Review: ABRSM More Piano Sight-Reading, Grades 1-8

I suppose you might ask, with some justification I may add, what the point of another set of piano sight-reading books is. ABRSM have always produced a set of eight volumes of specimen sight-reading tests to support each of the piano exams at Grades 1-8.

This new series of books, More Piano Sight-Reading, is, in some ways, not dissimilar. The books offer a range to specimen sight-reading tests to support each grade. Reflecting the increasing length of the tests, Grade 1 offers 45 examples, whilst Grade 8 offers 20. In that sense, the addition of this series offers between both books, 90 and 40 specimen tests at each grade.

A new feature of this series is the inclusion of several pages of preparatory exercises. These, generally short exercises introduce pianists to the parameters of the tests at each grade, and usefully, these parameters are printed inside the back cover.

Grade 1 preparatory exercises from ABRSM's More Piano Sight-Reading book

At Grade 1, the preparatory exercises are short, 2-3 bar extracts which initially introduce stepwise movement before beginning to introduce larger leaps. Time signatures, key signatures, tempo markings and dynamics are also introduced within these preparatory exercises, again reflecting the parameters given for the grade. Interestingly, articulation has been omitted from the preparatory exercises at Grade 1.

As you move through the grades, the preparatory exercises become slightly longer and predominantly offer a stepping stone from the previous grade. For example, the preparatory exercises in the Grade 5 book are short, generally Grade 4-level sight-reading tests, thus offering a bridge between both grades.

As with all ABRSM publications, they are well-presented, clearly printed and structured with clarity. According to ABRSM, the series encourages players to ‘strengthen their sight-reading skills’, supporting them ‘with the transition between grades’, and encouraging them ‘to integrate sight-reading into their daily practice’.

I’m sure that both teachers and pupils alike will make good use of these books, whether they intend to work towards ABRSM exams or not.


More Piano Sight-Reading is published by ABRSM in eight volumes, and is available to purchase from Thursday 4th April, 2019.


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Review: Music & Drama Education Expo 2019

I have just returned from this year’s Music & Drama Education Expo, held at Olympia London on 6th and 7th March. 2019 is the fifth consecutive event I’ve attended in London, in addition to the Expo held in Manchester the last two years.

As suggested by others, I wanted to take the opportunity to record some of my thoughts and experiences of the Expo, and think a little about in which direction it might head in the future.

Dates

This year, the Expo was held during the first week in March, and it is scheduled for the same dates (4th and 5th March) in 2020. In previous years it has mainly taken place in February, though not always coinciding with schools’ half-term week. This year, the event was held on a Wednesday and Thursday, in contrast to previous years where it had predominantly taken place on Thursday and Friday.

The fact that the event takes place midweek means that there are a certain number of people not able to attend due to work and family commitments. It is a free event, and I suspect were it held at the weekend, that wouldn’t be the case due to the venue costs. Equally, I imagine if it were held at the weekend, that would preclude a different set of people attending. Nevertheless, the midweek dates remain problematic for many.

Venue

For the past four years, the event has been held at Olympia London, and for anyone who recalls the early years at the Barbican, the change of venue continues to prove beneficial. There is considerably more space, and the separate facilities for talks and workshops are much-improved.

As with all such events and venues, there is an inevitable lack of places to sit. The catering facilities on-site are limited and expensive, and by consequence, most visitors bring their own refreshments. Lunch sitting on the floor remains the only option for many.

The venue is relatively easily accessible by public transport; however, District Line trains from High Street Kensington to Kensington Olympia do not run during the week. Some ongoing and justifiable concerns about the accessibility of the venue, particularly in terms of disabled parking facilities and charges continue to be raised. These are, of course, the fault of the venue, rather than the organisers, but are, nevertheless, another consideration.

Exhibitors

Whist there are some comings and goings, the core selection of exhibitors has predominantly remained the same. A whole range of organisations, companies and charities are represented, including exam boards, publishers, instrument retailers and professional organisations.

Whist I’ve not counted up, there was a general feeling that there were fewer exhibitors this year than previously. A number of exhibitors I spoke to were also unsure about signing up for next year, as, like me, they are uncertain about the future of the Expo. That said, there is a good range of exhibitors to suit a whole range of music professionals and educators.

Talks, Seminars and Workshops

As ever, there’s an eclectic mix of seminars and workshops covering a whole range of areas of music education. Overall, there did seem to be a better mix of talks, in contrast to last year when they seemed very heavily weighted towards classroom teaching. One visitor commented that they felt this year’s talks were more specialised in their topics.

We particularly enjoyed the workshop on the Alexander Technique with Judith Kleinman (RCM). That said, the quality of the talks is variable, some becoming little more than adverts for that particular organisation’s services. It feels like there’s quite an imbalance when it comes to the talks – some fairly poorly attended, and some significantly oversubscribed, but I guess, this will always be the case. 

