Active Repertoire Challenge 2020

What can you play?

This is a question which for too many pianists leads to such answers as:

  • I’m working on Allegro, but it’s not yet ready to play;
  • I finished learning Andante last month, but I’ve forgotten it now;
  • I don’t have my music books with me, so …

What a pity!

The reality is that too many of us can’t sit down at the piano without notice, without notation, and without embarrassment, and simply play something!

Continue reading Active Repertoire Challenge 2020

NEW: The Daily Dao

Regular readers will know how I enjoy sharing favourite quotes from pianists, teachers, philosophers and writers here.

Now, starting from Monday 10th August 2020, a new series is coming exclusively to the Pianodao Tea Room community over on Facebook.

The Daily Dao will offer a fresh quote each morning from Monday to Friday, each accompanied by a few additional comments or questions for reflection and to stimulate discussion.

Though seemingly a small innovation, The Daily Dao will add to the overall content offered by Pianodao by providing an ongoing reflective extension to the major themes of philosophy and practice covered in articles here on the main site.

My hope is that The Daily Dao will also bring together Pianodao readers and supporters with a closer spirit of sharing a common journey.

Rather than a random selection, each week’s quote will come from a single source: a book, anthology or interview. The book of the week will be introduced in advance each Sunday.

The sources I draw on will touch on all three of major strands covered here on Pianodao:

Pathways for Playing
Pathways for Teaching
Pathways for Living

Each month I will select sources pertinent to each of these, giving a balanced and varied focus to our thoughts and conversations.

Lastly, Tea Room members can if they wish volunteer a week’s quotes as a guest host, and I hope that within each month one week will be led by another community member in this way.

If you are interested in joining the Pianodao Tea Room, full details are here. It would be great to welcome more members to the Pianodao community; do come and join us!


BEFORE YOU GO…
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The site continues to grow thanks to the generous support of readers.
For additional content and benefits, please join the Tea Room community.

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Faber Music’s Easy Piano Anthology

Sheet Music Review

Faber Music’s growing series of high-quality Piano Anthologies have been establishing a reputation for offering generous and well-presented collections compiled for intermediate to advanced players.

I have previously reviewed:

Hot on their heels, Faber bring us their Easy Piano Anthology, a new book in the series that is aimed at less advanced players, including an enticing selection of arrangements suitable for the elementary to early intermediate player (around Grades 1-4).

Let’s take a look at this new collection…

Continue reading Faber Music’s Easy Piano Anthology

Discovering MTB Exams (part 2)

In Part One of this major feature I interviewed Music Teachers’ Board Chief Examiner Mark Kesel. The article certainly generated a lot of interest, and as a piano teacher I am myself very excited by the innovation and stimulating vision promised by the MTB.

For one thing, the idea of being able to take a graded exam any day of the year is a real boon for those of us who don’t want to spend months working on and listening to the same three pieces ad infinitum. I feel that this simple innovation could revolutionise teaching and learning, providing scope for students to develop better momentum, engagement, and to progress far more quickly without being held back by the schedule of an exam board

Combine this with the no-fuss ability to take graded exams using a simple app in the lesson, and the fact that the MTB allow candidates to play any three pieces of their own choice so long as they are appropriate for the grade, and here is an exciting opportunity for learners to move away from an exam-driven mentality and embrace their own personalised piano journey, without losing the benefits of independent, fully accredited assessments along the way.

But I’m not one to simply jump on every latest trend or fad; ABRSM have been a friend on my musical journey for more than 40 years and I have used their exams almost exclusively with my students. Were ABRSM continuing to meet the needs of my students, I wouldn’t lightly make a decision to switch board.

When looking for advice and support, the Pianodao Tea Room is the natural place to ask, its members always willing to share their experiences in a friendly way. I knew several members had tried MTB exams with their students in recent months, and several were willing to share their experiences…

Here then are five teacher interviews I arranged, which answered my own questions and will, I hope, help you find answers to yours…

Continue reading Discovering MTB Exams (part 2)

Discovering MTB Exams (part 1)

An Interview with MTB Chief Examiner Mark Kesel

For music teachers and students struggling through the last five months, with the UK in lockdown, there has been a significant preoccupation with the problem that music examining boards have been struggling to adapt to the situation.

On the social media platforms and forums where I am active, I have seen regular and very significant complaints about all three of the traditional boards here in the UK. But throughout these challenges, one fully accredited music exam board has stood out from the crowd by a country mile.

Many teachers hadn’t even heard of the Music Teachers’ Board at the start of the year. But this changed overnight with the appearance of effective targeted advertisements online trumpeting a bold claim:

“MTB’s Grade 1-8 exams are to continue without disruption during this difficult period.”

The progression from intrigue to full commitment has been startling, many teachers who were formally loyal to ABRSM or one of the other boards posting online to praise the MTB Exams having tried them out and had hugely positive experiences.

Determined to get to the bottom of this, I tracked down MTB’s Chief Examiner Mark Kesel for this remote interview. And in a second feature I talk to some of those teachers who have tried out these exams with their students, asking them about their experiences.

So buckle up and enjoy the ride…

Continue reading Discovering MTB Exams (part 1)

Louis Lortie: In paradisum

photo: Elias.photography

Recording of the Month

Of all the truly seminal composers in the evolution of the piano repertoire, Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) remains one of the less performed, his significance little understood, his extraordinary music too easily overlooked.

How welcome then In paradisum, the second instalment in French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie’s Chandos series A Fauré Recital which began with the excellent Après un rêve (available here) back in 2016, and which we must hope will develop into a complete cycle of this, arguably Fauré’s most important body of music.


