Recommended Piano Resources for Spring 2017

I haven’t posted a recommended resource list for a while, but hopefully today’s group of piano related publications and courses will be of interest. As always, there’s plenty for piano aficionados of all levels and abilities, from collections and compilations to new concert studies for the virtuoso pianist, and several inspiring piano courses set in sumptuous scenery. Competition giveaways of some of those resources mentioned here will be coming soon. Enjoy!


Elementary/Early Intermediate

Play it again: PIANO – Book 1

This is a two-book piano course published by Schott Music and written by me. Book 1 will be available from April 3rd 2017 (Book 2 is scheduled to be published in June). Designed for those returning to piano playing after a break, the course would also be useful for any teenage or adult piano student requiring a selection of progressive piano pieces to either study alone or whilst working with a teacher. Book 1 features twenty-eight selected pieces from approximately grades 1 – 5 standard. Each section contains seven piano pieces, and they are categorised as Elementary (grades 1 – 2 level), Late Elementary (grades 2 – 3), Early Intermediate (grades 3 – 4), and Intermediate (grades 4 – 5). I have included a huge array of genres from Baroque music through to rock, jazz and improvisation; each level includes an arrangement and a technical study. Every piece has two pages of practice tips and suggestions, with photos, diagrams and musical examples. You can find out more and watch taster videos here, and purchase your copy here.

Diversions Book 1 & 2

Two volumes for late elementary students written by Spanish composer Juan Cabeza and published by Piano Safari. Diversions Book 1 and Book 2 contain a collection of 42 patterned etudes for piano. Each etude focuses on a single technical pattern encountered by students in the early stages of piano study, including scales, arpeggios, chords, repeated notes, intervals, and other common pianistic patterns. The patterned structures make it easy for students to decode and understand the music. Most of the pieces are transposable allowing students to assimilate each concept thoroughly. These works range in difficulty from elementary to early intermediate level. I really like Juan’s music and I know young players (and teachers) will enjoy using these pieces in both lessons and concerts. Find out more and purchase here.

48 Easy Concert Pieces

A collection of concert pieces in progressive order from fairly elementary to intermediate level.  According to publishers, Schott Music, ‘These pieces are intended to complement a piano tutorial method and are particularly suitable for performance at auditions, concerts, competitions and examinations.’ They offer totally varied repertoire in a broad selection of pieces from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern periods. It’s always useful to have compilations such as this, whether you’re a teacher or student, and this volume would make ideal sight-reading material too. The publication includes works by; Petzold, Dandrieu, Handel, J.S Bach, Haydn, Vanhall, W. A. Mozart, Beethoven and many more. Purchase your copy here.

Intermediate

The Entertainer

A new volume in the Pianissimo collection published by Schott Music; 100 entertaining pieces are suitable for intermediate players, and contain much-loved favourites such as The Entertainer, the soundtrack from Amélie, My Heart Will Go On from Titanic, Memories from Cats, My Way by Frank Sinatra, amongst others. ‘Classical Highlights’ feature Mozart’s Turkish March, Wagner’s famous Bridal Chorus, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5. ‘Song Highlights’ contain catchy tunes from the areas of blues, gospel, and folk music, like Oh Happy Day, Down By The Riverside or Matilda.  A mixture of original pieces and arrangements, there’s definitely something for everyone here! Buy your copy and find out more by clicking here.

Intermediate/ Advanced

Film Themes: The Piano Collection

Film Themes: The Piano Collection, published by Faber Music, contains thirty sympathetically arranged classic yet contemporary, and ‘up to the minute’ pieces for the intermediate to advanced player. Featuring favourites from such films as Star Wars, Frozen, Hunger Games, How To Train Your Dragon and Twilight, plus several pieces from the Harry Potter film series and “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” from the acclaimed new movie La La Land.  This selection offers an excellent alternative to standard repertoire, particularly for the film buff, and I know my advanced students would love this volume as a fun alternative to traditional sight-reading material. A great addition to the student, teacher and piano lover’s library. Purchase your copy here.

Eastern Preludes

Not necessarily a new publication, but one which must be included on this list. Eastern Preludes (published by Boosey & Hawkes) are a collection of intermediate to advanced level pieces written by the outstanding educational British composer, Christopher Norton. No doubt inspired by the composer’s many visits to the East, they are sure to be favourites amongst those who seek alternative repertoire between exams or different concert repertoire material. Each one explores the rich musical landscape of the East weaving native themes from countries including China, India, Japan, Korea, and Thailand with the composer’s characteristically attractive, popular style. A useful accompanying CD features each work, and has been beautifully recorded by pianist Iain Farrington. I enjoyed exploring these pieces; they are comfortable to play and perfect for those who like to delve into various atmospheric sound worlds. Find out more and buy your copy here.

Advanced

La La Land

The music from the new hit movie. Those who loved the film will surely appreciate this piano assortment of ten numbers, published by Faber Music.  The romantic musical comedy-drama film has now won six Oscars, seven Golden Globes and six BAFTAs. Written by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, this excellent selection have all been transcribed for piano and voice with guitar chords, following the original music and keys as closely as possible. I would suggest the arrangements are generally for advanced pianists, but some are simpler, and may be suitable for those of intermediate (roughly grades 4 – 6) level. You can purchase your copy and find out more here.

