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The BachScholar® Piano Method

This page provides an overview and summary of our piano method, which is currently in progress. All content is subject to change.

CLICK HERE to pre-order Dr. Hall's long-anticipated sight-reading book for 40% OFF!!

INTRODUCTION

Before beginning the essay, I would like to emphasize that becoming proficient at "chordal-style" or "vertical-style" music is the greatest thing one can do to improve piano technique and sight-reading. That is, forget the Chopin and Liszt etudes and go for the church hymns and Bach chorales, such as the first installment in BachScholar's Hymn & Chorale Project, 21 Christmas Hymns for Piano! Get your copy TODAY!

 Piano students today seem to be preoccupied and overly concerned about entering formal exams to attain certain "Grades" or "Levels" in their piano studies. This is puzzling to me, because when I was a young piano student in the 1970s I never remember testing for any "Grade Level" or being preoccupied with testing or attaining awards. I simply practiced a lot, constantly learned new repertoire, and had fun doing it. Some of the most popular testing systems today are ABRSM, Trinity/Guildhall, and RCM. They are big businesses, which publish their own syllabi as well as books containing their required repertoire. In my opinion, these systems are flawed and give students a false sense of security making students think they are better than they really are, not to mention that the repertoire and book requirements change every year thus forcing students into spending more money.

Most students who pass a particular grade level in the ABRSM, Trinity, and RCM are at least two or three levels lower than the grade they have been awarded. This is because it is well-known to piano teachers who are now 50 years or older that piano grade levels have been dumbed-down considerably over the last 40 years. For example, the student who completes "Book One" of John Thompson's Adult Piano Course (Preparatory) from 1943, which is an excellent system even today, has not completed just Grade 1 but has in reality attained Grade 3 by our standards today. The next book in Thompson's series, "Book Two," is really at the level of at least Grade 4 by our standards today. Similarly, "Grade One" of the Michael Aaron Piano Course from 1945, which is among the finest beginning-level books even by today's standards, is really Grade 3 by the time the student finishes the book. I recently perused through some Etude magazines from the 1940s that I acquired from an antique store and was astonished to see a piece that was rated "Grade 3" that ABRSM recently rated in 2014-15 as "Grade 6."

It is clearly evident that the piano grading system today and the testing standards of piano pedagogy organizations have much to be desired and are lacking in many ways. The present BachScholar Piano Method, which is in progress, intends to rectify this problem. Pianists and teachers who follow BachScholar's progressively organized curriculum will be amazed at the thoroughness of technical and theoretical skills that are sure to be attained if followed as prescribed.

 

 Here are main features and advantages of The BachScholar Piano Method over the leading contemporary piano methods (the following cover page is a rough-draft and is subject to change):