Whether you are already an enthusiast for this music or a newcomer to it, Lortie’s winning way with Fauré’s idiom will enchant and enliven your appreciation of this wonderful music, so let’s take the disc for a spin…

Continue reading Louis Lortie: In paradisum

Piano Tales for Peter Pan

Sheet Music Review

In the few years that I have been reviewing music publications on Pianodao, there have been a few standout releases which have gone on to become real favourites with my own students.

An obvious winner in this sense is the brilliant Piano Tales for Alice, composed by Nikki Iles and published by EVC Music, which I reviewed here in 2018.

Hot off the press, the much anticipated sequel Piano Tales for Peter Pan is out now, and for those who have been keen for its arrival I have good news:

Nikki Iles has done it again! Piano Tales for Peter Pan delivers another equally delicious mix of wit, imagination, and jazz-tinged brilliance.

So let’s take a look…

Continue reading Piano Tales for Peter Pan

Prestige: Does it Matter?

Guest Post by Katrina Fox

The pandemic has accelerated change in almost all walks of life, and music education is no exception.

The release of the new ABRSM Piano syllabus has coincided with massive changes in the delivery of their practical and theory exams, which have been met with mixed responses from piano teachers, parents and pupils.

In a recent discussion on an online forum, the “prestige” of ABRSM was cited as a significant reason for continuing with their examinations. This point really struck a chord with me and left me feeling uncomfortable, and for the last few days I’ve been turning it over in my mind.

The Oxford Dictionary defines prestige as,

“widespread respect and admiration felt for someone or something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality.”

Is prestige a good thing?

Does it confer any benefits in real terms to users?

Does it benefit the majority, or a privileged few?

These questions made me reflect on my own educational experiences, and the impact of prestige in my own development.

Growing up in a working-class family (not poor, but certainly not “well-off”), prestige was something my parents valued enormously as they felt it would give their children better opportunities. However, in these last few days I have realised it has been something I have come to resent. 

Looking back, opportunities that I would have loved to participate in were closed off to me either due to finances or resources, or by attitudes I found alienating. My own teacher was both understanding and generous: understanding that my parents could not afford the longer lessons that were required as I moved up the grades, but giving me that time anyway. I was lucky. 

This was all three decades ago. But in 2020, should prestige even be a consideration in the education of our young people?

Continue reading Prestige: Does it Matter?

ABRSM: ‘Piano Star’ Duets

Sheet Music Review

ABRSM’s popular Piano Star series, which originally aimed at bridging the gap between the pupil’s first tutor book and ABRSM Grade 1 piano, continues to grow.

The seventh and latest book in the series, Piano Star Duets offers 26 newly composed or arranged piano duets for ‘early beginners to Grade 2 level’, compiled and edited by David Blackwell and Karen Marshall.

With five of these pieces also selected as duet alternatives in the 2021-2 ABRSM Piano Syllabus, which I recently reviewed here, the book is likely to tempt teachers and students looking for a one-stop collection of duets that they can dip into over a couple of years of lessons.

That the pieces have been commissioned from some of our leading pedagogic composers further adds to the attraction.

Before taking a look, full disclosure. I contributed a single piece each to four previous titles in the series. However, I receive no ongoing royalty income from those, have absolutely no vested interest in the series, and chose not to contribute to the Piano Star Duets collection. I write here with full independence.

So, with that out of the way, let’s jump in with all four feet…

Continue reading ABRSM: ‘Piano Star’ Duets

ABRSM Piano Scales 2021

Sheet Music Review

With the publication of their 2021-22 Piano Syllabus (reviewed in full here), ABRSM have given their scales requirements a significant overhaul, also publishing new scales books and resources.

In this review I will consider three main areas of this development:

  1. The new syllabus requirements
  2. The new ABRSM Piano Scales & Arpeggios books
  3. Scale Explorer for Piano – a new series of five graded books written for ABRSM by Alan Bullard

Let’s get straight to it…

Continue reading ABRSM Piano Scales 2021

ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2021-2: The Big Review

Sheet Music Review

The launch of ABRSM’s biennial piano syllabus is always a significant event in the piano education world: particularly in the UK and Far East, where the exam board’s offerings remain hugely popular and influence much of what is taught.

For their 2021-22 syllabus ABRSM are heralding several structural changes:

  • A new Initial Grade, providing a pre-Grade 1 assessment that follows the same structure, content and marking criteria as their other graded music exams 
  • Completely revised repertoire lists and scales requirements
  • A revised list structure, with lists defined by musical characteristics rather than period of composition
  • More choice and variety of repertoire (30 pieces per grade)
  • A duet option from Initial Grade to Grade 3
  • A one-year overlap period, with the 2019 & 2020 syllabus valid until 31 December 2021.

I will review the new Scales & Arpeggios syllabus and supporting publications separately within the next few days.

ABRSM have also announced a “remote” alternative to their Practical Grades, which you can read about here. Although dubbed Performance Grades this is somewhat a misnomer; unlike the Practical Grades, where candidates must face performing live to an examiner, these new assessments take the form of a submitted recording of four pieces, including three from the Grade syllabus.

This Review

With a whopping 270 pieces included in the new syllabus, including 81 published in ABRSM’s nine Piano Exam Pieces books, even the most in-depth review can’t cover every piece, and as always I recommend readers download the full syllabus lists from ABRSM’s own site.

However, as in previous years I will look at particular trends within the syllabus, the direction of travel, highlighting those general features which will interest teachers and players alike.

I will bookend the review with a more detailed look at two specific grades: Initial and Grade 8, representing the start and end points of a student’s journey through these assessments, and in which the broader changes in the syllabus are writ large.

And finally, I will offer a personal list of some of the highlights selected from each Grade in turn.

So let’s jump in…

Continue reading ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2021-2: The Big Review