Series 17 – Part 2 (some answers)

There’s really no bad news, not even a single bit: the AMEB’s Series 17 is a collection that does exceptionally well in catering for the vast range of interests, urgencies and fixations of the Australian piano teaching world. David Lockett and the review team (Glenn Riddle, Jody Heald and Helen Smith) have taken a meticulous approach to delivering a series of repertoire collections that will serve the assessment process – as well as piano pedagogy – well. Let’s start with that grade-deflation question. Have we seen a shift in the goal posts of any of the grades? Is Preliminary continuing the march to Grade One standard repertoire?! Short answer – no. All the pieces are very well graded. There are some easier and some harder pieces in each grade collection, but nothing to elicit outrage or confusion. More detail from me soon in a separate post. Appropriate length? Delightfully so! Very few works that take too many pages, and none that are garrulous

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Mikrokosmos Heresy

So of all the composers in the twentieth century it seems that Bartok is the one we piano teachers revere the most, and of all the works for students of the piano ever written by Bartok we reserve our highest regard for that collection of the pieces he wrote for the lessons he gave to his son, Peter: the Mikrokosmos. It’s systematic, it’s progressive, it was written for the composer’s own nine year old son, it’s designed to be used from the very beginning (Bartok’s own words), it draws on the folk music of a wide area of eastern Europe (at least we think it does) and it represents a very ‘modern’ (in that first half of the 20th century sense) way of playing the piano. What’s not to like? And yet, whenever I speak with piano teachers about the Mikrokosmos the same guilty secret is whispered all over the land: we respect this collection above all others, and yet

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Anita Milne is my mother

It’s time to write a piece about my mum.  Mums are self-evidently worth writing about, but in my case I am further motivated to do so knowing that about 10 people have discovered my blog in the past seven days because they were wanting to know more about my mum, Anita. A brief history: Anita was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1943 and started piano lessons at the age of nine. She progressed rapidly, and was teaching the piano herself by the time she was in her late teens, as well as working as an accompanist and organist. She married Richard Milne (born in Prosperpine, QLD, and working in Christchurch at the time) in 1963. I was born when Anita was nearly 24 and living in Wahroonga, Sydney, and I grew up listening to her piano lessons (as a baby) and hearing her students practice (as I became older). When she was 27 our whole family moved to the

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P Plate Piano Book 2: Composers

Today marks the first day P Plate Piano is available for sale in Australia, and I’ve been too sick to drag myself out of bed, let alone get into a shop to see how they might have this beautiful looking series displayed.  [If you want to see the cover design it’s currently up as the splash page for the still-under-construction website But I think I might have enough energy (having been asleep most of the day, and having Tom at his grandparents’ place), to write up a quick piece about the composers who are included in P Plate Piano Book 2. Of course, I’ve used many of the composers whose work featured in P Plate Piano Book 1, so I won’t detail these composers, except to list them: Anita Milne (yes, my mum, who now has her pieces in 4 publications), Jane Sebba (pieces from her fabulous Piano Magic method books), Daniel Gottlob Türk (composer from the Classical period who

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P Plate Piano: What is it and why?

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

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How I came to compose educational piano music

This blog has been a bit of an experiment so far – an experiment in how-to-blog, as far as I am concerned, and I’ve realised that I probably haven’t included a whole lot of useful factual information about myself so far….. So to rectify a little: I’ve been composing educational piano music since 1995 when an adult student (probably no older than 22 at the time) said to me “But what I really want to do is to play the way you do when you are playing your own music”.  This set me back quite a bit, as I had never given any thought to teaching my students to play the way I did when I wasn’t performing ‘repertoire’.  My teaching was somewhat traditional in terms of content, style, outcomes and expectations.  But my performing life was anything but traditional, and many parents had sent their children to me to have lessons after they had seen me performing. My adult student

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Educational Piano Music

There’s so much of it in print, so little of it that you want to use. In this blog I’m planning to work my way through the contemporary (meaning somewhat recent, or at least, still in copyright) piano music I love and use, as well as reviewing new publications I am looking at in my quest for great new material. The shame of it seems to be that for many piano teachers Bartok’s Mikrokosmos drew a line in history, and they are reluctant to use anything very much that has been written since – unless it is just ‘for fun’.  Further, the profession’s collective propensity to start beginners on white notes with both thumbs moored on middle C makes some of the brilliant contemporary contributions to pedagogical repertoire to be (at first glance) far too advanced, when in fact these pieces are perfectly designed to celebrate what young fingers, wrists, arms and brains (belonging to beginners) can and do enjoy

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