The rationale behind the Getting to books

Back in January I had a great time doing a short tour (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth) with Samantha Coates (of Blitz Books fame) and Abe Cytrynowski (the inventor of the fabulous ScaleCard system). In Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth we just did a long morning session at one of the larger retailers in each city, but in Sydney Samantha hired the Music Workshop at the Sydney Conservatorium and we did a full day event, along with amazing catering and an events team that worked like clockwork.

The day ended with an energetic panel discussion. We took questions from the more than 100 teachers present, and did our best to cover everything in the 45 minutes scheduled for the panel. Despite our best efforts there were still questions left unanswered, and we collectively promised we would address each question at http://www.blitzbooks.com.au but as it turns out many of the questions aren’t really appropriate for Sam’s theory/sight-reading/note-reading/general knowledge oriented website.

So here I am, in my blog, answering one of those questions: what is the rationale behind the Getting to series?

For those reading who hail from outside Australia and New Zealand I will have already lost you: the Getting to series is a repertoire collection that is available for sale in Australia/New Zealand only, and it is a series that was devised specifically to address issues Australian piano teachers have taking students from (mostly American and UK) method books into the Australian Music Examination Board assessment program.

And since it is published by Hal Leonard Australia it is specifically designed to tie in with the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library method.

Getting to Preliminary starts at about the level students are when they are starting Lessons Book 3 and coordinates the techniques and musical concepts of the method book with wonderful repertoire sourced primarily from the syllabuses since the 1950s of examination boards around the world.

So the idea is that as you go from one piece to the next in any Getting to book you are building on the skill set you have already acquired from learning the preceding repertoire. Further, the Getting to books are designed to cover the entire skill set assumed for each grade. This means that if a student learns every single piece in a Getting to book they will almost certainly know how to do any and every thing a student at that grade would ever be expected to do: they will have truly mastered the grade.

Originally it was intended that there would only ever be the Preliminary, Grade One and Grade Two books (with the links to the HLSPL books), but piano teachers quite quickly were asking for the follow up (Grade Three) until the series now runs to Grade Five.

Each book has a range of styles, keys, techniques and so forth, but a notable feature is the amount of material written since 1900. Most repertoire books seem to include a few token 20th/21st century pieces, but are bulked out by music written between 1720 and the turn of the 20th century. This series is committed to encouraging students to learn the music of their own time (or maybe, more properly, the music of their own, their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents time – and that’s a huge leap forward in time for many piano students/teachers!).

But in addition to this series we decided to create a parallel Getting to series called The New Mix. This series has the same rationale and ambitions as the books in the (classically oriented) Getting to series, only this time the repertoire is drawn solely from arrangements (film themes, pop songs, orchestral standards and so forth) and music written in the past 100 years (most of it composed within the past 25 years). This music has a broad appeal to students, and is similar to the music selected for the AMEB Piano for Leisure examinations.

This makes The New Mix a completely unique repertoire book: popular-style repertoire arranged into an intelligent teaching sequence, leading to students gaining wide-ranging pianistic skills.

Now, there was one more rationale driving the series: trying to find a way to make it easy for piano teachers to not photocopy music in copyright. The Getting to books are incredible value – 30 pieces (usually) for less than $1 a piece, much of the music sourced from a variety of hard-to-find sources. So teachers can use the collections, knowing they and their students are doing the right thing, without sacrificing breadth of repertoire. And students can build up a library of excellent piano music – and with research (un)surprisingly showing that literacy is significantly affected by having books within the family home, this is an enormous educational benefit.

Finally, not a rationale, but a feature of the Getting to books: at the back of each book is a section titled “How to Prepare for Your Exam”. This section presupposes that students are intending to sit a piano exam, and of course, there is no reason why they should. But many parents and students feel as if no progress is being made without a certificate to say so, or a deadline to inspire practice, and so we find ourselves in an intensely assessment-oriented educational culture.

“How to Prepare for Your Exam” is intended to make clear to students (and their parents) just how much else, besides learning five or six pieces, is required to be ready for a piano exam. So scales and arpeggios, sight reading, ear tests and general knowledge are all covered in this quite-large section at the end of each Getting to book. It will depend which examination board the student is sitting their exam with as to exactly which requirements they will be tested on, but this section is an excellent summary of the skills variously tested at that particular grade level in Australian-available exams.

16 thoughts on “The rationale behind the Getting to books

  1. Hi Elissa,

    Thanks so much for answering this question (it was mine!). It is always so helpful to understand the reasoning behind why different resources are published and really adds ‘value’ because we can then use the resources the way they were intended.

