Intermediate course with Melanie Spanswick

Piano trios with Melanie

This weekend we enjoyed the fantastic tuition of classical pianist, teacher and composer Melanie Spanswick. It was her first time teaching here at Finchcocks and what a lovely experience it was for all! Here’s a little insight into what we enjoyed on this intermediate course.

Relaxing on Friday evening

After reception drinks and a tour of the pianos, it was straight into our first workshop from Melanie. She gave an invaluable tutorial on flexibility, tone production and developing finger strength. For many pianists, hand and wrist tension is a common complaint and this session was welcomed by all: Who knew relaxing would be such a challenge! We looked at good posture of the shoulder, arms, wrist, hand and finger tips and considered the importance of depth of tone as well as playing into the key. Guests were provided with wonderfully detailed handouts with which to practise muscle strengthening and tension release exercises. It was really useful to consider the technique from the outset and throughout the remainder of the weekend. Having acquainted guests with the pianos, we retired to the Coach House for a beautiful meal and a lot of discussion on most people’s favourite topic, music (of course!).

Set for dinner at the Coach House


Saturday began with a focus on memorisation and the different ways in which we learn, process and commit music to memory: either visually, aurally, kinaesthetically, intellectually or by rote. Melanie stressed the importance of hearing the music in our minds to help connect us with the emotion of a piece. In depth theoretical and structural analysis, breaking the piece down methodically and into sections really helped some guests move forward with their memory skills. Another tip was to practise the left hand first, then the right, hands together whilst using the sheet music and then without. Using excerpts as daily exercises also makes the task more manageable.


Guests then participated in an extended masterclass with the pieces they had prepared ahead of the weekend, gaining advice from Melanie in their own playing and delving deeper into their understanding of the weekend’s themes by watching others’ performances. The remainder of the afternoon was spent in free practice and individual tuition from Melanie. This was followed by a further workshop on developing piano technique. Dinner was certainly well earned after a good day’s playing!

Sightreading Sunday

Sunday’s focus was on sight reading, beginning with a workshop on Melanie’s top 20 tips. Number one on her list was building the discipline into daily practice: 10 minutes a day will see significant improvements! Amongst other tips was stressed the importance of key recognition, noticing patterns, shapes and repetitions, suggested fingering, establishing a confident pulse and, very importantly, never stopping playing. To consolidate the lesson, Melanie got guests to sightread piano trios (in tandem on two of our grands!). It was a beautiful way to end the course, producing a few giggles as well as some really lovely moments of music.

Trio playing in tandem!

Sylvie V.’s feedback from the weekend:

Thank you for a wonderful weekend. Although anxious at first I relaxed quite soon after my arrival to this most beautiful place. But the welcoming and the warmth of your hospitality soon reassured me and I knew I was in for the perfect time and that I would absorb everything which was thrown at me. I loved it. I even loved playing in the masterclass; it was a tough challenge and I didn’t know if I could play a whole piece without collapsing… A great finish with the trio. So much fun. And at last but not the least thanks to the most inspiring teacher, helpful, patient, understanding and full of advices for us all. A weekend which is forever in my precious memories.

A note from Melanie:

I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience tutoring an intermediate piano course at Finchcocks Music. The students were attentive, appreciative and very keen to explore new practice and performance suggestions.  Finchcocks is an exceptionally beautiful place, and we all enjoyed wonderful hospitality. I’m looking forward to returning next year.

We look forward to welcoming Melanie back later in the year. Find out more about Melanie’s work here