In today’s video, I’m going to show you my favorite grade 2 piano books, and the pieces in them (as per the RCM).

I also did a video very similar to this about grade 1 level books, so if that’s up your alley, definitely check it out.

You can also check out the post all about grade 2 (RCM and ABRSM) – what’s expected at that level, a breakdown of the categories, and so on.

Grade 2 piano books

I would be remiss if I didn’t begin by talking about the official Grade 2 piano books from the RCM – the repertoire and the study book. They’ve got everything you could need – list A piece, B an C, and a separate book of studies.

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Celebration Series: Piano Repertoire 2
(2015 Edition). Composed by The Royal Conservatory. For piano. This edition: 2015 edition. Celebration Series. Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th century and 21st century. Elementary (Level 2). Method book & listening CD. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.C5R02).
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Celebration Series: Piano Etudes 2
(2015 Edition). Composed by The Royal Conservatory. For piano. This edition: 2015 edition. Celebration Series. Elementary (Level 2). Method book & listening CD. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.C5S02).

Getting these books is a nice all-in-one deal, and it’s cost effective too.

Personally, I like going outside of the RCM books, because there’s lots of great stuff that can be found elsewhere, and I think some of these other books are more valuable to a piano book collection. For example, some of them can be used for multiple grades, because the pieces aren’t just at a grade 2 level. And some are small books on a theme, which are really fun to return to – unlike the RCM books, which tend to get abandoned as soon as they’re completed.

They’re still great though, and make a fool-proof choice.

My Favorite Grade 2 Piano Books

Christopher Norton Connections 2

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Christopher Norton Connections for Piano: Repertoire 2
Composed by Christopher Norton. Edited by Andrew Hisey. For piano solo. Christopher Norton Connections! for Piano. Jazz, Rock, Blues, Latin, Swing, Country, Funk, Reggae. Late Elementary (Level 2). Book. 40 pages. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.CNR02).

Just like with grade 1, one of my favorite grade 2 piano books is Christopher Norton Connections 2. Just like the RCM books, everything contained in this book is at a grade 2 level. The songs in here are in the “List B” category (some could be considered etudes and studies as well).

Christopher Norton is a Canadian dude and he’s really awesome – these books are full of really good songs. They’ve got spirit and character. They have a good range of styles, like pop, jazz, Latin, and so on – awesome for the student who says they “don’t like Classical music”.

Another thing I love about it is the book comes with a link where you can hear recordings of all the pieces. Not only that, but there are backing tracks to the pieces that you can play along with, sort of like being in a band – which, since piano can be a very solitary instrument, is a fun thing to simulate.

Some of the songs in the book are in the RCM syllabus, so you could technically use this book as a way to study for grade 2.

Anyway, it’s a solid book, I love it dearly and make it a required purchase for my grade 2 students.

Essential Keyboard Repertoire, book 1

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Essential Keyboard Repertoire, Volume 1 – Book Only
(100 Early Intermediate Selections in Their Original Form – Baroque to Modern). Edited by Lynn Freeman Olson. For solo piano. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Keyboard (Essential Keyboard Repertoire). Baroque, Classical Period and 20th Century. SMP Level 3 (Early Intermediate). Collection. Introductory text (does not include words to the songs). 144 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.501C).

My other favorite is a mammoth book, and it’s not particularly cheap. It’s the Essential Keyboard Repertoire, book 1. BUT it’s a great collection of pieces from a grade 1 level all the way to 5 or so, and a good deal of them are List A pieces. There aren’t a lot of good collections of List A’s (or Baroque) pieces that I’ve found for early grades – maybe that’s just me?

But this one is good – it even has at the beginning a list of the 10 easiest songs to get you going.

I mentioned this book in the grade 1 version of this video as well. There are about 9 songs in this book in the official RCM syllabus for grade 2 (but not every song in this book is in the syllabus, so there are technically many more at a grade 2 level).

What I like to do is use the syllabus, and then go and mark down which pieces are for which grades. Not every piece in this book is in the syllabus, but that’s okay – you can learn them anyway, or ignore them, it’s all up to you.

Smaller collections

Now I want to take a moment and show you all my awesome little books. These books are cheap and fun, usually exploring a theme or topic kind of like an album. There’s some crossover here and with my grade 1 recommendations, but also some new ones as well.

Bela Bartok, for children 1 and 2

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Bartok – For Children, Volume 1
(Volume 1). Composed by Bela Bartok (1881-1945) and B. Edited by Peter Bart. For Piano (Piano). BH Piano. SMP Level 5 (Intermediate). 48 pages. Boosey & Hawkes #M060112300. Published by Boosey & Hawkes (HL.48012051).

