Popular Holiday Music

Here is my review of new piano books on Music Teachers Helper:

Every year I organize a studio holiday recital. This is our biggest recital of the year. While the more advanced students usually play their classical repertoire, most elementary-intermediate students like to play holiday/popular music for the festive season. I am on the look out for new holiday/popular music for my students, which include young beginners, budding intermediates, serious competition-ready musicians, teenagers that listen to Justin Bieber and Carrie Underwood, and adults who enjoy Christian melodies and soothing new-age styles. With this diversity in mind, the following new titles have caught my eyes.

Christmas Solos for Students, arranged by Tom Gerou

This is a collection of three books, containing graded solos that range from late elementary to intermediate levels. They are carefully arranged with students in mind for technical accessibility and immediate appeal! Tom Gerou’s style is fresh, with pianistic figurations, clever but simple use of ties and dotted rhythms, and unexpected harmonic turns that involve frequent use of 6ths and 7ths, these arrangements of timeless holiday classics will bring students and their audiences lots of joy!

Grand One-Hand Solos for Piano, Books 4-6, by Melody Bober

I reviewed Books 1-3 earlier this year, and am so pleased this next set for early intermediate to late intermediate levels is out! These pieces sound so attractive – one would never know only one hand is involved unless watching the performer! These original solos have beautiful titles that spark the imagination and expressive abilities of the students: Song of Spring Meadow, Whispers in the Wind, On Stormy Seas, just to name a few! By focusing on one hand, students learn to master phrasing, articulations, dynamics, and of course keyboard geography and constant switching between treble and bass clefs!

Megahits of 2012

There are three books in this series: Big Note Piano (early intermediate), Easy Piano (intermediate), and Piano/Vocal/Guitar (advanced). The first two have almost identical content, but arranged on different levels by different composers (Carol Matz and Dan Coates respectively). These pop, rock, Country, TV, and Movie Chartbusters will be appreciated by the teenage students who like to play popular music. These arrangements give them  music they like, while teaching them valuable skills in rhythm, chords, and popular accompaniment figurations.

Christian Megahits and Top 50 Praise and Worship

The Christian Megahits book is 320 pages for $24.99. Need I say more?! Complete with lyrics and basic chord fingering grids for optional guitar accompaniment, this is a must-have for any church musician or worship leader! If the piano arrangements (which sound like the recorded versions of these songs) seem a bit too daunting for your intermediate level students, then I recommend the Christian Hits or Top 50 Praise and Worship, arranged by Carol Tornquist, which are technically much more accessible but still very musically appealing!

Advanced Level

While shopping for your students, don’t forget to find something for yourself to enjoy! The following new books give me something to play for friends and family during the holiday season, while honing my skills in sight reading, jazz rhythm, and contemporary harmony. They are also suitable for the advanced level students.

Christmas Just for You, by Dennis Alexander

This is a new addition to the Dennis Alexander “Just for You” series. 10 titles are featured here, and I am especially happy to see that they are in the more “mature” category, such as “Blue Christma,” “Home for the Holidays,” “The Gift,” and “Santa Baby” (not that I don’t enjoy Jingle Bells and Silent Night!) One can expect all the Dennis Alexander signature touches here: lush harmonies, full use of keyboard, super pianistic writing – I just can not wait to play them all!


Uniquely Christmas, by Bill Cunliffe

Ever wish you could sound like a jazz pianist improvising holiday classics? Now you can! 7 old carols (including Jingle Bells and Silent Night!) are given jazz interpretations, which were mostly freely improvised in one recording session by amazing pianist Bill Cunliffe. These transcriptions are extended, sophisticated solos that will impress any crowd (Jingle Bells is 10 pages long!) – I sure hope one day I could improvise like that, until then, I will be playing from this book!

May your holiday season be filled with joy, happiness, and music!

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