Birds; Études Tableaux for piano

A new set of advanced concert studies (Grade 8 – diploma) by British writer and composer Andrew Higgins. Published by EVC Music Publications, each piece focuses on a different bird; Penguins (a study in bi-tonality and chromatics), is described by the composer as ‘a polytonal life of joie de vivre and exuberance on the one hand, and clownish clumsiness on the other’. This is followed by A Wise Old Owl (a study in control and tempo), The Swan (a study for three against twos), Albatross (a study in three-part playing), Hummingbirds (a study in flexible rhythms and rubato), and Lovebirds (a study in improvisation). All good fun and very useful for technical development. You can listen to each piece, purchase your copy and find out more here.

Alberto Ginastera in Switzerland

This new anthology (published by Boosey & Hawkes) explores the late works and life of the Argentinian composer. In 1971, Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983) relocated to Geneva to make a fresh start with Aurora Natola, an Argentinian cellist resident in Switzerland. This volume was published on the occasion of the first centenary of the composer’s birth, and the Paul Sacher Foundation seeks to retrace the previously little-known late phase of Ginastera’s life and works. Featuring six essays illuminating different facets of his late years on the basis of the surviving manuscripts, letters, and other records, this publication is a fascinating historical document and selection of piano pieces. Find out more and purchase here.

Piano Courses

Almalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival

This piano course has it all: an illustrious faculty and a plethora of performance opportunities, set in gorgeous Italian scenery. Launched in 1996, the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival welcomes students and guests from all over the world for a month-long array of events. The festival celebrates its 22nd anniversary season in 2017. The piano programme runs from July 14th – 26th, with a myriad of activities on offer for pianists including individual lessons, daily master classes, workshops, and the opportunity to perform in institute recitals. The faculty includes Ian Jones (Royal College of Music), Boris Berman (Yale School of Music), Jerome Lowenthal (Juilliard School), Ursula Oppens (Brooklyn College & CUNY Graduate Center), and Steven Spooner (University of Kansas), plus many more. Find out about it and apply here.

PIANO WEEK

Organised by British concert pianist Samantha Ward, this non-residential full-time piano course and festival is set in spectacular Italian surroundings. It’s one of a whole series run in various parts of the world throughout the year, offering students lessons, performance opportunities, sight-reading classes, composition and music theory classes, plus time to practice and the opportunity to attend all faculty recitals and master classes. The upcoming course takes place in beautiful Foligno, and there are still a few places available. The faculty includes Samantha Ward, Maciej Raginia, Roberto Russo, and Mark Nixon. Running from 20th – 23rd April 2017, you can apply to attend or participate, and enjoy the new promotional video here.


 

 

 

9 Top Recommended Piano Resources for July 2015

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This month’s recommended resources include a mixture of piano music, text books and courses. Hopefully I’ve featured something of interest for all levels and abilities. Enjoy!


Beginners and Elementary

Floating Snowflakes, I Like Bananas, & Martians Come to Town

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Three new pieces written by American composer and teacher Dr. Julie Knerr are published by Piano Safari. Piano Safari is an increasingly popular method for beginners and these little pieces reinforce the method book teaching. They are essentially duets for pupil and teacher, providing excellent practice for students as well as the much-needed confidence playing with a teacher bestows. The primo parts are written on one stave, and they are all jolly, tuneful, upbeat pieces that pupils will enjoy. You can hear and purchase them as either a print or digital copy here.

Famous & Fun Deluxe Collections

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Piano teachers are always searching for ways to keep students engaged and interested. The Famous & Fun Deluxe Collections arranged by American composer and teacher Carol Matz and published by Alfred Music Publishing, helps teachers do just that, by providing arrangements of pieces which students love and are motivated to practice! Each book contains a mixture of well-loved selections drawn from the entire series. In the “Deluxe Collections,” you’ll find pieces from “Famous & Fun”: Pop, Classics, Favorites, Rock, Duets, and Pop Duets. The series ranges from Early Elementary to Intermediate. Learn more and purchase here (Amazon UK here).

Andante

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A shameless little plug for my new duet for those of around Grades 2/3 level. It’s a prelude to a collection of 10 duets I’ve written intended for those of Grades 2-4 level (late elementary), to be published in September. The challenge was to write a set of duets with each one lasting no longer than eight or ten bars (measures)! Not an easy task. They have a Minimalist flavour and are, I hope, enjoyable and fun to play. You can hear Andante and purchase the piece here.

Intermediate

Ballads Without Words

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Last month’s recommendations included British composer Heather Hammond’s new piece, The Wheels of Time.  Heather has now completed her collection of eight pieces for piano (published by EVC Publications). As the title suggest, these works are all lyrical, with attractive tunes and poignant melodies. They are ideal for pupils who want to play something different between exams and for those who like to explore essentially jazzy harmonies and syncopated rhythms. Around Grades 5-7 standard (Intermediate/late Intermediate), Listen and purchase Ballads Without Words here.

