Penelope Roskell • Essential Piano Technique

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Few aspects of piano playing seem to divide opinion on forums as much as healthy technique: what it is, how, and when to teach it. Happily, anyone who is looking for clear, authoritative answers to these questions can find them aplenty in the milestone (and mammoth) book The Complete Pianist, which I reviewed here when it appeared in 2020.

The author of that definitive and award-winning book is the concert pianist and expert teacher Penelope Roskell, a world-leader in the field of injury-free piano playing, and Piano Adviser to the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine.

Having so plainly and comprehensively shown us what an essential, healthy piano technique looks like in her previous book, Roskell is now back with an attractively presented series of three books aimed at younger beginners and their teachers. Her new Essential Piano Technique books are certainly unlike any previous children’s piano series I have encountered…

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Uplifting Piano Solos

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I recently reviewed a series of seven books of arrangements of popular religious songs by Glenda Austin, an esteemed pedagogue, composer and arranger from Missouri USA. As I mentioned in my conclusion to that review, Solos for the Sanctuary offer their own masterclass in how to take a simple melody and create an engaging piano solo, rich in musical substance.

Now Austin is back with a brand new secular collection from The Willis Music Company. Uplifting Piano Solos offers “ten inspiring arrangements” suitable for intermediate to early advanced players, and I would suggest that the collection would suit players at around UK Grades 5-7 level.

I am thrilled to welcome this, a collection that showcases Austin’s brilliant skill to a potentially broader audience. So let’s take a quick look…

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Mike Cornick • A Piano Sketchbook

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Mike Cornick has a long-established reputation as the master of what might once have been called “light music”: easy-going melodic pieces offering a smooth blend of classical, jazz and popular styles, equally accessible to player and listener alike.

I have previously reviewed many of Cornick’s publications, including the more jazzy collections Blues in Two and more, Ragtime Blues and more and Six Jazz Piano Solos, as well as his duet collections Elgar Favourites and Dinner for Two, titles from which you will probably already have deduced Cornick’s musical versatility and the basis of his significant mainstream appeal.

Cornick’s latest collection is called A Piano Sketchbook, and offers a pot-pourri of six assorted intermediate piano solos in a range of jazz and Latin styles…

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Krystyna Gowik: Fives for Piano

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In 2020, I was commissioned by PWM Edition to record five films showcasing educational piano music by Polish composers. Captivated by my new musical discoveries, I have continued to independently explore and review the music of Chopin’s land…

Since visiting the Kraków headquarters of Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne (PWM Edition) to make a series of educational films back in 2020, I have been continuing my deeper dive into the educational piano music of Poland, discovering some fascinating and often enchanting gems along the way.

When reviewing PWM’s many excellent publications on Pianodao, I have of course been aware that they are rather “niche” in terms of the UK market, most of the composers being relatively unknown outside their homeland. There are exceptions: Feliks Rybicki and Janina Garścia being obvious examples of Polish educational composers whose music has circulated widely.

Krystyna Gowik deserves a spot on that list. When I discovered My Little World and My Favourites, both collections reviewed here (including my film introducing them), I was immediately struck by the appeal and pedagogic quality of her music.

Gowik’s latest collection is called Piątki na fortepiano, in English, Fives for Piano. The book is aimed at relative beginners, and contains 25 new compositions which are all written in five-note positions, but in a surprising range of keys and modes…

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Why use Graded Anthologies?

Supporting Your Piano Playing Journey

It’s hardly a secret that I have long had a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards graded music exams. Certainly, many of my students have found them positive, and over the years it’s been a joy to watch players that I have taught getting distinctions, with plenty of success stories across all eight ABRSM grades and beyond.

But while supporting independent assessment for its recognition and celebration of achievement, I am less enthusiastic about the extent to which a syllabus can skew the curriculum and compartmentalise learning. Worse, pressure (explicit or implicit) to take regular exams can for some cast a long shadow over what should be a joyous journey.

When it comes to Graded Anthologies, I have a more unequivocally positive view. As a general rule, these seem to me to offer most of the benefits of a progressive graded system, with few of the problems that mitigate against effective musical learning, and none of the exam-based issues that can so easily discourage and demotivate players.

