ABRSM: Pop Performer!

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There has long been speculation that at some point ABRSM would launch a pop piano syllabus, but they have perhaps sensibly resisted any call to do so.

The wide disparity and significant difference in approach taken by Rockschool Piano and Trinity Rock and Pop Keyboards illustrates the difficulty in creating a syllabus that is both helpful and true to the skills required by keyboard players in the contemporary commercial sphere.

Some forget, too, that the four Royal Schools of Music affiliated to ABRSM don’t offer specialist courses in this field. And then there’s the issue of copyright clearances: ABRSM simply don’t have access to the latest chart material without permission and significant cost.

Happily, ABRSM have now addressed this last hurdle by teaming up with Hal Leonard, the world’s largest sheet music publishers, who represent the rights to an unparalleled catalogue of commercial hits. It is certainly to the board’s credit that they can both recognise their own core strengths and collaborate with so prestigious a partner.

Enter Pop Performer!, two books of solo piano arrangements of contemporary pop standards and chart hits carefully graded for players from Initial to Grade 5 level. These striking publications look like the work of ABRSM, with songs arranged by examiners and looking little different to the pieces in their official exam repertoire books. But with Hal Leonard’s stamp equally evident in the songs, not to mention the inclusion of their online audio Playback+ software, it’s clear that this is an equal and exciting partnership.

Pop Performer! is neither a new syllabus, nor a hint that one is on its way. On the contrary, these are arrangements that can be played for enjoyment by those taking ABRSM’s traditional grades, and the board makes much of the important point that they can be used as ideal fourth pieces for their recorded Performance Grades.

In other words, what we have here is the option to include commercial popular hits, carefully curated, arranged and benchmarked, alongside and within ABRSM’s existing exam offer.

I’ll state upfront that I think this is a brilliant concept, am impressed with the books, and anticipate that they will be the most essential “must-have” purchase for piano teachers and students in this new academic year. So let’s take a much closer look…

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Jazz Piano Solos: Classical Jazz

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In the last year I have reviewed a couple of titles from Hal Leonard’s popular Jazz Piano Solos series, featuring arrangements suitable for advanced players from the pen of the indefatigable Brent Edstrom:

Proving you can’t keep a good arranger down, the unstoppable Edstrom is back with Jazz Piano Solos Vol. 63, and this time he brings a classical spin to the party…

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‘Graded Gillock’: Three New Collections

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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 now 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.

Continue reading ‘Graded Gillock’: Three New Collections

South African Folk Songs Collection

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Last October, I welcomed Artina McCain’s African American Folk Songs Collection, reviewed here, and took as sideways look at several other titles from Hal Leonard’s uniformly excellent series of elementary to intermediate piano solo arrangements of music from around the world.

Now I am delighted to introduce the latest title to this superb series. The South African Folk Songs Collection contains 24 traditional folk songs arranged by James Wilding and Nkululeko Zungu, and is now available.


Here’s the Pianodao review…

Continue reading South African Folk Songs Collection

Hal Leonard’s ‘Classical Piano Sheet Music Series’

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I love it when a music book exceeds my initial expectations, and the three books in Hal Leonard’s new Classical Piano Sheet Music Series score a hat trick on that front.

Between them, these three handsomely presented and well-edited books deliver a very decent survey of Western Classical piano music from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic Eras, and I can warmly recommend them to intermediate pianists and their teachers.

In the review that follows I will include an easy-to-read piece listing for all the pieces in each of the three books, individual purchase links, having first given a general overview of the series…

Continue reading Hal Leonard’s ‘Classical Piano Sheet Music Series’

Naoko Ikeda: Aya

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The Willis Music Company have long been a leading name in the publishing of educational and accessible piano pieces, best known for the Dozen A Day series, the John Thompson Piano Method, and their extensive catalogue of great music by William Gillock.

I recently reviewed their Accent on William Gillock compendium and Jason Sifford’s Keybop series, and in this review I turn to another of their leading names, the Japanese composer Naoko Ikeda, whose music has met with considerable popularity in the States already, and is now gaining long-overdue attention here in the UK.

