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Thomas J. West Music

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Sheer Piano Books

A Bold Move Away From The Traditional Piano Method Book

Blue cover

In an age where many things are "been there done that," fresh ideas and new innovations are sorely needed. Anyone who has studied or taught piano for beginners to intermediate level students has most likely used a few common piano method book series that are tried and true. As with most method books, the traditional piano books take the learner sequentially through music technique and theory concepts in a way that does not miss any details, but also moves at a very slow pace. The experienced teacher often uses these traditional method books in combination with repertoire selected to supplement the method, giving their students a variety of styles or historical periods of music to sink their teeth into.

Dror Perl was one of those piano teachers. He had used many different method books and, as a jazz pianist, found that he wanted his students to have exposure to a wider range of harmonic concepts in pieces that were more fun to play than the pieces found in the methods. So, he did the only sensible thing - he wrote his own. From his website: "I wrote the music in this series for my students out of the need for music that would help teach chords and harmony, improve sight reading, and refine technique, yet still be fun and interesting for them and me. My aim was to create music that would keep my students excited about piano and that would help our lessons become richer."

The man in the blue house sampleThese pieces were so effective that Dror Perl decided to publish his works in three volumes. The very books themselves fly in the face of convention in their look and style. Each book is simply titled as a color, and the print within each book is of the same hue. Every one of the pieces found in these books is designed with the teacher and student relationship in mind, and as a whole piece rather than simply a song to practice five-finger position or some other technique. From the forward of the Blue book:

Here's why you'll love this book:
  • Makes it fun and easy to play quality music for pianists of all ages.
  • Makes it easier to memorize the music because of the chord symbols (which can also encourage a healthy teacher-student dialogue about harmony)
  • Brings you simple compositions that sound complex and impressive. They will be great to play at your recital or to show off for your friends.

Field Tested By A Piano Teaching Veteran

Red monk boogie sampleI have taught many piano students over the years and could definitely see the interesting harmonies and techniques being employed by these pieces. However, I have an in-house piano veteran that teaches keyboard, music theory, and composition at my school - it only made sense to let her take a look and give these books a dry run with her students. Dr. Allyson Roberts is a pianist who has been teaching in public schools for 15 years and as an adjunct music professor at Eastern University for 6. After sharing the books with her and using them with select students, her response was "two thumbs up."

"I would definitely consider using these books with my more advanced intermediate students who need additional challenges to keep them interested," Dr. Roberts stated, "The song titles, harmonic ideas, and simple, straightforward writing style will definitely keep students engaged." One of our students, a well-rounded guitarist, flutist, pianist, and actor, really took well to the series and enjoyed sight reading the titles in both books.

Dr. Roberts picked up her own copies of both the Red and Blue books and added them to her classroom bookshelf, an impressive collection of methods, song books, fake books, music theory texts for both the piano and music theory and composition classroom. The items on her bookshelf could easily keep a class busy when a substitute teacher is required, and all three books available from Sheer Piano are welcome additions.

Smart Writing Capitalizes On Student Strengths

Red book coverProbably the best feature of the series is the simple fact that the compositions use what I affectionately call "musical smoke and mirrors". An experienced musician who understands how students learn and progress can craft music that accentuates their strengths and downplays their challenges, producing music that sounds much more intricate than it actually is. I myself do a lot of composing, arranging, and re-arranging for the music I use with my students. It is possible for me to get high school veterans and first year players to perform on the same piece of orchestra music with the right adjustments to the parts.

In a similar way, Dror Perl has taken the rich vocabulary of jazz harmonies, written them in ways that teach common piano jazz voicings, and orchestrated them to create rhythmic complexity that is component in nature. Take a look at either of the samples above and notice that rhythms are written between the left and right hand in a way that creates rhythmic interest without a lot of kinesthetic independence between the hands. The melodic lines in the right hand are very good sight-reading material while the left hand parts are generally kept simple enough to accompany without a lot of separate practice required.

On top of all the great pedagogy, the pieces are quirky, harmonically interesting, and with titles like "Waves", "3 p.m. wakeup...", "Medium rare funk", and "Do not press the red button", these tunes are just fun to play, fun to listen to, and good selections for a student piano recital.

Be sure to visit the Sheer Piano website to read more about Blue, Red, and his third installment, Purple. There are also duet parts available for play-along with all three books for oboe, flute, violin, guitar, alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, and trumpet. All purchases on directly support Mr. Perl's efforts to publish these excellent piano books and develop additional offerings for the future.

If you read this article and do pick up a copy, please take a moment to contact me and let me know what you think.






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