Without further ado, here are four key benefits of using Graded Anthologies which I value, and which students have clearly found helpful over the years:

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Naoko Ikeda • The Graded Collection

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Following the success of my series of three Graded Gillock collections published by Willis Music last year, I was delighted to be asked to compile a companion collection showcasing the wonderful music of Japanese composer Naoko Ikeda. The collection, now available from Willis Music, can be purchased from the Musicroom website here.

Naoko Ikeda: The Graded Collection includes 24 of Ikeda’s best solo piano pieces, organised in approximate order of difficulty and appropriately grouped according to the UK Grade system from Grade 2 to Grade 5 level.

These stunning pieces would make wonderful selections as “own choices” in Performance Grades, and with six pieces for each of the four grades covered, they provide a rich feast to enhance the player’s development throughout their intermediate playing years.

The pieces have been chosen to offer a flavour of the musical range of this fine composer, ranging from jazz and pop ballads to emotive pieces infused with the musical language and imagery of Japanese culture.

In the introduction that follows I will offer background to the collection in greater depth, as well as including my own piano recordings of 8 of the 24 pieces, which give a varied, representative preview of the collection.

You will also hear from Naoko Ikeda herself, as she shares about her creative journey in her own words…

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The Three-Dimensional Pianist

Supporting Educators • Promoting Learning

Understanding the importance of the three dimensions of musical learning, Musical Mind, Musical Body and Musical Soul, empowers us to teach, learn and practise music holistically, and make more effective and lasting progress at the piano.

Paying attention to all three dimensions in equal balance gives us a solid educational philosophy, a foundation for practice, and the insight needed to foster deeper learning. Teachers have long done exactly this, knowingly or intuitively, to deliver a well-rounded music education.

While the concept of a “three-dimensional” pianist may sound new or even exotic, it really isn’t. All successful musicians engage Musical Mind, Body and Soul in their performance. The purpose of the terminology and perspective shared here is simply to illuminate more clearly what it is that makes some more successful at the piano than others.

In this article I will consider these three dimensions of musical learning in turn, explaining how we can nurture and monitor each, and suggesting how our recognition of Musical Mind, Body, and Soul can help us develop as teachers, learners, and players.

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Eugénie Rocherolle’s Romantic Stylings

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Widely respected as a leading contemporary American composer of piano repertoire, Eugénie Rocherolle was born in New Orleans in 1936. A music graduate of Tulane University (Louisiana), she spent her Junior Year in Paris, where she attended classes with Nadia Boulanger.

Rocherolle has composed works for solo voice, chorus, orchestra, musical theatre, and chamber music. Success as a piano composer came with the publication of her first solo collection in 1978, since when she has added dozens of educational and recital works to her catalogue, many now appearing in The Eugénie Rocherolle Series from Hal Leonard.

Though less well known here in the UK, Musicroom nevertheless list more than a hundred piano publications, many of which comprise Rocherolle’s arrangements of popular, film and show tunes. Now in her 80’s, she still composes original music too, and a new collection is imminent.

In this review, I revisit her most recent (at the time of writing) collection of original pieces. Appearing in 2019, Romantic Stylings offers 8 original piano solos suitable for the intermediate player.

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Piano Music by Women Composers

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After several decades in which music by women composers was largely overlooked by those compiling piano anthologies, concert programmes, exam and festival lists, the recent renaissance of interest can be warmly welcomed as a necessary recalibration, and one which continues to bring to light many wonderful treasures.

Gail Smith’s pioneering Women Composers in History anthology (2013, Hal Leonard, available here) paved the way for more recent collections from Melanie Spanswick (reviewed here) and Karen Marshall (reviewed here). These ‘voices in the wilderness’ certainly piqued our interest, introducing piano enthusiasts to many names that we had been unaware of.

If those collections were the harbingers of change, two new anthologies compiled by Immanuela Gruenberg (again published by Hal Leonard) deliver a confident musical consummation of that promise, a tour de force of truly stunning classics.

