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Online masterclass series

Here’s an interesting online masterclass service that my teacher pointed out to me: Tonebase (

Various systems grading difficulty of pieces

There are various systems grading difficulty of pieces. Rough guides, YMMV.

Hinson’s Guide to the Pianists Repertoire and Friskin/Freundlich’s Music for the Piano. They both use level of difficulty as: Easy, Moderate, Moderately Difficult and Difficult

Graded 1-5:

Henle has a rating system of 1-9

The Great Britain ABRSM has a respected system.

Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music RCM ranked music repertoire for each instrument:

From a colleague:

“At some point, I tried to create playlists for those graded performance pieces in the RCM piano syllabus (the 2015 edition) on Spotify. The playlists are incomplete because some pieces can’t be found (or has become unavailable), and I only managed to make three of them (RCM-9 through RCM-ARCT, mostly because those are easier to find. :

And through Spotify’s recommendation engine, I became aware of an Australian system, the AMEB ( that provides music albums for their graded pieces. For example, here is one — AMEB piano for leisure, Series 4/Grade 8:  If you use Spotify, you can find more by searching for “AMEB piano” albums.”

A heartbreaking story of commitment

The New Yorker published this article about early Facebook employee and serious amateur violinist Eric Sun, whose life was cut dreadfully short by brain cancer.  Knowing that his time was short, he devoted himself more than ever to his music.

A Tech Pioneer’s Final, Unexpected Act _ The New Yorker

Nailed it!

No, not that insane Brahms broken chord accompaniment.  The brain of various musicians.  Enjoy.

Wow. Just wow.

This is *not* about playing the piano.  But it is about creating music, and artistic dedication to a beautiful idea.

The Wintergatan Marble Machine.

Better learning from practice that better engages our cognitive practices

Here are some practice tips from one of my favorite teachers, Polly van der Linde (who runs the Sonata and Sonatina piano camps for adults and kids in Bennington Vermont). These are winners, precisely because they engage deep processing of the sort that cognitive scientists have been showing in recent decades is so important for learning. Faster and better learning: what’s not to like?

1) “Opposite practice”: for instance, if it’s staccato, practice it legato a few times. One thing to be clear on, when doing opposite practice, to not do it too much as that will defeat the purpose. Most of this kind of work is done to double check that you know the repertoire inside out. It also brings out the pitfalls of the original score. For instance, if the score is staccato, you’ll be releasing notes all the time. If you practice it legato, you might notice that your fingering choice is inefficient. Practicing it legato will magnify fingering choices so you’ll choose the best solution and hopefully it incorporates into your bones enough that when you release the note for staccato, it sticks.

2) Practice the downbeat of every bar. Most chord changes occur on the downbeat and so that reinforces your harmonic memory. It also forces you to practice every bar without a running start from the bar before and that helps your memory and finger work.

3) Blocking, which isn’t so much about fingering as it is thinking about chord structures and possibly using a better fingering organization based on how many notes you can cover with your fingers. Fingering sometimes changes from blocking because either where you’re going to or where you’re coming from may dictate a different fingering.

4) Chunking, which is pressing your fingers down for passages that are predominantly scalar and finding the best 5-finger pattern for a passage. The notes will sound gross together but you’ll know where to put your thumb if the RH passage is going up and what finger to turn over with if the RH passage is going down (the opposite is true of the LH).

5) Playing things in different registers. Most people are shocked when they play a piece they know well and separate their hands an extra octave apart. Suddenly your hands do not feel as neighborly and, in fact, they seem to behave in a foreign manner if you’re not concentrating 100%. It’s a great test to figure out if you really know the score.

6) Imagine the music away from the piano or try to “play” your piece on the fallboard with your fingers, no notes, just gestures. It’s hard to do!

Classical music video subscription site

Sort of a “Netflix for classical music” (but a lot more expensive:  Subscriptions from $120 – $190 / year (as of today).  They claim to offer over 100 live events per year, and the catalogue of viewable videos is currently over 1600.

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Feeling better about practice: the peak-end rule

Kahneman and Tversky, in their many studies of cognitive biases, discovered the “peak-end rule”: our emotional memories off experiences are disproportionately affected by the end of the experience. For example, they had subjects submerge their hands in painfully cold water for 30 seconds, then another time but with an additional 15 seconds added, but at a slightly more comfortable temperature at the end. They preferred the longer session of torture, and remembered it as less painful.

Noe Kagayama, in his blog Bulletproof Musician, suggests that this finding can be used to design practice sessions (or lessons, if you are a teacher) that are remembered as more pleasant.


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The Bulletproof Musician

Just discovered this site — seems to have a wealth of useful advice and wisdom. Primary focus on helping musicians deal with performance anxiety, and also on more effective practice. But lots of other areas of advice as well. The Bulletproof Musician


How much practice? Less if deliberate

A nice article on the advantages of mindful (deliberate) practice.