If you're an Australian piano teacher who uses the Australian Music Examination Board syllabus with your students, you're no doubt aware that a new series of teaching books has just been released: Series 17 Piano.
As you know, I use a variety of exam boards for my students depending on theirlevel of interest, skill, musical preferences and time commitments. We're very lucky in Australia to have the choice of a number of internationally-renowned examination systems. If you're interested in my experiences of using other exam boards, please see Trinity College Exams - first impressions and ANZCA Modern Piano versus AMEB Piano for Leisure.
That said, the AMEB still holds the pre-eminent spot as the piano exam board of choice for most Australian teachers, so new music releases are generally eagerly anticipated.
This is the first in a 3-part series looking at the music in each of the grade books in Series 17. In this article, I'll cover Preliminary to Third Grade, with the rest to follow shortly.
Series 17 Overview
Series 17 was compiled and edited by Emeritus Professor David Lockett AM, a South Australian based teacher and pedagogue well known in Australian piano teaching.
He has done remarkable job of narrowing-down the potential list of thousands, or even tens of thousands of pieces that could have been included in this syllabus, to a select and well-chosen group of 128.
The pieces are varied, pedagogically challenging and I believe students will thoroughly enjoy playing them. Given that Series 15 and 16 will continue to be assessed alongside the new Series 17 (at least for 2015), teachers have a large amount of choice when it comes to choosing repertoire suitable for their students.
Here's a video from the AMEB about creating Series 17 (great to see my old teacher, Caroline Almonte, helping with the recordings!):
As many teachers have come to expect, Series 17 has an increased level of challenge for each grade level compared to Series 16, however I don't think the jump in difficulty has been as significant with this series as with some in the past when pieces that were once Grade 1 standard work their way to being Preliminary level after a few series releases.
The good thing is that there seems to be a variety of challenge levels in each book. In addition, teachers will find that across Series 15, 16 and 17, there are plenty of options now available at each grade level and listing. For example, I was discussing Preliminary List C pieces with one of my colleagues today and we agreed that Series 17 offers more approachable pieces for this list and level than Series 16, for example.
I also think that Dr Lockett has done a great job with the supporting notes at the back of each book. They are an excellent resource for both new and experienced teachers alike.
So, let's start exploring!
Without wanting to go through all the pieces in each book, I thought that teachers might find it useful to have an overview of some of the pieces that I thought students would enjoy and that would be fun to teach.
How I decided on the selections
- Do they feature useful teaching points - ie. are they pedagogically interesting?
- Will students enjoy playing them?
- Are they musically interesting? Did I enjoy playing through them?
- Do they explore ideas and challenge students to new thinking and the development of new skills?
- Will I be able to listen to them over and over?!
My favourites are listed in the order in which they appear in each book. Where possible, I've added a YouTube clip of the piece being played so that you can get a sense of how it goes. Please be aware that these are not necessarily recommended example performances - just a way to get a feel for the works.
Study Op 17 No 2 - Le Couppey
This is a great little piece featuring relatively easy two and four-note melodies in the RH over broken chord patterns in the LH. This is a great piece for teaching about phrasing and shaping of 2-note slurs in RH. It will also challenge students with aspects of balance, accents and dynamics.
The Banjo - Trynes
This is a great piece that challenges students to balance a LH melody with RH broken chords. It's fun to play and sounds full and warm. Great for teaching about intervals and chords.
Salt and Pepper - Milne
It's so great to see this fun piece by Australian composer and fellow blogger Elissa Milne on the syllabus. This piece is an exploration of changing meters and key signatures, with part of the piece played all on black notes in B major. In a relatively short piece, students also get to compare articulations, use the pedal and finish with a bang!
Dripping Fairy - Chua
I'm really happy to see some of Melbourne-based Sonny Chua's work feature in this series. He has a huge output of music that is great for students of all ages. This piece is from his collection Assorted Fairies and will appeal to a wide range of students. It has an unusual sound in 3/4 and uses a wide range of the keyboard and lots of accidentals, providing a unique challenge at this level.