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve got to be honest and say that after five years, this year’s Expo felt pretty ‘flat’. As a whole, for returning attendees, the event has become a bit ‘samey’. I know that a number of people who attended last year chose not to return, and unless there was some radical change, I and a number of others, did not expect to return next year. As previously mentioned, talking to some exhibitors, they share similar reservations. 

That said, if you’ve not attended before, then I would wholeheartedly encourage you to go. For those who haven’t been previously, it’s an exciting and vibrant event, which, despite reservations, has much to offer. The problem is, that the pool of people who haven’t been before is diminishing. Whist there is always a challenge in attracting new visitors, there is perhaps a greater challenge in retaining previous ones. Similarly, attracting new or different exhibitors appears to be a challenge, and we may already be seeing an increasing problem in retaining existing ones.

Overall, Rhinegold should be commended for instigating and running the Expo. It’s still free, and despite the reservations outlined about, it still has much to offer. But, like most things in life, there comes a time when all good things come to an end. I believe that unless the Expo continues to evolve and develop, rather that simply becoming an annual ‘variation on a theme’, it’s future will be a precarious one. 

I for one will miss seeing many friends and colleagues at the Expo, but as one pointed out, it’s an expensive means by which to catch up with people once a year. Sadly this year, as good as many things were, I didn’t come away particularly enthused or inspired. I think that’s perhaps a sign that it’s time to stop going, either temporarily or on a more permanent basis.


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November 2018 New Discoveries

Welcome to November’s edition of this popular monthly post which reviews new music, books and resources, many of which will be of use to both teachers and players alike. If you have music you wish to submit for review or wish to find out more about my approach to reviewing, please see my Reviews Policy.

In case you missed it, this month, I also reviewed the ABRSM Teacher Conference, and the new ABRSM Theory Works app. Do check out those posts too.


CAPTURING THE JOY OF WINTER: 16 Pieces for Solo Piano (Barbara Arens and Alison Matthews)
Editions Musica Ferrum, ISMN 9790708147435, £12.00 (Available from Editions Musica Ferrum)

Once again, Barbara and Alison have created a beautiful book of piano pieces and arrangements, and one which offers an excellent companion volume to Capturing the Spirit of Christmas which I reviewed as part of my Seasonal New Discoveries last month. The pieces are aimed at pianists around Grades 4-6 standard and offer the player a range of styles from which to choose. I particularly enjoyed Alison’s take on the carol ‘Green Grow’th the Holly’. Whilst the Faber book featured below will provide you with all the well-known Christmas favourites, this book, and its companion volume, offer a welcome relief. The pieces included in this book are hugely evocative of winter, and thus, it will endure long after the Christmas books have been put away. Just as with Capturing the Spirit of Christmas, this would provide a lovely present for any pianists known to you. In true Editions Musica Ferrum style, the presentation, layout and printing are exemplary.


WINTER DUETS TO KEEP YOU WARM AT NIGHT for all combinations of C and G flutes (Christine Potter)
ISBN 9781724006271, £15.17 (Available from Amazon)

As a pupil pointed out yesterday, I already own three books of Christmas flute duets; however, this volume is a great addition, as it offers flexibility for low flutes too. I for one will enjoy playing alto flute parts whilst pupils play the C flute parts (we might swap if they can be trusted not to drop my alto!). Christine Potter has taken a number of seasonal pieces to create this volume which offers a huge range of possibilities to both flautists and teachers. As with Journeys and Piano Tracks below, this book is print-on-demand from Amazon. It is, once again, an unusual size for sheet music, but overall, it is well-presented and clearly laid out. I think it is pricey for what it is, but it does offer a whole range of options, and I’m sure it’s a book I’ll come back to year on year.


THE FABER ANTHOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS MUSIC: Best-loved Christmas music for solo piano
Faber Music, ISBN 9780571535644, £19.99 (Available from Musicroom)

If Get Set! Piano: Christmas Crackers was my pick for the early grades, this volume is an essential book for everyone else. Included are over 60 pieces arranged specifically for piano solo. These include favourite carols, well-known Christmas songs, seasonal instrumental music, and some lesser-known pieces. I was initially concerned that the thickness of the volume would prevent it lying flat on the music stand, but with some surreptitious breaking of the spine (sorry) this hasn’t caused any problems. The arrangements are in a variety of styles from jazz to folk, and everything in between. Anyone who enjoyed Nikki Iles’s two volumes, Jazz on a Winter’s Night, will certainly enjoy many of the jazz arrangements in this book. Overall, it is very well-presented, and the music clearly laid out and typeset. I would suggest that the majority of the pieces in this volume will suit pianists at Grade 4 and above, and with such a wealth of material included, this book will last pianists for many years to come. Faber are quite right to describe it as ‘timeless’. It is excellent value for money, and a must-have for pianists this Christmas.