Babylon & Lavender Mist

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These very effective pieces, written by British composer and publisher Elena Cobb, are designed for those of around Grades 5/6 standard (intermediate level). Babylon is a dark, dramatic work with an arresting theme, coloured by chromatic harmonies, using plenty of bass notes which ring out right from the outset. Listen to Babylon and get your copy here. Lavender Mist has an essentially jazzy, bluesy feel, with copious colourful chordal progressions moving up and down the keyboard, and a laid back pulse. Listen to Lavender Mist and purchase here.

Arietta and Nuit d’etoiles

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American composer and teacher Rick Robertson, has written a whole library of works for the piano. Arietta and Nuit d’etoiles are late intermediate level pieces (for Grades 5-7), and are both melodically interesting and eminently playable. Nuit d’etoiles (Starry Night) reflects impressionistic colours with ‘Ravelian’ sweeps and a dreamily expressive melody. Listen here and get your copy here. Arietta consists of bold thematic material, which is split between the hands, and accompanied by chords, building to a resounding climax; this is a passionate, beautiful piece. Listen here and get your copy here.

Advanced

Lotus Preludes

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The Lotus Preludes, which are a set of 24 short pieces, were composed by Ecuadorian-American composer Alexander J Leon. The works are short, effective and will certainly be of interest to pianists and teachers. Exploring a wide variety of emotions, they range from fairly straightforward to complex pieces. The composer says; ‘Each work in the set is a character piece, exploring a variety of feelings, moods, and motivic material. Each piece is short, trying to play with the sensation that the piece ends before the listener’s attention span is depleted. As a result, the listener is sort of “shocked” that the piece has ended, and consequentially desires to hear more. The work as a whole is hence like a sort of musical popcorn, in which the listener takes small bites and doesn’t want to stop eating.’ Listen to the pieces here, and download your copy for FREE here.

Books

Piano by Ear

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A very useful new volume, Piano By Ear is written by British teacher Lucinda Mackworth-Young and published by Faber Music. Learning to play by ear and improvise is often a colossal task for Classical pianists (particularly for students), and it still often remains a largely ignored topic in piano lessons. This may be partly due to lesson time constraints, but it’s also up to teachers to inspire and ignite interest. Lucinda carefully paves the way for success; starting with playing by ear, through to suggesting appropriate tunes, possible chords, chord structures, cadences, accompaniments, practice ideas, and various scale patterns and harmonic progressions. It’s the perfect book for those preparing for ABRSM Practical Musicianship exams (I wish I’d had this book when doing my Grade 8 Musicianship exam!). Going beyond exams, it could really help teachers wanting to diversify and those wishing to feel confident playing without the score, extemporising or even composing. Piano by Ear is available to pre-order now and to buy from 30th July.

Piano Courses

Jackdaws Courses 2015/6

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I’ve written about Jackdaws Music Education Trust’s renowned courses before here on my monthly recommendations. This coming year (2015/6) features many piano expert teachers, each offering a weekend piano course with a plethora of workshop sessions. Set in Somerset (UK) in beautiful surroundings, you can study, meet liked-minded people and enjoy excellent home cooked food. I’m honoured to be amongst this year’s tutors and my  course takes place from 23rd – 25th October 2015. It includes eight workshop sessions and all meals. However, you can also choose to study  with a whole array of fabulous teachers including Graham Fitch, Philip Fowke, Margaret Fingerhut, Julian Jacobson, Timothy Barratt, Mark Tanner, and Elena Riu.


11 Recommended Resources for May 2015

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My recommended resources have finally appeared on the last day of this month (my Birthday!), and I hope there are some useful and interesting selections of piano music, books, online resources, and piano courses.

Beginners:

Morning Prayer for Three Beginners

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This easy arrangement of Morning Prayer by Elena Cobb is perfect for those who have just started playing. Written as a trio, for three players at one piano, the first part is designed for the late elementary player, second part for elementary, and third part is really very simple and could be considered primary. Trios can be great fun, encouraging good ensemble playing and rhythmic grasp. Listen to the piece and purchase here.

Elementary:

Easy Beans!

Easy Beans by Ben Crosland

British composer Ben Crosland has written many piano pieces for young players, and his compositions have been included in the Trinity College of Music Examination syllabus (including the current 2015/7 syllabus). His latest offering, Easy Beans! contains 32 Progressive Studies in Popular Styles. Published by Editions Musica Ferrum, the pieces are around Grades 2-5 standard (ABRSM and TCL level), consisting of completely contrasting styles. This will be helpful and interesting to both students and teachers, who not only like variety but will also appreciate the progressive nature, encouraging pupils to tackle increasingly complicated repertoire. You can listen to a selection of works here and purchase the score here.

