Pianoworks, written by Janet and Alan Bullard and published by OUP, has been the first-choice method in my own teaching studio for several years. It has proven popular due to its clear, detailed explanation, logical progression, great (and grown-up) music choices, and excellent supplementary books.
The Pianoworks books share a uniform house style and presentation, with exemplary clarity, text and notation engraving. After several years of using the whole series, I have yet to spot a single misprint, which speaks to the outstanding editorial of the series.
An adult approach…
Pianoworks offers a fast, no-nonsense approach to piano playing, with an emphasis on independent learning and solid notation reading. There is plenty of text, all engagingly and clearly written to enable the adult learner to progress at their own pace between lessons.
Early pieces are composed in five note positions, the location varying from one piece to the next; a small keyboard diagram identifies where the hands should be positioned, and from there the player is expected to read the notes for themselves.
Both hands and clefs are introduced from the start and treated equally. There are no extraneous fingering numbers, note names, nor use of mnemonics; essentially the approach encourages no-fuss note recognition and intervallic reading.
Within a few lessons, the player will hopefully have covered the first quarter book, and be playing pieces with independent parts hands together in a range of positions. From the midway point in the first book, the keyboard diagrams disappear, and shortly after this the pieces move beyond five-note ranges.
Chords, ledger lines and crossing hands all make their appearance within the first book, as does the use of the sustain pedal, which is used extensively and to great effect from the middle of the first book. Scales, arpeggios and triads are included too, as is compound time.
Such is the pace of the first book that by the time the learner has completed its generous 72 pages, they are playing music which is easily beyond UK Grade 1 level.
The second book continues this fast-track approach, introducing semiquavers, triplets, syncopation and swing quavers, grace notes and ornaments, as well as scales in major and minor keys up to and including three sharps or flats, and even modes.
Pianoworks includes finger exercises which will help the adult player develop their technical fluency and coordination. These may however need supplementing, and I would love to see a technique book added to the series.
The music begs for expressive interpretation, but other aspects of creativity are touched on more lightly. There is a short keyboard harmony section in the second book, and a few call-and-response improvisation exercises. Here again the teacher may wish to supplement the material.
The quality of the music included in the Pianoworks series is undoubtedly one of the highlights that sets it apart from the alternatives. Alan Bullard is well-known as one of our top educational composers and arrangers; the calibre of his writing is fully on display here, while the contributions of Janet Bullard stand shoulder-to-shoulder in terms of their equally impressive quality.
My adult students regularly comment on how much they enjoy playing these outstanding arrangements and pieces, which is of course SO important!
I should add here that the supplementary books are even better! The two Collections offer a great range of pieces, while A Night at the Theatre takes the prize for the most popular repertoire book (for children or adults) at early intermediate level; I use this with most students regardless of their age!
The two additional Duet books are also superb, again providing excellent material for teenagers as well as adults.
The two Method Books each include a CD recording which includes demonstrations of the pieces and in many cases duet parts. The Supplementary books are without audio content.
The demo recordings aren’t particularly expressive or inspiring, and many are unfortunately too fast. I should also note here that the duet parts included on the CD are not provided in the book for the teacher, making their use a little more limited.
+ Pianoworks offers a fabulous selection of progressive music
+ Carefully structured no-nonsense methodology
+ Excellent supporting text with helpful explanations
+ Superb supplementary repertoire books
– The challenging pace won’t suit all learners
– The CD’s are a little disappointing
Pianoworks is in many respects hard to beat, and will likely remain the very firm favourite in my own studio and elsewhere.
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