JOURNEYS: Piano Album, Volumes 4-6 (William Minter)
KOA Music, $11.99/$8.99 (Available from KOA Music)

You may remember that I reviewed the first three volumes of Journeys in my September 2018 New Discoveries. These three volumes continue the theme, and are aimed at pianists around intermediate level. As with the other volumes, there is a mixture of arrangements and original pieces which present the pianist with a good deal of variety. They are clearly presented, and many of the pieces are of a good length. As with the book of flute duets above, and Piano Tracks below, they are print-on-demand from Amazon. This means that the size of the books is unusual and not like any of the other sheet music books I own. Whilst this doesn’t necessarily detract from the content, I do wonder how well books such as these will endure longer term.


PIANO TRACKS: Pieces with a jazzy feel for the intermediate pianist and beyond (Jenny Walker)
Jaynote Music, ISBN 9781719981057 (vol. 1) 9781719986908 (vol. 2), £7.49/£4.99 (Available from Amazon)

Some of you may remember that I reviewed Jenny’s other book, Piano Borealis, in my September 2018 New Discoveries. There are some imaginative ideas in these two volumes, aimed primarily at intermediate to advanced pianists, although they perhaps lack the imagery which was captured so well in the other volume. All these pieces are in a contemporary style with some jazz influence. Any pianists who’ve enjoyed Christopher Norton’s work may also enjoy these, as would those who enjoy a rhythmic challenge. As with the other volume, there is some slightly unwieldy typesetting of the music which has led to some clashes in the presentation, for example, between accidentals and barlines. At this price-point, they are good value for money, and also available as Kindle downloads.


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Review: ABRSM Theory Works

This is an entirely independent review. I purchased the app myself and have not been asked by ABRSM to review it. For more information, you can read my Reviews Policy here.


Released a couple of weeks ago, ABRSM’s new Theory Works app ‘contains over 6,000 specially-written questions designed to test and challenge your music theory knowledge.’

The app presents the material for Grades 1-5 Theory in, as one might expect, five separate sections. Each section can be studied independently (i.e. you can start at Grade 5), or you can work through cumulatively from the start. Within each grade, you do need to work through each section cumulatively in order to unlock the next. Each section begins with a brief explanation of the knowledge and skills required, before moving onto a series of exercises designed to test that knowledge. The app marks each question as you go, and gives you the opportunity to have another try at those exercises you’ve completed incorrectly. You can also revisit the knowledge sections as you go.

One of the things I like most about this app is that the exercises don’t merely draw on the knowledge required at that level, but require pupils to build and draw upon that studied previously. In that sense, poor foundation skills will ultimately be uncovered fairly quickly once users move on to more complicated exercises. Of course, this does allow users to revisit earlier levels (assuming they’ve been unlocked) to review the knowledge required, and complete further exercises.

The app is clearly presented, without unnecessary clutter. This means that it should have universal appeal regardless of the age of the person using it. As ABRSM quite rightly point out, ‘Music notation is complex and phone screens are small. This app is best viewed on an iPad’. I think this is certainly true, and as the screenshot below shows, even on the iPad, the notation is fairly small. Perhaps an option to zoom-in would be useful in further updates?

This app is a great addition to ABRSM’s increasing suite of digital offerings. Whilst it is primarily built around ABRSM’s own Theory of Music syllabus, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be used outside of that context.

As with all new apps, there are clearly some teething problems which I’m sure ABRSM will iron out in future updates; for example, here I selected a C to make the tonic triad of A minor, but the app has inserted a C#. With over 6,000 exercises included, it’s understandable that wires have occasionally become crossed. Errors such as this afford a useful learning point in themselves!

One useful feature which ABRSM might consider in the future would be to allow a number of users on one device, so that, for example, pupils can use the app both in lessons and at home by logging on. This would also allow teachers to check up on pupil progress.

Overall, at just £4.99, I think this app is excellent value, especially compared to some of the other ABRSM digital offerings. There are clearly some teething problems which I know ABRSM are aware of, but I don’t think that overall, this detracts from the 99.9% of the app which is correctly functioning. Whilst it is orientated towards ABRSM Theory exams, don’t let this deter you. This is an app which offers much to both teachers and learners alike.


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Review: ABRSM Teacher Conference 2018

Since 1889, ABRSM have held over 40 million exams, and currently, more than 700 examiners conduct over 600,000 exams a year in over 90 countries. It was a pleasure to be invited to this year’s ABRSM Teacher Conference, and in this blog post, I’m going to share some of my thoughts and experiences from the day.

There is a sense that reviews can sometimes become advertisements, but I want to assure you that I write this review completely independently of ABRSM, and it is in no way a paid advertisement for them.

