Which Adult Piano Method 2020?

Sheet Music Review

For 2020 I am pleased to present an updated feature on the adult method books I most highly recommend.

I’ll start with in-depth reviews of my TOP 5 CHOICES.

After that I will also include shorter reviews of some other great alternatives.

One of the most exciting developments over the course of my piano career has been the huge increase in adults taking up lessons. I have lost count of the number of adult beginners I’ve had the pleasure of teaching over the last three decades; at present I teach more than 30 adults.

I’ve seen adults taking up the piano for many reasons; some wish they had learnt when they were younger, while for others taking up piano as an adult is the next chapter in a growing musical interest.

Whatever the reason for starting lessons, the last thing most adults want is to be presented with  Jimmy Timpson’s First Piano Lessons for Tiny Tots, or a minor variation with the word “adult” cannily stamped on the front cover.

And that’s perhaps one reason why my round-up of the adult beginner method books was by far the most-read article on Pianodao in 2019.

Fully refreshed for 2020, I’m delighted to present this updated and expanded version, including two major methods not mentioned last year.

But we’ll again begin with my top tips (also updated!) about what to look for in an adult method book, and why adults learn the piano differently to younger beginners…

Continue reading Which Adult Piano Method 2020?

Paul Harris: A Piece A Week

Sheet Music Review

Paul Harris’s series of A Piece a Week books have been appearing at regular intervals over the last few years. Faber Music have just released the Grade 6 book, so let’s consider the series as a whole…

I’ll start with a quick reminder that while the books appear in the best-selling Improve Your Sight Reading series, they are not sight reading practice books per se. Rather they aim to support the broader development of music literacy.

In this review I will first explain the concept behind A Piece a Week, give an overview of the actual material included in the books, and explain how they develop to offer superb material across the range of playing levels from UK Grade 1 to the new Grade 6 book.

Continue reading Paul Harris: A Piece A Week

What Christmas Piano Music Books, 2019..?

Sheet Music Review

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.

In this mega-review, I’ll be surveying the collections which have especially caught my eye as we enter the festive season in 2019…

Continue reading What Christmas Piano Music Books, 2019..?

Your FREE Christmas Downloads!

Great News!

Karen Marshall and David Blackwell have created some superb, FREE carol arrangements and Christmas lesson resources to accompany Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers, which publisher Collins Music has generously agreed to host here on Pianodao!

Some of these resources appeared here in 2018, when Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers was also published, while others are brand new for 2019…

Visit the Downloads Page here!

The Beethoven 2020 Diary

The Pianodao Review

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that 2020 marks the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827), without doubt one of the greatest composers of all time.

Inevitably, concert programmes, air waves and the media will be suitably saturated throughout the year. And the celebrations start here…

The Beethoven 2020 Diary from Bärenreiter is a simple idea, brilliantly executed. Essentially this handsomely presented pocket diary offers an overview of the man and his music, presented in daily bite-sized chunks.

And for the record, generally I chuck pocket diaries straight in the bin.. this one, however, is a definite keeper!

Let’s find out why …

Continue reading The Beethoven 2020 Diary

Julia Hülsmann: Modern Piano Improvisation

Sheet Music Review

Here’s an interesting concept!

“Is it possible to learn to improvise? The acclaimed jazz pianist Julia Hülsmann answers this question with a resounding ‘yes’. In volume 1 of her Modern Piano Improvisation series she presents an easy and inviting introduction to this skill.
Songs are the main focus of her approach: easy arrangements of 15 jazz classics and original compositions by the internationally-renowned composer Hülsmann. Ideas and themes are given for each piece to help you to create attractive piano solos.
Demo recordings and play-along backings are available as MP3 files to download.”

So reads the blurb on the rear cover of an attractive new publication from advance music, brought to us by Schott Music.

Adding excitement to the mix, author Julia Hülsmann is indeed one of the most distinguished pianists of the contemporary European jazz scene, with a string of albums on the ECM and ACT labels, including the award-winning Scattering Poems.

