ABRSM “Core Classics” – The Review

Sheet Music Review

Once in a while, a publication arrives for review which is based on a great concept and is itself essentially a very good product, but where the mismatch between the original intention and its actual delivery is a glaring one, as though at some point in the developmental process there was a communication breakdown.

Core Classics: Essential Repertoire for Piano, a set of seven progressively “graded” solo repertoire books published worldwide today by ABRSM, is a striking example of this phenomenon.

So let’s see what went awry, and more positively, what this beautifully presented new series actually has to offer…

Continue reading ABRSM “Core Classics” – The Review

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..?

The Easy Piano Series: Christmas

Sheet Music Review

Faber Music’s ‘Easy Piano Series’ has steadily been establishing itself as one of the brightest jewels in the publisher’s sparkling catalogue of educational piano music. New for 2019, this collection of seasonal favourites sets out to maintain the high standards of the series…

Let’s take a quick peek inside…

Continue reading The Easy Piano Series: Christmas

June Armstrong’s “Alphabet”

Sheet Music Review by Karen Marshall

Many Pianodao readers will already be familiar with the wonderful, creative and pedagogically rich compositions by June Armstrong.

Andrew’s previous reviews on her work can be found here:

Having had much success on examination syllabuses including with Dusty Blue from Paint Box (set for LCM Grade 1 and ABRSM Grade 2), Unicorn from Stars (ABRSM Grade 3) and Sails from Stars (LCM Grade 4), June has just celebrated having sold over 5000 books to date.

Her latest book reviewed here, Alphabet, is her 16th publication.

This new collection is for Elementary Piano, and I would say in terms of the UK Grades it is Pre-Grade 1 to Grade 1. June herself suggests beginner to Pre-Grade 1, although I would clarify this after trying it with my own students by saying the book is best accessed at the end of a first Primer book.  

A level of reading and co-ordination is required to truly get the most out of this lovely collection. 

Continue reading June Armstrong’s “Alphabet”

Nikolas Sideris: Personalities

Sheet Music Review

While the best composers often write brilliant music in response to a commission or request, the creative impetus for composing will often arise from a specific moment of inspiration, musical or conceptual.

So it is with the latest scores from Nikolas Sideris, known to many not just for his own music, which includes Fairyland in Treble and Dusk of Day, Dawn of Night, but also for his Editions Musica Ferrum independent publishing house.

Due to a change in personal circumstance, Nikolas finds himself semi-moving from London to Amsterdam, and among other things this will mean that he will no longer be teaching his 18 students in one particular school. Having grown attached to them, Nikolas decided it a fitting gift to compose a piece dedicated to each of the students.

These personal gifts were no doubt enthusiastically welcomed by their dedicatees, but I think that they deserve a far wider appeal and use. Which brings us to “Personalities, the two new solo piano collections containing these 18 pieces, now available from Musica Ferrum.

Continue reading Nikolas Sideris: Personalities

Türk: Pieces for Beginners

Sheet Music Review

Schott Music have recently been developing a new series of publications called the Schott Student Edition, presenting core pedagogic repertoire in an attractive, affordable and contemporary format for today’s learners.

With several editions already in the pipeline for string and wind players, pianists can now also start their collection, thanks to the arrival of an excellent new edition of favourite pieces by Daniel Gottlob Türk, edited by Erich Doflein and with new Teaching Notes written by Samantha Ward.

Let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Türk: Pieces for Beginners

Fun Games and Party Pieces

Sheet Music Review

A couple of years ago I reviewed Rosamund Conrad’s Delightfully Easy Duet Books along with several other duet publications (read the review here), concluding,

“I would highly recommend having a look at the two books – I don’t think you will be disappointed!”

At the time I also received a copy of Rosa’s beginner piano book Fun Games and Party Pieces, which I was equally impressed with but didn’t manage to review. Now however, Rosa has brought out a “Second Edition” of Fun Games and Party Pieces, including 50% extra, new material!

And again, it is well worth a look …

Continue reading Fun Games and Party Pieces

Easy Piano Series: Classical

Sheet Music Review

Last year, I praised the first two books in Faber Music’s glossy new set, the Easy Piano Series – covering Shows and Film music.

Now the series has grown to include Classical, and a fourth book snappily called Pop is scheduled to follow later in the year.

