Series 17 – Part 2 (some answers)

There’s really no bad news, not even a single bit: the AMEB’s Series 17 is a collection that does exceptionally well in catering for the vast range of interests, urgencies and fixations of the Australian piano teaching world. David Lockett and the review team (Glenn Riddle, Jody Heald and Helen Smith) have taken a meticulous approach to delivering a series of repertoire collections that will serve the assessment process – as well as piano pedagogy – well. Let’s start with that grade-deflation question. Have we seen a shift in the goal posts of any of the grades? Is Preliminary continuing the march to Grade One standard repertoire?! Short answer – no. All the pieces are very well graded. There are some easier and some harder pieces in each grade collection, but nothing to elicit outrage or confusion. More detail from me soon in a separate post. Appropriate length? Delightfully so! Very few works that take too many pages, and none that are garrulous

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Safari (AMEB Preliminary, Piano for Leisure)

Quite a few visits to my blog are made by (who I can only assume are) students and teachers who want more information about specific pieces of mine included in examination syllabuses. So I’m setting myself the goal of writing a post about each of these pieces – it might take a while to get there, but one by one I’m determined to work my way through them! Safari comes from Very Easy Little Peppers, and is a piece written entirely on black notes. There’s a lovely tradition of black-note-only pieces written for students in the first years of study and when writing this piece I deliberately set out to add to that oeuvre. Many of the most popular piano methods (in 2011, maybe not when you took piano lessons!) start students playing on the black notes (the antithesis to the March of the Middle C Thumbs approach). I have thoroughly enjoyed incorporating into my teaching a wonderful black-note-only improvisation activity for students

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Can You Use the Same Pieces When You Try For An Exam A Second Time?

In response to google searches asking “can you use the same pieces when you try for an exam a second time?”: So, you (or your offspring) have failed a piano exam and you are wondering if you can just polish up the pieces you’ve already kind of learned and give the exam another go, hopefully with a substantially better result. The answer is usually yes, with the following proviso: Has the syllabus changed? The ABRSM syllabus (for example) changes every two years, and while there is a cross-over period worked into the system you might find that the pieces in question will lapse before the next opportunity for an examination. The AMEB syllabus changes at infrequent (and irregular) intervals, and at the moment there are two different syllabuses running concurrently for the Piano for Leisure exams. So check the syllabus to see if the pieces are still current. So long as your pieces are still on the syllabus you are

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Leaving ‘Laminating’ Behind: Step 1 – The Skill Set

I’ve said it before, we piano teachers teach the way we were taught. And we do it because deep in our musical bones and our pianistic DNA we truly believe we were taught well. But upon deciding that, while our teachers served us well, we can serve our students better, how do we turn around a lifetime of habits we now perceive to be downright dangerous? The downright dangerous teaching habits are what I’ve called The Lamination Technique, where students are asked to learn the notes first, the rhythm next, then put hands together, then articulation, then dynamics, and so on over a period of months until finally the phrases are all welded together into something called a ‘performance’. The first thing is to truly believe that there is a better way, even if you are not quite sure what it might be. Like they say, if you don’t want anything to change keep doing what you’ve always done! If

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How Hard Is a Piece of Music: June 2010 Installment

Exam boards release new graded material from time to time, unpredictably in the case of the AMEB, every two years like clockwork in the case of the ABRSM, and it’s an exciting moment when piano teachers get to take a look at the new material they can/will use with their students over the next few years. Particularly exciting when a personal favourite makes the cut, or an appealing piece one hasn’t come across before, but the downside is always possible: discovering inclusions that simply are too hard for students to seriously consider performing them in a graded assessment context. ABRSM doesn’t often stray in this regard – in fact, I’d say that teachers with more than 20 years experience would say that the selections have been getting easier (not harder) over the years. But the AMEB, with its 100+ pieces per grade syllabus, seems to lurch all over the place in terms of the grading of pieces, often with the

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Balanced Programs for Exams

I’ve been running around Australia saying to piano teachers not to bother trying to create balanced programs with their students pre-Grade 8, and of course teachers have been responding with “but students are required to present balanced programs”. Some exam boards, like Trinity College London and the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, allow a very narrow choice of repertoire (just 6 pieces per list for ABRSM) in comparison to the AMEB, and students are completely free to choose any of these six pieces to make up a program of three works.  The assumption from the examination board is that your program will be balanced because they have grouped pieces in such a way that you will always end up with a range of styles, speeds and moods. But teachers believe that the AMEB syllabus requires them to select a ‘balanced’ program, in addition to selecting pieces from each of the three or four lists, and so students

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P Plate Update: meeting with examiners.

P Plate Piano (and its various launch and discussion events) have kept me outrageously busy of late, and I’m ashamed to note that it’s been close to a month since I last posted anything to this blog – a record time without new contributions.  All the more shameful as I’ve set myself the task of discussing a scale every week, and that’s looking a bit like a failed New Year’s Resolution at present. But back to the topic of today’s post: an update on P Plate Piano. The website is increasingly functional, and the forum for teachers has been up and running for a week or so. Not many posts as of yet, but 19 members, which (by Australian piano teaching demographic standards) is not a bad start! The last two weekends of February saw me tearing around southern Victoria doing my final launches for teachers in that state. Ballarat, Bendigo, Traralgon (I had to look that one up on

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Mozzie

This piece might be my most performed piano piece to date.  It has been on the Australian Music Examination Board piano syllabus since 2000, and the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music have included it in their Grade 2 Piano exam publication for 2009-10.  As a result, there are YouTube performances a-plenty.  Meantime quite a few people have discovered this blog while searching for information about Mozzie. So, for the curious, or those seeking some background on the piece, here is the tale of Mozzie. Back at the end of 1995 I had finally (yet suddenly) made the decision to write educational piano music in earnest, and set myself the challenge of writing just one really good piece of educational piano music before the end of the night (midnight, November 27).  I’d been out to dinner with my family as it was my parents’ wedding anniversary, so I set myself this challenge at about quarter to eleven at

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