So let’s take a look…

Continue reading Julia Hülsmann: Modern Piano Improvisation

Teachers’ Choice Piano Collections

Sheet Music Review

Hot off the press from Faber Music, and certainly not to be missed, the two books that make up the Teachers’ Choice Piano Collection have just appeared in partnership with EPTA UK, the European Piano Teachers’ Association.

Between them they include 58 pieces ranging in difficulty from Elementary/Grade 1 to Advanced/Grade 8, “selected by piano teachers for piano teachers”.

I must confess that when I first heard about these books a few months ago, my hopes for them were rather modest, but as soon as the finished collections arrived in the post I realised that they far exceeded my expectations. I think they are really wonderful!

So let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Teachers’ Choice Piano Collections

The Advanced Pianist

Sheet Music Review

Karen Marshall’s Piano Trainer Series for Faber Music, which includes The Foundation Pianist (with David Blackwell, reviewed here) and The Intermediate Pianist (with Heather Hammond, reviewed here), has reached its conclusion with the publication of The Advanced Pianist (Books 1 and 2, with Mark Tanner).

Taken as a whole, the complete series of seven books can be used as a core curriculum that can be interspersed with the eight grades of the UK examination boards, or used standalone by those not interested in taking exams.

In this review I will firstly take a look at The Advanced Pianist before drawing a few conclusions about the Piano Trainer series as a whole…

Continue reading The Advanced Pianist

“Piano Trainer” Free Downloads

FREE Resources to accompany:

  • The Foundation Pianist
  • The Intermediate Pianist
  • The Advanced Pianist

Especially designed to accompany the award winning books or just for general use, Faber Music with Karen Marshall have designed free digital resources for teachers to use in their piano teaching.

Continue reading “Piano Trainer” Free Downloads

Christopher Norton’s “Connections” Series

Sheet Music Review

I first reviewed Connections last spring as, then, a series of eight repertoire books offering a staggering 185 original compositions by the wildly popular educational composer Christopher Norton. First published for the North American market by Frederick Harris Music, the series had just been republished worldwide by Norton’s own in-house company, 80 Days Publishing.

Since writing my original review, Books 9 and 10 in the series have now been released, each including a further nine Christopher Norton originals suitable for advanced players.

In this review (which supersedes and replaces the original one) I can therefore offer an updated overview of the full series…

Continue reading Christopher Norton’s “Connections” Series

Trinity Rock & Pop Keyboards

Sheet Music Review

I recently reviewed the Rockschool 2019 Piano syllabus (please refer to that review here), and now have the opportunity to tell you about an alternative I mentioned in that review, offered by Trinity College London’s Rock & Pop Keyboard exams.

The disclaimers I made when reviewing Rockschool equally apply here: I haven’t entered myself or a student for the actual exams, and this review is based on the syllabus, publications and resources.

I also had the chance to chat to Trinity’s Head of Product Management Julia Martin and Product Support Manager for Music Govind Kharbanda, to whom I am most grateful for talking me through their syllabus and answering my plethora of questions.

As we shall see, the Trinity Rock & Pop offering has much in common with the Rockschool Piano syllabus, but there are also some significant points of departure. Together they occupy a unique space in the market; comparisons are inevitable, but I will aim to keep them for my conclusion!

Continue reading Trinity Rock & Pop Keyboards

How to Blitz ABRSM Theory

Sheet Music Review

I’ve seen a number of good music teachers recommending Samantha Coates’ How to Blitz ABRSM Theory book on forums, and having obtained a set to take a closer look myself, I can see what all the fuss is about.

I met and interviewed Samantha Coates at this year’s Music Education Expo show in London, and she explained that in Australia, her homeland, the incumbent theory books she grew up with were (ahem!) rather dry.

