you know your pieces inside out and, if possible, from memory (even if  you have the music), that you know 4 bars either side of page turns and that the starts and endings are particularly secure.

·       Practise your scales, arpeggios etc really thoroughly; they are the first element of your exam and a good chance to get it started well.

·       Try to play some sight reading every day.

·      Make sure that you are familiar with the aural tests. You can buy a CD of them or register on for extra practice.

·       Play your pieces on different pianos and get used to adapting to them.

·       Practise performing- to yourself with no stops, to family and to friends.

·       Make sure that you know where the exam is to be held. Have a dummy run of the journey.

On the day:

  • Have a countdown plan; think about what you are going to do, if you are going to practice, what you are going to wear(including shoes suitable for pedalling), what you are going to eat etc.
  • Arrive in plenty of time but not so early that you jitter!

At the exam:

  • Keep your fingers warm and do some deep breathing.
  • Smile at the examiner and talk clearly and confidently to him/her.
  • Take your time adjusting the piano stool and your music.
  • Focus and concentrate. Play each piece with character, style and confidence.

All done! That wasn’t so bad was it? Now go and treat yourself. Well done!

Mrs Lau’s Guide to Surviving Competitions

Before the competition: 

·         Make sure you have chosen a good piece or programme i.e. you are playing what was asked for, that the pieces are contrasted, and that you are comfortable playing them.

·         Be sure that you know your pieces inside out and if possible from memory (even if you have the music), that you know 4 bars either side of page turns, that the start and ending are particularly secure.

·         Have copies of your music for the adjudicator

·         Play your piece on different pianos and get used to adapting to them

·         Practise performing- to yourself with no stops, to family and to friends.

On the day:

  • Have a countdown plan; think about what you are going to do, if you are going to practice, what you are going to eat etc
  • Arrive in plenty of time but not so early that you jitter!
  • Decide what to wear

At the competition:

  • Go to the loo!
  • Listen to the other competitors but don’t worry about them, that is the adjudicator’s job!
  • Keep your fingers warm and take some deep breaths
  • Smile and walk up confidently- it works
  • Make sure to take enough time to adjust the piano stool and put your music in the right spot. Focus, play with lots of style and character and concentrate throughout.
  • Bow and smile for the applause!

There, that wasn’t so bad was it? Well done!

Some Techniques for Piano Auditions. With thanks to all the colleagues who have shared their experiences with me. 


Choosing a suitable programme is vital. Make sure that you prepare what is asked for and, in addition, choose pieces that reflect your abilities, aren’t too technically demanding ( save the new tricky Liszt for lessons), or too easy and that you can play musically. Ideally two contrasting pieces are the best- contrast the period, style or mood, for example a Bach Prelude and Fugue with a movement from a Beethoven late Sonata or a Mozart sonata movement with a Debussy Prelude.

Have copies of the music for the audition panel and be prepared to announce clearly who you are and what you will be playing.


Getting started and finishing

Announce your programme and then take time to adjust the piano stool, yourself, and get in the mood for your first piece. You may have a chance to try the piano out before you perform,( work out what you will do) or you might not...such is life for a pianist. Practise on different pianos so that you get used to adapting and getting the best out of them. Indicate the end by taking your hands off the keys and laying them in your lap. If the panel applaud, you stand and give a little bow. Otherwise, sit there and wait for them to conduct the rest of the audition.


The music

This is a big occasion for you but you are a candidate to the panel. You may be the 99th pianist the panel have heard that day or the 20th instrumentalist playing some Beethoven. However they want to hear lovely music and want to say good things about your playing, so make sure you give them plenty of positives, don’t dwell on the little mistakes; make your melody sing out, capture the character and mood right from the start, clearly articulate, ensure the phrases make sense etc. Be clear about what your musical intentions are and that you communicate them. The dots on the page are just the start; you have to make the music. Playing from memory is the ideal; then it is just you and the music, no paper intermediary. However if you do have the music in front of you, have it memorised so that you aren’t reading it all the time. This will help communication. Having said that, you may well be stopped after the exposition or the development, you may be asked to pick it up again at a certain place. Don’t read anything dreadful into this, it is normal practice in an audition. Be prepared for it.



We spend most of our musical lives practising, less time in lessons and probably even less performing, so practise performing and especially practise performing these pieces. Seize every opportunity, formal and informal. Get used to how your nerves work and learn to deal with them, for example: if your hands shake, keep them warm and do deep breathing beforehand in order to slow your heart rate down. If you feel sick, be careful what you eat before. If you think despairing thoughts, have some positive thoughts to slot in to replace them. Nerves are necessary and help deliver a good performance, just don’t let them tip over into disaster. For further reading read Kate Jones' Keeping Your Nerve, available at: for strategies to help performance anxiety.



