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Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge

ACTIVE REPERTOIRE PROJECT WHAT CAN YOU PLAY?


For piano players, like everyone else, 2020 has been a huge struggle.

We have needed to re-evaluate our goals and quickly change many of our plans. But in the midst of the turmoil, many of us have found a renewed enthusiasm for piano playing, while many more have returned to the piano or taken up playing for the first time.

We enter 2021 with growing numbers of pianists and teachers embracing a fresh direction and revitalised piano goals.

Whether disenchanted with a dull exam-driven formula or eager to disentangle from over-prescriptive methodology, many are now hungry for a more inspired musical approach.

We want to embrace a more motivated, positive version of ourselves at the piano!

Thankfully, there is an answer…

Continue reading Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge

Which Adult Piano Method 20/21?

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW written by ANDREW EALES.
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For 2020/2021 I am pleased to present an updated feature on the adult method books I most highly recommend.

I’ll start with in-depth reviews of my Top 5 Choices. After that I will also 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 2020/21, 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…

Continue reading Which Adult Piano Method 20/21?

June Armstrong: Take Ten

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW written by ANDREW EALES.
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June Armstrong is not only one of the UK’s most creative composers, but one of the most prolific. Having only reviewed her Dreams and Dragons last December, she’s already now back with her next publication, Take Ten.

Capitalising on the immense popularity of her piece Dusty Blue, recently a Grade 2 favourite here, Armstrong’s new book delivers 14 brand new ‘Jazz Miniatures for piano solo, suitable for elementary players.


With so many competing publications in this territory, and the prevalence of jazzy pastiche, it’s inevitable that Take Ten is a less musically distinctive collection than some Armstrong publications.

But I have no doubt that it will be a best-seller, and deservedly so, because it’s excellent and has some cool twists…

So read on for my detailed review…

Continue reading June Armstrong: Take Ten

Stephen Hough: Vida Breve

RECORDING OF THE MONTH • Reviewed by ANDREW EALES
Considering a recent piano recording that will inspire and enrich…


“Vida breve” – life is short. Ah yes, and don’t we all know it!

But pianist Stephen Hough has crammed an improbable amount into his 59 years. Indeed, if there’s a piano artist in the UK today who deserves the accolade “polymath” it’s surely Hough; in addition to his much-in-demand concert appearances and illustrious recording career, he is well respected as a composer, commentator, writer and novelist.

Reminding us of his truly formidable pianism, Hough is back with a new recording on the Hyperion label, effectively a ‘recital-in-the-studio’ comprising virtuoso works by Bach/Busoni, Chopin, Liszt and Hough’s own Piano Sonata No.4 ‘Vida Breve’.

The leitmotif running through the programme is death, but when Hough sat down in front of the Yamaha CFX concert grand in St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town in December 2018 to make this recording, none knew that by the time of its release more than two years later, a global pandemic would have made the spectre of death a more imminent and vivid reality to so many.

If Hough’s choice of programme didn’t immediately entice me, it’s still more to his credit that in a month that saw several exceptional CD releases, Vida Breve takes the title Recording of the Month. Let’s find out why…

Continue reading Stephen Hough: Vida Breve

The Piano Teachers’ Course

ANDREW EALES in conversation with LUCINDA MACKWORTH-YOUNG and MASAYUKI TAYAMA of the PIANO TEACHERS’ COURSE UK


Currently in its 13th year, the Piano Teachers’ Course UK (PTC) is the longest-running course of its kind in this country, specifically designed for pianists and piano teachers who wish to enhance their professional teaching skills, come together for inspiration and become part of a motivated, supportive musical network.

Having previously visited several residential course weekends as an observer and guest tutor, I have been hugely impressed with the professionalism with which the one-year programme is run, and by the expertise and dedication that the PTC personnel offer.

I have also seen that the PTC shares very similar values to those that I espouse here on Pianodao. Those who have studied with me, who come to me for mentoring, or who simply enjoy reading my articles here will most likely feel very at home on the PTC course.

As the course continues to diversify its offer to include online access and an international reach, this seems a good time to catch up with the course’s founder and International Director, Lucinda Mackworth-Young, and UK Course Director Masayuki Tayama for a cup of tea and a chat on Zoom.

