Fergus Black

music teacher and performer

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Piano Teaching for Advanced Instrumentalists and A-level students


If you are an A-level (or prospective A-level student), who needs to improve their keyboard skills, then here is a possible syllabus that I would suggest, with resources for the first year of lessons. The main things are usually
  • familiarity with the bass clef;
  • playing with two hands;
  • learning scale and chord patterns;
  • reading ahead.

I don't believe in a narrow technical syllabus (although it is important that what you do at the keyboard is technically securely grounded), and I also include a wide range of other musical skills, theory, strategies for learning pieces, scales patterns, chord recognition and harmony. So, apart from technical improvement and a repertoire of new pieces, you will also see :
  • improved recognition and understanding of scales, chords and harmony;
  • familiarily with alto and tenor clefs;
  • general musical knowledge.

I've divided the suggestions into
  • Technical (plus exercises and warmups)
  • Theory
  • Pieces
  • Learning Strategies
  • and into Stages - each stage may be one week, or longer.

Stage 1

Technical: How fingers are numbered (Resources: Dozen A Day Book 1)
Technical: Hand position (as if you are holding a small orange)
Technical: Posture
Theory: Learn Bass Clef notes as thoroughly as Treble. I'm assuming here that you play a treble line instrument - (Resources: Douze Petits Divertissements pour piano by Jacques Barat, various games)
Learning Pieces: (Clare’s Air and Amy’s Disco from Jamie’s Cactus Stomp)
Learning Strategies: Learn pieces separately at first, then together

Stage 2

Technical: legato for the pianist means joining the bottoms of the notes together.
Technical: Using the thumb as pivot: (Scales of CDEGA, major and minor, all have standard fingering.)
Learning Strategies: Playing rhythmically (for this I use books of duets)
Theory: Structure of major scales TTSTTTS (Jolly Game (Piano Bk1))
Chords: Figured Harmony (RO Morris pp1-4)

Stage 3

Technical: Feel octaves ( D-A-D-No.1)
Technical: In scales think in 4s, not each note separately (D-A-D-No.4)
Pieces: Handel (in Classic Piano Course - Barratt)
Warming Up: Play DAD groups as a warm-up every day
Learning Strategies: Don't play as fast as you know it goes!

Stage 4

Theory: Movements of a baroque suite (Arnold Gigue and Gavotte)
Technical: Grade 1 broken chords (by rote, not from a scale book)
Transposition: Play Figured Harmony in D major
Transposition: Play DAD in D E and F

Stage 5

More technical exercises: Nos. 2, 10 and 11 from Stepping Stones
Score Reading: Alto Clef Score Reading p.1
Figured Harmony Sequences

Stage 6

Keyboard Harmony Sequence No.1 in D or c min Ask yourself what the chords are - number and name
Score Reading: Alto clef No.2
Technical: Scales, hands together. Standard fingering is:
  • 3rd fingers together
  • thumb on middle tonic
  • LH 4, after middle tonic on way up
  • RH 4 after middle tonic on way down
  • Play scales over 2 octaves (Use Grade 2 scale book - not F major or b minor)

Stage 7

Chords: in chord sequences, see which notes change and which remain the same from chord to chord (using Top Tune from Stepping Stones)
Simple pieces together
  • Piano Playtime - more of a challenge
  • Easiest Tune Book
  • First Concert
Learning Strategies: try to look ahead and anticipate
Learning Strategies: play 'Air Piano'

Stage 8

Technical: Arpeggios (white note start)
  • RH fingering 1231235
  • LH fingering 5421421
Pieces: Unversagt by Gedike
Chords Sight reading for fun Grade 4 and Grad 5
Learning Strategies: try and think more of LH
Pieces Greek song (Last one in Piano - Trinity)

Resources for Adult Piano Learners


Dozen A Day Book 1 by Edna Mae Burnham (Wills Music)

Jamie’s Cactus Stomp by Richard Jones (Spartan)
  • The first two pieces, Claire’s Waltz and Amy’s Disco can be played after one lesson, more or less

Chester’s Piano Duets Volume 1 by Carol Barratt (Chester Music)
  • The Lake is very useful

Classic Piano Course - Carol Barratt (published by Chester)
  • Omnibus Edition, or Book 1, p.33 is the Handel Gavotte

RO Morris Figured Harmony at the Keyboard (pages1-4)

Graded Repertoire Book One (Introductory and Preliminary)
  • Little Hedgehog - Kabalevsky
  • Jolly Game- Ledenev

Gigue and Gavotte from Lesson 2 (A Set of Progressive Lessons, Op 12, London n.d., Broderip and Wilkinson) - Samuel Arnold (available on IMSLP)

Piano Lessons Book 1 by Fanny Waterman (Faber Music)
  • Swans and Ducks is on p

Stepping Stones by Carol Barratt (published by Chester, OOP)

Preparatory Exercises in Score Reading - R. O. Morris and Howard Ferguson (p.1)

Schumann Album für die Jugend - (edited Howard Ferguson, published ABRSM)
  • Melodie is a favourite of mine

Grade 2 scale book (published ABRSM)

Piano Playtime Book 1 by Fanny Waterman and Marion Harewood (Faber Music)

Easiest Tune Book (various titles) by Eleanor Franklin Pike (pub. Edwin Ashdown)

The First Concert by Joan Last (OUP)

Unversagt (Undismayed) Op 197 No.7 by Cornelius Gurlitt
  • (in Short Romantic Pieces For Piano Book 1 by Lionel Salter (ABRSM)

Sight reading for fun Grade 4 by Peter Lawson (published by Stainer and Bell)

Sight reading for fun Grade 5 by Peter Lawson (published by Stainer and Bell)

Douze Petits Divertissements pour piano by Jacques Barat, Editions Choudens 75008

Other Links

Graded Repertoire
Student Repertoire
Please also visit my other sites for: choirs, theory courses, piano and organ performances, wedding and events music, blog, etc.
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