Teaching the tricky intermediate stages, by Karen Marshall

My guest post this week has been written by piano teacher and author Karen Marshall. Karen feels passionately about keeping students engaged in their piano studies, with emphasis on enjoyment, so they want to continue their piano playing. I asked her what elements she considered most important when teaching at the intermediate level (approximately Grade 3 – 5). Over to Karen…


The intermediate stage of learning the piano – and indeed any instrument – is a notoriously tricky period. Many teachers may find students dropping off, losing interest and quitting lessons. I’ve been teaching now for over 25 years and it could not fail to come to my attention that these stages of learning were some of the most difficult to progress through.

There are multiple reasons for this, but I believe it is often at least partly due to increased school work (leaving less time to practise), at the same time as music becoming considerably more complex.  Students who have a good ear and have previously been able to memorise music will start to struggle to do this with the longer repertoire.  Added to that, frustrations mount as music becomes more technically and musically demanding, resulting in slower progress.

My solution to these problems was to come up with an intermediate curriculum for my students that would help to develop their musical understanding and provide a holistic learning experience. But I also realised that my students required variety, the opportunity to be creative, and a continual sense of achievement. If these elements are combined with key theory, technical development, and carefully chosen repertoire, I found that note-reading will be improved, technique and musicality developed and students will gain a greater understanding of what they are learning.

The Intermediate Pianist is an amalgamation of my life’s work, tailoring this holistic approach for use with Grade 3 to 5 level students. It is a series of three books that has emerged from years of working with these students, aided by many attractive compositions by Heather Hammond.  It is, in essence, a music curriculum that piano teachers can use to fit their teaching style, either by working through each chapter in lessons, or by getting students to use it at home.

Co-author Heather Hammond and I have paced the books to take into account varying time students have to practise. We made sure that the music deliberately spanned a range of difficulty levels and styles, so some pieces can be learnt in just one or two weeks, whilst others are more challenging. This approach has been highly successful in ensuring my students didn’t give up the piano, and very luckily I was able to get this curriculum published. Here’s a quick look at the different elements:

To provide variety and understanding

25 Styles of music explained with definitions and activities over three books.  Including March and Lullabies, Swing and Boogies; Polka and Baroque Dance Suits, Four chord Pop and Reggae; Latin and Theme and Variations, Impressionism and Minimalism.

To provide opportunities for creativity and understanding

Musicianship activities included throughout from playing by ear to transposition, listening activities to recognising cadences.  Theory is included in a creative and attractive way with word searches and quiz activities.

To provide pace and ‘quick wins’

Quick learn material for sight reading – lots of easier material is included so students will have enough time to complete the whole book and experience lots of styles, keys and improve their sight reading.  Pieces move forward and backwards in levels for consolidation.

To provide understanding

Technique – All keys’ scales and arpeggios are covered up to five flats and five sharps along with carefully selected technical exercises or repertoire to develop key technique.

To keep students inspire using the repertoire of great composers

Repertoire – Core repertoire has been selected from Bach’s Anna Magdalena Note book and his Two Part Inventions, Schumann’s Album for the Young, Tchaikovsky’s Children Album, Clementi Sonatinas Opus 36, Burgmuller’s Opus 100, Chopin’s Preludes and Bartok’s For Children.  This is combined with new composition and arrangements or famous classical music from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony to the Flower Duet by Delibes, Howard Goodhall’s QI theme and Por Una Cabeza Tango.

You can purchase The Intermediate Pianist from all good retailers, or from Faber’s website, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

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Lang Lang Music Theory Cards Twitter Competition

The new Lang Lang Music Theory Cards, published just last month by Faber Music, are colourful, informative and innovative. Fifty-two colour coded cards are designed to extend knowledge and make theory an enjoyable experience for students, teachers and parents. Each pack features imaginative questions to improve note-reading and music theory skills. The cards are the latest addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy; they can be used in conjunction with the Lang Lang Piano Method and are suitable for complete beginners.

With questions such as ‘True or false’, ‘What’s the difference?’ and ‘Explain this!’ alongside favourite characters displayed in the piano method books, these fun-filled packs add a different dimension to learning theory, offering an engaging, appealing adventure. Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang is renowned for his work in music education and has inspired millions of children to study the piano.

Learning an instrument can be a really important part of a child’s development and a great way to improve many things like concentration and focus. Learning needs to be enjoyable as well and I’m sure kids will make good progress and be inspired to keep going with this series.”
Lang Lang

You can purchase the cards here, and sign up to Faber Music’s mailing list here, to hear more about The Lang Lang Piano Academy, plus music education and piano news & ideas from Faber Music.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.