Her criticisms surely apply equally here in the UK, where the official exam-board workbooks can similarly suck the joy out of a lesson, and have a surprising ability to make a bus timetable from 1976 look like a relatively exciting proposition.

Coates found a solution by producing her own course:

“What I wanted was an alternative, a theory book that essentially had the same content as this other boring book that I grew up on, because it was written for the same syllabus. So I just thought, there’s got to be a more hip and groovy alternative. 
I wanted a text that was conversational and user-friendly, and light-hearted, and in language that is not formal…
“I think the word “somewhat” should never appear in any child’s tutor book! I just wanted it to be much more casual.”

You can read the full interview here.

Happily, with publisher Chester Music on board, she has brought out adapted versions for the UK market, tailoring the content to match the requirements of our leading exam board.

So let’s find out just how different the How to Blitz ABRSM Theory books are. What distinguishes them from the official alternatives, and what are their advantages? Importantly, have they succeeded in making music theory more relevant and interesting for piano players?

Continue reading How to Blitz ABRSM Theory

Play it Again: Piano

Sheet Music Review

Melanie Spanswick’s Play it Again: Piano series launched with two books published by Schott Music back in 2017. At the time, I heaped praise on those books, and I have subsequently used them with adult “returners” who have also loved them.

Now, with a third book joining the series, it’s time for another look. This new review covers all three books in the series, so let’s dig in…

Continue reading Play it Again: Piano

Rockschool Piano 2019

Sheet Music Review

“From a small office in West London in 1991, RSL (Rockschool Ltd) had a dream to change the landscape of formal music education, and sought to become the first viable alternative to the traditional offerings available in Britain at the time.”

So says Rockschool founder Norton York. And from these small beginnings, Rockschool has grown into a major international examining board, offering grade exams, teaching and performing diploma qualifications, vocational qualifications and performing arts awards in 9 different disciplines, and in more than 40 countries.

Rockschool recently launched their new 2019 Piano syllabus, which you can download in full from their website here, as well as publishing nine music books, one for each of the usual 8 Grades as well as “Debut”, their pre-Grade 1 offering. The music books are brought to us by industry leading Hal Leonard publishing, ensuring worldwide availability.

Note that the syllabus document does not actually list the pieces. For that reason, I will list them below as I believe readers will be particularly interested in this information.

Looking at the books, I think there are two potential markets here:

  1. Firstly, some will be interested in following this syllabus for the core learning structure it provides those specifically wanting to play rock and pop piano styles.
  2. Secondly, I suspect many players will be interested in dipping into these resources alongside more traditional music and methods for the breadth and perspective they bring.

For this review, my main focus will be on the published resources. I will include a concise syllabus overview, but a more in-depth consideration of the pedagogic pathway it offers and its benchmarking against traditional alternatives is beyond the scope of this article.

To be clear, too, I have never entered a student for the Rockschool exams; the assessments are fully accredited, but pianists and colleagues I’ve chatted with have given mixed feedback.

And I should also preface the review by pointing out that the Rockschool exams should not be confused with Trinity College London’s Rock and Pop syllabus, which I have reviewed here.

So let’s take a closer look at the Rockschool 2019 Piano syllabus…

Continue reading Rockschool Piano 2019

More Piano Sight-Reading from ABRSM

Sheet Music Review

I Back in 2008, ABRSM published a series of books called Piano Specimen Sight-Reading Tests. Although deserving an award for having the most utilitarian and uninspiring titles in my whole music collection, they have nonetheless rarely been out of action in the intervening years.

In short, they were an essential purchase for any piano teacher preparing students for ABRSM’s world-leading piano grade examinations, and have seen very active service over many years.

Since 2008, many others have brought out alternative products to help teachers and students prepare for the sight-reading element of ABRSM exams. Paul Harris’s ubiquitous and respected Improve Your Sight-Reading series has been updated more than once, and now includes audio tracks. Useful and innovative alternatives have also appeared from Alan Bullard, Samantha Coates, e-music maestro and several others.