Ikeda’s extensive back catalogue includes many individually published pieces as well as several collections, a couple of which I picked up last year. I will be looking at her back catalogue in a future article, but for now I am turning to the recently published Aya, “10 Introspective Pieces for Piano Solo”.

The book is suitable for intermediate players (I would suggest around UK Grade 4-5 level), and is a superbly rewarding discovery…

Continue reading Naoko Ikeda: Aya

Alexis Ffrench: ‘Truth’

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Alexis Ffrench’s star has continued to rise since my review of Hal Leonard’s Alexis Ffrench: The Sheet Music Collection a couple of years ago.

Last year Ffrench became Composer in Residence with Scala Radio; readers will be still more interested in the recent announcement of his appointment as the new Artistic Director of ABRSM, the music examination board, a role of which he has enthusiastically said,

“I can’t wait to start working with ABRSM’s Chief Executive, Chris Cobb, and his wonderful team in service of teachers and learners all over the world!”

On the creative front, Ffrench recently released his latest album on Sony. Truth introduces thirteen brand new tracks, including collaborations with singer Leona Lewis, guitarist Jin Oki, and with the lush backing of a 70-piece orchestra.

According to the artist,

“In writing these pieces, as we were all locked down, I imagined what the world would look like if we all asked ourselves the question “who am I and what is my purpose in the world?” and what we, as a human race, could create and change together. Out of that intensely personal moment, and as a reaction to feelings I could barely fathom at the time, these songs were born – as an elegy to the audacity of hope.”


Hal Leonard have just published the official sheet music folio of all the tracks from the album in solo piano transcriptions, the subject of this review…

Continue reading Alexis Ffrench: ‘Truth’

The Mosaic Series

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Mosaic is a series currently comprising four music books, each showcasing fresh and varied repertoire newly commissioned and composed by piano educators from around the world.

The pieces are loosely graded, arranged in order of difficulty, compiled as books suitable for elementary, intermediate and advanced players, and published by Editions Musica Ferrum. A fifth book (reaching towards Grade 8 level) is currently planned.

I am honoured to be one of the composers featured in all four books, alongside such well-established names as Barbara Arens, Ben Crosland, June Armstrong and others.

The collections are a natural addition to the Pianodao Music Library, and while I obviously cannot ‘review’ them in quite the usual way, this article will introduce the series with an overview of the concept, several recordings, and hopefully sufficient information for readers to decide whether to take a closer look.

Continue reading The Mosaic Series

Phillip Keveren’s Three-Minute Encores

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“As the last note hangs in the air, there is a magical moment when an audience will, once in a while, decide they want to hear more! Not a lot more, mind you. The clock is ticking and the babysitter can only stay until 10 pm. But, can we make this evening last just a little longer?”

So enthuses ace arranger Phillip Keveren in the preface to his latest collection from Hal Leonard, the cunningly conceived Three-Minute Encores.

Keveren will be known to regular Pianodao readers from my reviews of his superb Piano Calm (reviewed here) and Circles (reviewed here), both of which have become absolute studio essentials here, favourites with multiple students, and are among the most-used collections I have ever reviewed.

One of America’s leading arrangers, Keveren has also delivered literally dozens of other books for Hal Leonard, collectively The Phillip Keveren Series, to which this new issue belongs. And it’s another corker, so let’s investigate…

Continue reading Phillip Keveren’s Three-Minute Encores

Ludovico Einaudi: Cinema

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Ludovico Einaudi’s music continues to divide opinion, often derided by those whose preferred music is less accessible, while fêted by fans and adored by enthusiastic pianists, students and audiences around the world. And along the way, his music has perhaps nowhere found a wider (or more lucrative) embrace that in the movie theatre…

Cinema appeared as a CD album about a year ago, and features 28 of Einaudi’s memorable works from film and television, including tracks from the Oscar-winning ‘Nomadland’ and ‘The Father’. The sheet music folio from publishers Chester Music is now with us, the subject of this review, in which I will also consider a separate publication of the music from the Nomadland soundtrack…

Continue reading Ludovico Einaudi: Cinema