Pianos I have loved

I grew up with an English upright that had, I’m told, been restored before it was bought for my sisters. I decorated it myself when I was about five, using the chimney of my dolls house. It had a handy little nail in it which I could use to make marks on polished wood. I drew a house. I had more faith in my art skills at the age of 5 than I did for the subsequent 40 years. And probably more, let’s be honest.

Anyway. My life was upright pianos for most of my childhood. My teacher had an equally old piano; I think it might even have been older than ours, and to be frank, I don’t remember it having a brand. I think the wood had a polished banded pale gold pattery. That there were special pianos knocking around is something I didn’t really realise until I was 13 or 14 and read a book called A Genius at the Chalet School. The genius in question was an orphaned teenager who happened to be a gifted pianist. Her father had died, leaving her to some cousin or other as her guardian. She didn’t really integrate well with the teenage children of her guardian because she was, not to put too fine a point on it, a gifted pianist, and frankly, obsessed, possibly unhealthily so. She was sent to the Chalet School because they would work with the whole piano thing. Her cousins’ school put a limit of two hours on extra curricular activities, of which they considered music to be one. The Chalet School facilitated four hours of practice and ensured she had a decent teacher which was jolly good of them.

Anyway, all of that tedious detail aside, while her father was still alive, some teacher had told her father it was a good time to get her a good piano. He bought her a Bechstein.

I had never heard of a Bechstein but I assumed it was one of those grand pianos I occasionally saw on television. And now, I dreamed of seeing one, maybe even playing one.

It is far from grand pianos I was raised, to use a common put down in Ireland. Moving swiftly onwards. When I was about 15 years old, I went on a trip to London with my cousins and one of the touristy things we did was go to Harrods. They had expensive pianos. Life changingly expensive pianos. I’m not going to go all communist on you and talk about the evils of capital but in 1988, a half sized grand Bechstein in Harrods cost £24,500. I had just coughed up 14% of my total assets at the time on a copy of Rach II in Boosey & Hawkes so a casual piano purchase was off the table.

But the piano was beautiful. It was truly beautiful and they allowed me to play it. I was a lot worse at playing the piano at the age of 14 than I am at the age 50 (stands to reason), but I was able to understand why Nina, the girl in the book, played a Bechstein. It was truly a good piano.

At some point, I will re-write all this into a piece about children’s books that tangentially feature the playing of piano, the fact that they were written in the context of the British class system but that’s not what this story is about. The truth is, a Bechstein in Harrods was the first grand I ever played. My cousins thought I was nuts to touch something that cost as much as a house in Ireland did at the time. Now that I think of it, houses cost more than a Bechstein these days.

Since then, I’m not sure how many grand pianos I have played. I’ve a good idea of the different builders I have played. I’ve played another few Bechsteins, in piano dealers in Ireland, the UK and I think also Germany. In particular I played one of the pianos that occasionally goes to the Royal Albert Hall. It was a beautiful piano, no doubt about it.

Possibly the most beautiful Bechstein I played was not the concert grand in a dealer in London, or the salon sized grand in Harrods, but a rebuild of a piano in a cabinet which I think date from 1882. It’s such a long time since I have seen it, I’m no longer certain of the date. It was in Pianos Plus in Dublin for a good while, and I played it most times that I went there.

But Bechsteins are not common as they used to be. Absent going to a C Bechstein showroom (I think the nearest to me now is the one in Paris which I skipped on a very hot day when I knew my fingers were not going to cooperate), I don’t get a chance to play them very often unless happenstance.

I’m not afraid of asking if I can play a piano in a piano shop and this means I have played quite a lot of pianos depending on opportunity. I spent a couple of years looking for a Fazioli because I had heard so much about them and in the end, went into a dealer in London (I may be dreaming here but I think the same dealer had the concert Bechstein that I played) and found a concert sized Fazioli, had a good with it, and did not get on with it at all. I was surprised and a little disappointed.

I’d heard so much. I can’t exactly explain what didn’t click. Mostly, it’s a question of feeling, how your body responds to the vibrations of the strings. But it was just one of those things. My local piano shop got a brand new salon sized one at some point, and it was a superlative piano. There was maybe only one or two other pianos I have played that were better than it, one is the 1882 Bechstein I mentioned above. The other was, somewhat unsurprisingly a Steinway D.

