Faber Music’s PianoTrainer series, comprising, The Foundation Pianist (2 books), The Intermediate Pianist (3 books) and The Advanced Pianist (2 books), has made a huge impact in the piano education world over the last couple of years, offering a progressive musical curriculum which can be used between or instead of grade exams.
In this special Guest Post, series editor and writer Karen Marshall tells the story behind the development of the series, while Faber Music have provided a special FREE Downloadwhich outlines the curriculum underpinning it, giving an essential insight for all teachers and students working through the books.
Following on from her previous collections of original pieces inspired by works of art Piano Gallery (reviewed here) and Piano Seascapes (reviewed here), Piano Meditations is the latest from best-selling composer Pam Wedgwood, brought to us as ever by publishers Faber Music.
Here we have 12 brand new compositions which are, according to their composer, “inspired by contemplative works of art”, and once again the publication includes a gorgeous full colour pull-out poster featuring images of all the paintings which served as Pam’s muse.
Intermediate players who enjoyed the previous collections, along with Wedgwood’s many fans, will undoubtedly already be rushing to their music supplier for a copy; for the benefit of those wanting more information, let’s take a quick look…
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…
Paul Harris’s series of A Piece a Week books have been appearing at regular intervals over the last few years. Faber Music have just released the Grade 6 book, so let’s consider the series as a whole…
I’ll start with a quick reminder that while the books appear in the best-selling Improve Your Sight Reading series, they are not sight reading practice books per se. Rather they aim to support the broader development of music literacy.
In this review I will first explain the concept behind A Piece a Week, give an overview of the actual material included in the books, and explain how they develop to offer superb material across the range of playing levels from UK Grade 1 to the new Grade 6 book.
One Saturday morning in March 2018, I learnt that my good friend the composer, author and educator Paul Harris had been rushed to our local hospital emergency department overnight…
Paul had for several months been battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a virulent cancer that had already seemed to take so much from him.
He was receiving excellent treatment at The Churchill Hospital in Oxford, but having taken a turn for the worse the previous night, Paul had been instructed to come straight to Milton Keynes, his nearest A&E.
Faber Music’s ‘Easy Piano Series’ has steadily been establishing itself as one of the brightest jewels in the publisher’s sparkling catalogue of educational piano music. New for 2019, this collection of seasonal favourites sets out to maintain the high standards of the series…
Hot off the press from Faber Music, and certainly not to be missed, the two books that make up the Teachers’ Choice Piano Collection have just appeared in partnership with EPTA UK, the European Piano Teachers’ Association.
Between them they include 58 pieces ranging in difficulty from Elementary/Grade 1 to Advanced/Grade 8, “selected by piano teachers for piano teachers”.
I must confess that when I first heard about these books a few months ago, my hopes for them were rather modest, but as soon as the finished collections arrived in the post I realised that they far exceeded my expectations. I think they are really wonderful!
Karen Marshall’s Piano Trainer Series for Faber Music, which includes The Foundation Pianist (with David Blackwell, reviewed here) and The Intermediate Pianist (with Heather Hammond, reviewed here), has reached its conclusion with the publication of The Advanced Pianist (Books 1 and 2, with Mark Tanner).
Taken as a whole, the complete series of seven books can be used as a core curriculum that can be interspersed with the eight grades of the UK examination boards, or used standalone by those not interested in taking exams.
In this review I will firstly take a look at The Advanced Pianist before drawing a few conclusions about the Piano Trainer series as a whole…
Radiohead hardly need any introduction. Since forming in 1985, they have established themselves as one of the most unique and admired bands in the world, selling more than 30 million albums and regularly topping listener and critical polls.
Australian pianist and teacher Josh Cohen will perhaps be a new name to some readers however, although he has garnered an impressive following of some 70,000+ followers on YouTube, drawn to his improvised solo piano arrangements of popular songs by Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Sigur Rós and David Bowie.
Now, thanks to Faber Music, 11 of Cohen’s arrangements are being published (with the approval of Radiohead themselves) in a beautifully presented collection.
Here’s Cohen explaining in his own words the journey that brought us this publication:
Pam Wedgwood has long been one of the UK’s bestselling educational and contemporary piano composers, with several hugely successful series of books in her back catalogue.
Though now in her 70’s, she remains prolific; since starting to review music on Pianodao I have already written about her outstanding Jazzin’ About the Year (which has subsequently become one of the most popular collections with my own younger students), How to play jazz piano, and her 2017 collection Piano Gallery, about which I concluded:
“Pam’s knack for writing engaging idiomatic piano music and for creating satisfying character pieces with ongoing value seems to me perfectly distilled in Piano Gallery, making this a collection to truly cherish.”