 

Piano Gallery: the winner…

Many thanks to all for taking part in my first competition of the year. The prize is a copy of Piano Gallery, a new collection of 14 pieces written by Pam Wedgwood and published by Faber Music.

The winner is:

SHARON SCOTT

Congratulations! Please send your address via the contact page here on this blog, and your book will be on its way.

More competitions coming soon! For more information on Piano Gallery, click here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

Weekend Competition: Piano Gallery

The first competition of 2018 features an innovative, attractive volume penned by renowned composer Pamela Wedgwood. Piano Gallery  (published in November 2017 by Faber Music) is a collection of 14 piano pieces which, as the title suggests, have all been inspired by great works of art. Each piece corresponds to a particular painting, and these paintings have been beautifully printed and included as a pull-out (in the middle of the publication) alongside the music.

‘I’ve relished writing this music that responds to the mood, colour, style, story and even humour behind each painting.’

Pamela Wedgwood

The works are easily accessible and intended for the intermediate level pianist (around Grade 4 – 6 of ABRSM standard). Playing through them, I would suggest they contain a variety of styles, yet Pam’s own voice can still be clearly heard. I enjoyed Starry Night (painting by Vincent Van Gogh), Fatata te Miti (painting by Paul Gauguin) and Large Wave (painting by Hokusai).

You can discover the music and paintings behind them for yourself by taking part in my competition. I have one copy to giveaway to one lucky winner. As usual, just leave your comment in the comment box below this blog post, and I will pick the winner on Sunday evening (British time). Be sure to check the post here on this blog, to see if you’ve been selected. Good luck!

You can find out more about Piano Gallery, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide: the winner is…

Many thanks to all who took part in this weekend’s competition. The prize is a copy of the new Faber Music book, The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide written by Anthony Williams.

The winner is…

JULIE REEMAN

Congratulations! Please send your address via the contact page here on my blog, and your book will be on its way!

You can find out more about this publication, here.


 

The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide: Weekend competition!

Continuing with my recent focus on Faber Music’s Piano Month, pianist, teacher and ABRSM examiner Anthony Williams has contributed the following interesting guest post about the perils and pleasures of piano teaching, in relation to his new book. The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide (published by Faber Music). This generous volume contains so much useful information for piano teachers everywhere.

Anthony’s post is entitled, A Journey for Survival, and it first appeared in the Faber Music Piano Catalogue, which you can read here. I have one copy of this book to give away, and If you would like to win please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of the post. I will pick a winner on Sunday night, British time (do check my blog on Sunday evening to see if you’ve been selected). Good Luck! Over to Anthony…


I remember vivdly, and with some embarrassment, giving my first piano lessons to young piano pupils in North London. As a young concert pianist I had no previous experience in piano teaching but parents who had heard me play thought that this gave me the expertise and understanding to teach their son or daughter. I loved teaching but it was a huge responsibility and I fear I bluffed my way through, always acutely aware of my fallibility and failings. Despite my best efforts to find out more about teaching at this level I found it very hard to glean much advice from colleagues or to find any books which gave me the fundamental knowledge or appropriate musical strategies that

I needed to teach young pupils.

In an effort to find out more, I made the development of a free and relaxed technique the focus of my Master’s degree and, whilst continuing a performing career, devoted myself to piano teaching and to developing my own expertise and understanding. I explored, researched and analysed recordings and videos of my own teaching to discover what worked and, of course, what didn’t, and I consulted with more experienced teachers. Eventually I found myself talking to and discussing teaching in seminars and became a mentor and tutor on a number of Professional Development Courses. As a result I have had the privilege of sitting in on hundreds of piano lessons given by other teachers, naturally embracing some of their fabulous ideas to use in my own teaching and hopefully offering some of my own in return.

More recent presenting work and masterclasses over a number of years have given me the opportunity to explore areas of teaching in even greater depth, to share ideas in more detail and to pass these on to other teachers, both in the UK and internationally. It wasn’t long before I had a huge resource of material on all areas of piano performance, piano teaching and piano technique and I found myself being contacted regularly by piano teachers asking for help on specific areas of their teaching. Keen to do this, I also promised numerous times that I would eventually put all my thoughts and pooled knowledge in one place and the idea (though not the title) of The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide came to mind, and for some time was an ambition close to my heart. A sabbatical and some much-needed encouragement from Faber Music finally encouraged me to put in the work and the book became a reality.

