NEW Piano Music from Breitkopf & Hārtel

Sheet Music Review

Over recent months, esteemed and enterprising German music publishers Breitkopf & Hārtel have unleashed a succession of interesting new piano sheet music publications, and in this group review I’m going to introduce you to the whole lot:

  • Ulrich Mahlert (editor): Spielbuch für Klavier
  • Friedrich Grossnick: More Catchy Tunes
  • Luis Zett: Busy Lizzy & Lazy Daisy
  • Alexey Shor: Childhood Memories
  • Martin Reich: Primo & Secondo  (4 hands)
  • Manfred Schmitz: Jazz Parnass  (6 hands)
  • Jairo Geronymo: 4 Prima Vistas  (2 pianos, 4 hands)

Here goes…

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Improve your sight-reading!

Sheet music Review

“When pupils can sight-read, not only do they do well in exams but (rather more importantly) it allows them to learn pieces more quickly, which frees up much of our teaching time, allowing us to concentrate on developing the musician. Ultimately, it gives them independence: they are able to learn music on their own – the greatest gift we can give.”

So says best-selling author Paul Harris in the introduction to Improve your sight-reading: Teacher’s Book – latest addition to his ever growing Improve Your Sight-Reading series, just published by Faber Music.

Written to work alongside the well-known, long-published Improve your sight-reading ‘pupil’ books, the Teacher’s Book mirrors the introduction of keys and concepts in those, as well as offering useful tips for teachers.

Most important of all, the Teacher’s Book includes dozens of new progressive practice tests for each of Grades 1-5, which can be used in lessons to complement the use of the pupil books for home practice.

As such, the book offers the potential to elevate what was already a great resource into a more complete sight-reading system which bridges both lesson and home use.

Let’s find out how well it succeeds in this aim…

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Trinity syllabus 2018-20: The Big Review

The publication of a new Piano Exam Syllabus is always (rightly or wrongly) a major event in the piano teacher’s calendar, a “big reveal” in which we learn the repertoire around which our musical curriculum might to some extent orbit for the next few years.

Judging by the response to my review of the current ABRSM Piano Syllabus, I am sure that readers will be keen to know my thoughts on the latest syllabus from their largest UK competitor, Trinity College London, published this month.

I must start with a disclaimer: as a teacher I rarely enter students for exams other than ABRSM. With that in mind, I am delighted that Karen Marshall has again agreed to offer her “Second Opinion” later in the review.

As in my recent review of Anthony Williams’ Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide, Karen’s contribution will take the form of an interview following on from my own comments. She will offer the perspective of a well-regarded teacher who has used the Trinity Syllabus with her students over many years.

But first, my thoughts, essentially coming to this syllabus fresh…

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A Piece a Week: Grade 3

Sheet Music Review

Reviewing Paul Harris’s A Piece A Week grade 1 and 2 books last year, I concluded:

“While not all players will have need of these books, a great many will benefit from using them, and A Piece A Week admirably fills a gap in the market for outstanding “quick study” material.

A Piece A Week lives up to the excellent standards Paul Harris and Faber Music have previously set, and for which they are so well known. I would say that the series is a genuine “must have” for all piano teachers.”

In the months since that review, I have started to use the books with students, and can confirm from experience that they succeed in all the respects that I previously hoped and noted. The books really are very good!

Indeed, the quick study format of A Piece a Week is establishing itself as one of my preferred ways of helping students develop their reading ability, which I find nicely complements my generally holistic, multi-sensory approach.

So before reading on, it would be a good idea to recap my previous review of the first two books, which gives a better idea of what the series is all about – you can read it here.

A Special Preview

I have known for some time that a third book was in the works. So I was delighted when Paul offered, after a meal out one evening, to play through the new collection, inviting my comments. I mention this story because Paul has graciously given me a credit in the inside cover, and you may be wondering what my involvement was.

Adopting my best “piano teacher pose” next to his piano, I listened with care as the pieces unfolded, hoping to be able to offer one or two intelligent and helpful comments along the way!

Uppermost in my mind was, of course, an enthusiasm to see whether the Grade 3 book would live up to the standards of the previous two publications. But I came away wondering whether Paul had actually over-achieved…

Put simply, the quick study works that make up A Piece A Week: Grade 3 are in my opinion far more musically interesting than many of the pieces published elsewhere as standard repertoire.

This is testament to the fact that Paul not only has one of the best minds in the music teaching world, but is also a composer of music which is attractive and accessible, and not simply educational fodder.

In short, I very much doubt pupils will want to stop playing each piece after just a week – these are works that I believe many of my students will cherish as Active Repertoire, performing in concerts and to friends.

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Time to rethink Practice Notebooks?

Sheet Music Reviews

As a child learning the piano, almost all of my teachers used a notebook to write down practice instructions, and more often than not included messages to parents and assessment of progress. As a teacher I have generally adopted a similar practice, asking each student to bring a simple shorthand pad (or more special writing book) to their lessons. Whether or not they read my notes (and in many cases I doubt it!) the notebook has always been a useful reminder during the lesson itself, and makes it easier to track progress towards specific goals.

Quite apart from whether pupils read their notebooks (according to Paul Harris, research indicates that 85% don’t) the use of a basic writing pad can be problematic. I often find that student practice notebooks have been used for other purposes, with pages missing, doodles, shopping lists, inexplicable messages and stains of unknown provenance.

On one occasion a child even brought a notebook that included his mother’s sums working out the cost of a cannabis order!

So the case for using a special bespoke notebook is a strong one – especially if it incorporates additional information to help students…

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8 Great Piano Duet Books

Sheet Music Review

The Piano Duet is a musical genre that I have explored too little with my students in the past, so a few years ago I decided to stock up on a few duet books. Finding excellent material for more advanced students was easy enough, given the wonderful works for “One Piano Four Hands” by such classical greats as Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Debussy, Poulenc et al. But finding good material for beginners and intermediate players proved far more difficult.

Fast forward to 2016 and that gap in the market has been addressed by a succession of simply great publications over the last few years.

Here is my selection of some of the best, which I hope you will go ahead and explore for yourselves!

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ABRSM Syllabus 2017-18: The Review

Sheet Music Review

July 7th 2016 sees the publication of the brand new ABRSM Piano Syllabus, along with Exam Pieces books for Grades 1 – 8. Review copies arrived a week or so ago, and I’ve enjoyed looking through the books, listening to the optional CDs, and trying out many of the included pieces.

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The Music Theory Revolution!

Sheet Music Review

ABRSM’s newest CEO Michael Elliott has reportedly said:

“Separating theory from practice can’t be a good thing.”

While this is a great soundbite for those promoting theory courses, the obvious irony here is that ABRSM have themselves – for generations – separated music theory from practice in their own examination syllabus and published materials.

Paul Harris’s new series ‘Improve your Theory!’, written for students preparing for ABRSM Theory Grades 1-5, aims to change this situation for the better.

Introducing the series, publishers Faber Music explain that:

“Firmly rooted in Paul Harris’s Simultaneous Learning approach, it will transform how music theory is taught and learnt, improving every aspect of musicianship along the way. Never before has theory been so fun or seemed so natural!”

The books have already been awarded “Best Print Resource 2016” at the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence, but let’s see if they really live up to the hype…

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