The Day

Once again, held at the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel in London, over 500 teachers, music educators and others attended the sold-out 2018 ABRSM Teacher Conference. Although London-based, this is far from a London-centric event, and I met teachers there from as far afield as Northern Ireland, Hampshire, Lincolnshire, the West Midlands, Manchester, Yorkshire and Scotland.

The day opened with a keynote speech from writer and broadcaster, Will Gompertz titled Think Like an Artist. Inviting an outside speaker to give the keynote is, in my experience, a departure from the traditional format of the Teacher Conference. Will spoke passionately about the arts and arts education. Although he, himself, specialises in art, of course, music has much to learn from the other arts disciplines. In fact, I’ve said previously that the music world can be very insular, and we should take steps to learn from those outside of our profession. His talk, whilst fairly abstract in nature, generated some laughter from the 500 or so present.

During the latter part of the morning and afternoon, delegates could choose to attend three out of the 12 seminars on offer. These including exam-relevant sessions such as two seminars on the new ABRSM piano syllabus, but also more general talks related to teaching, learning, curriculum planning, assessment and managing performance nerves.

As previously the case, the hotel provides an excellent hot lunch, and there was also time, both at lunchtime, and during the breaks, to visit the various exhibitors and network with other delegates. The main sponsors of the event were Allianz insurance and Casio Music UK; however, many others such as the ISM, EPTA, The Curious Piano Teachers, Dorico, Ackerman Music, Music Mark and Rhinegold were all in attendance. There was also a chance to visit the ABRSM Village in which you could try some of the new ABRSM apps and talk directly to staff.

The post-lunch keynote was given by Paul Harris, who posed the question: How do we know if our pupils are actually learning? Paul, as always, spoke passionately about music education, and emphasised the need for lessons to be based on collaboration and partnership, something which I am also passionate about. As Paul said, “Telling is not teaching”. Members of the Soutbank Sinfonia also performed a specially-written piece by Paul, based on the letters A.B.R.S.M.

For those able to stay, the final session was followed by a drinks reception for delegates and staff. The day, which opened at 9am, closed at 6pm following the reception.

The Seminars

It is always difficult at these events to choose which seminars to attend, and I think we were all in agreement that we would have liked to have attended all of them. Sadly, time constraints meant we could only choose three to attend. The three I attended were, as follows:

Manage Your Performance Nerves
Charlotte Tomlinson

Charlotte is a well-known music educator, performer, and performance anxiety specialist. In her seminar she introduced teachers to a range of tools which they could use as a means to help pupils manage their performance anxiety. These included reframing the way they see their audience, tips to manage the physical manifestations of performance anxiety, and reassessing how they prepare for performances. Charlotte concluded by giving a short 15-minute mini-masterclass to a violinist, in which she put some of these things into practice.

Perfecting Performance at the Early Grades
John Holmes and Anthony Williams

In this session, John and Anthony considered what goes into creating a performance, and the way in which imagination, communication and musical understanding all contribute to that. They talked specifically of encouraging pupils to make their own performances from the earliest stages of learning, suggesting that style, character and expression are often introduced too late in favour of notational accuracy. Anthony in particular compared some of the early grade piano pieces with some of the Grade 8 pieces, to show how the early building blocks contribute to the execution of more advanced pieces. Above all, the message was “Exams come second. Be a musician first”.

The Musical Journey to Notation
Karen Marshall and Anthony Williams

In this final session, Karen and Anthony looked at ways we can introduce our pupils to musical concepts, before they progress to reading traditional music notation. They talked particularly of the use of singing and movement, and the way in which we can physically embody concepts such as pitch, pulse and rhythm. Karen drew particularly on her knowledge of the Kodály and Orff approaches to music education, whilst Anthony gave a number of examples of the way in which improvisation and composition can be used in the early stages as a precursor to reading notation. This talk was particularly well-attended with standing room only remaining!

The Venue

In many ways, the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel, is an excellent venue. The main seminar space along with the exhibitors and ABRSM Village was in the basement, whilst the three remaining seminar spaces and drinks reception took place on the first floor. Space is at a premium, and with a sold-out event this year, it was not always easy to move through the space. If the Conference continues to to be this popular, and certainly if it grows, ABRSM may need to consider a larger venue. Whilst the seminar spaces are more than adequate, the spaces for networking, eating and viewing the exhibitors attending is very limited. As has been pointed out previously, whilst the provision of a hot meal at lunchtime is superb, there are no tables and chairs to eat it at, and the amount of seating is, overall, limited.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it was an excellent day. The overall planning and execution of the day by ABRSM was excellent, and talks were all relevant and high-quality. A number of people commented that they felt it was a little piano-dominant this year, but this is perhaps to be expected with the release of the new syllabus. Similarly, a number of delegates felt that seminars of 45 minutes rather than an hour would offer them the opportunity to attend four rather than three of these. Equally, some felt that it would be valuable to have more time for networking and eating, and that the lunch break of an hour, was probably insufficient given the numbers attending.