The plus point about the smaller piano is there’s an outside possibility you could eventually afford one. I still haven’t. The things I loved about the piano included its resonance – notes took an extraordinarily long time to fade away and you could do very interesting things given how sensitive the hammers were. I haven’t played that piano for a few years because I moved away but it’s definitely one of the best pianos I have ever played. Would I buy it? It depends on a lot of things. I don’t think it would be a safe apartment piano for me because I would never be able to give it full welly, as it were.

The very best piano I have played was a 15 year old Steinway Model D.

Steinway Love
Steinway. Current lords of the grand piano world. I got to play this a few times (honestly, every pianist should make friends with their local piano shops), and I also played a couple of brand new Model Ds in another nearby Steinway dealer. I get kickback from this but this is the only piano model that I would buy sight unseen brand new. I’ve played several and all of them have been excellent pianos. The slightly older one shaded it.

I’ve been told that if you order a Steinway D, you go to Hamburg to choose your own instrument; I dream of doing this. This, of course, is a totally unworkable dream given that NOWHERE I have ever lived even had a room for this.

In addition to the D, I have played a bunch of other Steinway grands, several Model Os of different ages, a couple of Model Bs and one Model C. When the time and money align, the likely battle could be between a Model B and a similarly sized Fazioli. As this is not the budget zone I am operating in at the moment, I need to temper my desires.

Aside from the Steinways, I have played at least one Boston, also salon sized, I think maybe 2m or the closest size. It’s a beautiful piano but this doesn’t totally surprise me because they are built by Kawai,. and I like Kawai pianos.

I have played quite a few Kawais, including one Shigeru Kawai (beautiful piano but not quite for me). I’ve played various ages from brand new to around 30 years old. I’ve played them in Dublin, Belgium and Luxembourg. Mostly, I have expected that when the time comes, I might find myself with a Kawai, again depending on budget and space. For a while, I preferred the older ones; now it will be a question of an individual piano. They are solid and reliable. They have a beautiful touch. I’m saying this because I have also played Young Changs (not for me) and also, I have played a few Yamahas.

The Yamahas have been an interesting mix. By default, I would say that Yamahas and I do not get on very well. I find them to have a very heavy action in general and I struggle to get a soft note out of them. They are physically more demanding to play than almost every other piano I have ever played. That being said, I have played two really beautiful C3s, one in Germany, one in Ireland. The one in Ireland followed a conversation with the piano salesman in Pianos Plus who told me there was one I should nevertheless have a go with; it had just been voiced by their technician and he had done an exceptional job on it. This was true. At that point in time, that Yamaha was as perfect a piano as I had played at that time in my life (but it couldn’t compete for my heart with the 1882 Bechstein).

Other pianos which I have played include a couple of Schimmels (nice pianos and I would love to visit their factory) and two pianos with French names, an Erard and a Pleyel, both of which I think were built in Germany. I wasn’t, to be honest, all that lost about either of them. They looked the part but did not really feel the part. I also have played a couple of Hanlets, one on French about 30 years ago, and one in Belgium about 25 years ago. They were nice pianos but not life changing.

For a long time, the main “big four” piano that I had not actually tried was Bosendorfer. This is another piano that comes with a huge reputation and I have so far only played one. I did not feel at ease with it and I’d like to play some others, maybe a very big one, and a 1.7 or sized one. I don’t have a Bosendorfer dealer near me so I think this will be a while.

Most recent “new” pianos that I have encountered are a couple of Belgian designed pianos. I’ve played a few Doutrelignes; there are two in the airport in Brussels and if they are free and I have time before my flight, I play them. They are lovely pianos; they have a gorgeous sound and from a keyboard action point of view, they are close to the top in my experience. I occasionally meet one when I hire a practice room at my local piano shop. I like them. Part of the deal with playing some Doutrelignes is that you are in a shop that has a Chris Maene straight strung piano, and yes, I have played it. What I will also say is I would like to play it a lot more. It generates beautiful heart moving vibrations. I needed to be alone with it.

