As a piano teacher of over 9 years, the question I continually receive from my friends is, “What piano books are best for me to teach my kids with?”
Perhaps this question arises because I am mostly friends with homeschooling, DIY moms like myself. Instead of paying someone to teach our kids piano, we’d rather figure out a way to do it ourselves.
My biggest advice, even for those who are already piano teachers, is this: different kids should use different book series. Period. There is no, “best method”, unless you decide to only teach one type of kid. I have made it my mission to never turn down any kid of any learning ability, regardless of their age.
For this reason, over the course of 9 years of teaching in over 3 major cities (LA, Dallas, and SLO), I have arrived at a short list of what I believe to be the best books for each age group.
Note: I am not sponsored for any of this. As a piano teacher/mom, I am just trying to help other moms out 🙂
Music for Little Mozarts— Most people are shocked when I say that 3 and 4 year olds can learn to play the piano! We just cannot expect the same attention span and learning style as older kids. But they can. Honestly. This little book color codes all of the keys on the piano, instead of making the kid draw letters or numbers. By the end of Level One, they have graduated from using the black keys to the white keys, even mastering quarter notes and half notes. By the end of Level Two, they are even reading a little bit of actual sheet music!
The whole series of 4 Levels is great. The best ones are the Lesson and Workbooks, but the Discovery Books are great if you’re a mom who likes to sing and teach the kids fun songs to go along with what they’re learning. I was actually able to adapt the Discovery Book to create lessons plans for a Kinder-Music class one year!
This series, Alfred’s Prep Course, follows after Music For Little Mozarts. It is the most universal series for kids in Kindergarten through 2nd grade. It can go a bit slow for some kids, however, so I don’t always use it. But it covers all the basics in a fun engaging way, with pictures that are reminiscent of old fashioned Winnie the Pooh.
If they need more of a challenge, John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course works well. It moves a lot faster, but I’ve still made it work for 4 year olds and 7 year olds alike! The illustrated alien characters are a weird touch, but the kids like them 🙂
Once again, Alfred’s Basic Piano Course is the most universal. 9 times out of 10, if the kid is just beginning piano at age 6 or 7, I put them in this book. The criticism it receives (both from me and other piano teachers), is that kids get too comfortable just playing in one or two hand positions. They don’t view notes on the whole, and can only think of them in terms of what finger number plays them in what hand position. By the end of Level 1A, I make sure to bring in supplemental sheet music in a variety of hand positions so as to encourage them to grow “outside the box”.
And if I meet the kid and he/she would be better in something harder (why I always do a “meet and greet” before buying books for the child), I use John Schaum’s course. Pre A (the one pictured) is great, but the following red book, Level A, is a terrible choice. I’ve had so many frustrated students in Level A, so many that I’ve stopped using it altogether. All of a sudden, without warning, it jumps up to some really hard stuff, like asking the kid to play in the key of E flat major! After just a few months of piano, most kids will not feel ready for that kind of jump, and when kids get frustrated, they quit.
I absolutely love the Accelerated Piano Adventures by Faber. It has become my new favorite “go to” book for Ages 8 and up. The songs are fun, the lessons are well timed, never too difficult but always engaging, and they start encouraging students to write their OWN music, using the chord progressions provided!
If the student is a brand new beginning and isn’t so sure about piano, I just go with Alfred’s Later Beginning Series. It’s basically the same thing as Alfred’s Basic Piano Series (up above), but combined together to go faster.
I’ve only taught 3-4 adults over my time, and they usually have already had lessons but forgot it all. But if they haven’t learned anything yet, I’ve used this book as a comprehensive, all in one. Be ready to supplement though, because some of the tunes can be a bit dull. But it gets the job done!
Supplemental (all ages):
Every piano teacher has a good supplemental library for their kids, depending on their needs. John Schaum’s Notespeller is my absolute favorite, hands down. If a kid is struggling with their notes, I copy pages from this or make them buy it. It is by far the best way to drill memorization of notes, AND it’s been around for decades. Tried and true.
For the little guys, this “Color By Note” book works for memorization!
Hanon is the piano leader in finger exercises and drills. Playing these is like lifting weights at the gym for your piano playing.
If I’ve identified that my student wants to branch out a bit in the world of jazz, this is always my first go-to book. The songs are SO fun, and also a little challenging. An intermediate student might find them too easy, however.
If I am finding a classical song for one of my beginning students, I check Keith Snell’s Books first. He has lots of different arrangements, and a series of around 40 books to choose from– everything from Early Romantic, to Baroque and Classical. ANY level could find a book that worked for them as a supplement.
For the more serious students, I always go back to my trusty Bastien series that I worked on as a child. Volume Three (pictured) is my favorite, since it houses the classical songs that every kid wants to play, like “Fur Elise” and “Solfriegetto”.
Last but not least, there is David Lanz– my muse. I idolized him as a child. Go look up some of his songs on Youtube– you’ll cry. Every kid wants to play songs from this book, and they make good recital pieces! They vary from super fast and hard to slow and sweet.
If you have any questions about any other book, feel free to ask!
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