Piano Star Theory

Sheet Music Review

ABRSM’s Piano Star series of books for children have been warmly received since their introduction a couple of years ago, their pieces regularly appearing in student concerts, festivals, the Prep Test and Grade 1 exams.

Last year the original series of three progressive books of fresh new repertoire grew to include a book of “Five Finger Tunes at the entry level, and a “Piano Star Grade 1 book at the upper end (reviewed here).


And now there’s another addition: the Piano Star Theory primer is published this week. Let’s take a look…

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Breathing with Bach

Lesson Notes

Please note: “Eva” is not this student’s real name.
However, her story is told here with permission, and with my gratitude.

Eva learnt piano as a child, but took a break in early adulthood. A few years ago she returned to playing. Since coming to me for lessons she has completed the higher ABRSM grades and gained a DipABRSM performance diploma.

Eva continues coming for a 90 minute consultation lesson once a month. Her focus is on expanding her repertoire, and at present she is working on Bach’s Partita No.1 in B flat major.

In this lesson, we address the importance of the breath in alleviating shoulder tension, using three dance movements from the Partita as example repertoire.

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Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises

Sheet Music Review

Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises is a new addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy series published in the UK by Faber Music.

Subtitled, “Warm-ups, work-outs and scale routines to develop technique, the book is introduced by its global superstar author with this encouragement:

“Everything you play should be performed with love and musicality, so all of these exercises are designed to be satisfying exercise patterns that lead you smoothly through all the key centres. Enjoy your scale practice, and your piano playing will take off!”

Let’s explore the book …

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Slow Progress

The Fermata Series

”Often we find ourselves in trouble simply because we are going too fast, disregarding signs of trouble that we would have seen if only we had been going a little slower.
All too often we get caught up in the rush; our whole culture is based on it.  Get ahead!  Do it now!
Sometimes the right thing to do is not to do anything.”

Solala Towler, Cha Dao (Singing Dragon, 2010)

These comments (which are taken from a book about the preparation and consumption of tea) offer golden advice which can be applied to pretty much any aspect of our lives. No wonder so many of us feel completely worn out most of the time!

For our purposes, I want to touch on the value of taking our time in two areas:

•  firstly teaching and learning
•  and then our personal piano practice

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Bartók: For Children

Sheet Music Review

Bartók’s seminal collection For Children is, in my view, one of the few absolute essential classics of the piano pedagogy repertoire – a work which has in equal measure both charmed and challenged generations of young pianists, and seems as popular with my students today as ever.

Two new versions of this milestone have appeared in recent months: a single-volume complete edition from Boosey & Hawkes, and a brand new urtext edition from Henle Verlag in partnership with Editio Musica Budapest.

In this review I’m going to present each, with some concluding thoughts on their relative merits, and recommendations of which edition will suit whom.

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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?

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The Musician’s Tool Bag

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

In my previous post, which you can read here, I considered the importance of reflecting, both in teaching and learning. As such, it was a thoughtful and ‘serious’ article. However, that is not necessarily the best way to approach teaching reflection to our students. Nothing engages the student and gets the message across like a bit of creativity and fun.

This article, therefore, is focused on incorporating reflection as part of the lesson and practice process.

The trouble with reflection is that it often seems long-winded. All the amazing advice along the lines of think 10 times play once is actually very hard to carry out. Whereas, it is very easy to get locked into a cycle of thinking with your fingers – at least then it sounds like something is happening!

In teaching students to incorporate reflection, unconscious learning with the support of tools to interrupt the spell of trial and error practice is immensely productive and enjoyable.

The Musician’s tool bag, The Box and the Language of Reflection are all ways to unconsciously build in reflection time.

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The Intermediate Pianist

Sheet Music Review

The Intermediate Pianist series is a fresh and ground-breaking approach which is full of brilliant musical ideas. It’s sure to enable pianists to play with greater understanding and engagement, and comes very highly recommended.

Here’s the Pianodao review…

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Easy Concert Pieces: Book 3

Sheet Music Review

Reviewing the first two books in this series last year, I concluded:

No need to beat around the bush: I really like this series!

Put simply, the two books so far both include a really appealing range of pieces in varied styles, beautifully presented and well-edited, and with a well recorded CD as a bonus. The first book contains 50 pieces, the second 48, and each has a recommended retail price of just £11.99, which represents excellent value for what’s included.

I would certainly want to use these books alongside some more contemporary repertoire, but overall I think they are likely to become standard collections used in my own teaching practice in the coming months. And I can’t wait to see Volume 3 when it comes out!

Since writing that, both books have indeed become resources that I use in my own teaching practice, particularly with older beginner/elementary players, and the students using them have been uniformly enthusiastic.

And now Book 3 is with us, completing the series. So let’s take a look!

Continue reading Easy Concert Pieces: Book 3

How much musical baggage do you carry?

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

One of the things I love about teaching is hitting upon that perfect explanation, aural, visual or verbal, which offers immediate clarity. Sometimes the answer comes after much reflection and thought and sometimes it seems to hit, apparently, from nowhere.

This is what happened recently with an adult student. After a strong start to her piece she began scrambling, reacting to the notes on the score rather than working with control. I pointed out that to keep playing at her current speed would be to create musical baggage.

This was the first time I had used the term, but her comprehension was immediate simply because she already understood the common phrase, emotional baggage. The idea of musical baggage resonated with her and so has proven to be a simple but powerful aid to her practice.

Naturally, I developed the idea so it could benefit more than just one student.

Continue reading How much musical baggage do you carry?