Me and my piano


I do not remember starting piano lessons although there are two dusty certificates somewhere in a box of papers to prove I passed my grade 1 and 2 piano examinations and for many years I spent hours at the piano learning, arranging and composing music.

The years of piano lessons with Mr. Roberts at the Lyceum on a Saturday morning was by far the longest period of formal instrumental training I ever had. Even during this time I was performing with bands as a percussionist but my parents found it very difficult to source a tutor for these instruments and it was much more straightforward to have piano lessons. After the initial foray into the first grades my piano teacher and I had a good discussion as to what I wanted from the piano and we decided to play music. Guided by Mr. Roberts we said goodbye to the exam syllabus and hello to Beethoven, Chopin, Bach, Debussy, Bartok…

I studied percussion at College and continued to use the piano as a prop for arranging and composition until I found that the music was coming to me so fast that I did not have time to try it out at the keyboard and I had to trust my memory for chords, intervals and melodies. This freedom from the instrument allowed me to think of different ways to approach these musical building blocks as well as writing with more consideration for the actual instrument that would be performing the music.

I now use whatever method is the most useful to compose, ideas still arrive and I often jot them down in my music sketch book, sometimes the studio is more appropriate for creating the sounds required and I have returned to the piano. No longer afraid it will make the music sound too pianistic, it is now just another tool for the creation of music and sometimes it is fun to play as well.

Traditional Christmas is an easy collection of music arranged and composed for piano or keyboard especially with the beginner in mind.

Download the PDF from for £1.08p or for $1.20

Traditional_Christmas© Peter R. Birkby 2017

Posted in Instrumental teaching, Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drummers are percussionists too


Well into the teaching term now and already some of the drum pupils are asking about when they will be playing percussion again. Introducing the sounds of percussion into the drum lessons has inspired most of the students to consider the possibility of creating different timbres from instruments and listening to music from other cultures. This is all achieved by using hand percussion instruments and showing them ways to produce consistent sounds rather than just letting them ‘have a go’ as is often the case with the percussion trolley.

Limited resources in most schools means that most of the students will not be able to try timpani or tuned percussion, although some whole class teaching now uses glockenspiels, but much of this is taught in isolation. Ideally whole class percussion would have a mix of pitched and unpitched instruments to work with to facilitate a percussion ensemble rather than the narrow experience of a bells band, samba group or djembe circle.

Drums working with percussion and visa versa is an important introduction to the concept of working with others in band situations and my students that gain experience playing in bands progress much quicker than those that work on their own. As a band usually has one drummer, and drums as a study area is becoming more popular, sharing the chair and adding percussion at other times is a way to give more players this ensemble experience and some teaching of how to play the percussion instruments properly will make this experience far more rewarding.

With this in mind I have collected together my six ‘percussion for beginners’ titles for the novice percussionist. All my most recent music is now published online at with 60 titles and growing.

The six titles cover simple, basic, rhythm reading with special dispensation for early technique limitations and instrument availability. The tuned percussion parts could be performed on any two from glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, tubular bells or marimba, even piano at a push, only two timpani are needed (no pedals required and kit tom toms could be substituted as a start) and the rhythm quartets can be performed on the drums from a separated kit, using the body, with hand percussion instruments or any mix of the above.

The six titles are:

Four sessions for hand percussion

Dozens of Duets for Timpani and Drum Book 1

Four sessions for tuned percussion

Dozens of Duets for Keyboard Percussion Book 1

Dozens of Duets for Drums Book 1

Rhythm Quartets Book 2

These six downloads contain over sixty-six different works for percussion and all for less than £6.00 including taxes.

Introducing the whole family of percussion to drummers can open up their imagination to many musical possibilities and I hope you find time for this during your lessons.

© P.R.Birkby 2017

Posted in Instrumental teaching, Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

We are family 

Sometimes it is too hard to explain, better to go with the flow, so I’ll just say ‘thank you’ for everything.

Posted in Music Composition and Performance | Leave a comment

Life and Creative Life

IMG_5173Just noticed that fruit is far more plentiful at the moment and it is over two months since I posted anything although to me it seems like last week. Apologies to any followers, you have probably now found a more productive blogger, and I will try to keep going in this new phase post PhD, post musical and post post.

I have been getting to the end of the academic year with exams, reports and celebrations of musical progress. After Pioneer the Rotherham Musical, with the musical direction and performances, it was difficult to return to my usual life of only composing, teaching, performing and assessing. Now I am back and hope to tell many people about the whole process of putting the musical together at the music and drama education expo in Manchester on the 4th of October, website is

As well as this the Dozens of Duets series is growing with the Dozens of Duets for Brass Book 1 priced in £.

Dozens of Duets for Keyboard Percussion Book 3 in £ or in $.