Nun rate ma! (Have a Guess) - Schawersaschwilli
I'm not going to try to pronounce the composer's name, but what a cool piece! It's in 3/8 and will be a fun rhythmic challenge for students due to the rests in the main theme. Fun and lively and relatively short.
Malaguena arr Heumann
I find that Malaguenas are often appealing for students - something about the rhythm and chromatic chord changes. This fun little piece is no exception. It's quite repetitive, so students will be able to learn it quickly and there are lots of teaching points regarding chord shapes and staccato.
One of the main differences between Grade 1 and all the other AMEB grades is the requirement for students to learn a canon. In past syllabi, I've found the canons are often quite bland and/or similar in style, so I was really excited to see four canons written by Perth-based composer and teacher, Jo Kotchie featured this time.
Canoeing down the Canon is probably one of the simpler canons in the book and is quite repetitive meaning that it will be accessible for many students.
My favourite however was Canonblue Cruisin' - the first jazz-based canon that I've seen in recent AMEB books.
Canonblue Cruisin' is a bit trickier than the other three options, but students will love it. It is swung, bluesy and fun to play. It just goes to show that canons don't have to follow the Baroque/Classical style! In fact, it reminded me of this study by Friedrich Gulda:
That might take a bit more work!
Here are my other favourites from Grade 1:
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Giga Op 12 No 3 - Arnold
This is a good intro to the idea of a Gigue in 6/8 in C major. It has lots of running quavers (as expected for a Gigue) which makes 'feeling' the 6/8 time signature that much easier than crotchet-quaver patterns or those with lots of rests. Students will find this piece satisfying to learn.
A Merry Tune op 89 No 26 - Kabalevsky
You can't go past Kabalevsky for great teaching pieces for students and this is no exception. This is from the same set as "Stubborn Little Brother" and many others you'll be familiar with. It's based on 5-finger patterns that move around the piano including shapes with thumbs on the black keys which is great for teaching students about moving in and out of the keys and general keyboard typography. I found it really fun to play.
Puddles - Trynes
The LH features what I call a "Root-5-8" pattern from the beginning which provides an excellent introduction of one of the most common accompaniment patterns after the broken chord/Alberti Bass. This is combined with 3rds in the RH bouncing up over 3 octaves. Students can work on voicing the top note to ring out and balance the accompaniment in the LH. A very musical and engaging piece.
Allegretto Op 125 No 10 - Diabelli
I'm a great fan of much of Diabelli's work and this is an excellent teaching piece for Classical style repertoire. It is delicate and balanced and satisfying to learn. It features the challenges of phrasing, balance and articulation as well as an introduction to acciaccaturae.
Kanzonetta - Neefe
This is just a beautifully-written piece that I thoroughly enjoyed playing; I think students will find the same joy in learning it. It sits well under the hands, has a great sense of warmth and is excellent for cantabile phrasing. (Note that the ornaments played in the recording are not found in the AMEB music.)
Quasi Adagio Vol 1 BB 53 No 3 - Bartok
AKA the "Lost Cat", many teachers will already be familiar with this piece by Bartok. The LH features an ostinato pattern that adds stability and interest to the simple melody. Plenty of phrasing challenges in the RH and getting the overall 'feel' of the piece will be a challenge.
Ghosts - Hopkins
This is one of those great teaching pieces that explores some of the unusual sounds that the piano can make. Featuring the idea of depressing and holding notes silently while playing a melody adds a real eeriness to the piece that students will love. There is also a dynamic range of pp to ff with accents. Builds on some of the great exploratory pieces found in the P-Plate Piano Syllabus.
Innocence Op 100 No 5 - Burgmuller
This will no doubt be familiar to many teachers already as it's a great teaching piece and has been in the piano teaching standard repertoire for some time. Lots of great things for students to work on, most notably evenness and flow of melodies and balance between the hands.
