Supporting Your Piano Playing Journey Written by ANDREW EALES
It’s hardly a secret that I have long had a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards graded music exams. Certainly, many of my students have found them positive, and over the years it’s been a joy to watch players that I have taught getting distinctions, with plenty of success stories across all eight ABRSM grades and beyond.
But while supporting independent assessment for its recognition and celebration of achievement, I am less enthusiastic about the extent to which a syllabus can skew the curriculum and compartmentalise learning. Worse, pressure (explicit or implicit) to take regular exams can for some cast a long shadow over what should be a joyous journey.
When it comes to Graded Anthologies, I have a more unequivocally positive view. As a general rule, these seem to me to offer most of the benefits of a progressive graded system, with few of the problems that mitigate against effective musical learning, and none of the exam-based issues that can so easily discourage and demotivate players.
Without further ado, here are four key benefits of using Graded Anthologies which I value, and which students have clearly found helpful over the years:
I was genuinely excited by the arrival of the first book in Victoria Producer’s Piano Grade Are GO! series from EVC Music, writing in my review that the collection was:
“that rarest of beasts: a genuinely stunning music book for elementary players.”
My enthusiasm for the book remains undiminished, and I suggest you read that review before progressing to this one: many of the points I wrote about the goals and content of the first book equally apply to the second…
So what about this second collection? Well, it offers 21 new pieces suitable for players at UK Grades 2 and 3 level. Read on to find out more…
Few professional musicians would question the value and usefulness of sight reading, meaning that skill which allows us to play music that we’ve never heard, just from the notation, and without preparation.
As a teacher who allows my students considerable freedom to choose the music they want to learn and bring along to the lesson, I find myself relying on this skill very regularly. And yet some teachers and students treat the development of sight reading as an afterthought, and a rather dull one at that. Compounding the problem, while sight reading has traditionally been an element of public grade exams, it is decreasingly so.
Trinity College London include sight reading as an optional test in their piano grade exams, but some teachers choose only to introduce it with “serious students” after intermediate level, and on the basis that players will at that point miraculously “get it”.
Perhaps this lack of enthusiasm will change with the launch of Trinity’s excellent new series, Sight Reading: A Progressive Method, a suite of three books offering a clear route for teaching sight reading skills from the get-go.
In common with most sight reading resources the series is linked to the grade exams, but happily it goes far beyond specimen tests and basic exam cramming, and can be used as a powerful resource to actually teach and develop sight reading ability.
As Trinity explain,
“The study of sight reading is valuable because it enables musicians to enjoy music that is new to them, either on their own or in a group. As with any other skill, confidence in sight reading comes with training and regular practice.”
So let’s take a look and see how the series can support teachers and students in those aims…
Once in every while a music book arrives on my review desk which is simply too wonderful for words, and yes! this is one of those!
Surprisingly so, perhaps, given that on paper this looks like a rather plain anthology of well-worn diploma repertoire. According to the blurb,
“This unique collection contains 21 pieces from the ATCL repertoire list for Music Performance Diplomas in Piano from 2019. The most popular recital choices join lesser-known treasures, allowing performers to create diverse and compelling programmes, whether preparing for a Trinity diploma or not.”
So you’re possibly wondering what lifts it above the exam jargon and makes it truly special. Let’s find out…
Sometimes, like buses, exam syllabi arrive more than one at a time. If it seems as if it were just last month that I wrote my bumper review of the 2021-2 ABRSM piano syllabus, well… that’s because it was.
And now here is the new syllabus from Trinity College London. TCL tell us that this is their biggest ever piano syllabus, so there will be a lot of ground to cover in this bumper review.
Although I am going to integrate my material, I will tackle the review from two perspectives, trying to answer questions and pick up on the headline news for:
existing TCL exam users; and
those new to grade exams, or considering a switch to TCL from ABRSM or another board.
So let’s discover the big stories in the TCL Piano Syllabus 2021-3…
I recently reviewed the Rockschool 2019 Piano syllabus (please refer to that review here), and now have the opportunity to tell you about an alternative I mentioned in that review, offered by Trinity College London’s Rock & Pop Keyboard exams.
The disclaimers I made when reviewing Rockschool equally apply here: I haven’t entered myself or a student for the actual exams, and this review is based on the syllabus, publications and resources.
I also had the chance to chat to Trinity’s Head of Product Management Julia Martin and Product Support Manager for Music Govind Kharbanda, to whom I am most grateful for talking me through their syllabus and answering my plethora of questions.
As we shall see, the Trinity Rock & Pop offering has much in common with the Rockschool Piano syllabus, but there are also some significant points of departure. Together they occupy a unique space in the market; comparisons are inevitable, but I will aim to keep them for my conclusion!