I’ve had a few messages recently asking for my advice on where to look for help on playing for ballet class, so it seemed like a good time to do a page on the subject. Please add your own suggestions in the comments. This isn’t a comprehensive review of what’s out there, it’s what I know, and a lot of it is stuff that I compiled myself. If you search for “ballet class sheet music” on the web, you’ll find links to loads of sites where people sell collections of improvisations/compositions for class. The lists below are to collections of music from the concert or ballet repertoire that are suitable for class.
Playing for ballet class is a bit like catering for a multi-faith wedding with food allergies: the suggestions below are the knives, chopping boards, saucepans and staples. Improvising and bringing in tunes that have local relevance or currency are ingredients.
Playing for ballet class: resources on this site:
A year of ballet playing cards: This is a growing list (which will eventually grow to 52 pieces) of free, downloadable music for class, with sometimes lengthy explanations and illustrations. Although the list is only about half-complete so far, there’s almost enough in there for a class already.
Tips for ballet pianists: Not all the links here have music suggestions, but many do, these in particular:
- Have a repertoire of weird stuff
- Get yourself a fiddle book
- Stock up on quadrilles
- For “waltz” read “mazurka” in pirouettes
Playing for ballet class: Anthologies of music and guidebooks
- Air de Ballet, a page by Ethan Iverson. A guide to 19th century piano repertoire that is suitable for ballet class, richly illustrated with scores and audio recordings. Iverson was formerly music director for Mark Morris’s dance company, so he really knows his stuff. My favourite creative tip from this page is the idea of improvising Czerny-esque etudes over the chord sequences of jazz standards (listen to his recording of Ain’t Misbehavin’ for an example).
- Russian Ballet Technique, As Taught, by Alexis Kosloff. [free, online] It was published in 1921, but nearly 100 years later, there’s plenty in there that hasn’t changed. The link is to my blog entry on the book, which links to the online file.
- Anthologies of music for ballet classes from balletmusic.narod.ru [online, free] Published collections of music for ballet classes scanned as pdfs. The site’s in Russian, but use Google translate to see what’s there if you’re not a Russian-speaker.
- A Dance Class Anthology (Royal Academy of Dance, 2005). I edited this book of 50+ pieces for class that was designed to get you out of most ballet class problems. It’s been out of print for a long time, but is now available again from the RAD Enterprises store. It matches exactly the Studio Series 3 album. If you want to preview tracks, you can do so at CDBaby
- Syllabus books of the Royal Academy of Dance. I helped to compile and edit these books since 2007. The Vocational Graded syllabi in particular (Intermediate Foundation, Intermediate, Advanced Foundation, Advanced 1 and Advanced 2) have dozens of examples of suitable repertoire for class – even if you don’t play what’s in the book, the models will be useful. In the end of these books there is a compilation of music for “free” allegro enchaînements. Putting these together almost completely exhausted my list of suitable classical repertoire.
- Dance and Music, Harriet Cavalli. The first part of the book is a guide for musicians and teachers, the second part is a collection of music for class. The physical format of the book isn’t ideal for a piano, but the material is useful.
- The Ballet Accompanist’s Handbook by Laurence Galian (1989). Not an anthology, but a brief and unpretentious guide to playing for classes that has excellent practical suggestions for where to look for repertoire. I’m incapable of being concise, but if I could be, this is the book I would have written. All good advice in shorty paragraphs.
Suggestions for further reading/listening about playing for ballet class
- Karen McIver’s Art of Class. Karen is one of the leading exponents of improvisation for ballet class, and has taught for nearly 10 years on the renowned course for ballet musicians at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland/Scottish Ballet. In 2020 Karen has also been adding videos about improvisation to her YouTube channel.
- New in early 2020 is the “Ballet Piano Podcast,” a well-planned and structured series of roundtable discussions about playing for class between Chris and Akiko Hobson (pianists), Matt Gregory (dancer and pianist) and David Yow (ballet teacher), all widely experienced professionals in the field. In Series 1, each episode focuses on a single exercise or section of the class, in conventional ballet class order. It’s accessible and interesting to almost anyone—teacher, dancer, pianist, beginner, professional. I like it so much, I’m doing the transcripts for them pro bono.
- Read Confessions of an anxious ballet pianist: This doesn’t have direct links to music, but it covers a lot of the problems of playing for class and selecting a repertoire. Read in connection with the other stuff.
- Read Playing for ballet class: a guide for beginners. I wrote this and other pages about music on website of the Royal Academy of Dance.
- Plunder other people’s tracklists, and listen to the way that other ballet pianists refashion new and old material into class music – there are hundreds of examples out there, but here’s a few partial and partisan suggestions:
- Andrew Holdsworth’s Reimagined for Ballet
- Chris Hobson’s Modern Ballet Studio Melodies.
- Jose Gallastegui (various)
- David Plumpton (various)
- Me: Intuitions albums I made for the RAD (apart from volume 2, which was Martin Cleave).
- Rudy Apffel: Various—Czerny arrangements which are a lot of fun, plus loads of classical repertoire that you don’t often see included on ballet CDs. See his Czerny project website too.