Piano Star is a tool kit for teachers to use in the first years of their students’ piano-playing journey. Unique in including a vast array of different composers, Piano Star is designed to be used alongside any mainstream piano method whenever additional material is required. Piano Star 1, for example, builds confidence with new inspirational repertoire that consolidates skills.
In addition, the books provide material to support the new ABRSM Initial Grade Piano exam and the established Prep Test, as well as alternative repertoire for assessments in Grade 1 and even Grade 2 (using Piano Star Duets). The repertoire books (apart from the Duet book) all include fun additional activities, from making up rhythms and improvising, to exploring the extremes of the piano and imitating animal noises.
Piano Star 1
Piano Star 1: 24 pieces up to Prep Test level, including eight with duet parts
This book is perfect to give side-wards reinforcement for students after their very first landscape method book (where the book primarily focuses on left-hand F to C and right-hand C to G). Not all children will need this reinforcement, but some will benefit enormously from the confidence-building Piano Star 1 can give. There are a few pieces that also include A in the right hand and, in the left hand, tenor C in the bass to G. There are pieces with quavers and some creative syncopated rhythms, but the emphasis is on simplicity throughout the book. Half the pieces are hands separate (played between the hands). This progresses to small fragments of the piece being hands together and a number of pieces towards the end where hands together is extensive.
Particular favourites with students have included ‘Start the Music!’ by David Blackwell, ‘Scarlet Lanterns’ by Jane Sebba, ‘Five Little Speckled Frogs’ arr. Aisling Greally, ‘London Bells’ arr. David Blackwell, ‘Double Decker’ by Kathy Blackwell and ‘Ten O’Clock Tiptoe’ by Sarah Watts. Many students have loved this book. The colour illustrations are beautiful and the pieces are perfect for first concert performances, especially those with duet parts.
Piano Star Five-Finger Tunes
Piano Star Five-Finger Tunes: 25 pieces, including 11 with duet parts
This is a special book that can be used after Piano Star 1, or before Piano Star 2 (alongside or after a first portrait method book) to help with the tricky skill of playing in a wide variety of hand positions as a prerequisite to moving out of hand positions all together. Covering ten positions over two octaves, much success has been achieved with general music reading using this title. The pieces are excellent not only for developing knowledge of the keyboard, but also for developing the additional technical skills of accurately playing dynamics and simple articulation. Pieces are never overloaded with tricky content and 11 come with some really beautifully written duet parts.
Favourites from this title include: ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ (the duet part has wonderful harmony), ‘Note Box’, ‘Knock at the Door’, ‘My Grandma is a Pirate!’, ‘Birds in Spring’, ‘The Notes in my Song’, ‘Mozart’s Go-kart’, ‘She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain’ and ‘Black Note Blues’. This title is one of the most unique in the series (along with Piano Star Skills Builder), helping solve a problem that very few other resources address in such a systematic way.
Piano Star 2
Piano Star 2: 26 pieces at Prep Test/Initial Grade level, including six with duet parts
A step up from Piano Star 1, this book is something you would use at the end of a first portrait method book. Music is hands together throughout and there is pretty detailed articulation in terms of staccato, slurs and accents. It’s also very useful for quick study pieces when a student is taking Grade 1 or even Grade 2. It’s particularly strong at helping children to navigate the keyboard with small hand-position changes (e.g. in ‘This Old Man’ arr. David Blackwell) and hand-crossing up and down the keyboard (e.g. in ‘Hoppity-Bop, Over the Top!’ by Alasdair Spratt). Key signatures are now used, up to one sharp or one flat. Several pieces are wonderful for consolidating reading sharps and flats accidentals, including ‘The Midnight Owl’ by Edmund Joliffe, ‘Wonkey Donkey’ by Mark Tanner, ‘Runaway Train’ by Alasdair Spratt, ‘If You Should Meet a Crocodile’ by Aisling Greally and ‘Hiding in the Wardrobe’ by Edmund Jolliffe. There are too many favourites in here to mention! Imaginative titles picked from a child’s world, like ‘Action Stations’ and ‘Sprinkling Stardust’, to ‘Runaway Train’ and ‘Playing Ping-Pong’, also encourage expressive performance.
Piano Star 3
Piano Star 3: 24 pieces at Prep Test level to Grade 1, including six with duet parts
The journey to Grade 1 piano is a long one! This book works well alongside second tutor books, just before embarking on the ABRSM Grade 1 Piano exam. Very versatile, it can be used at the same time as preparing for Grade 1 so a rich diet of repertoire is maintained and reading skills improve. Creative expressive playing comes into its own across these pieces, especially in ‘Squirmy Worms’ and ‘The Fridge Monster’, ‘The Old Typewriter’ and ‘Pirates Coming!’. Although including one piece in D major, the music again otherwise sticks to C major or A minor or up to one sharp or flat key signatures. Time signatures from the standard 2, 3 and 4 time expand to 6/8 and even 9/8. Between Grade 1 and 2 this book has also been a a life-line for quick study material.
