I imagine most writers wait for reviews with bated breath. I certainly do. Writers spend a significant period of time alone. I enjoy the solitude. It offers ample thinking time and space to consider piano practice and performance. But once a book is written and ideas are set in stone, the only option is to hope that it is useful and that the relevant information has been offered in a logical manner so that it can be easily understood.
Play it again: PIANO has been a popular series so far, and Book 1 and 2 have both sold successfully around the world. Adding Book 3 seemed to be the natural progression, however it was a much more complicated book to write than the previous two volumes, mostly due to the complexity of the music and the detail required for advanced learners. You can, therefore, imagine my delight at receiving the following review earlier this week.
Renowned writer and reviewer Andrew Eales runs a successful blog called Pianodao. He regularly features new piano publications on his blog, and has already written a lovely review for the first two books in my series. The following wonderfully positive and detailed article includes information about Book 3, and offers an excellent overview of each book. Over to Andrew…
Melanie Spanswick’s Play it Again: Piano series launched with two books published by Schott Music back in 2017. At the time, I heaped praise on those books, and I have subsequently used them with adult “returners” who have also loved them.
Now, with a third book joining the series, it’s time for another look. This new review covers all three books in the series, so let’s dig in…
Who is it for?
One of the first questions I ask myself whenever looking at a new sheet music product is – “who is this aimed at?”
Popular author, teacher and composer Melanie Spanswick makes her target crystal clear from the outset, with a subtitle, ‘The perfect way to rediscover the piano’, and with a back cover description that reads:
“Aimed at ‘returning’ players who have spent some time away from the keyboard, Play it Again: Piano gives you the confidence to revisit this fulfilling pastime and go beyond what you previously thought you could achieve. Each piece in this two-book course is accompanied by constructive and easy-to-understand practice tips to help get your fingers speeding comfortably across the keys once again! The Piano Technique and Theory sections will help secure a fuller understanding of music and technique.
If you often find yourself saying ‘I used to play the piano…’ but wish you still did, then Play it Again: Piano is the resource for you!”
The first two volumes between them cover the full range of the eight grades offered by leading UK exam boards, meaning that the returning player can either recap from the start, developing good new habits while revising well-loved music and encountering new pieces, or else jump straight in at the level that suits them.
Meanwhile, the newly available third book covers post-Grade 8 and Associate Diploma level, making it ideal for those working towards professional qualifications, as well as those who are simply intent on taking their personal piano journey to the next level.
The outstanding quality of these books is immediately apparent. The high gloss card covers contain 116 (Book 1), 120 (Book 2) and in the case of the third book 156 pages, printed on high quality paper with a slight sheen to it. The binding is very good, allowing even the third book to lie flat on the music stand, while also remaining durable.
The design itself is simply beautiful (and I mean seriously very good indeed!), and at a first skim through the books it is clear that they include a wealth of nicely engraved sheet music alongside plentiful text.
Just on the notation, I should mention for fellow purists that pieces from the Baroque and Classical Eras sometimes (including at Diploma level) include editorial dynamics and phrasing rather than taking a clean urtext approach.
There are helpful fingering suggestions throughout, again including in the third book.
In More Detail
Each book starts with a technique primer section, offering a few pages of excellent advice supported with clear black-and-white photographs. These sections cover posture, hand positions, flexibility and alignment, and advice is expanded and developed throughout the three books.
The first two books follow this with a section covering general tips about practice, including some positive suggestions for working on scales, arpeggios, finger warm-ups, and sight-reading.
The first two books each ends with a short section about Music Theory. In the first book this covers basic reminders of note values, time signatures, clefs and pitch, and key signatures, while in the second book the reader is treated to clearly explained information about scales, intervals, the circle of fifths, ornaments, chord progressions and cadences.
In place of this, the third book concludes with a short section about practice warm-ups, and although just a brief two pages, this is useful.
Between these various supports, the bulk of each book is taken up with the pieces at each level, always preceded by (at least) two full pages of advice covering such issues as:
- Preparation (usually incorporating a suitable scale or short exercise)
- Practice Techniques (offering invaluable and often creative advice)
- Interpretation (usually a short suggestion or two about creating the right mood)
In the third book, these playing tips extend up to as long as 12 pages, and the wealth of detail and expertise here might be seen as the book’s key selling point. Spanswick has not only provided superb tips for the included repertoire, but illuminates effective strategies which players might equally adopt and apply in other concert repertoire of their own choosing.
A key question is whether this rich resource provides sufficient information for the adult player to work alone, without the help of a teacher. It does not claim to do so, but some adult returners may approach the course with that in mind.
Personally I believe that the three books provide an outstanding source for independent learning, but without replacing the need for a good teacher’s diagnostic expertise, support and guidance.
The diversity of music selected across the three books is superb, and covers so many bases that the supporting writing is able to equally deal with a very broad range of piano playing styles, techniques and piano playing issues.
