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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Nikki Iles & Friends: Easy to Intermediate

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Reviewing the first two volumes in the ABRSM series Nikki Iles and Friends when they appeared in April 2021, I concluded:

“I have no hesitation in declaring this series an “epic win” for ABRSM. Don’t hesitate in getting copies!”

Suitable for intermediate to advanced players (UK Grades 4-8), the books have proven popular with players in my studio here in Milton Keynes and elsewhere. You can read my full review here.

Somewhat sneaking under the radar, a third book has now been added to the series. Nikki Iles & Friends: Easy to Intermediate will, I am certain, have huge appeal to players who are less advanced.


The sensibly age-neutral cover matches the designs of the previous two books, but beyond that there are some points of departure worth noting, so let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Nikki Iles & Friends: Easy to Intermediate

Pianodao Music Library: Top Highlights of 2021

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By my tally, I have reviewed 152 sheet music and educational publications on Pianodao in 2021, including all those appearing individually or in sets. No wonder it’s time to sort out my music cupboard again!

But which were my absolute favourites? And which will I continue using in 2022 and beyond?

Here, without further ado, are my top three choices from each category within the ever-growing Pianodao Music Library.

To read my in-depth evaluations of each publication selected, simply click on the titles to open the full reviews.

Continue reading Pianodao Music Library: Top Highlights of 2021

The Christmas 2021 Shortlist: Advanced Piano Music

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The Christmas season is accompanied by a uniquely popular and significant body of music spanning multiple genres, and it’s no wonder that there are so many varied piano collections to choose from, whatever your level.

Once again this year, here is the updated and expanded Pianodao shortlist of the best seasonal piano sheet music, including a couple of new releases alongside several established hits.

The 2021 Pianodao shortlist concludes with collections suitable for more ADVANCED players (UK Grade 6 and above).

You can find the Pianodao 2021 Christmas Shortlists for other levels here:


And as ever, remember that Pianodao Tea Room members will receive a 20% discount from Musicroom for any of the publications included below…

Continue reading The Christmas 2021 Shortlist: Advanced Piano Music

The Piano Teachers’ Course

ANDREW EALES in conversation with LUCINDA MACKWORTH-YOUNG and MASAYUKI TAYAMA of the PIANO TEACHERS’ COURSE UK


Currently in its 13th year, the Piano Teachers’ Course UK (PTC) is the longest-running course of its kind in this country, specifically designed for pianists and piano teachers who wish to enhance their professional teaching skills, come together for inspiration and become part of a motivated, supportive musical network.

Having previously visited several residential course weekends as an observer and guest tutor, I have been hugely impressed with the professionalism with which the one-year programme is run, and by the expertise and dedication that the PTC personnel offer.

I have also seen that the PTC shares very similar values to those that I espouse here on Pianodao. Those who have studied with me, who come to me for mentoring, or who simply enjoy reading my articles here will most likely feel very at home on the PTC course.

As the course continues to diversify its offer to include online access and an international reach, this seems a good time to catch up with the course’s founder and International Director, Lucinda Mackworth-Young, and UK Course Director Masayuki Tayama for a cup of tea and a chat on Zoom.

Continue reading The Piano Teachers’ Course

Nikki Iles and Friends

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Nikki Iles will be known to many readers for her Jazz on a Winter’s Night book and subsequent series for OUP, and her recent Tales for Alice and Tales for Peter Pan collections for EVC Music, all of which I have been hugely impressed by.

Over the years, Iles has also contributed to the ABRSM Jazz Piano Syllabus and composed several memorable pieces for the board’s standard piano grades, which are always popular choices. And now she’s back with two new books of jazz pieces for ABRSM, between them bringing 29 new piano solos to the intermediate and advanced repertoire, composed and arranged by Iles and a stellar array of luminaries of the contemporary jazz world.

With the drawing power of Iles and friends, and the marketing clout of ABRSM, these two books are sure to fly off the shelves, so let’s take a closer look while we can!