Continue reading The Piano Teachers’ Course

Frédéric Chopin: Trois Nouvelles Études

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW written by ANDREW EALES.
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In my recent post Discovering Chopin I included two editions of the complete works, both brought to us by PWM Edition: firstly the celebrated Paderewski Edition beloved by performers, and secondly the more recent scholarly Chopin National Edition, edited by Jan Ekier.

The latter has established itself as a benchmark urtext edition by which other versions are presently judged, although sources of Chopin’s music are so many and surprisingly varied that, often, definitive readings are elusive.

Further underlining this point, were it in any doubt, comes the Complete Chopin New Critical Edition from Edition Peters, prepared under the watchful eyes of editor-in-chief John Rink.

Joining the first six volumes in this work-in-progress series, the latest addition is the Trois Nouvelles Études of 1840, edited by Roy Howat.

I will start with a full review of this new publication, EP 73229, and then gracefully segue into a more detailed consideration of Edition Peters’ Complete Chopin New Critical Edition, and take a quick look at the solo piano issues in the series so far.

Continue reading Frédéric Chopin: Trois Nouvelles Études

Improve Your Scales!

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • Review by ANDREW EALES
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Since the ABRSM exam board significantly reduced their piano scales requirements last year (read a full analysis here), many have agreed that their requirements alone no longer provide the solid framework players need for the development of technique, an awareness of keys and assimilation of archetype fingering patterns.

Of the respected educators who have subsequently sought to fill the void with superior learning resources, I have already reviewed Catherine McMillan’s gorgeously presented Piano Scales Mnemonics (read the review here) and Karen Marshall superb Piano Trainer Scales Workbook (and that review is here), both of which are knockout publications.

Joining these excellent resources, Paul Harris has now completely rewritten his popular Improve Your Scales! series, and like McMillan and Marshall has eschewed the limitations of ABRSM to embrace a more comprehensive and educative approach.

As Harris announces a the start of each of the six books in his new series, which cover the Initial to Grade Five requirements for all major exam boards,

“Scales, arpeggios and broken chords are important. And if taught and learned imaginatively, they can be fun!”

This is another of those moments where a disclaimer is required; Paul invited my feedback on his ideas while developing his vision for the new series, and as a good friend welcomed my help with the proof reading.

The genius in these books is all his though, so let’s see how he’s done things differently from others, and establish why these books stand out as another teaching studio essential…

Continue reading Improve Your Scales!

Who needs piano lessons anyway?

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • Feature by ANDREW EALES
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As UK Chair of the European Piano Teachers’ Association, Mark Tanner seems an unlikely cheerleader for shunning expert tuition in favour of “teaching” oneself to play the piano. And yet in his new teach-yourself-book for older beginners, The Piano in Black and White (Faber Music, 2021), this is the path he advocates, enthusing:

“Learning to teach ourselves gives us the advantage of becoming masters of our own universe.”

Tanner ignores the obvious point that our own universe, without the guidance and insights of those more experienced and knowledgeable than us, might well prove to be a rather limited, small universe.

Tanner’s teach-yourself book is just the latest in a plethora of new apps, YouTube channels, books and videos claiming that adult beginners can learn to play the piano without the help (and expense) of a teacher.

Popular though these DIY attempts seem to be, and welcome though a diversity of educational resources are, most of us truthfully recognise that we are better off letting an expert guide take the lead. We realise, too, that while a one-size-fits-all app or book might set us off in the right direction, without the benefit of a personal guide who understands the terrain, the quicksands may well swallow us whole.

We can cite examples of those rare geniuses who succeeded as pianists without being able to access tuition due to geography, generation, genes or genre. But within most musical traditions, historically and globally, instruction from a teacher has been and remains the norm. There are many compelling reasons for this.

The idea of “going it alone” in preference to learning from an experienced practitioner is neither heroic nor wise. This is true in any field, whether basket-weaving, developing a good golf swing, or learning to play the violin. Piano playing is no lesser a skill, no mere “button pressing”, and must not be portrayed as such.