The closest I have come to buying a piano is something I hadn’t previously heard of. I came across a prewar Ronisch. I loved it on first play. I can’t tell you why; it’s a prewar piano which means two pedals and ivory keys. It was not a very big piano but it has a beautiful soul. In a way, I think it reminds me of the 1882 Bechstein I mentioned about 90 minutes ago when I started writing this. I did a little research on the brand when I got home and one of the lovely selling points for me, at least, is that Rachmaninoff used to play one.


The piano itself plays beautifully but that little snippet of information, well “chef’s kiss”. His is now in the Rachmaninoff museum at his old summer house. Such a pity it’s not likely I will get to visit it any time soon. I am still reflecting on this.

And by the way, currently my own piano is a Kawai digital CA59. I love it because it allows me to play any time I like. Even if I eventually buy the Ronisch, or a Steinway B, I will keep it for that pleasure.

Piano dealers of note:

  • Kleber Luxembourg
  • Pianos Plus Dublin
  • Maene Brussels
  • Steinway Paris
  • Marcus Hubner, Trier
  • Jacques Samuel Pianos, London
  • Hanlet, Brussels

Sur Mer

Following a Rachmaninoff related mishap with my right hand last week, and a rather stupid insistence on continuing to practice through some discomfort, I am now taking a short break from playing the piano in the hope that sometime next week, I will be back at it with my Gondolalied and Bach Invention Number Tortuous.

In the meantime, I keep finding pieces that I want to learn, random but amazing pieces. This is one.

Sur Mer by Felix Blumenfeld, played by Daniel Blumenthal.

I should probably listen to all of that album, this one track is already amazing. It’s probably far beyond my skills at the moment (given my skill consists of being stuffed by Rach right now…) I hope that Felix’s chords aren’t anywhere near as challengingly big.

Rather annoyingly, I don’t find a published print of it at the moment but it is out of copyright so IMSLP has it. You can find it here. I had a look on Abebooks for it and found one seller in Germany but the quoted price was over 60 dollars. I don’t pay that for brand new sheet music books and I’m not sure I want this one at that price when I won’t be starting it for a good while and have some other things to do [I’m wondering if it is acceptable for Grade 8 but since I can’t find a published print I think I will struggle to use it].

The opening bars put me in mind of a great naval ship (sailing, 19th century) racing across the ocean, with the occasional encounter with someone else’s great naval ship. I love those opening bars, those arpeggios.


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.

BR: Grand Obsession, Perri Knize

I spent some time lately searching for books about pianos; I’ll be honest and say I was hunting for the piano equivalent of a coffee table book but the problem with looking for piano books is that you have to sort through a lot of piano sheet music. In itself, this is not totally bad – it means the sheet music exists – on the other hand, you need to be lucky. I found Grand Obsession on several lists of “Top N Books about pianos”. I’d read the other common candidates, namely The Piano Shop on the Left Bank (one of the best books ever), Play It Again, etc. I have Forgotten Siberian Pianos somewhere which I need to dig out. But I had not heard of this Grand Obsession and the premise sounded right up my street, as in I have found a German piano that intrigues me, that I am considering buying.

Book Review Grand Obsession

So I ordered it from Amazon, as you do when you know full well none of the bookshops around you will have it. Trust me; they don’t. And I was impatient.

The premise is enticing: middle aged woman falls for a “rare” German piano, buys it, ships it from New York to somewhere else, I think it was Minnesota and from then on, the piano displays its true temperament. On paper, this could be me, without the American stuff. I have found a rare German piano (No inverted commas here to some extent), and I am middle aged with wild cravings for salt and sugar and mad needs for naps on a Friday afternoon. My relationship to the piano is not that similar though. I did play on and off most of the time from when I was 20, there was no loaded conversation about what instrument I would learn as my parents were open to most things within reason. We had a piano at home. I played in one shape or another from the age of 8. I decorated the piano when I was 5. I had lessons. So, hmmm. Maybe this idea that I might identify with this was a bit naive.

I’m going to say that the book is clearly written by someone who can write, but after that, there isn’t a lot that I liked about it. It left me utterly cold about the piano world in the US. A good chunk of the start f the book was around the hunt for a piano, and how amazing the Piano World forums were. I understand it but I also found it a touch tedious. The advice was to pretty much play every piano she could find and “she would know”. Eventually, the piano showed up in New York. She did not live in New York. The piano was a Grotrian Steinweg and from what I can gather, it was a new one. It seemed to be the source of a monumental amount of drama: played beautifully the first time it was played; was the subject of arguments because it was more than Knize had budgeted. 9-11 changed things apparently, both in Knize (we live for the moment) and the piano shop (we need the money). I’ve whole mixed feelings about this.

