No Words Necessary Review

Writers, composers, musicians, and almost anyone in the arts, tend to wait with bated breath after the completion and release of their latest achievement. Will anyone actually like it? And more pertinently, what will the critics say? Never is this more true than when publishing compositions, because our tastes in music, particularly educational music, are all very different. Therefore, I was really delighted to read this lovely review of my new piano pieces, No Words Necessary, written and published earlier this week by writer and reviewer, Andrew Eales, who owns the Pianodao blog. I’ve published Andrew’s complete article below, but you can read the original, here. For more information about the pieces, and to purchase No Words Necessary, please click, here. Over to Andrew…

Lots of piano players enjoy the contemporary stylings of popular composers such as Ludovico Einaudi, Yirumi and David Lanz, but it’s not so easy to find really good arrangements of their music that are accessible to intermediate players, and which manage to be both concise and accurate distillations of the post-minimal piano style.

The search for an educationally sound and musically engaging alternative just got easier with the publication by Schott Music of No Words Necessary, an excellent collection of 12 new pieces composed by Melanie Spanswick.

These interesting and enjoyable pieces will certainly satisfy those looking for approachable contemporary piano solos, and they further confirm Melanie as an imaginative and engaging composer.

So let’s check it out …

Concept and Recordings

Ever since it was established in 1770, Schott Music has been open to current trends and new development in music, seeking to represent a broad and colourful spectrum of new music. At present, they seem to be going through something of a golden age, with a succession of brilliant new publications in 2018, and much more scheduled for the coming months.

No Words Necessary joins their releases for this Autumn and brings well-known teacher, writer and adjudicator Melanie Spanswick to Schott’s roster of contemporary educational composers. Spanswick may be known to readers as the author/compiler of the outstanding Play it Again: Piano series, which I reviewed here last year.

According to Spanswick, No Words Necessary is:

“… a collection of 12 piano pieces intended for those who are approximately intermediate level, Grades 3-6. Consisting of melodious tunes and poignant harmonies, they are reminiscent of the Minimalist style…
Easy to learn and comfortable to play, they are equally well suited to the younger or more mature learner, and perfect for either concert performances or playing for pleasure. The collection will hopefully unleash the imagination and make piano playing an immensely rewarding experience.”

The Pieces

While reading on, you can start to discover the pieces for yourself using the composer’s own video recordings of them:

If the music isn’t your cup of tea, we’re done for today (you can discover more intermediate music here though!)

Otherwise read on for my thoughts…

The pieces appear loosely in order of difficulty, with the beautifully serene Lost in Thought providing a wonderfully contemplative opener. Inflections particularly reminds me of Philip Glass, while in Dancing Through the Daffodils there are echoes of Bach and Clementi, their motifs refreshed for the present day.

Spanswick’s melodic sensibility is more to the fore in the swaying Pendulum, the lyrical Walking in the Woods (my personal favourite here) and delightful China Doll. Other highlights for me include the restrained Voices in my Head, exotic Phantom Whisperer, and Beneath, which conjures a superb sense of hushed wonder. All these pieces are in my view well worth a look.

In terms of level, I would say most are accessible at the lower end of the advertised range; the book is ideal for the Grade 4 player wanting to explore fresh new music.

A feature of the contemporary post-minimal piano style is the emphasis given to organic flow rather than single gestures; often such music includes little in terms of suggested articulation, phrasing, and only a block outline of dynamics. Teachers will be pleased that Spanswick gives more detail here, including indications of balance between hands using a different dynamic for each.

The Publication

For the book itself, Schott have used their generic plain cover, which is a little disappointing given the target audience and imagination of the music within.


Inside though, Schott’s house style is as welcome as ever: with quality cream paper, crystal clear notation engraving and well spaced layout, the presentation is a cut above that sometimes found elsewhere. The amount and suitability of suggesting fingering throughout the collection is also, I think, spot on.

The premium quality Schott bring certainly adds to the ease and enjoyment of exploring the music itself.


It’s been a busy year for new piano music, but this latest publication certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.

These are pieces which I believe could easily find their place in the intermediate player’s heart, combining easy-to-master patterns, melodic charm, and simple structural cohesion. They give players a vehicle through which to develop expressive, engaged playing.

And with plenty of variety on offer, too, the collection offers good value. If you’re looking for a fresh collection of accessible contemporary pieces, do give this a try!


My publications:

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.


