Piano Grades Are Go!

Products featured on Pianodao are selected for review by ANDREW EALES.

Compared to the large quantity of music reviewed here for intermediate and advanced players, relatively few publications for elementary players make an appearance. This is perhaps in part because so much of the music written for beginning players is swallowed whole into lucrative method book series and exam resources. But there’s also no denying that it’s particularly difficult to write standout, imaginative music at this level.

Pianodao features reviews for relatively few of the publications received, in the hope of offering the clearest, well-informed and most helpful recommendations, thus saving readers time. Nothing makes it onto the site unless I would very happily use in my own teaching studio.

How wonderful, then, to introduce a brand new collection of “20 Characterful Solos” by Victoria Proudler. Piano Grades Are Go! has just appeared from EVC Music and is that rarest of beasts: a genuinely stunning music book for elementary players. I will be adopting it with my students, and believe other teachers should consider doing so too. Let’s find out why…

Supercharge Your Piano Skills!

Victoria Proudler is a pianist, educator, music examiner (for Trinity College London) and educational composer who writes pieces designed to make playing more fun. She describes her compositional style as,

“aiming for the “wow” factor but with less work and more play!”

Many of Proudler’s arrangements and compositions have been published as exam pieces by Trinity, and she has been an active adviser for their electronic keyboard syllabus. Her absorption of a wide range of popular musical styles is certainly evident in this new collection of original pieces.

The book itself is a simple affair in EVC Music house style, with typically eye-catching cover and 24 pages (white paper) within.

Unusually for this publisher, it includes a detailed two-page introduction by the composer, with teaching and playing tips for all the pieces. The rest of the book is taken up with the pieces, with notation that is cleanly and spaciously engraved in a generously sized music font.

In her introduction, Proudler tells us,

“A successful musical performance always tells a story, awakens memories, stirs feelings and emotions. This can only be achieved through an understanding of the performance directions. My book Piano Grades are Go! features twenty graded solos written within the framework of the major music exam boards. The emphasis is on the performance directions and musical techniques: the superskills of piano playing.”

She goes on to suggest learners should use the book to:

  • practise playing at the next exam standard before starting exam work
  • play after exams to consolidate the grade before moving upwards
  • play these solos as recital pieces, each with a unique style and character

While the book is primarily a collection pieces suitable for players at Initial and Grade 1 level, Proudler has cunningly embedded a range of pedagogic and expressive goals. Each piece homes in on a superskill which will help the learner to (as the subtitle of the book puts it) supercharge their piano skills.

The focus of each piece is identified in a speech bubble next to its title, and deftly woven into the essence of the music. It is a brilliant conceit, sure to capture the imagination of younger players, and the actual superskills turn out to be:

  • Playing in strict time
  • Swing rhythm
  • Chords
  • Dynamics
  • Two-note slurs
  • Phrasing
  • Balancing the hands
  • Articulation
  • Legato
  • Waltz time
  • Rhythm
  • Walking Bass
  • Hand co-ordination
  • Syncopation
  • Playing Fast
  • Accents
  • Keeping the beat

Okay, that’s not 20, because some appear in one of the ten Initial Grade pieces and again in one of the Grade 1 pieces. There are ten of each, and given Proudler’s résumé we can be confident in her benchmarking.

It is also worth noting that in addition to the identified superskill, each piece introduces and consolidates a number of other learning priorities.

For example, Proudler suggests that the superskill focus of her Pachelbel Moment is phrasing, but appropriately it introduces the fingering pattern of the C major scale in that context. Yuletide Bells, meanwhile, hones two-note slurs but is equally a study in varying the simultaneous articulations between hands.

20 Characterful Solos

So what about the pieces themselves – are they any good?

They certainly are! And here’s the list of titles:

  • March of the Druids
  • Brown Dog Blues
  • Mysterious Procession
  • In the Dark
  • Yuletide Bells
  • Pachelbel Moment
  • Ballet Dancer
  • Hawaii Beach
  • The Lonely Penguin
  • Viennese Whirl
  • Silver Lining
  • Twistin’ Tango
  • Sunshine Stroll
  • Slither!
  • Winter Etude
  • Downtown Rag
  • The Chase
  • Undercover Blues
  • Toccatina
  • Jive O’Clock Jazz

It’s perhaps no surprise to read that Proudler’s careful pedagogic planning of the collection extends further; she tells us that the pieces are:

  • carefully graded
  • arranged in order of difficulty
  • complete with dynamics, articulation, fingering and phrasing
  • mostly pattern-based and straightforward to learn
  • full of character, building musicality, imagination and communication
  • in a range of enjoyable styles, with catchy tunes and chord progressions

I am happy to agree with all these points, adding that I am thrilled by the quality of the music here. These pieces really are impressive: consistently imaginative, commendably engaging and memorable.

My favourites are… literally, all of them!

Closing Thoughts

Elementary music books which don’t quite make it into the Pianodao Music Library invariably make one of two mistakes:

  • they are pedagogically worthy but musically uninspiring
  • they are musically engaging but educationally… hit and miss

Piano Grades Are Go! gives both of these errors a very wide berth indeed. Victoria Proudler’s brilliantly catchy pieces are going to be a real hit, motivating young players while also raising the quality of their musicianship.

Victoria Proudler
Victoria Proudler

It has long been my view that elementary players need to be inspired with high quality material such as this. Downloading bland freebies won’t do. But realistically a well-taught, motivated student will usually quickly progress to intermediate level, and might only need two or three repertoire books alongside core teaching material. I recommend you consider this superb collection as one of those books.

Come December, I will be looking back to my favourite publications of 2022; in the Elementary category, I very much doubt that anything will come close to this stunning publication. Buy it with confidence, and see for yourself…

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Published by

Andrew Eales

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