I understand the falling in love with a piano. I’ve never met a piano sales engineer who tried to sell me a piano I genuinely have not budgeted for. So the whole conversation about eventually buying/financing the piano left me totally meh. After that, we get into the army of technicians. Problem: “piano does not play the way it did the first time I played it months before 9-11”. Solution: several hundred pages away.

It proceeded not to play the way it did the first time she played it for most of the rest of the book. The sole interesting part of the book for me was the visit to the Grotrian factory (something I would not mind doing in general). The long discussions with the technicians she got to look at the piano, the piano dealer, they wore me out. Early in the book, one technician said it was a question of tuning. The piano was fixed by it being tuned by him a particular way near the end of the book. I struggle to understand why I had to read through 370 pages include a discussion of Rudolf Steiner in the section around trying to understand the science about why some people are affected by some pianos. That was depressing.

I can’t understand the reviews I have seen about this book. Some wisely suggest it is for lovers of pianos. Not this one anyway but then since I don’t like Bartók my credentials are in doubt.

Lucid yet lyrical, analytical yet deeply affecting

Quite. I don’t quite agree with the Washington Post

I don’t especially recommend reading this. I was deeply frustrated by the descriptions of what technicians were doing to the piano. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Europe and of course it is different here, but I would not be happy to see technicians doing what they were doing to the hammers on that piano. I didn’t feel on the same journey in terms of a dream piano. It’s well written. It is somewhat of a fairy story. It is too close and too wrong for me. Other people clearly enjoyed it. Not me.

The learning period of a piece

I’ve been working a piece of music lately – one of Mendelssohn’s Gondellieder – I’ve already written about it here – and in the context of some content I have seen on the question of exam preparation and general repertoire learning, I want to comment some discussions around how long it should take you to learn a piece of music. This piece has taken longer than I would like and there are a couple of reasons for this. I intend to figure out a way to do a youtube video on this later.

I tend to think a lot of questions like this come from adult learners with not a lot of confidence. I seem parallel questions from other people who “played until they had to give up for practical/academic reasons” about 20 years ago and are concerned it is too late to pick it up again. Is it really gone?

Chris Maene Piano Collection
Here are some nice historic pianos to break the wall of text.

I’ve also been looking at online teachers who teach to one or other of the grading system. The teacher in question does excellent supporting youtube videos as does the teacher whose video about how long it should take to be learning pieces so arguably, they are arguing from experience and I am arguing from my reality which might be difficult. The Mendelssohn has taken longer than I expected from the outset and even so I am not in favour of blanket statements that the process of learning the notes and perfecting the delivery of said piece should only take 8 weeks for the most part provided you practice X time per day. Otherwise it is too hard. Alternatively, the idea that you should be able to prepare exam pieces in 4 to 6 weeks is equally ambitious.

Most people will, at some point will try a piece that is beyond them. I did that with Rach II at 15 and I put crazy time into parts of its second movement when I was 17. There are a lot of things which feed into the learning process but above all, it doesn’t matter how hard or how easy the process is (honestly, Bach’s WTC Prelude in C is baby level easy for me at this point and I will write about that some day as well).

In one respect, the most important thing for any pianist is to develop a consistent habit that works for them. It’s 9.50pm here as I write this – most evenings I am playing at this point for a while. We put a lot of weight on people’s shoulders. Do Hanon, do scales, do repertoire “in line with your ability” from whence a load of questions about what grade pieces are I guess as people try to work out what is in line with their ability.

For myself, I have a couple of criteria around the learning of the piece and they are as follows:

  • do I like the piece. I’m 50. The exam system put me through hell with pieces I hated when I was about 14 or so.
  • how long is it? The longer the paper, the longer to learn
  • What key is it in? D flat minor? Eh…we won’t be winning any races here.
  • Are there any obvious dragons here? Like big chords and polyrhythms?