In my previous review I noted:

“There is always room on the music shelf for easy piano arrangements of well-known and popular songs – players of all ages naturally find it encouraging and enjoyable to tackle tunes that are familiar to them, their family and friends.”

The Classical book in the series follows a similar philosophy, offering 16 pieces with an emphasis on simplified arrangements of some of the best-loved melodies of all time, and with a few original versions of easy pieces thrown in for good measure.

Let’s explore the collection …

Continue reading Easy Piano Series: Classical

Piano Playground 2

Sheet Music Review

Hans-Günter Heumann has been busy. Since I launched Pianodao three years ago I have reviewed his excellent Fantasy Piano and Mystery Piano collections, as well as the 16-book Piano Junior method series.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I reviewed Piano Playground 1, a fresh collection of original pieces, concluding:

“The best pieces here are genuinely great, and will surely enliven the musical development of young players!”

Hot on its heels comes the follow up, Piano Playground 2, so let’s investigate…

Continue reading Piano Playground 2

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

June Armstrong’s Sea World

Sheet Music Review

Over recent years, piano teacher and composer June Armstrong has steadily developed an enviable reputation as one of Britain’s most prolific and distinctive educational composers. Her impressive range of self-published – and beautifully produced – titles now stretches to some 15 collections of pieces suitable for players at most levels from beginner to advanced.

Along the way, June has gained a cult following from teachers-in-the-know – and no doubt gained many new fans following the recent inclusion of several pieces in the graded syllabuses of the examination boards.

I have reviewed a number of June’s publications on Pianodao – you can find out more here:

June has also kindly shared her piano story with us here as part of the Your Stories series.

June’s latest collection, Sea World, contains 17 new “Impressions for Piano”, aimed at players between UK Grades 1 to 3 (Elementary to Early Intermediate standard).

Let’s take a look …

Continue reading June Armstrong’s Sea World

Piano Playground

Sheet Music Review

Hans-Günter Heumann is nothing if not prolific  – only a few weeks ago I was reviewing his excellent Mystery Piano collection, follow-up to his popular Fantasy Piano, which I am equally enthusiastic about.

And let’s not forget that in the meantime he has published the 16 books that make up the Piano Junior method series!

Somehow he has also now found the time to write Piano Playground 1 – with a second book to follow in November.

Piano Playground 1 is a collection of “30 Playful Piano Pieces”, brought to us by Heumann’s regular publishers, Schott Music.

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Piano Playground

Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Sheet Music Review

The name Melody Bober may be a new one to many readers here in the UK, but in North America she is well known for her popular Grand Solos and Grand Duets for piano series, among others, published by Alfred Music.

And based on her latest series of collections, Solo Xreme, perhaps it’s time for her to gain wider recognition here too!

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Emil Hradecký: Two-Part Piano Miniatures

The Czech composer and teacher Emil Hradecký (b. 1953) has devoted much of his creative output to children and the piano. His pieces are frequently inspired by dance music and jazz, and are distinguished by their fresh melodies and distinctive rhythms.

Several of his collections are published here in the UK by Bärenreiter, including his Little Jazz Album for PianoJazz Etudes for Young Pianists and the duet collection Jazzy Pieces for 20 Fingers.

His latest collection is called Two-Part Piano Miniatures on One Page…

Continue reading Emil Hradecký: Two-Part Piano Miniatures

Mosaic Volumes 1 & 2

Sheet Music Review  by Guest Reviewer Karen Marshall

I was delighted last week to receive the above publications which I have been readily using with my students of all ages and grades.

Initial impressions after using Mosaic with my whole teaching practice are that these books are best placed with the teenage and adult market, but with material also for primary age children. Younger children in my practice loved compositions in the collection particularly by Ben Crosland and Sarah Konecsni.

This is a job well done, and I congratulate all the composers and Nikolas Sideris on the contents of these volumes.

Continue reading Mosaic Volumes 1 & 2

The Graded Piano Player

Sheet Music Review

The Graded Piano Player is a series of three books from Faber Music, comprising arrangements of well-known tunes specially arranged by leading educationalists for pianists from around ABRSM Grade 1-5 level.

Published back in 2016, the books return to the spotlight as two of these arrangements – Close Every Door from Book 1 and Wouldn’t it be loverly from Book 2 – have been selected for ABRSM’s brilliant new 2019/20 syllabus (which Karen Marshall and I reviewed here).

