Book Reviews: Notes on the Piano

Fiona Lau
Thursday, April 1, 2021

Fiona Lau reviews Notes on the Piano: A Series of Essays on the Playing and Teaching of the Piano by Christopher Russell, published by Michael Terence Publishing.

Christopher Russell is a piano teacher with 27 years’ experience. A former concert pianist, he had lessons fi rst with Phyllis Sellick, and then with Yonty Solomon, before discovering in his late twenties that he enjoyed teaching over performing.

He regards this book as his life's work and hopes it provides pianists, students, and piano teachers with ‘something that is enjoyable and useful … to supplement their lessons or simply to add to their knowledge’. His mission statement for Notes on the Piano is that, ‘this book is an encouraging companion to someone's piano lessons in the exciting journey of discovery that learning the piano is all about’.

To be honest, I was very sceptical when I received this book. It was so very small and unpretentious. Also, 27 years’ experience could be seen as a mere blink. However, as I began to read, I found that I was reluctant to put it down, was drawing smiley faces in the margins, and exclaiming ‘yes’ at regular intervals.

I was looking for a ‘how to’ manual for piano teaching and learning; one full of bullet points and Q&As, a dummies’ guide to the piano. This is not that. It is, as it states in the title, a series of essays. Information is given and ideas are sorted and clarified.

Russell has clearly given much thought to what the subject of each essay should be, and nothing is missed out: practising, developing a musical ear, technique, reading and sight-reading, interpretation, repertoire, pedalling, and so much more. Each of these subjects is discussed in an immensely readable style.

As a piano teacher I particularly appreciated that throughout the book the methods and strategies for the teaching of adults are clearly differentiated from that of teaching children. Too many fail to do this. Throughout, we are not dictated to but gently guided, and each chapter is not too long or too short.

It is a book that can be dipped into or referred to as the need arises. I suspect that every time I read it another little gem will surface. An enormously useful and enjoyable read.