Not everyone is into Bela Bartok – he was a super famous Hungarian composer in the 20th Century, and he wrote a wide, diverse range of music – everything from beginner tunes (he was a teacher) to very difficult pieces.

Once you get into the grade 2 piano books, the doors to his “For Children 1 and 2” collection open. There are a few pieces here at a grade 2 level, but they get pretty difficult very quickly. The pieces in this book go all the way up to a grade 8 level.

Also you don’t have to be a child to play these songs, despite the title. They don’t really sound “little kid-dy”. They do sound like abstract, sometimes dissonant folk tunes. They aren’t for everyone, but I find them really unique.

Christine Donkin: Legends and Lore

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Legends & Lore
(Elementary – Early Intermediate Piano Solos). Composed by Christine Donkin. For piano solo. Composer Library Series. Contemporary. Elementary – Early Intermediate (Levels 1-4). Book. 16 pages. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.HPA114).

Next is Legends and Lore by Christine Donkin. I talked about this one in the Grade 1 book video. This collection has pieces up to a grade 3 level, but you can learn them all right away – I won’t stop you, because they’re great songs. Some of these pieces are video game-like, which is a win for me – where others like “dream journey” have an almost ethereal sound.

Martha Mier: Jazz, Rags and Blues 1

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Jazz, Rags & Blues – Book 1
(10 original pieces for the late elementary to early intermediate pianist). For solo piano. Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Jazz, Rags & Blues. Jazz. SMP Level 3 (Early Intermediate). Collection. Introductory text (does not include words to the songs). 23 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.6642).

Another favorite book of mine that I mentioned in the grade 1 video is Jazz, Rags and Blues 1. It’s got some list B and pop pieces, they’re fun to play, and they sound good. Matha Mier does a great job making music accessible and sound great at any level (which can be a challenge for beginner-ish music), and these songs are just a blast to play.

One note is that these songs used to be in the RCM syllabus, but aren’t in the 2015 syllabus – so unless you make a special request, you wouldn’t be able to use them for an exam. But if that doesn’t matter to you, then definitely check this out!

Janet Gieck – Sundae Soup 1

I’m always going to be just a tiny bit biased about Canadian composers. This spring I was really lucky because Janet Gieck was the adjudicator for our piano recital, and she brought some of her books for purchase. Otherwise they’re available for purchase on her website (but not major retailers like Sheet Music Plus.

Anyway, I had a blast playing through her Sundae Soup book, and a few of these songs are at a grade 2 level (one is in the RCM syllabus). Some of them are quite challenging as well, and they have a modern bent. Some of the songs are slow and mellow – Grandmother’s Tale is very sad – and others are more on the jazzy-fun side, like Mary Had a Little Lamb (it’s a Jazzy remix).

Linda Niamath – Watermelon and Friends

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Watermelon and Friends
(Late Elementary Piano Solos). Composed by Linda Niamath. For piano solo. Composer Library Series. Contemporary. Late Elementary (Levels 1-3). Book. 12 pages. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.HPA40).

Most of these books I’m showing you would fall into the “List B” category – more modern kinds of pieces. What I haven’t shown you are any books of the “List C” variety, which are inventions. I talk about inventions a lot – basically, they’re hand independence pieces, where instead of a melody-chord setup, it’s more like imitation – maybe the right hand plays something, and the left hand plays something similar, overlapping.

It’s a very challenging style of piano playing, and a lot of intermediate and advanced pieces require hand independence like this, so I like getting into them from early levels, so you don’t just hit grade 7 and get smacked in the face by Bach.

Anyway, that’s a long prelude to this cute book – Watermelon and Friends. All the songs are fruit, and they’re inventions. Basically it’s the cutest way to learn a very difficult piano skill. I really like this book.

Pop Music Collections

And now we move into pop music collections, which are great fun as well.

The Best Songs Ever, Big Note

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The Best Songs Ever – 6th Edition (Easy Piano)
(71 All-Time Hits). Composed by Various. For Piano/Keyboard. Easy Piano Songbook. Pop, Broadway and Movies. Difficulty: easy-medium. Songbook. Easy piano notation, lyrics and chord names. 272 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.359223).

This is a huge collection of everything from pop songs to Disney. I know the big note thing isn’t for everyone, because it looks more like “kid” music, but the range of pieces in here makes it worth it to me. It’s also got a ton of pieces from level 1, 2, 3 and beyond, so you can get mileage out of this one.

The Disney Collection: Big Note Piano

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The Disney Collection
Composed by Various. For Piano/Keyboard. Easy Piano Songbook. Softcover. 304 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.119716).