When pieces are selected from the “alternatives lists”, there’s always a danger that a pupil might be expected to purchase a separate book from which they will only ever play a single piece – so teachers, parents and students will undoubtedly be interested to hear what the rest of the book is like, and in this instance the rest of the series.

With that in mind, let’s take a look …

Continue reading The Graded Piano Player

Piano Tales for Alice

World Exclusive Preview:  Sheet Music Review

The rise and rise of EVC Music Publications as an exciting and innovative music publisher can’t have escaped the notice of any player or teacher active on social media, and like many I have watched their emergence over the last three years or so with growing interest.

I have previously praised a number of EVC Music’s publications. The Jevdet Hajiyev: Piano Collection 1 was particularly enterprising, and I am enthusiastic for Andrew Higgins’ excellent Birds: Études-Tableaux and the recent reissue of Graham Lynch’s wonderful Sound Sketches series. And I was delighted to report that the EVC Music Star Prize Event at the Royal Albert Hall last month was such a resounding success!

With the publication of Piano Tales for Alice – a brand new collection of easy pieces by acclaimed jazz performer and composer Nikki Iles – it seems to me that EVC Music has unequivocally arrived as a mature and significant force in music publishing.

Building on their activities thus far, with this publication EVC Music has hit the jackpot, bringing to market a genuine classic.

Let’s take a world exclusive preview look …

Continue reading Piano Tales for Alice

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”

ABRSM “Piano Star”: The Review

Sheet Music Review

ABRSM’s three Piano Star books (published Autumn 2016) have been a huge and well-deserved success, appealing to children and their teachers alike.

So I was thrilled to hear that there would be two more additions to the series (which have just been published) – Piano Star: Five-Finger Tunes, and Piano Star Grade 1.

According to ABRSM:

“The new books, Piano Star: Five-Finger Tunes and Piano Star: Grade 1, are packed with a wealth of useful teaching material which children will love to play.
The Piano Star series is part of ABRSM’s commitment to producing a wider range of early years resources and aims to inspire young pianists and help them to develop their musical skills. The five Piano Star books are designed to take young pianists from the end of their first tutor book to Grade 1 standard.
The series now offers over 120 new compositions and arrangements from leading educational composers and are brought to life with imaginative titles, eye-catching full colour illustrations and fun activities.”

Let’s take a look at each of the two books, and see what they add to this popular series.

Continue reading ABRSM “Piano Star”: The Review

Bartók: For Children

Sheet Music Review

Bartók’s seminal collection For Children is, in my view, one of the few absolute essential classics of the piano pedagogy repertoire: a work which has in equal measure both charmed and challenged generations of young pianists, and seems as popular with my students today as ever.

Two new versions of this milestone have appeared in recent months: a single-volume complete edition from Boosey & Hawkes, and a brand new urtext edition from Henle Verlag in partnership with Editio Musica Budapest.

In this review I’m going to present each, with some concluding thoughts on their relative merits, and recommendations of which edition will suit whom.

Continue reading Bartók: For Children

It’s a Piano Thing

Sheet Music Review

It’s a piano thing is a new publication from Boosey & Hawkes comprising two books of fresh original repertoire by Irish composer Ailbhe McDonagh.

ailbhe_mcdonagh_profile_picture_2017

Ailbhe is well known in her home country as an educational composer whose works have included commissioned pieces for school ensembles as well as educational piano pieces. She is also well known as a professional cellist who performs internationally and teaches at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Her piece Anastasia, which is included in the second of these books, was first published while Alibhe was still at school, appearing as a Grade 4 piece in the RIAM Local Centre Examinations (the Irish National Grade Examination System).

Continue reading It’s a Piano Thing

First Term at the Piano

Sheet Music Review

Bartók’s Mikrokosmos has – since the first half of the 20th century – been a potent force in the pianist’s repertoire, hugely impacting pedagogy worldwide, while his charming collections of pieces For Children have delighted elementary to intermediate players of all ages. But what of his other little collection, The First Term at the Piano?

Largely overlooked, except as a curiosity for completists to consider, this seemingly innocuous sequence of 18 short pieces has passed under the radar of most piano teachers, and even though some of the pieces are brilliantly inventive and melodic, they have too rarely surfaced in other collections, exam syllabi or student performances.

