HomeEducationNaoko Ikeda: The Best Pieces for Graded Piano

Naoko Ikeda: The Best Pieces for Graded Piano

Andrew Eales of Pianodao.com introduces us to the music of Japanese composer Naoko Ikeda. He talks to her about her inspiration, William Gillock, and her musical journey into their latest project together: a graded music collection of 24 works for pianists at Grade 2-5 level.

Naoko Ikeda

An Introduction to Naoko Ikeda

Piano teachers and players are spoilt for choice when it comes to inspirational new music, and with so many fresh repertoire collections in recent years it’s easy to miss some real gems. Such was the case, for me, with the music of Naoko Ikeda.  

Ikeda grew up in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, where she continues to live, teach, and compose. Fully immersed within a music-loving family, she began singing lessons at the age of four before taking up piano, developing her love for a wide range of music. Inspired by the piano works of William Gillock, Ikeda’s own compositions combine Gillock’s infectious, contemporary approach with an idiomatic passion for Japanese culture.

A Review of Naoko Ikeda’s works

My first encounter with this superb and imaginative music was Ikeda’s 2022 collection Aya, which I reviewed when it appeared. Subsequently introducing these pieces into my teaching further convinced me that they were of great pedagogical as well as musical value. I set about discovering more of Ikeda’s music, building a collection of her many publications, and communicating my considerable enthusiasm to colleagues. 

Naoko Ikeda performs Sakura from her Graded Collection

Following the positive response to my Graded Gillock series, I was delighted to be asked to curate and edit a new, exclusive Ikeda collection for Willis Music, bringing together 24 of her solo piano works for elementary to intermediate players between Grades 2–5. Beginning with Shoukei, published by Willis Music in 2004, Ikeda has well over a dozen collections in print, as well as many more individually published sheets. Given free rein to explore this treasure trove, I selected a half-dozen pieces suitable for each level, showcasing the range and quality of Ikeda’s achievement.

Grading Naoko Ikeda’s Music

Whilst applying graded levels is never an exact science, I certainly hope that my suggestions will serve as a useful guide to suitability, and prove an accessible gateway, revealing Ikeda’s exquisite art to many more teachers and students. To that end, I have also recorded several of the pieces, which you can hear on Pianodao or Naoko’s SoundCloud.

Andrew Eales plays “Raft of Flower” from Naoko Ikeda: The Graded Collection 

Naoko Ikeda’s music already has growing global appeal and I trust that this new Graded Collection will contribute to its wider acceptance. I am indebted of course to The Willis Music Company for their faith and support, but my deepest gratitude must be reserved for the composer herself: for creating such valuable repertoire; graciously giving her consent to this project; and offering her friendship throughout.

Naoko Ikeda’s Musical Journey

I asked Ikeda to share more about her musical journey, and am delighted to share this response:

“I think that my life as a child was the starting point for my many influences from art and music, and the experiences that led to my current method of composing.  My parents loved music, and there was classical music, popular songs, jazz, and movie music in the house. Being surrounded by different musical genres while growing up helped me to appreciate new music as an adult.

When I compose, I first come up with a melody, and then add harmonies and rhythms to match the scene (the theme and story of the entire collection emerges from that). Based on the experiences I had when I was a child, I often reproduce things that I find beautiful through my music. In my twenties, I was especially fascinated by the art and music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in France, including Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc.

As for my Japanese-style works, I grew up in Hokkaido (an area developed after the Meiji Era), so I have a unique interest and admiration for Japanese culture. By rearranging traditional Japanese scales in my own way and mixing them with Western chord progressions, my intent is to introduce the atmosphere of Japan to the performers in an approachable way. I have also published Japanese editions of my original works, as well as a collection of elementary five-finger position arrangements.

I became interested in composing after playing Gillock’s Lyrical Preludes in Romantic Style. Written in all keys, this collection of songs is like looking at 24 paintings, and I was fascinated by the sound of commonly used chords harmonised in a beautiful romantic style. My admiration for this Gillock work was the driving force behind my composition of Duets in Colour books 1 & 2 (written in the 12 major and 12 minor keys).”

Echoing Ikeda’s own words from her collection Soaring on Air, I can only offer my sincere hope that, “These pieces inspire you to open your heart and to spread your own wings.”

Andrew Eales

About Andrew Eales

One of the UK’s most influential piano educationalists, Andrew Eales is based in Milton Keynes, where he runs a successful piano-teaching studio. He is a published composer and author, and his compositions and recordings have been streamed well over a million times worldwide. Andrew has worked as a consultant for several leading educational organisations and examination boards. He has trained and worked alongside teachers across the UK, North America, and Africa. His video feedback service now provides affordable, expert support for piano players the world over. 

Andrew’s acclaimed book How to Practise Music is published by Hal Leonard, and he has compiled Graded Gillock and Naoko Ikeda: The Graded Collection for The Willis Music Company. He is also renowned for his piano education website pianodao.com, which includes hundreds of free articles and reviews to support piano players and teachers worldwide.


Naoko Ikeda: The Graded Collection

Naoko Ikeda: The Graded Collection

24 exquisite works for solo piano by Naoko Ikeda, exclusively matched to the grade criteria of the major examination boards by Andrew Eales. With fresh engravings and editorial practice notes, this unique folio shines a spotlight on the music of Naoko Ikeda for pianists of Grade 2–5 level.

Interested in reading more about music and education? Check out other blog posts here!

Must Read