One Saturday morning in March 2018, I learnt that my good friend the composer, author and educator Paul Harris had been rushed to our local hospital emergency department overnight…
Paul had for several months been battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a virulent cancer that had already seemed to take so much from him.
He was receiving excellent treatment at The Churchill Hospital in Oxford, but having taken a turn for the worse the previous night, Paul had been instructed to come straight to Milton Keynes, his nearest A&E.
Paul Harris’s series of A Piece a Week books have been appearing at regular intervals over the last three years. As Faber Music now bring us the Grade 5 book, it seems appropriate to consolidate my thoughts into a single review.
I’ll start with a reminder that the books appear within the best-selling ‘Improve Your Sight Reading’ series. That said, these are not sight-reading practice books per se. While useful in the practice of sight-reading as a discrete skill, the books aim to assist in the broader development of music literacy.
In the review which follows, I will first explain the concept behind A Piece a Week, before then commenting on the actual material included in the books, including a few observations about their effectiveness based on my extensive use of them within my own studio.
Can it really be a year since I last reported from the annual ABRSM Teacher Conference? Apparently so! But once again this year I was delighted to be invited along to report from the event, share ABRSM’s latest news, and generally reflect on the day.
This year I had the added pleasure of a sit-down interview with ABRSM Chief ExecutiveMichael Elliott on the day, and I’m grateful to him for graciously giving up time to answer my questions. Thanks too to Penny Milsom and Kerry Sheehan for their support.
I’ve said in previous years, but it bears repeating: ABRSM really know how to put on a fantastic training day for instrumental teachers, building on their experience as world leaders in the music education sector, and with their fine pedigree of in-house and associated presenters.
A pleasure, too, to be back at London’s Grange Tower Bridge Hotel, once again proving to be a superb venue to host an event on this scale. As usual, the food was splendid, and every need of both hosts and delegates was anticipated and smoothly met. As for ABRSM themselves, the event was as flawless as in previous years, even though there was a noticeably and considerably larger audience this year (the conference sold out well in advance).
The rear cover of the glossy conference programme included the following important reminder of just how extraordinary ABRSM’s global reach is, summed up in these staggering statistics:
Over 40 million exams since 1889 600,000 exams a year More than700 examiners 1,200 books published 1,000 different assessments for 43 instruments Exams in over 90 countries
I feel ABRSM are quite right to celebrate these achievements, because they don’t simply underline their success as the world’s largest examination board, but equally our success as musicians and teachers.
Not that we can rest on our laurels however; there is always more to learn, to do, and to achieve. As Michael Elliott explains in his introduction to this year’s conference:
“As music teachers, you have a vital role to play in passing on and nurturing a knowledge and love of this wonderful thing we call music. It’s a role that’s very much about giving and sharing. But it’s also about reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, discovering and implementing new ideas, and finding new sources of inspiration. Today we offer you a chance to do just those things in a conference packed with insights and top tips from a range of expert music educators.”
So without further ado, here’s the Pianodao report from the day…
“For many, scales and arpeggios are an academic, dry and soulless part of learning the piano, and have to be practised because, like cod liver oil, they are ‘good for you’.”
Anthony Williams, The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide (Faber, 2017, p.31)
Why bother with scales? (by which, for the purposes of this article, I also mean arpeggios and broken chords) …
In order to properly answer this question, this article will consider these related questions, of vital importance to students and teachers concerned to know about the purpose and value of teaching and learning scales:
What are the benefit of learning scales?
Is it important to use consistent fingering?
What are the benefits of cumulative learning vs. exam preparation?
How can scales practice and creativity go hand-in-hand?
Let’s get started by considering the core benefits of learning scales…
Paul Harris is one of the world’s most respected music educationalists. His compositions have delighted players and audiences around the world, and he has over 500 publications to his name. Paul is in great demand as a workshop and seminar leader in the UK, USA and the Far East.
Here he shares the story of how he discovered the piano as a child …
“When pupils can sight-read, not only do they do well in exams but (rather more importantly) it allows them to learn pieces more quickly, which frees up much of our teaching time, allowing us to concentrate on developing the musician. Ultimately, it gives them independence: they are able to learn music on their own – the greatest gift we can give.”
So says best-selling author Paul Harris in the introduction to Improve your sight-reading: Teacher’s Book – latest addition to his ever growing Improve Your Sight-Reading series, just published by Faber Music.
Written to work alongside the well-known, long-published Improve your sight-reading ‘pupil’ books, the Teacher’s Book mirrors the introduction of keys and concepts in those, as well as offering useful tips for teachers.
Most important of all, the Teacher’s Book includes dozens of new progressive practice tests for each of Grades 1-5, which can be used in lessons to complement the use of the pupil books for home practice.
As such, the book offers the potential to elevate what was already a great resource into a more complete sight-reading system which bridges both lesson and home use.