Now the US-based pianist, teacher, lecturer and editor Immanuela Gruenberg is looking to turn the tables, resurrecting this work for a new century, and for a new audience.

Her stunning new edition of the pieces – which comes with complete commentary, imaginative lesson plans, and a series of online videos – has recently been published by Hal Leonard in association with Boosey & Hawkes. And as we shall see in this review, it is a genuine must-have purchase for anyone who teaches beginners.

Continue reading First Term at the Piano

Easy Concert Pieces 1 & 2

Sheet Music review

Easy Concert Pieces is a brand new series of three piano collections edited by Monika Twelsiek and Rainer Mohrs, and published worldwide by Schott Music. The first book came out last year, while Book 2 has just been published.

I will look at both, and let’s see how the series is shaping up!

Continue reading Easy Concert Pieces 1 & 2

Introducing ABRSM Piano Star!

I am delighted to inform readers that ABRSM commissioned me to compose a number of pieces for their new Piano Star series of pre-Grade 1 books, which they formally unveil today. I feel honoured to have been involved with these fabulous new books…

As a direct contributor, of course I am unable to offer a full independent review of the publications here for ethical reasons. Instead, I have reproduced today’s Media Release from ABRSM, which gives full details of the publications below.

Continue reading Introducing ABRSM Piano Star!

Safari: Adventures for Piano (June Armstrong)

Sheet Music Review

Composer June Armstrong has now published more than a dozen collections of original solo piano music through her business Pianissimo Publishing, and I have previously published favourable reviews of her book Stars: 14 Constellations for Piano and her easy duet collection Rayan’s Duet Book’.

June is well known to many piano teachers for ‘Toy Box’ (aimed at beginner to pre-grade 1 standard) and its sequel ‘Paint Box’ (pre-grade 1 to grade 1), the most popular of her previous collections.

‘Safari: Adventures for Piano  is June’s latest publication, released September 2016. Aimed at “Beginner to pre-grade 1 standard”, the book revisits the level of ‘Toy Box’.

Continue reading Safari: Adventures for Piano (June Armstrong)

Fantasy Piano: 20 Enchanting Easy Pieces

Sheet Music Review

With the new term getting underway at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, now is surely a good time to mention Hans-Günter Heumann‘s magical collection ‘Fantasy Piano’, published by Schott Music last year.

Continue reading Fantasy Piano: 20 Enchanting Easy Pieces

Jazzin’ About the Year

Sheet Music Review

“Take yourself on a musical journey through the seasons with Pam Wedgwood’s Easy Jazzin’ About the Year: a treasure trove of original and favourite tunes connected with occasions throughout the year.”

Easy Jazzin’ About the Year, new from Pam Wedgwood and published by Faber Music, might just be the perfect book of pieces for children learning the piano who are around UK Grade 1-2 level. Let’s take a look!

Continue reading Jazzin’ About the Year

The Definitive Bartók Edition?

Sheet Music Review

It is 1975. In the living room of a Victorian house in the middle of Bedford sits a nine-year-old boy at the piano. Fired by a life-changing encounter with the music of Mozart he recently started lessons, and dreams of one day “going in for” music.

For now though, he stares quizzically at the somewhat forbidding book on the music stand – 32 Klavierstücke by somebody called Béla Bartók. His piano teacher has set the first two pieces this week – The Little Lane and Game.

But what kind of music is this?? Very odd… but enchanting!

Four decades later, and one of the greatest joys and privileges I experience as a piano teacher is to see – time and time again – piano students young and old experience this same epiphany, this first discovery of the beguiling beauty and brilliance of Bartók’s extraordinary music for piano.

Continue reading The Definitive Bartók Edition?

Animal Jazz (Barbara Snow)

Sheet Music Review

Edition HH is a publishing house founded by Norwegian musician Per Hartmann, and based in Oxfordshire, UK. Their eclectic and ever-expanding catalogue embraces contemporary scores and scholarly performing editions of rarer items in the musical repertoire, from the Renaissance to the Romantic periods.

‘Animal Jazz’ is a recent addition, a selection of 15 brand new original short pieces for piano solo composed by London-based musician Barbara Snow.

Continue reading Animal Jazz (Barbara Snow)