Category Archives: Pedagogy Book Reviews

So You Want to Play the Piano? by Melanie Spanswick

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Melanie Spanswick is an English concert pianist, presenter, adjudicator, author, composer, and music educator. That is the short list! She has also written many articles for music publications and has given presentations and lectures on learning how to play piano.

To this list of outstanding achievements, she has written a book , So You Want To Play the Piano?.

This is an excellent book for anyone who is interested in piano lessons for themselves or a family member. It is extremely comprehensive and includes everything you could possibly want to know about piano lessons. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book quite like this, and anyone considering piano lessons should use this book as a resource.

An important chapter is how to find the appropriate piano teacher. She explains the confusing diplomas and degrees that teachers may obtain, as well as the conservatory system, such as the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and others.

The next chapter discusses popular method books and basic music theory. Melanie uses both the UK and North American music vocabularies. She reviews method books in detail and also discusses other music education methods such as Kodály, Orff, and Suzuki.

The book continues with detailed chapters on piano basics, technique, exams, festivals, and competitions. There is an entire chapter on technique with good photographs to explain the concepts.

One of the best things about this book is the extensive lists Melanie includes. There are lists of resources for everything she writes about including websites, methods, conservatories, examining boards in 8 countries, composers, publications, and more. It is a treasure trove of resources!

So You Want to Play Piano? is aimed for potential students, but it is a great reference book for beginning teachers who are starting a studio.  As an experienced teacher,  I found it contains helpful information including what to discuss at student interviews.

This book is currently published by Alfred UK and will soon be published in the U.S. by Alfred Publishing. You can read more about Melanie at www.melaniespanswick.com

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Great piano teachers resource from Valery Lloyd Watts

Recording artist, teacher, and virtuoso performer Valery Lloyd-Watts along with her professional collaborator the late Carole L. Bigler are the editors of Mastering the Piano, a 7-Volume series of graded performance repertoire. I like this series because it has some of the most requested and best-loved classical repertoire, complete with CD recordings.  Editorial markings are limited to fingering and ornament realization. (They have also published a book on ornaments, Ornamentation, which has been quite helpful in my studio.) When I started using these books some time ago, CD’s were a rarity in piano literature collections. These CD’s, performed by Valery Lloyd-Watts are excellent, with beautiful harmonic coloring. I have happy memories of playing these CD’s as I drove my children’s car pool and wondering how Valery could make the piano sound like so many different instruments. Their many books are available from Alfred Publishing, a leader in excellent, yet affordable piano literature.

Valery Lloyd Watts has just developed a website with teaching and performance instructions for all the pieces in the series. On her website there is a link to a 365 page book called The Bigler~Lloyd-Watts Mastering the Piano Manual. Teachers are able to freely download this book.

I discovered that their on-line book is more than just a manual of pedagogy instructions.  Chapters include the Music Learning Cycle, Teaching Strategies, Technical Regime for Pianists, and the Business and Professional Aspects of Running a Studio. It is a downloadable piano pedagogy textbook!

The last section of the book is devoted to the teaching procedures of the Mastering the Piano series. 

In detailed steps, each piece is broken down into small practice segments with instructions on how to learn difficult passages, complete with hints for such practical things as fingering, pedaling, memorization, and articulation.

If you have ever wondered how to teach a certain classical piece, or how experienced master teachers and performers teach, now you can see for yourself. This is such a generous offering from this esteemed duo. It is an incredible resource for piano teachers and I highly urge you to read through the entire book. I would sincerely like to thank Valery Lloyd-Watts for making this freely available to piano teachers all over the world.

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The Practice Revolution

Dear Susan,  I am just getting started teaching piano and I was wondering if you can suggest some books on piano teaching.

I am asked this question a lot, so during the month of August I will try to review some pedagogy books on my bookshelf that have been helpful to me. 

About 10 or so years ago I was surfing the web and came across a website by an Australian  music teacher, Philip Johnston. His writings on the web about teaching piano were so interesting and engaging I couldn’t resist buying the book he had just published,  The Practice Revolution, subtitled, Getting great results from the six days between music lessons.  

Have you ever read something that changed your thinking forever? Well, this book did that for me,  and I have used his ideas many times over the years. With humor and a real flair for the English language, Johnston goes through all the right and wrong ways to practice. Is your student “chopping wood with a spoon”, is he a “shiny object polisher”, a “speed demon”, or a “clock watcher”? These are examples of his clever descriptions of the different ways students practice. He has  chapters on why students don’t practice, practice flaws, how to learn a new piece, how to memorize it, and many more useful ideas that you can use right away with your students. This is not a head in the clouds, ivory tower textbook, but a realistic book for the private elementary to high school age music teacher.

Philip Johnston is so incredibly enthusiastic and positive about teaching that it will surely rub off on you.  I have never known a piano teacher who did not find this book helpful. The book is 320 pages and packed full of  ideas that really work. I find myself referring to my dog-eared copy again and again.  If you are looking for a book with a positive, can-do attitude to inspire you for the next teaching year, this is the one to do it.

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