I believe that this is now a well-established event, and it is good value for money. Whilst many teachers scoff at the cost of attendance, I have seen conferences charging over £100 for a day ticket recently. The ABRSM Teacher Conference offers a lot for what amounts to less than £10 an hour, including a hot lunch, tea and coffee, and a bag of ‘goodies’.

I, for one, would certainly look to attend again next year, and if you haven’t previously been, I wholeheartedly encourage you to go. Based on this year, you may need to book early! As many of you know, I do not favour one exam board over another, but the Teacher Conference offers much more than that which is relevant only to ABRSM exams, and I believe this reflects a move away from an exam-dominated organisation, to one which seeks to play a wider role in the music education sector.

I think this year’s ABRSM Teacher Conference is summed up in this tweet from Jason Hawkins:

‘Inspirational day at the @ABRSM Teachers Conference. So many ideas to take away and inform practice! Can’t wait till next year already.’


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Seasonal New Discoveries 2018

Welcome to this special post of my monthly New Discoveries series in which I share a selection of music suitable for the upcoming Christmas period. It might only be mid-October, but some pupils are already preparing early! If you have music you wish to submit for review, please see my Reviews Policy.

There will be a normal October New Discoveries post at the end of the month. Make sure you subscribe below to have this delivered straight to your inbox.


CAPTURING THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS: 12 Carols arranged for solo piano (Barbara Arens & Alison Matthews)
Editions Musica Ferrum, ISMN 9790708147381, £12.00 (Available direct from Editions Musica Ferrum)

If Nikki Iles’ Jazz on a Winter’s Night 2 was my pick of 2017, this new book of beautiful carol arrangements from Barbara and Alison is, by far, my pick of 2018. I talk a lot in these blogs about music for teaching purposes, but the thing which struck me most about this book was that it would make a wonderful Christmas gift for any pianists you know!

12 carols are included, a mixture of well-known ones, and some completely unknown to me. I think that to me, the appeal of this book, is the way in which the arrangers have been so sensitive to the original texts and tunes. My particular favourites were Infant Holy and the Coventry Carol, but they are all lovely. Again, these pieces will appeal to young and young at heart alike, and I know for one, I shall enjoy playing these purely for my own pleasure over the Christmas period.

This book should be top of your shopping list this Christmas.


THE CHRISTMAS BELLS: SATB & piano (Thomas Hewitt Jones)
Banks Music Publications, GCL011, £1.95 (Available direct from Banks Music Publications)

OK, so in some ways, this isn’t a new discovery, because I know many of you will have seen me tweet the original single release in December 2015 (and I can’t help but retweet it each Christmas too). In case you missed it, here it is:

If you haven’t done so already, you should definitely hop over to iTunes and download it!

Even more exciting though, you can now buy the sheet music, arranged for SATB voices and piano. With plenty of pizazz, this could be the ideal encore for your Christmas concert. I defy anyone not to be cheered along by this gem. You’ll be humming it to yourself for weeks!


GET SET! PIANO: Christmas Crackers (David Blackwell & Karen Marshall)
Collins Music, ISBN 9780008306144, £7.99 (Available from Musicroom)

This bumper book of carol arrangements by David Blackwell and Karen Marshall contains over 30 well-known (and less well-known) carols suitable for pianists from beginner (only five fingers needed) up to Grade 2 level, and aligns with the two Get Set! Piano books already in print. Each carol is preceded by suggestions for learning activities associated with the piece, and there are plentiful quizzes, tips, games, facts and other suggestions too. The early pieces have effective duet accompaniments making the book accessible to players in the very early stages of learning. Another cracker (excuse the pun) from David and Karen. Don’t forget, there are additional resources to download via the Pianodao website.


ME AND YOU: Jazzy Christmas Duets (Rachael Forsyth)
Roo Records Music, £7.50 (Available from Roo Records Music)

With so many teachers now teaching more than one instrument (e.g. woodwind, strings etc.) this book is a must. Eight jazzed-up carols are included with parts for both C and B flat instruments. This means that they can be used effectively with a whole range of woodwind, brass and string instruments, as well as two instruments the same. They are beautifully crafted arrangements which will appeal to both children and adults alike, and with such a range of potential instrument combinations, an excellent value and durable book.


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September 2018 New Discoveries

Welcome to September’s edition of this popular monthly post which reviews new music, books and resources, many of which will be of use to both teachers and players alike. If you have music you wish to submit for review, please see my Reviews Policy.

Quick heads up…there will be a special seasonal edition of New Discoveries out in mid-October reviewing a range of Christmas music. Don’t forget to sign-up below to get this post delivered straight to your inbox when it’s published.


