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Grade 1 ABRSM Piano 2021 2022 Teaching Notes

Teaching Notes for the Grade 1 ABRSM Piano 

from the 2021 2022 Syllabus 

A Toy (from Fitzwilliam Virginal Book) - A1

To get a good mark in the exam you'll need to pay attention to not only the notes but all the finer details such as dynamics and articulation. To achieve this, it is a good idea to practice slowly at first so that these details become muscle memory and the above video includes just such a slow practice video to play along with.

Whenever you see a slur, such as the first two notes of bar 3, be sure to release the last note of the slurred group.

Pay particular attention to the places where both hands have different articulation. For example in bar 4, the right hand has a staccato note and it would be very tempting to make the left hand note staccato with it. Obviously, you need to keep the left hand long here. The same goes for bars 8, 12 and 19.

Another thing the examiner will be looking out for is that you play the quaver runs in this piece evenly. To achieve this you could try an exercise on bars 1, 4, 9, 10, 13-16 as follows:

  • Firstly use a long-short-long-short-long rhythm for the quavers.
  • Then reverse it short-long-short-long
  • Finally play evenly as written.

Minuet in C - A2

Despite the fact that Mozart wrote this when he was only 7 years old there is still a lot of detail that needs to be observed to get a good mark in the exam. 

Apart from the written dynamics, you will need to control the tone on individual notes beyond what is printed on the page. For example, a little extra weight should be placed on the first notes of bars 2, 4, 8 and 16. Then the notes that follow each of these will be a little lighter. A common mistake that many examiners are going to hear (but not from you!!) will be to hit the last notes of bars 8 and 16 too hard.

Also, the left hand should never become louder than the right hand, especially the repeated notes in bar 5, 6, 10, 13 and 14. These should be just gently pulsing in the background.

Regarding the left hand, apart from those notes which are specifically marked with a slur, all other crotchets should have a slight separation. For example, it would sound inconsistent if you separate the repeated notes in bars 5 and 6 (you have to because they are repeated) and then in bars 7 and 8 you start slurring the crotchets

It would also be very stylish to add a slight ritardando (slowing down) for the last bar.

Parson's Farewell - A3

You need to be very careful with  the articulation in this piece. Wherever the are notes marked with a slur, be careful to lift the last note of the slurred group. For example, most people will be tempted to play legato across the bar line between bars 1 and 2, but you should lift off between these bars.

Also be careful, when one hand has a staccato note, but the other note does not. There is an instance of this on the third beat of bars 3 and 7.

In bars 9 and 10, watch the length of the left hand chord. It should be released exactly at the beginning of the fourth beat, no sooner and no later.

Most pieces in the ABRSM exams are not supposed to be played with repeats, but notice the footnote in the ABRSM edition here that "in the exam the repeats should be played ". Be careful on the repeat, that the last note of the first time bar (bar 16), is piano not forte and when you come to the second time around,  there is a ritardando (slowing down).

Melodie - B1

This piece will need some careful finger work to achieve a smooth legato effect. Be sure to listen very carefully to your playing to make sure you notes are always synchronized together between the hands.

There are a couple of tricky areas which would be well to spend a little more intense practice to master. The first is the substitution in bars 8 and 16, where you have to swap the finger (4-5) on the note, while still holding it. There is another example of a substitution in bars 11 and 19, here with the extra complication of the right hand thumb, momentarily overlapping the left hand note of the quaver before. This would be a prime example of a danger area for the unsynchronized notes I mentioned earlier.

Finally, be aware of Schumann's intentions with his marking of < > in bars 5-7 and 13-15. Here, you should slightly lean on the first note without too heavy an accent. A slight crescendo in the notes just before each of these signs wouldn't come amiss either. Again, to give these notes a little more emphasis, in a sensitive way, you can dwell on them just a moment longer than strict tempo would dictate. This "freedom of time" is a common technique used in music from this period, called rubato.  In fact, an easing of the speed can also be employed in other places, e.g. at the ends of the phrases. Play the above video performance a few times and see if you can hear where the tempo gets slower.

The Swing - B2

The first thing you should notice about this piece is that the right and left hands have different dynamics. The melody should always stand out stronger than the accompaniment.   

Another detail to be careful of is the rests in the left hand. Make sure you lift your hand off on the third beat of every bar (1-18). 

