Rachel Portman: Ask the River

Sheet Music Review

English composer Rachel Portman is best known for her many gorgeous film scores, including the music for such blockbusters as Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, The Duchess and The Lake House.

Portman’s latest musical project is Ask the River, a self-contained CD of piano-led instrumental reflections on the natural world, with an accompanying book from Chester Music delivering solo piano versions of all 13 tracks, the subject of this review.

According to the composer,

“I wrote this collection of pieces throughout 2019. They are the fruit of many years spent being immersed in nature. What can be more inspiring than the green shoots of new beech leaves appearing in the woods with the dappling light reflected in the spring breeze?
These pieces are a personal reflection on the beauty of the earth around us – the trees, flora, rivers, birds, animals and all her gifts to us. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I loved being inspired by the natural world.”

Explore them we shall…

Continue reading Rachel Portman: Ask the River

Ola Gjeilo: Night

Sheet Music Review

“I love nighttime. I love the mood of night, and feeling all of New York City light up from endless skyscrapers. There’s something very inspiring and even reassuring and calming about that to me. New York at night is very romantic, I think”

So writes Ola Gjeilo in the introduction to his new album Night, available on CD from Decca (purchase from Amazon UK here) and sheet music from Chester Music/Hal Leonard (the subject of this review).

Those who’ve not yet had the joy of discovering Gjeilo’s music are in for a treat with this album and will hopefully also explore his previous work, including the earlier piano albums Stone Rose (2007), Piano Improvisations (2012) and his immensely popular choral music.

So let’s take our time and journey towards the dizzying and inviting lights of Gjeilo’s Night

Continue reading Ola Gjeilo: Night

Which Adult Piano Method 2020?

Sheet Music Review

For 2020 I am pleased to present an updated feature on the adult method books I most highly recommend.

I’ll start with in-depth reviews of my TOP 5 CHOICES.

After that I will also include shorter reviews of some other great alternatives.

One of the most exciting developments over the course of my piano career has been the huge increase in adults taking up lessons. I have lost count of the number of adult beginners I’ve had the pleasure of teaching over the last three decades; at present I teach more than 30 adults.

I’ve seen adults taking up the piano for many reasons; some wish they had learnt when they were younger, while for others taking up piano as an adult is the next chapter in a growing musical interest.

Whatever the reason for starting lessons, the last thing most adults want is to be presented with  Jimmy Timpson’s First Piano Lessons for Tiny Tots, or a minor variation with the word “adult” cannily stamped on the front cover.

And that’s perhaps one reason why my round-up of the adult beginner method books was by far the most-read article on Pianodao in 2019.

Fully refreshed for 2020, I’m delighted to present this updated and expanded version, including two major methods not mentioned last year.

But we’ll again begin with my top tips (also updated!) about what to look for in an adult method book, and why adults learn the piano differently to younger beginners…

Continue reading Which Adult Piano Method 2020?

How to Blitz ABRSM Theory

Sheet Music Review

I’ve seen a number of good music teachers recommending Samantha Coates’ How to Blitz ABRSM Theory book on forums, and having obtained a set to take a closer look myself, I can see what all the fuss is about.

I met and interviewed Samantha Coates at this year’s Music Education Expo show in London, and she explained that in Australia, her homeland, the incumbent theory books she grew up with were (ahem!) rather dry.

Her criticisms surely apply equally here in the UK, where the official exam-board workbooks can similarly suck the joy out of a lesson, and have a surprising ability to make a bus timetable from 1976 look like a relatively exciting proposition.

Coates found a solution by producing her own course:

“What I wanted was an alternative, a theory book that essentially had the same content as this other boring book that I grew up on, because it was written for the same syllabus. So I just thought, there’s got to be a more hip and groovy alternative. 
I wanted a text that was conversational and user-friendly, and light-hearted, and in language that is not formal…
“I think the word “somewhat” should never appear in any child’s tutor book! I just wanted it to be much more casual.”


Happily, with publisher Chester Music on board, she has brought out adapted versions for the UK market, tailoring the content to match the requirements of our leading exam board.

So let’s find out just how different the How to Blitz ABRSM Theory books are. What distinguishes them from the official alternatives, and what are their advantages? Importantly, have they succeeded in making music theory more relevant and interesting for piano players?

Continue reading How to Blitz ABRSM Theory