Newly acquired sheet music

I had a ninja trip to London last week and took a few minutes to hare up to the music department in Foyles. I was looking for a couple of things, one of which is not available at the moment but you might randomly find it somewhere that hasn’t sold all its copies yet. In Foyles, I was not so lucky. There was no copy of any of the Liszt works I want. Why I want them I don’t know; I don’t play much/any Liszt at the moment.

The other piece I wanted was Barcarolle Number 1 by Gabriel Fauré. There is an album of Fauré’s complete piano music knocking around which I don’t seem to have flagged but I will. Here’s the trailer:

Lucas Debargue – complete music for piano by Gabriel Fauré

Anyway, the taster which Apple Music released absolutely ages ago was the first barcarolle, and I want to learn it. I see it, I buy it. However, Foyles also had a transcription of Pavane, so I bought that too.

The Liszt that I am looking for are his transcription of Beethoven Symphony No 7 and the chorales. I don’t urgently need them but if I see them, I will pick them up. In any case, I will ninja to London again soon.

Practice plans on ToneBase

I haven’t had a lot of time there later but I see there is a new tutorial on trills (this is good news) and I answered the questions for a practice plan. This resulted in a list of 8 courses to follow:

  • How to sightread with both hands
  • How to play repeated notes
  • How to play arpeggions in inversions
  • How to use the left pedal
  • Playing Short Trills, Mordents and Trills
  • Pavane pour une infante defunte
  • Controlling the 6 Primary Dynamics
  • Illuminating Beethoven.

That last one is with Seymour Bernstein and I really like his delivery.

Anyway, it’s not a bad set of recommendations. I’m not saying I can’t sight read with both hands (I can) but if there are useful tips, this would be good. Repeated notes I need to practice, and the arpeggios in inversions I used to do as a teenager. One thing I have found is what I did as a teenager is often described differently by the American teachers (which is basically ToneBase, from my point of view). For the pedals, yeah, I use the sustain a lot because I love the echoing sound it produces. I typically used the left pedal on my acoustic to shut myself up as a teenager so probably that lecture is going to be illuminating.

The surprising one is the Pavane. I honestly thought that was probably beyond my level. It is on my to be learned list although not on my Learning List playlist on my phone – I must rectify that – but it was for later. I’ll give a listen to that lesson as well later on.

On the gap analysis: Sight reading

Having written two rants on organisational stuff, I want to touch on where I see skills gaps that I want to resolve over the coming year that support the fluffy “I wanna play anything I want” aspiration we all have when we listen to Chopin.

As noted elsewhere, I have some sight reading fluency gaps. That is to say, the ledger lines still have to be counted and although I drilled them a lot last year, it’s different in actual sheet music rather than on an app while you are getting the bus to work. The other thing I want to fix are ornaments.

There are plenty of resources around for that and one of the things I intend to do is put them into my sheet music sketchbook. It’s a solvable problem and then once that is done, they will need some practice. I expect one of the practice goals to be achieved sometime in the next few days so will put that into the rotation of what I do.

Sight reading demands a bit more effort. I’ve watched enough videos to know that the issue is not a lack of knowledge but a lack of fluency. In short, I need to read more by sight. There are no tricks beyond that other than how to achieve this. Given I’ve just written a rant on the question of excessively devoting time to planning and pussying around with journals and the like, what comes out of this entry might be unexpected.

One of the things I need to make some decisions around is how much time to devote to this. I like to hope that soon, I will not be devoting 45 minutes to Bar 7 of a Bach invention (it’s frustrating given how fast the rest of it will go). I’ve seen some people talk about 10 minutes on sight reading a day, or 30 minutes a week. I’m not sure which one goes faster.

I came across something via reddit this morning: some user pointed at the 40 pieces challenge on Piano World. I dug a little deeper and came up with this blog entry by Elissa Milne. I know this name. She wrote one of my Grade 6 pieces, the jazz piece, Indigo Moon. It’s a lovely piece which will be getting much more of my attention after the dreaded Bar 7 of Bach.

The general idea is to learn at least a piece a week. I liked the underlying thought here because basically, I lived it.

The more students progressed in degrees of difficulty the more their sight-reading skills lagged behind. 

Elissa Milne

You should read the piece. It’s an eye opener to know that this has been an issue for about 170 years. It’s one of the week points of the music grade systems in the Anglo Saxon world, I think. That aside.

