Having recently reviewed Hal Leonard’s Really Easy Beatles Collection, let’s bring things bang up to date with a look at their recent Chart Hits of 2020-2021.
The series of bumper songbooks, offering transcriptions of “20 Massive Singles”, comes in four flavours:
- Solo Guitar
- Easy Piano
- PVG (Piano, Vocal, Guitar)
In this short review I will look at the latter two of these…
I bet you’ll be wondering whether your favourites are all here, so without further ado here’s the track listing:
- Afterglow [Ed Sheeran]
- Anyone [Justin Bieber]
- Blinding Lights [The Weeknd]
- Don’t Play [Anne-Marie]
- Drivers License [Olivia Rodrigo]
- Dynamite [BTS]
- Golden [Harry Styles]
- Head & Heart [Joel Corry]
- Holy [Justin Bieber]
- Mood [iann dior]
- Paradise [Dermot Kennedy]
- Physical [Dua Lipa]
- Positions [Ariana Grande]
- Prisoner [Dua Lipa]
- Rain on Me [Ariana Grande]
- Savage Love [Jason Derulo]
- Sword from the Stone [Passenger]
- Therefore I Am [Billie Eilish]
- Willow [Taylor Swift]
- You broke me first [Tate McRae]
This being Hal Leonard, the big stars of the moment are here. Those who follow contemporary culture will hopefully be suitably impressed, while those who don’t might want to take the time to familiarise themselves with the biggest songs to have hit the mainstream in recent months.
Some of these songs are, however, more obviously suited to piano arrangement than others, so let’s take a look at the Easy Piano publication first, and see how well it fares…
The 136-page Easy Piano version of the collection has a stiff, glued spine and arrives in an eye-catching cover:
The publishers sensibly avoid defining “easy” (such a relative term!), but I would suggest these arrangements are more suited to intermediate than to elementary players, so around UK Grade 4-5.
The arranger has made a good effort to keep the texture fairly simple throughout, and the keys of songs have been adapted for the less advanced player (for example, Afterglow is in C major rather than sporting the five sharps of the original B major).
The notation itself is in a generously large music font and is well-spaced on the page, making it easy to read. Basic chord symbols are included above the stave; lyrics appear between the staves. There are some occasional fingering suggestions, usually at the start of each song.
Unlike the Beatles book, in which rhythms were simplified, here the arrangements stick more closely to the natural vocal syncopations of the songs, and manageable chord textures are allowed to dominate in some of the arrangements. If singing (or joined by a singer), the piano part could be further simplified to avoid duplication of the melody line.
A problem that comes from arranging vocal lines for piano is that a singer will often repeat the same note many times, the interest being in the lyrics rather than the melodic contour. This is especially obvious in songs that include rap elements, making their transition to piano solo problematic, but there are still plenty of songs that work well as piano pieces in their own right.
Overall, the late intermediate player who wants to dip into playing their latest chart favourites will find much to enjoy here, especially if they have the confidence to sing along while playing, or want to jam with friends and family.
Piano • Vocal • Guitar
The Piano • Vocal • Guitar (PVG) edition is even better suited to using in a group setting. Here the songs appear in their original keys. The vocal line and lyrics are separated out from the piano part on their own third stave. Above this, the chord symbols are amplified to include guitar tab throughout.
As a consequence of these additions, the notation is printed in a slightly smaller music font, so that the book is of a similar length and size. The cover and general format otherwise match that of the Easy Piano version.
The piano parts generally follow the main vocal/melody still, meaning that the more advanced player using this collection could easily play fully-formed intelligent piano arrangements of most songs. Again, the astute musician will almost certainly want to adapt this if the song is being sung, in order to avoid unwanted overlap and timing problems.
This version of the collection will therefore best suit the more advanced, confident pianist and those with the skills to adapt the material to their own musical ends, particularly if they want to enjoy the songs in a band or shared music-making context.
Hit or Miss?
Overall, I think that these are well conceived and executed publications. They will certainly have wide appeal.
Those of us who teach and are confident playing in contemporary popular styles have much to offer students using these books, so it’s a pity that many who buy them will consider them a “guilty secret” on the side rather than bringing them to lessons. I will certainly be happy to help players who want to use this material.
Chart Hits 2020-2021 can be recommended to their target demographic without reservation. These books are a hit.
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