  • Each Level, presented as a separate book (e-book in addition to hard-copy), will be accompanied by one or more custom-made YouTube videos demonstrating each exercise and piece of music presented. Our piano method will be one of the first piano methods in which videos, instead of audio CDs, feature prominently to lead students along one step at a time.   
  • With the five-finger exercise in all keys and the chromatic scale introduced in the Primer Level, students learn to play all the black and white keys from the very beginning. Most contemporary piano methods neglect black keys for far too long a time, which instills a fear of black keys into students' minds. All pieces and note reading exercises, however, follow the "middle C" approach in order to avoid information overload. 
  • With an emphasis in Level 1 on first species counterpoint pieces and exercises, students learn the essential rudiments of reading notes and rhythms in both staves simultaneously, which ultimately instills a solid music reading foundationVirtually all contemporary piano methods neglect or undervalue first-species exercises during this crucial early stage of learning, which explains why the majority of piano students remain poor sight-readers throughout the duration of their music studies.  
  • Upon completion of Level 2, students become equipped to play all 12 major and 12 relative minor scales (natural and harmonic minor only) in parallel and contrary motion, and in doing so learn in an organic fashion all the sharps and flats in their correct order. Most contemporary piano methods segregate theory from technique thus instilling the belief in students' minds that theory is a separate and arcane type of discipline. Moreover, such methods rarely introduce all 24 major and minor scales, and if they do, this usually happens at least three grade levels later than Level 2 as in the present method. 
  • Upon completion of Level 3, students become equipped to use finger substitutions when necessary to attain a perfect legato. Most contemporary piano methods neglect the teaching of the important technique of finger substitutions, thereby depriving students of being able to play polyphonic music in a legato fashion.   
  • Upon completion of levels 3 and 4, students become equipped to play major, minor, and chromatic scales in 3rds, 6ths, and 10ths, a valuable skill that is far too often ignored by contemporary systems. Playing scales in 3rds, 6ths, and 10ths may initially seem overly ambitious for these lower levels; however, students already know the scales upon completion of Level 2, and so all that is required in this step is to play the scales slowly in first-species fashion with the most common harmonizations used in music. Moreover, students are still restricted to just one octave, which eliminates the need to struggle with multiple octaves. Virtually all contemporary piano methods require scales in multiple octaves before the student has mastered one octave; however, in the present system superfluous multiple octaves are eliminated in favor of teaching valuable harmonization skills, which instills a strong polyphonic foundation.
  • With an emphasis on pieces and exercises using species counterpoint, students receive a thorough grounding in playing traditional 4-part hymns and Bach chorales, a musical style and technique that is largely neglected by contemporary systems. The main reason why sight-reading skills have sunk to such dismal levels among the majority of piano students today is that contemporary systems usually neglect polyphonic music, namely, hymns and chorales in SATB form, which is by far the best type of music to teach students to read and process not just one but up to four or five notes at a time. If one can sight-read 4-part hymns and chorales well, then one can sight-read virtually anything well. It is unfortunate that virtually all contemporary piano methods as well as most piano teachers neglect hymns and chorales. BachScholar, however, places a strong emphasis on this enjoyable and beneficial style.  
  • Upon completion of Levels 5 and 6, students become equipped to play full, four-note major, minor, dominant 7th, and diminished 7th chords in all their inversions in all 12 keys, which represents BachScholar's beneficial and bestselling "Better than Hanon" exercise. Most students steeped in contemporary curricula such as ABRSM, Trinity, or RCM are not be able to play Better than Hanon in its entirety until Level 8 or 9. 
  • Upon completion of Level 5, students become equipped to play 2:3 polyrhythms (cross-rhythms) accurately and confidently, thus preparing them to play Debussy's First Arabesque and other beloved works that feature this difficult rhythmic technique. Most contemporary piano methods entirely neglect the teaching of 2:3 polyrhythms.
  • Upon completion of Level 6, students become equipped to play 3:4 polyrhythms accurately and confidently, thus preparing them to play arguably the most popular advanced piano work in history, Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu. Virtually all students dream of playing the Fantaisie-Impromptu; however, few succeed because of the difficult 3:4 polyrhythms that virtually all contemporary piano methods neglect and many piano teachers do not know how to teach. BachScholar's fool-proof method of teaching 3:4 polyrhythms and its emphasis in Level 6 will equip students for playing 3:4 polyrhythms throughout their musical lifetimes.
  • Upon completion of Level 8, the "advanced" level, students will have achieved a higher level of technique, mastery of rhythmic complexities, a more thorough grounding in harmony and theory, and superb sight-reading skills that surpass those of the average university or conservatory student.   

(Please note that the following list is currently IN PROGRESS and is subject to change.)  

primer LEVEL (rudiments)

  • Technique & Theory: Five-finger exercise and major triad in all keys from C to C hands together, slowly with quarter-note motion played legato, chromatically ascending then descending backwards. Emphasis should be less on note reading and note naming and more on learning by rote and feeling according to the white or black keys whose make-up operates in pairs. For example, Db major has the key colors BBWBB while its pair of D major has the opposite key colors of WWBWW. Likewise, Eb major has the key colors BWWBB while its pair of E major has the opposite key colors of WBBWW.  
  • Technique & Theory: Chromatic scale in C one octave, hands separately, slowly with quarter-note motion using the traditional fingering
  • Theory: Knowledge of all the note names in treble and bass clefs including up to one ledger line
  • Theory: Knowledge of whole notes, dotted half notes, half notes, and quarter notes
  • Technique & Theory: Ability to play staccato, legato, and two-note slurs
  • Pieces: Ability to play, hands separately, simple two or four-bar melodies in the key of C major in 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4 that contain whole notes, dotted half notes, half notes, and quarter notes. Although the Primer Level includes all the black keys in the five-finger exercises, these pieces are all in the key of C major with no accidentals.  

