Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Sharing the UK Blues

One of the unique features of is how it continues to build a growing community of musicians and teachers around the globe. Recently, Elena Cobb--from the UK–contacted me–from the US–via to check out her books. Besides finding a new Facebook friend and fellow teacher across the pond, I’ve enjoyed playing some new music.

Elena is clearly a fan of jazz and the 12-bar blues (yes, this American form made its way overseas) and sees the importance of introducing this standard pattern to early level pianists. Higgledy Piggledy Jazz is packed full of pieces targeted for “inexperienced” pianists while the second book she shared, entitled Blue River, features more intermediate to late intermediate selections. This collection ranges in style from ballad to blues to Latin. Both books include clever, original compositions that fall into the standard blues form. They could serve as supplementary repertoire or provide great material for a studio jazz–themed unit.


The Higgledy Piggledy Jazz book features…

1) Ten pieces with a CD of live jazz band recordings.

2) Four tracks of varying tempos of witty arrangements for play-along enjoyment. The CD is great training for building solid rhythmic skills and confidence for future gigs with a “real” band.

3) Color coding (in some pieces) of chord changes to enhance reading security.

4) Colorful, full-page illustrations.

5) A considerable amount of extra staff instructions including fingering, counting numbers, phrase markings and chord symbols.

6) Amusing lyrics to enhance rhythmic mastery.

7) Some helpful and pedagogically sound teaching tips.

8) A generous donation to Theo Lifeline Trust with the purchase of each book.


The Blue River book features

1) Six eclectic piano solos within standard forms with a touch of flair and personality.

2) Challenging later intermediate to early advanced supplementary repertoire.

3) My favorites: Start Dust and Cloud Seven, Latin… click here to listen to samples.


A few things to consider…

1) The Higgledy Piggledy Jazz Book Grades 1-3 includes pieces in a wide range of levels that appear beyond the reach of those who are “inexperienced” as the cover suggests.

2) Most early readers are accustomed to reading from larger notation. The formatting–size of notes, grand staff, extra symbols and teaching hints–varies from piece to piece. Many selections seem “squished” onto a single page which results in a cluttered appearance. This may intimidate early readers.

3) The kid-friendly illustrations and cover description make the Higgledy Piggledy Jazz Book appear suitable for early-level pianists. However, it seems most pieces would be more appropriate for those at an intermediate or at least a more experienced reading level.

4) Tricky rhythms and quick shifts in hand positions may prove to be discouraging to those with limited reading and playing abilities but fun for pianists who need to stretch their rhythmic skills.

5) Although the blues and jazzy edge pervades both books, there seems to be little encouragement for pianists to go beyond the page (a standard jazz characteristic) and improvise original riffs, or patterns over the blues progression.

Elena Cobb has a lovely website showcasing pics of happy students, a thriving studio and books for purchase. It is obvious that her music infused with a fun, jazzy style motivates her pianists. Her books may do the same for your students who need a change from the standard repertoire. I particularly admire the fact that she provides live-band gigs for her budding pianists at what appears to be very hip locations.  I plan to make that a priority for my students in 2013.

A big thank you to Elena for sharing teaching tips, wisdom, inspiration, creativity and your “blues” from the UK!

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  1. Bradley Sowash

    I agree with the reviewer that while fully notated genre-specific arrangements have a place in music education, you can’t really call a blues piece “jazz” unless there’s room for improvisation. With no personal input from the player, even an itty-bitty player, it might be called “jazzy,” but it’s not jazz. Remember, anyone can improvise and you don’t have to be genius to do it.

  2. John Glanville

    As the parent of a boy who is learning to play the piano, I quickly discovered that maintaining his interest and enthusiasm is the vital factor in competing for his energies while the sports field beckons…. Mrs Cobb’s books absolutely fit the bill: they are delightfully presented and cleverly graded pieces so that for the budding Oscar Peterson of the future (who himself wrote many jazz exercises for young people) there are some “quick wins” as well as some real challenges. Unlike the usual school or exam board fare, these books make fun presents for young musicians and give them a great chance to make discoveries for themselves rather than at the direction of a teacher. Nor should we forget those of us who return to music in later years. Blue River is a delightful way to get back into playing should we be inspired again!