Solo publications are Seven Sounds for percussion soloist (3 timpani, tom tom and suspended cymbals) in £ or in $ and four arrangements with piano accompaniment for keyboard percussion instruments Solos for percussion in £ or in $.

I will try and be more regular with my posts, I have saved many articles to read and hopefully discuss in future blogs, although sometimes life just gets in the way.  Need to tell you about the new body percussion compositions I have been trying out with 300+ students, the Kenton band I have been performing with or the composers collective that has been rehearsing…

© P.R.Birkby 2017

Posted in Instrumental teaching, Music and Enterprise, Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Long and Winding (and Enjoyable) Creative Road


IMG_4602Last year I had the idea for Dozens of Duets and started to compose some new music and in no time I had approximately eighty works to include in the series of books. This first part of the process was interesting and enjoyable, creating new music and revisiting compositions from the nearly forgotten past, all with the purpose of including them in the collections.

The second part of the process, the reviewing, assessing and grading of the music to put with similar standard others, took much longer. The collection had grown to ninety six works and each of these needed to be judged for inclusion in books ranging from: Book 1 very easy to Book 8 recital music and most points in between with more emphasis on the easy repertoire.

The original plan was to compose a series of books of duets for most instruments, similar to the Study Suite for… book that has been used in music departments as standardisation repertoire, but this soon transformed into collections that are more instrument specific. The more the music became targeted to individual instruments then more music was composed and the database of music is now into the hundred and twenties and I have only published five from twenty planned Book 1s and one of the Book 2s. If everything goes to plan there would eventually be eight books of twelve duets written for twenty different instruments, six down one hundred and fifty four to go.

To get a good understanding of how each instrument is taught from basics I have had a number of conversations with expert teachers and in the early books the focus is on which notes and music pupils can relate to and attain during the first part of their journey learning the instrument. In these detailed discussions it was revealing to hear comments about exam systems, with their reliance on playing a major or minor scale in an octave, that do not fully inspire and challenge during these early stages. These discussions have then led to more compositions and the creative process has started again.

The books are published as digital downloads with all the early examples created in a landscape format for the flexibility of on-screen and/or print use and the books now available are:

Dozens of Duets for Bb Clarinet Book 1 or                                  $

Dozens of Duets for Bassoon Book 1 or                                        $

Dozens of Duets for Eb Alto Saxophone Book 1 £ or                $

Dozens of Duets for Recorder Book 1  £ or                                 $ 

Dozens of Duets for Keyboard Percussion Book 1  £ or             $

Dozens of Duets for Keyboard Percussion Book 2  £ or            $

Posted in Inspiration, Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Power of Three


The experience of teaching percussion in junior schools has made me aware of a new Power of Three to add to the already established writing, marketing and religious practices. This Power of Three is the effectiveness of pupil, pupil with teacher grouping (or teaching in pairs) that can be especially beneficial during the first stages of learning a musical instrument.

As Chi-chi Nwanoku explained in her conversation with Yinka Shonibare on the BBC Radio 4 programme Only Artists: musicians are educated, mainly on a one to one basis, to be soloists yet spend most of their time playing with large groups of people in orchestras. Early development of group performance skills can be beneficial for trouble-free integration into ensemble settings and having groups, bands and ensembles that early stage students can be encouraged to join is a necessity to aide musical and instrumental development.

A paper by Germany academics Allan Duarte Manhas and Olga Chindmes published in 2013 Instrumental lessons in pairs: Learning and/by performing together confirms the positive aspects of learning together. The research considered ‘abilities trained in the observed classes included: listening and reacting to each other, starting and finishing together, mutual musical feeling, critical judgment, playing in (and maintaining) the same tempo, technique, improvisation, prima-vista playing (together), duet playing, and working and finding solutions to different tasks together.’ (Manhas and Chindmes 2013)

They concluded that ‘teaching two (or more) students simultaneously is a very positive pedagogical approach, providing innumerable advantages for both students and teachers.’ (Manhas and Chindmes 2013) More current research is needed about this method of teaching and the results from this study have far more advantages than disadvantages to this method of teaching.

As well as a limited amount of research about the subject there are also limited resources so I set about creating more in two ways. One was composing and collecting music for the Dozens of Duets series of books and the other was to encourage the pupils to work together and compose their own works.

The pupils own works have been collected together and shared with all the others that took part in composing this year, they all now have music to perform at school concerts, and the book ones of the Dozens of Duets series are now starting to be published online.

I composed around one hundred pieces of music for the series and have/am adapting all these to work at the right standard with each instrument, Books 1 & 2 being easy/beginners standard leading eventually to Book 8 which will be advanced. Each collection aims to assist in enhancing listening and developing the empathy needed to perform in ensemble settings on each instrument and are being formatted for both screen and print uses.

