Improve Your Scales!

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • Review by ANDREW EALES
For Andrew’s support • BOOK AN ONLINE CONSULTATION


Since the ABRSM exam board significantly reduced their piano scales requirements last year (read a full analysis here), many have agreed that their requirements alone no longer provide the solid framework players need for the development of technique, an awareness of keys and assimilation of archetype fingering patterns.

Of the respected educators who have subsequently sought to fill the void with superior learning resources, I have already reviewed Catherine McMillan’s gorgeously presented Piano Scales Mnemonics (read the review here) and Karen Marshall superb Piano Trainer Scales Workbook (and that review is here), both of which are knockout publications.

Joining these excellent resources, Paul Harris has now completely rewritten his popular Improve Your Scales! series, and like McMillan and Marshall has eschewed the limitations of ABRSM to embrace a more comprehensive and educative approach.

As Harris announces a the start of each of the six books in his new series, which cover the Initial to Grade Five requirements for all major exam boards,

“Scales, arpeggios and broken chords are important. And if taught and learned imaginatively, they can be fun!”

This is another of those moments where a disclaimer is required; Paul invited my feedback on his ideas while developing his vision for the new series, and as a good friend welcomed my help with the proof reading.

The genius in these books is all his though, so let’s see how he’s done things differently from others, and establish why these books stand out as another teaching studio essential…

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A Piece a Week: “Initial Grade”

Sheet Music Review

Regular readers will know that I am quite a fan of Paul Harris’s Piece a Week series from Faber Music, having found that using these books within my own teaching practice has helped many of my students significantly improve in their music literacy and ability to learn independently using notation.

Harris has just added a new book to the series, A Piece A Week: Initial Grade, which merits a separate review to the rest of the series for a variety of reasons which I will come to presently.

My first reaction to hearing about this book was admittedly mixed, on the one hand delighted that this wonderful resource has been extended to accommodate the needs of early elementary players, but the other hand stifling a weary sigh that in a year which has seen exam boards straining to dominate the music education agenda, yet more grade material has appeared for review.

But, extraordinary fellow that he is, Harris has an unnerving and seemingly inexhaustible knack for pleasantly surprising me, indeed, hugely exceeding my expectations.

And I’m happy to report that he’s done it again…

Continue reading A Piece a Week: “Initial Grade”

Paul Harris: A Piece A Week

Sheet Music Review

Paul Harris’s series of A Piece a Week books have been appearing at regular intervals over the last few years. Faber Music have just released the Grade 6 book, so let’s consider the series as a whole…

I’ll start with a quick reminder that while the books appear in the best-selling Improve Your Sight Reading series, they are not sight reading practice books per se. Rather they aim to support the broader development of music literacy.

In this review I will first explain the concept behind A Piece a Week, give an overview of the actual material included in the books, and explain how they develop to offer superb material across the range of playing levels from UK Grade 1 to the new Grade 6 book.

Continue reading Paul Harris: A Piece A Week

Tips for Playing at Sight

Tea Room Tips  from the  Pianodao Tea Room

Announcing our latest discussion event for Pianodao Members, I asked the following questions about sight reading:

  • Do you find it easy or difficult to play at sight? 
  • What approaches have helped you to improve? 
  • Do you have advice that might help others develop their sight-reading fluency?

Here are some of the highlights from the discussion which followed, which offer a wealth advice both for piano players and teachers…

Continue reading Tips for Playing at Sight

More Piano Sight-Reading from ABRSM

Sheet Music Review

Back in 2008, ABRSM published a series of books called Piano Specimen Sight-Reading Tests. Although deserving an award for having the most utilitarian and uninspiring titles in my whole music collection, they have nonetheless rarely been out of action in the intervening years.

In short, they were an essential purchase for any piano teacher preparing students for ABRSM’s world-leading piano grade examinations, and have seen very active service over many years.

Since 2008, many others have brought out alternative products to help teachers and students prepare for the sight-reading element of ABRSM exams. Paul Harris’s ubiquitous and respected Improve Your Sight-Reading series has been updated more than once, and now includes audio tracks. Useful and innovative alternatives have also appeared from Alan Bullard, Samantha Coates, e-music maestro and several others.

Now ABRSM return with a new series bearing the slightly-less scary title More Piano Sight-Reading, a suite of eight new books, one to tie in with each of their grades.

A superficial look at the eight books suggests that these aren’t radically different from their predecessors (which, I should add, are still valid, as the syllabus itself remains unchanged). However, a more detailed look reveals several tweaks and changes to the format which, between them, make the new books a step-improvement on the older ones.

For this review, I will focus on five specific improvements which I think make this new series a superior alternative to the previous books.

Continue reading More Piano Sight-Reading from ABRSM

Samantha Coates in Conversation

Exclusive interview with best-selling author Samantha Coates

Sydney-based music teacher and author Samantha Coates dazzled at this year’s Music Education Expo event, with a presentation brimming with energy and enthusiasm.

It was a pleasure to catch up with her afterwards to talk about her publications. In a warm, wide-ranging conversation, we discussed the importance of literacy, music theory and sight-reading, as well as Samantha’s recently developed passion for rote teaching.

But first I wanted to know more about Samantha’s back story …

Continue reading Samantha Coates in Conversation

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…

Continue reading Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets

Alison Mathews’ “Doodles”

Sheet Music Review

Alison Mathews’ excellent collection Treasure Trove has proved a big hit with my students who have been working through it, and I’m delighted that publishers Editions Musica Ferrum have now brought out another collection composed by her: Doodles.

It is very clear straight away that this publication explores very different terrain to Treasure Trove however.

So what is the concept here, and do I think it works?
Let’s find out…

Continue reading Alison Mathews’ “Doodles”

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!