UK Exam Boards: The Pianodao 2021 Survey

Later this year, Pianodao hopes to publish a major feature, Which Grade Exam Board 2021-2.

The aim of the article will be to support and inform those readers who are considering taking a formal piano playing assessment, and looking for a simple comparative summary of what is available to them from the UK-based international examination boards.

To that end, I have invited the five accredited exam boards to contribute their own content, and am now also asking you to provide user feedback if you have it.

The review form is included later in this article, so if you would like to contribute, then please read on…

Continue reading UK Exam Boards: The Pianodao 2021 Survey

Edition Peters’ Grade 8 Anthology

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES
for help playing this • BOOK AN ONLINE LESSON
for feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


The recently published Grade 8 Piano Anthology from Edition Peters is a stroke of publishing genius, predicated on the following ABRSM Syllabus statement:

“Candidates may use any edition of the music, except where a particular arrangement or transcription is specified. Editions quoted in the syllabus are given for guidance only and are not obligatory”.

With one of the most extensive back-catalogues, Edition Peters is brilliantly placed to jump in with a varied anthology of 24 of the best pieces from ABRSM’s 2021-2 syllabus, offering a clear improvement over the selection of just 9 in the board’s own Grade 8 Pieces book (reduced from the more generous 12 of previous years).

Not only does this anthology have the potential to be more musically nutritious and better value than ABRSM’s own, but it also offers a couple of other useful bonuses which I will be looking at later in this review.

This is undeniably a publication which overtly invites comparison with the official ABRSM alternative. So let’s see how they measure up…

Continue reading Edition Peters’ Grade 8 Anthology

Nikki Iles and Friends

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES
for help playing this • BOOK AN ONLINE LESSON
for feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


Nikki Iles will be known to many readers for her Jazz on a Winter’s Night book and subsequent series for OUP, and her recent Tales for Alice and Tales for Peter Pan collections for EVC Music, all of which I have been hugely impressed by.

Over the years, Iles has also contributed to the ABRSM Jazz Piano Syllabus and composed several memorable pieces for the board’s standard piano grades, which are always popular choices. And now she’s back with two new books of jazz pieces for ABRSM, between them bringing 29 new piano solos to the intermediate and advanced repertoire, composed and arranged by Iles and a stellar array of luminaries of the contemporary jazz world.

With the drawing power of Iles and friends, and the marketing clout of ABRSM, these two books are sure to fly off the shelves, so let’s take a closer look while we can!

Continue reading Nikki Iles and Friends

The Piano Trainer Scales Workbook

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
supporting your teaching • BOOK A MENTORING SESSION


A couple of years ago I suggested to author Karen Marshall and publishers Faber Music that it would be really useful to have an all-in-one scales manual within the popular Piano Trainer series. And here it is!

According to Faber Music,

“This all-in-one workbook for scales, arpeggios and broken chords includes all the keys and basic shapes piano students should learn. With clear scale notation, easy-to-visualise keyboard diagrams and excellent theory activities to consolidate understanding and underline the importance of writing music. It is ideal for developing a bespoke scale curriculum.”

The Piano Trainer Scales Workbook is certainly all of this, and the 72-page book is chock-full of neat ideas and judiciously selected material, so let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading The Piano Trainer Scales Workbook

Piano Scale Mnemonics

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
supporting your teaching • BOOK A MENTORING SESSION


Recommending a no-fuss scale book used to be a simple matter: just get a copy of the ABRSM Grade 5 book as was, and all the keys were there, clearly presented in order. But following ABRSM’s 2021 piano scales revision this is no longer the case, their new graded scale books offering a shockingly slight smattering of just a few scales, as limiting as they are limited.

Good teachers everywhere are inevitably (if sadly) left looking for more helpful alternatives, and thankfully a number of well-known writers are presently forming an orderly queue to occupy the educational high ground that the exam board have so perplexingly ceded.

Paul Harris’s revised Improve Your Scales books look to a composite of all the exam boards for common sense, while Karen Marshall’s Piano Trainer series from Faber Music will soon add an all-purpose scales book specially devised to fill the gap. I will be reviewing both these resources in the coming months.

Meanwhile, here’s a new book from Catherine McMillan, whose unique take on learning scales will particularly appeal to children, and whose stunningly presented Piano Scale Mnemonics book is now a studio essential.

Continue reading Piano Scale Mnemonics

Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge

ACTIVE REPERTOIRE PROJECT
the music you can play, any time, any place


For piano players, like everyone else, 2020 has been a huge struggle.

