ABRSM : PIANO STAR THEORY
For many musicians, learning theory can be a slog of copying and writing symbols without necessarily gaining much understanding of their purpose in a real piece of music. Yet the ability to master music theory is essential to reading and playing music accurately. In Piano Star Theory we set out to do something different. We wanted to write a book that would help young pianists learn, and understand, the nuts and bolts of music notation in a way that is enjoyable and real.
How did we do it?
Piano Star Theory is written specifically for beginner pianists. It covers the note values, rests, pitches, dynamics, accidentals, time signatures and other symbols found in a beginner piano book. All of the topics we included are central to beginner players’ needs and this means it can be used alongside any beginner piano book to reinforce aspects of written notation.
Throughout the book, theory is put into context by linking it to practical music-making. Topics are introduced and then demonstrated in short, specially written pieces which can be sung, clapped or played. Pupils can learn a new symbol or topic, practise writing it, and then see it used in a simple piece. This reinforcement helps pupils see the practical application of theory concepts, which in turn develops their confidence and understanding as players and helps build aural awareness.
Theory and practice are linked in other ways too. To encourage the good habit of establishing the pulse by counting the steady beats in a bar before playing, we’ve added a ‘count-in’ speech bubble before these pieces. Sometimes the bubble is left blank for the pupil to fill in – testing their ability to work out the correct count-in to add by looking at the time signature.
We wanted Piano Star Theory to be fun and a key to this was ensuring that the theory was pitched at the right level and engaged the learner in imaginative ways. Games such as a treasure map, a note-naming crossword, stickers and pieces to compose ensure that beginners are learning through play. Tim Budgen’s illustrations also ensured that the activities are presented in an appealing and accessible way.
We introduce the topics at a steady pace, with plenty of writing activities and reinforcement to consolidate knowledge. The book is divided into five sections, each finishing with a quiz on the topics introduced in that section. It ends with a board game that practises all the theory learnt in a fun way. As well as simply playing the game, a pupil might teach a parent or sibling who is unfamiliar with music theory how to play it, and in the process deepen their own knowledge and understanding.
With a number of free additional resources available online, we hope this adds up to book that really does help young pianists understand music notation, and in a way that all – pupils and teachers alike – can enjoy.
Kathy and David Blackwell