The books in the series already published are:

Dozens of Duets for Bassoon Book 1

In US letter format

Dozens of Duets for Bb Clarinet Book 1

In A4 format

In US letter format

Dozens of Duets for Keyboard Percussion Book 1

in A4 format

in US letter format

Please have a look at the music by following the links and coming soon are Dozens of Duets for Trumpet, Cornet, Trombone and Violin, Cello, Bass and Oboe, Alto Saxophone and Flute. A musical resource to grow this Power of Three.

© P. R. Birkby 2017


Posted in Instrumental teaching, Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Pioneer – the Rotherham musical. Ambition and reality from a composer’s perspective.


Pioneer – the ambition

To involve as many children as possible in creating and performing a celebration of their home town (during one school year avoiding any busy periods completing the project from start to finish in seven months). The three creative areas to explore were composition/songwriting, drama and dance. The plan was that each school could develop a scene and/or scenes (as practical) that would be put together with others to create a review style production. These scenes would be linked by the story of the main characters. Creative writing was considered although including this would have meant the project could have taken months longer to get to an agreed script stage and this would have put the rest of the project back some months.

Pioneer – team work and collaboration – realising the ambition

The plan was simple, stage the performance of the musical in March 2017 starting from reading the script the previous September. To achieve this goal a team was put together with each member having a number of skills to be able to write, teach and direct during the project. The choice of the right person for the job was key as all the creative and management skills were equally important in fashioning the project that was always biased towards working with the children to achieve a performance. Organising the workload into sections, dividing the script into scenes that could be managed by individual schools, was integral to effectively combining all the parts into one coherent show in a short time period (one day).

Pioneer – calendar of events

Spring 2016 – youth focus group sessions ‘what are your concerns, could these be developed into a musical, what sort of music would it be…?’

June 2016 – Callout to 110 (approx.) schools: junior, secondary and special, would they like to be involved in the project?

August/September 2016 – Script commissioned and written.

September 2016 – Participating schools identified (20 for composition split equally between junior and secondary including SEN) and visits arranged.

September/October 2016 – Introductory composition/songwriting sessions in schools, links made to drama/performing arts tutors.

November 2016 – Second composition visit with ideas recorded/photographed.

December 2016 – Timetable of drama and dance visits circulated to schools.

December 2016/January 2017 – composition of the music using ideas transcribed/arranged from school visits plus creating other music not covered by the schools. Demo recordings produced with vocal guides of the complete musical including incidental music and sound effects.

January to March 2017 – Drama and dance visits to schools, professional cast rehearsal sessions, choir rehearsals, orchestra call, youth brass band rehearsals, stage, sound and lighting equipment identified and ordered.

March 28th 2017 – Technical rehearsal day with cast, musicians, dancers, choir…

March 29th 2017 – Dress rehearsal and first show (including feeding everyone between shows).

March 30th 2017 – Matinee and evening shows (plus food again).


At each school I visited it was clearly stated that two year groups would not take part the Year 6 and Year 11 cohorts. The main reason for this was that nothing should distract them from the year of work leading to their examinations and tests, I was told that nothing they composed would be suitable for GCSE and having three afternoons of drama and three days of shows would be too disruptive in the year of SATs.

One major difficulty from some schools, that only became evident at the time of the performances at Magna, was having enough staff to accompany the pupils for three days out of school. Some schools dropped out very close to the final shows because of lack of staff and/or lack of time for rehearsal of the project. Extra projects, like plays/musicals, generally rely on the enthusiasm and dedication of a few, and in many cases only one, member(s) of staff in school and if circumstances change for that individual or few then it is the extra work that is often abandoned in favour of the curriculum.


Approximately five hundred pupils were involved in this project, from Year 3 to Year 12 in mainstream and SEN schools, working with professionals to create a unique and memorable work of theatre. Two sold out shows to a paying audience who were very appreciative and a video of the performance are testament to this. The project offered opportunities, with no auditions or prerequisites, for a once in a lifetime experience to many of the participants. If it inspires some students to progress into enjoying music, theatre and/or dance in the future it will be more of an achievement but at the moment this is too early to measure.


And finally

Would I do this again? Yes. Working with a good team all focussed on bringing the musical to life with a professional approach was inspiring. Seeing and hearing the performances from everyone involved was excellent and it was an experience that many of the children will remember into their adult lives (I still remember my first performance on a real stage at Oldham Lyceum Theatre, age 7, with Princess Margaret in the audience). I visited schools in the many diverse areas of the Borough and all the pupils that I saw were engaged with the project and created interesting and memorable ideas. On a personal note I also found tasty coffee in every area I travelled through, much needed at the time.

© P.R.Birkby 2017

Posted in Music Composition and Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment