Hans-Günter Heumann is nothing if not prolific – only a few weeks ago I was reviewing his excellent Mystery Piano collection, follow-up to his popular Fantasy Piano, which I am equally enthusiastic about.
And let’s not forget that in the meantime he has published the 16 books that make up the Piano Junior method series!
Somehow he has also now found the time to write Piano Playground 1 – with a second book to follow in November.
Piano Playground 1 is a collection of “30 Playful Piano Pieces”, brought to us by Heumann’s regular publishers, Schott Music.
Let’s take a look…
The first book in the new Piano Playground series is billed as “very easy to easy”, and the 30 pieces are delivered in Schott Music’s house-style, with beautifully presented, well-spaced notation on cream paper, housed in an eye-catching, colourful, child-friendly cover:
According to the composer,
“Alongside working with a piano tutorial method, this Piano Playground with 30 new pieces written for piano is ideal for lessons and concerts. The collection is presented in progressive order of difficulty, for use in the first two years of tuition. These pieces are fun and easy to learn – and bound to go down well with any audience.”
Overall, while the presentation here is lovely in its own right, given the target age-range it would have been nice to have included illustrations in the main body of the book – whether in colour or line drawings.
In a crowded market, I think it might find itself overshadowed by the more imaginative visual presentation of competing products such as ABRSM’s Piano Star, Breitkopf’s Pedagogik series, Emil Hradecký’s Two-Part Piano Miniatures, or Ben Crosland’s Magic Beans.
That said, it’s time to check out the pieces …
30 Playful Piano Pieces
These are, in my view, something of a mixed bag. I couldn’t help wondering, when playing through them all, whether a few of them had been left over from other collections, and dusted down for this one.
That said, there are certainly some real gems here…
The collection begins with Tick Tock / Metronome, in which the child’s hands stay in the infamous “Middle C position” – thankfully though, the thumbs don’t collide. The staccato imitation of Maelzel’s ubiquitous invention adds interest, and what a perfect opportunity to introduce children to that instrument which will torment them for years to come!
Clog Dance and It’s Popcorn Time follow, in which the LH moves to the lower C position, the former with a simple LH drone, the latter with an easy LH pattern underpinning a fairly catchy RH melody, the use of sforzandi bringing the title to life.
As the book progresses, it becomes clear that the pieces will stay within or near a five-note position, albeit with quite a wide and interesting variety of positions.
Fingering – minimal but sufficient – is proved, helping the player establish the range of each piece. In those few pieces that venture beyond a single position, fingering is once again given, although I would have preferred suggestions which avoid encouraging players to hop from one note to the next with the same finger.
One of the qualities of this book which make it a stronger recommendation is the variety of musical style on offer, despite the limited technical difficulty.
Highlights for me include the enjoyable Mexican Hat, the pensive lyricism of Rainy Weekend, the evocative phrygian modality of Spanish Flamenco Dancer, the exoticism of Arabian Bazaar and the swaggering rhythms of On the Pirate Ship.
Certainly these pieces are all, essentially, educational pastiches – but they are effective as such, especially given the limitation of staying close to five-note positions.
Heumann’s pedigree as a pedagogic composer shines through in many of these compositions, and I expect younger players will find them great fun to play!
The seventh piece in the collection, Butterfly, adds a notable surprise to the mix with the introduction of sustain pedal. For the most part it is used as a special effect here, although several of the subsequent pieces require full-blown legato pedalling, often with a simile instruction, leaving the player to follow the harmonic shifts.
Given the pieces are aimed at younger near-beginners, this seems to me a rather unexpected technical requirement, and will challenge smaller players in particular. On the plus side, the use of the pedal adds considerably to the effectiveness of the pop-lyricism of Follow Your Dreams, and the delightful arpeggio patterns of Water Games.
In an increasingly crowded market, teachers will become necessarily selective in their choice of repertoire. I suspect that some may be put off by the relatively sober presentation inside this publication.
However, the pieces themselves are generally excellent (with perhaps just a few “fillers” along the way). Overall, this is certainly a publication I can recommend, and I hope teachers (pupils and parents) will take a look.
The best pieces here are genuinely great, and will surely enliven the musical development of young players!
I would also suggest that this book could be used as an excellent “quick study” collection for players between Grades 1-2, strengthening reading ability in the same way as Paul Harris’s excellent Piece a Week series.
For more information, including the full list of pieces, and to purchase, visit the Schott Music London store online here.
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