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A Word about Levels…

Establishing the difficulty level of sheet music reviewed here can be challenging because of the different terminology and understanding that readers in different countries will have.

Having sometimes mentioned the “UK Grade” level of pieces in reviews, I have frequently noted that this can cause more problems than it solves, and can prove frustratingly ineffective as a way of identifying the difficulty levels of pieces in a way that is widely useful.

For one thing, North American readers of Pianodao will be more familiar with the 10 grades of the RCM syllabus than they are with the 8 grades commonly set by the UK exam boards. This can, and has, caused reader confusion.

Further, exam boards tend to have specific criteria when selecting syllabus music. The length of a piece is a particular issue for them, both in terms of the costings and pagination of exam music books, and because of the duration of the exams themselves. Music that’s suitable for a Grade 3 level pianist might be excluded because of its length.

This is one of many reasons why teachers, students and parents should not be too rigid in following an exam syllabus: so much music is excluded because it doesn’t quite fit the needs of the exam room.

For most reviews I now prefer level descriptions which are more general, are widely understood, less exam-focused, and I believe more appropriate to a discussion of music.

For readers in the UK and elsewhere whose understanding of level has largely been dictated by the UK exam boards, these broader terms very loosely approximate to the following:

Educational resources (such as exam materials, method, theory and sight reading books) are also included, as are duets and ensemble music.

Please note that many publications and series appear in more than one category, because the music within straddles more than one “level”.

These levels are purposefully broad: the goal of Pianodao is to promote a lifelong love of piano music, rather than an adherence to exam criteria.

It is a fundamental principle of piano education that players benefit from a mix of repertoire to both challenge and consolidate their learning. Sticking rigidly to pieces at a narrowly and artificially prescribed level can be harmful to musical development.

I hope that users everywhere will find the broad level descriptions used on Pianodao to be both helpful and practical.

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