Then I do the following:

  • Try to sight read it through, both hands together.
  • Break it into parts and identify initial targets.
  • Work through the individual parts, hands together for preference, but hands separately where it’s not an instinctive piece of music. Unless it’s Bach. Bach, really feel you should play hands together if at all possible.
  • Work through the transitions between parts. I cannot emphasise how important this is.

You cannot estimate how long this is going to take in terms of weeks. You need to put into context what your life is like – as an adult, it’s often stressful in a way around practice (often a lot of people around you don’t see why you would want to do this) and there are interruptions. Let’s take me with the Gondollied above.

  • Yes I like it, check
  • Two pages, so short, check. I mean, that Sonatina by Beethoven is longer I think.
  • Key: G minor, not completely comfortable but generally okay,. Scales ahoy
  • No obvious dragons

That word “obvious” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there.

What was interesting about the next steps is the site read went okay. The parts went okay. They mostly went hands together, slow. And then we got to the transitions between the broken down parts/sections. Specifically, we got to this across page 1 to 2 of the piece. (see sheet music here)

Mendelssoh Venetian Gondola Song 19b

when I see that the movement from the last bar on page one to the first bar on page 2 has accounted for about 60% of the effort attribute to this over the last three months, I am not exaggerating. When I did the initial read through, when I did the dragon hunt, nothing. Not a squeak. Regularly playing it, however, revealed a fingering problem which alone caused issues.

But the point is, of the piece 4 pieces I have on my schedule at the moment, this is otherwise, not difficult. Absent those three bars, we are talking about a piece that I flew through.

Is this a kind of self justification? Well obviously? Does it counter two experienced teachers? To some extent, I think there is a difference between having a go at Ballade No 1 by Chopin (uhem) and running into an unexpected barrier on a much easier piece.

In a way, I think “how long to learn this” “how long should it take” questions miss a point. I love this piece of music, even after playing it 1000 times and regularly getting stuck at the start of page 2. I’m doing grade 6 purely because I was learning this piece anyway (but found 3 other pretty pieces). But there needs to be a question around the objectives. Why do you want to do this? Do you recognise the opportunity cost? What if we meet an unexpected problem, can we work around it? What represents success here? Why is there a deadline – are you not enjoying the process?

For me, in the background, it has taken considerably less time to master the parts, and the transitions are linked with memory issues (perimenopausal woman, and brainfog and I don’t worry about things taking a little longer for that reason) and for the other two pieces, the sight read was okay, there are a couple of dragons in terms of bass chords. The last remaining example is a Bach two part invention.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect someone to learn these four pieces in 4-6 weeks. I also don’t think it’s reasonable to state that if pieces cannot be learned in that time frame, you shouldn’t be learning them. What I do think, however, is that we should have honest discussions about what repertoire we are working on, why, where the pitfalls are and when we would like to be ready to do it.

Ultimately, learning something is a process and if you do not enjoy the process, you will never get out the other end either way. Artificial time limits are not going to solve that.

Sporting injuries – Rachmaninov

I’ve never worked out whether I prefer the v or ff spelling and today I bought some more music published by Henle who spell it with a w. Gotta love German.

Anyway. I’m fully aware of my limitations – I started working on the second piano concerto when I was 15 and still struggle with polyrhythms – and I like to think I pick my encounters with Rachmaninov carefully. I have some pieces on my longer to do list and then I have some snippets on my snippets. I lately came across Heart of the Keys having a go at the Prelude in G minor (playable by people who have been learning since yesterday 4pm according to Reddit) and it occurred to me that it had been a while since I had listened to it. So I did and it’s broadly an ABA structure, which is nice from a logical point of view, and the B is really a gorgeous piece of music.

I already had the sheet music, in a Boosey & Hawkes edition [and I have say I am not totally lost on the paper] so during a bout of insominia yesterday I got it out.

The sheet music is here on IMSLP, if you want to have a look. This is the key part, right at the beginning of what my popmusic soul still calls the bridge:

Clip from the sheet music of Prelude in G Minor, first bar of B section

See that chord highlighted in red? That there is an innocuous looking little octave sized chord where the position of the D and the F which is an F sharp courtesy of an earlier accidental are basically impossible for me to play at this point. Yes, I hurt myself.

I have a 9 white note span. I was not expecting this and I would be disappointed except Ouch.

