Walter Carroll

Professor Tech 1 – 12 Studies for Piano by Walter Carroll

Welcome to Professor Tech! This is your weekly dive into all things piano technique!

It is no secret to friends and colleagues that I have an unhealthy obsession with sheet music collecting. In my travels, I have garnered some amazing contacts within libraries all over the world and I have met some truly inspirational people who have the same compulsion. In this department, sites like Ebay have been a ‘best friend’; I have found it without equal when searching for some diamonds. Then, of course, there is IMSLP. No words can be said about such a website other than ‘necessary’, ‘brilliant’, and ‘jaw dropping’. It is through websites such as these that one begins to realise just how much piano music has been published over the last 200 years and how much has been overlooked.

Which brings me to Walter Carroll.

Carroll (4 July 1869 – 9 October 1955) was an English organist, composer, lecturer, and pedagogue. Much like composer Stephen Heller, he is best remembered for his charming piano pieces for the student pianist. He began his professional life in accounting/office administration before pursuing his undergraduate and postgraduate music studies. He performed as a church organist, church composer, and studied advanced theory with Henri Hiles, himself a leading music educator and Oxford scholar.

In Australia, Walter Carroll isn’t totally unknown. His music has featured in our exam syllabus publications for many years and his descriptive piano suites ‘River and Rainbow’ and ‘Sea Idylls’ are still to be found in most piano teacher collections. His pieces suit levels including elementary, late intermediate, and early advanced. The pieces are always descriptive and programmatic and he often provides student pianists with titles that aid in the process of learning.

The 12 Studies for Piano –

Some years ago, whilst in Katoomba, New South Wales, I was fortunate enough to have some time off from recording my first Miriam Hyde Complete Works CD and spent the day going through many of the antique stores across the Blue Mountains. If any of you get the chance to visit the Blue Mountains, your days can easily be occupied with curio-hunting of the most fascinating kind. I had known of the store Mr. Pickwicks via Ebay. Over the years, I have purchased many secondhand scores from them. Their sheet music collection is massive and is housed in the basement of the building. It was here that I decided to spend an enormously large amount of money on a pile of scores. Amongst those pieces was the Forsyth Edition of the Twelve Studies for Piano by Carroll. I can remember flicking through the score then and singing the melodies in my head. I was immediately interested in the harmonic language of a few of the studies. Then there was piqued curiosity at Carroll’s use of a range of time signatures. He starts with the simplicity of 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 before using complex signatures such as 6/8, 9/8, and *gasp* 4/8. I figured I had a good find on my hands…

Moving forward, I have used these studies A LOT in my studio – they do deserve much wider recognition. For the majority of my intermediate students, they are drawn to the soundscape that Carroll utilises for all 12 works. They do not contain difficult key signatures and are not excessively speedy with their metronome markings. Particular favourites are Study No. 4 and Study No. 5. Students tell me how easy the studies sit within the hands and how the arpeggios feel ‘easy’ to play after a while. The magic of some of these etudes is that they SOUND more difficult than they actually are. Let’s take a closer look…


Carroll Intro

I just love an edition that comes with composer notes! These days, it is still a rare thing in a lot of new music publications. Carroll gives detailed notes concerning each study within the collection. The instructions are concise and contain definitions of terms and aural guides for students as they learn. These notes are a blessing for any piano teacher. I take all composer-notes on board in my teaching, even though I prefer to take some of these studies a little faster than asked. Interpretation wise, they’re invaluable additions to any printed score. The following brief glimpse of each piece comes with ‘focus for the student’ and ‘focus for the teacher’ notes underneath. The ‘focus for each student’ is the immediate challenge of the piece. The ‘focus for the teachers’ concerns the challenges which may slip ‘under the radar’ as the student is learning.

Study No. 1 “At a moderate pace” – G Major

Carroll 1

Focus for the student:

– Mezzo Staccato,
– Two Note Slurs,
– Melody Notes in Weaker Fingers,
– Loose Arm/Shoulder Playing

Focus for the teacher:

– Tone. As Carroll states “through looseness and listening, we achieve a beautiful tone”.
– Shape of a 6th (especially as a precursor to octave work).
– Ideal piece for introducing large intervals for small hands.
– Introducing advanced chord playing (the intervals are a form of mixed, blocked broken chords in 6ths).
– Tension observation in weaker fingers (a main focus within all intervalic playing)

I have asked an advanced student to play this piece with the mezzo staccato removed and to be played only legato – this helped with the melody projection and also targeted more advanced techniques. This method is, however, problematic for small hands. It is much easier to perform when students are shown how to move a loose arm in the direction of the next 6th, rather than just using ‘fingers’. This study is about shape of the 6ths as much as it is about looseness of the arms.

Grade: AMEB 2-3, SMP Level 3

Study No. 2 “Rather Quick” – C Major

Carroll 2

Focus for the student:

– Cultivation of wrist staccato.
– No pedal unless marked (the last 6 bars)

Focus for the teacher:

– Wrist suppleness
– Flexibility
– Projection of melody in outer fingers (interval balance) in harmonic intervals/chords
– Dynamic control (leggiero playing required rather than bombastic or ‘banging’ approach)
– Tone colour in short crescendo and diminuendo passages

Grade: AMEB Grade 2, SMP Level 2/3

Study No. 3 ‘Graceful, and rather quick’ – C Major

Carroll 3

Focus for the student:

– Arm Crossing
– Chords
– Tone Colour

Focus for the teacher:

– Loose arms
– Chord shape
– Dynamic control
– Pre-planning and opportunity to introduce theory to help with memorisation (simple chord analysis. Chord I, IV, V, transitions to relative minor, V of Minor)
– Pedalling/Special Effects

