I’ve been reading Joan Last’s The Young Pianist (first published 1954, Oxford) – not from beginning to end, but in bits and pieces. The chapter on interpretation offers many very good, helpful points about music in general, playing the piano in particular, and hints for the teacher. Talking about tonal control, she says, in a classic English understatement:
“Contrapuntal music is the best practice of all for independence of tone control. The two-part inventions of Bach are ideal, but these cannot usually be tackled during the first year or two. “
Thankfully, we have many linear pieces that we can use to teach this independence of line and control of tone. The inventions in the early RCM books are linear. One Canadian composer whose music sometimes appears in these books is Pierre Gallant. He has written a book of elementary-intermediate pieces titled Imitations and Inventions (Frederick Harris) that I quite like.
Contrapuntal writing is the focus of the Artistry at the Piano method and Jon George’s Patterns for Piano. These are beautifully melodic pieces, much more satisfying and interesting than something like Kunz’s Canons.
Also friendly for the young student are Katherine Beard’s Do What I Do canons. These are short canons in the major and minor 5-finger positions with the pentascale and broken triad written out at the top of each page. These do double duty – teaching linear music in all the different keys. There are cute, simple illustrations and a sentence of lyrics in each piece.
Then there is the master himself who has left us many teaching pieces. In the past couple of years I have started relying less on just the Repertoire books for our exam systems, and more on the books from which these pieces first came, such as Bach’s Anna Magdalena book and Eighteen Little Preludes. I’ve just started using Bartok’s Mikrokosmos (book 2) with a couple of students. These accomplish the same things while opening up the student’s ears to 20th Century sounds.
Many composers have one or two contrapuntal pieces in their collections – the ones I’ve mentioned are books that are all contrapuntal. I love “discovering” music that is new or new to me, and surely my students are benefiting from this.