Summer Repertoire Challenge

The Summer Repertoire Challenge is ideal for young players (and their teachers!) embarking on the long school holidays, and offers a great starting point for developing an Active Repertoire at the piano!

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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…

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Hear, Sing, Play, Read, Write?

Pathways for Teaching

Over the years I’ve repeatedly encountered the suggestion that music should be taught in much the same way as we have tended to assume language is acquired.

Advocates of this theory point out that:

  • Firstly as babies we hear words;
  • Soon we start to mimic them;
  • In time, we learn to speak fluently;
  • Later (perhaps several years later), we are taught to read;
  • And then to write.

I’m not a linguistics expert, but I suspect that this linear sequence is somewhat over-simplistic. In any case, it is adapted by some to propose this music education equivalent:

Hear  →  Sing  →  Play  →  Read  →  Write

It has long seemed to me that finding any direct or useful equivalent between musical learning and theories of language acquisition is more difficult than some suggest. And like many experienced teachers, I have observed that those taught according to this notion don’t always develop into good music readers.

In this short article I will flirt with the complexities here by asking three important questions:

  1. How do music and language seem to behave differently?
  2. How does informal learning prepare us for formal tuition?
  3. Does learning always follow the same one-way sequence?

As with the initial proposition, direct answers to such questions are elusive; perhaps it is sufficient to simply acknowledge their existence. But let’s take a brief trip to this hinterland together…

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Making Time for Regular Practice

Tea Room Tips

The Pianodao Tea Room is an online group for supporters of this site. In addition to our private discussions we now run a monthly “event” in which members can share their tips on a subject of interest, with highlights collated here for Pianodao readers.

This month, I asked members,

“How do you find / make time in your schedule for piano practice on a regular basis? What has worked for you?”

Here’s some of the answers members gave…

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ABRSM’s Piano Scales Review

ABRSM’S global standing has long been predicated on wide respect for their role as leaders in music education, setting and maintaining the “gold standards” that have been such a rich source of motivation and affirmation, inspiring generations of musicians worldwide.

But as they launch their latest Piano Scales Review, it increasingly seems they are ceding their authority, trading educational leadership for commercial popularity, led by market research.

In this post I will unpack some of their latest proposals against the backdrop of the bigger question of ABRSM’s historic role in setting and maintaining global standards in music education, noting both improvements and concerns.

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Pam Wedgwood’s “Piano Seascapes”

Sheet Music Review

Pam Wedgwood has long been one of the UK’s bestselling educational and contemporary piano composers, with several hugely successful series of books in her back catalogue.

Though now in her 70’s, she remains prolific; since starting to review music on Pianodao I have already written about her outstanding Jazzin’ About the Year (which has subsequently become one of the most popular collections with my own younger students), How to play jazz piano, and her 2017 collection Piano Gallery, about which I concluded:

“Pam’s knack for writing engaging idiomatic piano music and for creating satisfying character pieces with ongoing value seems to me perfectly distilled in Piano Gallery, making this a collection to truly cherish.”

Pam’s latest, Piano Seascapes, is the sequel to Piano Gallery, bringing players 12 new original piano pieces inspired by the sea…

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Spring Specials for Readers

It’s now been three months since launching the Pianodao Tea Room as a very special exclusive online community for supporters of the Pianodao site, and there’s plenty of room for you to join us if you are interested.

Here’s a quick update of what’s new for Tea Room members:

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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.

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