Faber Music’s PianoTrainer series, comprising, The Foundation Pianist (2 books), The Intermediate Pianist (3 books) and The Advanced Pianist (2 books), has made a huge impact in the piano education world over the last couple of years, offering a progressive musical curriculum which can be used between or instead of grade exams.
In this special Guest Post, series editor and writer Karen Marshall tells the story behind the development of the series, while Faber Music have provided a special FREE Download which outlines the curriculum underpinning it, giving an essential insight for all teachers and students working through the books.
The PianoTrainer Story
Guest Post by Karen Marshall
What was the motivation behind the Piano Trainer series?
Anyone who knows me well understands how passionate I am about music education and the huge importance I place on students really understanding what they play.
I’ve had a number of teachers throughout my life (I still have a mentor even today) who have really made music come alive for me by providing the story behind a piece, explaining the dots on the page, examining the life of the composer and considering why the music was written.
I’ve always been fascinated by this process, and it led me to develop my vision for the series: giving a new generation of pianists a balanced curriculum that combines theory, technique, musicianship and a wide range of repertoire (from all styles and periods) to instill a real love of the instrument.
The pieces include new compositions (mainly in the Intermediate books), outstanding arrangements (mainly in the Foundation books) and much-loved popular repertoire, but also plenty of new finds, so teachers also would discover lesser-known works not found in other books.
Building the Concept
The idea for the PianoTrainer series first came to me back in 2015. I had been teaching the piano for 27 years and things had changed considerably over that time. My students were receiving less music education at school and fewer were studying music in school for national exams. Because of that, aural and interpreting style had become more challenging.
I worried that some of the latest generation of students would be able to play the piano but have very little understanding of what they were actually playing.
Added to that, I was aware that I was competing with many other activities, and more students were giving up (especially after Grade 3, when notation demands become much greater).
Theory knowledge was also more limited in transfer students I received, with some exam boards not requiring theory to progress through the piano grades.
‘Debunking’ music theory so everyone can understand it
As a teacher, I looked for material to ‘catch them up’ with all these fundamentals, but it was striking how complex and difficult much of this information was to understand.
I wanted to find a series that ‘debunked’ topics like intervals, chord types, characteristics of the music periods, fugue form, ornaments and figured bass in a way that was simple, obvious and practical, that would really help teachers and, more importantly, the students. Something that was a ‘one-stop shop’.
It could be used as a basic tutor in the piano lesson, allowing the teacher to feed in other aspects such as an exam or other repertoire as the student progressed.
These books would also be creative, with practical tasks so students could compose and experiment with scales, chords and notation as they went along.
Working with three co-authors
(four minds are better than one!)
The plan was to have three different levels within the series, and to collaborate with three different composers/writers that were experts at each level.
The first co-writer I worked with was Heather Hammond. The Intermediate Pianist books were published first and won a national award in 2017.
Heather had lots of opportunity to write original compositions in these books. Her compositions always have fantastic tunes that are a hit with young teenagers struggling to keep on playing. My key aim in The Intermediate Pianist books was to motivate students to carry on and not give up at this crucial but often challenging intermediate stage.
The Foundation Pianist books, on the other hand, required someone who was an outstanding arranger, as we intended to include a large quantity of orchestral music. David Blackwell is a brilliant arranger, and he also helped enormously with the structuring, creative content and balance of the books.
The Foundation Pianist books embed piano technique and music-reading skills, incorporating well-crafted teacher duet parts and quick-study pieces that also exploited David’s talent.
The Advanced Pianist books were quite different again. I’ve never claimed to be a concert pianist and at the higher grades I think it’s essential to have an insight into performance from a professional pianist. Mark Tanner was the perfect writer to become ‘The Concert Pianist’. As a pianist, composer and writer who has performed and broadcast extensively, Mark’s knowledge of performance and interpretation are invaluable in these books that feature core repertoire by the great composers.
Tried and tested
All the material was tried and tested with students – both my own and those of colleagues.
Much of it was based on my own curriculum that I had developed over the years, that had enabled many students to progress to advanced stages of playing. Nevertheless, the progression was road tested and much was learnt on the way.
One key point was simply making sure there wasn’t too much repertoire in there that would take a long time to learn, so that students could get through the book in two to three terms. If a student hadn’t had time to do much practice, some easier repertoire and activities meant there was always something useful to do in the lesson.
I did feel strongly that the books should include plenty of core repertoire, such as a movement from Clementi’s Op. 36, pieces from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, Schumann’s Album for the Young, Burgmüller’s Op. 100, plus some Bartók, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Grieg, Debussy, Handel, Scarlatti and so many more.
Even though there are some well-known favourites (such as the first part of Beethoven’s Für Elise), there are also many lesser-known pieces to avoid too much duplication with other collections.
As the author of the ABRSM’s Piano Encore series, I ensured no piece was duplicated so the two series could easily be used alongside each other.
My sincere wish as an author is that the books inspire a new generation of pianists and re- inspire an older generation of pianists to come back to the piano and keep playing.
The piano can be a lifelong friend bringing much happiness. Hopefully Piano Trainer will enable students to love the piano through attractive repertoire but also through being able to perform and understand the music through good technical support, with theory and performance knowledge also being imparted.
It is hoped the Piano Trainer series will work in partnership with teachers and students over many years to come.
A big thank you to the teachers and students who have already supported the books, it has been greatly appreciated!
Please now download and print off this complete introduction and overview of the curriculum, designed by and courtesy of Faber Music:
The authors and publishers have also created a wealth of excellent supporting material that you can download FREE here:
PianoTrainer Downloads page here.