ABRSM: Pop Performer!

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There has long been speculation that at some point ABRSM would launch a pop piano syllabus, but they have perhaps sensibly resisted any call to do so.

The wide disparity and significant difference in approach taken by Rockschool Piano and Trinity Rock and Pop Keyboards illustrates the difficulty in creating a syllabus that is both helpful and true to the skills required by keyboard players in the contemporary commercial sphere.

Some forget, too, that the four Royal Schools of Music affiliated to ABRSM don’t offer specialist courses in this field. And then there’s the issue of copyright clearances: ABRSM simply don’t have access to the latest chart material without permission and significant cost.

Happily, ABRSM have now addressed this last hurdle by teaming up with Hal Leonard, the world’s largest sheet music publishers, who represent the rights to an unparalleled catalogue of commercial hits. It is certainly to the board’s credit that they can both recognise their own core strengths and collaborate with so prestigious a partner.

Enter Pop Performer!, two books of solo piano arrangements of contemporary pop standards and chart hits carefully graded for players from Initial to Grade 5 level. These striking publications look like the work of ABRSM, with songs arranged by examiners and looking little different to the pieces in their official exam repertoire books. But with Hal Leonard’s stamp equally evident in the songs, not to mention the inclusion of their online audio Playback+ software, it’s clear that this is an equal and exciting partnership.

Pop Performer! is neither a new syllabus, nor a hint that one is on its way. On the contrary, these are arrangements that can be played for enjoyment by those taking ABRSM’s traditional grades, and the board makes much of the important point that they can be used as ideal fourth pieces for their recorded Performance Grades.

In other words, what we have here is the option to include commercial popular hits, carefully curated, arranged and benchmarked, alongside and within ABRSM’s existing exam offer.

I’ll state upfront that I think this is a brilliant concept, am impressed with the books, and anticipate that they will be the most essential “must-have” purchase for piano teachers and students in this new academic year. So let’s take a much closer look…

Continue reading ABRSM: Pop Performer!

Essential Piano Teaching Resources 2022

Supporting teachers, promoting piano education.
Written by Andrew Eales

It can be overwhelming keeping track of all the latest and best resources for piano teaching. As we enter another academic year, I am therefore sharing this list of some of the most essential educational resources and piano music publications of the last couple of years or so.

To read my in-depth evaluations of each publication shared below, and to get a better understanding of whether it will suit your and your students’ particular needs, simply click on the titles to open the full reviews. Better still, right-click to open in a new tab.

Please bookmark this page so that you can refer back here as need arises.

Continue reading Essential Piano Teaching Resources 2022

Paul Harris Webinar: A Piece a Week

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Paul Harris’s Piece a Week series has been among the triumphs of recent years. In my own teaching these books have become a staple with students of all ages, and the number one top sight reading resource that I recommend and use. I have reviewed the books for Grade 1-6 here and for Initial Grade here.

Now Faber Music bring us a combined book covering Grades 7 and 8, which completes the series. The book maintains the educational approach and musical engagement of its predecessors, so for more information please be sure to read those previous reviews.

The final book well and truly lives up to the sky-high standards of the rest in the series, and is in my view truly superb.

To give you a taste, Faber Music have generously provided this FREE piece from the book as an exclusive Pianodao download:


And now for Paul Harris in person…

Faber Music kindly organised a special webinar for Pianodao Tea Room members, celebrating the new release and giving him the opportunity to outline the series in person, introduce the final book, play some of the pieces, and answer questions. For those who missed it, I am pleased to share the full webinar recording below.

To catch future events in the Tea Room, why not come and join us?

Here is the recording…


To use the special promotional code announced by Rachel Topham in the webinar, here is the Faber Music online purchase link.

The Piece a Week series is available now from music retailers everywhere.


Also available • Andrew’s essential handbook:
How to Practise Music

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ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2023-24

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IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER
ABRSM have selected my original composition Fresh Air for inclusion in the Grade 1 Piano Pieces book for 2023-24. I have however written the following review as a fully-independent agent, and as a teacher who has entered students for ABRSM exams for 30 years. Readers will note that my conclusions are entirely consistent with my other writings.

The arrival of a new piano syllabus from ABRSM has become etched in the calendar as a biennial event of important interest for piano teachers here in the UK and in those countries where the board has a significant presence.

The current 2021-22 syllabus, reviewed here, was launched at the height of the pandemic in Summer 2020 and met a mixed reaction, its broadly popular repertoire accompanied by a revision to the scales syllabus that divided opinion.

For this new syllabus, ABRSM tell us that they have refreshed the pieces lists to give a greater choice of repertoire than ever before, including “music by a more diverse range of composers”. Of particular interest:

  • There are now 39 pieces per grade, divided equally between Lists A, B and C.
  • 70% of the 2021 & 2022 repertoire has been retained.
  • The contents of Piano Exam Pieces books have been fully updated with nine new choices per grade.
  • A further nine “new” pieces have been added to the ‘other piece’ lists for each grade.

The 2023-4 syllabus is valid both for the “Practical Grades” (ABRSM’s face-to-face exams) and their recently introduced “Performance Grades” (which despite their name remain video recordings, made at the candidate’s leisure and submitted online).

