Piano teaching

Why is my Piano Black and White?

Guest review by Rebecca Singerman-Knight

A new book from Nathan Holder takes a wide-ranging and eclectic approach to piano music and other facts about the piano. Primarily aimed at teenagers, there is much in this to appeal to the piano enthusiast of any age.

As well as providing a chronology of the piano and its repertoire, the book contains lively illustrations featuring four characters as well as fun facts, quizzes and jokes throughout. What is perhaps most impressive is the extensive listening recommendations, including links to a number of Spotify playlists.

The book begins with a brief history of the invention of the piano and the types of piano which are available today. It then devotes a brief chapter to each of the main musical periods – classical, romantic, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Each of these chapters opens with a brief list of key historical, scientific and cultural events taking place worldwide during these eras.

These early chapters also introduce a few of the key composers/musicians of these era, including female composers of these eras such as Francesca Lebrun (1756-91), Clara Schumann and Amy Beech. By the time we reach the 21st century a combination of composers and pianists is featured, including Syrian/American composer Malek Jandali and pianists Lang Lang, Yuja Wang and James Rhodes. Some may raise an eyebrow that Martha Argerich does not feature more prominently; however we should remember that the target audience of the book may be more inspired by the younger generation of pianists.

This material covers only the first third of the book. The rest of the book is devoted to the development of different musical styles. Beginning with Ragtime the book charts a course through the various genres of Jazz, as well as Rock and Pop, Hip-Hop, Gospel, Blues, Soul and R&B and concludes with Film, TV and musicals. Most of these chapters feature a number of pianists with a few paragraphs devoted to each. Other genres – such as Hip-Hop and musicals – only feature a list of suggested listening.

As with the earlier chapters devoted to historical periods, the featured musicians are an eclectic combination of the most famous in their genre together with other, perhaps lesser-known, examples including Marian MacPartland, Ahmad Jamal and Hiromi Uehara.

The book concludes with a number of QR codes which can be scanned to take the reader directly to a number of Spotify playlists which showcase the various historical periods and musical genres in the book.

The book is extensive in its coverage and therefore, at less than 200 pages, cannot go into depth about any era or style. This is not to its detriment, however, as the book can be a great springboard for further listening and study in areas of particular interest to the reader. Its format breaks down barriers between “classical” and “pop” music (in the broadest sense of the terms) in that each genre is given equal weight – it may be the only book to feature both Mozart and Snoop Dogg!

This book is recommended – not just for teenagers, its target audience – but for anyone who may want to widen the scope of their listening and discover new genres and musicians.

‘Why Is My Piano Black and White?’ is published by The Why books and is available to pre-order here or from Amazon


Nathan Holder is a musician, author, and consultant based in London. He received his Masters in Music Performance from Kingston University, while winning the MMus Prize for Outstanding Achievement.

As a musician, he has performed with artists such as Ed Sheeran, The Arkells and Zoe Birkett, and performed in locations in Dubai, Bali, USA and across Europe. His first book published in 2018 is called I Wish I Didn’t Quit: Music Lessons.


Rebecca Singerman-Knight is a piano teacher with a popular private practice in SW London. A graduate from the University of Southampton, she holds a PGCE, DipLCM and Cert PTC. She also studied the Kodaly-inspired ‘Dogs and Birds‘ approach in order to specialise in early years’ tuition.

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