Piano Star Grade 1
Piano Star Grade 1: 25 pieces at Grade 1 level, including three duets and a trio
Your student may be studying for Grade 1 or have just taken it. Or a student may be doing their Grade 2 and need some light relief as part of their learning. Grade 3-level students can also really enjoy this book as weekly quick-study pieces to improve their reading. In any of these cases, do dip inside Piano Star Grade 1. For sheer variety of material this title is a very strong contender as the most varied in the whole series. Special mention should be given to the trio at the end of the book which was written by a highly respected pedagogue, Christine Brown, a piece found after her death. This piece gives each player their part in the sunshine and is huge fun to play! Particular attention in this book is given to developing a ‘story telling’ ability in piano performance, with music that lends itself to instinctive expressive playing: ‘Moon Walk’, ‘Taking a Naughty Dog for a Walk’ and ‘Sunlight through the Trees’ are good examples. Style is also tackled in the pages, with a rag (‘You Can-Can Play a Rag!’, lullaby (‘Scottish Lullaby’), Classical styles (an arrangement of a Mozart Allegro and ‘Agincourt Song’, a 15th-century tune), and the blues (‘Sleepy Cat Blues’). There’s a wide array of keys – up to two sharps and one flat – and a few pieces in 6/8 metre.
Piano Star Skills Builder
Piano Star Skills Builder: Initial Grade and beyond – Scales, Aural and Reading
If you have a student preparing for the new ABRSM Initial Grade exam, then this book provides everything you need to complete all the supporting tests. Extensively tried and tested during development with Karen Marshall’s own students, the book now has a proven successful track record with two of her students who used it and achieved distinctions in their Initial Grade exams. However, even if your student isn’t taking the Initial Grade exam or has already taken it and you want consolidation material to take them towards Grade 1 level, then Piano Star Skills Builder is packed with everything you need!
The book includes 10 stages, each including scale, aural and reading material. Some of the activities are exactly linked to the exam but many additional ones are outside of exam requirements, ensuring the student covers a broad curriculum and isn’t just working within the exam syllabus. Scales enjoy teacher-part accompaniments; sight-reading is addressed in the most creative ways, including fragments from Classical music (like a mobile ring tone); and some pieces include words that help the student play the right notation. Aural activities are packed with fun rhymes. All the while, the student is learning everything they need for the supporting tests part of their exam without even really realising it. After the exam is taken, students have found the additional non-exam material particularly helpful, for example ‘Right-hand Travel Tune’ and the composing activity, ‘Pulse and Rhythm in 4 time and 3 time’ – writing rhythms and also composing them; ‘C major in Concert’; ‘My Strange Zoo’ (and the activity page with it) and the final piece ‘Beep Beep!’.
Piano Star Duets
Piano Star Duets (26 duets at early beginner level to Grade 2)
The brilliant thing about this book is that it can be used for such a long period of time – around three years for most students. It starts with five-finger tunes – when your student is halfway through a first tutor book – right through to a piece heading towards Grade 4 (if you play the teacher part of ‘Weird Polka’). The book very cleverly provides some duets where two students can play, and others where the teacher and pupil can perform together. Some of the teacher parts can be played by advanced students, and for good measure there’s even a trio thrown in. Essential for all students are the top tips on playing duets, and the world of great composers is introduced with a lovely duet by Diabelli (it’s suggested that the pupil explores other duets in this set).
Pieces with quirky content include ‘Ragtime Swap’ where the students change places, ‘Apache Drums’ with a rhythm ostinato, ‘Jasmine Flower’ with improvisation passages, and ‘Woodland Folk Song’ (also in the Grade 1 Piano Syllabus) with additional harmonics included. Other favourites selected for the 2021–2022 ABRSM piano syllabus include ‘Butterfly’ (at Initial Grade) and ‘Raindrop Reflections’ (at Grade 2).
Piano Star Theory
Piano Star Theory (an activity book for young pianists)
This book brings to life what can sometimes be a dry subject and will help all students develop their understanding of musical notation. It can be used alongside any piano tutor or method. There are two key aspects to mention: firstly, it’s specifically written for pianists, and so focuses on the note values, pitches, time signatures and other symbols a young pianist will encounter in their first year or so of study. Secondly, it provides a context for their learning, providing activities that link to practical music-making. For example, as pitches are introduced there is practice in writing them and spotting them in short pieces, and students are then encouraged to write their own tune, with guide rhythms and pitches given, which they can then play on the piano. After learning to write stems correctly, there’s a song to sing that reinforces key points. Having learnt about dynamics and simple articulation, students add them to pieces in the book and play them, following the signs.
With quizzes throughout the book to consolidate learning, fun rhymes, clear explanations, and even a board game to play, as well as some additional free pages online, this is a perfect way to build understanding and confidence in young pupils.
Weird Polka, Vitali Neugasimov - Piano Star Duets
Butterfly, June Armstrong - Piano Star Duets
Click here for more videos from the Piano Star series.
- Initial Practical Grade exam: Piano Star success story by Karen Marshall
- Piano Star Duets in practice by Karen Marshall