Now ABRSM return with a new series bearing the slightly-less scary title More Piano Sight-Reading, a suite of eight new books, one to tie in with each of their grades.

A superficial look at the eight books suggests that these aren’t radically different from their predecessors (which, I should add, are still valid, as the syllabus itself remains unchanged). However, a more detailed look reveals several tweaks and changes to the format which, between them, make the new books a step-improvement on the older ones.

For this review, I will focus on five specific improvements which I think make this new series a superior alternative to the previous books.

Continue reading More Piano Sight-Reading from ABRSM

Piano Star Theory

Sheet Music Review

ABRSM’s Piano Star series of books for children have been warmly received since their introduction a couple of years ago, their pieces regularly appearing in student concerts, festivals, the Prep Test and Grade 1 exams.

Last year the original series of three progressive books of fresh new repertoire grew to include a book of “Five Finger Tunes at the entry level, and a “Piano Star Grade 1 book at the upper end (reviewed here).


And now there’s another addition: the Piano Star Theory primer is published this week. Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Piano Star Theory

Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises

Sheet Music Review

Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises is a new addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy series published in the UK by Faber Music.

Subtitled, “Warm-ups, work-outs and scale routines to develop technique, the book is introduced by its global superstar author with this encouragement:

“Everything you play should be performed with love and musicality, so all of these exercises are designed to be satisfying exercise patterns that lead you smoothly through all the key centres. Enjoy your scale practice, and your piano playing will take off!”

Let’s explore the book …

Continue reading Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises

LCM Diplomas: In Concert 2

Sheet Music Review

London College of Music’s suite of LCM Diplomas have just been revised for 2019, with certification beginning this Spring, and with a crossover during which candidates can continue to use the 2011 syllabus until the end of 2019.

Alongside the Diploma syllabus revision, a new anthology of solo piano repertoire has been published, called In Concert 2. This book is the sequel to last year’s In Concert, which I enthusiastically reviewed here.

In this review I will first consider the syllabus changes, link to the full syllabus for those interested, and then offer a more detailed review of In Concert 2.

Continue reading LCM Diplomas: In Concert 2

Learn to Sight Read

Sheet Music Review by Karen Marshall

In my own selection of educational music, I must have over 20 Sight Reading Schemes. I see which is a best fit for my student and then get them to order a copy.

However, I still loan out many to help the student get a very varied experience. Just like reading, I think its important that students get a varied amount of material.

With quite a lot available out there, in order to impress me, a sight reading resource needs to be something special.

Well congratulations Sandy Holland and Peter Noke, I am impressed! Heres why………….

Continue reading Learn to Sight Read

Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers

Sheet Music Review

When I reviewed Get Set! Piano about three years ago, I had never met either of the authors (Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond), but subsequently I have developed a friendship with both. And along the way, Pianodao has (with the generous agreement of Collins Music) become a highly visible hosting site for the many free downloads which accompany the Get Set! Piano series.

My review of the new Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers is therefore now offered in an obviously different context to my original review.

But I hope to be as objective as ever, writing as a teacher giving an insight into the uses of the material – and I hope you will agree that I can at least offer a factual description of its content! So let’s get started …

Continue reading Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers

The Foundation Pianist

Sheet Music Review

Around this time last year, Faber Music unleashed The Intermediate Pianist series, co-authored by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond. It was a solid success, warmly received by teachers and students alike, and in my Pianodao review I wrote:

“The Intermediate Pianist books get right to the heart of what learning music is really all about. This truly could prove a milestone publication – don’t miss it!”

As many readers will know, The Intermediate Pianist deservedly went on to win Best Print Resource at the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence 2018.

This Autumn, it’s a joy to welcome the arrival of The Foundation Pianist, two companion books in Faber’s growing Piano Trainer seriesThis time, Karen is joined by new co-author David Blackwell.

