PianoTrainer: Developing a Complete Curriculum

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 Download which outlines the curriculum underpinning it, giving an essential insight for all teachers and students working through the books.

Continue reading PianoTrainer: Developing a Complete Curriculum

How do we stop students quitting?

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

These days when I catch up with teaching colleagues, there is often a common theme:

“I need to recruit some new students as I’ve got X amount leaving (especially in the summer term).”

The numbers vary from just one to as many as twelve.

As most are self employed with bills to pay, adverts are out, websites are being updated, and they are doing their very best to fill those gaps – and fast!

We will always have some students leave as families move out of the area, or a student leaves for work or University. However increasingly (from anecdotal evidence) it appears that students are giving up in greater numbers. With lots of other activities going on, children heavily tested with demanding national examinations along with technology distractions, instrumental learning can suffer.

In my own teaching practice, I have tried to become much more conscious about any signs that perhaps I need to adapt a little in order to keep a student coming through the door…

Continue reading How do we stop students quitting?

Musical Christmas gifts from children

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

Like many other musicians (and having musical children) I walk into the next two weeks packed with rehearsals, performances and concerts.

It is so easy to become stressed, anxious and to not remember that Christmas is suppose to be about joy (as I mentioned in my last year’s Christmas blog post).  

Yet, I want to suggest that over these next two weeks we look out for the special musical gifts we can receive from children we teach over this festive period.  

Continue reading Musical Christmas gifts from children

June Armstrong’s “Alphabet”

Sheet Music Review by Karen Marshall

Many Pianodao readers will already be familiar with the wonderful, creative and pedagogically rich compositions by June Armstrong.

Andrew’s previous reviews on her work can be found here:

Having had much success on examination syllabuses including with Dusty Blue from Paint Box (set for LCM Grade 1 and ABRSM Grade 2), Unicorn from Stars (ABRSM Grade 3) and Sails from Stars (LCM Grade 4), June has just celebrated having sold over 5000 books to date.

Her latest book reviewed here, Alphabet, is her 16th publication.

This new collection is for Elementary Piano, and I would say in terms of the UK Grades it is Pre-Grade 1 to Grade 1. June herself suggests beginner to Pre-Grade 1, although I would clarify this after trying it with my own students by saying the book is best accessed at the end of a first Primer book.  

A level of reading and co-ordination is required to truly get the most out of this lovely collection. 

Continue reading June Armstrong’s “Alphabet”

Your FREE Christmas Downloads!

Great News!

Karen Marshall and David Blackwell have created some superb, FREE carol arrangements and Christmas lesson resources to accompany Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers, which publisher Collins Music has generously agreed to host here on Pianodao!

Some of these resources appeared here in 2018, when Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers was also published, while others are brand new for 2019…

Visit the Downloads Page here!

The Advanced Pianist

Sheet Music Review

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…

Continue reading The Advanced Pianist

“Piano Trainer” Free Downloads

FREE Resources to accompany:

  • The Foundation Pianist
  • The Intermediate Pianist
  • The Advanced Pianist

Especially designed to accompany the award winning books or just for general use, Faber Music with Karen Marshall have designed free digital resources for teachers to use in their piano teaching.

Continue reading “Piano Trainer” Free Downloads

“Me Time”: a work in progress

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

A work in progress! That’s how I would describe my work life balance. How’s yours?

Continue reading “Me Time”: a work in progress

What Makes a Good Lesson?

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

A Student Perspective

Have you ever asked your student what makes a good instrumental lesson?

A number of years ago I did just that in a secondary school. There was a whole class full of students of different ages, learning different instruments with a variety of teachers.

Their feedback was enlightening. Here are the main themes, the messages I believe are still valuable.

Whilst revising this, from a personal perspective, it was a useful reminder to ask and listen more to the needs of my students and to think more creatively – especially when teaching sight reading and scales.

So, what did they say …

Continue reading What Makes a Good Lesson?

Tidings of Joy and Goodwill

In a special Christmas message for Pianodao, Karen Marshall offers generous words of encouragement and advice for musicians, teachers and parents during this busy season…

Continue reading Tidings of Joy and Goodwill

Learn to Sight Read

Sheet Music Review by Karen Marshall

In my own selection of educational music, I must have over 20 Sight Reading Schemes. I see which is a best fit for my student and then get them to order a copy.

However, I still loan out many to help the student get a very varied experience. Just like reading, I think its important that students get a varied amount of material.