When it comes to the big jumps in bars 8 and 16, try to synchronize the releasing of both hands together so that it sounds tidy.

To give this piece a nice lilting rhythm, put just a little weight on the first beat of each bar, easing off on the 2nd and 3rd beats. 

The metronome mark leaves you a lot of room for interpretation, a wide range of 108-132. However the examiner is not so much impressed by a fast performance, as an expressive one. There is a reason why, in the  ABRSM edition the poem from which this piece takes it's inspiration, is quoted at the bottom of the page. Notice too the composer's own marking at the beginning, "Soaring as high as your imagination takes you".  Try to create a sound picture with your performance.  

Down by the Salley Gardens - B3

This piece uses an experimental technique of getting the strings inside the piano to vibrate without actually playing them. The instruction for the left hand on the first line, is to press down silently. This will release the dampers from the strings inside the piano so that any "sympathetic" tones will also vibrate these strings. As you start playing the right hand, although they are different notes, each has what are called "overtones" (extra notes associated with the main note). Listen very carefully to the opening four bars on the above performance and you can hear these overtones vibrating the strings of the left hand notes that were depressed silently. Of course, this all becomes impossible on an electric piano, so if you can try to practice this piece whenever possible on an acoustic piano.

Pay careful attention to the phrasing marks, having a slight "breath" between phrases. For example, in bar 3, the first phrase ends on the 3rd beat, and the next phrase starts on the 4th beat. Do NOT slur between these two notes, but rather, lift your hand. As the composer himself says, "imagine your a singer", and singers need to breath !!

Also bear in mind the key signature, 4/4 time. Try to not let the third beat have too much accent, it should be less than the first beat of the bar. For example, in the third bar we mentioned earlier, it would be very easy to play the 3rd beat G too hard, especially if you're releasing your hand on this note. However, it should be softer than the A just before it.

Cockatoo - C1

The first thing to notice is that this piece uses swing quavers, that is, each pair of quavers should not be equal but following a lilting bouncy "long-short-long-short" pattern.

Also be aware of how long the left hand notes are. Many in the exam, will miss the crotchet rests in bars 1, 2, 5 and 6. Make sure that you release the left hand on the fifth right hand note in each of these bars.

Another thing that will get you good marks in the exam is a controlled crescendo/decrescendo  in bars 3 and 7

Bars 7 and 11 will need extra careful practice to make sure that all the notes of the chords sound together. It would be a good idea to practice the right hand of these two bars very slowly at first, listening carefully to your playing that the notes are synchronised, then adding the left hand and finally increasing the speed.

The suggested fingering in the last bar is a bit "twisty" but worth the effort to learn correctly as it will make a much smoother transition between the last two chords.

Szöcske - C2

Szöcske means grasshopper, so you will need a nice crisp staccato to imitate this jumping insect. Notice also the crescendo / decrescendo in bars 3-4 and 7-8. You will need to be extra careful in bar 9, where the first beat is marked sforzando (accented with extra force) but then the second beat is immediately reduce to a mezzoforte. It would be very easy here to make the section from this second beat too loud. 

Another detail that might be
easily missed, is the time signature, that of cut time or two minims in a bar. Although there are four crotchets in every bar it must feel like two beats in a bar (not four).

Finally, be careful that you do NOT slow down at the end, even though you are told to pause on the last chord.

The Detective - C3

Notice the marking at the beginning with mystery. Your performance of this piece should not be too fast and start quite softly. Make sure the left hand semibreves are full length and move smoothly onto the next bar without any gap.

The only place where a detached style is needed is the staccato left hand for the last three bars, but make sure the right hand lasts for the full bar after the left hand has finished at the end. The fourth beat actually does not finish as you say "four" when counting the beats, but rather, it finishes at the moment you would have said "one" if there were another bar after the last bar that is actually written.

One common mistake that beginner students make is to play faster when music gets louder, so be aware that you don't do this in bars 9-12. Some metronome practice might be useful here.

Regarding dynamics, apart from the ones written, it might be stylish to shape the phrases in the opening three bars with a slight arch shape, that is to crescendo to the middle of the bar and back down again. 

Observe the two poco rit 's but be especially careful that you pick up exactly the same tempo again each time it is marked a tempo.

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