John Paul Ekins

Piano Teacher and Performer

John Paul started playing the piano at age 5.   Both his parents were singers, who met during a Gilbert and Sullivan Production on stage and although his father switched careers in his 30s to a non-musical path, they were keen for John Paul to take up a musical instrument.  At first John Paul would practice with his father by his side; initially practising the piano was not necessarily his first-choice activity!

Starting with a piano teacher who had been recommended by a friend, the initial lessons were fun and engaging but by the time John Paul was 11 his teacher recommended he move onto another teacher to take him further and suggested joining the Royal College of Music Junior Department.   It was when John Paul was 15 though and when he switched teachers to John Barstow at the Royal College, that he really became inspired to practice and took his playing to another level.

Despite being very academic and being offered a place at Cambridge University to study Music he went to the Royal College of Music; the natural place to continue his studies with John Barstow.  This was the right decision for him.  Ultimately at the Royal College of Music he could play up to 8 hours a day and really catch up with his playing, amongst the other great pianists.   From the Royal College of Music Undergraduate course, John Paul went onto the Guildhall of Music to do a master’s where he was taught by Charles Owen.  He also went on a course in Poland, (slightly life changing as this is where he met his wife!), but where a lot of his development was made in performance, through realising and solving issues of physical tension during playing.   This set him up for a successful career performing and teaching.

John has since taught at St Paul’s school in London, as well as privately, alongside a busy performance career.

"As a teacher . . . I consider it my main role to show my students why music is the greatest gift of all and to help you fall in love with this most incredible, life changing, liberating art form"

What was the Royal College of Music like?

The Royal College of Music was a brilliant place, and I had a great teacher, John Barstow.

Where would you suggest people buy a piano from?

If you have an endless budget, then clearly a Steinway would be great!  I always recommend Yamaha though as well; I have a C3 grand at home.

If you are starting out an electric keyboard can take you at least to Grade 5 and there are some good products out there.  Then piano auctions, like those like Piano Auctions Ltd, are a great option as you can get a decent upright piano for less than £500.

Other great brands include Broadwood, Bechstein and Kawai.

What age do you recommend learning piano?

You’re never too old to have your life changed by taking up a musical instrument. However, in order to maximise the chances of making a career in music I would recommend starting from age 5.  This way they will get to try it out and see how they enjoy it. Whilst starting between ages 5-7 gives you the best chance, it’s worth saying that there are the few completely outstanding players that can start at any age and become professional.

So, what are you like as a teacher?

I like the variety of teaching different types of people of different levels.  The key criteria for learning with me are simply having a desire to play and willingness to practice daily.

It can be incredibly rewarding to help someone progress.  I love working with people who really value the process of learning music and discovering their musicality.  It is great when there is a breakthrough, and someone hits a great milestone in progress which can really transform their playing.

What has been your career highlight to date?

I have had some amazing experiences playing concertos at the Royal Albert Hall.  One of these was the Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell.  This was made for the 1941 British film, ”Dangerous Moonlight” which was about the Polish struggle against the 1939 invasion of Nazi Germany.  It was created in the imitation style of Sergei Rachmaninoff.  It is a great film and piece of music!

What pieces would you recommend people listen to, to inspire them to take up the piano?

It does depend on the type of music you most enjoy and there is clearly a lot to choose from but here are my top tips of what to listen to:

Liszt Ballade No.2 in B Minor

Anything by Liszt or Schubert!

Chopin Nocturnes

Late Brahms music eg. Op. 117, Op. 118

And listen to the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata for general music inspiration!  It is amazing.

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