LEVEL 1 (beginning)

  • Technique & Theory: The 12 major scales in the order C, G, D, A, E, B, F, B-flat, E-flat, A-flat, D-flat, G-flat played one octave hands separately then together in parallel and contrary motion, slowly in quarter-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: Chromatic scale in C one octave in parallel and contrary motion, hands together, slowly with quarter-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: Broken triads with inversions in the same keys as the major scales listed above, hands separately then together, slowly in quarter-note motion using the following fingering in all keys: RH 135 125 135 135 LH 531 531 521 531
  • Pieces: Ability to play, hands together, short pieces in C major consisting of one note in the right hand and an accompanying note in the left hand, mostly in slow whole-note, half-note, or quarter-note motion. This time tested and proven 1:1 technique, known as "first species counterpoint," has been the foundation of piano playing and composition since the time of Bach or before. Perhaps the greatest piano pedagogue in history, Carl Czerny, greatly stressed first-species exercises for beginners. Most contemporary piano methods neglect first species counterpoint exercises and thus deprive students from the basic rudiments of music reading. Students at Level 1 should, ideally, practice dozens of first-species exercises, hands together, until their reading simultaneously in both clefs becomes natural and fluent. Although Level 1 includes scales of up to five sharps, these first-species note reading exercises should be done primarily in the keys of C major or A minor.     

lEVEL 2 (mid beginning)

  • Technique & Theory: The 12 minor scales (natural and harmonic only) in the order a, e, b, f-sharp, c-sharp, g-sharp, d, g, c, f, b-flat, e-flat played one octave hands separately then together in parallel and contrary motion, slowly in quarter-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: Chromatic scale in C two octaves in parallel and contrary motion, slowly with quarter-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: Broken triads with inversions in the same keys as the major and minor scales listed above, hands separately then together, slowly in quarter-note motion using the following fingering in all keys: RH 135 125 135 135 LH 531 531 521 531
  • Pieces: Ability to play, hands together, short pieces in C major consisting of two notes in the right hand and one note in the left hand (or, vice versa), mostly in slow whole-note, half-note, or quarter-note motion. This time tested and proven 2:1 technique, known as "second species counterpoint," has been the foundation of piano playing and composition since the time of Bach or before. Although Level 2 includes scales of up to five sharps, these second-species note reading exercises should be done primarily in the keys of C major or A minor. 

lEVEL 3 (late beginning)

  • Technique & Theory: The 12 major scales in the order C, G, D, A, E, B, F, B-flat, E-flat, A-flat, D-flat, G-flat harmonized in 3rds (3rd above), 6ths (6th below), and 10ths (10th above), one octave, slowly in quarter-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: Chromatic scale harmonized in 3rds (3rd above), 6ths (6th below), and 10ths (10th above)
  • Technique & Theory: Broken diminished triads with inversions starting on C, C#, D each harmonized a major 6th above and below
  • Technique & Theory: Introduction of finger substitutions to attain a perfect legato
  • Technique and Theory: Introduction of the damper pedal and its uses with practical exercises
  • Pieces: A well-rounded assortment of pieces in a variety of keys with an emphasis on three voices (with two voices in one hand and one voice in the other hand) as well as less polyphonic (more homophonic) pieces that utilize a variety of different chord progressions and time signatures. This includes secular works from several of the famous composers as well as sacred 3-voice popular hymns and more formal Bach chorales.  

lEVEL 4 (early intermediate)

  • Technique & Theory: The 12 minor scales (harmonic and melodic) in the order a, e, b, f-sharp, c-sharp, g-sharp, d, g, c, f, b-flat, e-flat harmonized in 3rds (3rd above), 6ths (6th below). and 10ths (10th above), one octave, slowly in quarter-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: Introduction of the melodic minor scale in all 12 keys, one octave in parallel and contrary motion, slowly in quarter-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: Broken diminished 7th chords (each with four pitches) with inversions starting on C, C#, D each harmonized a major 6th above and below
  • Pieces: A well-rounded assortment of pieces in a variety of keys with an emphasis on four voices (with two voices in each hand) as well as less polyphonic (more homophonic) pieces that utilize a variety of different chord progressions and time signatures. This includes secular works from several of the famous composers as well as popular 4-part hymns and more formal Bach chorales.  