Pam’s latest, Piano Seascapes, is the sequel to Piano Gallery, bringing players 12 new original piano pieces inspired by the sea…
That’s the first word that came to me as I unpacked the advance review copy of Lang Lang’s Piano Book when it arrived back in February, and it is rightly the first word of this review.
Because Lang Lang’s Piano Book is without question one of the most lush sheet music publications I have ever seen. So, right away a huge round of applause goes to Faber Music for a job magnificently done.
But beyond the opulent presentation, what actually is Lang Lang’s Piano Book? Let’s take a look…
Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises is a new addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy series published in the UK by Faber Music.
Subtitled, “Warm-ups, work-outs and scale routines to develop technique”, the book is introduced by its global superstar author with this encouragement:
“Everything you play should be performed with love and musicality, so all of these exercises are designed to be satisfying exercise patterns that lead you smoothly through all the key centres. Enjoy your scale practice, and your piano playing will take off!”
Now the series has grown to include Classical, and a fourth book snappily called Pop is scheduled to follow later in the year.
In my previous review I noted:
“There is always room on the music shelf for easy piano arrangements of well-known and popular songs – players of all ages naturally find it encouraging and enjoyable to tackle tunes that are familiar to them, their family and friends.”
The Classical book in the series follows a similar philosophy, offering 16 pieces with an emphasis on simplified arrangements of some of the best-loved melodies of all time, and with a few original versions of easy pieces thrown in for good measure.
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 …
Now let’s see whether Pam Wedgwood’s How to Play Jazz Piano, published by Faber Music this week, can make it a hat-trick.
The book aims to provide a solid introduction to jazz playing and claims to be “ideal for young players with a basic knowledge of how to play the piano (approximately Grade 2 standard)”.
As a standalone course suitable for players at this level, there is little competition – perhaps the nearest comparison would be with the (excellent) support materials for the ABRSM Jazz Piano syllabus.
So far, so interesting, so let’s take a closer look …
Heather Hammond is a piano teacher and the composer of the Cool Piano, Funky Flute, Cool Clarinet & Super Sax books (all published by Kevin Mayhew Ltd), and will be known to many readers for the Get Set! Piano series (Harper Collins) and award-winning Intermediate Pianist series (Faber Music), both co-authored with Karen Marshall. She also has a number of books published by Elena Cobb (EVC Music Publications Ltd).
Around this time last year, Faber Music unleashed The Intermediate Pianist series, co-authored by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond. It was a solid success, warmly received by teachers and students alike, and in my Pianodao review I wrote:
“The Intermediate Pianist books get right to the heart of what learning music is really all about. This truly could prove a milestone publication – don’t miss it!”
As many readers will know, The Intermediate Pianist deservedly went on to win Best Print Resource at the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence 2018.
This Autumn, it’s a joy to welcome the arrival of The Foundation Pianist, two companion books in Faber’s growing Piano Trainer series. This time, Karen is joined by new co-author David Blackwell.
Let’s see what’s included, and consider how these books might fit into a rounded curriculum for young pianists…
This summer, they follow up with The Classical Film Collection, which offers a varied compendium of 40 popular classical pieces – all of which have been prominently used in movies – arranged for intermediate to early-advanced pianists.
Let’s take a closer look and see what’s included …
Faber Music have been producing a steady flow of printed compilations of piano music for some time, with a focus on bringing together pieces from films, arrangements of hit songs, and popular classical favourites.
Latest addition, Ultimate Piano Solos boasts “over 50 bestsellers” and offers an appealing selection of mainstream favourites that most people will instantly recognise.
Keenly priced at just £15.99 it offers excellent value, and is perhaps the ideal collection for the enthusiastic player at around Grade 5 level who wants to grow their repertoire of popular favourites.
The Graded Piano Player is a series of three books from Faber Music, comprising arrangements of well-known tunes specially arranged by leading educationalists for pianists from around ABRSM Grade 1-5 level.
Published back in 2016, the books return to the spotlight as two of these arrangements – Close Every Door from Book 1 and Wouldn’t it be loverly from Book 2 – have been selected for ABRSM’s brilliant new 2019/20 syllabus (which Karen Marshall and I reviewed here).