Here, then, is the full list of included pieces:
Elementary (Grades 1-2)
- Henry Purcell: Air in D minor
- Christian Petzold: Minuet in G
- Henri Bertini: Andantino
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Sick Doll
- Edward Elgar: Salut d’Amour
- John Kember: Calypso
- Elena Cobb: Super Duck
Late Elementary (Grades 2-3):
- Jeremiah Clarke: King William’s March
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Allegro in B-flat major
- Robert Schumann: Soldier’s March
- Cornelius Gurlitt: Allegro non troppo Op.82 No.65
- Ludvig Schytte: Study Op.108 No.25
- Scot Joplin (arr. Spanswick): Maple Leaf Rag
- Tim Richards: Jump Shuffle
Early Intermediate (Grades 3-4):
- J.S. Bach: Prelude in C minor BWV999
- Henry Lemoine: Study in F major Op.37 No.20
- Charles Gounod: Les Pifferari (The Italian Pipers)
- Fryderyk Chopin: Prelude in A major Op.28 No.7
- Trad. arr. Barrie Carson Turner: The Sailor’s Hornpipe
- John Kember: Mississippi Rag
- Bill Readdy: Three ‘Outasight’ Mice
Intermediate (Grades 4-5)
- Muzio Clementi: Sonatina in G major Op.36 No.2 (first movement)
- Carl Czerny: Study in C major Op.849 No.29
- J.F.F. Burgmüller: Ballade Op.100 No.15
- Mozart, arr. Heumann: A Little Night Music Kv525
- Erik Satie: Gymnopédie No.1
- Jürgen Moser: Fried Chicken
- Melanie Spanswick: Karma
Late Intermediate (Grades 5-6)
- C.P.E. Bach: Solfeggietto in C minor H.220
- Ludwig van Beethoven: Für Elise WoO59
- Felix Mendelssohn-Batholdy: Song Without Words Op.30 No.3
- Hermann Berens: Study in F major Op.88 No.18
- Elena Cobb: Lavender Haze
- Melanie Spanswick: Seahorse Dream
Early Advanced (Grades 6-7):
- George Frideric Handel: Allegro from Suite in G major HWV441
- W.A. Mozart: Allegro from Sonata in C major Kv545
- Beethoven: Adagio Sostenuto from Sonata Op.27/2 “Moonlight”
- Johann Baptist Cramer: Study in C major Op.50 No.1
- Johannes Brahms: Waltz in A-flat major Op.39 No.15
- Sven Hormuth: Sweat Feet Stomp
Advanced (Grades 7-8):
- Franz Schubert: Impromptu in A flat major D.935 No.2
- Stephen Heller: Warrior’s Song Op.45 No.15
- Claude Debussy: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair L.117 No.8
- Trad. arr. Barrie Carson Turner: Londonderry Air
- Joaquín Turina: Fiesta Op.52 No.7
Late Advanced (Grade 8+):
- J.S. Bach: Prelude & Fugue in C minor BWV847
- Fryderyk Chopin: ”Raindrop” Prelude Op.28 No.15
- Scott Joplin: The Entertainer
- Sergei Rachmaninov: Prelude in C-sharp minor Op.3 No.2
Post Grade 8 Diploma
- Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in E major K. 215
- Edvard Grieg: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen Op. 65 No. 6
- Claude Debussy: La Puerta del Vino L. 223 No. 3
- Alexander Scriabin: Prelude in B minor Op. 11 No. 6
- Paul Hindemith: Interludium and Fuga Decima in D flat
- Melanie Spanswick: Frenzy, Etude for Nimble Fingers
- Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in C minor ‘Pathetique’ Op 13
- Johannes Brahms: Intermezzo in A major Op. 118 No. 2
- Edward MacDowall: Wild Jagd from Virtuoso Etudes Op. 46 No. 3
- Issac Albeniz: Asturias Leyenda Op. 47 No. 5
- Sergei Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12
This is a wonderfully nourishing, enriching and fascinating selection on many counts.
Firstly, the author has made a virtue of selecting contemporary pieces in popular and jazzy styles, as well as pieces equally representing Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century playing and compositional styles. And at almost all levels, there is a technical study.
Secondly, it is refreshing to welcome three of Spanswick’s own compositions here: the minimalistic Karma, more lyrical Seahorse Dream, and the dizzyingly enjoyable Frenzy: Étude for Nimble Fingers. The inclusion of two pieces by Elena Cobb is also most welcome; Lavender Haze has proved hugely popular with my students; it’s a particularly ravishing discovery!
Thirdly, for players looking for a balanced selection of appealing pieces to work on between grades, these are near perfect anthologies, with an ideal mix and juxtaposition of lesser known material and contemporary pieces alongside several of the most evergreen favourites of the traditional repertoire.
There is undoubtedly a significant and growing market of piano players returning to the instrument later in life, having learnt as children, and looking to progress their skills as adults.
Play it Again: Piano in my view exactly hits the spot for these players, and deserves to be a huge success both for Spanswick and for Schott Music.
From retracing the earliest steps in learning, right through to preparation for a professional diploma, Play it Again: Piano furnishes the adult pianist with a wealth of insight, information and inspiration. It is a genuinely useful, groundbreaking and to the best of my knowledge unique course, certainly deserving of a place in every pianist and teacher’s library.
It is abundantly clear that a huge amount of thought, work and expertise has gone into each and every element of these superb books, and it’s all paid off handsomely: Play it Again: Piano is simply one of the most brilliantly conceived and stunningly produced sheet music publications of recent years.
Writing reviews can at times necessitate an element of speculation, but this inspiring series has already passed the ultimate test: my own adult students love and are truly inspired by the first two books; the arrival of the third is welcome news indeed!
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.