A Piece a Week Grade 4

Sheet Music Review

Paul Harris’s excellent A Piece a Week series has already prompted many of us to reevaluate how we encourage our students to develop their reading skills at the piano, providing delightful collections of pieces suitable as quick study material at Grades 1 to 3.

I have previously reviewed the Grade 1 and 2 books here, explaining the concept of quick study material in more depth; if you are coming to this review fresh please have a read of that introduction before going on.

I have also reviewed the Grade 3 book here. And for a second opinion, check out Liz Giannopoulos’s comments in her recent article about playing at sight here.

I am delighted to see, and to let you all know that those books have now been joined by the Grade 4 book – so let’s take a quick look!

Continue reading A Piece a Week Grade 4

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 Series 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 Series Finale

Christopher Norton’s “Connections for Piano”

Sheet Music Review

Connections for Piano is a series of eight books which between them offer a staggering 185 original compositions by wildly popular educational composer Christopher Norton.

Originally published for the North American market by Frederick Harris Music, the series has now been republished worldwide by Norton’s own in-house publishing company, 80 Days Publishing.

In this review I will offer an overview of the series, as well as explaining how the new product slightly differs from the original FJH incarnation.

Continue reading Christopher Norton’s “Connections for Piano”

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

LCM’s First Steps

Sheet Music Review

Of the accredited music exam boards in the UK, LCM (London College of Music) Exams offer the most diverse and perhaps most interesting range of graded and other assessments for piano players, and although perhaps less well-known than their main competitors ABRSM and Trinity College London, their brand new piano syllabus for 2018 may go a long way towards altering perceptions and the appeal of LCM.

As with ABRSM and TCL, LCM Exams offer a series of eight Grades, followed by a range of professional diploma exams. I was bowled over by the quality and content of the excellent new diploma anthology published back in the summer, which I reviewed here.

The new series of Piano Handbooks for the eight Grades are, in my view, equally stunning, and leave no doubt that LCM have set their sight on being the best in their field.

Not for me to review those books here, however, as I must openly state that I acted as a syllabus consultant for the 8 Grades, advising LCM on repertoire selection and editorial questions. Karen Marshall is therefore kindly stepping in, with an in-depth and independent review of those books for Pianodao.

In the meantime, I offer this review of LCM’s pre-grade one assessments, which are rather more extensive than the other examination boards’ …

Continue reading LCM’s First Steps