Back to School with New Piano Music

It is that time of the year again – back to school craziness!

photo-2This is a great time to order new music for your music studio, as most publishers have back-to-school promotions. Aside from my favorite methods and teaching staples, I also like to check out what is new and expand my studio library.

In one of my previous posts, I talked about how I will be offering four learning tracks in my piano studio this year: Fun Track, Recital Track, Festival Track and Competition Track. In this post, I would like to share some of the music I will be using for my Festival Track students.

In all my years of teaching, I have always believed in the value of music festivals. While not every student is suited to the stress and extreme demands of music competitions, I think music festivals offer a nice alternative for most students. There are many kinds of music festivals. The ones I am talking about are those where students are given an opportunity to perform one or more memorized pieces before adjudicators in a non-competitive setting, with or without an audience. The key word here is non-competitive. Instead of selecting only one first-prize winner, everyone has a chance to earn a Superior rating, or Gold Medal, or whatever the award is to recognize a job well done. In music festivals, age and level do not matter, older beginners can play elementary pieces and still receive the highest recognition, provided the job is well done. Some music festivals have repertoire requirements, for example a Sonatina Festival where everyone has to play one movement from a Sonatina. But my favorite music festival is one that allows students and their teachers the freedom to choose and play “anything.” My local music teachers association offers one such festival!

When choosing music for my Festival Track students for music festival adjudication and performance, I have the following criteria:

1. The music must inspire practice – it is readily appealing.
2. The music must challenge the student in some way – rhythm, hand crossing, specific pianistic figurations such as extended arpeggios, etc.
3. The music must not be overly difficult from beginning to end – there can be sections that challenge the student’s current technical abilities, but there must also be sections where the student can feel enthusiastic about their progress.

The following fits the bill nicely.

Piano Extravaganza by Robert D. Vandall


This is a new series of three books, from early to late intermediate levels. Each book contains a variety of solos of different tempo and style, each solo featuring a select number of technical skills. The composer set limited boundaries for each solo, so that students can master the techniques required. The composer has the student’s success in mind when writing these solos. They sound impressive and sophisticated – perfect for music festivals! Each solo encourages the student to tell a story and create a musical experience. All with descriptive and imaginative titles, the slow ones are perfect for developing musicality and sensitivity, while the fast ones sound so brilliant and showy, that I can see my students wanting to practice so they can perform them for friends and family.

A Splash of Color by Dennis Alexander


The quality of the solos in Piano Extravaganza reminds me of another series that I absolutely love – A Splash of Color by Dennis Alexander. This series was released earlier, and has been one of my most favorite contemporary collections. Written specifically with teenagers in mind, the solos in A Splash of Color also encourage expressive playing and musical imagery. There are also three books in the collection, also from early to late intermediate levels. To say I am in love with the titles of the solos in this collection is no exaggeration: Orange Soda, Zinc Pink, Grey Granite, Fields of Lavender, Tango à la Mango, Titanium Toccata – how can anyone resist?! Through the use of color, the composer stretches the student’s imagination to new heights. Some of the solos explore unusual harmonic combinations, some are rhythmically intense, and every piece aims to create an emotional response. Here is a student performing Titanium Toccata (book 3) at my last studio recital.

As a teacher of the 21st century, I feel it is especially relevant that we incorporate music by living composers into our students’ repertoire. It helps them to appreciate variety and expands their horizons. Non-competitive music festivals provide a perfect platform for this – everyone can be rewarded by working hard and everyone can have fun sharing beautiful music!

You may like to check out the Alfred 2014 Summer Piano Catalog.


About the Author

Yiyi Ku
Yiyi Ku is a pianist and teacher. Born in Taiwan, she grew up in New Zealand and obtained her Master of Music degree with Distinction in Composition and Piano Performance from the University of Canterbury. Yiyi also holds a Licentiate in Piano Performance from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano from Music Teachers National As... [Read more]