Where I run into problems – and have done with 100 Days of Practice – is that real life can very often be a great obstacle to dealing with my dreams of playing more Chopin. I get a bit sad when I see people talking about how everyone has the same 24 hours a day. Honestly, the quality of those 24 hours vary dependent on how many of them you have to spend getting money to live on or washing dishes. There’s a reason that there’s a saying Behind every great man, there’s a great woman. Someone had to do the laundry and it wasn’t the man.

So, in reflection over breakfast, I muse on this, and here is one place where planning is truly an investment. It’s not an investment in individual practice sessions but in a series of them. Sure, teachers who engage in this with the kids they are teaching will have a well of resources but for an adult Who Is An Amateur, it’s worth planning this in some way.

There are a couple of useful sources here (and they can be built into a forScore setlist I believe).

  • Anna Maria Bach’s little notebook
  • Bach: Little Preludes and Fugues
  • r/piano piano challenges probably up to level 4 or 5
  • The ABRSM lists for grades up to Grade 4
  • The TCM lists for grades up to Grade 4
  • The RCM lists for grades up to Grade 6

There are books of pieces knocking around. Hal Leonard does one. But I might want to choose freely and there is IMSLP.

Here’s where my inner project manager comes out: pick 40, not including the two easy ones you know already such as the Petzold, and list them in an Excel Spreadsheet. And then tick them off. Put them on the YouTube Channel on a playlist.

We will see how it goes.

Nice Cup of Tea

When I look at my weaknesses, the number one item on that list (according to me anyway) are polyrhythms. I understand how to calculate how the beat is divided but I struggle to make it work. So I addressed this Gap via Professor of Music Youtube.

For 2/3 polyrhythms, there are two notable videos which I am going to place here:

RIAM Practising 3 against 2 rhythm

What I like about this one is it provides a scale exercise for making your fingers work on the concept.

Denis Zhdanov has a very useful video here also.

Currently I am working on these away from the piano and I’m interested to see that I can manage them away from the piano.

On the administration side of things

I bought some more sheet music yesterday; all from Henle so all with the distinctive blue covers, so I will skip the photos for this.

  • Brahms Opus 76
  • Brahms Opus 119
  • Liszt Sonata in B minor
  • Brahms Ballades

I have bought a crazy amount of sheet music and that doesn’t include the pieces I also pull from IMSLP to whom I intend to give some money soon. I know deep down that until I get past the necessary block I have with one of the exam pieces I am learning, I will not do anything more than tip away at bits of these collections. I bought the Liszt Sonata – a piece I never expect to even start learning in its completeness simply because I love the second movement.

But it’s nice to dream and I Feel No Guilt about this. However.

I need to tidy the sheet music into some sort of usable system so that I can find it more easily. This involves bookshelf reorganisation. I dread it, I already have piles of actual books around the place. The oldest sheet music I possess is in Ireland and the oldest that I have here is my copy of Rach II which I bought in about 1988. So it’s like, 35 years old. I take care of my music and even my exam books are in pretty decent nick given that they cost one or two pounds also around 35 years ago variously. Yes I know it seems crazy that someone working grade 4 or 5 also bought Rach 2. But I like dreaming of the possible and I’m never going to forgive the people who focus on how hard something will be instead of how motivated I am. I still can’t play bits of it but I totally get lost in it when I am working on pieces of it just for the pure pleasure of doing so. The journey matters not the end. Anyway, I digress. The Liszt cropped up on Igor Levit’s latest album; I have quite a few bits of Liszt that were bought to be read rather than played. A bit like Islamey by Balakirev. I’m not even going to try. Okay. Back to the objective.

I have a mix of music: a lot of so called classical – basically written 100 or more years ago – and more modern stuff like Tiersen, Arnalds and Einaudi. I’m going to write about Einaudi after I am done with this. I bought mag boxes to store them in because they are mostly not hardback and the music can be fragile and when you don’t have a lot of it, mag boxes keep it somewhat safe. Now I am thinking that the alphabet is going to have to be my friend and that I will just have to sort that way. But I want to keep a mag box aside for the kind of loose single piece sheets and also for the Grade 6 and Grade 8 piano pieces. Currently the 6 is cluttering my piano. I want to declutter my piano but that’s going to be challenging as I’ve all sorts of tools and notes there. I also have the free stuff that came with the piano (stuff that includes Burgmuller and Chopin plus a couple of collections of Various). So there needs to be a collections section as well. I also tended to sort by publisher which was fine when most of it was Henle. Most of it still is but I’d prefer to sort by composer now that a bit more Barenreiter is coming in and I bought the Chopin Institute’s issue of the Chopin Sonatas.