If you’re into Disney, this is a great Disney book. This book isn’t quite as simple as The Best Songs Ever, in my opinion – it leans a little more difficult, so this is a good book to grow into. It also isn’t written in big-note format!

FunTime Piano: Kids’ Songs Level 3A-3B

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FunTime Kids’ Songs
(Level 3A-3B). Arranged by Nancy Faber and Randall Faber. For Piano/Keyboard. Faber Piano Adventures®. 3A-3B. 32 pages. Faber Piano Adventures #FF3004. Published by Faber Piano Adventures (HL.420324).

I have to give a shout-out to the Faber books, because I use them a lot. They’re good for kids and adults alike, and they’re good about including modern songs that kids actually know, along with more Classic favorites.

Conclusion

And those, my friends, are my favorite grade 2 piano books. The grade 2 piano pieces I recommend to my students depend heavily on their personal preferences, but I almost always recommend to everyone the Christopher Norton Connections book, the Essential Keyboard Repertoire, and Watermelon and Friends.

There’s no reason for you to get all these books, but try to pick a few that cover a variety of song types – List A, List B, List C, and etudes/pop. As a piano player, it’s important to develop your skillset in all of these genres!

Happy piano playing to you, and take care! :)

xo,
Allysia

Today we’re going to dip our toes in composition and look at some piano songwriting basics. I’ve written a tune with the very unique title of “Pentatonic Song”, which you can download below. You can learn it, or study it, or use it as a launching point for your own composition.

I wanted to build on the pentatonic scale stuff from the previous video. In that video, we talked about what a pentatonic scale is, and why it’s so useful for jamming – definitely check out that video if you haven’t already.

Pentatonic Song

Pentatonic Song download (PDF)

Gb Major Pentatonic Scale

So the pentatonic scale we’ll be writing in today is the Gb major pentatonic scale, which sounds kind of scary but it’s very simple: Use only the black keys, with Gb being your home base.

Songwriting Basics: Chords

In my mind, the easiest way to come up with a melody is to first have some chords figured out. It’s tough coming up with good-sounding melodies out of thin air. But if you have chords as a harmonic background, it’ll give some context to your melody ideas.

So what chords to use? Well, if we’re in the key of Gb, Gb is going to be your most important chord – your home base. I’ll mark this one with an “I”, since it’s the first note of the scale.

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The second most important chord which I recommend you use is Db. The tonic and dominant chords, marked by a “I” (1) and “V” (5), are generally the strongest chords in any key. If we were to name the notes by step, Db would be our fifth note.

I would advise you to stick to 4 chords or less, just so it’s not too overwhelming at first. I only used three chords in my composition.

A good one to create contrast is the sixth chord, which in this case is a minor chord (Eb). We’d mark this with “vi” (6). This is a really common chord choice in modern music, especially pop.

How to play the chords

The three chords I used in my Pentatonic Song are Gb, Db and Eb minor. By glancing through the left hand, you can see that I didn’t just plunk down solid chords for this song – instead, I opted for broken chords. I even went outside the chord box a little – in the first chord, Gb, I played two notes from the chord (Gb and Db), but then added a note not found in the chord, Eb, for a little somethin’-somethin’.

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For a composition of your own, you could really go in any direction. You could do solid chords, variations on broken chords, or a mix of the two.

Jamming in a pentatonic scale

Honestly, when you’re writing in a pentatonic scale, there aren’t really any wrong notes. I could write a left hand pattern in any manner of ways. Here’s the pattern I did use:

Gb Db Eb

But I also explored 1 5 8’s later in the song (Eb Bb Eb), which are a really simple but useful broken chord pattern.

Throughout the song, I just focused on three chords: Gb, Db and Eb minor.

So now that we’ve got some basic chords figured out, it’s time to shift our focus to melody writing.

Songwriting Basics: Melody Writing

Melody writing is a massive topic. Giant tomes have been devoted to it, so we’re not going to go into a lot of detail today. I’ll give you a few general pointers, and then let you play around with it.

Honestly, as with writing books or any other kind of writing, we could discuss theory all day, but what’s even more important is developing an intuition for it. Most writers aren’t formulating every little note – it’s more like acting on an instinct, and fine-tuning details later.

The best way to develop this instinct is to listen to music and play music. Even if you’re not aware of it, you’ll start noticing patterns and consistencies. You’ll start developing an instinct for what sounds good, and what works.

That being said, there are a few pieces of more concrete advice I can give you.

Keep it simple

Beginner songwriters tend to get really excited and adventurous, with melodies that often involve huge leaps and lack patterns. But if you listen to melodies (pop music is a good starting point because they’re simple), they generally don’t span more than an octave. There are lots of songs that exist mainly within the span of 3 notes.

That’s not to say that you can’t, or shouldn’t, write complicated songs with wide-spanning melodies, but it’s generally wise to understand the basics before attempting them. Masters can make it sound interesting, but when beginners do this, it tends to just sound random.

Include rhythmic patterns

Patterns are your friend. I don’t like making sweeping statements like “all songs have rhythmic patterns”, but it’s basically true. These can be long or short patterns – 4 bar patterns, 1 bar patterns, it doesn’t matter. But almost all music has some sort of rhythmic unity.

In my little Pentatonic Song, the left hand follows a consistent pattern, and you’ll notice a lot of rhythmic repetition within the phrases.

In this song I used a “call and response” or “echo” technique, where a small tune plays not once, but twice (like an echo). This is a common and effective songwriting technique, and it helps create a sense of unity in your piece.

Look at the forest as well as the trees

Sometimes when writing music, we can get so caught up in the little things – like a single bar of music, that we forget to think about the bigger picture. Sure, maybe your bar-long melody sounds great, but does it fit with everything else?

Constantly think about your piece in 4-bar or 8-bar units, and beyond. What’s the larger pattern? Are your notes going somewhere?

I like to compare this to lyric writing. If you’re writing a simple 4-line verse, you need to consider it as a whole. For the sake of an example, I’ve composed a masterpiece:

Summer’s last tomato

Is bursting from the vine,

Patiently I’ve waited,

And finally it’s mine.

So I mean, obviously this is right up there with William Blake. But let’s look at this a little closer. First of all, the rhyming scheme: ABCB. This means that the 2nd and 4th line must rhyme.

Another consideration is how many syllables are in each line. 6, 6, 6, 6. It’s nice and consistent, which means when you read it, it rolls off the tongue easily. It isn’t clumsy.

Now I want to show you this same poem, but without the syllable pattern or rhyme scheme.

Summer’s last tomato

Is bursting with ripeness, red and round.

I’ve been waiting

To eat it like an apple.

So there isn’t any rhyme, and there isn’t any consistency with syllables either. The first line is 6, then 9, then 4, then 7. It doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, and feels a little clumsy. Of course, there’s plenty of amazing poetry that doesn’t use a standard rhyming scheme or syllable pattern, like the great “This Is Just To Say”. But the thing is, there’s still a masterful sense of style here. And there’s still overall unity when you consider it as a whole.

I know this is a bit of a tangent, but it’s important because melodies work in the same way. Let’s take a look at my very simple melody in Pentatonic Song.

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You’ll notice the song is mostly divided into 6-bar sections, which have short phrases that are about 4 beats long. Each section, the original tune returns, but with more “stuff” added. This adds a sense of build and momentum until we hit this climactic moment with all the descending 16th notes. And then for a finale, we return to that original phrase.

All of this makes the song sound deliberate, not random. There’s a clear goal – the louder 16th note section – and a clear path getting there. It isn’t just suddenly louder, or suddenly super fast.

Songwriting basics: Recap

So just to reiterate – my 3 basic tips for songwriting:

  • Keep it simple
  • Include rhythmic patterns
  • Look at the forest as well as the trees

Conclusion

So now it’s your turn! You can print off blank notation paper at blanksheetmusic.net, or just use a notebook and your own notation code if you want. I use MuseScore to draft up my music – it’s a free notation program that you can download.

You can write it however you want, too – my song was slow, but you could do a fast and staccato song, or maybe a really dark and epic song, whatever is up your alley. Keep it simple, stick to the black keys and you really can’t go wrong.

Good luck!

xo,

Allysia

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In today’s video, we’re going to discuss grade 2 piano, RCM as well as grade 2 ABRSM. These are two major systems of grading, exams and levels in the piano world.

So we’re going to talk about the different exam categories of grade 2 piano: song categories, the technique that’s required, as well as ear and sight tests. Linked below is a copy of the online syllabus which is free to use and has all this but in more detail.
RCM Piano Syllabus (PDF, all grades – scroll to grade 2)
ABRSM Grade 2 Syllabus
RCM Popular Selection Syllabus (PDF)
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In today’s episode, I wanted to sit down and have a chat with you guys about something I have seen fairly regularly in my studio – writing down the note letters.

Reading music can be challenging. When you’re learning how to read notes, it can even be difficult to read pieces meant for beginners. So when I see students attempt to tackle more challenging pieces, sometimes the page will come back covered in letters, decoded if you will.

Now the big question is: is it okay to write down the note letters? In today’s episode, we’ll weigh the pros and cons.
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