What pieces should my child play for their exam?
Your child’s piano teacher may very well lie awake at night pondering which piece to introduce next. For this reason, your music library will be expanding – and this is a great thing for students. Beyond the books published by the AMEB, there are hundreds of pieces on the AMEB syllabus that come from other books. Students do not have to use the AMEB books alone – or at all – in their piano exam. The AMEB books are a helpful starting point, but ideally students will be building up their own collection of masterworks. There’s no need to wait until students are studying for their Grade Five exam either; here are some suggestions for students from Grade One to Four.
Imagine how well your child will understand their Bach Prelude in Grade Four if they have also played through ten other Bach preludes, or if they learned several of the pieces Bach chose for his own sons to play as children. The Children’s Bach from EMI Music Publishing has many of the pieces from the Clavierbuchlein fur Anna Magdelena Bach, featuring nine pieces of Grade Two level, and several at Grade Three level. Bach’s Little Preludes in Grade Four (and Five) are a great preparation for his more intricate works: Inventions in Grade Five, Sinfonias in Grade Six, and the Preludes and Fugues of his Well-Tempered Clavier in Grade Seven and beyond.
In the Classical period, Sonatas became an important pianistic form. Before their students embark on challenging sonatas by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, many teachers recommend sonatinas (little sonatas) by Clementi, Kuhlau and others. My students buy a Schirmer Sonatina Album, which comes with CD, and have pieces to choose from for Grades One, Two, Three and Four. I enjoy teaching my students about the structure of sonatas as we play through many sonatinas; this helps them understand symphonies as well. This kind of “learning by experience” beats reading information sheets when trying to understand how pieces are composed.
Another common starting place is Burgmuller’s 25 Easy and Progressive Studies Op.100; it has two pieces in the Grade One syllabus, five pieces in Grade Two, six in Grade Three and three in Grade Four. I had recommended “Arabesque” to my 7-year-old student recently; he and his 9-year-old sister had been listening to the CD that came with the book (an Alfred edition.) She complained to me yesterday, “Why didn’t I get to play this piece when I was in Grade One?” They also heard the piece at a concert on Sunday and are fighting over who gets to practice first. Schumann’s Album for the Young (Op.68) has helped disperse the tension, as big sister loves my recommendation for her Grade Three exam, a piece called The Wild Horseman.
Kabalevsky’s Thirty Pieces for Children Op.27 must be one of the best value albums, as it has 25 pieces that feature in the AMEB syllabus. It can be hard to find the book, and even harder to find a recording, but the unexpected harmonies featured in simple pieces can be really inspiring to young ears. Some pieces are included as List A pieces for their technical elements, while others are listed as examples of Twentieth-Century compositional style. Let me know if you discover an enjoyable recording!
When I was the age my students are now, I hadn’t heard anything verging anywhere near jazz or blues. Lots of Bach organ music, Brahms and Rachmaninoff, but nothing that sounded “cool”. Certainly nothing I dreamed of performing at an exam! Now, even Grade One and Grade Two piano students can devour exceptionally groovy pieces by Sonny Chua, Elissa Milne and Christopher Norton, just to name a few. These pieces, along with all the collections mentioned in this article, are listed in the Manual of Syllabuses of the AMEB, and your teacher will make sure your child has pieces that meet the requirements for their examination.
Your teacher may recommend AMEB Piano For Leisure books to complement your child’s regular piano pieces (which we hope are not Piano For Stress.) Piano For Leisure is a syllabus in its own right, with a less demanding exam commitment, and featuring pieces that perhaps students lie awake dreaming about – TV and movie themes (Harry Potter, James Bond, The Simpsons), grandma’s favourite classics (Fur Elise, Chopin Preludes, Ode to Joy), pieces that just sound cool and pieces that will start to open up the world of jazz and blues to your child. Three of my students are determined to learn the theme from the Titanic after hearing it at a concert on Sunday. It’s not my first choice. But I know their motivation will be rewarded and they will learn it fast because they love it.
Consider browsing the internet for the best deal on these books. I have ordered through Book Depository, Amazon, Sheet Music Plus and Allans Online.