Intermediate:

Digressions: 5 Piano Pieces

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My own piano pieces were published earlier this month, and it has been an exciting project. Entitled Digressions – 5 Pieces for Piano, and published by EVC Publications, the pieces are approximately Grades 4 – 6/7 standard. My aim is to provide an alternative to the ‘jazzy’, pop, easy listening or musical theatre genres which regularly appear for less experienced players. Mature amateur pianists sometimes feel less comfortable playing these styles, so my pieces are intentionally Minimalist, tuneful and meditative. They fall easily under the hands and can be played individually or as a set. You can listen to each piece here and purchase them here.

Rock & Soul Styles

Rock And Soul Styles 

A great collection for those wanting to explore lighter repertoire. Written by John Kember and published by Schott Music, the volume includes 18 pieces of around Grades 5/6 standard. Nine pieces are in  a ‘rock’ style , whilst a further nine, in a ‘rock ballad and soul’ style. Bright, lively tunes, many with a strong rhythmic pulse plus copious syncopation, provide lots of opportunity to relish piano sonority. Chord symbols are also written in the score. Purchase here.

Rains for Solo Piano

Jenni Pinnock

Written by British composer Jenni Pinnock, whose works are heavily influenced by nature and the natural world, Rains is a beautiful contemplative piece for those of approximately Grade 6 standard. Composed in August last year, and lasting around three minutes, it was inspired by summer rain falls. A gentle, meditative flow forms the anchor of the piece, over which a singing melody floats.  As torrential rain ensues, the music increases in volume, texture, power and difficulty before the gentle flow of rain returns, slows and finally stops. You can hear and purchase this piece here.

Online:

PianoFlix

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This online resource was devised by Australian teacher Tim Topham, who runs a popular blog and who specialises in teaching pop music, particularly for piano teachers. PianoFlix is a series of eight videos; Tim takes prospective pop players and teachers through various methods, via different tools. The first two videos are free and full of helpful advice. Many find teaching pop styles challenging, and this resource provides masses of information, practice techniques and ideas, and repertoire suggestions.  For much more information click here.

Publications:

Technique Trainer 1: Purrfect Practice

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Australian piano teacher Jackie Sharp has written this extremely beneficial and detailed guide enabling piano students to develop a perfect technique. Technique Trainer 1 is the first in a three-part series of technical and musical exercises, presented systematically in order to hone ‘the foundations of a competent technique’. This book contains copious drawings relating to hand positions and posture (which are effective and easy to comprehend). Piano playing ‘Dos and Don’ts’, wrist movement, and forearm rotation are carefully explained with many musical exercises and bonus learning activities for the student to assimilate. There are also links to video presentations.  You can purchase the e-book here.

A Piano Teacher’s Guide to Creative Composition

Written by Carol Klose, this guide cleverly breaks down compositional techniques, allowing teachers to deliver them in bite size chunks in lessons, devoting just a few minutes of lesson time to composition. The book is essentially structured in five sections; preparing the foundations, exploring compositional components, outlining a composition, how to plan a lesson, and putting finishing touches to a work. With a book such as this, teaching composition to piano students won’t seem so daunting. Purchase the book here.

Piano Courses:

Joy of Piano at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire

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The Joy of Piano conference is ideal for pianists and piano teachers who would like to enhance their teaching skills and discover new and exciting ways to inspire and motivate their students.  An excellent opportunity to meet fellow piano teachers as well as observe presentations and master-classes. Guests include Joanna MacGregor OBE, Paul Harris and Christopher Norton. 

There will also be presentations given by Ben Andrew, Head of Keyboard at Stowe and Simon Dearsley, Director of Music.  The conference will take place in the Chung Music School at Stowe School, Buckingham on June 13th, and you can find out lots more here.

Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown at Jackdaws

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Jackdaws is a music education trust providing short residential courses in the tranquillity of the English Somerset Countryside. Expert instrumental and vocal teachers offer their advice and tips to small groups over the period of a couple of days. This course, featuring pianists Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown, focusses on playing duets, and will be held from 3rd – 5th July 2015. Players are invited to attend as a pre-formed duo or solo (where they will be teamed with another like-minded soul!). This will no doubt be a fun and inspiring event and you can book here.

Piano Cantabile

Stage Piano Cantabile

Piano Cantabile is a professional training centre which provides coaching in interpretation and instrumental technique throughout the year for advanced pianists who have graduated from a conservatoire. Eminent pianists and teachers Bernard D’Ascoli and Eleanor Harris run this centre from their home in captivating Aubagne (France). They are holding a Summer Course this year from July 16th – 23rd, which is open to pianists with a minimum of Grade 8 level. This looks to be an inspiring week of high level teaching coupled with a stunning location (and great food too!). You can find out more information and download application forms here.

11 Top Piano Resources For February 2015

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I’m delighted you enjoyed reading my recent post, recommending 15 top piano resources; many books, sheet music and downloads were purchased as a result, which is exciting. So here are a few more ideas for piano fans everywhere.

You’ll notice I now have a smart new ‘recommendations badge’, so I’m hoping to make this a regular blog feature. We all need new, or simply different, music and fresh ideas when teaching, playing the piano or seeking helpful online resources, so whether you are a beginner, a more advanced player, or a piano teacher, I hope there will be something here for everyone. Also included this month; an interesting online piano show, plus  information on various piano memberships.