With quite a lot available out there, in order to impress me, a sight reading resource needs to be something special.

Well congratulations Sandy Holland and Peter Noke, I am impressed! Heres why………….

Continue reading Learn to Sight Read

Get Set! Advent Calendar

Guest Post by Karen Marshall & David Blackwell

We are thrilled to be able to offer this Practice Advent Calendar to Pianodao readers.

The idea of a Practice Advent Calendar went down really well with Karen’s students last Christmas. That little bit of extra reward and recognition can be very helpful to motivate music practice.

1The simple logo-like Christmas symbol illustrations (for each day in December up to the 24th) are line drawings for children to colour in.

We are excited to see finished advent calendars in the future so please do take pictures and show us them on social media. We’d love to see them!

We really hope it will inspire your students to do a little more practice this festive period but most of all, to have some fun!

pdf-logo   Practice Advent Calendar  [PDF Download]

Very best wishes, Karen Marshall and David Blackwell

3

All images and downloads included in this post are copyright Collins Music, shared with the kind permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

‘My Piano Friend’

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

One teacher’s answer to preventing ‘negative self talk’ within music learning…

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Mosaic Volumes 1 & 2

Sheet Music Review  by Guest Reviewer Karen Marshall

I was delighted last week to receive the above publications which I have been readily using with my students of all ages and grades.

Initial impressions after using Mosaic with my whole teaching practice are that these books are best placed with the teenage and adult market, but with material also for primary age children. Younger children in my practice loved compositions in the collection particularly by Ben Crosland and Sarah Konecsni.

This is a job well done, and I congratulate all the composers and Nikolas Sideris on the contents of these volumes.

Continue reading Mosaic Volumes 1 & 2

ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2019/20: The Big Reviews

Sheet Music Review

So here it is; ABRSM, the world’s leading instrumental examination board, today announces the 2019/20 syllabus, and as promised Pianodao can bring you the world’s first (and second!) in-depth review of the full package.

  • First comes my own review, focusing on the overall trends in this brand new syllabus, and assessing the overall product.
  • This is followed below by Karen Marshall’s in depth look at each grade in turn, commenting on the suitability and appeal of the selected pieces.

Karen and I have also jointly produced a FREE printable download in which we each list our Golden Selections of our favourite pieces from each of the eight grades.

You can print this off and use it alongside the syllabus as a resource to help with repertoire selection, and for your own interest. There’s also space for you to add your own Golden Selection in conjunction with the full syllabus, available now from the ABRSM website.

My much-read review of the 2017/18 syllabus suggested that it was a somewhat mixed affair, and teacher reactions have been similarly mixed. If there was some disappointment with the 2017/18 syllabus, this only heightens anticipation for its replacement.

So have ABRSM this time delivered the goods and struck a balance that teachers and students around the world will be more enthusiastic about? Let’s find out!..

Continue reading ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2019/20: The Big Reviews

Multi-Sensory Music Teaching

Guest post by Karen Marshall

Multi-sensory music teaching is just what it sounds like: using all the senses to teach and learn music. The main senses employed are visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (doing).

I would also add in reading and writing (text) as the literate nature of our world shows that many people find this useful, even those with dyslexia.

Multi-sensory music teaching can be seen in some of the most respected approaches to such work throughout the world including those of Dalcroze, Kodály, Suzuki and Orff. It can benefit all learners, including those with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia. In her key book Instrumental Music for Dyslexics: A Teaching Handbook (Whurr, 2002), Sheila Oglethorpe emphasizes this, encouraging people

“to employ as many of the child’s senses as possible in the hope that the stronger senses will compensate for the weaker ones”.

However, multi-sensory teaching shouldn’t be seen as a method to just use with students who have special needs – it has huge benefits for all…

Continue reading Multi-Sensory Music Teaching

Working Positively with Parents

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

Pushy Parent Syndrome

Is this something you are experiencing in your studio?

I recently attended a teacher meeting where a teacher was relaying her recent experiences with a very difficult parent of a young 6-year-old student. As I pondered the topic I realised that ‘pushy parent syndrome’, luckily, has not been something that I’ve recently encountered as regularly as in my young teaching years.

I felt it may be helpful to share some practices I’ve developed which have certainly made my teaching life far easier.

My approach is partly a conflict resolution one.  I would add its a “work in progress” – I would never claim to have all the answers and I’m still learning constantly after over 25 years of piano teaching!