PIANO BOREALIS: Chilled Pieces for the Early-Advanced Pianist inspired by the Far North (Jenny Walker)
Jaynote Music, ISBN 171998798X, £7.49/£4.99 (Available from Amazon)

Jenny is a piano teacher, performer and composed based in Lincolnshire. These pieces were written following a trip to the far north, namely Iceland, Greenland and parts of Norway, and each piece echoes a different aspect of that awe-inspiring scenery. My particular favourite was ‘Big Sky’ and you can hear me play this below (sorry, yes, the piano needs tuning):

These pieces are aimed at pianists at the ‘early-advanced’ level, I’d suggest at least Grade 5 and above. They are nicely presented with a short introduction as to how each piece might be approached by the learner. There is some effective use of repeating octave movement and some fairly sizeable chords; these may need to be adapted for players with smaller hands. Overall, despite the occasional irregular spacing of the music, this volume is good value and adds some interesting and effective pieces to the higher level repertoire. Listen to the first piece in the volume, ‘Islands of Ice’ below:

Find out more about Jenny on her website, and look out in next month’s New Discoveries for my review of her two other books, Piano Tracks.


THE FOUNDATION PIANIST: A technical and musical curriculum for pianists at post-Grade 1 and 2 level, Books 1 & 2 (Karen Marshall & David Blackwell)
Faber Music, ISBN 0571540651 (Book 1), £7.99 (Available from Musicroom)

It is great to see another couple of excellent, and eagerly-awaited books added to Faber Music’s Piano Trainer series. You can read my review of The Intermediate Pianist in my September 2017 New Discoveries. These two volumes are aimed at those pianists who’ve passed Grade 1 and Grade 2 standard respectively (though, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to have taken the exam).

These books could equally have been titled ‘The Foundation Musician’, for they contain more than just the development of pianistic skills. Exercises, sight-reading, repertoire, musicianship, theory, improvisation and the history of music are all covered. They are, as expected, thoroughly well-planned and executed, and just like The Intermediate Pianist they are also well-suited to adult learners.

Karen and David have selected a range of repertoire pieces to include which support the aforementioned development of a wide musical skillset, and David in particular, has written a number of pieces and arrangements especially for these books. Here is me playing David’s arrangement of Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets (yes, out of tune piano, sorry):

I really cannot praise these books enough. They provide a consistent follow-on to Karen and Heather’s Get Set Piano! series, and an excellent precursor to The Intermediate Pianist. Faber Music, have, once again, done a superb job.

Look out in my special seasonal edition New Discoveries for a review of Karen and David’s Christmas edition of Get Set Piano!


JOURNEYS: Piano Album, Volumes 1-3 (William Minter)
KOA Music, $14.99/$9.99 (Available from KOA Music)

Born in the UK, but now living in America, Will has produced six volumes of Journeys covering 97 pieces in total. I would suggest that the volumes broadly align to the grades, so Volume 1 = Grade 1 etc., but this is by no means set in stone.

Each volume contains a wide variety of pieces in diverse styles, including arrangements of well-known classical works and folk-songs. They are nicely produced and each volume contains an introduction to each piece which both teachers and learners may find useful. Hear me play ‘To Bach’ from Journeys 3:

Overall, these books offer pupils a good value means to acquire a volume which covers virtually all conceivable styles and genres. As the books go on, the length of the pieces increases, and some management of page turns may be necessary by Volume 3.

Look out for my review of Volumes 4-6 in next month’s New Discoveries. 


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June 2018 New Discoveries

The More The Merrier! 13 duets for 4-hand piano & everybody else… (Barbara Arens)

Perhaps the most effective publications on the educational market, are those written in response to the specific needs expressed by teachers. In the case of these duets, they came about through a discussion on the Piano Network UK Facebook group in which a number of teachers expressed a desire for more duets where, amongst other things, the primo part was not in unison. Out of those discussions came these 13 pieces for piano duet. There’s a good mixture of styles here, but as was requested, avoiding the tricky jazz rhythms which often trip pupils up. My own pupils have enjoyed trying these out over the past few weeks; ‘Tonight at Eight’ was a favourite, as was ‘Popcorn Addict’.

There are additional suggestions for the material to be adapted, including adding body percussion. A number of parts can also be adapted for melody instruments, of which a number of transposed parts are available from the publisher’s website (I couldn’t find them on the publisher’s website, so maybe they are to come soon…).

My only real gripe is that the print is very small. Pupils have also commented on this, and it does make for tricky reading in some places. It’s also meant that some of text directions are hard to read at speed. Although the publisher has indicated that some of the tricky page turns can be photocopied, with a slightly larger staff size, I suspect some of these could have been avoided. Unusually for duet books, the primo part is written directly above the secondo one. I have to be honest and say this isn’t my personal preference, but if doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the music.

