When I was learning the piano, there was a pile of music about three feet high (that’s about a metre for you young’uns) beside the piano stool. It was a complete mixture, including my grandmother’s books dated about 1900 (Czerny and Clementi), bound volumes of light-weight piano novelties from the thirties with old-fashioned fingering (+ for thumb, 1 2 3 4 for fingers), and fragile copies of Greig Lyric Pieces and Peer Gynt Suites from my mother’s side of the family, labelled “Kriegausgabe”, presumably printed during the war. Sadly I had to sit on the two volumes of Beethoven sonatas as the piano stool was rather low for the keyboard, so I couldn’t actually try to play them.
I never used any of these books in my piano lessons, but endlessly played through them, picking out the tunes, learning bits and pieces here and there. It was the equivalent of the books on the bookshelves in every room of the house where I grew up. Some great literature, some light-weight novels, some total trash.
I was taken aback to find that this is a resource that is denied to many pupils; as soon as they finish a book it is handed on to some other family, or sent to the charity shops. Indeed, when browsing through the boxes of sheet music at our local Oxfam and St Catherine’s hospice shops, I have found books of piano music with my own writing and fingerings scrawled all over. At about £1 per book I’m not too proud to buy them all back!
These pupils are missing out on the opportunity to explore music by themselves. All they have is the book that they are working on at the moment, and hard work it can be too. I now make a point of buying them one of the many fun collections of pieces that are on offer. I choose a book that will match the pupil’s interests, and at a slightly lower level than their current standard, and encourage them to have a go by themselves, and bring something that they looked at on their own to the lessons.
Not all of them want to do this – for some, practising is the chore that goes along with learning an instrument, and the allotted 5, 10, 15 minutes a day is all that they are prepared to do. But for others, having this parallel resource this can be a revelation, and the start of an exciting solo adventure. (It is also great for sneaking in some sight-reading, but I would never say that out loud!)