A fresh approach to technique

Piano Portals is a groundbreaking, holistic approach to technique.

It's accessible and enjoyable. It challenges convention and offers fresh, surprising points of focus for your practice.

Uncover transformational elements of playing that've been all but neglected by pedagogy.

Play fluently and expressively through deepening self-awareness, not dogma.

4 in 1

Online courses, e-books, cheat sheets, tutorials and 1-2-1 feedback for:

  • Fluent, expressive coordination free of excess tension
  • Focus, confidence and joy in playing
  • Flowing, enjoyable music-learning
  • Facilitating advanced technique

FAQ

What exactly is it?

  • It's first and foremost an approach to technique - a radical substitute for conventional exercises
  • It's a musical, engaging framework of daily activities which empowers you to become the expert on your own playing coordination and redress any disharmony
  • It doubles as a mindful practice for presence and concentration
  • It cultivates a holistic approach to music-learning
  • It contains beautiful music

What it's NOT

  • It's NOT (yet) a comprehensive beginner tutor - a 'how to play the piano' from scratch. It IS for those committed to improving their playing coordination in any repertoire and in any genre, in engaging and creative ways

Who it's for

  • Post-beginner to intermediate players/returners seeking an engaging daily practice for fluent, expressive playing without excess tension
  • Intermediate to advanced players seeking the 'holy grails' of technique: expert control over dynamic shaping and rhythmic evenness, cantabile, ornamentation, balancing parts, narrative line and more
  • Radical teachers seeking to empower all students - not just the most coordinated - with fresh, holistic solutions
  • Those who feel blocked or frustrated in their practice
  • Those seeking to enjoy, connect and communicate more in their playing
  • Those who feel suspicious of/disenchanted by mechanical or repetitive practice
  • Those seeking to perform confidently and joyfully
  • Those seeking to memorise music assuredly

What makes it unique?

  • You explore technique ONLY within a state of deep connection with the flow of real music. Without this, your body responds differently, and you risk practising coordination that bears no resemblance to real-life playing
  • It's truly holistic, every step of the way. Elements of your coordination causing technical difficulties are redressed ALWAYS in relation to the whole. Technique is integrated with music-learning at every stage - never bolted on
  • It empowers you to become the expert on your own playing coordination through deepening self-awareness, not dogma. It uncovers what may need freeing up, syncing and integrating and permits you to leave alone what's already working well
  • It cultivates the self-awareness to facilitate all techniques, breaking the treadmill of addressing difficulties one by one as they arise in repertoire
  • It empowers you to play more by ear than by sight, rote or motor/muscle memory, for fluent, expressive coordination
  • It distills the fundamentals of technique into 7 accessible principles - avoiding the inscrutable complexity of some approaches
  • It's exploratory, creative and joyful

How does it do this?

  • Through online courses, e-books, cheat sheets and tutorials which outline joyful parallel practices to your repertoire-learning
  • By forming a comprehensive, accessible, enjoyable approach to piano technique, music-learning and mindful focus which you can tailor to your needs
  • By supplementing online resources with the option of 1-2-1 feedback on your own playing or teaching challenges

Hang on - I already work on technique in a musical context!

Great! But as soon as you 'unplug' from a deeply connected state in order to 'work on' technique, you risk leaving out fundamentals that factilitate fluent, expressive playing - in particular, your torso's response to the music, which is the cornerstone of control.

In addition, repertoire is not designed to cultivate fluent, expressive technique in a holistic way. If you address technical difficulties one by one as they arise in repertoire, you risk leaving out fundamentals of your own coordination which could transform your technique in all repertoire.

What if I already use beautiful music, such as Chopin's √Čtudes?

If you play them to your satisfaction up to speed, with no excess tension, you may not need Piano Portals! They definitely require a fluent, expressive technique, but do they contain within themselves the means for acquiring one? What are your priorities when addressing technical difficulties? Are these serving you well?

Piano Portals empowers you to become the expert on what's working freely and what's not in your technique through deepening self-awareness. It's almost impossible to cultivate such awareness predominantly with complex music - the notes demand too much of your attention!

