UK Exam Boards: The Pianodao 2021 Survey

Later this year, Pianodao hopes to publish a major feature, Which Grade Exam Board 2021-2.

The aim of the article will be to support and inform those readers who are considering taking a formal piano playing assessment, and looking for a simple comparative summary of what is available to them from the UK-based international examination boards.

To that end, I have invited the five accredited exam boards to contribute their own content, and am now also asking you to provide user feedback if you have it.

The review form is included later in this article, so if you would like to contribute, then please read on…

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Which Adult Piano Method 2021?

This year’s updated feature on adult method books begins with an in-depth look at each of my Top 5 Choices, after which I will include shorter reviews of some other great alternatives…


One of the most exciting developments over the course of my piano career has been the huge increase in adults taking up lessons. I have lost count of the number of adult beginners I’ve had the pleasure of teaching over the last three decades; at present I teach more than 30 adults.

I’ve seen adults taking up the piano for many reasons; some wish they had learnt when they were younger, while for others taking up piano as an adult is the next chapter in a growing musical interest.

Whatever the reason for starting lessons, the last thing most adults want is to be presented with  Jimmy Timpson’s First Piano Lessons for Tiny Tots, or a minor variation with the word “adult” cannily stamped on the front cover.

And that’s perhaps one reason why my round-up of the adult beginner method books was by far the most-read article on Pianodao in 2019.

Fully refreshed for 2021, I’m delighted to present this updated and expanded version, including two major methods not mentioned last year.

But we’ll again begin with my top tips (also updated!) about what to look for in an adult method book, and why adults learn the piano differently to younger beginners…

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Chart Hits of 2020-2021

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES
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Having recently reviewed Hal Leonard’s Really Easy Beatles Collection, let’s bring things bang up to date with a look at their recent Chart Hits of 2020-2021.

The series of bumper songbooks, offering transcriptions of “20 Massive Singles”, comes in four flavours:

  • Solo Guitar
  • Ukulele
  • Easy Piano
  • PVG (Piano, Vocal, Guitar)

In this short review I will look at the latter two of these…

Continue reading Chart Hits of 2020-2021

The “Really Easy Piano” Beatles Collection

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES
for help playing this • BOOK AN ONLINE LESSON
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Keen to learn your favourite Beatles song on the piano, but sensing that it’s going to be a long and winding road?

Well, after a hard day’s night, the paperback writers from Hal Leonard have dropped the latest addition to their “Really Easy Piano” library, and it’s only The Beatles Collection

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Rediscovering Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebooks

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES
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It is more than 60 years since the last complete critical edition was produced of the famous music notebooks that J.S.Bach compiled for his second wife, Anna Magdalena.

Keenly aware of the need to revisit both collections of 1722 and 1725, and in mind of the tremendous leaps made in Bach scholarship in recent years, leading expert Christoph Wolff’s new critical urtext has recently been published by Edition Peters.

This landmark treasure appears in two separate forms: the Premium Scholarly Edition is a hardback clothbound complete version, while the less expensive Practical Student Edition delivers the shorter pieces from the collections as a more conventional score suitable for learners.

For more information, read on for my full review of both versions…

Continue reading Rediscovering Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebooks

Isata Kanneh-Mason: Summertime

RECORDING OF THE MONTH • review by ANDREW EALES
showcasing an inspirational recent piano recording.


I concluded my review of Romance, young British pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason’s debut recording for Decca a couple of years ago, writing:

“As a recording debut, this release is impressive indeed; after so thrilling an introduction, I can’t wait to hear what Kanneh-Mason does next.”

Well that wait is now over, and Kanneh-Mason’s second CD is with us. Summertime is a joyous celebration of vibrant 20th century solo piano compositions that draw from the deep well of the American repertoire.