Those of us who have learnt from good teachers will appreciate and be grateful for that privilege. We naturally support the teaching profession, having ourselves experienced the elevating qualities of a good music education, and are eager for others to enjoy the same benefits as we have.

In this post, I will explore those benefits.

Continue reading Who needs piano lessons anyway?

Nikki Iles and Friends

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW written by ANDREW EALES.
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Nikki Iles will be known to many readers for her Jazz on a Winter’s Night book and subsequent series for OUP, and her recent Tales for Alice and Tales for Peter Pan collections for EVC Music, all of which I have been hugely impressed by.

Over the years, Iles has also contributed to the ABRSM Jazz Piano Syllabus and composed several memorable pieces for the board’s standard piano grades, which are always popular choices. And now she’s back with two new books of jazz pieces for ABRSM, between them bringing 29 new piano solos to the intermediate and advanced repertoire, composed and arranged by Iles and a stellar array of luminaries of the contemporary jazz world.

With the drawing power of Iles and friends, and the marketing clout of ABRSM, these two books are sure to fly off the shelves, so let’s take a closer look while we can!

Continue reading Nikki Iles and Friends

Clare Hammond’s Variations

RECORDING OF THE MONTH • Reviewed by ANDREW EALES
Considering a recent piano recording that will inspire and enrich…


Clare Hammond has a reputation for delivering imaginative, adventurous and engaging programmes of predominantly twentieth century and contemporary music.

Hammond’s latest release, just out on the BIS label, is no exception, offering an eclectic selection of Variations composed by Karol Szymanowski, Helmut Lachenmann, Harrison Birtwistle, John Adams, Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith and Sofia Gubaidulina.


Here is a fascinating programme that shines a light on concert music that is too rarely heard, while also providing a vehicle for Hammond’s astonishing pianism and musicianship. It’s one of the most compelling recordings I’ve heard in a while, and an easy choice for Pianodao Recording of the Month

Continue reading Clare Hammond’s Variations

Piano Sight Reading: A Progressive Method

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • Review by ANDREW EALES
For Andrew’s support • BOOK AN ONLINE CONSULTATION


Few professional musicians would question the value and usefulness of sight reading, meaning that skill which allows us to play music that we’ve never heard, just from the notation, and without preparation.

As a teacher who allows my students considerable freedom to choose the music they want to learn and bring along to the lesson, I find myself relying on this skill very regularly. And yet some teachers and students treat the development of sight reading as an afterthought, and a rather dull one at that. Compounding the problem, while sight reading has traditionally been an element of public grade exams, it is decreasingly so.

Trinity College London include sight reading as an optional test in their piano grade exams, but some teachers choose only to introduce it with “serious students” after intermediate level, and on the basis that players will at that point miraculously “get it”.

Perhaps this lack of enthusiasm will change with the launch of Trinity’s excellent new series, Sight Reading: A Progressive Method, a suite of three books offering a clear route for teaching sight reading skills from the get-go.

In common with most sight reading resources the series is linked to the grade exams, but happily it goes far beyond specimen tests and basic exam cramming, and can be used as a powerful resource to actually teach and develop sight reading ability.

As Trinity explain,

“The study of sight reading is valuable because it enables musicians to enjoy music that is new to them, either on their own or in a group. As with any other skill, confidence in sight reading comes with training and regular practice.”

So let’s take a look and see how the series can support teachers and students in those aims…

Continue reading Piano Sight Reading: A Progressive Method

The Faber Music Contemporary Piano Anthology

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW written by ANDREW EALES.
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Faber Music’s growing series of Piano Anthology books are a continuing source of joy, and have been enthusiastically received by several of my regular adult students.

I have reviewed the previous collections here:

Spoilers: in all cases I have been impressed both with the intelligence and value of the music selections and the quality of the publications themselves.

So it great to be welcoming a new addition to the family with the delivery of The Faber Music Contemporary Piano Anthology, which offers 52 “beautiful neoclassical pieces for solo piano”.

Let’s find out whether it lives up to the high standards set by the series…

Continue reading The Faber Music Contemporary Piano Anthology