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24 April 2024

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Teaching Notes for Impromptu in B minor - Grade 8 ABRSM Piano 2023-2024 B1

Impromptu in B Minor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Teaching Notes

Right from the outset, I would say that the suggested pedal markings in this edition are unclear and inconsistent and more than anything you should try to use your ear mrather than follow religiously what is printed. For example, compare bars 7 with 27. They both have similar melodic lines with identical articulation and yet one is pedalled to the 3rd quaver and the other to the 4th quaver. Personally, I believe the slur and staccato dot indicate a lift of pedal on the 3rd quaver in both cases.

The edition also has inconsistencies in articulation. Compare for example, bars 17-20 with 41-44. Specifically bar 41 should slur to the last note of the bar and NOT as printed over the bar line to  the first note of the next bar. 

Also compare bar 38 with 108. One pedals to the half bar, the other to the end of the bar. This is a matter for your own interpretation, but in any case do the same thing both times. 

Next consider the spread chords in the middle section. There seem to be many examples where there is a spread chord in one part of a phrase but not in the corresponding part of a different phrase. Just one instance is if you compare bars 47 and 63. Again, you will need to make your own mind up here, but I would advise a consistent approach in all similar instances.

Indeed the footnote on the first page implies that even this edition included corrections from the original source. 

Enough of the mistakes in the copy.....

As explained elsewhere in the footnote, an "Impromptu" denotes a spontaneous form of composition. I would suggest here that your performance too should have a spontaneous feel. The composer marks various changes of tempi, usually slowing down at the ends of phrases, but overall he is trying to give an impression of rubato, so you too can allow yourself a little freedom in your timing.

Voicing becomes very important from bar 21, where the left hand carries the tune. The octave chord grace note is awkward at best if performed as written, but there is nothing to stop you taking the F# at the beginning of bar 21(and similar in 23, 25, 27) with your right hand.

An area that many of my students fell down on in the middle section is rhythm, in particular, triplets and dotted rhythms. 

  • For the former, a triplet can often be uneven and end up sounding more like a quaver and two semiquavers.
  • In the latter case dotted quavers followed by semiquavers can often be heard performed more like "swing quavers" that is, that the final semiquaver occupies a third of the beat rather than the quarter that it should.

Just before the recap of the "A" section in bars 85-88, pay attention to the articulation where the right hand is marked slurred and the left hand semi-staccato.

You will need excellent tonal control to play the final "ppp" but give yourself a chance by not starting too soft in the "pp" of bar 109.

Finally, note that the pedal is written to continue to the end of the last bar, that is after you have released your hand and despite the numerous editorial confusions above, let's assume that this was the composer's intention in this case.

11 April 2024

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Piano Geography - The Secret to Successful Sight Reading

Piano Geography -
Piano Geography - The Secret to Successful Sight Reading 

 Through over 35 years of teaching experience on the piano, I have understood that one of the main hindrances to effective sight reading is poor “Piano Geography”. This is the ability to feel your way around the piano without looking at your hands. Be honest - when you sight read, are you continually looking at your hands? It’s something I call, "watching vertical tennis", where your eyes travel up and down between hand and book for virtually every note or chord. No wonder your sight reading is hesitant and lacking fluency.


Most students focus primarily on getting the notes the correct pitch at the expense of keeping the beat going. However, if you look at the ABRSM marking criteria for a sight reading test, the FIRST thing that is mentioned for a distinction is,


“Fluent, rhythmically accurate” 

(followed by “accurate notes / pitch / key”).


With this in mind this book available on Amazon has been specifically designed to improve your skills at feeling your way around the piano by touch. It is imperative that the exercises be played without looking down. Although this method is designed to improve sight reading, these Piano Geography Tests can be practised as many times as you like. The purpose is to train your ability to feel your way around the keys, not train your ability to read notes.


You should also try to play with good rhythm. It doesn’t matter how slow, but the beat should always be steady. With this in mind, I recommend playing with a metronome, initially set to something as slow as 60 crotchet beats per minute. Then feel free to gradually increase this speed only as and when you develop pitch and rhythmic accuracy (without looking at your hands).

Get your copy today and unlock the secret to good sight reading

11 March 2024

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NEW Digital certificates for ABRSM. "Charity" that charges for paper certificates!!!

 ABRSM have announced that during 2024 they are introducing secure digital certificates worldwide with the option to order a paper certificate for a fee of £3 or the equivalent in the currency for your country.

The rationale behind this change is:

  • Tto ensure that results and certificates are valid and secure. Digital certificates will help to further safeguard certificates against fraud.

  • Digital certificates will be available more quickly than paper certificates. They will be easy to download, print, store and share, and the unique QR code on each certificate will provide online verification of the candidate and exam details.  

  • By reducing transport and paper use, the introduction of digital certificates will help to achieve  sustainability goals. 

There are some however who put a different point of view. The gold embossed paper certificates have an air of quality about them, something you can frame and hang on a wall. It feels like ABRSM are just again trying to save money as they did with the dumbing down of the theory exams a few years ago and more recently the online video exams. By the way the cost of a video performance exam is only marginally cheaper (£116 instead of £130 for grade 8) despite the fact that there is no venue and support staff to pay for.

The claim to reduce the impact on the environment falls flat when one considers that UK examiners are sent all over the world rather than use local examiners.

The exams themselves are very expensive and even prohibitive when one adds on the cost of lesson and books, so to start charging for paper certificates is frankly insulting. Although a registered "charity" because it donates some funds to music education such as  scholarships to the four Royal Schools of Music, in reality it is run more like a profit making business. There is more information on exactly how this "charity" is run on the government website HERE

Some have felt so strongly about this that a petition has been started which you can support HERE