When pieces are selected from the “alternatives lists”, there’s always a danger that a pupil might be expected to purchase a separate book from which they will only ever play a single piece – so teachers, parents and students will undoubtedly be interested to hear what the rest of the book is like, and in this instance the rest of the series.
There is always room on the music shelf for easy piano arrangements of well-known and popular songs – players of all ages naturally find it encouraging and enjoyable to tackle tunes that are familiar to them, their family and friends.
It is no doubt with this in mind that Faber Music have just released two collections in The Easy Piano Series, one covering famous show tunes, the other film themes, all aimed at players who are at around Grades 1 to 2 level.
Paul Harris is one of the world’s most respected music educationalists. His compositions have delighted players and audiences around the world, and he has over 500 publications to his name. Paul is in great demand as a workshop and seminar leader in the UK, USA and the Far East.
Here he shares the story of how he discovered the piano as a child …
The simple ideas – so they say – are often the best.
And with her latest publication Piano Gallery, best-selling composer Pam Wedgwood has taken the seemingly simple idea of composing a collection of pieces inspired by great artworks, and with the visionary support of Faber Music, produced one of the most imaginative collections of original late-intermediate repertoire that I have recently had the pleasure of reviewing here.
So what is it about this publication that makes it such a worthwhile purchase?
The Intermediate Pianist series is a fresh and ground-breaking approach which is full of brilliant musical ideas. It’s sure to enable pianists to play with greater understanding and engagement, and comes very highly recommended.
Compare weekly cinema attendance with the numbers who go to classical concerts (or any other sort, come to think of it!) and you will be left with no doubt as to why music composed for films works its magic in the hearts and minds of listeners more than any other genre.
And it is no wonder that those who take up an instrument are so quick to ask teachers if they can learn their favourite film themes.
In the case of the most popular composers and successful scores, there’s very often a tie-in publication so that fans can buy the sheet music, as was the case with the excellent La La Land score which I recently reviewed here.
But for those after an anthology of their favourite pieces, the choice is not so easy. Some publications of this kind provide poor transcriptions, while others aren’t sympathetically arranged for piano, taking account of the player’s level.
It is with real pleasure that I can therefore warmly recommend the latest piano book from Faber Music, a collection simply entitled Film Themes: The Piano Collection.
Damien Chapelle’s La La Land has proved to be one of the most talked-about movies of 2017, garnering 14 Oscar nominations and picking up six, including Best Original Scoreby Justin Hurwitz, and Best Original Song for City of Stars, composed by Hurwitz with lyricists Benj Hasek & Justin Paul.
One talking point which will particularly interest readers of Pianodao is that lead actor Ryan Gosling learnt to play the piano music for his role (wholly by rote) in just three months before filming, performing it with no stunt double. It’s a remarkable achievement both for Gosling, and for the teacher who worked with him.
Learn more in this short radio interview from the BBC4 Today programme – it’s fascinating and thought provoking, although we must bear in mind that Gosling was working at the piano for several hours a day, with two-hour-long daily lessons five days a week.
The results are certainly inspiring – as a student of mine put it, the piano playing is one of the best parts of the film!
And now – for those who can’t copy Ryan Gosling by setting aside the time and cost of learning daily by rote – Faber Music bring us the sheet music for the film’s great songs and key moments.
Here’s a book that I suspect many will rush to buy – a bumper collection of easy piano arrangements of great popular tunes, from the contemporary to the classic.
With (according to the cover) over 90,000 units sold, the hits that make up this “Ultimate Songlist” plunder the charts across many decades, from Cilla Black to One Direction, from Nat King Cole to Elbow, and from Wham! to Radiohead. Movies are well represented too, with The Hanging Tree (from The Hunger Games series) and Let it Go! (from Frozen) standing out as welcome highlights.
In theory there should be something here for everyone, and in practice … there probably is!
“Separating theory from practice can’t be a good thing.”
While this is a great soundbite for those promoting theory courses, the obvious irony here is that ABRSM have themselves – for generations – separated music theory from practice in their own examination syllabus and published materials.
Paul Harris’s new series ‘Improve your Theory!’, written for students preparing for ABRSM Theory Grades 1-5, aims to change this situation for the better.
Introducing the series, publishers Faber Music explain that:
“Firmly rooted in Paul Harris’s Simultaneous Learning approach, it will transform how music theory is taught and learnt, improving every aspect of musicianship along the way. Never before has theory been so fun or seemed so natural!”
The books have already been awarded “Best Print Resource 2016” at the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence, so let’s see if they live up to the hype…