Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets

Sheet Music Review

In a recent review I praised Gayle Kowlachyk and E.L. Lancaster’s Piano Studies for Technical Development books, and I’m pleased to say that the duo are back with another set of interesting and highly useful books, Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets.

This new series collects 59 original compositions, mostly from the pedagogy literature of the mid-late Romantic Era, in three progressive books. As such, it offers an invaluable source-book for teachers everywhere.

Let’s take a closer look…

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Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Sheet Music Review

The name Melody Bober may be a new one to many readers here in the UK, but in North America she is well known for her popular Grand Solos and Grand Duets for piano series, among others, published by Alfred Music.

And based on her latest series of collections, Solo Xreme, perhaps it’s time for her to gain wider recognition here too!

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Emil Hradecký: Two-Part Piano Miniatures

The Czech composer and teacher Emil Hradecký (b. 1953) has devoted much of his creative output to children and the piano. His pieces are frequently inspired by dance music and jazz, and are distinguished by their fresh melodies and distinctive rhythms.

Several of his collections are published here in the UK by Bärenreiter, including his Little Jazz Album for PianoJazz Etudes for Young Pianists and the duet collection Jazzy Pieces for 20 Fingers.

His latest collection is called Two-Part Piano Miniatures on One Page…

Continue reading Emil Hradecký: Two-Part Piano Miniatures

Developing Fluency

The Fermata Series

“I begin every lesson by having the pupil play the whole movement through without any interruption (no going back if you make mistake, as in practising). So we start with the experience of performance – and then turn to the details.”

Fanny Waterman
International Piano, Sept/Oct 2010

I vividly recall how, as a student at the Royal College of Music, my harpsichord teacher would ask me to play a piece, only appearing to listen to the first few bars. Indeed, he often seemed quite distracted, checking the room humidity, rifling through the paperwork on his desk, pacing up and down, and generally appearing to have other things on his mind.

Once I reached the end of the piece, however, he would invariably have the most perceptive comments to make about my performance – before turning back to the first page and looking at the piece in more detail.

My own approach as a teacher is not dissimilar (including my tendency to fidget!). I’ve always felt that if a student has practised a piece, I rather owe it to them to listen to what they’ve achieved and develop an overview of their progress before interrupting and interjecting with comments, criticisms, and suggestions for improvement.

I am perhaps unusual in this though – most often when I have observed other teachers they have seemed ill-at-ease simply enjoying their student’s playing.

I once heard OFSTED’s Chief HMI for Music (at the time) say that one of the biggest problems observed by inspectors visiting music lessons in schools was that pupils rarely played a piece in its entirety, so neither working on structural awareness and pacing of the composition in their lessons, nor fluency in performing.

It is too easy to get so bogged down in the detail that we fail to observe the big picture, and no longer see the wood through the trees. And I’m sure there are still more clichés to describe this common problem!

Whether practising or teaching, let’s be more careful to develop fluency – without sacrificing accuracy in the process.

In doing so we are more likely also to develop fluency in our appreciation of great art – and that’s a tremendous goal!

How often when you are practising do you play pieces all the way through, simply observing the music without criticism? Teachers – do you make it your habit to listen to pieces in full before commenting? Please share your thoughts with a comment below!

Fermata Series

Your Story: Christopher Norton

Your Stories

New Zealand-born, now Canadian-based composer and pianist Christopher Norton is known the world over for his best-selling educational music, including the MicrojazzConnections and Preludes series.

Here he reveals how he discovered music in his youth …

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The Summer Holidays are coming!

Many of my students and teacher colleagues will no doubt be breathing tired sighs of relief at the prospect that they will soon be “on holiday” … a time not just for sandy beaches, but for taking a break from the routines and responsibilities that can crowd our lives throughout most of the year.

Even those of us who continue teaching in some capacity throughout July and August will no doubt enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere and warm evenings over the coming weeks, and hopefully be able to catch ourselves at least some time away from the job!

But I noticed early in my teaching career that, come September, my returning students had often all but forgotten how to play the piano! So that’s a concern…

The relaxation of August can give way to a rather depressing start to the Autumn Term. Is there any way that as teachers (and parents) we can address this common problem?

One common approach is for teachers to set students a summer challenge of one sort or another – and for those students who haven’t yet developed an Active Repertoire this might be the ideal moment to introduce the idea…

Continue reading The Summer Holidays are coming!

The Three Treasures of Musical Learning

Pathways for Teaching

We all have a “teaching philosophy”, whether we realise it or not.

Mine strongly advocates holistic, personalised, life-centred education. My model of The Three Treasures of Musical Learning is a key component to complement these values.

