The Christmas 2021 Shortlist: Elementary Piano Music

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The Christmas season is accompanied by a uniquely popular and significant body of music spanning multiple genres, and it’s no wonder that there are so many varied piano collections to choose from, whatever your level.

Once again this year, here is the updated and expanded Pianodao shortlist of the best seasonal piano sheet music, including a mix of new releases and established favourites.

The 2021 Pianodao shortlist begins with collections for BEGINNER to ELEMENTARY players (around UK Grade 2).

You will find the Pianodao 2021 Christmas Shortlists for other levels here:

And as ever, remember that Pianodao Tea Room members will receive a 20% discount from Musicroom for any of the publications included below.

Pianoworks Christmas

Although part of the Pianoworks series “for older beginners”, this collection has no links to that method itself other than branding. And as a free-standing collection of Christmas Carols and Songs, I have found it has been hugely and consistently popular with players of all ages, year after year.

There are two particular strengths that contribute to my enthusiasm and make this my top recommendation for a traditional Christmas collection.

Firstly, the range and choice of material here is second to none, with a selection of 18 of the choicest traditional carols in arrangements suitable for early elementary players followed by 6 more contemporary pieces (including an absolutely-spot-on easy arrangement of Walking in the Air).

Secondly, while some arrangements of carols found elsewhere are adapted from church choir versions, with awkward four-part harmonies, here we have truly idiomatic piano writing, but which is no less faithful to the spirit of each carol, maintaining familiar harmonic colours rather than diminishing them.

There’s close attention to detail, and the Bullard’s pedagogic expertise is as evident as ever, not least from the perfect balance of helpful fingering included throughout.

If you are looking for a no-nonsense collection of great Christmas arrangements, Pianoworks Christmas is a runaway winner.

Get Set! Piano: Christmas Crackers

Reviewed on Pianodao back in 2018 and top children’s choice on my list again this year, Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers offers a collection of well-loved Christmas pieces arranged in progressive order for younger players in their first 2-3 years of learning.

Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers Review

Most method book series include a seasonal collection, but Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers can really be used alongside any other method, with material structured progressively around clear pedagogic aims, meaning that pupil progress doesn’t just stop for two months to make way for Christmas music.

The book is stuffed with great ideas, creative approaches and fun suggestions, all presented with an engaging and often amusing festive twist. The carol arrangements themselves all benefit from an astute awareness of what really works on the piano at this level.

In a crowded market, Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers really does offer something different, interesting and hugely valuable. Not only so, but the book is very keenly priced, and will for many children be the only Christmas book they need!

Read the Full Review Here

A Magical Christmas

Phillip Keveren’s piano arrangements consistently impress me, and since reviewing his excellent Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair last year, I have been exploring some of his many other Christmas collections.

For elementary players, A Magical Christmas is great, bringing together 15 “yuletide songs” in a stunningly presented book, and with large well-spaced notation within:

The pieces range from the classic Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bell Rock and Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire through to more recent movie favourites such as Believe and Hot Chocolate (from The Polar Express) and Do you Want to Build a Snowman (from Disney’s Frozen).

Somewhere in my Memory (from Home Alone) may well bring tears to mums’ and dads’ eyes everywhere… what a special song!

The arrangements are simple indeed, in many cases including a single melody line only, distributed between two hands in five-note positions. Sometimes the hands play together, and very occasionally a hand will play two notes at a time, but nothing here goes beyond the early elementary level. Fingering is minimal, but helpfully sets up the correct playing positions.

Happily all the songs are presented with their lyrics, verses included, written between the LH and RH staves. These are a welcome addition (without being a visual distraction), whether to help teach the rhythm, reference the narrative and emotion of the songs, or to actually sing along.

The inclusion of backing tracks would have made this an indispensable classic, but even without them, here’s a book which surely belongs in the hands of every younger elementary player, and which will surely add sparkle and warmth to many a family Christmas this year!

Wonderful stuff as ever from the brilliant Keveren, a perfect complement alongside the more traditional fare of Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers.