Continue reading Nikki Iles and Friends

Piano Tales for Peter Pan

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In the few years that I have been reviewing music publications on Pianodao, there have been a few standout releases which have gone on to become real favourites with my own students.

An obvious winner in this sense is the brilliant Piano Tales for Alice, composed by Nikki Iles and published by EVC Music, which I reviewed here in 2018.

Hot off the press, the much anticipated sequel Piano Tales for Peter Pan is out now, and for those who have been keen for its arrival I have good news:

Nikki Iles has done it again! Piano Tales for Peter Pan delivers another equally delicious mix of wit, imagination, and jazz-tinged brilliance. So let’s take a look…

Continue reading Piano Tales for Peter Pan

Jazz on a Winter’s Night

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Jazz music and Christmas have a beautifully nostalgic association for many, and it’s no surprise that jazz pianist Nikki Iles’ Jazz on a Winter’s Night has been such a huge success since its 2009 publication.

Jazz on a Winter’s Night proved to be a milestone publication that spawned three outstanding sequels in Jazz in Springtime, Jazz on a Summer’s Day and Jazz in Autumn, each including a selection of seasonally themed jazz standards and originals composed by Nikki herself.

I was thrilled to recently notice that Oxford University Press have now brought out a second collection of Christmas classics arranged by Nikki in a range of jazz styles that once again pay homage to legendary jazz musicians.

In this review I will recap what makes the original book such a classic must-have for every advanced pianist before taking a closer look at its excellent new sequel…

Continue reading Jazz on a Winter’s Night

A Tea Party for Alice

A few months ago I had the pleasure of writing a world-exclusive first review of Nikki Iles’ latest piano collection, Piano Tales for Alice, published by Elena Cobb’s EVC Music.

At the time of the review, I concluded:

“All in all, Piano Tales for Alice is an absolute delight – perhaps EVC Music’s most exciting publication and essential purchase to date. Hats off to publisher Elena Cobb, composer Nikki Iles, and all involved in bringing this exceptional publication to market.”

I receive dozens of publications for review each term, and cannot possibly cover them all in the detail I would like to, still less actually use all this music with my own students (even though I have more than 60, of all ages and abilities).

In the case of this outstanding collection, however, such was my enthusiasm that I have since used it with two of my own students, Imogen (aged 11) and Bella (12), both of whom had recently completed ABRSM Grade 1.

Both girls chose Piano Tales for Alice from a small selection of books I showed them, and both have absolutely fallen in love with Nikki’s pieces. Quite simply, it has been a joy to behold the extent to which they have each been inspired by this collection, their imaginations alight to an extent that they have risen quickly to the fresh musical challenges in each piece.

What a privilege, then, to have been invited to a very special launch event celebrating this publication, hosted by publisher Elena Cobb at Fortnum & Mason in London’s Piccadilly…

Continue reading A Tea Party for Alice

Piano Tales for Alice

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The rise and rise of EVC Music Publications as an exciting and innovative music publisher can’t have escaped the notice of any player or teacher active on social media, and like many I have watched their emergence over the last three years or so with growing interest.

I have previously praised a number of EVC Music’s publications. The Jevdet Hajiyev: Piano Collection 1 was particularly enterprising, and I am enthusiastic for Andrew Higgins’ excellent Birds: Études-Tableaux and the recent reissue of Graham Lynch’s wonderful Sound Sketches series. And I was delighted to report that the EVC Music Star Prize Event at the Royal Albert Hall last month was such a resounding success!

With the publication of Piano Tales for Alice – a brand new collection of easy pieces by acclaimed jazz performer and composer Nikki Iles – it seems to me that EVC Music has unequivocally arrived as a mature and significant force in music publishing.

Building on their activities thus far, with this publication EVC Music has hit the jackpot, bringing to market a genuine classic…

Continue reading Piano Tales for Alice