One of the questions prospective parents often ask me is “what method books do you use?” My short answer is that I use a variety of books, not sticking to any one “method” in particular. Every student is different, and every method series has its strengths and weaknesses – some focus on technique, some on note-reading, some on theory, while others may focus on musical interpretation and encouraging creativity. There has never been a better time in history to be a private piano teacher, as there are so many wonderful resources and books written for students in mind by contemporary/living composers and music educators. Of course, everyone has their favorites, and some books are tried and true and will always stand the test of time. But I really do feel we owe it to our students to check out on a regular basis what’s new on the sheet music market, and add spices to their musical diet by introducing different styles and composers. This means spending time to research new books, money to update the teaching library, and energy to figure out what music suits which student, but it also means that come recital time, a big variety of musical styles would be presented, and more importantly, that the teacher is not stuck with outdated pedagogical ideas and stays current with the demands of being a 21st century educator.
Here are the newest additions to my teaching library:
1. Belwin Contest Winners
This is a collection of four books, from early elementary to late intermediate levels. The pieces are chosen from the libraries of Belwin-Mills and Summy-Birchard, and represent the most popular solos drawn from festival and contest lists. There are a total of 46 effective, quality solos from 19 composers, including my personal favorites such as William L. Gillock, Martha Mier, Robert D. Vandall, and Lynn Freeman Olson. A variety of styles can be found – rhythmic, poetic, jazzy, sonatinaish – there’s something to suit every developing young pianist. Even the simplest pieces sound attractive and fancy enough for recitals or school talent shows. I high recommend the set, especially if you are looking to supplement a method series and every piece in the performance/recital book has been played more times than you can remember!
2. Center Stage by Martha Mier
This is a collection of three books for late elementary to intermediate levels. Who has not fallen in love with Martha Mier’s ground breaking series Romantic Impressions? That series set the standard for contemporary composers writing educational piano music for students. Through descriptive and image-provoking titles, hint of jazz rhythm, and Martha’s signature rich harmonic language, the pieces in this new series encourage students to paint a musical picture and play with expressiveness and imagination.
3. Recital Suite Series by various composers
This is an exciting new concept for the sheetmusic market. It is a happy medium between a single sheet solo and a full scale book. Each suite is a short collection of solos (usually three or four) that are carefully grouped together to provide tempo and mood contrast, intended to be played in a recital for the performance minded students. The pieces are more substantial in length and difficulty, challenging intermediate to early advanced level students to reach higher degrees of excellence in technical mastery and musical interpretation. Many composers have contributed to the series, including well known favorites such as Dennis Alexander, Melody Bober, Catherine Rollin, and of course Martha Mier and Robert D. Vandall. I am also happy to get to know the music from names that I am not familiar with, such as Joyce Grill, Betty Lea Martocchio, and Peter Jancewicz. Many of the suites are inspired by landscape and geographical interests, for example, West Virginia: The Mountain State; New Mexico: Land of Enchantment; Minnesota River Valley; A Portrait of Utah. I especially like how each piece is preceded by a short paragraph giving interesting historical and geological background that inspired the piece. Each suite is very reasonably priced at $3.50 or $4.50.
You can purchase all of the above titles on the Alfred website. I admire and appreciate how many different composers are being supported by this fine publisher!