Finding good collections of music at graded levels can be quite a challenge and so I was really excited to explore and review the ABRSM’s Encore Collection which was released last year.
I actually can’t believe how long it’s taken me to get into these books – lots of things have unfortunately taken priority since they were released early-mid last year. However, now that I look back, I wish I’d explored them earlier as there are so many great options for so many of my students!
It doesn’t matter if you teach the ABRSM syllabus or not, in my opinion, these are must-have collections for modern teachers as they cover such a wide variety of styles and genres exploring both new and old works from composers all around the world.
Please keep in mind that I was in no way compensated for this review and all thoughts are my own.
What is it?
Encore is a collection of four books, published by the ABRSM and featuring their favourite exam pieces from the last few years packaged by grade.
Each book contains a wide variety of repertoire including classic baroque, classical and romantic favourites paired with many new and exciting pieces that I’d never heard of previously.
The books will be a great resource for students of a variety of levels, regardless of whether you’re teaching the ABRSM (or any other exam syllabus) or not.
There are some great teaching notes for each piece, the typesetting is clear and functional and altogether, they will be a great addition to any student or teacher’s library.
Why I love it
Karen Marshall has done an excellent job of curating a mix of pieces that teachers and students will love.
These days, collections that just feature the standard ‘classical’ repertoire aren’t going to cut it with today’s teachers and students. There’s just too many out there already and you can get most of it for free on imslp.org anyway – why purchase a collection?
When I find a new collection these are the things I look for:
- A good mix of new and old music
- Something to set it apart from other collections (see “teaching notes” below for one example)
- Clean, clear music engraving suitable for the age and ability of the student
- A book that will last a student for more than one year or for one exam – parents are thankful of this
- Reasonable price
That’s exactly why I love Encore!
Whilst you will find many of the really well-known “standards” of the repertoire, (eg. Burgmuller’s Ballade, To a Wild Rose, Musette in D, Bach P&Fs, Gymnopedie No 1, etc.), you’ll also find heaps of new surprises.
What this means is that, regardless of which exam board you may be teaching, you’ll find many of the pieces you need in these collections. This can be great to use as supplementary music or for actual exam pieces.
I’m also really impressed by the teaching/performance notes that you’ll find under each piece. Here’s an example from a piece in Book 1:
There are three aspects to the teaching notes:
- Composer background
- Challenges in the piece
- Suggested activities for teaching or practice
Because these are so succinct, they are very easy to use and helpful for students and teachers alike.
Karen has picked-out the technical and musical challenges very carefully and tied them to concrete teaching suggestions. These will be great for teachers approaching these for the first time and for beginning teachers.
The four books are in paired grades:
- Book 1: Grades 1-2
- Book 2: Grades 3-4
- Book 3: Grades 5-6
- Book 4: Grades 7-8
This means that these books will remain valuable for students for at least two years of study and probably longer.
Here’s an example of the music you’ll find in Book 1 (Grade 1/2) (I’ve coloured my favourites):
- Cradle Song, No. 17 from The First Lessons, Op. 117 [Cornelius Gurlitt]
- Theme and First Variation, from 5 Happy Variations on a Russian Folksong, Op. 51 No. 1 [Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky]
- Das Echo, No. 14 from Maiblümchen, Op. 61 [Theodor Oesten]
- African Dance, from Bigger Picture Piano, Grade 2–3 [John Rowcroft]
- Das Ballet: No. 19 from Handstücke für angehende Klavierspieler (Pieces for aspiring players) [Daniel Gottlob Türk]
- Chattanooga Choo Choo [Harry Warren]
- Vampire Blues (from Spooky Piano Time) [Kevin Wooding]
- Musette in D, BWV Anh. II 126, from The Anna Magdalena Bach Book of 1725 [Anon.]
- Ecossaise in Eb, WoO 86 [Ludwig van Beethoven]
- The Prince of Denmark’s March: Round O [Jeremiah Clarke]
- Balletto [Georg Lohlein]
- Mozzie, from Easy Little Peppers [Elissa Milne]
- Cloudy Day, No. 6 from Microjazz I [Christopher Norton]
- The Bee, from Fantasy Studies for the Second Year, Op. 13 [Alec Rowley]
- Lullaby: No. 5 from ‘Six Sketches’ [Charles Villiers Stanford]
- Strange Things Happen [Sarah Watts]
- Garage Sale, from Really Easy Jazzin’ About [Pam Wedgwood]
- Gavotta in C, Op. 81, Lesson 3 from 24 Progressive Lessons, Op. 81 [James Hook]
- Giga: third movement from Lesson in C, Op. 12 No. 2. _Encore_, Book 1 (ABRSM) [Samuel Arnold]
- A Song of Erin: No. 8 from First Year Pieces [Thomas Dunhill]
- The Old Cuckoo-Clock [Nina Batschinskaja]
As you can see from my highlights, lots of these pieces resonated with me (and will resonate with your students)… and they were just my favourites!
To find the contents of the other books, please head to the ABRSM’s Encore page, click on the book you’d like to explore and then look for this drop-down menu:
A few new favourites
When I review a new collection of music, I tend to sit down and sight read straight through, allocating pieces either 1, 2 or 3 ticks depending on how much I liked playing the music.
Needless to say, there were a lot of ticks for each book in the Encore Collection!
The following are a selection of my “3-tick” pieces that are found in these collections. These are all totally new pieces for me – one of the reasons I LOVE exploring new repertoire.
While I’d love to share more examples, I’d really just suggest you invest and check them out yourself – you’ll love the mix.
Encore is perfect for:
- Developing skills and technique between grades
- Sourcing music for a concert or recital
- Learning or playing for fun, away from the exam format
- Adults returning to piano playing, looking for approachable repertoire they’ll recognise
If you’re looking to get copies of Encore, feel free to use the links below. It’s great to see that the ABRSM are keeping costs reasonable, with each book available for under $US10. I wish more publishers took this approach – I guarantee they would move more stock!
What’s your favourite collection?
Let’s make a list of our all-time favourite music compilation books for teaching.
What’s top of your list!?