Overall, the book is a useful addition to the duet repertoire. It needs a little unpicking, but staff size and page turns aside, the music itself is both appealing and accessible. At £10.95, it’s pretty good value too. Copies can be ordered direct from the publisher, Spartan Press, or from Musicroom.

Waterscape: for flute, oboe or violin and piano (Tim Knight)

This month, maestro Tim Knight released this new piece as a follow on from his Winterscape which was published last year. Waterscape is an evocative piece divided into three sections which run seamlessly into one another.

As always with Tim’s music, it’s both appealing to learn and appealing to play, and that goes for the piano part too. The instrumental part combines with the piano to produce an effective ensemble piece which would sit well in concerts and recitals…maybe even as an own-choice exam piece! I can’t speak for the other instruments, but the piece would well suit a Grade 5 flautist. It’s not yet on Musicroom, but you can order directly from the publisher, Spartan Press, here.

Mosaic, Vol. 2: 26 Easy Educational Works for Solo Piano 

If the sign of a good book is you can easily get lost in it while the clock goes round, this is a good book! I’ve just spent half an hour playing through this, and I can honestly say I played every single piece and liked it. Usually, when books are sent to me, I play a few, skip a few, and play a few more, but not with this one. Perhaps one of the strengths of this volume, as was the case with volume 1, is that by including works by 13 different composers, you really do get huge variety of styles and characters in the music, something often absent in one-composer volumes. Particular favourites were Simon Hester’s ‘A Simpler Life’, Andrew Eales’s ‘Frisbee’, Paul Poston’s ‘Promenade’ and Ben Crosland’s ‘Silver Lining’.

I’d suggest that the majority of pieces in this volume will suit pianists of around Grades 1-2 standard. As ever, it’s a beautifully presented and laid out book and excellent value (about 38p a piece!) The book can be ordered direct from the publisher, Editions Musica Ferrum here, and you can also buy volumes 1 and 2 in a bundle here. You can find my review of volume 1 here.

Hear a selection of the pieces here:

You can also hear more by subscribing to the Editions Musica Ferrum YouTube channel.


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May 2018 New Discoveries

My apologies that with one thing and another, I never quite got round to writing a New Discoveries post for April, but nevertheless, here’s a bumper edition for May!

Graded Pieces for Piano (Ludovico Einaudi)

Two brand new releases here from Chester Music of pieces by Italian composer, Ludovico Einaudi. Published in two volumes (Preparatory to Grade 2 and Grades 3-5), each book contains 20 pieces that have been specially arranged with these grades in mind. Clearly, some pieces have been simplified and in other cases, keys have been altered to make them more accessible to the lower grade pianist; however, none have lost the essence of the music itself.

Each book contains 20 pieces including familiar favourites such as I GiorniLe Onde and Primavera. Although both books contain mainly the same pieces, there is some variation between both volumes. Each piece is preceded by a page of exercises and practice notes designed to prepare pupils before playing the pieces themselves. These exercises, which focus primarily on rhythm and technique, are well thought through and complement the presentation of the pieces themselves. Also included with these books is access to the SoundCheck app which allows for interactive practice.

Both books are very well-presented and designed with a wide range of learners in mind. They offer an excellent introduction to Einaudi’s music at the lower grade levels and would suit children and adults in equal measure. My only criticism is that as with so many books these days, it is almost impossible to get them to lie flat without breaking the spine! Nevertheless, they are good value retailing at just £14.99 each from Musicroom.

Rendezvous with Midnight (Barbara Arens)

If you’re pupils are fans of Einaudi’s music, then Barbara Arens’s bookRendezvous with Midnight, containing 13 ‘Nocturnes for Teens’ may offer a them more pieces in a not dissimilar genre. Aimed at pianists of Grade 4 and above, this book contains a lovely selection of tuneful, heartfelt pieces, all based on snippets of text from poems. To my mind, ‘Looking Back’, based on a poem by W.E. Henley is particularly lovely.

I think that overall, these pieces are inherently satisfying to play and will appeal children and adults alike (it’s a shame they’ve been billed as being ‘for teens’). As will all publications from Editions Musica Ferrum, they are beautifully presented, and excellent value at just £12.00. You can hear the pieces and see the scores in the video below:

Piano Star: Five-Finger Tunes (David Blackwell)

An addition to the Piano Star series is this book of pieces by David Blackwell, all of which are successfully played without changes of hand position. You may be put off by the idea of ‘five-finger position’, and it conjures up nightmares of those pupils who believe that thumbs live only on middle C, but don’t be alarmed. Although the pieces are written in five-finger position, these positions are all over the piano, and even include accidentals.

