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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