Paul Harris’s excellent A Piece a Week series has already prompted many of us to reevaluate how we encourage our students to develop their reading skills at the piano, providing delightful collections of pieces suitable as quick study material at Grades 1 to 3.
I have previously reviewed the Grade 1 and 2 books here, explaining the concept of quick study material in more depth; if you are coming to this review fresh please have a read of that introduction before going on.
I am delighted to see, and to let you all know that those books have now been joined by the Grade 4 book – so let’s take a quick look!
Having written in-depth about the previous volumes in this series, I find there is actually little to add here, other than to say that A Piece a Week Grade 4 continues to maintain the brilliant standards of the previous books.
After the cooler colours of the first three volumes, the warm glow of the orange cover pleased me more than I can rightly explain, but suffice to say that the design is identical to the rest of the series, and rightly so.
The two-page introduction is word-for-word the same as that from the Grade 3 book (which was slightly extended from the first two). Paul reiterates:
“I hope you and your pupils will enjoy working through A Piece a Week Grade 4 – especially the sounds, rhythms, structures and characters of the music, And I hope they will become less intimidated by notation and learn to look forward to reading new material on their own.”
The 27 brand new pieces which follow are, as ever, a brilliantly varied bunch. As with the Grade 3 book, I had the pleasure and privilege of listening to them all played by Paul in his living room a few months back, and once again came away excited at the prospect of sharing this collection of imaginative music with students.
Paul has a knack for hitting upon inviting titles, this time including such as:
- The old monastery in the mist
- Strictly sequins
- Haydn comes to tea
- Master spy on a Mission
- Dinosaur alert
- A hint of Einaudi
- Blackpool Rock
- Q Box pro
- Baroquing chair
The pieces themselves are simply excellent.
Paul has a very special gift for composing short pieces which are not only musically engaging and memorable, but which also have the DNA of pedagogic intention running through them.
As well as covering a necessary and meticulously selected range of notations (based on a careful study of exam syllabi at the Grade 4 level), the pieces themselves are highly useful in their attention to the development of technical and musical skills for the intermediate pianist, and explore a wide range of sounds, moods, keyboard geography and musical style.
I cannot imagine a better way to tease out reading challenges than by inviting my students to try out one of these super-enjoyable pieces between lessons each week (or fortnight).
This isn’t sight-reading as such; rather, learning and developing good music literacy, so providing a foundation which will make playing at sight less intimidating and – actually – an enjoyable adventure!
In short, this series continues to develop as a unique and brilliant achievement. Well done and Thank you, Paul!