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Pianist Denis Hristov balances his teaching career with both performing and composing, with the latter mainly focussed on music for TV and film. His approach to teaching is super friendly yet methodical, so we though it would be great to have a chat and find out a bit more about his experiences as a working musician so far and how this has influenced his teaching style.
And don’t forget – if you’re looking for a Crouch End piano teacher, do make sure you check out pianist Denis Hristov’s full profile right here. He could be exactly what you’re looking for!
Pia pia piano!
Hi Denis. Thank you for taking the time to chat today. We’d love to dig into your approach to teaching piano but before that, let’s go right back to the beginning. How did you get into playing the piano?
I had a strong musical affinity from a very early age. In fact, I was told I was singing before I could even talk! I grew up in a small city in Bulgaria and I’ve always been involved in something music related from a really early age. I got a bit more serious about music after getting into the rock / metal genre in my teenage years, which inevitably led me to studying classical music.
Tell us a bit more about this – what was your experience of studying music like?
My time at university was spent mainly exploring different musical horizons. I studied a BA in music at Middlesex University, with an emphasis on classical music and composition for film and TV. The time I spent in university helped me develop my personal style as both a composer and performer.
I think that’s the main thing really. Going to university gives you the time to explore different styles and also gives you much needed time, so you can practice and really hone your craft. After university, you moved to Crouch End. I used to live there and loved it! What do you enjoy about being based in Crouch End?
Crouch End has a different vibe compared to many other places in London. People are very friendly and tend to help each other. There’s a great sense of community which can be difficult to find nowadays.
Moving onto your actual approach to teaching, what advice can you give someone who might be considering piano, or indeed any kind of music, lessons?
Just go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
And for those who have already taken the leap, what advice would you give them?
Teaching music for the last nine years has taught me that every student learns differently. The best advice I can give is to find your own personal way to learn.
Organise your practice in a way that you feel comfortable with and ensure it doesn’t become a chore. There are many distractions nowadays; if you notice that the learning experience with your instrument becomes monotonous then change your routine every once in a while and do things differently.
That’s a great piece of advice. You’ve got to ensure that practice time works for your own schedule – you’ll never fit it in otherwise. Flipping things around, what is the biggest piece of practice advice that you gained from your own learning experience?
That has to be learning to be patient with my practice and not getting frustrated when I’m struggling with a piece. It’s a simple and obvious observation but I always keep it in the back of my mind when I practice.
Exams in general can be stressful but with the right kind of preparation they can help assure you that the hard work and practice have been fruitful.
Moving onto your own lessons, is there a particular book you use a lot for anyone starting out?
I tend to use the piano books by Pauline Hall for beginners. They follow the basics in a very thorough but understandable way.
And more experienced students?
For my more advanced students I recommend the piano book series by Lang Lang – Mastering the Piano.
What encouraged you to also take an interest in the composition side of music?
Music composition became an enormous passion for me when I started delving into orchestral music. This began with the music of Tuomas Holopainen from the symphonic metal band
Nightwish. Inevitably, this led me into film music and composers such as James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Carlo Siliotto and Hans Zimmer to name but a few.
I wanted to created music with the same level of complexity which is why I decided to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in music composition.
At university I’m sure you experienced your own fair share of exams. But how do you feel specifically about piano exams? As in, the ones your own students take?
I believe piano exams can give students a great sense of progress. I understand that exams in general can be stressful but with the right kind of preparation they can help assure you that the hard work and practice have been fruitful.
You conduct some of your own piano lessons online. Pre-pandemic, this would have been a bit of a no-no, but many students have warmed to the idea now as it really does work. What has your own experience been like?
Online lessons have definitely been a blessing during the pandemic. I prepared many of my students for their exams during each of the lockdowns and all of us have been grateful to have the opportunity to keep learning in a difficult situation.
During that time I also realised that online lessons work very well for people who have some level of anxiety when having in-person lessons. Having online lessons can also be very useful for people who find it difficult to travel or work from home and only have an hour or so for a lesson during their lunch break.
I guess I hadn’t really thought about this advantage for students with anxiety – I’m sure readers who experience this will be interested to know that this has worked for you. Do you have any advice for students to get the most out of their online learning experience?
If you are learning online the best advice I can give is for you to treat your lesson in the same way as if it is an in-person lesson.
It is easy to become a bit too comfortable when we are doing something from home and we need to remind ourselves to remain active and productive.
Online lessons can be very useful for people who find it difficult to travel or work from home and only have an hour or so for a lesson during their lunch break.
Who have been your biggest influences, so far?
I’ve had many influences in different stages of my life. The more we learn, the more our influences take new and unexpected shapes. I started learning the piano from a young age. But my love for it became more prominent when I delved into alternative music in my teenage years and the music of the classical / romantic and film composers.
I remember falling in love with the joyfulness of Mozart’s sonatas when I was learning about classical music and being in awe when discovering the music of Debussy.
The path to discovery can be extremely exciting! Before we let you go Denis, are there any pianists you’d recommend us checking out?
You should also check the YouTube channel for Rousseau. Has always gives great performances in a huge variety of styles.
Thanks Denis, that was awesome!
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