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.

Be empowered

  • to play fluently and joyfully without excess tension
  • to stay fully focused and present
  • to learn new repertoire assuredly
  • to facilitate beginner to advanced technique

FAQ

What is it?

  • A truly holistic approach to technique, from beginner to advanced
  • A radical substitute for conventional exercises
  • An engaging framework for becoming the expert on your own playing coordination
  • A mindful practice for staying present and focused
  • An enjoyable approach to learning new repertoire assuredly

What's special about it?

  • It prioritises your deep, focused engagement with musical flow - and your torso's corresponding response - at all stages: it's the unheralded cornerstone of technique
  • It invites you never to 'unplug' from this flowing engagement in order to 'work on' technique in a disconnected way
  • It empowers you to become the expert on your own playing coordination through deepening self-awareness, not dogma
  • It takes account of your whole playing coordination - mental, physical and emotional - at all stages
  • It uncovers oft-neglected fundamentals of able players' techniques, providing fresh, transformational points of focus for your practice
  • It empowers you to free up, integrate and harmonise elements of your playing coordination that are inhibited, stuck or disintegrated
  • It permits you to notice, celebrate and leave alone what's already working well in your technique
  • It helps you to formulate a bespoke, enjoyable practice for refining your own particular playing technique
  • It facilitates all techniques through groundbreaking activities, breaking the treadmill of addressing difficulties one by one in repertoire
  • It empowers you to play more by ear than by sight, rote or 'muscle memory', for fluent, expressive coordination
  • It distills the fundamentals of technique into 'big', accessible principles, avoiding the inscrutable complexity of some approaches
  • It draws on other fields (other arts, sport), different genres (jazz, pop) and common sense
  • It's based on an honest adult journey of frustration to facility and attaining playing potential against the odds
  • It offers you flexibility and support: a growing variety of innovative online resources plus optional 1-2-1 interaction
  • It's exploratory, creative and joyful

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Is there anything it's NOT?

  • It's NOT yet a learn-to-play-from-scratch beginner tutor. It DOES empower Beginner - Advanced players to play fluently and expressively, to their potential, in any repertoire

Who is it for?

  • Beginner to Intermediate players seeking fluent, expressive playing without excess tension
  • Intermediate to Advanced players seeking to facilitate the 'holy grails' of technique: dynamic shaping, evenness, cantabile, ornamentation, balance, narrative line, etc.
  • Radical teachers seeking to empower all students - not just the most 'gifted and talented' - with fresh, transformational tools
  • Pianists feeling blocked or frustrated in their practice
  • Pianists seeking greater enjoyment, connection and communication in playing
  • Pianists who feel suspicious of mechanical or repetitive practice and seek alternatives
  • Pianists seeking to perform confidently and joyfully
  • Pianists seeking to memorise music assuredly
  • Pianists seeking to play by ear

How does it differ from other approaches?

Most approaches to technique - even 'holistic' ones - require you to 'disengage from' your flowing connection to music to 'work on' technique. As a result, you may be 'setting aside' crucial elements of your playing coordination - especially your torso's spontaneous 'activation' in response to music - whilst troubleshooting technical difficulties. This can make overcoming technical difficulties much more difficult than it needs to be.

Piano Portals offers a framework of musical Workouts, Patterns and Pieces, which are all authentic artistic expressions. Within this framework, you learn to transform your technique by shifting the focus of your attention, in the moment, whilst staying 'plugged in' to real music. This helps to ensure that you always practise the coordination you need in order to play your chosen repertoire to your potential.

Piano Portals also spotlights various 'elephants in the practice room' - huge, observable elements of technique that have been all but neglected in conventional pedagogy. These include the role of playing by ear - or at least playing more by ear than by sight or 'muscle memory' - and the role of your torso as it responds to music against your sitting bones.

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How can 'big' elements be neglected in pedagogy?

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

  • Mainstream tutor methods may not be written to optimise the development of advanced technique
  • Pioneers who developed a more holistic approach, such as Abby Whiteside (1881 - 1956), have often been sidelined
  • Either that or their voices have been subsumed into the mainstream in a diluted or misunderstood form
  • The original context of common advice on technique can be so easily lost in time. It can be helpful always to ask who originally said what to whom and why
  • The influence of editors, academics, theorists, organists (on piano technique) and exam boards can have a huge, often unconscious bearing on our practice priorities
  • Some influential great pianists were innately gifted and didn't necessarily consider the full implications of their advice for all pianists

Where can I hear the Piano Portals music?

You can hear the Patterns and Pieces here. Please be aware that in this playlist they're simply performed in their original forms - so please don't hear them and think, 'well, that's it!' The Piano Portals courses are bursting with creative ways to approach them - and other musical material - from myriad angles for transforming technique.

What's wrong with conventional exercises?

Exercises tend to:

  • bypass a deep, personal connection to music and your torso's corresponding response, which is a cornerstone of fluent, expressive technique
  • detach rather than integrate the elements of your playing coordination
  • give the initial impression of improving technique in particular ways, before revealing their ineffectiveness at solving difficulties in advanced repertoire

At the very least, they don't tend to encourage a truly holistic approach to technique. There may be better ways!

But don't many pianists swear by exercises?

Context is key. Such pianists may, for example, be:

  • innately using their body in a balanced, integrated way whatever they're playing (the 'gifted and talented') and relatively impervious to their potentially disruptive effects
  • misrepresenting or overstating their role in cultivating fluent, expressive technique
  • unwittingly causing elements of their technique to deteriorate, however subtly, depending on how they use them

It's not impossible to thrive on conventional exercises. But are they the most efficient, enjoyable way for most players to play to their potential? I write as someone who practised exercises diligently every day for some years and then spent years more 'undoing' many of the habits that they cultivated, when I realised my playing was deteriorating.

What about musical études?

They definitely require fluent, expressive technique, but do they contain within themselves the means for cultivating it? How useful musical études are to you may depend on your practice priorities and points of focus. 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 using complex music - the notes simply demand too much of your attention!

The Piano Portals Pieces and Patterns offer 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 - including études - if you wish.

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Are there precedents for Piano Portals?

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.

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

Is Piano Portals based on science?

Great question, to which to simple answer is 'not yet'. But I would urge you to ask the same question of the assumptions underpinning conventional exercises and advice about technique. Piano Portals is based on years of honest observations, (anecdotal) experiments and investigations with no ulterior motives - only a desire to think critically about what is helpful and what is not in piano technique. Given how unthinkable it would be NOT to embrace a truly holistic approach in modern, elite sport, I find it extraordinary that so much advice on piano technique is focused on such narrow parameters. I'm beginning the long process of applying to do research in this area, with an open mind. Meanwhile, Piano Portals encourages you to think for yourself and apply common sense at all stages. It invites you playfully to explore fresh choices, all the while reflecting on what can be learnt from other fields, even the simplest DIY tasks like screwing in a lightbulb. Above all it cultivates self-awareness, which can be transferred to many areas of life.

How do I access Piano Portals resources?

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

Isn't Patreon a crowdfunding site?

No, it's a professional, integrated membership platform. It offers membership tiers with different benefits, such as access to courses, e-books and cheat sheets, exclusive tutorials in response to members' suggestions and the option of 1-2-1 feedback and interaction.

Can I try Piano Portals for free?

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

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