Back in January I had a great time doing a short tour (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth) with Samantha Coates (of Blitz Books fame) and Abe Cytrynowski (the inventor of the fabulous ScaleCard system). In Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth we just did a long morning session at one of the larger retailers in each city, but in Sydney Samantha hired the Music Workshop at the Sydney Conservatorium and we did a full day event, along with amazing catering and an events team that worked like clockwork.
The day ended with an energetic panel discussion. We took questions from the more than 100 teachers present, and did our best to cover everything in the 45 minutes scheduled for the panel. Despite our best efforts there were still questions left unanswered, and we collectively promised we would address each question at http://www.blitzbooks.com.au but as it turns out many of the questions aren’t really appropriate for Sam’s theory/sight-reading/note-reading/general knowledge oriented website.
So here I am, in my blog, answering one of those questions: what is the rationale behind the Getting to series?
For those reading who hail from outside Australia and New Zealand I will have already lost you: the Getting to series is a repertoire collection that is available for sale in Australia/New Zealand only, and it is a series that was devised specifically to address issues Australian piano teachers have taking students from (mostly American and UK) method books into the Australian Music Examination Board assessment program.
And since it is published by Hal Leonard Australia it is specifically designed to tie in with the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library method.
Getting to Preliminary starts at about the level students are when they are starting Lessons Book 3 and coordinates the techniques and musical concepts of the method book with wonderful repertoire sourced primarily from the syllabuses since the 1950s of examination boards around the world.
So the idea is that as you go from one piece to the next in any Getting to book you are building on the skill set you have already acquired from learning the preceding repertoire. Further, the Getting to books are designed to cover the entire skill set assumed for each grade. This means that if a student learns every single piece in a Getting to book they will almost certainly know how to do any and every thing a student at that grade would ever be expected to do: they will have truly mastered the grade.
Originally it was intended that there would only ever be the Preliminary, Grade One and Grade Two books (with the links to the HLSPL books), but piano teachers quite quickly were asking for the follow up (Grade Three) until the series now runs to Grade Five.
Each book has a range of styles, keys, techniques and so forth, but a notable feature is the amount of material written since 1900. Most repertoire books seem to include a few token 20th/21st century pieces, but are bulked out by music written between 1720 and the turn of the 20th century. This series is committed to encouraging students to learn the music of their own time (or maybe, more properly, the music of their own, their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents time – and that’s a huge leap forward in time for many piano students/teachers!).
But in addition to this series we decided to create a parallel Getting to series called The New Mix. This series has the same rationale and ambitions as the books in the (classically oriented) Getting to series, only this time the repertoire is drawn solely from arrangements (film themes, pop songs, orchestral standards and so forth) and music written in the past 100 years (most of it composed within the past 25 years). This music has a broad appeal to students, and is similar to the music selected for the AMEB Piano for Leisure examinations.
This makes The New Mix a completely unique repertoire book: popular-style repertoire arranged into an intelligent teaching sequence, leading to students gaining wide-ranging pianistic skills.
Now, there was one more rationale driving the series: trying to find a way to make it easy for piano teachers to not photocopy music in copyright. The Getting to books are incredible value – 30 pieces (usually) for less than $1 a piece, much of the music sourced from a variety of hard-to-find sources. So teachers can use the collections, knowing they and their students are doing the right thing, without sacrificing breadth of repertoire. And students can build up a library of excellent piano music – and with research (un)surprisingly showing that literacy is significantly affected by having books within the family home, this is an enormous educational benefit.
Finally, not a rationale, but a feature of the Getting to books: at the back of each book is a section titled “How to Prepare for Your Exam”. This section presupposes that students are intending to sit a piano exam, and of course, there is no reason why they should. But many parents and students feel as if no progress is being made without a certificate to say so, or a deadline to inspire practice, and so we find ourselves in an intensely assessment-oriented educational culture.
“How to Prepare for Your Exam” is intended to make clear to students (and their parents) just how much else, besides learning five or six pieces, is required to be ready for a piano exam. So scales and arpeggios, sight reading, ear tests and general knowledge are all covered in this quite-large section at the end of each Getting to book. It will depend which examination board the student is sitting their exam with as to exactly which requirements they will be tested on, but this section is an excellent summary of the skills variously tested at that particular grade level in Australian-available exams.