If you’re a piano teacher looking for the best instruction method for your students, often the amount of beginner books on the market can be quite overwhelming. Especially if you’re relatively new to piano teaching, where do you start?
There’s a lot to worry about when choosing the best beginner piano book for your students, as each book contains different materials, and sometimes it may feel like your students may be missing out on vital information that might not be in the book you’ve chosen.
Obviously we know the basics that we have to teach our students; scales, sight reading, aural training, etc; but which book provides the most engaging and most straightforward method? We all know that most students become disengaged the moment you ask them to practice scales.
Beginner piano books can somewhat mitigate this, by providing a more engaging and more interesting way to learn piano concepts. But as I’ve mentioned, the choice can be huge, with some piano teachers recommending a certain method, and other piano teachers recommending something else.
A little background and how I think you should use these books
I’ve been playing the piano since I was four years old. I successfully completed my bachelors’ in Music at a notable conservatoire, and I taught piano for some time. What I remember distinctly was that when I taught students, I struggled to find a way to keep them interested in the things they didn’t want to do.
Students were very enthused and interested in playing the pieces they had picked out, but totally lost interest when I asked them to practice sight reading or scales. This is something I’m sure will resonate with a lot of teachers reading this; the excuse that “you will need it to develop your technique so you become a better pianist” doesn’t usually fly with five year old kids who want to play the theme from “Frozen” or something.
I’m sure anyone teaching for any length of time has figured this out by now, but it’s worth mentioning here. When you teach the piano, working from any one book does not work. You need not only to have a series of beginner piano books to work from, but you need to be prepared to cultivate your own piano method based on what you believe is most valuable from each individual book.
Just remember that what works for one student, does not necessarily work for another, and you need to be flexible and adaptable when it comes to the learning needs of your students.
That said, I’m going to go through some of what I believe to be the best beginner piano books, based on my experience teaching and my conversations with other piano teachers. However, in my opinion, for any serious piano teacher, it’s probably worth picking up all of these and keeping them for reference, so you can not only get perhaps another perspective on teaching the piano to beginners, but so that you can begin to put your own piano method together based on what you believe is most valuable.
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Finding the best beginner piano book
Below I’ve listed 7 excellent beginner piano books. Most are geared towards children, but there are a few that are intended for older children and adults. Usually, in my reviews, I assign ratings to these products and recommend a winner. I won’t be doing that in this review, because I feel that this is an extremely subjective.
What’s valued highly by one piano teacher isn’t necessarily valued by another, and as a piano teacher it would be unfair to include my biases in this assessment. I strongly suggest trying these books out for yourself, and coming to your own conclusions.
Bear in mind that there are other books out there that you should explore too; I’ve just rounded up what I think are some of the best. This list is in no particular order.
#1: Piano Time by Pauline Hall
A popular series of books in the UK, I’m not sure how widespread this series is, but if you can get hold of it wherever you are it’s definitely worth evaluating. Pauline Hall has written numerous books in this series, including a complete piano course from the very beginning, to seasonal editions such as Piano Time Christmas Carols, which can certainly add a lot of interest to your piano lessons.
I particularly like this book as it’s very appealing to children, its’ presentation being very bright and colourful. What I particularly appreciate are the quiz pages; this will engage a child into answering questions about music theory without realising they are actually studying and learning something, which is always a good thing.
The book isn’t too patronising; you could use this book for quite a wide age range without putting off some of the older students. The book also isn’t too long, which is always brilliant; sometimes this seems like a bit of a marketing scam to get you to buy more books, but in actuality I’ve found when I’m working from a large book with a student they can get disheartened as it seemingly takes forever to get through the book.
Piano Time is an excellent series, that provides progression through various abilities, and should keep a child engaged and interested in learning the piano. However, I had noticed gaps, and it’s best not to just rely on this series. I’ve always found this series works best in tandem with another piano method, to the point where you’re working from two books at the same time from different methods.
Overall, Piano Time is full of good material, and provides a good experience from the very beginning stages up to more intermediate level. Just be aware that there are gaps, and you will want to plug these gaps with material from another method. I always found that this method was most effective in conjunction with another, so my student was working from two books at the same time.
#2: Me and My Piano by Fanny Waterman
This series is probably the UK’s most popular piano method for the beginner pianist. It’s geared towards the very early stages, and takes a child from the absolute beginning (teaching them that the piano has white and black keys, where middle-C is, etc) with colourful and engaging designs and learning methods.
What I will say is that while this book series is very comprehensive, it is focused on the very beginning, and when you’ve finished the book you might find yourself a little stuck as to where you go next. There’s no clear progression past the beginner stages. I suppose most teachers would probably begin to work on another piano method, or perhaps start on piano grades, but for me when I’ve used this book series I’ve always felt that it ends a bit abruptly, and something geared more for intermediate students, or even books of pieces would be much appreciated by teachers.
However, that said, this book does what it does exceptionally well, with word games designed to teach children how to learn notes, and engaging designs and concepts (think of a frog hopping up the keyboard to teach children the concept of octaves, or the “musical rainbow” correlating the colours of the rainbow with different notes of the keyboard). It’s an excellent choice for the total beginner, to the point where you could start using it during the very first lesson.