From August 2022, the Performance Grades are available “on demand”, which should in my view add to their popularity. As with the Practical Grades however, those taking Performance Grades 6, 7 or 8 must first have passed ABRSM’s online-only Grade 5 theory exam or accepted alternative.

The 2023-24 syllabus comes into effect on 1 January 2023, and only then can candidates begin to present pieces from the new lists. There is a one year overlap up to 31 December 2023 but all three set pieces must be prepared from the same syllabus.

For Practical Grades, the scales and arpeggios, sight-reading and aural-test requirements remain exactly the same as for the 2021-22 syllabus.

As in previous syllabus reviews, I will consider the new publications, repertoire trends and content, select some of my favourite choices at each grade, and share some initial conclusions… read on to find out more!

Continue reading ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2023-24

Andrew Eales: Fresh Air

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I am delighted to announce that my composition Fresh Air has been selected and licensed by ABRSM for inclusion in their 2023-24 Grade 1 Piano Exam Pieces book.

The piece was originally composed for and published in the 2018 Editions Musica Ferrum collection Mosaic 1.

The composition is a gentle tune which I wrote in my head while walking in the local park with my dog Bella one lovely spring morning. The chords I’ve used mostly lack their bass note, giving a sense of weightlessness, as if floating in calm blue skies.

Here’s my recording of the piece, followed by my practice tips…

Continue reading Andrew Eales: Fresh Air

The Mosaic Series

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Mosaic is a series currently comprising four music books, each showcasing fresh and varied repertoire newly commissioned and composed by piano educators from around the world.

The pieces are loosely graded, arranged in order of difficulty, compiled as books suitable for elementary, intermediate and advanced players, and published by Editions Musica Ferrum. A fifth book (reaching towards Grade 8 level) is currently planned.

I am honoured to be one of the composers featured in all four books, alongside such well-established names as Barbara Arens, Ben Crosland, June Armstrong and others.

The collections are a natural addition to the Pianodao Music Library, and while I obviously cannot ‘review’ them in quite the usual way, this article will introduce the series with an overview of the concept, several recordings, and hopefully sufficient information for readers to decide whether to take a closer look.

Continue reading The Mosaic Series

A Common Approach 2022

Supporting teachers, promoting piano education.
Written by Andrew Eales

Originally published in 2002, A Common Approach is perhaps the ultimate instrumental music teaching manual, offering a complete curriculum and extensive lesson activities for most instruments, including separate schemes of work for piano and electronic keyboard.

Now it has just been fully revamped and made available as an updated, free online resource to support instrumental teachers everywhere. Whether working privately or in a school, all piano and keyboard teachers would do well to have a look at this extensive and superb material.

According to its publishers Music Mark,

“A Common Approach is an online resource to support music educators in their teaching practice and help develop a holistic approach to music education. Relevant to all vocal and instrumental teaching, including individual, small-group, large-group and whole-class lessons, music educators at all stages of their career can use the support and shared learning found in A Common Approach.”

Music Mark Chief Executive Bridget Whyte tells us,

“Twenty years after the original version of A Common Approach was published, Music Mark has worked with a skilled team of music tutors from across the UK to update and enhance this valuable teaching tool. Containing both universal guidance and instrument-specific content, this online resource not only provides a great starting point for trainee and early-career tutors, but also gives those who are more experienced the opportunity to reflect on their practice.”

This has particular interest to me because back in 2002, I was a member of the national steering group who put together the original version of A Common Approach which provides the ongoing foundation of this update.

It’s therefore time both to take a short stroll down memory lane, and to consider how the updated version of this milestone resource can help piano teachers today…

Continue reading A Common Approach 2022

Decoding Music Theory

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Of the various “innovations” ABRSM have made of late, the replacement of their popular written theory grades with online multiple-choice exams has perhaps been the most controversial, and seems already to be leading to an emphasis on logic-driven trick questions in place of the more creative elements which were a feature of the previous syllabus.

Happily, fact-based learning can still be fun-filled. Proving the point, Melodic Decoder founders Shona Newey and Alison Wood have recently self-published four slim books billed as, “interactive detective stories for children learning ABRSM music theory”.

These colourful and genuinely enjoyable story-puzzle books could be just the ticket for enthusing younger musicians with music theory, so let’s don a deerstalker and investigate…

Continue reading Decoding Music Theory

How to Practise Music: The Handbook

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I am thrilled to announce my first publication with Hal Leonard, described by the publishers as:

“The essential, pocket-sized companion for every musician. Accessible and authoritative, How to Practise Music is an ideal guide for anyone learning to play music. Suitable for instrumentalists and vocalists of any genre, this comprehensive handbook will give you a better idea of how to practise music, good reasons for doing so, and the confidence to succeed. “

The book is now available in both UK and US versions (Practice/Practise!):


The book is also available digitally for Amazon Kindle and Apple Books.

In this post I will give you an exclusive first look…

Continue reading How to Practise Music: The Handbook

Which Adult Piano Method 2022?

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In my article Teaching Adults to Play the Piano I explained how adults learn differently to children. It follows that we need a range of resources more suited to adult needs.

In this post, I will now present my shortlist of the best adult method books, updated for 2022, and with full reviews of my Ten Top Choices

Continue reading Which Adult Piano Method 2022?