Let’s see what’s included, and consider how these books might fit into a rounded curriculum for young pianists…

Continue reading The Foundation Pianist

Piano Studies for Technical Development

Sheet Music Review

Pianists and teachers tend to have a variety of views about the value of “studies”, some strongly advocating daily practice of finger exercises, others suggesting they have little value away from the context of specific repertoire, in which case bespoke studies developed around tricky passages are preferable.

Personally I’ve always taken a middle path here. As I wrote in my recent article The Three Treasures of Musical Learning,

“All aspects of playing need consideration, not merely finger independence, tone control, and fluency – important though these obviously are for pianists. Scales, arpeggios, exercises and studies can all be helpful, but must be executed with an understanding of why they matter, and what is being developed.”

I’ve never found it difficult to understand or explain the benefits of the enjoyable little exercises in the Dozen A Day books, and my students almost always find the Burgmüller Op.100 both musically engaging and inspiring to play (my recording of them is free to listen to here).

But I’ve never been a huge fan of Hanon, Czerny, et al, and have tended to agree with my teacher’s teacher, Ernö Dohnányi, who wrote (with irony, in the introduction to his own book of finger exercises!) –

“In music schools, piano tuition suffers mostly from far too much exercise material given for the purely technical development of the pupils, the many hours of practice spent on these not being in proportion to the results obtained. Musicality is hereby badly neglected and consequently shows many weak points.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that when Gayle Kowalchyk and E.L. Lancaster’s two books of Piano Studies for Technical Development landed on my desk for review, my initial gut reaction was to excuse them from the short-list for consideration. Until … I took a closer look.

Let’s find out why I changed my mind …

Continue reading Piano Studies for Technical Development

ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2019/20: The Big Reviews

Sheet Music Review

So here it is; ABRSM, the world’s leading instrumental examination board, today announces the 2019/20 syllabus, and as promised Pianodao can bring you the world’s first (and second!) in-depth review of the full package.

  • First comes my own review, focusing on the overall trends in this brand new syllabus, and assessing the overall product.
  • This is followed below by Karen Marshall’s in depth look at each grade in turn, commenting on the suitability and appeal of the selected pieces.

Karen and I have also jointly produced a FREE printable download in which we each list our Golden Selections of our favourite pieces from each of the eight grades.

You can print this off and use it alongside the syllabus as a resource to help with repertoire selection, and for your own interest. There’s also space for you to add your own Golden Selection in conjunction with the full syllabus, available now from the ABRSM website.

My much-read review of the 2017/18 syllabus suggested that it was a somewhat mixed affair, and teacher reactions have been similarly mixed. If there was some disappointment with the 2017/18 syllabus, this only heightens anticipation for its replacement.

So have ABRSM this time delivered the goods and struck a balance that teachers and students around the world will be more enthusiastic about? Let’s find out!..

Continue reading ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2019/20: The Big Reviews

The Rise of Dorico

Interview with Daniel Spreadbury

Until fairly recently, two big names dominated the world of music notation software: Make Music’s Finale and Avid’s Sibelius.

Other software – such as Presonus’ Notion and the free-to-use MuseScore have continued to challenge their supremacy, but with the October 2016 release of Dorico it was clear that a significant professional alternative had arrived on the scene, causing quite a stir.

The backstory has been repeated many times elsewhere – how Avid decided to close their London office in 2012, leaving their existing Sibelius development team – headed by Daniel Spreadbury – without their jobs.

By the start of 2013, music software giants Steinberg Media Technologies – a wholly owned subsidiary of Yamaha, and the creators of the VST standard, Cubase, Nuendo and Wavelab – had snapped up the team and tasted them with creating a brand new notation package from the ground up. Enter Dorico 

In this interview, I will be chatting with Daniel about his career in the music software world, the development of Dorico, and the birth of version 2.0.