All the questions I don’t understand

Every once in a while, someone pops into r/piano on reddit and asks, often plaintively, where can they find music to play. Where can they find songs.

I struggle with this. There is Google. There are sheet music shops. There are such easy answers to this question that I can’t quite get why people are able to operate Facebook, or, even r/piano itself, but cannot find sources of music. There will be some answers here.

Mostly, though, people are looking for low effort, free. This is my sole understanding. They don’t just want the music from the movie Amelie. They also want it to be free. Bully for that – Yann Tiersen is not dead, and it’s not going to be free until 70 years after he is dead. The average redditor will be a long time waiting. However, helpfully, it’s all in this book here, and also, I’m pretty sure that people have put transcriptions up on musenote.

I own two books by Tiersen, this one (which I love because it has a chunk of stuff off other albums which I want to learn to play as well) and Eusa which has some stunning stuff on it. For modern composers, you can’t really go wrong with him or with Olafur Arnalds. Olafur occasionally makes some of his sheet music available via his social channels, he was selling one book (one beautiful book) while touring last year. He has a couple of other books on his online shop currently out of print which I covet. Also, go see him in concert.

I am very lucky to have a good sheet music shop near to where I live, linked to the fact that there is a music conservatory very near it. They clearly cover a giant chunk of the classical repertoire – and I will come to that in more detail in a moment – but they also have a significant amount of film music, games soundtrack music and especially music by Japanese composers (Howls Moving Castle has a bit to answer for). They will order anything you want. I will be honest – there is nothing more pleasant (or expensive) as browsing a sheet music shop. It’s worth supporting them.

For classical music, there are several routes to heaven. There is your local music shop.

However, if you are tied for cash or not prioritising the spending of your cash on sheet music, and you are into classical music and you have either an iPad or a printer, you are quids in. There is the IMSLP library (which you can also support with cold hard cash because they are not Facebook or even remotely trendy to techbros). This has a vast array of scans of sheet music for out of copyright and often, out of print classical music. This, by some distance, is the country mile cheapest way to get music. It is an incredibly precious project and also, if you subscribe to them, you have access to a library of streaming music. This is kind of handy.

On the online front, there are a couple of options. Several publishing houses have their own apps or shopfronts for online sheet sales – Henle is one and I use their app and like it. Schott I think also do online sales. Some of the online shops like Stretta (I live in Europe) and probably SheetMusicPlus will sell downloadable PDFs. NKODA has a subscription model. I can’t comment on it too much other than yes, it has a lot of music, especially music that is out of copyright, but I’m not totally onboard with the financial model and most of the music they have that I might want is either available in physical copy in my local music shop, can be ordered or can be ordered as a pdf from elsewhere. If you’re into modern pop and other more recent compositions it’s probably a better option.

For jazz, I can’t help you. I do know again that there are transcriptions of Keith Jarrett’s Cologne concert knocking around (great piece of music. You should give it a listen).

Most other stuff, I arrange for myself. Then people ask me for the sheet music which is challenging since I pretty much play it by ear, and it changes all the time.

Some much for that one. Moving onwards

I have been learning music for 3 months, and I can play Fantaisie Impromptu. What should I play next?

I have very real problems with this. I have particular problems with someone claiming that they started playing in January and here’s them playing Rachmaninoff prelude in C sharp minor and to put my cards on the table, I don’t believe them. It’s not possible to learn to read sheets adequately to play Rachmaninoff in that time, and when you scratch a little between the lines, very often, they didn’t learn to read sheets, they followed a key tutorial on Youtube.

I feel stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea here. Basically, I feel if you can play Fantaisie Impromptu competently, you have enough knowledge to know what you want to play next, or have enough interest in the piano to have some idea of the repertoire. There is, if you are interested, plenty of ways to find similarly scaled difficulty (go look the piece up on Henle’s catalogue, find out what they graded it as and look at other pieces of the same level) (if they have truly learned to read music, this will be a piece of case).

If you can’t, I kind of wish you wouldn’t post it on r/piano that you can. There are adults going through hell preparing Grade I exam pieces after 2 years of work and lying about what you have achieved, or how long it took you to achieve it, is completely demoralising, and also, it’s a bit amoral. But you do you on that front.