Yes, the panel may well want to talk to you and find out about you and what you know. Make sure you know everything you can about your programme and be prepared for some general questions as well, such as “why do you want to come to this conservatoire?”, “why did you choose to play the piano?” Think before you answer each question and then speak up and speak out. At the end, thank the panel and make a graceful exit. 

Summary of tips

Before the audition:

  • Make sure that you are playing exactly what was asked for.
  • Choose pieces that you enjoy and can play comfortably and musically. If it is a programme, be sure that they are contrasting and show your abilities.
  • Prepare them very thoroughly; from memory, with a sound knowledge of the period, composer, instrument it was written for and the piece.
  • Be ready for questions. See *
  • Practice announcing your programme.
  • Be objective about your playing- is that mood or character really being communicated? Does your Mozart sound like Mozart?
  • Practise performing on different pianos.
  • Practise performing to yourself, to family and friends, informal and formal situations and through recordings.
  • Have copies of the music for the adjudicators.
  • Decide what to wear; be comfortable but not scruffy or in full evening dress...
  • Make sure you know where the audition is to be held and if you need to or if it's possible, do a dummy run. 

On the day:

  • Have a countdown plan; think about what you are going to do, eat and decide if/what you are going to practise.
  • Arrive in time but not too early!
  • Keep your hands warm.

In the audition:

  • Smile, act confident and speak up when you announce your programme or answer questions. Remember the panel want to enjoy your playing.
  • Accept your nerves, we all need them.
  • Be ready for the adjudicators to talk, write, move around, criticise what you play, stop and start you, and anything else! Although this is important to you, you are just another applicant to them and they may be pushed for time or have heard 99 pianists that day.
  • Take your time adjusting the stool and music.
  • Start when you are ready, focus, concentrate and give them lots of positives.
  • Communicate the mood, character and style of the piece and play with conviction.

After the audition:

All finished, well done! Go and treat yourself, you’ve earned it!

Whatever the result, focus on the positives and remember the panel are only expressing their opinion. Don’t let it stop you achieving your goal.

*Possible questions:

  • “How do you think your performance went?” Don’t say “fabulously “or “rubbish”, say “Actually I was quite pleased because....but I know that...”
  • “What instrument would this piece have been written for? How does this affect your performance?”
  • “Who is your favourite Bach/ Debussy/ Beethoven etc performer?”
  • “Tell me a bit about this piece” (When it was written, why, is it part of a series /group etc).
  • “What were you trying to communicate in this piece?”

Practicing the Piano, Nancy O’Neill Breth, Hal Leonard, £8.95, available from musicroom.

I have read several music related books this summer and this is the most useful one for my teaching. I read it in 2 days and kept making mental notes of new and very useful ideas.

Breth teaches the piano in the USA, in a private practice and taught piano, piano pedagogy and chamber music at Levine School of Music, Washington D.C. She is also a competition adjudicator and has written the very practical The Piano Students’ Guide to Effective Practicing and Parents’ Guide to Effective Practicing.

 The sub-title to this book is “How students, parents, and teachers can make practicing more effective” and it would certainly be a useful read for all of these, either as a whole read or as a “pick and mix” for specific problems. Breth divides the book into 5 parts:  1. Getting Started 2. The Early Stages of Practicing. 3. Polishing a Piece. 4. Finishing Touches.5. The Practice Triangle. Each section has a logical approach and deals thoroughly with the mechanics of practice; whatever your challenge or level there is an answer here.

Practicing the Piano is a handbook of practice techniques and it would be very useful for grade 5 plus pupils who are 15 and therefore have the mental capability to read it; it would help them develop that all important independence from their teacher. Parents will find ideas to help their children here, pianists will find out how to make practice effective and piano teachers will find it very useful. If you are a young teacher or a teacher preparing for a diploma the book will be invaluable as it deals practically with subjects such as pedalling, memorisation, preparing for performance and organising practising- in a clear and thorough way and with great examples from the core teaching repertoire. More experienced teachers will find that there are ideas in here to refresh their approach- I found the “mapping the terrain of a piece” extremely helpful and will certainly be using this and several other ideas explained by Breth this Autumn!

This is a book that should be in every piano teacher’s library; it’s thorough, clearly laid out and very, very practical.

Fiona Lau. August 2012

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