So I’m writing about doing this instead of doing it which is…an interesting bit of procrastination.


When I was doing some research around the prelude in C major from the first Well Tempered Clavier, I came across a reference to Anna Magdalena’s Notebook. It’s a collection of music which JS Bach put together for his wife and it includes the prelude in C major.

I liked the idea, and also I own some of these things:

More baby sketchbookd
They are around A6 sized. Small. Anyway.

There are lots of clips of pieces of music which I like – parts of Tchaikovsky’s 2nd piano concerto, for example, elements of the piano parts of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (I really want to include mention of the piano because it isn’t merely a backdrop to the stringed instrument here) and there is an extraordinary opening for one of the Schuman violin sonatas which I came across in a very old clip of Helene Grimaud:

A very young Helene Grimaud working on Schumann

I like the idea of a notebook full of extracts I like, and might even try to learn if they don’t try to injure me (looking at you, Sergey). But I thought the A6 notebooks were a little too small for that (I fancy being the type of person who has a notebook to sketch out compositional ideas while waiting for dinner to be served which is why I have the A6 notebooks). So I got this.

Music sketchbook A4
A4 Henle Notes sketchbook for music.

Sheet music acquisitions

Latest purchases
More Brahms and lots more Rachmaninoff

I wanted to get some plastic covers for my Henle music that I carry to acoustic piano practice, and also, I wanted non-tearable manuscript notebooks.

On the sheet music, every time I buy some, I think that’s the end. Most of the Rachmaninoff that I own is published by Boosey & Hawkes and I couldn’t get everything I wanted in London a couple of months ago. I was also experimenting with Prelude in G minor the other day (perhaps not the greatest idea) and I realised I didn’t much like the quality of the paper I was working from. I never thought I was so picky. I could see Henle had an edition of it so I decided I wanted that. I’ve been increasingly. Elegie and chunks of Etudes Tableaux are on my to be learned at some point in the future when I don’t hurt myself trying to do this, and I wanted the 117 intermezzi as well. I have one or two of them in the Brahms piano book (I should probably do some reviews. Score happy me.

Of course I should do this electronically, space and all that.

Apps for the piano playing iPad owner

One of the most useful and also, most frustrating, aspects of modern life is the absolute proliferation of tools that don’t quite do what you are looking for. But from day one, one of the truly promising things about tablets or iPads was the potential for digital tools to support music. I didn’t get with it all that quickly but I want to touch on some of the the apps I use and comment on why I made some decisions for now.

For sheet music, I use two apps. I use the Henle Digital Library, and I use forScore. I use Henle because they sell me the music that I want, digitally, and it’s mine. I also have a vast (for me) collection of their blue Urtext editions and the third album of classical music that I bought was a Henle edition of the Chopin etudes. I haven’t learned much from it, but I love it. The application is great, it has all their music and so far, I haven’t any complaints about using it. It’s just, it has Henle music and only Henle music. If you look at my piece on going back to the exam world, you’ll see some music which is not on the Henle library, namely Indigo Moon by Elissa Milne and Autumn Leaves by Vladimir Rebikov. Indigo Moon I downloaded from Stretta Music for a small some of money and my local sheet music shop ordered the Rebikov for me.

In theory I can move any of the Henle purchases to forScore but I don’t see the point. Any other music I have (some by Olafur Arnalds and the odd thing I pulled from the IMSLP) I put into forScore. Already, this is tidier than Apple Books even though in theory, you know, all I need is a pdf reader. Both apps allow annotation, with the Apple pencil and both of them have the hellscape that is a Metronome Nagging Machine integrated.

The other app I use mainly for practice journaling is Andante. I like that this does stuff I cannot get a project app to do in terms of tracking and measuring time, dropping brief notes about the session, a larger practice journal which I don’t tend to use much because in theory, that’s what this blog is about. I find it handier to use my phone for this but I paid for the app (there is a free version) which means it syncs up with the iPad it’s installed on. I’m especially interested in tracking that to see how much work it takes me to get the Bach invention that I am supposed to be working on up to reasonable scratch. I started other pieces before I started using Andante.