For Beginners:

Get Set Piano!

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This series of piano tutor books is published by Bloomsbury and written by British composers Heather Hammond and Karen Marshall. Well laid out and easy to follow, there are several volumes in the series (once Book 2 has been studied, students are apparently approximately Grade 1 standard).  The first book in this progressive series guides beginners from their very first lesson through to Prep test level. Note learning is taught alongside aural, theory and composing skills providing a holistic approach to music. There is a handy ‘Tutor’ book and ‘Pieces’ book which together provide ample material for beginners. Get your copy here.

Eye-Tunes for Zoo Keepers

Eye Tunes for Zoo Keepers for Piano by Tanner published by Spartan Press

Composed by British pianist Mark Tanner, there are 11 books in this series, which takes students from pre-Grade 1 up to Grade 8, and some of the pieces have been included in the London College of Music exam syllabus. Tuneful, easily accessible and very ‘now’, with references to computers, the iPad (in some of the later volumes), and humorous descriptive titles, such as Music to Milk Cows by and The Worm has Turned, which youngsters will love. This volume will capture the young player’s imagination, and uses white notes only, so would serve as the perfect ‘My first recital’ book. Published by Spartan Press, get your copy here

For Intermediates:

Threnody from Five Bagatelles

Written by Australian composer Carl Vine, this beautiful piece was written in 1994 and is the final work in a collection entitled Five Bagatelles. It is sub titled ‘for all the innocent victims’ and was composed for  the Australian National AIDS Trust. Threnody is the simplest piece of this set (other pieces are around Grade 7/8), but this would be an ideal Contemporary work for pianists of Grades 5/6 standard (it’s one of the ABRSM selected works for Grade 6 2015/6). It requires the performer to read three staves at once (great practice), would suit those with a wistful imagination, and also provide a great backdrop for pianists wanting to develop an expressive, varied tonal palate. Use of pedal is crucial too. The overall impact is one of atmospheric beauty and emotion. Get the score here.

Blue River

 

A funky collection of bright, upbeat, jazzy pieces written by British composer Elena Cobb. Written out Jazz, but with plenty of references to Blues and Latin style, these pieces would benefit from great rhythmic energy and a ‘swung’ feel. Titles such as Star Dust, Tango Leone and Cloud Seven, Latin, will no doubt inspire pupils who will also enjoy the tuneful, cheerful approach. Around Grade 5/6 level, the volume consists of six pieces; listen and get your copy here.

For Beginners to Advanced:

Piano Notes

ABRSM Piano Notes 2015-16

Piano Notes are published by Rhinegold Music and produced in conjunction with the Music Teacher Magazine and International Piano Magazine. It’s essentially a guide to assist piano teachers whilst  they prepare students for the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) piano exams; this recently published volume features Grades 1 to 8 of the new 2015/16 syllabus. It contains information on every piano piece for each grade, including all those on the alternative lists, and there are plenty of useful practice ideas on offer. Piano Notes have been written by a whole team of piano writers; Murray McLachlan, Michael Round, Katharine May, Fiona Lau and myself.  You can purchase the print and digital version here, but this month it comes free with the Music Teacher Magazine!

Online:

Sproutbeat

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Although not strictly a piano resource, this is an excellent concept, and music theory is a crucial part of learning to play (in my opinion). Sproutbeat is based in the US, and offers worksheets which are immediately downloadable on your iPad.  There are more than 400 theory worksheets and games to download on Sproutbeat, with more added very week. You can try a free demo on the website and the Apps are available from the App Store. You can try up to 25 worksheets for free, and can find out lots more here.

HanonPlus

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Yes, there is even an App for those who like Hanon exercises! HanonPlus is not for everyone of course, but for those who enjoy practising studies and working at technique, this may be a useful App. It comes with 20 built-in exercises from Hanon Book 1 which students can practice in any major or minor key. Each one is listed by the fingers it aims to strengthen. It’s fully interactive and customizable, and suitable for beginners through to more advanced players. Be sure to practice with care, as studies such as Hanon can induce tension issues if practised incorrectly. Click here for more information.

The iPad Piano Studio

A unique ‘hybrid’ experience, American musician and teacher  Leila Viss has created a one stop shop for piano teachers everywhere. Those new to using the iPad in their lessons will benefit from instructions and copious ideas about how to incorporate technology into piano lessons. Leila has combined print and digital editions with a website and blog, fostering a completely interactive concept, and her love and enthusiasm for the iPad is infectious. Find out lots more about this excellent publication here.

Playful Talk Show with Yana Reznik

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A new kind of classical music show held at PianoForte Studios in Chicago. This live show will be simultaneously broadcast online. Russian-born pianist Yana Reznik, leads intimate discussions with the world’s renowned artists about their experiences on stage and behind the scenes. Guests then join Yana in music making, either prepared classical works or improvisations. For the first time, both live and internet audiences will really get to know the men and women behind the music in a fun, spontaneous way. Audience members are encouraged to ask questions via Twitter (@playfultalk), which will be answered selectively after the performances. The first show will be broadcast on Tuesday February 17th at 7pm CST. Find out more about Yana and her new show here.