I say conflict resolution because a relationship between a teacher and parent has potential for conflict, simply because the parent purchases the lessons and the child receives them. The relationship is a triangle – if anyone has ever had a dotted line with two managers you will know first-hand the problems that can cause.

  • The parent’s needs may be different to the child’s – conflict.
  • The parent’s expectations may be different to the abilities of the child – conflict.

Before you know it, you are jam-sandwiched between the child and the parent. So, what are the practical things I try to employ to make things easier and – most importantly – best for the student whilst maintaining good professional practices?

Continue reading Working Positively with Parents

LCM Syllabus 2018: The Big Review

Sheet Music Review  by Karen Marshall

November has seen the London College of Music present their new piano syllabus.

Due to staff changes the last time the syllabus was changed was back in 2013. So I was very excited to see what LCM were offering – especially as many of my colleagues Andrew Eales, David Barton, Francis Wilson and Melanie Spanswick have consulted on the main albums.

As a teacher who actively uses LCM, along with Trinity and ABRSM, Andrew asked me to write the review (to maintain impartiality).

As my first full syllabus review on Pianodao, I have worked really hard to get a broad collection of voices – many thanks to my piano teaching colleagues who have helped me shape this review.

I must say that the overall impression is that this is a job very well done by LCM, and a big step up from previously piano syllabi in terms of pedagogical content, variety of repertoire, quality of editing and presentation of the publications. Huge congratulations to William Alexander, David Duncan and the rest of the team at LCM for this achievement.

Now here’s my review, and in true Pianodao style, it is equally as detailed as Andrew’s! I really hope it proves helpful to teachers and pupils.

Continue reading LCM Syllabus 2018: The Big Review

Benny Andersson Piano Album

Sheet Music Review by Karen Marshall

Benny Andersson Piano
Music from ABBA, Chess and more –
21 transcriptions for solo piano.
A MUST this Christmas.

When the store manager of Banks, Music Room York, introduced me to the new Benny Andersson Piano book I knew I had to buy a copy. I really haven’t been disappointed – not only has it been wonderful to play, it has brought back so many memories.

I am just 7 years old stood in the living room, wobbling in my Mum’s high heels, wearing a favourite long frilly skirt and hair brush gripped in hand. And yes, I’m singing! I’m singing my little heart our pretending I am Anni-Frid in Thank You For The Music.

And it appears that Benny himself has been down memory lane recording the Album, from which this music was transcribed by Göran Arnberg. In his own words ………

“In the process of recording this album, which has been tremendous fun, I have come to realise that the pieces I have chosen to play are an integral part of me. In endeavouring to reach for some core within them, I have found that the more I strip away the clothing, i.e. treatments and arrangements from the ‘original versions’, the closer I feel to the music, regardless of whether it was created last year or 40 years ago. In a strange way, I feel like I’m playing my memoirs.”    Benny Andersson

Continue reading Benny Andersson Piano Album

A Dozen A Day: All Year Round

Sheet Music Review  by Karen Marshall

As piano teachers or pianists, I am sure that you – like I – have ventured “with much love” through the pages of Edna-Mae Burnam’s A Dozen A Day.

These books continue to be standard issue in my own teaching, and indeed my students even ask for the next in the series (without prompting).

When I saw that A Dozen A Day All Year Round was available – published by The Willis Music Company and distributed by Music Sales, retailing with a UK price of £19.99 – I was keen to review it.

I haven’t been disappointed…

Continue reading A Dozen A Day: All Year Round

Making Music Accessible

… especially to those with dyslexia and other learning difficulties

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

I have been teaching students with specific learning difficulties (especially dyslexia) for twenty years now.  It’s been a real journey which has been packed with lots of learning, creativity, patience, joy, challenge but most of all reward.

Reward in being able to share in music making with students who can find music learning has challenges.

It is important to remember that no two students are the same – and especially no two dyslexic or students with special needs. The solutions may need adapting for individual students, or strategies specially selected for them. And also remember that some students with learning difficulties don’t have any problems with music learning at all. One size does not fit all!

The topic is vast. In this post I identify four of the main Guiding Principles for working with students with special needs.

These principles work well across all my teaching – good teaching is, I believe, good teaching! And I am sure many teachers reading this post will do much of what I describe anyway.

Continue reading Making Music Accessible

A Weekly Smiling Face

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

A few weeks ago when I arrived at school I was given an envelope from the secretary.

