On November 1, 2009, throughout Australia, a new series of books from the AMEB (Australian Music Examination Board) will be available in all good music shops: P Plate Piano Books 1, 2 & 3.
Australian piano teachers will be quite curious about these new books. The AMEB only publishes materials that are for use in conjunction with their examinations, and the title P Plate Piano doesn’t sound like anything like an examination! And it’s not an examination. But it is an assessment. And there’s a difference… But we’ll come back to that later.
Firstly, P Plate Piano is a series you can use alongside any of the method books you use now, and the first book corresponds roughly to the skill level a student would have achieved at the end of the first book of any of the well-known method books.
The idea of this series is to map out the various keyboard skills and techniques that students need to master before they should commence work on the AMEB Preliminary examination. Contemporary compositions from around the world make up the bulk of the repertoire, with some new pieces commissioned from me especially for this series.
Because the pieces have been chosen to build up the complete suite of skills a student needs as a foundation prior to beginning even the first of the AMEB examinations, it is intended that students work through all the pieces in each volume, and each piece has accompanying text and activities directed at the student.
At the end of each book students can sit a non-graded assessment, choosing any three pieces from the book to perform. At the completion of all three levels students will receive their P Plate Piano License!
And did I mention that the books are published in full colour, with illustrations throughout? And information about the music, improvising and composing activities for students to do, duets for teachers to play with students, keyboard maps so students remember where to put their fingers on the keyboard when they are practicing alone at home, and much more!
These really are something quite unique in publications designed by and for a music examination board.
Part of the motivation for creating this series is that students in Australia seem to be starting lessons younger, and therefore taking longer to master all these basic skills before they can participate in examinations. Parents, meantime, are putting pressure on teachers to have their children take at least one examination each year. This assessment program allows teachers to satisfy this parental urge toward external assessment, without compromising the pedagogical process.
Another factor in the development of P Plate Piano is the observation that Australian children are becoming seriously ‘over-programmed’, without enough hours in the week to practice for rapid progress. These books are an effort by the AMEB to ensure that students still have adequate keyboard prowess before attempting their first examination (thus resulting in a happy experience for student and examiner alike) and that the progress that is required to reach a Preliminary standard is recognised as that progress is being made.
Very few parents want their children to learn the piano as part of a career plan, these days; most approach piano lessons as an amalgam of ‘giving my child the gift of music for life’ and ‘playing a musical instrument makes you smarter’, neither of which goal is well-served by students being frog-marched through a succession of increasingly ambitious piano examinations from their first year of lessons.
Because P Plate Piano is non-graded students have the chance to experience what an examination might be like without any of the pressure of a percentage or letter grade being attached to their performance. The assessment will, however, include focussed and encouraging comments about the child’s skills and achievements. This is fantastic for parents, students and teachers alike.
I will be involved in launch events throughout Australia in November, which I am very much looking forward to. More details of these events will be posted in this blog (and on the AMEB websites) soon….