The Graded Piano Player

Sheet Music Review

The Graded Piano Player is a series of three books from Faber Music, comprising arrangements of well-known tunes specially arranged by leading educationalists for pianists from around ABRSM Grade 1-5 level.

Published back in 2016, the books return to the spotlight as two of these arrangements – Close Every Door from Book 1 and Wouldn’t it be loverly from Book 2 – have been selected for ABRSM’s brilliant new 2019/20 syllabus (which Karen Marshall and I reviewed here).

When pieces are selected from the “alternatives lists”, there’s always a danger that a pupil might be expected to purchase a separate book from which they will only ever play a single piece – so teachers, parents and students will undoubtedly be interested to hear what the rest of the book is like, and in this instance the rest of the series.

With that in mind, let’s take a look …

The Series

The three books which make up the series are tastefully but simply presented. The covers are bold and uncomplicated, and give a fair taste of the content. Within, the books have a title page, contents page, and the music itself without additional frills.

There’s some clever marketing here too – the title, look and feel of the books is such that teachers who might otherwise generally avoid teaching “pop songs” may feel more comfortable doing so, using a book clearly designed for educational use.

Given the educational aims of the series, the inclusion of lyrics would have been helpful – even if the player knows them the teacher might not! Also, there is such a good selection of catchy and well-known tunes here that family and friends might well want to sing along.

The books vary in length. The first – being a mere 16 pages – feels slim, while the second book has 24 pages and the third a more generous 40. The first two books include 11 pieces each, while the third book has 15.

According to the covers, the books feature “well-known tunes specially arranged by leading educationalists”. These prove to be Alan Bullard, Christopher Hussey and Ned Bennett.

Alan Bullard will be known to many readers for his numerous educational publications and compositions for pianists; Christopher Hussey is a composer and arranger who has contributed to dozens of educational publications, including for Novello, Chester Music, Faber Music and Hal Leonard; while Ned Bennett is a highly successful jazz saxophonist who also has a wide catalogue of educational works and arrangements behind him.

Book 1

The pieces in the first book are stated as Grade 1-2, and this seems to me spot on; the book would be the perfect treat for student as a bridge between those two grades.

Younger players will love the Disney songs included (and adults may enjoy them with nostalgic enthusiasm!) while a couple of the songs here would be more particularly appealing to the older learners, meaning the album as a whole will suit a wide audience.

Here’s the full list of included pieces:

  • Hakuna Matata (The Lion King)
  • Auld Lang Syne (trad.)
  • Can you feel the love tonight (The Lion King)
  • Close every door (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat)
  • Summertime (Porgy & Bess)
  • All I want (Kodaline)
  • I wan’na be like you (The monkey song) (The Jungle Book)
  • Where is love? (Oliver)
  • Memory (Cats)
  • Deep river (trad.)
  • Sunny Afternoon (The Kinks)

The arrangements are tastefully and cleverly done, and exceed expectations in retaining the essence of the original songs while simplifying the music to beginner level – always such a challenge for arrangers.

Close every door is certainly not the only highlight here, and I think that players will have plenty of fun digging deeper into the book and learning many if not all the pieces.

I am particularly impressed with Ned Bennett’s ingenious Summertime, which maintains the delicious harmonic haze of the original, while wan’na be like you seems certain to be a big hit! All I want (a hit for Irish band Kodaline, also covered by Ellie Golding, Emma Bale and others) is a pleasant inclusion too, and will appeal to the teens and young adult players.

Book 2

Book 2, pitched at players around Grade 2-3 level, is a noticeable step up from the first book. The pieces are diverse, and remain suitable for a broad age group:

  • The Lord is my shepherd (Vicar of Dibley)
  • Fly me to the Moon
  • I Want (One Direction)
  • Streets of London (Ralph McTell)
  • Wade in the Water (trad.)_
  • Wouldn’t it be loverly? (My Fair Lady)
  • Hushabye Mountain (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
  • Chim Chim Cheree (Mary Poppins)
  • Loch Lomond (trad.)
  • A whole new world (Aladdin)
  • Hedwig’s Theme (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

Again, this is a selection with many highlights – for me, Hushabye Mountain and A whole new world are particularly pianistic pleasures, both arranged by Alan Bullard.

Overall this is another superb and highly useful collection, and again I predict it will be very popular with students of all ages.

Book 3

The final book covers a broader difficulty range, and is aimed at Grades 3-5. The 15 pieces here are not only more complex, but also longer, some taking up three pages. And exact grading levels are inevitably less concrete.

Adapting tunes for the slightly more advanced player has provided considerable artistic scope to the arrangers, who have selected imaginative song choices and made the most of the opportunity to create interesting and pianistic realisations. Here’s the list:

  • Consider yourself (Oliver)
  • Feeling Good
  • Shenandoah (trad.)
  • If I ruled the world
  • Bonny at morn
  • Circle of life (The Lion King)
  • Goldfinger
  • He’s a pirate (Pirates of the Caribbean)
  • (They long to be) Close to you (Carpenters)
  • If I were a rich man
  • Doctor Who
  • Let it go (Frozen)
  • Cry me a river
  • Pride & Prejudice
  • Wayfaring stranger

Here is a selection that seems more aimed at the mature learner than the previous two books, but once again I am sure younger pianists will relish digging in to explore the range of music here, finding plenty of recognisable tunes to enjoy.

Conclusion

When I first looked at this series, I must admit my expectations were modest – I’ve seen plenty of publications over the years which included frustratingly poor arrangements of popular songs.

How much fun, then, to discover this collection succeeds where so many haven’t, and with such accomplishment. Congratulations are due to Faber Music and to all three arrangers.

Here we have a really good, varied selection of popular songs for all ages, arranged with both pianism and pedagogy in mind, yet retaining the essence of the originals.

In a few cases, minimal adjustments might be made to timing to ensure that the best musical effect is achieved – a common issue when playing popular song arrangements – but I think these books really succeed in presenting the songs effectively, with musicality, and in a genuinely accessible way.  Hoorah!

With the summer holidays approaching, what better time to recommend having a look at these books – they are sure to keep players away from mischief for many an hour!

And the discovery later on that ABRSM have selected pieces from two of the books will hopefully come as a hugely welcome surprise to students!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Available now from music shops and from Faber Music online.

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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