Play it again: PIANO Review

Play it again: PIANO has already received some excellent Amazon UK and Amazon US reviews, and I’ve been extremely happy with the feedback so far (from teachers and students, to a whole gamut of piano professionals and enthusiasts). This week, however, the Schott Music team and I were delighted to receive the following review from the Pianodao blog. Pianodao is owned by pianist, teacher and writer, Andrew Eales, who blogs on a variety of piano topics, and is noted for his detailed reviews of educational piano resources.

Play it Again: Piano

Sheet Music Review

As Pianodao has become more widely regarded for its independent reviews, I find myself with a mounting pile of material sent for me to look at, most of which is really very good indeed.

That said, some products genuinely stand out from the crowd, because they are innovative, unusual, speak to my particular interests, or are just excellently done.

Melanie Spanswick’s Play it again: Piano books 1 and 2 are all of the above, and easily stand out in the crowd. In this review I will do my best to explain why I think that is.

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?”

This new publication by the popular author, teacher and composer Melanie Spanswick, brought to us by Schott Music, makes its target market crystal clear from the outset, with a subtitle, ‘The perfect way to rediscover the piano’ and 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!”

As we shall see in more detail in a moment, the 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.

The Publications

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The outstanding quality of these books is immediately apparent. The high gloss card covers contain 116 and 120 pages respectively, printed on high quality paper with a slight sheen to it, with very good binding that both allows the books to lie flat on the music stand while also being 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 are (presumably) based on previous Schott Music sources, which in most cases include the addition of dynamics and phrasing rather than taking a clean urtext approach. Most pieces also include more than enough fingering suggestions, most of which are solid.

Explaining the rationale in more detail, the cover of Book 1 states:

“Book 1 will reunite you with the keyboard using original pieces from the piano repertoire and tips on how to get you playing fluently once again. This book ranges progressively from around UK grades 1 to 4 (elementary to intermediate)”

while the second book introduces itself:

“Book 2 is for the more confident ‘former’ piano player or for those continuing their journey from Book 1. This book ranges progressively from around UK grades 5 to 8 (intermediate to late advanced).”

The bulk of each book is split into four sections, each covering one level.

In More Detail

Each book starts with a technique primer section, offering four pages of good advice, including clear photographs. This covers posture, hand positions, flexibility and alignment. Both volumes follow this with three pages of general tips about practice, including some excellent suggestions for working on scales, arpeggios, finger warm-ups, and sight-reading.

At the rear of each book there is 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.

Between these useful resources, the bulk of each book is taken up with the pieces at each of the eight levels, four per book. Each piece is preceded by (at least) two full pages of advice covering:

  • 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)

The core concept here is not dissimilar to the “How to Play…” column that Melanie (and others) regularly write for Pianist Magazine, equipping readers with the insights that they need to unravel the learning of a new piece. But the execution here is perhaps less discursive, with the three-point format giving clarity and cohesion to the excellent material provided.

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 it provides an outstanding source for independent learning, but without replacing the need for a good teacher’s diagnostic expertise, support and guidance.

The Repertoire

Crucial to the success of the books is, of course, the included repertoire.

The diversity of repertoire selected for the two 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:

Book One:

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

Book Two:

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

This is a fascinating selection on many counts.

Firstly, it is clear that at most levels the author made a point of selecting one or two 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, the list is a reminder of the many fabulous composers within Schott Music’s own catalogue, naturally represented here, including Tim Richards, John Kember, and Barrie Carson Turner. But it is also refreshing to have two of Melanie’s own compositions – the minimalistic ’Karma’ and more lyrical ‘Seahorse Dream’ – included here.

These have been licensed from EVC Publications along with two favourites by Elena Cobb. All four pieces are great, providing a wonderful and refreshing contrast, with the latter’s Lavender Haze a particularly lovely discovery.

And thirdly, for any adult or later teen player looking for a broad selection of really popular and appealing pieces to work on between grades, these are near perfect anthologies, including an ideal mix 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.

Melanie Spanswick’s Play it again: Piano in my view exactly hits the spot for these players, and deserves to be a huge success both for her and Schott Music.

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.

I write lots of reviews for the benefit of readers, but this inspiring series has passed the ultimate test: I will certainly be recommending and using these books with lots of my own students in the coming months and years, and I’m really looking forward to it!

Genuinely Brilliant!

Thank you Andrew!

My publications:

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.