Balet Anglois 5th mvt of Clio Suite - Fischer
A really accessible and enjoyable introduction to Baroque music. Students can experiment with non legato LH balanced against a pleasing RH melody. Good level of challenge without being too hard.
T-rex Hungry - Chua
I'm really glad to see the inclusion of this piece in the syllabus. It is from Chua's series: A day in the life of a T-rex (which also comes as duet and trio form) and it is rhythmic and boisterous. It is full of imaginative performance indications: "Snappingly" or "Tip-toeingly" and is great for developing performance of accents, dynamics and story-telling.
Poco Presto e con Allegrezza: 3rd mvt of Sonata 3 - Turk
Another piece in 3/8, this one is fun and light. Great opportunity to cement the Classical style. Mostly melody and accompaniment with a striking bridge section in unison in the bass. This piece has a Rondo-like air about it.
Thin Ice - Bullard
This is a really interesting piece that's fun and lively and pushes the tonal boundaries for students. It's almost polytonal with the RH in an F# major chord position for most of the first page while the LH ascends in chord positions on the white notes. This creates some really interesting harmonies and also involves one hand playing above the other.
Ballade Op 100 No 15 - Burgmuller
I'm glad to see this old favourite of the piano teaching repertoire back in the syllabus as it has so much to offer students: a programmatic style, balancing of LH melody and RH chords, accents, dynamics, phrasing. It's got it all and students love it.
Sonatina HWV 585 - Handel
This piece was completely new to me and I was instantly hooked. While the editor's suggestion is to play it non-legato, I feel students should have some licence when it comes to the articulations in this piece and will be able to really make it their own. It's got some tricky trills to incorporate and is in B flat major, but I feel a lot of students will enjoy the challenges involved.
Etude No 32 (s157) - Hummel
This is a fast piece in 3/4 with mainly semiquaver movement, giving students a challenge playing smooth running melodies and arpeggiated chord shapes. Excellent for developing flexible wrists and remaining relaxed while playing fast. Also great for teaching about chords and inversions.
List B Sonatinas - 3 choices
There are three options for Classical sonatinas at this grade level and I enjoyed exploring all of them:
- Sonatine No 3 from 34 Sonatines - Benda
- Allegro Moderato Op 168 No 2 - Diabelli
- Alla Tedesca Op 41 No 9 - Vanhal
I think all three are great teaching pieces developing varied use of articulations, dynamics and phrasing exploring the Classical style. The Tedesca in particular is a useful introduction to the early sonatas of Beethoven with a Trio da Capo and Coda form.
Soldiers in the Distance - Benjamin
A really great miniature that students are sure to enjoy. The LH features rhythmic 5ths in a mufled drumming style under a fanfare-like RH melody, designed to be played "as strictly in time as possible from beginning to end" (according to the composer).
I hope you've enjoyed this summary of some of the pieces I have enjoyed from the new series. While the level of difficulty does seem to increase with each new series, I feel that Dr Lockett has developed a very pedagogically sound and engaging series for students that will compliment well the offerings in Series 15 and 16.
Where to buy
The new books are available online at AMEB or from your local music retailer. Books may be purchased individually or in packs:
Special Student Packs
Special student packs can be purchased for each grade, including the recording CD/handbook, the grade book, and a bonus Music Practice Diary. These are available until stocks run out.
Special Teacher Packs
Special teacher packs can be purchased for Level 1 (Preliminary to Grade 4) and Level 2 (Grade 5 to Grade 8), including all the relevant grade books, handbooks and recordings. These are available until stocks run out.
Please note that AMEB Vic is offering a 10% discount on all orders over $100 received before 19 December 2014. If you're interested, please use this order form.
What are your thoughts?
Have you started exploring Series 17? Perhaps you've already started teaching some of the pieces... Please leave your thoughts about the series below.
- Is it a good mix of pieces?
- Is it too easy/hard?
- Do you think the music is getting harder each new release?
- Is it worth the investment?
- What's your favourite piece?
- Would you like to see this music released online?