One of my pupils (she’s only 5 years) had given her the letter to save and give to me on my next arrival. The envelope was beautifully decorated with some of my catch phrases written all over it.  I was a little stunned but very touched. And then I opened the envelope.

Not one letter but three, each about how much she loves the piano, is excited about coming to lessons, and is always greeted with a big smile!

Gratefulness spilled from the pages, I was truly humbled by the generosity of this little girl, but also very aware of the power of my words (repeated by her in the notes), which had all been absorbed and responded to.

Continue reading A Weekly Smiling Face

Trinity Syllabus 2018-20: The Big Review

The publication of a new Piano Exam Syllabus is always (rightly or wrongly) a major event in the piano teacher’s calendar, a “big reveal” in which we learn the repertoire around which our musical curriculum might to some extent orbit for the next few years.

Judging by the response to my review of the current ABRSM Piano Syllabus, I am sure that readers will be keen to know my thoughts on the latest syllabus from their largest UK competitor, Trinity College London, published this month.

I must start with a disclaimer: as a teacher I rarely enter students for exams other than ABRSM. With that in mind, I am delighted that Karen Marshall has again agreed to offer her “Second Opinion” later in the review.

As in my recent review of Anthony Williams’ Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide, Karen’s contribution will take the form of an interview following on from my own comments. She will offer the perspective of a well-regarded teacher who has used the Trinity Syllabus with her students over many years.

But first, my thoughts, essentially coming to this syllabus fresh…

Continue reading Trinity Syllabus 2018-20: The Big Review

The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide

Building a Library

A brilliant new publication, The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide instantly establishes itself as the very best practical manual available for today’s piano teachers…

Book Review by Andrew Eales, with a Second Opinion by Karen Marshall.

Continue reading The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide

No One Method…

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

People may assume as an author of a method book I always use it. This simply is not the case. The right material is always my first consideration. And at times another tutor may be more suitable.

Perhaps for a very young beginner needing a slower progression or a teenager/adult needing something faster. Students have many different needs. I’m currently using alternative tutors with two beginners for those very reasons…

Continue reading No One Method…

Christine Brown Remembered

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

In memory of Christine Brown –  Died in September, 2009

christine-brownMy first meeting of Christine Brown was in my early teens.  I was playing at a concert for EPTA students in Ilkely.  And she at that time, I believe, organised the events.  I remember her smiling face and also rather big round glasses, with a large number of other teachers surrounding her.

It would be many years later that I had a lesson with Christine.  At 15 years I started having piano lessons with Christine’s best friend, Enid Oughtibridge, who would regularly mention Christine in our lessons – so there was still a link even then.

Continue reading Christine Brown Remembered

How to teach scales effectively

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

As a young pianist I really struggled with scales.  In fact, I only passed the scale element in my music exams in Grade 1 and 8 and it wasn’t until doing my associated diploma (over 400 scales) that I fully mastered some patterns!

Because of my own struggles, I have spent a huge amount of time developing a wide range of activities for teaching scales.  My own students don’t struggle like I did.

It appears my weakness in learning scales has helped me develop some helpful techniques to teach them.  I share them here to provide some new ideas as we all embark on the new academic year trying to help our students master those repetitive patterns!

Continue reading How to teach scales effectively

Motivation: one size doesn’t fit all

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

What is motivation and how does it relate to music teaching?

Motivation is all to do with thoughts and tasks becoming actions.

There are 10,050 minutes between one 30 minute weekly music lesson and the next – or 10,020 minutes for a weekly hour music lesson.

Here are some ideas to hopefully motivate students to use the time in between lessons musically!

Continue reading Motivation: one size doesn’t fit all

A Practical Guide to Teaching Sight-Reading

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

My Lessons from Christine Brown on how to teach sight-reading

Continue reading A Practical Guide to Teaching Sight-Reading

The “People Person” Piano Teacher

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

In memory of Enid Oughtibridge, 1993

A number of years ago I wrote an article for Music Teacher Magazine after interviewing a large number of children on a theme of ‘what makes a good music lesson or music teacher’. It became pretty clear that the teacher’s personality was just as important (if not more important) than their subject knowledge.

Time and time again students would talk about the importance of the teacher making them feel ‘liked’, showing interest in them and simply ‘smiling’ on their arrival in lessons.

In this blog I want to share with you my experience with one of my teachers, who I feel was a powerful influence in my teaching career and the ultimate in being a ‘people person piano teacher’.

Continue reading The “People Person” Piano Teacher