Piano Sheet Music Reviews: Music from China
Monday, November 1, 2021
Karen Marshall reviews the six-book Music from China series by Nancy and Randall Faber from Faber Piano Adventures.
Many piano teachers will already be familiar with the repertoire books that accompany the Faber Piano Adventures method by husband-and-wife team Nancy and Randall Faber. Including the Music from China series (reviewed here), there are over 70 repertoire books across an array of themes including: Disney, Studio Collection, Pop Hits, Popular, Classical, Favourites, Kids’ Songs, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jazz and Blues, Hymns and Christmas.
These themed collections are all provided at six different levels which correspond with Faber Piano Adventures’ main tutor series.
- Starting from simple five-finger tunes in fixed hand position (PreTime – primer level). These books are perfect to use alongside a landscape primer.
- Gradually increasing with number of hand shifts and note range (PlayTime – Level 1). This works well with any portrait first tutor.
- ShowTime and ChordTime Level 2A and 2B are around exam boards Initial (first exams) to Grade 1. Note range is expanded to up to four octaves.
- FunTime is Level 3A–3B and approximately Grade 1 to Grade 2. A wide octave range with lots of ledger lines and legato pedal use.
- BigTime is Level 4, moving from approximately Grade 2 standard to Grade 4 at the end of the book. Music here can include keys with several sharps and flats, exploring the full keyboard with music including significant technical and stylistic demands.
I am a big fan of these books and have used them successfully for several years, especially for developing reading skills and providing sideward reinforcement. They work alongside most bestselling tutor books. Packed with popular melody that children may already know – especially the Pop Hits and Disney books – they can really help to remotivate struggling students to get practising and playing the piano again.
Music from China – what's new?
Features of the books
All six books are in full colour with attractive front covers, illustrations and text throughout. A character called LeLe (a musical panda from China) appears throughout the six titles through ‘LeLe's questions’ – deepening learning about the content of the piece through theory questions and other activities where the student must study the score; and as ‘LeLe's performance tips’ – how to best interpret the music. The books also include guided student compositions, helpful and attractive teacher duets, and improvisation activities and duet improvisations.
In the first four books there is a double page spread feature called ‘A picture tour of China’ including fascinating facts across a range of topics. In the level 3A–3B books, this is replaced with an improvisation activity called ‘The sound of the northwest rain’, and in Level 4 there's an improvisation activity and theory activity at the front – these helpfully continue throughout book.
All the books include additional activities like crosswords, composing opportunities and background information about the music and its heritage (for example, a translation of the lyrics is included with the piece Picking Flowers in ChordTime). Lots of the compositions are based on folk melody or songs, and each book includes a Music Dictionary page at the back giving definitions of every musical term used. This is perfect for encouraging independent learning between lessons.
Highlights from each book
Come Here Quickly – A Hani Folk Song (there's a useful explanation about who the Hani people are). This little piece includes a Bb but also the couplet slur and staccato, making it a great way to reinforce changes in articulation.
The Bride's Farewell – This uses only two notes in each hand but is lovely for homing in the skill of creating a legato melody between the hands. There's also helpful dynamic variety and the two-note chords at the end move up the octave, cleverly exploring a greater range of the piano keyboard.
PlayTime (Level 1)
Fengyang Flower-Drum – I had to smile when I saw this; my own teacher, the late Christine Brown, has done an arrangement for trio (in ABRSM Piano Star Grade 1). It's a beautiful melody and, again, develops articulation, this time adding in an accent alongside slurs and staccato. Watch out for the repeat marks!
ShowTime (Level 2A)
Foot Sloggers Tune – There is excellent use of the pedal here along with creating a legato cantabile between the hands. Great for keyboard geography moving up the octave too!
ChordTime (Level 2B)
The Little Bird Song – Exploring two hands in the treble clef, acciaccatura decoration and some high ledger lines notes, this is a very pretty piece with pedal use, varied dynamics and a super quiz at the start along with LeLe's performance tips.
FunTime (Level 3A–3B)
Elephant – This piece is fabulous for bass clef reading and developing characterful expressive playing. With slurs, accents and tenuto markings, there's lots of articulation to explore. This is packed with teaching content with the pedal used in lots of different ways. It's not easy and will need some time to learn, but it's so worth it!
BigTime (Level 4)
Shepherd's Song – Packed with pattern and swopping from 5/8 to 6/8 metre, this piece has a beautiful melody between the hands with pedal use too. This includes tricky ledger lines and also moves to the bass with hand crossing and a usual brief 8/8 time signature.
These books are well written, packed with teaching content, and include pieces that are perfect for concerts too. The Music from China selection is a lovely addition to the series that I'm sure will be enjoyed by students (and their teachers), particularly those who appreciate a pentatonic sound world. Coincidentally, one of my students said at the end of his last lesson: ‘Can I play some pieces that sound Chinese? I really like those.’ I was happy to reply that I had just what he was looking for and we would start the book next week!