Delivered with mature confidence and polished professionalism for a mass global market, these slick collections herald a watershed moment. Join me as I discover Piano Music by Women Composers

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The Cinematic Piano Playlist

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Faber Music’s Piano Playlist series is developing at pace these days. After the success of the first book, published in 2019 and reviewed here, the Christmas Piano Playlist appeared in late 2022, reviewed here, followed just weeks ago by the Peaceful Piano Playlist Revisited, reviewed here.

Now, hot on those heels, they have yet another title joining the series. The Cinematic Piano Playlist promises,

“Over 30 incredible themes from the biggest film soundtracks, games and television shows, all arranged for intermediate piano.”

Let’s find out what the collection delivers…

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The First 50 Chords

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Hal Leonard’s First 50 series has been a popular success, offering bumper collections which each include 50 very simplified arrangements of songs ranging from jazz standards to West End hits, TV favourites and more.

I often advise players to adapt such “easy piano” arrangements to include authentic rhythms by ear, and amplify what is on the page by turning to the chord symbols. Happily, such symbols are included throughout the First 50 series, although for beginners approaching this material they, too, may seem a foreign language.

Wouldn’t it be good if there was a simple primer introducing all the basic chords in a logical sequence, linked to their use in well-known songs?

Well now there is. Written by Alistair Watson and joining this growing songbook series, First 50 Chords You Should Play on Piano recently landed from Hal Leonard, and could well prove to be more than just a useful supplement to the songbooks in the series…

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Chopin • Etudes Op.10

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I think it is fair to say that Chopin’s Etudes Op.10 are, along with the second published set Op.25, among the few genuinely iconic works within the piano repertoire. An expected requirement in music conservatoires, a mainstay of Licentiate Diploma syllabi and competition programmes, they are comfortably ensconced alongside Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Beethoven’s Sonatas at the core of the standard professional repertoire.

As such, these twelve marvellous concert studies hardly need introduction; Roy Howat’s freshly published edition, however, does. The latest arrival in Edition Peters’ Complete Chopin: New Critical Edition, this is a publication which will be of interest and importance to all students of the work, and is the focus of this review.

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The Restoration of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

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The piano music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is surely one of the great treasures of the solo repertoire, too long overlooked but now rightly being rediscovered and brought back into the spotlight.

Schott Music, who published many of these works during the composer’s lifetime, have begun painstakingly re-releasing Coleridge-Taylor’s output in modern performing editions. Among the piano scores restored to the Schott catalogue, and the subject of this review, are the Three Humoresques Op.31 (1898), Three Cameos Op.56 (1904), and (perhaps best-known), Three Fours: Valse-Suite Op.71 (1909).

These pieces all offer wonderful examples of Coleridge-Taylor’s art, and would suit players at around UK Grade 8 to Associate Diploma level. So let’s take a closer look, and reflect on their value…

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The Thinking Pianist 2023

Supporting Your Piano Playing Journey

After having a wonderful time at The Thinking Pianist course last summer, I am delighted to be joining the faculty once again this year. Read on to find out more…

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A Dozen A Day • All Year Round

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Edna-Mae Burnam’s six books of technical exercises, A Dozen A Day, quickly established themselves as classics in the piano pedagogy literature, and in the decades since their first appearance back in the 1950’s, their short routines and iconic illustrations have found their way into the hearts (and fingers) of developing pianists around the world, selling some 25 million copies.

In her introduction to the books, Burnam gets straight to the point in explaining the value of A Dozen A Day:

“Many people do exercises every morning before they go to work. Likewise, we should all give our fingers exercises every day BEFORE we begin our practising.”

The joy and the genius with which the book’s famous and ever-popular stick characters convey this message cannot be overstated, and is a testament to the book’s enduring appeal and generation-busting brilliance.

I have been using these little books with my students since I first started teaching in the 1990’s, and although they have featured less prominently in my studio in recent years, they continue to make their appearance, and offer a hugely useful resource which can be used from the very first lessons, and right up to advanced level.

Encouraging a fresh look, publishers Willis Music brought out a bumper edition back in 2017, which I am going to be focusing on in this review. A Dozen A Day: All Year Round offers additional attractions for teachers, which I will outline, but I would still steer students towards the individual books, appropriate for each level.