It’s not a ‘how to teach’ book, it’s a book of ideas, thoughts and fundamental principles, and yet I wanted it to be more than just a sharing of information about piano technique and performance. In my early years my inexperience as a teacher meant I often neglected the musical imagination and creativity that inspires pupils to put in hard work and practice. I now strongly believe in putting communication, a love of the beauty of sound and an understanding of the physical relationship with the piano at the heart of teaching to nurture a truly instinctive and musical performer. Combine this with a relaxed, balanced and instinctive (rather than drilled) physical approach to the piano and you allow the natural personality of the performer to emerge. This philosophy became the overwhelming context of the book and linked all the threads together.

The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide is a comprehensive and practical guide providing essential advice for all piano teachers. Aiming to improve and develop confidence in teaching skills and piano technique, the book focuses on the best ways to support pupils and develop their love of the piano. Featuring many case studies, musical examples and problem-solving clinics, this is a rich resource of basic principles, useful tools and thought-provoking ideas.

 


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Intermediate Pianist: The winners….

Many thanks to all those who took part in my weekend competition, which was to win one of three new books written by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond.  I really enjoyed reading all your comments. The Intermediate Pianist is a new piano course for those from Grade 3 – 5 level.

The winners are:

Liz Gethings wins Book 1

Flora Tzanetaki wins Book 2

and, Rebekah Hanna wins Book 3

Congratulations! Please send your address via my contact page here on the blog, and your books will be on their way.

You can find out much more about these publications here.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

Weekend Competition: The Intermediate Pianist

Today’s weekend competition focuses on a new three-book piano course published by Faber Music. The Intermediate Pianist is intended for students and piano teachers tutoring students, from approximately Grades 3 – 5 level. Written by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond, the course is designed to help students (and teachers) negotiate the intermediate stages of learning, where pupils are often prone to quitting. With this in mind, the books are progressive and roughly graded (Book 1 is equivalent to Grade 3 (ABRSM level), Book 2, Grade 4, and Book 3, to that of Grade 5).

Arranged in chapters, each volume features a collection of attractive pieces (both original (many by composer Heather Hammond) and arrangements), and provides a curriculum for teachers to work through with quick-learn studies, musicianship activities, sight-reading exercises and much theoretical information, helpful for those at this crucial stage.

I have three books to give away to three lucky readers, so please leave your comments in the comment box at the end of this blog post and I will announce the winners on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!

You can find out more about the books here.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

Weekend Competition; the winner….

Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition, which was to win a copy of the new Improve your sight-reading! Teacher’s book written by Paul Harris and published by Faber Music.

The winner is…

TAMARA BARSCHAK

CONGRATULATIONS! Please send your address via my contact page.

For more information on this book, please click here.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.


 

Weekend competition and review: Improve your sight-reading! Teacher’s book

Educationalist Paul Harris has written countless publications (over 500), and many have graced my music desk, both for my students (Improve your sight-reading! series, Improve your aural! series), and for my own reading (Simultaneous Learning, The Virtuoso Teacher).

This new volume (published by Faber Music) is intended to help teachers teach their students to sight-read. So just how important is a book like this? Very! I frequently run courses and workshops about sight-reading, such is the demand for finding the optimum way to improve what is essentially a demanding skill.

In this helpful publication, Paul has taken his own formulae, and carefully dissected it, step by step, running through the most important aspects, helping teachers to grasp a clearer understanding of how to ‘put it across’ easily to their pupils in lessons (always a challenge).

The book opens with much written information covering what must be considered before playing a note (I’m very keen on this; good sight-reading begins with sound preparation). Teachers are then guided through the most vital steps. After a note on how to use the book (and the Improve your sight-reading! series), everything is examined from developing musicality, to multitasking (which runs through the basics, such as rhythm, note and melodic patterns, verbalising, reading ahead, remembering the key, fingering) and the crucial Super Golden Rules. Handy sight-reading warm-up tips appear, before moving to the main body of the volume, which works through copious musical examples (in a similar manner to the Improve your sight-reading! series, but with more practice tips to implement in piano lessons).

Based on the Grade 1 – Grade 5 (ABRSM) piano exams, there are several stages of learning for each grade; each one focuses on a particular element (stage 1 in Grade 1 highlights the time signature 4/4, the crotchet beat and rest, and the key of C major, for example). These stages are clearly set out at the beginning of the chapter (for every grade), alongside an Activities notice board which seeks to explain various activities to be introduced to students whilst working through the corresponding chapters. Once the various stages have been worked through (with a page of musical tests for each one), we move onto Grade 2.

This book succinctly explains how to address the sight-reading factor, and teachers will no doubt find it a practical, convenient volume to keep at the side of the piano.

I have one copy to give away in my Weekend Competition, so please leave your name and comment in the comment box at the end of this post, and I’ll announce the winner on Monday evening. Good Luck!

You can find out more about this publication here.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of 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.