How does a piano teacher choose what books to use in lessons?

As piano teachers in Vancouver, WA, we work with children on musicianship skills including technique, sight reading, and ear training, the preparation of recital pieces, and learning new topics and concepts with method book material and supplements. We know every child has different interests, preferences, and skill sets. Every student needs a path forward, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to piano lessons for pre-college children.

Method books improve regularly, and well-known authors like the Fabers have built an outstanding method that gives piano teachers a path to follow so they don't skip any steps. But sometimes, for one reason or another, one of these methods just isn't the right fit for the student. So what happens if the content in the method series isn't the right fit for the young pianist in your family?

That's where a skilled pedagogue comes in. In this blog, we'll discuss graded piano literature, including options outside of method books, and other sources of materials that can supplement the study of piano at an early level. If you're looking for piano lessons in Ridgefield, music theory coaching, or if you need to hire a professional pianist, please get in touch.

Good Piano Teachers Use Methods to Start and Keep Students on a Path

An experienced piano teacher will have a comprehensive knowledge of piano teaching resources for all skill levels, and have an approach for helping the student learn the skills they need to prepare and perform pieces. The best modern piano methods, including Faber Piano Adventures, Alfred Premier, and Bastien New Traditions almost invariably include materials spread across a Lesson, Theory, Performance, and Technique book, or integrate the same materials into an ‘All-in-One' Lesson Book. These methods present materials in a carefully laid out sequence which helps a young student gradually develop the ability to become an independent learner. They serve as a framework for building musicianship and a lifetime enjoyment of music, and present a balanced coverage of topics and skills to ensure students receive well-rounded instruction.

These methods are comprehensive, and present topics and skills in a carefully sequenced manner where each new topic and skill builds on the last. These skills are what empower a student to learn music on their own. An exciting part of the professional piano teacher's role is the select repertoire and supplementary activities that are outside the method to reinforce and expand the content covered in the method. This combination of a method and supplementary activities gives all students the most comprehensive and empowering experience with lessons. A good teacher will build a strong and comprehensive curriculum for your student which combines well-crafted methods with supplementary activities that support what the student is learning in the method, and gives them opportunities to apply what they have already learned independently to learn new music.

Helping Kids Learn Music That Interests Them

Teachers Draw From a Deep Knowledge of Piano Literature

Part of the education of a skilled piano teacher includes the survey of keyboard literature for teaching and performance, often in university classes or through professional development seminars. One comprehensive and authoritative source for the leveling and cataloging of piano music for piano students is the Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature by Jane Magrath. We first encountered this excellent resource as students during our undergraduate degrees, and consult with it to this day. In this book, Dr. Jane Magrath categorically sorts a significant segment of the piano catalog into grades 1-12, from easiest to hardest. A qualified piano teacher will have many pieces on hand suitable for beginners, intermediate pianists, and advanced pianists, and they will be able to assign or recommend repertoire according to the student's needs and desires.

Working With Your Child To Choose Music

A good piano teacher consistently works to keep a student interested while presenting lesson materials that teach new concepts and challenge the student. If a young student starts to lose interest in their method book materials, a teacher can present several different pieces based on their education and experience, demonstrate the pieces or play recordings, and help the student pick a piece that's fun.

Even young pianists can learn music written by the great masters of piano composition, and that makes for a wonderful recital full of compositions by a diverse group of composers from the past and present.

In Jane Magrath's anthology, Grade 1 piano pieces are typically for later beginners in their second and third years of study, and include simple melodies and rhythms, with few hand position changes. Pieces at this level are similar in level and difficulty to the pieces in Bartok's Mikrokosmos Book 1. Grade 2 pieces include more varied rhythms, basic phrasing, and dynamics. At this level, you might encounter pieces like those found in Türk's “Pieces for Beginners”. Grade 3 pieces include selections from Kabalevsky's Album for the Young. The difficulty increases one grade to the next, with level 10 including pieces like Beethoven's Op. 2 No. 1, the easiest Chopin Nocturnes, and Bach's Three-Part Inventions which are sometimes called sinfonias.

In addition to the literature cataloged in Dr. Magrath's guide, which comes mostly from the classical canon, there is an equally important and significant set of literature available for the piano from contemporary pedagogical composers like Jennifer Linn, Dennis Alexander, Mona Rejino, and Philip Kevrin who, among many others, have written music that can be learned even during the first year of lessons. These pieces can serve to reinforce or supplement the pieces in the method, and they can be learned as pieces for recitals and festivals. Possibilities abound with the wonderful music from these great 21st century composers.

Reaching Outside of Typical Piano Literature

If your child loves a particular movie, or if they enjoy a video game series, there may even be melodies from those forms of media that we can transcribe into piano music. Teachers can find a quality transcription of a film score, or they may be able to work together with the student to transcribe it themselves. Teachers can introduce new concepts and techniques with a variety of music, and film scores are often a way to help students genuinely love the piano.

Get Your Child Started in Piano Lessons Today

The piano is an incredibly rewarding instrument, and just 15-30 minutes of practice per day during the early stages of lessons can yield a lifetime of fulfillment as the student becomes an adult. If you would like to learn more about piano lessons in the Vancouver, WA area, please get in touch. We'd love to help you begin or continue your journey with piano!