Paying attention to all Three Treasures – and at all stages of learning, from the youngest beginner to the most advanced professional – leads to deeper learning, fuelling progress and fostering a lifelong love relationship with music.

In this article I will explain what the Three Treasures are, and offer some tips on how focusing on them can help us develop as effective teachers.

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Piano Junior 4 – The Finale

Sheet Music Review

When I reviewed Hans-Günter Heumann’s Piano Junior series on the launch of the first two levels in January 2017, I was full of praise, concluding:

“My own view is that Piano Junior has in many respects raised the bar, in some ways perhaps even setting a new standard by which piano courses for children will be judged.”

With the launch of the Level 3 books later that year, I wrote in my October 2017 review:

“… all I can hope for now is that the Level 4 publications, due next year, will provide the icing on an already tasty cake!”

Well, Piano Junior 4 is now with us! And so, with interest suitably piqued, let’s have a taste and see whether it is as sweet as hoped …

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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…

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Your Story: Swan Kiezebrink

Your Stories

Swan Kiezebrink is a Suzuki and traditional piano, voice and theory teacher in BC, Canada. Here she shares her piano story …

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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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Your Story: Shane Mickelsen

Your Stories

Hi, I’m Shane Mickelsen! I find joy in composing, conducting, and teaching. Here’s my story…

Continue reading Your Story: Shane Mickelsen

Child’s Play: Why do parents send children to music lessons?

Guest Author: Simon Reich

There we sat in the dark. My Mum and I had been looking at the local Church hall for half an hour now and nobody had arrived, the building still in darkness.

I could tell my mum was getting more and more upset as the minutes ticked by. But to understand the full gravity of the situation, we now found ourselves in, we need to go back in time a little bit.

Continue reading Child’s Play: Why do parents send children to music lessons?

The Problem with Method Books

Few topics generate as much heat online as discussion about which piano Method Book series is ‘the best’.

As a reviewer I have more than once found myself on the receiving end of some odd feedback on the subject. One teacher might chastise me for being in their view way too generous in my evaluation of a particular Method Book, while another responds to the same review as if I had just personally insulted their favourite grandma.

In this post I will explain why there will never be a truly perfect Method Book. We’ll consider a balanced curriculum, stare into the abyss of a world without Method Books at all, and hopefully come away with a better idea of how to use Method Books in a sensible, balanced way.

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Piano Junior 3

Sheet Music Review

Concluding my review of Levels 1 and 2 of Hans-Günter Heumann’s new method series, Piano Junior (published by Schott), I wrote:

“I have often said that teachers owe it to themselves and their students to have a few different methods to draw on, remembering that one size does not fit all. And I strongly recommend that teachers consider including Piano Junior among their options…
My own view is that Piano Junior has in many respects raised the bar, in some ways perhaps even setting a new standard by which piano courses for children will be judged.”

Those who followed my suggestion and took a look for themselves will be keen to hear that Level 3 is now available. Once again, there are four books, covering Lessons, Duets, Performance (additional pieces) and Theory. Let’s take a look…

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Personalised Learning

Every aspect of music is personal.

A good performance depends on the player’s personal interpretation of the music. Enjoyment, for the listener, depends on their personal response to the music. Which in turn is informed by personal musical taste and experience.

And in the same way, learning to play a musical instrument is a highly personalised experience. In this post we’ll consider why that is true, and what it means in practice.

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First Term at the Piano

Sheet Music Review

Bartók’s Mikrokosmos has – since the first half of the 20th century – been a potent force in the pianist’s repertoire, hugely impacting pedagogy worldwide, while his charming collections of pieces For Children have delighted elementary to intermediate players of all ages. But what of his other little collection, The First Term at the Piano?

Largely overlooked, except as a curiosity for completists to consider, this seemingly innocuous sequence of 18 short pieces has passed under the radar of most piano teachers, and even though some of the pieces are brilliantly inventive and melodic, they have too rarely surfaced in other collections, exam syllabi or student performances.

Now the US-based pianist, teacher, lecturer and editor Immanuela Gruenberg is looking to turn the tables, resurrecting this work for a new century, and for a new audience.

Her stunning new edition of the pieces – which comes with complete commentary, imaginative lesson plans, and a series of online videos – has recently been published by Hal Leonard in association with Boosey & Hawkes. And as we shall see in this review, it is a genuine must-have purchase for anyone who teaches beginners.

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Improve your sight-reading!

Sheet music Review

“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.

Let’s find out how well it succeeds in this aim…

Continue reading Improve your sight-reading!