LEVEL 5 (intermediate)

  • Technique & Theory: The 12 major scales in the order C, G, D, A, E, B, F, B-flat, E-flat, A-flat, D-flat, G-flat harmonized in 3rds, 6ths, and 10ths, two octaves, a little faster than the scales in Level 3, with eighth-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: 2:3 polyrhythms; C-major scale, hands together, three octaves in triplets; then, one hand plays three octaves with triplets while the other hand plays two octaves with duplets, and vice versa 
  • Technique & Theory: Broken 4-note major and minor chords with inversions in all 12 keys (Better than Hanon)
  • Technique & Theory: Staccato and non-legato major, minor, and chromatic scales in both hands in octaves using 1-5 for all octaves, in parallel and contrary motion, played one octave; also, legato octaves with the chromatic scale using 4 (and 3, if possible)
  • Pieces: A well-rounded assortment of pieces in a variety of keys with an emphasis on polyphonic works with two, three, or four voices (i.e., fugues and imitative works) as well as homophonic pieces that utilize a variety of different chord progressions and time signatures. This includes secular works from several of the famous composers as well as popular 4-part hymns and more formal Bach chorales. 

LEVEL 6 (late intermediate)

  • Technique & Theory:  The 12 minor scales (harmonic and melodic) in the order a, e, b, f-sharp, c-sharp, g-sharp, d, g, c, f, b-flat, e-flat harmonized in 3rds, 6ths, and 10ths, two octaves, a little faster than the scales in Level 4, with eighth-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: 3:4 polyrhythms; C-major scale, hands together, three octaves in triplets, then four octaves in quadruplets; then, one hand plays three octaves with triplets while the other hand plays four octaves with quadruplets, and vice versa 
  • Technique & Theory: Broken 4-note dominant and diminished 7th chords with inversions in all 12 keys (Better than Hanon)
  • Technique & Theory: The complete Better than Hanon exercise
  • Pieces: A well-rounded assortment of pieces in a variety of keys with an emphasis on polyphonic works with two, three, or four voices (i.e., fugues and imitative works) as well as homophonic pieces that utilize a variety of different chord progressions and time signatures. This includes secular works from several of the famous composers as well as popular 4-part hymns and more formal Bach chorales. 

LEVEL 7 (early advanced)

  • Technique & Theory: Major scales in C, Db, D, Eb, E, F and their parallel minor scales (harmonic and melodic) two octaves ascending, two octaves in contrary motion, two octaves descending; a little faster than the scales in Level 5 with sixteenth-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: All major and minor scales (harmonic and melodic) played two octaves ascending, two octaves in contrary motion, two octaves descending; played in septuplets (seven notes per beat) with accents on the main note; these scales function as exercises in endurance and velocity as well as rhythmic control  
  • Technique & Theory: The C-major scale played two octaves in one hand and three octaves in the other hand, and vice versa, worked up to a fast tempo; this exercise is a continuation of the 2:3 polyrhythm scale introduced in Level 5 except with faster speeds
  • Technique & Theory: Franz Liszt's complete Scales in Chords exercise

LEVEL 8 (advanced)

  • Technique & Theory: Major scales in F#, G, Ab, A, Bb, B and their parallel minor scales (harmonic and melodic) two octaves ascending, two octaves in contrary motion, two octaves descending; a little faster than the scales in Level 6 with sixteenth-note motion
  • Technique & Theory: The C-major scale played three octaves in one hand and four octaves in the other hand, and vice versa, worked up to a fast tempo; this exercise is a continuation of the 3:4 polyrhythm scale introduced in Level 6 except with faster speeds
  • Technique & Theory: Carl Tausig's complete Study 91 for Piano