When East Meets West

Pause • Reflect • Sundays on Pianodao

Charles A. Moore

These words come from the foreword to Wing-Tsit Chan’s A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, published in 1963 by Princeton University Press, and still one of the outstanding collections of Chinese philosophical writing in English translation.

In the six decades since Moore wrote these inspiring words, I wonder how far we have come. Here in the 2020’s, have our continents, countries and communities become more tolerant, more open to the ideas and culture of others? It seems to me that, perhaps, we still have quite a distance to cover.

Ever since my very first post to launch the Pianodao site back in 2015, I have continued in my efforts to apply the wisdom of Eastern philosophy to piano playing and education. As a music reviewer, pianist and teacher, I have also increasingly discovered the wonderful benefits of developing a more inclusive, extended core performance and pedagogy repertoire.

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Thelonious Monk • Intermediate Piano Solos

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Though initially misunderstood, Thelonious Monk came to be regarded as one of the key figures in the evolution of jazz music in the 1950’s to 70’s, even appearing on the cover of Time magazine.

Undoubtedly a maverick pioneer, his profound influence remains a bright flame, his compositions an important continuing resource in the jazz repertoire.

Monk’s pianistic approach was rooted in the stride style of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Building on that foundation he embraced modes, whole tones, clusters and polytonality. It is perhaps no surprise that his music took its time to catch on, but his virtuosic playing and unique musical personality ultimately made him a difficult genius to ignore.

Monk’s body of work is an unlikely candidate for study at intermediate level, but renowned jazz pianist, composer and arranger Ronnie Mathews has risen to an improbable challenge in producing a slim and accessible collection of 14 intermediate piano solos, published Stateside some years ago but only recently clearing licensing for release here in the UK…

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“In the three moons of winter”

Pause • Reflect • Sundays on Pianodao

As Autumn turns to winter, dead leaves wither on our pathways, migrating birds have headed off in search of warmer climes, insects are crawling into holes, and many animals are settling down to hibernate until the spring thaw.

In Chinese medicine and Qigong practice, the human metabolism also slows down in the Winter, and our energy can become dormant. And yet we seem to largely ignore the challenges of the season. Instead, we work and play even more frenetically than usual as we head towards the Christmas season at breakneck speed.

There is a real danger that our over-exertion in the early winter leaves us physically depleted, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and more susceptible to infection, illness and a general sense of feeling “run down”. We need to take stock…

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ABRSM Performance Diplomas

Supporting Your Piano Playing Journey

A few months ago I brought news that exam board ABRSM had announced their intention to replace their range of diploma assessments in performance, teaching and direction with a new set of digital qualifications from 2024.

The popularity of that article underlined the point that these diplomas are not just of interest to several of my regular students, but to a far wider community within the piano playing and teaching world.

Now, with additional information available from ABRSM, it’s time to retire my previous post and bring you this updated one to replace it.

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Jóhann Jóhannsson • Piano Works

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Jóhann Jóhannsson (1969-2018) was an award-winning Icelandic composer, musician, and producer, who wrote music for a wide array of media including film, television, theatre and dance. With his passing in 2018, aged just 48, the world of music lost one of its brightest stars, still in the ascendent.

Faber Music celebrate this extraordinary talent with the publication of a new cloth-bound book, Jóhann Jóhannsson Piano Works, the subject of this review, in which they tell us,

The book is undoubtedly a beautiful and important tribute, so let’s take a look…

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Gradebusters 3 and 4

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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….

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Active Repertoire, Winter 23/24

Active Repertoire is the music we can play any time, any place. These are the pieces we can perform without notice, without any embarrassment, and even from memory.

We often fret about the things we can’t do, the music we can’t play. It can lead to a negative spiral that leaves us feeling defeated and deflated.

But what if we recalibrated our expectations and turned our focus positively towards what we can do, and what we can play?

The Active Repertoire Challenge is all about rediscovering our enthusiasm for playing our favourite pieces, developing confidence, and even sharing the music we enjoy the most with others,

The challenge encourages piano players to develop their own Active Repertoire of three or four pieces which can be played any time, any place: without notice or embarrassment, and hopefully over time from memory.

Take up the challenge, download your FREE Active Repertoire Challenge sheet, and make a decision that will change your piano journey forever. By making Active Repertoire our top priority, we can:

  • start our practice sessions positively, with music we enjoy
  • more quickly memorise our favourite pieces
  • overcome our anxiety and feel more at ease playing to others

A new Active Repertoire challenge sheet is issued each quarter, and can be freely downloaded here on the Pianodao website. For the coming months, the sheet includes sections for the following:

My Active Repertoire
Use the spaces here to list pieces which you can play to performance standard. To find out more about how to continue working with these pieces, read the Getting Started Guide below.

Pieces I am working on
These are the pieces that you are currently practising, and which are not yet ready to perform.

Warming pieces for colder evenings
Each quarter the sheet includes a more imaginative and thought-provoking section. For these coming months, consider which pieces remind you of warmth, home, comfort. List any that you can play or would like to play here.

Piano Goals for 2024
This season sees the move into a fresh year, and as always it is good to consider what our goals are. This section could include ideas you want to discuss with a teacher, mentor or piano friend, and which excite you as ongoing possibilities.

Disney @100 – my favourite songs
This year we have marked the Disney centenary year, with a wide selection of sheet music available for pianists to explore. Do you have a few Disney songs that you especially enjoy? List them here!

The Active Repertoire Challenge offers an exciting pathway to a more motivated and truly rewarding piano journey.
Are you ready to take part? If so, here’s your FREE sheet to plan and track your progress:

Printing directly from the web may work, but it’s best to save the download as a PDF file, and when printing check the “scale to fit page” and “plain paper, best quality” options.

Please also check out the Getting Started Guide, which includes full instructions for how to use the sheet to support your piano journey in the coming year…

Your Active Repertoire is at the heart of your piano journey!

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‘Hanging on a Cliff of Sorrow’

Pause • Reflect • Sundays on Pianodao

The rather stark title of this week’s Fermata post comes from a quote found in a book written by two of the world’s leading education experts:

Pasi Sahlberg & William Doyle: Let the Children Play
(2019, Oxford University Press)

Assuming we respect the research, expertise and authority of Sahlberg and Doyle, as so many leading international organisations and educationalists do, then the strength of their impassioned plea will command our immediate and undivided attention.

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Music Theory • Online Courses

Supporting Your Piano Playing Journey

It is vital for musicians to understand the music we play: its history, context, structure, style and the conventions of music notation used to write it down.

Like many piano teachers, it is my priority to ensure that such knowledge is embedded as a relevant component of lessons. But like many, I find that written work can be difficult to fit into a practical music lesson. Not only so, but some elements are better suited to the classroom context, or to self-directed learning.

Many of my students want to dig into the subject in more depth, learn aspects of theory and composition that go beyond the obvious remit of a piano playing session, whether to develop a broader understanding or simply to pass a Grade 5 Theory exam as a prerequisite to taking one of the higher ABRSM practical grades.

I have always been ready to recommend additional resources and courses that meet the need for a more focused academic approach to learning music theory. And whether for an exam or otherwise, I find that students who develop a more in-depth knowledge of music quickly see benefits in their ongoing playing.

I have previously recommended Dave Hall’s excellent study book and video series There’s More to Playing the Piano, which my students have found helpful, but for those wanting more in-depth support I have been enthused by the number of excellent online courses I have seen recommended.

Keen to know more about suitable options for my students, I have recently interviewed four leading educators delivering music theory courses online. I wanted to compare what they offer, get a feel for their approach, and give them an opportunity to present their courses in their own words…

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