As piano teachers, one of our primary goals in teaching piano lessons is to give our students tools that enable them to enjoy music and play throughout their lifetime. Achieving this goal requires careful planning and sequencing of materials over many years. Using a piano method such as Alfred’s Premier Piano Course, is one key to a successful sequence of musicianship and piano skills. Basic concepts are introduced in the lesson books, and a variety of supplementary books that correlate with the lesson book can be used to focus on particular areas such as theory, technique, or specific styles of music.
One of the goals of Alfred’s Premier Piano Course is to prepare students to play standard piano repertoire. To this end, classical music is introduced as early as Lesson Book 1A and continues through the final level, Level 6. In addition, E. L. Lancaster and I have recently compiled and edited Masterworks 3, 4, 5, and 6, collections of standard repertoire from the four stylistic periods that reinforce concepts in Lesson Books 3-6. Don’t think of these books as just supplementary books to the series, however. Think of them as repertoire that can be used to introduce and teach artistic playing.
Let’s take a look at two short pieces by Ferdinand Beyer (1803-1863). Beyer was a German composer and pianist. During his life, he was known for his light music and piano arrangements of orchestral works. Today, he is known for his elementary piano method, Vorschule im Klavierspiel, Op. 101, published in 1860. Since its publication, it has been used by piano students around the world and is especially popular in Korea and China. Compared with today’s piano methods, Beyer’s looks more like a technique book, however, it contains some wonderful teaching pieces, some of which we included in Masterworks 3 and 4. Other composers in these two books include Cornelius Gurlitt, Anton Diabelli, Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven, Ludvig Schytte, Louis Köhler, Johann Christian Bach, and Béla Bartók.
The first Beyer example, The Spinning Wheel, is from Masterworks 3. Aptly titled, each hand spins in and out of eighth-note patterns. Students will notice that both the right hand and the left hand are equally important. This piece is a wonderful tool for teaching phrase shaping and how to find the important note in each phrase.
Practicing each hand alone will help in shaping the phrases. Phrases with ascending eighth-note patterns should crescendo as the notes get higher. Phrases with descending eighth-note patterns should diminuendo as the notes get lower. In measures 1-4 and 9-12, take note of where I have drawn arrows. These point out the important notes (called “the heart of the phrase” in Alfred’s Premier Piano Course Technique Books) in the phrases. In phrases that crescendo, the important note is the final note of the phrase. In phrases that diminuendo, the important note is the first note of the phrase. Measures 5-8 and 12-16 have longer phrases in each hand that ascend and descend. Notice how the arrows are placed in the middle of the phrases, as the important notes are built up to with a crescendo and then backed away from with a diminuendo. Measure 14 in the right hand may seem a bit of an anomaly as the phrase crescendos even as the notes are getting lower. However, notice how this shaping matches the left hand, thus making sense musically.
The second piece by Beyer, Sunny Afternoon, is from Masterworks 4. The phrasing in this piece is a bit more sophisticated, although the tips stated above still apply. In this piece, the left hand clearly has the melody while the right hand is the accompaniment. Begin by practicing the left hand alone, shaping the phrase by playing a crescendo as the notes get higher. In this case however, the phrases need to be thought of in a broader context. Think of measures 1-8 in the left hand as one idea, even though the slurs indicate shorter phrasing. Begin with a slight crescendo in measures 2-3 with even more crescendo in 4-5, reaching the dynamic level of forte. Measures 6-7 should remain forte, and then a diminuendo begins in measure 8. Measures 9-15 are almost the same, except there is no diminuendo written. However, as the long notes are held in measures 13 and 14, they will naturally taper off. The C in measure 15 should be the softest note of the phrase.
Measure 16 in the left hand is like the beginning; however, what follows is different. Keep the intensity building to measure 21, which is the highest point of the piece. In measure 23, the left hand can taper slightly. Measures 25-29 should be shaped like measures 1-5.
The right hand looks deceivingly simple. However, even though the accompaniment pattern features repeated notes, these notes need to be shaped as well. The general rule with repeated notes is that they either crescendo or diminuendo, and many times it is just a personal choice. I find in this case, it is easier to have the repeated notes diminuendo from the first note so that when the left hand comes in, the right hand is not too loud. Note that the dynamics in measures 19-20 and 29-30 apply to the right hand as well as the left.
Careful listening is the key to putting the two hands together successfully in both of these pieces. Think of them as duets – primo in the right hand and secondo in the left hand. The simple skill of shaping a phrase through crescendos and diminuendos applies to masterworks at any level and is the key to bringing out the most important notes of the phrase, creating a performance that is both musical and artistic.
All levels of Premier Masterworks include a compact disc recording with each book. The CD can serve as a performance model or a practice companion. Each selection is beautifully performed by Scott Price two times. The first track number is a performance tempo. The second track number is a slower practice tempo.
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I like what I see here, including the CD that plays each piece twice using two tempos.
I’m excited about this series. I already use the published levels. Thanks for making our teaching more complete and enjoyable.
I love the Premier series of piano books. I’ve taught for over 50 years and I like this series better than any other. I’m so glad you’ve added the Masterpiece collections. My students LOVE playing the Premier pieces. Even from the very beginning in book 1-a, the pieces are very pretty, especially with the accompaniments. I’ve never seen students enjoy the sounds of their easy pieces so much. You are definitely on the right track for teaching beginning students. Even adult beginning students can learn from the Premier series. I have a new adult student who sings in the Opera Chorus of the Houston Grand Opera and she loves the books. She wanted to really learn the piano and be able to read piano music She wanted to start from the beginning and so we did. She’s playing from the 2b book now and is really enjoying the Christmas collection.