With the sort of programming one might associate with Lara Downes, the new album includes compositions by Gershwin, Copland, Barber, Beach, and the world premiere recording of Coleridge-Taylor’s Impromptu No.2, a poignantly evocative piece that I hope will belatedly find its place in the wider repertoire…

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Beethoven’s Revised Für Elise

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES
for help playing this • BOOK AN ONLINE LESSON
for feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


“It’s Für Elise, Jim, but not as we know it!”

Bärenreiter’s new urtext edition of Beethoven’s beloved Bagatelle is one of the most unexpectedly fascinating publications to arrive in a while, offering as it does a radically different version of the piece alongside the one we know so well.

Believed to have been composed between 1808-10, the autograph manuscript of Für Elise remained in private hands until 1865, at which point one Ludwig Nohl discovered it in the possession of a local piano teacher in Munich. Nohl published this version (we’ll call it “Version 1”) in 1867, and it’s the one we all play to this day. It’s really not bad.

How surprising to learn, then, that in 1822/3 Beethoven went back and revisited his earlier sketch, substantially revising it for publication within a planned (but unrealised) collection of 12 Bagatelles. Version 2.0.

Those sketches survive, and for Bärenreiter’s new edition Mario Aschauer presents not only the most authoritative text of Version 1, but also includes his fully performable completion of Version 2.

The review below includes Aschauer’s own recording of Version 2, so you can hear it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Be prepared for a bit of a shock, though; right from the start, Beethoven’s revised version is very different to that which we know…

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The Pianist’s Limits

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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Some years ago, a highly successful man from the world of finance approached me for lessons. Essentially a beginner, he had previously tried a few lessons with another teacher locally, and I asked him why it hadn’t worked out.

His explanation amounted to a cautionary tale:

“I told her that I was only interested in learning Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, but she insisted on trying to teach me dull Grade 1 pieces. I had no interest in learning them, felt unmotivated and annoyed, and made no progress.”

Naturally I tried to explain (as undoubtedly the previous teacher had) that the Tempest is an incredibly difficult work, requiring a range of highly advanced musical and technical skills. It is possible to admire and be inspired by the achievements of the world’s greatest players while enjoying working at our own level.

Alas, he was not for turning, and within a short time the lessons stopped, my name presumably added to the list of stubborn failures who had been unable to teleport him directly into the Tempest without his needing to follow in the footsteps of those pianists who have previously made the journey with success.

Teaching with a sense of structured progression and an underlying curriculum is not a matter of professional hubris or a money-spinning scam; it is the means by which learners can progress towards their goals, realising their potential. It is an act of generosity.

Nor is it negative, lacking in faith or discouraging to recognise that as players we all have our limitations. On the contrary: it is foolish, arrogant and self-defeating to think otherwise. For a start, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Deng Ming-Dao reminds us,

“Every river has its banks,
Every ocean has its shores.”

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations, Harper Collins

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Musicians Who Teach

THE PIANODAO BOOKSHELF
books for piano players, teachers, students and music enthusiasts


Faber Music’s latest publication is a slim book called The Essential Handbook for Musicians Who Teach.

Written by singing teacher, researcher and lecturer Dr. Kerry Boyle and Diane Widdison, formerly National Organiser for Education and Training at the MU, the book is aimed at any musician teaching in the UK, whatever the context, and offers a wealth of generic advice covering the many practical aspects of earning money from instrumental/singing teaching.

I’ll look at the content in detail, and let’s find out whether this new handbook is indeed “essential”….

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The Impeccable Piano Music of Francesco Cilea

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES
for help playing this • BOOK AN ONLINE LESSON
for feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


The impeccable piano music of Italian composer Francesco Cilea (1866-1950), though little-known, surely represents one of the unsullied treasures of the “salon music” repertoire.

Happily, this music of supreme taste and charm has been given a fresh opportunity to shine, Cilea’s complete piano oeuvre newly edited by Giuseppe Filianoti and published in a single-volume edition by Ricordi.


The sumptuous 272-page volume has completely enchanted me… let’s take a look!

Continue reading The Impeccable Piano Music of Francesco Cilea