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Piano Revealed

A new piano method for young and old, fostering creativity, and inspiring with uncompromised music by international award winning composer Nathan Shirley.

Now Available


What is Piano Revealed?

Piano Revealed is a brand new seven book series to guide absolute beginners, whether children or adults, through the art of playing piano. The music progresses very gradually to minimize frustration and to build solid technical grounding.

This a classical piano approach, preparing students for standard repertoire by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and so many others. If you wish to learn jazz or popular music, Piano Revealed will provide an excellent foundation. There are no shortcuts in learning to play with sensitivity, depth, and clarity. However, there’s no reason why the process can’t be enjoyable and inspiring.

What makes Piano Revealed unique?

In addition to thoroughly covering the elements of piano playing and music reading, Piano Revealed introduces improvisation, composition, and basic music theory. The method encourages new techniques to be practiced through improvisation as a way to not only make practicing them exciting, but also to more fully internalize them. Basic music composition is taught almost immediately, even before students are introduced to reading pitch. As children, we talked, sang, and drew pictures before we learned to read and write. As a composer, I see the creative process of improvisation and composition as natural early steps in music education. There’s simply no reason to delay it, let alone neglect it entirely which unfortunately has become the norm.

cover art by Aaron Shirley

What inspired Piano Revealed?

Inspiration for Piano Revealed came from the simple, yet often exquisite little pieces for children by Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and others. Quite a few of the masters composed music for children, but most wrote a fairly small number of pieces covering a narrow difficulty level. The primary goal of Piano Revealed is to present a wealth of simple yet engaging pieces, taking absolute beginners up to a solid intermediate level, without compromising artistic quality.

Common piano method types

The music of piano method books often falls into one of several categories:

  • Focus on reading
  • Focus on “fun”
  • Focus on technique

Reading focused methods often do a good job in giving students solid music reading skills. Unfortunately, a common side effect is that much of the music is dry, lifeless, or simply bland.

“Fun” focused methods are common, and this can be an effective way to encourage children to practice. However it underestimates their ability to appreciate and understand music with more substance (which believe it or not, can really be fun). Often the pieces are silly or simplified to the point of draining all musical depth, and the methods fail to inspire students to dive deeper into the art of music. In an age when we are trained to swipe through life and only look surface deep, this style of method has attracted a lot of attention, but like fast food, it probably shouldn’t be a staple to anyone’s diet.

Technique focused methods come in various flavors, and with an excellent teacher can give students a good sense for navigating the keyboard with a natural hand position and fluid movements. Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for the music in these methods to suffer from one of the two issues described above.

Some methods certainly suffer more from these issues than others, and good teachers have found ways to overcome deficiencies. Piano Revealed strives to make a better experience for everyone, providing a solid framework for teachers and an inspiring foundation for students.

Tchaikovsky’s music for children

When I taught piano full time, I became particularly frustrated with the quality of music offered in the available books. Being a composer, I started writing pieces to give to students as I noticed techniques they needed particular work with. Over the years I wrote many such pieces, developing a knack for composing engaging compositions to enhance students’ abilities.

Tchaikovsky, one of my favorite composers, wrote a relatively limited number of pieces for children, which are not especially easy to play. I once wondered, what if Tchaikovsky, who wrote music for children with as much sensitivity and beauty as he did when composing symphonies, what if he had written an extensive piano method, starting with music for the absolute beginner? It would have been incredible! There actually is one very famous composer who did this, Béla Bartók. However, as great a composer as he was, he is not known for his memorable melodies like Tchaikovsky… and so while Bartók’s Mikrokosmos is a fantastic resource, its music can be hard to digest and is rarely used as a primary method.

So, inspired by the little masterpieces of Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and others, I set out to create a progressive method with this lofty goal.

Unique aspects of Piano Revealed

Piano Revealed has been a massive undertaking, in the works for nearly 20 years. However there are several advantages to having conceived the entire project as a unified whole. Many piano methods are assembled from work by a number of authors. As sole composer of Piano Revealed, I have benefited from being able to see the big picture as I write each piece, weaving the series together as a cohesive whole. For example, there’s a very simple prelude which appears early in the series. Later on the piece reappears, this time written for the left hand alone. Later still, the piece reappears with the challenging left hand, but now a new melody is introduced simultaneously in the right. If the final version alone were introduced, it could easily be overwhelming, but having worked on key elements in stages, students have a head start and find this final version very familiar. Yet even the easiest version of the prelude can stand alone as a very satisfying piece.

From composer, to editor, to publisher, I’ve had the unique advantage of thinking through the project from all perspectives at once.

Outside help

Multiple expert opinions are crucial for a work of this nature. Having served as president of a large piano organization, I am lucky to know many excellent piano instructors, quite a few of whom have looked over my material in depth at various stages. Their experience covers the gamut: specializing in teaching younger children, teaching older children with a focus on performance and competition, teaching at the college level, teaching a wide variety of ages including older adults, and teaching piano pedagogy to future teachers. I am very thankful for their suggestions, enthusiasm, and guidance which has proven extremely helpful.

As an educator myself I’ve had the most essential resource of all. Students. Working with students of different ages, with a variety of personalities, and seeing how they approach and respond to my compositions has been invaluable. The music of Piano Revealed has been heavily shaped and refined in response to these observations.