There’s a nice selection of pieces here including original works and arrangements. I’m not sure where ABRSM see this book fitting in alongside the others in the Piano Star series; I’d personally suggest it could be used before Piano Star 1, although some of the later pieces are harder than those found in that volume, so there is some overlap. Some of the later pieces are around LCM Step 1, and possibly even Step 2 level.

Piano Star: Grade 1 (Compiled and Edited by David Blackwell and Karen Marshall)

Another addition to the Piano Star series is this book of pieces aimed at pupils of around Grade 1 level. It offers a useful follow-on volume from Piano Star 3, and contains 25 original pieces and arrangements by some of today’s leading composers of educational piano works. Of particular note are Nikki Iles’s ‘Just Chillin”, Heather Hammond’s arrangement of the 15th-century ‘Agincourt Song’, and Karen Marshall’s ‘Moon Walk’. As with other books in the Piano Star series, it’s a shame that by presenting them in the way they have with fonts and illustrations, ABRSM have somewhat narrowed the market. I think this is a great shame, and ABRSM would do well to consider publishing them in editions suitable for teenagers and adults. The material is, however, of much use.

Watch below as Karen and David introduce both these new two books:


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March 2018 New Discoveries

Here’s my monthly round-up of new music, pieces and resources I discovered in March.

Three Pieces for flute, oboe or clarinet and piano (Tim Knight)

Published in 2000, I’ve only recently discovered these lovely pieces by Tim Knight. Like my own Three Holiday Sketches and Three Country Pictures, they are published by Phylloscopus Publications (distributed by Spartan Press). The first thing to say is that these pieces are flexibly scored, the melody line being playable on either flute, oboe or clarinet (all three parts are included as separate sheets).

The set opens with a lilting ‘Allegretto Pastorale’, but for me, the two other movements, both ‘Celtic Tunes’, are the stars of the show. Both these are movements in which the melody instrument can really sing out. I can’t speak for the oboe or clarinet parts, but the flute parts would suit a player of around Grade 4 level, and the three pieces would make a nice set to learn. The pieces are available to purchase from Spartan Press (PP332), and you can find more information here.

Ten Short Pieces for solo piano (Alex Nikiporenko)

It is true, that in my own teaching, finding music to suit adult learners of piano has not always been easy. As Alex himself says:

‘I have been teaching piano for many years now, and have been made aware of the shortage of easier pieces targeted towards adults. In an attempt to fill this gap I have composed and published my first book – Ten short pieces for solo piano. My goal was to write musically rewarding pieces in a contemporary, minimal style that would be relatively easy for an amateur. They are all quite short – the longest one is four pages, and there are three pieces that are only a page long.’

Alex has included a variety of pieces in this book in a range of styles. These range from the lilting 6/8 ‘epping’ soundscape, to the driving and relentless ‘remind them’. Overall, these pieces would suit adults keen to begin exploring the contemporary repertoire. Whilst, in general the format of the pieces will be familiar to them, there are a few more challenging features, notably ‘a few steps behind’ which has no time signature. Similarly the irregular 7/8 time signature of ‘your place’, and the quintuplets and septuplets of ‘what has this got to do with me and you’. The book is billed as being for ‘easy to intermediate level’. For me personally, I’d say most fall into the Grades 3-5 bracket, perhaps some of them, for their complexities extending to Grade 6. You can hear Alex play the pieces in this video, and they can be ordered via Alex’s website here.

Mosaic, Volume 1 (Editions Musica Ferrum)

Another new release from Editions Musica Ferrum who really are showing themselves to be at the forefront of music, especially piano music publishing at the moment. Mosaic is the the first volume in a new series, and contains 26 easy educational piano works. 13 composers are represented in this volume, including Musical Ferrum regulars, Barbara Arens, Alison Matthews and Ben Crosland.

Overall, the pieces challenge the player to put their own stamp and character into their performances. For example, Sarah Konecsni’s ‘Inside the Pharoah’s Tomb’ requires the player to ‘tiptoe cautiously’, before concluding ‘bravely’. There are technical challenges too, particularly the crossing over of hands in Barbara Arens’ ‘On Tiptoe through the Haunted House’ and Anna Blonsky’s ‘Cross Over the Sea Bridge’. Similarly, Borislava Taneva’s ‘Funny car horns’ requires the player to both knock the wood of the piano, and stomp over the pedal with the foot!

Overall, a lovely characterful mixture of pieces, presented, as always with Editions Musical Ferrum, clearly and with precision. One huge benefit is that unlike some other publishers, they have not fallen into the trap of cramming the pages full of childish pictures which severely restricts their usage. In terms of level, I’d say Grades 1-3, and they’d suit both adults and children alike. At just £8.99, the book is also extremely good value. I understand that volume 2 is already in production, but in the meantime, you can order volume 1 direct from the publisher here.

Find out more in this video:


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