    I also attended the P-Plate piano workshop at Penrith last weekend and found it similarly inspiring and helpful. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up!

  2. I am interested in buying Getting to Grade One – the new mix, as I have never used it for my students before. Could you please let me know the cost of this book, and also, do you have Sample Books for teachers to see. I do not live near a music shop, so can’t look at one. I have many students and have been teaching for 40 years. These books sound very interesting. Many thanks

    • Hi Michaeleem, the books come in two ways, with and without CD, and the price is obviously higher if you buy the book with the CD. How do you usually buy your music? Is there a shop you phone orders into, or do you purchase music over the internet? I’m not sure what the price will end up being for you if you are buying via mail-order….

      There isn’t a sample book, but teachers all seem very pleased with these books when they decide to buy them, and you can see some of my New Mix arrangements included in the Series 3 Piano for Leisure books that have just come out (assuming you use the AMEB Piano for Leisure exams?!). Do you get to music shops ever in the course of the year? I think your only options are to risk it and just order one in, or, to wait until you do find yourself in a music shop to see for yourself prior to purchase…..

      Thanks for your interest!

  3. Hi Elissa. Is there a list of all the pieces in all the “Old” and “New Mix” books online somewhere? If not, this might be a good reference to upload so we can pick books that suit the pieces our students are playing

    • Hmm, I’m not sure if there is. At one point Hal Leonard had a listing of the pieces that were in each of the different syllabuses for the various examination boards. Not sure if that’s still on their website – I think it might be in need of updating (things change every year).

      Most teachers use these books as a resource of pieces to choose from rather than buying the book because it includes a piece they were already teaching… But it’s a great suggestion to have the information available for teachers who want to approach these books from the opposite direction!! Stay tuned!

  4. The Getting To Fifth Grade book is a beauty. One of the many great pieces in the book is the Pescetti Sonata in C Minor, 3rd movt.

    It is fun to play and not as difficult as some other Fifth grade pieces.

    I found the rest of it at http://bit.ly/pyWTYj (the Petrucci Music Library) and am enjoying having a crack at the whole sonata.

  5. I have two students playing from Getting To Grade One : The New Mix. The songs are lovely. I want to ask if there is a handbook I can buy from yourself or AMEB to help with the general knowledge section for the pieces we are playing. The pieces the students have chosen range across AMEB Series 1,2 and the manual list.
    Sorry for such a basic question. I am relatively new to teaching piano and find the “additional materials” a bit of a minefield sometimes. Thank you.

    • Joanna, there’s no handbook connected to the New Mix publications, but it is an excellent idea. 🙂

      There are Teacher’s Guides available for the Preliminary, Grade One and Grade Two books in the Getting to series, but we didn’t make any for the New Mix series, in no small part because I’ve been busy in my role as a parent ever since those books were launched.

      But please do feel free to add me as a friend on Facebook (I’m the only Elissa Milne there!) and we can chat about specific questions you have related to the pieces you’re using in exams. That’s the best I can do for right now!

      • Gosh that’s wonderful, Elissa! I was coming around to thinking that I would have to just do my own research for the kids, so it would be great to have your guidance to make sure I cover relevant information which an examiner is likely to look at. I will find you on Facebook and contact you there. Thank you so much!

  6. Hi, is there anywhere in the uk that I can get the getting to grades books?
    I have heard many of the tunes played on youtube and have students who would love to play them and would really benefit from this series.
    Thank you.
    Sue

    • Sue Rose – I promise I’ll sort this out – it’s ridiculous that in this day and age they’re only available in Australia and New Zealand…

      If I don’t get back to you by March 2015 about this please feel free to send me messages on Facebook!!! I’m the only Elissa Milne there (at the moment) so I am easy to find….!

      • Hi Elissa, I am a teacher in the U.S. and I am also interested in purchasing the “Getting To” books for my studio. Any updates on whether they might become available to teachers outside of Australia?

      • Sigh. No. But thank you for the prompt. It’s truly crazy that we can eat food imported from all over the world but we can’t figure out how to get a music publication in Australia available in the US.

        I’ll make some calls this week…. Not sure how soon the solution will be at hand, however…

      • Thank you for your prompt response to my question! I very much appreciate you looking into it. I am implementing the 30 Piece Challenge this year in my studio and I am gathering repertoire. Maybe next year for the Getting To…Thank you for all your great work, it has been very inspirational to me as a teacher.

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