Sheet Music Review
Earlier this year The Lang Lang Piano Method was unveiled, arousing much interest.
Here on Pianodao I wrote a detailed review of the first three books, in which I not only provided an overview of the product itself, but hopefully gave teachers sufficient insight into the underlying pedagogy of the series to make an informed choice about whether or not the books would fit in with their approach.
From 1st September 2016, Levels 4 and 5 are now also available, which complete the series and bridge the gap between the first three Piano Method books and Lang Lang’s Mastering the Piano series, also published by Faber Music.
Levels 4 and 5 break with the pattern of the first three books by moving to a portrait rather than landscape orientation, allowing for longer pieces to fit on a single page.
The book content is also now printed in black and white throughout, moving away from the vivid colour production of Levels 1-3, while also not including the colour photos of Lang Lang that are such a striking feature of the Mastering the Piano books.
That said, the appealing presentation that I praised in the first books is not lost here. Cartoon Lang Lang continues to appear, donning more costumes than Mr. Benn, and the illustrations throughout remain vivid and appealing. It is a tribute to illustrator Lauren Appleby that even in the absence of colour, her art remains so engaging.
Content & Method
Reviewing Levels 1-3 back in March, I wrote:
“Levels 4 and 5 are scheduled for publication later this year, and it will be interesting to see how they bridge the (fairly small) remaining gap to Grade 1 standard.”
In the event, I would say that “method” pretty much disappears into the background in Levels 4-5. The emphasis here is on the pieces that make up the books, with a support framework of scales and theory pages around them. The pedagogic caveats that I noted in connection with Levels 1-3 still apply, but are perhaps rather less relevant.
Helpfully, the cover of Level 4 tells us:
“Level 4 introduces sixteenth notes (semiquavers), more keys and rhythms and 6/8 time.”
While Level 5 simply states:
“Level 5 extends technique, rhythms and keys and through fun progressive repertoire.”
In terms of the progression between pieces, I would say that most of the pieces in Level 4 are approaching Grade 1 (ABRSM) while the pieces in Level 5 are in some cases a little beyond the Grade.
Following the pattern established by Level 3, the repertoire itself is a mixture of original pieces (the composer is not credited – did Lang Lang himself write them?) and simplified arrangements of famous classical tunes. A few of the original tunes are in more jazzy styles, but the overall emphasis is fairly traditional. Inevitably, some of the pieces sound like “method book” numbers, but there is a good amount of variety, and some of the pieces are nicely imaginative in their use of the instrument. And a few, as in the previous Levels, have a Chinese character.
The cover states that the books come with “Audio Included”, but in effect the audio tracks are available as a free download from the Faber Music website, and you can listen to them here for yourself.
Scales (and in Level 5 Broken Chords) are steadily introduced, with both Harmonic and Melodic Minor versions included, but sadly not the Natural Minors (which I would have preferred). And Music Theory remains a feature with the inclusion of several puzzle pages in each of the two books. These integrate nicely, and are as imaginative as any theory puzzles I have seen at this level.
Can you guess the price?
Reviewing Levels 1-3 back in March, I noted that each of the books cost just £4.99, describing them as “tremendous value”. This remains true for Levels 4-5, and I am pleased to see that Faber resisted any temptation to charge more for the higher levels, as sometimes happens.
I would not suggest that cost should be the primary factor in selecting a beginner method – there are surely more important considerations. However, I am aware that many schools apply a cap on the prices that teachers are allowed to levy from parents for sheet music books. And I have spoken to teachers in less affluent areas who also tell me that parents often balk at spending more than a few pounds a term.
It is certainly striking that Faber Music can produce such premium quality materials, with great illustrations, durable paper and binding, and (not forgetting!) a superstar author – all with such keen pricing. I hope other publishers are paying attention!
Summing up my review of Levels 1-3, I wrote:
“Ultimately, the unique selling point here is Lang Lang himself – and the inspiration he can provide. Factor in their great visuals, fresh new pieces and low cost, and these books are sure to win many friends.”
The same conclusion equally applies here. What I would add is that Levels 4 and 5 offer an enjoyable and progressive collection of pieces that would be useful material for any player at around Grade 1 level. As such these books could easily be used to follow on from another method series, as well as being welcomed by those already using Lang Lang’s earlier books.
I can also say without hesitation that Levels 4 and 5 do a fine job of bridging the gap between the first three levels of The Lang Lang Piano Method and his Mastering the Piano books.
As such, the author is to be highly complemented for creating a comprehensive method that will appeal to inquisitive children and help them to develop sound technical and musical skills over several years of rewarding study.
Find out more on the Faber Music website.