The following is my latest article on Music Teachers Helper:
Last month I shared some of my latest finds on the sheet music market. I have discovered some more great new publications that will sure become staples in my teaching library:
1. First Book of Favorites and First Book of Pop, by Gayle Kowalchyk and E. L. Lancaster
These two books contain all the familiar tunes that beginner students will LOVE to play. They are designed for students that are just beginning to read music notation. The melodies are divided between the two hands, and most remain within a single position. Some arrangements are slightly more difficult, in terms of position change, rhythmic complexity, and use of accidentals, but all are highly appealing, and may even be learned by rote. Each piece also has an optional duet accompaniment. First Book of Favorites contains 40 songs, and First Book of Pop contains 32 songs – $9.99 for each book. That has got to be the best value ever! I am usually not a big fan of anthologies, but these offer such great value for money, give students so much fun and joy, and will compliment ANY beginner’s method! Click here to see some sample pages.
2. Just for Two, by Dennis Alexander
This is a new collection of four books in the impressive Dennis Alexander Library by Alfred. I will admit that I had never heard of Dennis Alexander before moving to the United States in 2005 – I was not familiar with living North American composers, except for the music of Martha Mier, as her compositions have long been included in the piano exam syllabi of the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College of London. My first encounter with Dennis Alexander was through his Especially for Adults series. I ordered the set of three books for an adult student, and was immediately impressed by his style – fresh, charming harmonies, variety of moods and styles, super-pianistic writing, and technical accessibility for each level, making his music immediately appealing to students, especially teenagers and adults. Needless to say, now Dennis Alexander is one of my favorite composers, and I am glad to see that his music is also included in the syllabi of international piano exam bodies. This new series Just For Two contains duet versions of some of the most popular pieces from his best selling solo books Just For You. The pieces range from Elementary to Late Intermediate levels. The Primo and Secondo parts are of equal importance and difficulty, both interesting and musically satisfying to play. They also make great sight reading materials, and I can see me having fun playing these rewarding pieces together with my students.
3. Classics for the Developing Pianist, by Ingrid Jacobson Clarfield and Phyllis Alpert Lehrer
I first came across the name Ingrid Clarfield a few years ago in the series Keys to Artistic Performance, edited by Ingrid Clarfield and Dennis Alexander. That series, together with Keys to Stylistic Mastery, is absolutely indispensable and shares the secrets that professional pianists use for artistic and stylistic performances. In my opinion, every piano pedagogy class should use them as textbooks!
Classics for the Developing Pianist is a new series of five books (only the first three are available for purchase right now), each book contains 20 pieces selected from the four main style periods that the editors believe are core repertoire for study and performance. They start from the Early Intermediate level, and include selections from standard, well-known literature. I see these replacing various other anthology-type books on the market for the following reasons:
1. Each book contains selections from all four major periods – no need to purchase one book for Baroque, one for Classical, one for Romantic, and one for Contemporary. This can save both teachers and students a lot of time and money. A well balanced program covering all four periods can be easily planned without spending a fortune. This is perfect for National Piano Guild auditions! Click here to see sample pages from Book 2.
2. Each piece is extensively edited. Logical fingering is provided throughout, (sometimes with alternate choices to suit different size/shape hands and habits), ornaments are written out, and the composers’ markings for dynamics and articulation are provided as well as the editors’ additional suggestions to help the student achieve greater musical expression. If you are a “purist” and like to have your music clean, with nothing but the composers’ original markings, then this is not for you. I would normally like to see the editors’ suggestions in parentheses, except in this case, the suggested markings are so sensible and true to style, that they are necessary for a musical performance. The editors have gone out of their way to give as much help to the students as possible, such as adding multiple dynamic markings to aid with balance between voices (for example, the melody may be marked mf with an accompanying voice marked pp), and clear pedal marks for warmer sound and better legato in melody. All of these suggested markings may be superfluous for a concert pianist, as they know to do these things instinctively, but I can imagine a teacher having to add these markings in pencil for their students. Having these printed already on the page can really save the teacher a lot of time, not to mention educate the less experienced teachers with standard interpretation.
3. I LOVE the suggested metronome markings – not one number is given, but a wide range! This is such a good idea, as I don’t know how many times I have felt like exploding when a student plays their piece too fast too soon, and when I question them why they go so fast, their response is “the metronome marking says 126!” Some students take that printed number so seriously! Now, I can tell them to start a bit slower, so they can perform comfortably, accurately, and artistically first, and when the piece is polished and memorized, they can go faster towards the other number!
4. Apart from the 20 pieces in each book, the editors have suggested additional repertoire for study for each level. These are chosen from standard literature from the 20th century, but because of copyright restrictions they were not included in the books. This list provides additional inspiration for the serious students, and the choice of contemporary composers to include is outstanding.
I am grateful that there are all these wonderful teaching resources out there; they definitely make my job easier and more fun! You can view sample pages of all of the above books by visiting Alfred website.