Amidst the understandable and deserved popularity of new contemporary music collections, I am happy to find that there is still a demand for more traditional pedagogic piano music.
Players and teachers often ask me for recommendations of piano collections devoted to the core classical and pedagogic repertoire, and there are many strong choices.
Here in the UK, these include the various graded collections produced by ABRSM, Faber Music and others. Meanwhile, publishers based in countries less influenced by our exam system have produced alternatives which can be rather freer in their content, looser in their boundaries and framework, a point which will particularly appeal to the growing number of teachers keen to eschew a curriculum that is essentially dictated by exam boards.
Among the best repertoire resources I have come across, take a look at Journey Through the Classics, a superb series compiled, edited (and with recordings) by the eminent American educator Jennifer Linn, published worldwide by Hal Leonard.
As I dig into (and colloquially “dig”) the series, why not come and join me for the Journey… I promise it’s a good one!
ABRSM’s excellent Pop Performer! books reviewed here were among the big winners of 2022, and hot on their heels we can welcome a new initiative from Faber Music. However, Faber’s new Graded Playalong Series takes a rather different approach.
Launching at the tail end of 2022 with collections for Grade 3 piano, flute, alto sax, clarinet and drums, the Graded Playalong Series offers fresh arrangements that incorporate the use of backing tracks as a core musical feature. Let’s take a look at the Grade 3 Piano version…
Nancy Litten has made her mark as a leading educational composer here in the UK, with string, vocal and electronic keyboard publications from Alfred Music, and enjoyable contributions to ABRSM publications such as Keyboards Together, Piano Mix and Piano Star.
Litten has recently joined the roster of composers whose music is published by EVC Music, and her debut piano solo publication has now arrived…
Piano Postcards offers 12 Recital Piano Works Inspired by Travel, suitable for intermediate players at around UK Grade 3-4 level. Let’s take a look…
I have long been an admirer of the brilliant piano music of William Lawson Gillock (1917-1993), so it is with huge pleasure and a sense of pride that I can announce that, in conjunction with the Willis Music Company, I have selected and edited a new series of ‘graded’ collections showcasing a varied range of his best pieces.
Graded Gillock appears in three volumes, now available:
There’s little doubt in my mind that Gillock was one of the most significant educational piano composers of the twentieth century, as adept at turning out distinctively memorable and colourful piano pieces in an accessible style as he was at engaging the imaginations and enthusiasm of young learners, in doing so paving the way for today’s educational composers.
Gillock is perhaps best known here in the UK for his evocatively bluesy New Orleans Nightfall, stomping Swinging Beat and Latin-infused Carnival in Rio, all of which have been popular graded exam pieces in recent years. But what of his other music?
For this new series, I have used these favourites as a starting point, working with the composer’s long-term publisher Willis Music to explore and select Gillock’s most enjoyable and pedagogically useful music.
“The consistency William Gillock achieved in writing music that is both interesting to learners and pedagogically valuable is unmatched, in my opinion, and although a few of his pieces have appeared on exam syllabuses it is puzzling that his music is not better known in this country. Andrew Eales has therefore done the UK market a great service by curating this series of graded books, which features 40-odd pieces altogether. The notation is enlarged in the first volume to facilitate reading, and reduces in size as you advance from book to book, a thoughtful touch… These books are a great introduction to the composer.”
Michael McMillan, Pianist magazine 128, October 2022
Few professional musicians would question the value and usefulness of sight reading, meaning that skill which allows us to play music that we’ve never heard, just from the notation, and without preparation.
As a teacher who allows my students considerable freedom to choose the music they want to learn and bring along to the lesson, I find myself relying on this skill very regularly. And yet some teachers and students treat the development of sight reading as an afterthought, and a rather dull one at that. Compounding the problem, while sight reading has traditionally been an element of public grade exams, it is decreasingly so.
Trinity College London include sight reading as an optional test in their piano grade exams, but some teachers choose only to introduce it with “serious students” after intermediate level, and on the basis that players will at that point miraculously “get it”.
Perhaps this lack of enthusiasm will change with the launch of Trinity’s excellent new series, Sight Reading: A Progressive Method, a suite of three books offering a clear route for teaching sight reading skills from the get-go.
In common with most sight reading resources the series is linked to the grade exams, but happily it goes far beyond specimen tests and basic exam cramming, and can be used as a powerful resource to actually teach and develop sight reading ability.
As Trinity explain,
“The study of sight reading is valuable because it enables musicians to enjoy music that is new to them, either on their own or in a group. As with any other skill, confidence in sight reading comes with training and regular practice.”
So let’s take a look and see how the series can support teachers and students in those aims…
Barely were the pixels dry on my review of the first threeSolo Xtreme books when Books 4-6 landed on my door mat. While the initial books in the series were suitable for Elementary level players, these new additions are for the Intermediate pianist.
My favourable impression and comments about the first three books equally apply to all these. Indeed, the presentation, feel and quality is unchanged, the concept a simple extension of the series. Please therefore consider this review an addendum to the previous one, and once again be sure to read that first.
Like the previous books, each book includes a selection of new compositions which are billed as “X-traordinary and Challenging Piano Pieces”.
The levels covered by Books 4-6 are:
Book 4: Early Intermediate to Intermediate (ABRSM Grade 3)
Book 5: Intermediate to Late Intermediate (Grades 4-5)
Book 6: Late Intermediate to Early Advanced (around Grade 6)
Grade equivalents are necessarily vague, because as with the previous books they are not so much designed to fit snuggly into any particular assessment system, but rather to bust out the player beyond their current level.
What remains to be written, then, is an evaluation of the music in these new collections…
Over recent years, piano teacher and composer June Armstrong has steadily developed an enviable reputation as one of Britain’s most prolific and distinctive educational composers.
Armstrongs’s impressive range of self-published – and beautifully produced – titles now stretches to some 15 collections of pieces suitable for players at most levels from beginner to advanced.
Along the way, she has gained a cult following from teachers-in-the-know – and no doubt gained many new fans following the recent inclusion of several pieces in the graded syllabuses of the examination boards.
June’s latest collection, Sea World, contains 17 new “Impressions for Piano”, aimed at players between UK Grades 1 to 3 (Elementary to Early Intermediate standard). Let’s take a look …