Bartók: Romanian Christmas Songs

Sheet Music Review

Few of the truly great or most popular classical piano composers have contributed much of substance to the ‘Christmas repertoire’, but Béla Bartók (along with Mendelssohn and Liszt) is one of those few.

Oddly, however, Bartók’s Rumänische Weihnachtslieder (or Romanian Christmas Songs) remain rather little known, even by those of us who are fans of the great 20th century pioneer’s work.

A new edition by leading scholar László Somfai, jointly published by Henle Verlag and Editio Musica Budapest, offers a timely reminder of this brilliant masterpiece, so let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Bartók: Romanian Christmas Songs

Learning to Play with Precision

In my recent article  Why Bother with Scales?  I considered the many benefits that arise from regularly playing and teaching scales and arpeggios.

In this shorter post I’m going to hone in on one especially important advantage which is sometimes overlooked entirely:

Regular scale and arpeggio practice trains the brain and the fingers to develop precision in judging and playing all intervals up to a fourth, using any standard combination of shapes and fingerings, and in all the standard keys.

This significant benefit is certainly not to be sniffed at, and fosters a technical ability that is otherwise unlikely to develop during the formative stages of learning the piano.

Let’s consider how this works…

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Christmas Piano Anthology

Sheet Music Review

Faber Music have brought us some fabulous anthologies of late. Last Autumn, I reviewed their Faber Music Piano Anthology, and more recently the Faber Music Classical Film Collection.

And now they’ve brought out the Faber Music Christmas Piano Anthology, which proves to be a massive and hugely impressive collection of the best and most popular seasonal tunes, expertly arranged for piano solo at intermediate to advanced level.

There’s been a gap in the market for something like this – it’s never easy to recommend a collection for all ages that covers the most wanted classic and contemporary festive songs. So is this it? Let’s find out …

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The Music Books of Mozart & His Sister

Sheet Music Review

The Music Book for Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart (compiled by Leopold Mozart in 1759) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s London Sketchbook (1764) are surely established at the very pinnacle of the pedagogic keyboard repertoire, their status secure alongside Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook, Schumann’s Album for the Young and Bartók’s For Children.

And yet, honestly, how many piano teachers are truly familiar with the contents of these collections, beyond the few favourites that are regularly cherry-picked for exam syllabi and educational repertoire collections? I’m certainly willing, if hardly happy, to plead guilty to the charge of somewhat overlooking this music.

But it turns out that there is a good reason why most of us don’t know these pedagogic collections inside out: while many selections of pieces from these notebooks are available elsewhere, most collections limit themselves to those written by Wolfgang Amadeus and, remarkably there isn’t a full published edition on the market.

No – seriously!

Well thankfully Bärenreiter Urtext Edition are now rectifying this situation with a new complete publication based on the New Mozart Edition. According to the publishers,

“Until now the edition The Music Books of Mozart and his Sister has only been available as part of the boxed set of Mozart’s oeuvre for piano (BA 5749) which has gone out of print. Now for the first time, it can be purchased separately.

“Based on the New Mozart Edition, this is the only publication to contain all the pieces, sketches and fragments found in the notebooks. The Foreword by the great Mozart scholar Wolfgang Plath provides valuable information on the pieces themselves and on the question of their authorship; besides Mozart’s earliest juvenilia, some of which formed the basis of later compositions, the notebooks also contain works by Leopold Mozart and other composers.”

This sounds plausibly irresistible, but as always, we’ll take a closer look …

Continue reading The Music Books of Mozart & His Sister

Piano Music by British & American Composers

Sheet Music Review

Lurking in my reviews backlog for some time, here’s a book which has continued to beckon, so let me finally highlight it as the epitome of a great idea brilliantly brought to life.

The so-called “core repertoire” for classical piano has long been predominantly drawn from the great composers of the Central European Tradition (Germany, Austria and Hungary), France and Russia. Meanwhile, composers from the UK and USA have somewhat struggled to gain comparable recognition beyond their own borders.

This bumper anthology from publishers Boosey & Hawkes collates piano works from an even and well-matched spread of composers from both sides of the Atlantic, all of whom lived and worked in the 20th century.