Memberships:

Beethoven Piano Society of Europe

This popular Society is about to be completely revamped under the tutelage of pianist and composer Julian Jacobson, who has just been appointed Chairman. Julian is introducing a new concert series and other initiatives, including a chamber music project. At present, the Society runs three annual competitions, but there are plans to develop links with Beethoven organisations around the world, linking with various conservatoires and festivals. Membership is only £20 annually for full members, £25 joint (two people at same address), £25 outside Europe. Student membership is only £7! There is also a special rate of £15 for EPTA and ISM members, and a Single Life Membership rate of £150.  For more information click here.

European Piano Teachers Association (EPTA)

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The European Piano Teachers Association, UK was founded in 1978 by Carola Grindea, who also founded a Europe-wide coordinating body, EPTA. EPTA now has Associations in almost every European country, and an International Conference of all EPTA Associations is held in a different country each year. The aims of EPTA UK are to promote excellence in piano teaching and performance, to bring teachers and performers together and to raise standards within the profession. This superb organisation offers many benefits for members, including publications, copious events, conferences and courses. You can find out much more here.


15 Top Piano Resources for 2015

Happy New Year!

I’ve discovered many great piano tutors or methods, educational piano books, sheet music and online resources  over the past year, some of which have already been reviewed or mentioned on my blog.  So here’s a round-up of useful and interesting publications for pupils,  teachers, and piano lovers everywhere. This is a random selection, but I have included resources for all levels, and hopefully these recommendations might be helpful.


For Beginners:

My Piano Trip To London

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My Piano Trip To London will be a hit with beginners everywhere. Written by British composer and piano teacher, Elena Cobb (who is the creator of the popular Higgledy Piggeldy Jazz Series), it combines lots of fun games, stickers (yes, stickers!), and inventive musical ideas, with sound learning tools and advice (there is a Top Tip on every page). I particularly like the duet aspect; pupil and teacher playing together in virtually every piece. Not only does this provide a confidence boost for the student (more often, helping them to keep time), but it also makes any piece sound wonderful (the teacher’s parts being more complicated, definitely enhance each little piece). All centred around famous images of London, Fab Facts are interspersed with swift learning. Highly recommended! (All Elena’s books are available in the US from her distributor.)

Dogs & Birds

Written by Hungarian pianist and teacher Elza Lusher, Dogs & Birds, is already a popular method for very small children. Little children can find reading conventional notes tricky, and this tutor book introduces them to reading music via beautiful colour illustrations and adventures with animals. Learning through familiar animals is more fun, and progress can be quick too; each animal shows the position of notes on the keyboard and staves, using small animal tiles and coloured staves. There is no need to know your alphabet and pupils sing each animal as they play, reinforcing learning. A supplementary book, Notes & Lesson Plans for Parents and Teachers enables parents to understand and help their children practice, which is crucial. An excellent approach.

Tales of a Musical Journey

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This piano method is written by highly experienced Russian teacher, Irina Gorin. Irina regularly publishes her piano lessons on YouTube and has a large following around the world (she lives in the US). Tales of a Musical Journey employs a fairy tale setting and characters to introduce and expand musical concepts. Entertaining and magical, the stories develop a pupil’s understanding of music and piano playing. The book comes with a ‘kit’ comprising a foam squeeze ball (for hand positions), picture cards, a plush monkey, music alphabet cards, and noise putty for ‘jelly keys’ exercise! There are ear training exercises and theory too (very important), and a CD with musical examples is also included to accompany students. Good fun and cleverly devised.

Delightfully Easy Piano Duets Book 2 

The Delightfully Easy Piano Duets Series provides a great introduction to ensemble playing.  I reviewed Book 1 here on the blog. Written by British music teacher and writer Rosa Conrad, these books are really useful for beginners who want to perform tunes with their teachers (or parents). The second book is equally bright and cheerful, with slightly more complicated Secondo parts (for teacher), and great little diatonic melodies for the young pupil. It’s not easy to find simple duets, as Rosa says herself, and these will be a welcome repertoire addition for teachers everywhere.

Fun, Games and Party Pieces

Fun, Games and Party Pieces is intended for the young solo pianist. It is designed to be used alongside other piano tutor methods, adding more interest and variety to lessons. The composer, Rosa Conrad, has added a myriad of imaginative ways to learn pieces, and there are important elements such as learning about the major and minor, modes, the pentatonic scale, improvisation and the Twelve Bar Blues structure. They are presented in a way which is easy to grasp, and pupils are encouraged to explore, with plenty of experimentation. I like the illustrations too, which are by Catherine Eley.

For Intermediate to Advanced:

Jazz Exercises, Minuets, Etudes and Pieces for the Piano

Oscar

An interesting pedagogical publication written by legendary Canadian Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. A colleague suggested this book for all those who enjoy playing written out jazzy pieces, but who aren’t confident with the jazz idiom. It’s suitable for those around Grades 3 – 5 exam standard, and provides an excellent introduction. The exercises provide a base for those wanting to get to grips with this style, and they are placed next to repertoire pieces, so ideas can be immediately transferred. The studies  increase in difficulty as the book progresses.