The Piano Portals pieces and patterns offer you an engaging parallel practice for spotlighting and redressing any disharmony in your playing coordination. They empower you to observe, learn, feel and experience in a simpler, purpose-designed context. You can then apply what you've already embodied more complex music if you wish.

What are the Piano Portals Pieces and Patterns?

They're both beautiful, authentic snippets of music and full-length pieces that serve as ideal environments for deepening self-awareness and redressing disharmony in your playing coordination. They're substitutes for exercises. The term 'pattern' avoids any unhelpful associations of the word 'exercise'. If you like exercises, you can think of the patterns as exercises - but be prepared for surprising, transformational priorities and points of focus.

You can hear them here. Please be aware that in this playlist they're simply performed in their original guises. The Piano Portals courses and resources explore countless creative ways for using them to transform technique.

What's wrong with conventioanl exercises anyway?

Exercises tend to:

  • bypass a deep, personal connection to music and your torso's corresponding response, which is a cornerstone of fluent, expressive technique
  • serve more to detach than integrate the elements of your playing coordination

But many pianists swear by exercises!

That's true. But as always, context is key. Such pianists may, for example, be:

  • innately able to use their body in a balanced, integrated way and therefore impervious to their potentially disruptive effects
  • playing them relatively sparingly/incidentally
  • unwittingly causing elements of their technique to deteriorate, albeit slightly

It's not impossible to thrive on conventional exercises. But are they the most productive, enjoyable way for most players to play to their potential?

What's this about playing by ear? I thought sight-reading was the gold standard!

The importance of playing by ear in Piano Portals acknowledges an elephant in the practice room - that the most fluent, expressive players play predominantly by ear, regardless of how they've learnt repertoire. They know the sounds of the music in their 'mind's ear'. This drives their playing coordination and makes for accurate, beautiful playing, expert timing and control.

If they're also fluent sight-readers, they're processing visual symbols in their 'inner ear' very quickly.

I'll never manage it - I need the score

It's not about discarding the score, if you're accustomed to using it. It's not 'either/or' but a spectrum - the more you play by ear, the more fluent and expressive your playing and the more assured and communicative your performing. Even a slight reorientation of your practice priorities towards knowing the sounds of the music you play in detail can bestow untold rewards and eliminate many difficulties.

How could pedagogy neglect these elements?

Good question. Probably a complex web of factors, including:

  • For a long time, most mainstream beginner tutor methods encouraged 'symbol before sound', introducing a long-winded mental processing and stilted coordination from the outset. It's possible that the ramifications for advanced technique may have been overlooked
  • Most approaches to technique advocate 'working on' technical challenges somehow outside of a deep, emotionally-engaged connection to music, in the moment. Only a few, neglected pioneers, such as Abby Whiteside (1881 - 1956), have advocated the opposite of this
  • It's easy to lose sight of the original contexts of certain strains of mainstream pedagogy. It can be helpful always to ask who originally said what to whom and why
  • The influence of editors (often primarily academics, or organists), theorists and exam boards is almost impossible to escape in our practice
  • Some of the more radical voices in pedagogy have been subsumed into the mainstream in a diluted form, silencing their more 'heretical' claims
  • Some hugely influential great pianists were 'doers' who could play innately with a sense of ease and flow. If they never journeyed from 'can't to can', are theirs the most helpful opinions on practice processes?

Is anyone else teaching the Piano Portals way?

All approaches have different emphases, but it's rare to find an approach that turns conventional fundamentals on their heads.

Piano Portals has many influences, but couldn't have existed without the pioneering genius of Abby Whiteside (1881-1956) - especially her concept of the 'emotional rhythm' and its central role in technique, combined with the roles of the torso, sitting bones and forearms.

Although heavily influenced by Whiteside, Piano Portals has evolved into an independent, accessible, practical approach.

How do I access Piano Portals resources?

You can access the growing collection of online courses, e-books, tutorials and cheat sheets, together with 1-2-1 feedback, via Patreon, which is the professional membership platform. For full details, please visit the Membership FAQ.

Can I try Piano Portals for free

Yes. Piano Portals uses Patreon as its membership platform. Because Patreon bills on the 1st of the month (after 12 AM PST = 8 AM GMT) and not immediately when you sign up, you can try for free any time and cancel before the billing date/time if you wish. Please visit Membership FAQ for full details.

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