In the meantime, I am tempted to answer Islamey by Balakirev (it’s less painful than Rachmaninoff at first appearance) or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Refer to the answer on sheet music above after that.

What piano should I buy?

Questions of this nature come with completely unreasonable budgets, usually. My personal view is this. There are several input questions:

  • How much money do I have, really?
  • How much space do I have, really?
  • No, go back and answer those two questions HONESTLY
  • What kind of music can I play now?
  • What kind of music do I want to play in the future?
  • Do you want to play daily?
  • Do you have neighbours who work nights?
  • Do you live in an apartment?

I could also ask, do you collect pianos? And Have you gone to the Piano World Forum.

Typically, if you have 200K and the space, I would say by a Steinway D. Try to play more than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on it unless you’re going to do a set of variations that exceed Mozart’s efforts. For the rest of us in a different reality, I would suggest, you want to spend enough to make it a decent piano (so free looking for a good home is a risk) but not so much that you have anxiety attacks the next time the electricity bill comes in.

I bought a brand new Kawaii CA59 as I a) knew I wanted to buy a Kawai if I bought a digital from many tests, b) had a little bit of space for it in my office (by the time it arrived, I didn’t any more but I had space in my living room instead) c) some classical, lots of folk and pop d) more classical, lots of folk and pop e) yes but life innit f) no idea and would prefer not to find out the hard way by being yelled out and g) yes so headphones will be handy.

I will do a post on my life in pianos later.

What grade is this?

There is an ongoing debate about the value of ranked piano teaching systems. Places that don’t have them think they are batshit crazy. Places that grew up with them are like “meh, that’s just how we roll”. Mostly they are ex-British colonies and the UK itself. I did piano grades as a teenager and as you’ll see here, I’m planning to do them again but more interesting than what I did age 15.

That being said, people really do want a way to objectively place themselves in a world where there are people claiming that they can play Fantaisie Impromptu having played the piano for the very first time in St Pancras Station (the not-Yamaha) yesterday and I can understand that. There are a few sources, and to be fair to the r/piano community they tend to provide them. Henle rank the pieces they publish on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is relatively easy, I haven’t found 10 yet but most of Chopin and Rachmaninoff are 7 and above. If it is on an ABRSM syllabus, they will generally mention that too. There is also some other site which I haven’t bookmarked that has a lot of things too although curiously not always the Mendelssohn pieces I am looking for. And after that, there are the repertoire syllabus for ABRSM, TCM, RIAM and RCM and worth looking through them to see if the piece is there.

After that, not sure we can help. But think about what you next want to learn.

Chris Maene’s collection of historical pianos

One of the items on my to do list was to give a trip to the Museum at Pianos Maene in Brussels. You can find some information here, but in brief, Chris Maene, in addition to designing, building and selling pianos, also collects antique pianos and harpsichords. Out of a collection of about 100, 25 are on display in a museum at the premises of Maene Pianos in Brussels near Gare du Midi. I like collections of musical instruments and he has accumulated some interesting things. The museum spans almost 400 years of keyboard instruments and bearing in mind that there are three times as many instruments in storage as there are on display, I can only assume this is very much a labour of love.

The oldest instrument on display dates from 1632. If I understand the information video correctly, it’s one of just 4 linked with a leading harpsichord builder from the area and it floated in and out of documentation during the course of about 200 years.

Chris Maene Piano Collection
This is an interesting instrument, not least because work was done on it about 200 years ago as well.

There is a mixture of pianos on display, some grands, some vertical grands, early uprights, some square pianos. I’m not sure what I found most interesting to be honest – one of the things that startles me generally is how ornate pianos could be. Like this:

Chris Maene Piano Collection


Chris Maene Piano Collection
Chris Maene Piano Collection

There was a really unusual to me Pleyel with a double keyboard

Chris Maene Piano Collection

Of the grands, I rather liked this one:

Chris Maene Piano Collection

This is one of the square pianos I think

Chris Maene Piano Collection
Chris Maene Piano Collection

And there was a player piano of an efficient construction:

Chris Maene Piano Collection

The museum is well worth visiting. If you are interested in musical instruments, this and the MIM collection are worth some of your time. MIM also sells a lot of music gifts. Maene sells pianos which are somewhat less portable.