Daily Expressions

Daily-Expressions-by-Paul-Birchall

Daily Expressions are written by British composer Paul Birchall. They are suitable for Grade 5 level upwards, and could be described as mood music, verging on Minimalist. Paul wrote one new piece everyday for a month, then included seven of the compositions in this new volume. Students will enjoy the various ‘moods’ conjured by the different feel depending on the days of the week. Perfect for those who want to play modern pieces without a strictly Classical edge. You can listen to a sample of each work and purchase them here.

Variations for Judith

I was asked to write an article recommending ten easy (ish) piano pieces (between Grades 4-6 exam standard) for amateur pianists, for the Classical music website SinfiniMusic.com (you can read my article here). The brief was to include at least two or three Contemporary pieces, so I set off on a mission to find suitable works, and what I found was a revelation. This  volume of short pieces was written for Judith Serota by various Contemporary British composers including Judith Weir, Tarik O’Regan, Michael Berkeley, Diana Burrell and others. The collective title is  Variations for Judith for Piano, 11 short reflections on “Bist du bei mir” by G H Stölzel arranged by J S Bach. You can read my blog post on the history behind these little gems here. From around Grade 4 – 7 standard, and a must play!

Arabia

Arabia

An advanced piece written by Elena Cobb. This dramatic work is primarily  a concert study for those wanting to hone their octave technique. Arabia was inspired by a family train journey across the desert taken by Elena as a young child. These memories are heard clearly at the opening, where a couple of recitative or improvisatory style solo treble passages create the necessary Arabic flavour. This flavour pervades the piece. All kinds of octave passagework is explored plus thoughtful places to ‘rest’ the hand (vital in a stretchy piece so as to not cause injury). This is around Grade 7 or 8 level, but those working towards their diploma will also enjoy this piece, and you can read my review here, which was published in the International Piano Magazine last year.

Ypakoë and In Memory of Two Cats

John Tavener Ypakoe for Piano (Music Sales America)

Students tend to enjoy meditative or reflective music. There are many composers who comply; Satie, Glass, Einaudi, for example. However, it’s always preferable to be able to recommend something different, and these works by British composer John Tavener (who died in 2013) are perfect. In Memory of Two Cats (1986), is the ideal introduction to Tavener’s style. It’s reflective with interesting harmonic progressions; great for those of approximately Grade 5 or 6 technical level upwards. You can listen here. Ypakoë (published in 2008) was commissioned by the city of London Festival in 1999 (and first performed by pianist Elena Riu), Tavener comments ‘Ypaköe, in Greek refers to the Yapöe of Easter, Why seek ye among the dead, as though He were mortal man? Ypaköe for solo piano is a meditation on both the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.’ This work has 5 movements.  It will please those who want to explore contemplative, yet dramatic, Contemporary music. Listen here. Approximately Grade 8 or diploma technical level.

Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter

VPS-Harry-Potter-PD-Cover-Art

I discovered these great arrangements of popular film music last February, when one of my students insisted on performing them both in a couple of concerts. American pianist and composer, Jarrod Radnich has created extremely effective transcriptions. They are not for everyone (purists look away now!), but are fairly demanding technically, and require careful preparation. I like the way they use the entire keyboard and are a useful vehicle for practising finger technique too. Around diploma level. Listen here: Pirates of the Caribbean or Harry Potter.

Resources for pianists, teachers and pupils:

The Foundations of Piano Technique

This splendid new volume, published by Faber Music, has been written by Scottish pianist, Head of Keyboard at Chetham’s School of Music, and Professor of Piano at the Royal Northern College of Music,  Murray McLachlan. Murray has written an ongoing series of articles for the International Piano Magazine, many of which have been included in this publication. All aspects of technique are considered (this is the first of three books), and there are relevant exercises too. Intended for all levels and abilities, there is much emphasis on a healthy approach to technique (so important), and the realisation that piano technique does not need to be divorced from artistic creativity. This book will work for all different standards.

The Art of Piano Fingering

The Art of Piano Fingering

Written by Israeli pianist and expert teacher Rami Bar-Niv, this helpful and very detailed guide examines countless fingering permutations. I reviewed The Art of Piano Fingering earlier in the year, and you can read my review here. Beginning with simple scale and arpeggio fingering, progressing through to creative and innumerable ideas for the advanced player. There are many photos and musical examples, and a positive emphasis on healthy hand and finger positions too. Lots to learn in this volume.

Practising the Piano e-book Series

Practising the Piano

British pianist and expert teacher Graham Fitch has written a series of four e-books on the subject of practising the piano. Graham writes an illuminating and very popular blog (practising the piano), and he has transferred many of his teaching ideas and tools to his e-book series. There are copious demonstrations and videos, plus lots of sound advice and innovative practising strategies. Great for all levels, but particularly beneficial for more advanced players, teachers and good amateurs.

