Gradebusters Piano Grade 3 4

Gradebusters 3 and 4

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

If you are looking for fresh and superbly arranged songs that will appeal to early intermediate piano players of all ages, who are you going to call?

That’s right! Hal Leonard’s superb Gradebuster series is back, with two shiny new collections aimed at UK Grade 3 and 4 players respectively, each offering another “15 Awesome Solos”.

The first two books in this series have proved predictably popular. Upon their release, I reviewed Gradebusters 1 here, and Gradebusters 2 here, and those previous articles explain what is so great about this series.

So let’s find out if the latest two busters on the scene live up to the high standards of the series so far….

Let’s begin with a quick recap of what the publications themselves offer:

  • The books are robust, with glossy card covers and quality white pages within.
  • Helpful fingering is included throughout, to support independent learning.
  • Demonstration recordings of all the pieces can be streamed or downloaded using the unique code found inside the book.
  • These can also be played using Hal Leonard’s excellent PLAYBACK+ audio player, which allows you to slow down tracks without changing pitch, set loop points, change keys and more.
  • Each piece is also prefaced by a short text noting the points of interest or possible difficulty.

The demonstration tracks are recorded by Christopher Hussey, who is also once again responsible for the arrangements, and these are consistently excellent.

Condensing well-loved songs into solo piano arrangements suitable for early intermediate players is a tricky business. Hussey displays that rare gift for being able to do so without losing the essence of the song, evidenced in the first two books in the series, and happily again here.

In short, there is nothing to distinguish the aims and quality these two new additions to the series from their predecessors, and believe me that this is high praise indeed!

Here’s a list of the pieces included in the Grade 3 book:

  • Bad Habits [Ed Sheeran]
  • Break Free [Ariana Grande]
  • California Dreamin’ [The Mamas & the Papas]
  • Candle in the Wind [Elton John]
  • Defying Gravity [from Wicked]
  • Don’t Know Why [Norah Jones]
  • Down by the Salley Gardens [Traditional Folk Song]
  • Easy On Me [Adele]
  • Hallelujah [Leonard Cohen]
  • Ocean Eyes [Billie Eilish]
  • (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay [Otis Redding]
  • A Thousand Years [Christina Perry]
  • Three Little Birds [Bob Marley]
  • Wings [Little Mix]
  • Yellow Submarine [The Beatles]

While this list is alphabetical, within the book itself the pieces steadily progress in difficulty, meaning that it can be explored in a logical and sequential way, selecting preferred songs from the start to finish. In terms of the level, it seems to me fairly pitch perfect for Grade 3.

Revealing my own favourites would of course age me, so I will politely decline. But seriously, this is a superb collection, and I have no doubt it will add a lot of joy to the piano playing journey of many an intermediate player!

So far, so good… let’s check out the Grade 4 book, and here is the list of songs included this time:

  • All I Want For Christmas Is You [Mariah Carey]
  • As It Was [Harry Styles]
  • Autumn Leaves [Joseph Kosma]
  • Blinding Lights [The Weeknd]
  • I Wanna Be Like You [from The Jungle Book]
  • Naughty [from Matilda the Musical]
  • On My Own [from Les Misérables]
  • Part of Your World [from The Little Mermaid]
  • Señorita [Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes]
  • Surface Pressure [from Encanto]
  • Sweet Caroline [Neil Diamond]
  • This Is Halloween [from The Nightmare Before Christmas]
  • Wellerman [Nathan Evans]
  • When She Loved Me [from Toy Story 2]
  • Yesterday [The Beatles]

As expected, these arrangements add a little more challenge as appropriate for Grade 4. Most benefit from legato pedalling and include rhythmic syncopation. Latin, swing rhythms, and even twos-against-threes also appear.

There will be some who would prefer to see the inclusion of chord symbols so that players at this level develop a more holistic approach to playing by ear, from the notation, and using their growing understanding of progressions. I should also point out that not all songs are in the same keys in which they were famously recorded and sung, and lyrics aren’t included.

But these are more than competent as fully transcribed arrangements that capture the musical essence of the source materials. And indeed, they have their own pedagogic value, with plentiful detail in the notation to build on and support the player’s internal knowledge of each song.

Most importantly, I believe that Grade 4 pianists following a notation-based approach will have an absolute blast playing these arrangements. Given the context of the publication, they really are superbly crafted and undoubtedly inspiring.

Both these new collections deliver excellent and frankly irresistible selections of iconic songs, suitable for early intermediate players at Grade 3 and 4 level. The presentation, ingenious selection and arrangements are second to none, reaffirming that the Gradebusters series is genuinely indispensable.

In my article Why Use Graded Anthologies? I extolled the virtues and value of using repertoire collections in which a uniform grade level is clearly stated, so that players can access suitable material, chart their progress, play a balanced selection of music and realise value for money.

Hal Leonard’s Gradebusters series is something of a missing link in this scenario, the ideal complement to the many classical anthologies out there, and assuredly now the leading series of its kind.

Simply put, Gradebusters offers a hugely inviting and immediate mix of famous songs… this is top stuff!

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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.