As such it offers a rather wonderful introduction to some great music, much of it too-little performed, but all hugely worthy of the pianist’s attention.

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A Halloween Treat

Guest Post by Alison Mathews

including Free Sheet Music and Lesson Activity downloads


With Halloween approaching, it is an excellent time to engage pupils in some creative work and explore the evocative and haunting sounds the piano can make. I’d like to share a short story and resources that may inspire you and your pupils to be creative!

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Becoming a Virtual Virtuoso

Guest Post by Mark Tanner

This post is an exclusive excerpt from this month’s Piano Teacher Talk – the online newsletter from EPTA UK. The whole newsletter is also available as a PDF at the end of this excerpt, with the kind permission of EPTA.

In this post Mark Tanner – author of The Mindful Pianist and Mindfulness in Music – considers the benefits of virtual ‘ghost’ practising …

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Christmas Repertoire Sheets 2018

Christmas is one of those times in the year when having a few party pieces up our sleeves is particularly important – and of course family and friends are often keen to hear us play their seasonal favourites, so it’s worth adding those into the Active Repertoire mix over the next two months!

With this in mind, here’s a special Christmas gift to Pianodao readers – a Christmas Repertoire Sheet which can be used alongside your and your students’ standard Active Repertoire Sheet.

pdf-logo   Christmas Repertoire Sheet 2018  [PDF Download]

The Christmas Repertoire sheet can of course be used how you like, but my own suggestions are shown on the Sheet itself, and will hopefully be clear to those taking part in the ongoing Active Repertoire Challenge.

As always, the choice is with each player. And however you use the Christmas Repertoire sheets, I hope that it will make a positive contribution to your piano journey over the next two months!

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Tord Gustavsen Trio: “The Other Side”

Photo credit: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen

Recording of the Month   October 2018

Just as the great classical composers would often use the medium of the string quartet to explore new compositional ideas, techniques and directions, so jazz pianists have often produced their most exploratory work in the trio format.

One of the noteworthy recent exponents of the jazz trio is Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen. His Trio, featuring drummer Jarle Vespestad and bassist Harald Johnsen, toured between 2003-08, releasing three recordings, Changing Places (2003), The Ground (2005), Being There (2007), all on the ECM Records label.

Changing Places wasn’t, as it happens, my first encounter with Gustavsen’s playing; he had previously recorded sessions with fellow Norwegian chanteuse, Silje Nergaard, one of my absolute favourite singers. Gustavsen’s understated but deeply felt piano lines in her early recordings certainly made their impression on me, but hearing him let loose in a trio format really bought home the delicate brilliance and originality of his playing.

Following on from the three trio albums, which established Gustavsen’s voice as the preeminent lyrical pianist of the Nordic school, with colourful tinges of blues and gospel never far from the surface in his playing, he developed larger ensembles. The Tord Gustavsen Quartet added saxophonist Tore Brunborg, while the Ensemble added the vocals of Kristin Ambjørnsen.

And for his 2016 release What Was Said (my personal favourite, by the way) he was joined by German-Afgan jazz singer Simin Tander alongside regular drummer Jarle Vespestad.

Along the way, Gustavsen added experimentation with electronic instruments and treatments to his already gorgeous sonic palette.

The Other Side marks Gustavsen’s return to the basic format of the standard Trio after more than a decade of exploring these other musical possibilities. As I listened to preview track The Tunnel over the late summer, I wondered whether this new album would be somewhat a return to Gustavsen’s roots, or be markedly different from the earlier Trio albums ….

Continue reading Tord Gustavsen Trio: “The Other Side”

3 More FREE Carol Arrangements

Guest Post by Karen Marshall & David Blackwell

We are delighted to present this additional free digital download for piano teachers, comprising another three new Carol arrangements, and really hope it will be useful to you this Christmas time.

We hope the additional information below about each carol will also give some interesting facts for you to share with your students and the teaching content section will help you determine which students it will be most useful for.

Very best wishes, Karen Marshall and David Blackwell

Continue reading 3 More FREE Carol Arrangements