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…

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Gershwin: Three Preludes

Sheet Music Review

Gershwin’s Three Preludes for solo piano have been a staple of the American piano repertoire since their first publication in 1927.

Like many, I have long relied upon the 1992 Boosey & Hawkes edition, so I was intrigued to receive a new edition by Brendan Fox and Richard Walters, recently published by Hal Leonard.

Interest piqued, it wasn’t long before I found myself won over…

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Phillip Keveren’s ‘Piano Calm’

Sheet Music Review

Phillip Keveren’s name will be known to many readers for The Phillip Keveren Series of music books published by Hal Leonard, numbering nearly 100 volumes published in the US, with many now also available here in the UK.

Keveren, described by his publishers as “a multi-talented keyboard artist and composer”, is a superb arranger. His publications, suitable for intermediate to more advanced players, include collections of music from rock, pop, gospel, folk and jazz favourites, as well as several volumes dedicated to the music of stage, screen, worship service and Disney hits.

Those I’ve seen are uniformly excellent, combining musical authenticity with pianistic intelligence, and are rapidly becoming an indispensable resource within my teaching studio.

For his latest addition to the series, Piano Calm, Keveren has turned his hand to composing 15 original pieces, suitable for intermediate players, which he describes as ‘reflective solos. And I think they are excellent.

So let’s take a look…

Continue reading Phillip Keveren’s ‘Piano Calm’

Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos

Sheet Music Review

Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos from Hal Leonard offers a collection of 30 seasonal pieces arranged for solo piano.

Stick with me to find out what’s included…

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Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair

Sheet Music Review

Phillip Keveren has established a formidable reputation as an outstanding arranger with his Phillip Keveren Series, numbering nearly 100 titles published worldwide by Hal Leonard.

Ranging from Gospel music, hymns and worship songs to contemporary popular artists such as Coldplay, Queen and Billy Joel, and with plenty of music from films and stage thrown in, these beautifully presented “Piano Solo” collections offer arrangements suitable for the late intermediate player, while there’s also a selection of “Easy Piano” titles aimed at elementary players.

The Phillip Keveren Series already includes several Seasonal titles, such as A Celtic Christmas, Yuletide Jazz, and for “easy piano”, Santa Swings.

For 2019, Keveren brings us another seasonal newcomer to the series, Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair, so let’s see whether he has again struck gold…

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Hauschka: A Different Forest

Sheet Music Review

Known professionally as Hauschka, composer Volker Bertelmann has catapulted himself into the top tier of composers. Perhaps best known for his compositions for prepared piano, Haushka has also excelled as a film composer, receiving an Oscar nomination for his soundtrack to the 2016 film “Lion”.

Hauschka’s latest album A Different Forest, a solo piano recording (with some electronic elements and treatments), was released back in February on the Sony Classical label.

There is now also a supporting sheet music publication from Bosworth Edition, distributed by Hal Leonard, the subject of this review…

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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.”

You can read the full interview here.

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?

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Rockschool Piano 2019

Sheet Music Review

“From a small office in West London in 1991, RSL (Rockschool Ltd) had a dream to change the landscape of formal music education, and sought to become the first viable alternative to the traditional offerings available in Britain at the time.”

So says Rockschool founder Norton York. And from these small beginnings, Rockschool has grown into a major international examining board, offering grade exams, teaching and performing diploma qualifications, vocational qualifications and performing arts awards in 9 different disciplines, and in more than 40 countries.

Rockschool recently launched their new 2019 Piano syllabus, which you can download in full from their website here, as well as publishing nine music books, one for each of the usual 8 Grades as well as “Debut”, their pre-Grade 1 offering. The music books are brought to us by industry leading Hal Leonard publishing, ensuring worldwide availability.

Note that the syllabus document does not actually list the pieces. For that reason, I will list them below as I believe readers will be particularly interested in this information.

Looking at the books, I think there are two potential markets here:

  1. Firstly, some will be interested in following this syllabus for the core learning structure it provides those specifically wanting to play rock and pop piano styles.
  2. Secondly, I suspect many players will be interested in dipping into these resources alongside more traditional music and methods for the breadth and perspective they bring.

For this review, my main focus will be on the published resources. I will include a concise syllabus overview, but a more in-depth consideration of the pedagogic pathway it offers and its benchmarking against traditional alternatives is beyond the scope of this article.

To be clear, too, I have never entered a student for the Rockschool exams; the assessments are fully accredited, but pianists and colleagues I’ve chatted with have given mixed feedback.

And I should also preface the review by pointing out that the Rockschool exams should not be confused with Trinity College London’s Rock and Pop syllabus, which I have reviewed here.

So let’s take a closer look at the Rockschool 2019 Piano syllabus…

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