  3. Elena Cobb

    Hi Leila and Bradley,

    Leila, thank you very much for your time taking to write a review and Bradley – for your comment.

    I thought I’d write a few lines in response.

    The tune “Higgledy Piggledy Jazz’ (Nr 8) contains lyrics written to support playing of the chords arranged in triplets. Singing along: ‘Hig-gle-dy Pig-gle-dy Jazz” makes all the differences in playing.

    And since it was the most popular piece in the book it felt right to name ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz‘ the entire series.

    Kids absolutely love the tunes (and the title) and they are not bothered with it being entitled not to academic preference – for them it is HIGGLEDY PIGGLEDY JAZZ and not too grown up and just like a real thing, like a doll’s house or a plastic automobile.

    Children can improvise whenever they are happy to do so and I did not feel compelled to emphases the need of additional lines throughout the book.

    I have seen plenty of Jazz editions without any spaces for improvisation which suggests that the publishers leave that to the initiative of the performers. After all, inspiration and spontaneity is in the heart of Jazz, is it not?

    I have arranged grades based on my own pupils and pupils of my colleagues experiences and perhaps grade one should be considered after grade one was achieved and so on. Are the pieces too difficult? Challenging may be but I have seen plenty of generic and uninspiring books which lead to nowhere.

    The editing of the lines needs improvement and in my next issue of this book it will be done with the larger fonts and more clearly.

    My book ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz’ for piano is written from child’s perspective and the title is ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz’ (emphases on Higgledy Piggledy).

    Important fact is – when children get the book – they practise and they make progress. And they can’t wait to get on stage with the real Jazz band or just with the CD player and to give a performance of their life.

    And in conclusion, not everybody wants to improvise.

  4. Bradley Sowash

    I must apologize. I’m afraid my late night pontificating in an earlier comment came off as being more heavy handed than I intended. While I haven’t seen your books yet, It sounds like they are getting the next generation of pianists to play and enjoy contemporary styles – a very good thing! So my hat is off to you Elana for going through the many steps to make compelling “I want to practice” tunes for young students. Best wishes for continued success. – Bradley Sowash

  5. Elena Cobb

    Hi Bradley, apologies accepted! Let’s stay in touch and share our mutual interest in educating. What your books are offering is interesting and I will recommend them to anybody who will show an interest in learning how to improvise. – Elena

  6. Karen Cooksey

    My daughter is an 8 year old pupil of Elena Cobb and has been playing Higgledy Piggledy jazz tunes almost from when she started playing at the age of 6. The coloured chords make the pieces easy to learn and the colourful and whimsical illustrations are child-oriented and fun.

    The Higgledy Piggledy jazz tunes are a welcome break from the classical pieces she has to master for her exams, and provide a source of entertainment and enjoyment.

    She has performed these pieces at home with the CD, and on many memorable occasions, has played with a real Jazz band in different locations from city centre arts festivals, to competitions, to theatres, to a church and even live on BBC radio!

    She has now progressed onto tunes from Elena’s new Blue River book, which she finds more challenging but equally rewarding.

    As she has developed, she has learnt how to improvise and experiment with different endings, rhythms, etc and enjoys the creative aspect of improvisation not open to her in her Bach preludes!

    I would whole-heartedly recommend Elena Cobb’s books to any budding young (and not so young!) musician who wants to experience the thrill of a real jazz performance.

  7. Charles Shields

    I’d echo Karen’s comments above. My son is another of Elena’s pupils and has been playing pieces from Higgledy Piggledy Jazz for the last couple of years, including in public, and has very much enjoyed the whole experience. Piano is my son’s second instrument and, as far as improvisation / experimentation is concerned, he’s been motivated to adapt pieces himself to the violin. As a parent I’d very much recommend Elena’s books and approach.

  8. Rusty Solomon

    Thanks for sharing this idea interesting blog, Please continue this great work.Rusty Solomon

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