E-Music Maestro

E-MusicMaestro

This is a superb site with bountiful different musical aspects designed for the music teacher and pupil. E-music maestro is an American site, and essentially a resource website providing access to knowledge about teaching, learning and playing the piano. It employs up-to-date technology combined with a continually expanding database, and it is simple to navigate. You can buy a subscription or just log on and make immediate purchases, there are plenty of free samples and a continuing professional development section too. It is exam based, so there is much information on the various exam syllabuses. Very handy!


If you haven’t yet subscribed to Pianist Magazine or Piano Bench Mag, then this could be a good New Year’s resolution! These publications provide a wealth of information on how to play (Pianist) and great ideas for piano teachers everywhere (Piano Bench Mag).

I’m looking forward to making lots more exciting piano resource discoveries over the coming year, but in the meantime I wish you health, happiness and peace in 2015.

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A Christmas Competition Special! Featuring Higgledy Piggledy Jazz

Here is a competition just for Christmas; a little something to say a big thank you to all my readers for their support during 2013. I am offering the chance to win one of Elena Cobb’s Higgledy Piggledy Jazz piano volumes; a superb and highly acclaimed piano series for all those who want to play jazz and who want to learn to improvise. All you have to do is leave a comment in the comment  box at the end of this blog post and the winners will be selected at random on Monday 23rd December 2013. Elena has kindly donated all four volumes in her collection (pictured above), so there will be four winners! What are you waiting for? Get writing! If you do comment please leave your full name – thank you.

Higgledy Piggledy Jazz focuses on encouraging young pianists (and older ones too!) to get to grips with the jazz idiom and crucially learn to improvise (a form of ‘free’ playing where a pianist composes ‘on the spot’). This is a challenging task, but piano students definitely benefit from being exposed to all styles of music, and jazz is often ‘left out’ in formative training because it’s difficult to assimilate and complicated to teach (especially if, like myself, the teacher has very little aptitude and understanding of this genre).

Elena Cobb, the author of the series, has addressed this problem, breaking down all the misconceptions and difficulties. Her books are easy to understand, beautifully presented and cleverly constructed, leading pupils through the complex steps of basic improvisation extremely effectively. You can read my review of the Higgledy Piggledy Jazz Series here.

The philosophy behind Elena’s books is very simple, she wants classically trained pupils to have an opportunity to learn to improvise and play jazz; “I know too well how scary it is to step away from the safety of the musical sheet and to burst into spontaneous improvisation. Please do not panic! Instead, think about having a go. My music is written for classically trained teachers and pupils, and those who are keen to try. Sections for improvisation with simple suggestions are added in several pieces. These offer great opportunities to break away from the mould. The bass clef is coloured to match three chords in the twelve bar blues. So, take a deep breath and go for it, what you have got to lose?” Elena also believes that piano playing for beginners should no longer be such a solitary business. She wants young pianists to have more opportunities to perform with other musicians, and remarks, ‘to begin with, performances need not be perfect! Improvisation is always a work in progress!’

The Higgledy Piggledy Jazz apps, developed for iPad, Android and web by the British company WebPractice, will be released early in the new year with the official launch during the MusicExpo event on the 7th and 8th of February 2014 (in London) where Elena will be presenting a workshop on improvisation for classically trained beginners.

Elena is also presenting an EPTA double book presentation at Foulds Music Store in Derby, on Saturday February 15th at 12 pm. I will be presenting a talk all about my book, ‘So You Want To Play The Piano?’ and Elena will be leading a workshop on improvisation for classically trained beginners based on her Higgledy Piggledy Jazz method. Exciting stuff! So do come along if you are in the area.

Elena’s tunes have been selected to be set pieces at two music festivals next year. Dulwich Music Festival 2014 in the UK, where ‘Super Duck’ will be performed, and also at the Gibraltar Festival for Young Musicians 2014. A cup for the best jazz performance named after Elena Cobb will be awarded at the Gibraltar Festival for Young Musicians for the very first time. Performers can choose to play any of the tunes from the Higgledy Piggledy Jazz Series – piano, alto sax & classical guitar ensemble.

New books include ‘Cloud Seven Latin’ arrangement for jazz band, which will be premiered by NJYO in the Spring 2014. A ‘Circle of Life’ for piano is aimed at pianists of intermediate to advanced levels, again premiered in Summer 2014 and ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz‘, or the ‘Importance of Being Happy’, a toe-tapping musical, the premiere of which was sold out at the Ashbourne Festival earlier this year; this score will be released in the Spring 2014.

Four of Elena’s compositions were recorded by the UK’s sax legend Snake Davis, saxophonist for Eurhythmics and M People, and right now are available to listen to on Elena’s Soundcloud. Higgledy Piggledy Jazz  has been critically acclaimed; the International Piano Magazine wrote (in October 2013) that ‘This is a hugely enjoyable collection of six original, well crafted and highly accessible pieces for grade 6+ players in need of some light-hearted pianistic relief.’

So if you haven’t yet discovered this excellent series, do enter the competition.

Here are a few clips of Elena’s compositions: