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Karen Marshall’s Top 5 Piano Picks for 2024  

It’s been a while since I’ve done my top picks. I’ve recently started a new job (along with classroom and piano teaching) as a multi-academy trust music specialist/lead. After getting more to grips with the new role I can at last start my blogging again. It’s been wonderful to see across so many schools the value of music and the special role that instrumental teachers bring to the education of children in schools but also privately. Classroom teachers and school leaders I’ve worked with all embrace and see the value of music, it’s been so lovely to be part of.  So back to my top picks!  As educators we should frequently be reassessing our curriculums. So, I hope some materials here I mention may help you just a little in your piano teaching as we all strive to help our students reach their full potential musically in this New Year!   

Piano Inspiration

Piano Inspiration compiled by Isata Kanneh-Mason

I must mention these two new books as I am having a wonderful time playing from both – particularly the first Grade 4-6 books which include some of my core teaching favourites but also the most delightful original composition by Isata herself. I LOVE her Waltz and have been playing it all week! Do check out her video performance here

Truly diverse in so many ways including one of my favourites from Florence Price ‘The Goblin and the Mosquito’. This was nearly put in my own female composer collection – HerStory, The Piano Collection (Faber Music). I included Levee Dance by Florence which is equally fab, also worth exploring. I digress. “Knight Rupert “by Schumann included is part of my core teaching repertoire, there’s the wonderful Arietta by Grieg and also “Tango” by Albéniz. “Andante from Sonata in C” by Mozart but then something quite different like “Sunset, Sunset” by Jerry Bock and “Blue Marble –1972″, what a wonderful new piece by Natlie Klouda – congratulations Natalie, it’s lovely. But most of all congratulations Isata, I love your compilation here that is so varied but also pedagogically rich. ABRSM have provided superb editing and engraving with a quality product styling cream paper that made this dyslexic pianist (I am dyslexic) a much better sight reader!   

Really Easy Piano ABBA

Really Easy Piano: 40 ABBA Songs

Across five of ABBA’s most popular albums, from Arrival to their latest Voyage, these 40 pieces are appropriately arranged from around Grade 1 to Grade 4. All pieces include the chords giving the opportunity to use the pieces as lead sheets (the melodies and the chords) rather than always using the bass lines given. Particular favourite arrangements I’ve played and used with students include “Chiquita,” “Don’t Shut Me Down,” “Fernando,” “Happy New Year,” “I Have A Dream,” “Mamma Mia,” “Money, Money, Money,” “The Name of the Game,” “Slipping Through My Fingers,” “Super Trouper,” “Ring, Ring,” “Thank You for the Music” and “Under Attack.” When bass lines include several repeated notes (to keep the level accessible), more advanced students can really develop their improvisation skills through adapting and adding their own accompaniments. I’d recommend you help them do this. 

The Piano Trainer Scales Workbook

Curriculum material for New Year resolutions

If you want to get your students into some good habits with their scales and arpeggios this New Year then do check out The Piano Trainer Scales Workbook which I published with Faber Music. It has all keys and scale included along with theory activities to consolidate the learning. With keyboard diagrams with fingering as well as notation, the guide presents itself with the tonic then tonic minor to consolidate fingering patterns (although relative minors are also referenced). The Piano Trainer Series offers a whole curriculum from Post Grade 1 to Grade 8 plus a book of 9 Intermediate Complete Piano Sonatas.  

High quality popular piano arrangements  

After the extremely wide-ranging reaction to the new Trinity Examinations Albums (which is packed with popular music rather than core repertoire) I thought it would be helpful if I suggested a few collections with quality popular arrangements that can be used alongside core piano pedagogical material that maximise progression. I’ve used this material for decades – but I must stress – only as part of a balanced curriculum. For the most part it’s used as ‘quick study’ material to aid note/sight reading but also as improvisational opportunities. It’s always lovely if a student can put their own ‘personal arrangement’ spin into this kind of music.

Gradebusters

Gradebusters: A Joy to Play

I have previously recommended the Grade 1 and 2 books within this series as Chris Hussey really does arrange well (it’s very pianistic). His bass lines are well curated with lots of movement and variety. All with downloadable demonstration tracks and teaching tips here are some of the pieces included in the latest books. 

Grade 3 – (15 in total)

  • Bad Habits [Ed Sheeran] 
  • California Dreamin’ [The Mamas & the Papas] 
  • Defying Gravity [from Wicked] 
  • Easy On Me [Adele] 
  • Hallelujah [Leonard Cohen] 
  • Ocean Eyes [Billie Eilish] 
  • A Thousand Years [Christina Perry] 
  • Three Little Birds [Bob Marley] 

Grade 4 – (15 in total)

  • All I Want For Christmas Is You [Mariah Carey] 
  • I Wanna Be Like You [from The Jungle Book] 
  • Naughty [from Matilda the Musical] 
  • On My Own [from Les Misérables] 
  • Part of Your World [from The Little Mermaid] 
  • Señorita [Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes] 
  • Surface Pressure [from Encanto] 
  • Sweet Caroline [Neil Diamond] 
  • Wellerman [Nathan Evans] 
  • When She Loved Me [from Toy Story 2] 
  • Yesterday [The Beatles] 

Just out there’s also Grade 5 now available with equality wonderful content – check it out here.

The Phillip Keveren Series

Phillip Keveren Series: Intermediate to Advanced popular arrangements

I have to say, Phillip Keveren, when it comes to piano arranging is something special. I truly love this series and his arrangement of ABBA’s “Chiquitita” which incorporates J.S. Bach’s two part invention is sheer genius. There are a vast number of books in the series (explore them all here) but the ABBA and the Queen books are my personal favourites. Queens “Another One Bites the Dust” and “We Will Rock You” arrangements by Keveren can give students the full workout of a Bach invention or a Scarlatti sonata with a popular melody thrown in!

Naoko Ikeda

Another lovely book from the summer…

 Naoko Ikeda: The Graded Collection includes 24 of Ikeda’s best solo piano pieces, organised in approximate order of difficulty and appropriately grouped according to the UK Grade system from Grade 2 to Grade 5 level.” – Andrew Eales of pianodao.com   

Everyone that sees this book comments on the beautiful cover but also incredibly clear engraving on cream paper. Andrew Eales has selected very well with some beautiful miniatures developing a range of pedagogical skills promoting progression. His notes – as expected – are an excellent addition. I wish all compilations had notes such as these, they are a lovely edition and much appreciated. Naoko Ikeda is a beautiful composer that my students love!  

I hope to be with you again soon with more top picks! Warmest wishes and happy teaching and music making in 2024. Karen Marshall

About the Author

Karen Marshall

Karen Marshall is an award-winning educational author, speaker, teacher and workshop presenter. She has over 20 pedagogical piano books to her name, including Get Set! Piano (Collins Music), the Encore series (ABRSM), the Piano Trainer series, and HerStory (both Faber Music). Based in York, she is a practising private, peripatetic, first access and classroom music teacher, with students from the ages of 4 to 60+. She is also a member of the British Dyslexia Association’s Music Committee.


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