Christmas Movie Magic

For players who are a little more advanced, and perhaps older, Keveren’s Christmas Movie Magic collection is another firm recommendation.

Introducing the gorgeously presented collection, Keveren writes,

“Movies can be magical. Christmas movies can be really magical! The songs that are introduced or featured in our favourite Christmas movies become part of the joy of the holiday season every year. All of the selections in this collection carry special memories for me, and I hope you enjoy playing them at the piano.”

Featured movies range from older classics to (predominantly) more recent films, with pieces from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Love Actually, The Grinch.., and reappearing, Home Alone, Frozen and The Polar Express.

Where there are duplicate pieces, it is immediately clear that these are more difficult arrangements that those in A Magical Christmas, with hands playing together, note ranges beyond a fifth, and simple chords. Assisting throughout, there are ample fingering suggestions. And in common with the previous title, the words to songs appear between the staves for each hand.

Interestingly, while these arrangements are a little more difficult than in the previous title, the “Big-Note Piano” notation appears larger than in A Magical Christmas. I have never quite related to this concept, but the super-sized notation certainly doesn’t detract from this hugely appealing Keveren collection. Another winner!

Countdown to Christmas

Kudos to Belfast-based composer and teacher Darren Day, whose self-produced Countdown to Christmas offers an enticing collection of 25 Christmas songs arranged for Late Elementary to Early Intermediate players.

In short, here is another great choice for those wanting easy (and sometimes impressively inventive) arrangements of their favourite carols.

The song-list and presentation are appropriate for older learners, and the book would make a good follow-on from some of those already listed here, offering a little more challenge. Minimal but helpful fingering is included throughout.

The emphasis is firmly on the traditional, presented alphabetically from Angels from the Realms of Glory to We Wish You a Merry Christmas, although Day has inserted four new, original solos of his own, all of which I enjoyed playing and anticipate would be popular with students.

Day has included some nicely pianistic writing, and though the songs themselves may be well-worn, the overall feel of the arrangements is fresh and contemporary. An added bonus is that Day has created free backing tracks to go with all of the pieces, and these are available in both standard and slowed-down versions. They can be accessed using the QR codes in the book (for the iMac in my studio, the URL would have been more helpful), and are hosted on Day’s YouTube channel.

Those wanting digital versions of the music can purchase a studio license here, while the physical version is produced and distributed via Amazon (link below).

The book itself is very nicely presented, has an inviting cover, excellent notation engraving, and is far superior to other titles I have seen self-produced in this format. Countdown to Christmas is warmly recommended.

Really Easy Bumper Christmas Book

Completing this year’s round up on a real high, here’s a stunning selection of 45 Top Hits, each treated to an elementary piano arrangement, collectively delivering an enticing mix of traditional and contemporary seasonal fare.

With a contents page that lists ever-popular hits by Wizzard, Mariah Carey, John & Yoko, Elton John, Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney and many more alongside an impressive selection of your favourite traditional carols, this really is a collection that covers all the basics very admirably.

The arrangements are spot on for Elementary players, with mostly single notes in each hand, occasionally amplified by additional harmony notes in the RH. Simple chord symbols appear above the score, and some song lyrics (but, frustratingly, not all of the verses) are included between the staves.

A particularly nice bonus here is that each tune is prefaced with a short comment on its background or chart history, as well as handy Hints and Tips to help the player.

But it doesn’t stop there. Also included with the physical print publication, the purchase price includes two significant digital additions: an ebook version of the main publication, and the SoundWise interactive assessment software.

Both can be run from within an internet browser or using an iPad app, and the assessment software allows you to record yourself in time with a metronome and scrolling score, analysing the audio and providing feedback about any inaccuracies. I had fun putting this interactive practice aid through its paces with my best Les Dawson impersonation, and can report that it is very accurate in its feedback: how useful!

To summarise, this popular, sturdy 88-page best-seller from Wise Publications will undoubtedly make a lot of players very happy again this year!

Also available • Andrew’s essential handbook:
How to Practise Music

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.