But first …  Continue reading The Rise of Dorico

Piano Junior 4 – The Finale

Sheet Music Review

When I reviewed Hans-Günter Heumann’s Piano Junior series on the launch of the first two levels in January 2017, I was full of praise, concluding:

“My own view is that Piano Junior has in many respects raised the bar, in some ways perhaps even setting a new standard by which piano courses for children will be judged.”

With the launch of the Level 3 books later that year, I wrote in my October 2017 review:

“… all I can hope for now is that the Level 4 publications, due next year, will provide the icing on an already tasty cake!”

Well, Piano Junior 4 is now with us! And so, with interest suitably piqued, let’s have a taste and see whether it is as sweet as hoped …

Continue reading Piano Junior 4 – The Finale

ABRSM Syllabus 2019/20: An Announcement

Excitement is rising for the launch of the brand new ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2019/20 next month!

In the meantime, a proud author moment as I announce (with permission) that I have had the honour of contributing to the forthcoming Teaching Notes book, which will be published along with the rest of the syllabus on Thursday 7th June 2018.

Continue reading ABRSM Syllabus 2019/20: An Announcement

Trinity’s “Piano Stories”

Sheet Music Review

Piano Stories from Trinity College London Press is, without doubt, one of the most pleasant surprises to make an appearance in my post-bag recently, and for those who use the Trinity Piano Syllabus with younger children the series is an absolute godsend.

Continue reading Trinity’s “Piano Stories”

Which Mikrokosmos?

Sheet Music Review

Bartók’s monumental cycle of 153 educational piano pieces and 33 exercises, published in six volumes as the Mikrokosmos in 1940, is rightly regarded as a  seminal work within the pedagogic literature. But it often strikes me that it is more important than it is popular.

Even in my own studio (and I am a self-confessed Bartók fanatic!) it emerges from the music cupboard far less frequently than the more obviously popular For Children, First Term at the Piano, Rumanian Folk Dances and Ten Easy Pieces.

For those wanting to explore this musical smorgasbord there has never been more opportunity to do so, however, with three excellent editions to choose from. Which, though, is the best?

In this review I will be looking at classic New Definitive Version from Boosey & Hawkes, and comparing the more recent Urtext editions from Henle Verlag and Wiener Urtext Edition. I should note in passing that there is also a budget all-in-one-volume edition from Chester Music, not submitted for review or included in this survey.

Continue reading Which Mikrokosmos?

Alison Mathews’ “Doodles”

Sheet Music Review

Alison Mathews’ excellent collection Treasure Trove has proved a big hit with my students who have been working through it, and I’m delighted that publishers Editions Musica Ferrum have now brought out another collection composed by her: Doodles.

It is very clear straight away that this publication explores very different terrain to Treasure Trove however.

So what is the concept here, and do I think it works?
Let’s find out…

Continue reading Alison Mathews’ “Doodles”

LCM Syllabus 2018: The Big Review

Sheet Music Review  by Karen Marshall

November has seen the London College of Music present their new piano syllabus.

Due to staff changes the last time the syllabus was changed was back in 2013. So I was very excited to see what LCM were offering – especially as many of my colleagues Andrew Eales, David Barton, Francis Wilson and Melanie Spanswick have consulted on the main albums.

As a teacher who actively uses LCM, along with Trinity and ABRSM, Andrew asked me to write the review (to maintain impartiality).

As my first full syllabus review on Pianodao, I have worked really hard to get a broad collection of voices – many thanks to my piano teaching colleagues who have helped me shape this review.

I must say that the overall impression is that this is a job very well done by LCM, and a big step up from previously piano syllabi in terms of pedagogical content, variety of repertoire, quality of editing and presentation of the publications. Huge congratulations to William Alexander, David Duncan and the rest of the team at LCM for this achievement.

Now here’s my review, and in true Pianodao style, it is equally as detailed as Andrew’s! I really hope it proves helpful to teachers and pupils.

Continue reading LCM Syllabus 2018: The Big Review