Gradebusters: 15 Awesome Solos

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Grade exams getting you down?
Who are you going to call?… GRADEBUSTERS!!

Gradebusters is the cheekily-titled new series from Hal Leonard. Serving up a rich feast of universally popular music that players everywhere will be hungry to play, each book is packed with instantly recognisable hits and infectious tunes.

The series so far includes books for piano, violin, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, alto and tenor sax, nominally ‘Grade 1’ level. The Gradebusters 1 piano book includes “15 awesome solos from ABBA to Aladdin”, and is available now.

Here’s a quick rundown of the resource, the music included, and some ideas about who this book would suit…

The Resource

The Gradebusters series books appear in a range of vivid covers. For the Grade 1 piano collection, the base colour may be black, but the overall look is brilliantly striking and contemporary:

Not only is the cover itself robust glossy card, the 20 white pages within are made of high grade semi-card, and are staple bound. The overall impression I have it that this is a sturdy and durable book which would comfortably withstand repeated (and even rough) use.

The 15 included songs are:

  • Let it be (The Beatles)
  • Do-re-mi (The Sound of Music)
  • Your Song (Elton John)
  • Touch the Sky (Brave)
  • A Whole New World (Aladdin)
  • Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
  • Let it go (Frozen)
  • Viva La Vida (Coldplay)
  • Mamma Mia (ABBA)
  • Dancing Queen (ABBA)
  • Canon in D (Pachelbel)
  • Raiders March (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • The Snow Prelude No.3 (Ludovico Einaudi)
  • Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (Handel)
  • Clair de Lune (Debussy)

This is an obviously tempting list, packed with memorable and well-known tunes, and notably benefitting from the ability to draw from Hal Leonard’s unrivalled catalogue of contemporary music.

Demonstration recordings are also included in the price of the book, and can be streamed or downloaded using the unique code found inside.

These tracks can also be used within Hal Leonard’s PLAYBACK+ multi-functional audio player, which allows you to slow down audio without changing pitch, set loop points, change keys and pan left or right. This is the same excellent system used in several other publications I have reviewed, and as the book codes are entered into the Hal Leonard website, your library of content there grows, remaining available each time you login.

I must reiterate from previous reviews that the playback quality when stretching the tempo or switching key is superb, making PLAYBACK+ a significant bonus resource.

Unfortunately though, Hal Leonard haven’t included orchestrated backing tracks, which would perhaps have been the final icing on the cake!

The Arrangements

The demonstration tracks are recorded by Christopher Hussey, who is also responsible for these arrangements. And they are excellent.

Condensing well-loved songs into solo piano arrangements suitable for an elementary player is a tricky business. Hussey displays a rare gift for being able to do so without losing the essence of the song.

Hussey has previously demonstrated this skill with his equally fine Graded Piano Player series for Faber Music, which I reviewed here; the two series are mutually complementary in my view.

While some of the later pieces in the book are at the upper end of typical Grade 1 piano difficulty, none are outside the expected boundaries.

Potentially tricky vocal-line rhythms are notated with both simplicity and authenticity, thanks in part to a careful song selection (which is piano-specific; other books in the series include different titles). And while lyrics aren’t presented, those who know them will easily find themselves singing along!

Each hand is limited to playing a single line or, occasionally, simple two/three-note chords, and plenty of fingering is included throughout to facilitate and support independent learning. The suggestions seem consistently to support good pedagogy.

Each piece is also prefaced by a short text noting the points of interest or possible difficulty, while jogging the player’s memory of the original song and inspiring musical imagination in their interpretation. This is top stuff!

Who is this for?

Gradebusters will undoubtedly appeal to a wide range of children, teens and adult learners with its hugely inviting and immediate mix of famous songs. The book certainly offers an ideal collection of pieces ready to use as an enjoyable departure from the grades, but don’t expect to return anytime soon…

Gradebusters may prove an eye-opener for some: playing an instrument can be fun, engaging and immensely rewarding without any need for an examiner’s approval! So if you are ready to “bust” out and embrace the biggest hits that players are itching to try, this book needs immediate investigation!

Looking for something fresh? Who are you going to call again..?

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based in Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.