Grade: AMEB Grade 2, SMP Level 2/3

Study No. 4: ‘Flowing and Ebbing’ – D minor

Carroll 4

Focus for the student:

– Phrasing
– Melody between the hands

Focus for the teacher:

– Creating the ‘ebb and flow’ soundscape
– Movement (climax points in melody. The ‘up and down’)
– Carroll states that there is something ‘of the sea’ in this piece and should be imagined as such to help with the pushing and pulling of the waves
– Touch and release correctly in phrasing
– Arm movement and weight

Grade: AMEB grade 2, SMP Level 2

Study No. 5 ‘Rippling’: E Minor

Carroll 5

Focus for the student:

– Hand rotary movement
– Finger touch/Control
– Exactness, smoothness, evenness in tone
– Broken Chords

Focus for the teacher:

– Chord blocking
– Articulation changes
– Pedalling
– Buiding speed, agility
– Non-exaggerated movement/neatness

Study No. 6 ‘Crisp’ – A Minor

Carroll 6

Focus for the student:

– Staccato intervals
– Forearm staccato
– Speed with alternating hands

Focus for the teacher:

– Chord blocking
– Displaced chordal playing
– Accenting
– Alternating chords/hands
– Evenness and control at high speed
– Dynamic shading

Grade: AMEB Grade 4, SMP Level 3/4

Study No. 7 ‘Dim and restful’  – C Major

Carroll 7

Focus for the student:

– Melody and Accompaniment
– Arpeggios/Intervals

Focus for the teacher:

– Balance/Aural Acuity
– Left hand stretches
– Pedalling
– Mixed articulation
– Loose arms/Projection

Grade: AMEB Grade 3-4, SMP Level 3/4

Study No. 8 ‘Swift’ – D minor

Carroll 8

Focus for the student:

– Melody and Accompaniment
– Viruosity (finger work)
– Balance

Focus for the teacher:

– Broken Chords
– Arpeggios
– Phrasing/mixed articulations (left hand)
– Low fingers/Close to keys
– Relaxation of arm but controlled
– Evenness
– Longer lines/phrase work/singing

Grade: AMEB 4/5 SMP Level 4/5

Study No. 9 ‘Leisurely’ – G Major

Carroll 9

This is, perhaps, the most difficult of all the studies for two reasons:

  1. The chromaticism (namely the use of intervals of a second) make it hard to grasp the key ‘aurally’
  2. The soundscape and constantly changing formations make it difficult to sound ‘leisurely’.

Focus for the student:

– Control
– Accuracy
– Co-ordination between the hands

Focus for the teacher:

– Harmonic dissection and investigation (revealing the melodic material for the less aurally advanced student by way of removing chromaticism)
– Phrasing, specifically, execution of complex two-note slur patterns
– Pedalling (specifically to avoid harmonic ‘clashes’)
– Swift arm movement/Pre-planning gymnastically

Grade: AMEB Grade 5, SMP Level 4/5

Study No. 10 ‘Fairly Fast’ – E Flat Major

Carroll 10

Focus for the student:

– Rhythm and variations on upbeats
– Left hand melody
– Alternating hands/Speed
– Co-ordination

Focus for the teacher:

– Stability and control
– Variety of articulation
– Demisemiquaver
– Melody and accompaniment between the hands
– Balance
– Virtuosity in broken chords

Grade: AMEB Grade 5, SMP Level 4/5

Study No. 11 ‘Rather Slow’ – A Flat Major

Carroll 11

Focus for the student:

– 9/8 time signature
– Scale playing
– Melody and Accompaniment
Focus for the teacher:

– Legato interval playing
– Chordal melody playing (outer fingers)
– Cantabile playing

Grade: AMEB Grade 4, SMP Level 4

Study No. 12 ‘Full of Life’ – C Major

Carroll 12

The final study is similar to study three but in a broken chord fashion. The considerable virtuosity required for this study and the large coverage of the keyboard, make for a big finish of the full set. It is, however, not as difficult as some of the previous studies.

Focus for the student:

– Rapidity and control
– Arpeggios
– Free arm movement

Focus for the teacher:

– Block chord practice methods
– Pre-planning of hands for rapid crossing
– Posture for freedom of movement (arms)
– Carroll refers to a ‘good teacher’ being able to help the student recognise the sequences within the formation of broken chords/arpeggios

Grade: AMEB Grade 4, SMP Level 4

Professor Tech says:

In reality, these studies really are not beyond the grade 2/3 student. Musically, a lot of care needs to be taken to perform them convincingly, especially with the instability of No. 9. From a technical standpoint, there is a lot of ground covered in this collection. For me, personally, the appeal is the harmonic language of the studies. With these 12 pieces, we escape the dryness of a lot of technical work which is common at this level. The excitement that composers like Czerny, Clementi, and Bertini, bring with their studies really only appears in their more advanced pieces. I enjoy the fact that there is a lot of pedal usage in this collection. That, in and of itself, is an appealing aspect of these compositions.

I would definitely recommend this collection for any teacher library. Here, in Australia, we have an ‘extra list’ option on our piano exam syllabus. Students are able to choose pieces on or off the syllabus. As such, these studies would be perfect for inclusion in exam repertoire. The beauty of these small pieces is that they can double as stand alone compositions, aside from being under the title of ‘study’. If there was any criticism, it is that Carroll might have used the title ‘prelude’ or ‘song without words’ for some of these. Also, some of them could be played slightly faster than noted. However, that’s all purely subjective.

Professor Tech Rating:
Professor Tech Rating 5-5

This collection of studies is still available. You can purchase it from the following website:

Now, get back to practice!

Prof. Tech