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A Review of “Scales and Chords for the Beginner Pianist”

Stephen van der Hoek. Scales and Chords for the Beginner Pianist.
Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press, 2020.
37 pages. $8.99, paperback.

Australian Lutheran pastor Stephen van der Hoek recently published Scales and Chords for the Beginner Pianist, inspired by his use of Book 1 of The Russian School of Piano Playing. Van der Hoek writes in the introduction that he uses his book as a “companion volume to the Russian Book” but notes that his volume may also be used alone.

The book begins by systematically teaching scales. This section is divided into three parts: “Scales,” “Two Octaves,” and “Hands Together.” The first part begins with the right hand only and the key of C major, building the scale in two parts in order to focus on each of the two hand positions required for playing the scale. The next step isolates the finger crossings, and the final step is to play a one-octave scale. Van der Hoek includes visual cues to help students—bracketing each hand position and circling each cross over—and provides fingering numbers. Students progress to add letter names and solfege syllables to each note in the scale. They then learn a one-octave scale in four additional major keys as well as three minor keys. Van der Hoek utilizes unfilled note-heads to indicate the white keys on the keyboard and filled note-heads to indicate black keys. This approach, along with his choice to beam notes based on hand positions, provide the student continual visual cues as they work to build an understanding of scales and technique. This entire process is repeated with the left hand. The second part, “Two Octaves,” expands each scale to the second octave, giving particular focus to the new finger crossings that occur between the first and second octaves. The final section, “Hands Together,” combines all of these skills using the following sequence: one octave in contrary motion, two octaves in contrary motion, one octave in parallel motion, and two octaves in parallel motion. Students repeat this process for each of the G, D, A, and F major scales as well as A, C, and D minor. As an added bonus, the appendix includes melodic minor scales.

The second portion of the book focuses on chords, explaining the tonic, median, and dominant, and the concept of a triad. Students move quickly into inversions and then play each inversion in succession before moving into broken chords. Visual cues used in the first half of the book (fingerings, beaming by group, filled-in notes to indicate black or white keys) continue to be a prominent feature. Students continue this chord sequence through the same additional major and minor keys as outlined in the scale section. 

Van der Hoek’s unique approach of using visual cues to help students correctly learn scales and chords provides a good option for teachers who wish to introduce these skills to their youngest students. While this book does not go through every key, it lays a foundation that allows the system to be applied to other keys. Teachers may wish to go through this book in order, but it would also be possible to use one specific portion of the book or alter the sequence, perhaps going through right hand and then left hand in a single key rather than learning all eight keys in the right hand before moving on to other keys. In this way, the book can be a great resource for teachers, who can tailor it to fit their own teaching style and the specific needs of their student. 

Emily Woock

Music Director, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Elmhurst, Illinois