Who is Piano Revealed for?

Though it’s not filled with goofy pictures, this method is designed to appeal to adults and children alike. Older children and some adults are likely to move more quickly through the first book, while younger children typically benefit from a casual pace. Children at a reading age will do best. The cognitive stage when children can readily attach meaning to abstract symbols is necessary for both fluently reading words, and for reading music. What age is this? It depends on the child. Some are ready at 5 or 6, but 7 or 8 is more common. Piano methods designed for pre-literate children exist, but these require teachers with very specific knowledge and skills.

Preschool age children benefit immensely from group music classes, such as Orff, Kodály, and Dalcroze. These programs focus on music skills which come naturally at the preschool age: improvisation, creativity, ensembles, singing, physical movement, and musical kinaesthetics. They build an ideal foundation on which to continue with more focused private lessons.

What will Piano Revealed offer piano teachers?

Experienced piano teachers often use specific methods which match their teaching style. While I do hope teachers will explore Piano Revealed as a potential method to include in their teaching, I can understand that many have built curriculum around specific books which they’ve happily adapted to.

However, piano teachers are always looking for supplemental material: music at a certain level, music featuring a certain technique, tonality, meter, etc. Piano Revealed offers a rich diversity of pieces based on less common scales, all 7 modes (used more than once), unusual meters, and so on. Since musical quality and general appeal are paramount in Piano Revealed, the pieces are also ideally suited for Recitals. A teacher might assign a Piano Revealed book as a “recital book” to accompany an existing method book. Also, every piece in the series was composed in the 21st century, by a living composer, so this music is well suited for competitions or auditions when a modern work is required.

For students needing sight reading material, Piano Revealed offers a large quantity of music at every skill level, from absolute beginner to intermediate. Since the music is designed to be interesting and engaging, sight reading it should be a joy rather than a chore. Although a warning: if used as sight reading material, students may be tempted to play pieces repeatedly…

Music education background

Though music composition is my specialty, I have taught piano for about 20 years to students from age 4, up to students in their 80s. I have taught music composition for almost as long. When I was in my early 20s teaching full time, it became apparent that piano lessons were financially out of reach of most families. This reality bothered me more over time, and lead to an interest in classroom music education.

Once I had kids of my own, I started teaching preschool music classes on a volunteer basis, then professionally on the side. Like many elementary schools in the US, the school my children started at had no music program. So, I began volunteering there, teaching a variety of classes and ages, and occasionally taught at other schools as well. For a while I taught professionally in the classroom, developed my own curriculum, taught the science of sound, music appreciation, and built my own instruments designed to teach children to read music. My system of “PipeBells” was successfully taught to hundreds of kids from 2nd grade through middle school, and I plan to expand and refine this program down the road. But I’ve still wished more people had the opportunity to learn the art of piano.

Pipebells

Videos

I am producing performance videos of Piano Revealed showing fingers on the piano as sheet music scrolls by. In addition to everything outlined here, I intend to create similar videos for every piece in the book, along with brief tutorial videos offering practice tips and suggestions. This way an adult learning on their own, or perhaps a family unable to afford lessons, can work their way through the books, referring to the videos for further assistance.

Private lessons are still highly recommended if at all possible, as it’s all too easy to inadvertently develop bad habits, gloss over subtleties, and lose motivation. But with determination, it is my hope that this might open a door to some who otherwise might never have the opportunity to learn piano deeply.

Producing enough videos to cover the entire series will take a substantial amount of time, so it’s not in the scope of this Kickstarter campaign. However, as soon as the books are complete, I plan to dive into the videos, starting with book one. My goal is to stay a step ahead of student beginning in the series.

Why a CD?

The Piano Revealed CD will be an album designed to stand on its own musical merit. It isn’t meant as a teaching tool or a resource for students to learn from. The music from the 7 book series will be made available on YouTube along with tutorials to aid students. Instead, the CD will contain a selection of pieces from the series, presented purely for listening pleasure. The music from Piano Revealed, while often very simple, is not intended as music for the sake of learning, but music for music’s sake, while also serving the purpose of learning. My hope is that audiences will enjoy this music as much as the students who learn it.

Why the rainbow piano theme in the cover design?

This is a nod to Isaac Newton, who famously named the order and number of colors of the rainbow we most often use today, ROYGBIV. He originally cited 6 colors rather than 7, but later added the 7th in part because of his mystic leanings. There were 7 days in a week, 7 planets (known then), and 7 notes in a musical scale (common in western music), so like the ancient Greeks, he figured there must be some divine connection between these things, and perhaps since his own eyes weren’t great at distinguishing color, there must actually be 7 colors of the rainbow.

Other publication

Several Piano Revealed pieces are currently available on SuperScore, an iPad app which fluidly follows and advances sheet music while students play. Once Piano Revealed is released, more pieces are planned for SuperScore.

About Nathan Shirley

Classical composer & pianist Nathan Shirley has received one national and six international awards for his solo, chamber, and orchestral compositions. As a teenager he studied composition with Olga Harris, the last student of Khachaturian. Nathan Shirley has performed his original works on both coasts of the US and in Europe, and his music has been performed in over a dozen countries around the world. It is available on CD, DVD, and online. He is a former president of the Asheville Piano Forum. Browse NathanShirley.com for more information and music.