We have needed to re-evaluate our goals and quickly change many of our plans. But in the midst of the turmoil, many of us have found a renewed enthusiasm for piano playing, while many more have returned to the piano or taken up playing for the first time.

We enter 2021 with growing numbers of pianists and teachers embracing a fresh direction and revitalised piano goals.

Whether disenchanted with a dull exam-driven formula or eager to disentangle from over-prescriptive methodology, many are now hungry for a more inspired musical approach.

We want to embrace a more motivated, positive version of ourselves at the piano!

Thankfully, there is an answer…

Continue reading Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge

Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
for support playing • BOOK A CONSULTATION


“If we begin to think about our goals in life as destinations, as points to which we must arrive, this thinking begins to cut out all that makes a point worth having.
It is as if instead of giving you a full banana to eat, I gave you just the two tiny ends of the banana – and that would not be, in any sense, a satisfactory meal”.

Alan Watts: What is Tao?

Over the many years I have been teaching the piano to children, one of the most common enquiries from parents is this:

“What goal can my child be working towards?”

More often than not, it turns out that they would like me to move their child onto an exam-driven footing rather than simply allowing them to wander more freely in the meadows of musical wonderment.

Interestingly enough, far fewer adult learners make this point. We should really consider why this is, and how useful goal setting might really be…

Continue reading Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

Discovering MTB Exams (part 2)

In Part One of this major feature I interviewed Music Teachers’ Board Chief Examiner Mark Kesel. The article certainly generated a lot of interest, and as a piano teacher I am myself very excited by the innovation and stimulating vision promised by the MTB.

For one thing, the idea of being able to take a graded exam any day of the year is a real boon for those of us who don’t want to spend months working on and listening to the same three pieces ad infinitum. I feel that this simple innovation could revolutionise teaching and learning, providing scope for students to develop better momentum, engagement, and to progress far more quickly without being held back by the schedule of an exam board

Combine this with the no-fuss ability to take graded exams using a simple app in the lesson, and the fact that the MTB allow candidates to play any three pieces of their own choice so long as they are appropriate for the grade, and here is an exciting opportunity for learners to move away from an exam-driven mentality and embrace their own personalised piano journey, without losing the benefits of independent, fully accredited assessments along the way.

But I’m not one to simply jump on every latest trend or fad; ABRSM have been a friend on my musical journey for more than 40 years and I have used their exams almost exclusively with my students. Were ABRSM continuing to meet the needs of my students, I wouldn’t lightly make a decision to switch board.

When looking for advice and support, the Pianodao Tea Room is the natural place to ask, its members always willing to share their experiences in a friendly way. I knew several members had tried MTB exams with their students in recent months, and several were willing to share their experiences…

Here then are four teacher interviews I arranged, which answered my own questions and will, I hope, help you find answers to yours…

Continue reading Discovering MTB Exams (part 2)

ABRSM: ‘Piano Star’ Duets

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES
for help playing this • BOOK AN ONLINE LESSON
for feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


ABRSM’s popular Piano Star series, which originally aimed at bridging the gap between the pupil’s first tutor book and ABRSM Grade 1 piano, continues to grow.

The seventh and latest book in the series, Piano Star Duets offers 26 newly composed or arranged piano duets for ‘early beginners to Grade 2 level’, compiled and edited by David Blackwell and Karen Marshall.

With five of these pieces also selected as duet alternatives in the 2021-2 ABRSM Piano Syllabus, which I recently reviewed here, the book is likely to tempt teachers and students looking for a one-stop collection of duets that they can dip into over a couple of years of lessons.

That the pieces have been commissioned from some of our leading pedagogic composers further adds to the attraction.

Before taking a look, full disclosure. I contributed a single piece each to four previous titles in the series. However, I receive no ongoing royalty income from those, have absolutely no vested interest in the series, and chose not to contribute to the Piano Star Duets collection. I write here with full independence.

So, with that out of the way, let’s jump in with all four feet…

Continue reading ABRSM: ‘Piano Star’ Duets

ABRSM Piano Scales 2021

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
supporting your teaching • BOOK A MENTORING SESSION


With the publication of their 2021-22 Piano Syllabus (reviewed in full here), ABRSM have given their scales requirements a significant overhaul, also publishing new scales books and resources.

In this review I will consider three main areas of this development:

  1. The new syllabus requirements
  2. The new ABRSM Piano Scales & Arpeggios books
  3. Scale Explorer for Piano – a new series of five graded books written for ABRSM by Alan Bullard

Let’s get straight to it…

Continue reading ABRSM Piano Scales 2021