Practice Tips for Exam Pieces: Christopher Norton

Today’s guest post has been written by renowned composer Christopher Norton. This is the first article in a mini-series on this blog over the next few months, where Chris will take students through his own piano pieces, many of which are currently featured on various exam syllabuses, offering helpful practice tips and suggestions.

We begin with the piano duet Enchanted Castle, the primo part of which features on List B of the ABRSM’s Initial Grade 2021-2022 syllabus.


Written in 1992, Microjazz Duets Collection 1 was a book of new pieces at an easier level than existing duets had been (Microjazz Duets and More Microjazz Duets, reissued as Microjazz Duet Collections 2 and 3). The pieces in Microjazz Duets Collection 1 are all pre-Grade 1 to Grade 1 in difficulty. The book covers a characteristically wide range of styles – country, rock, folk, Latin, etc.

Here’s a link to a lovely performance of Enchanted Castle given by two students:

Preparing Enchanted Castle for an Examination

The Secondo part is marked p and it should definitely be quieter than the Primo part! The descending figures should be played very legato, with a slight drop of the wrist on the first note and a rise of the wrist on the second note. The Second player is most likely to pedal. Pedal after the 2nd note of each 2-note figure and bring the pedal off as you play the first note of the answering figure. Don’t pedal in bar 9 and similar places – play very legato, with a slight crescendo to bar 12 and softer again by bar 14. A really warm tone at bar 16.  No pedal in bars 16 and 17, pedal again from bar 21 to the end.

In E natural minor, this piece has an A section of 8 bars, then the first 4 bars are repeated with a different ending. The B section changes to major (chords of C and D) before a restatement of the last 4 bars of the A section.

The melody is divided between Primo and Secondo, with the A section featuring Primo and the B section Secondo then Primo.

There are lots of open chords (no 3rds, sometimes described as E5 or D5) and open chords with added 9ths.

The style is lyrical and cantabile, with an impressionist element.

The Primo part should have a singing tone and be shaped so that it feels like you’re building to bar 5, then shaping the phrase away from bar 7. Use arm weight at bar 19 and then place the 2-n-one chords beautifully from bar 21, both right hand notes playing at the same time. Play the ending really quietly.

E5 / / | / / / | D5 / / |  / / /  | E5 / / | / /  / | D5 / / | /  / / |

C / / | / / / | D / / |  / / /  | E5 / / | / /  / |  / / / | /  / / ||

Composition Techniques

Chord Analysis

Simple Improv:

Use the Secondo part as a background for improvising. Either get another player to play it or record yourself playing it. I’ve done that with a click (metronome!):

First play chords in both hands with the left-hand part playing. Enjoy the voicing (how the notes of each chord are arranged) and the dynamics!

Now some patterns to play with these chord shapes. Here are three suggestions – play right through the chord progression keeping the same pattern going:

Pattern 1

Pattern 2

Pattern 3

Try your own patterns through the chord progression using the 4-note chords.

Finally, some simple right hand ideas. Use the E pentatonic motor scale and the track supplied (or live accompaniment from someone else) and play freely (but in time!) An octave higher will always work well.

Some simple devices:

  • create your own simple variations of the original melody
  • use the notes of the pentatonic scale (E, G, A, B, D, E) in any order to make your own melodies, repeating ideas if you can
  • “answer” the first 2 bars of your tune with a different, contrasting idea
  • Harmonise your melody with only the key notes (E, D, C)

    For those who would like to play this piece as a duet, Chris has kindly supplied the Secondo part as a giveaway, and you can download it here: Enchanted Castle (Secondo)

    Christopher Norton

Composer, arranger, and teacher, Christopher Norton is universally regarded as the leader in his field. Born in 1953, he is a New Zealand-born, now Canadian-based composer.

His long and fruitful association with Boosey & Hawkes has resulted in the world-famous Microjazz series, the Preludes for piano, 2 Concert Collections for piano and, with his wife Wendy, 30 Micromusicals.

In 2005 he wrote Connections for Piano for the RCM. The series is now owned by Christopher and published by his own company, In 2006 he wrote American Popular Piano for Novus Via Publications.

Christopher is in high demand for his unique and creative presentations, both live and on line. He offers sessions ranging from improvisation coaching for private teachers to adjudicating non-competitive piano festivals with literally thousands of student entries; from offering personal, intensive master class sessions at all levels to lectures in advanced composition. Everywhere he goes, his fresh and uplifting approach to music never fails to inspire and enlighten all who attend.

In the last 5 years, Christopher has written a series of concert works A very well received Jazz Piano Sonata, an Italian Suite for 2 Pianos, a Turkish-Anatolian Suite for 2 pianos and an Idaho Suite for solo piano are among the many new publications from 80dayspublishing.

Christopher now lives, with his wife, another published composer, in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

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