David Blackwell and Aisling Greally, editors and compilers of the successful Piano Star series, share their tips on using the books to help young learners on the path to success.
The structure of the three-book Piano Star series was set by ABRSM from the beginning – a book at the very early stages, one at Prep Test level and one working up to Grade 1. The aim was to provide a strong, clear pathway for teachers and pupils.
As editors, we then brought our combined skills and experience to the project. Along the way ABRSM staff gave feedback on pieces. Piano teachers also reviewed the content; a process which included trying out the pieces with young players.
The books are carefully put together to progress step-by-step while introducing new technical features and aspects of musicianship. Pieces have technical elements built in right from the start. In this way, young pianists naturally develop their technique as they move through the books.
You could use Piano Star 1 in a similar way to a tutor book; starting from the beginning and working through the pieces in order. The book gradually adds more notes and dynamics. It moves from pieces with separate hands to simple hands-together; and introduces staccato, legato, simple hand shifts and other techniques.
Students could then dip into Piano Star 2 and 3 and choose pieces themselves. They could do this at home by reading the titles and looking at the pictures, so they are already enthusiastic about a particular piece. Tim Budgen’s wonderful illustrations will help here – firing the imagination and inspiring players to learn the pieces.
You can also use the books alongside any other tutor book to provide additional imaginative repertoire – both solos and duets. Teacher’s can play the duets with their students in order to develop a sense of performance. They learn how important it is to play in time and keep going despite the odd mishap.
The activities attached to some of the pieces can help young pianists develop wider musical understanding and skills. There are opportunities to be creative and suggestions for developing technique or understanding theory. In Piano Star 1, pupils are asked to write or draw a story in response to A Sad Story. This will help them understand that music can express emotions. In Scarlet Lanterns, they can compose their own music with the notes of the pentatonic scale used in the piece. This will invariably produce a convincing piece of music, to the surprise and delight of the young composer.
For pupils who have progressed a little further, the books provide valuable sight-reading practice. There’s also an opportunity to sing the pieces that have words, which will build confidence for aural tests.
Moving through the series provides tangible evidence for teacher, pupil and parent of the learning journey from the early stages to Grade 1 level. And the more pieces a beginner learns to play well before taking a Grade 1 exam, the better. Above all, we hope teachers and pupils enjoy Piano Star!
Based on an earlier article which first appeared as an interview in ABRSM’s Libretto magazine in April 2017. © ABRSM 2017