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The Jazzin’ About Anthology

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When I began teaching in the 1990’s, Pam Wedgwood’s Jazzin’ About books were very much the rage, the latest thing that every student wanted to play. The series (as it then was) comprised just a handful of books, but over the years it has burgeoned and in the process clocked up more than half a million sales. Wedgwood’s pieces have become perennial favourites.

Latest addition, The Jazzin’ About Piano Anthology, brings together 41 of Pam’s favourite pieces from across the series, presented progressively in one volume from early elementary to intermediate level (UK Initial to Grade 5). Publishers Faber Music tell us that the book includes six new pieces specially composed for this edition, plus duets and online demonstration audio performed by the composer.

“So take a break from the classics and get into the groove as you cruise from blues, to rock, to jazz!”

Let’s dig in…

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Solos for the Sanctuary

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For any who are unfamiliar with Glenda Austin’s work, she is a prolific composer and superb arranger from Missouri USA, whose work is published by the Willis Music Company, distributed by Hal Leonard.

With vast experience as a church musician, Austin has been making arrangements of classic hymns and worship songs since she was a teenager playing in a small Baptist church. Today, she continues to play for the United Methodist Church in her hometown, Joplin.

Austin’s Solos for the Sanctuary series launched with Hymns and a Christmas collection more than a decade ago. Aimed at “the Church Pianist”, these books delivered arrangements suitable for advanced players (around UK Grades 7-8) to include as musical interludes in services as appropriate.

Further collections soon appeared, becoming a popular strand of Austin’s output alongside her educational work. Spirituals (2011), Worship (2012), Gospel (2014) and Hymns 2 (2019) have now been joined by Seasons (2023), prompting this review looking back at the series.

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John Williams • The Fabelmans

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“Growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, young Sammy Fabelman aspires to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence, but soon discovers a shattering family secret, and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth.”

Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed 2022 movie The Fabelmans, loosely based on his own adolescent years, was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score). That score, composed by the peerless John Williams, is now available transcribed for piano solo from Hal Leonard.

Suitable for players at late intermediate to early advanced level, the sheet music folio is the subject of this review.

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The Intermediate Piano Sonata Collection

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The Intermediate Pianist is an award-winning set of three books co-written by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond, published by Faber Music in 2017. They launched Marshall’s Piano Trainer Series, which grew to include the Foundation Pianist (with David Blackwell, 2018), the Advanced Pianist (with Mark Tanner, 2019), and supplemented by the Piano Trainer Scales Workbook (2021).

Between them, these eight books deliver a fully self-contained curriculum for piano players from elementary to advanced level, but they have now been joined by another important supplementary book. The Intermediate Piano Sonata Collection has been written, compiled and edited by Marshall, and the publishers tell us,

“This collection gathers together nine complete sonatas that are all intermediate to early advanced (Grades 4 to 6) in standard. Featuring works by Beethoven, Anna Bon, Haydn, Mozart and Robert Schumann, it provides the highest quality of music and many years of study. Each sonata is accompanied by a live recording, background information, playing tips and musicianship activities; students are also encouraged to use the Sonata Music Map to analyse each work in detail themselves.”

Let’s start to unpack all this…

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Discovering Burgmüller

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Burgmüller’s three collections of piano etudes, Op.100, Op.105 and Op.109 have been cornerstones of the piano pedagogy literature for over a century and a half, and remain as popular today as ever.

In this short article I will look at each of the three, share my own recordings of Op.100, compare and recommend good editions for those wanting to study these brilliant pieces.

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Piano Grades Are Go! Grades 2-3

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I was genuinely excited by the arrival of the first book in Victoria Producer’s Piano Grade Are GO! series from EVC Music, writing in my review that the collection was:

“that rarest of beasts: a genuinely stunning music book for elementary players.”

My enthusiasm for the book remains undiminished, and I suggest you read that review before progressing to this one: many of the points I wrote about the goals and content of the first book equally apply to the second…

So what about this second collection? Well, it offers 21 new pieces suitable for players at UK Grades 2 and 3 level. Read on to find out more…

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