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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  • Andrew offers playing advice online through his Video Feedback Service.
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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…

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Nikki Iles and Friends

  • Products featured on Pianodao are selected for review by Andrew Eales.
  • Andrew offers playing advice online through his Video Feedback Service.
  • When you purchase using the site’s retail links, Pianodao may earn a small commission, but this does not affect the price you pay.

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!

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