#3: Alfred’s Basic Piano Prep Course Level A
Again, this series is designed for children at the very beginning of their piano journey. It contains, as you would expect, colourful illustrations and a fresh, bright presentation to keep a child interested. However, one remark I would have to make is that this series is a little drier than the others I’ve mentioned. This is presumably due to the fact that it is a bit older.
The fact remains, however, that the Alfred series is a staple of piano teachers in the US and around the world, and will remain so because it does what it does very well. What I particularly like about the Alfred series is how comprehensive it is. I’ve referred to the prep course here, however, there are four separate series for beginners produced by Alfred.
The series is designed in such a way that you can personalise which books you work from for each student. For example, you can mix and match between the courses based on what you think would be most beneficial to your individual student. This is a real bonus in my view, because a student will get used to the style and presentation of these books, and should you choose to work through any four or five of the twenty or so books produced, it allows for a seamless learning progression.
What’s also great is that the Alfred course includes options for adults and older children. We’ve only spoken about courses for young children so far, but courses for older beginners and adults learning piano are also very important to factor into your teaching; no adult is going to want to learn from a book designed for children. These books operate in a similar way, allowing you to pick and choose from the course based on what you think is most suitable for your student.
#4: Bastien Piano Basics Primer Level
Just like Alfred, the Bastien series of books has been a staple of piano teachers for many years. My first lessons were with the Bastien books; the red series which is designed for beginners aged 4 to 6. There is enough material in this series to keep a student occupied for many, many lessons; right from a total beginner level through to late beginner and beyond.
What I particularly like about this series is that it comes as four separate books; performance, theory, technic and piano. The idea is that the “piano” book is what you work from. On occasion, this book will call on one of the other books for a particular exercise, so you use that particular book and then return to the “piano” book.
This is a good idea, and it allows for a much more complete experience as the publishers aren’t just trying to cram everything into one book.
Naturally, however, this can get a little frustrating. First it’s necessary to convince the parents of your students that they need to buy four separate books rather than just one, and sometimes this can be tricky. And of course, you then have issues with your student having to remember to bring four books to their lesson as opposed to just one, which can get annoying when they forget more than once.
As a teacher having four books can also be a source of frustration; it wastes lesson time to go to another book to try and find the material in question, when they could simply have condensed everything into four systemic progression books, rather than one master book and three supporting books.
Other than this, the presentation is good, if a little dated. The material is excellent, and offers good progression through basic keyboard knowledge, sight reading and learning to play pieces. What I also really appreciate is that the author has made it much easier than usual for a parent to assist their child in practice, even if they are not musical or have never taken music lessons.
The pace set by the book is neither too quick or too slow. It doesn’t whizz through concepts too fast so that nothing sticks, but instead allows enough time for the student to absorb the material through repetition and practice.
#5: Teaching Little Fingers to Play by John Thompson
This is probably one of the best books I’ve come across for teaching note reading. So many of the beginner piano courses that I’ve used leave note-reading as a supplemental concept, and don’t introduce it until the student has a firm grasp of other basic concepts.
The problem with this is that students learn finger positions and don’t learn the stave. This is not conducive to long-term musical progression and likely confuses children more than helps them. I like how this particular book from John Thompson does away with this, and focuses on associating the notes on the keyboard with notes on the stave right from the outset.
However, a big drawback of this particular volume is, for me, the presentation. It is extremely dry, and is predominantly in black-and-white. This doesn’t provide a visually engaging experience for the student and unfortunately, may lead to them becoming bored.
What’s also interesting is that this book doesn’t really focus on other aspects of playing the piano, such as technique or theory. It seems very focused on getting the student to play pieces, which can get a little boring after a while as there is no variance in the lessons if you just get the student to work from this book.
This goes back to what I said earlier regarding working from more than one book; otherwise, if you choose to work from this book, you will find students losing interest. However, this book has worked for students for decades, and as long as your student is engaged through other means, this may not be a problem.
Overall this is a good book, and I have to say how well the note-reading aspect has been implemented, but it is lacking in other areas, and the presentation is not so fresh or attractive to look at. This book is best paired with another book from another series.
#6: Bastien The Older Beginner Piano Course
This is the first book that I’ve featured in this article that is geared towards the older beginner; either a teenager or an adult, it’s suitable for both. This is probably the best piano method for those piano students; it’s clear that most beginner piano methods are geared towards children, and these books are not suitable for more mature students who wish to learn the piano from scratch.
What’s great about these books is that they assume no prior knowledge of playing the piano. They take an adult or teenage beginner from the initial learning stages right through to having a solid grasp on the note names, basic music reading and playing basic pieces.
What also sets this series apart is that it seems to have been designed for busy people who might not have 30 minutes to an hour each day to sit down and practice. This could be a working professional, or a teenager with exams to study for; this course makes learning the piano accessible for those with significant demands on their time.
The book is well-presented and laid out, with clear and precise graphics to demonstrate piano-playing concepts, and large infographics to assist in the learning of new notes. What’s also great about this book is that it’s very result-oriented; students will get the feeling of actually making music very quickly. This is aided by a good selection of repertoire; there is a good mix of blues, classical, pop and jazz.
It’s actually very possible for a student to work their way through this book on their own without any help from a teacher, but if you have your teenage or adult students work from this book, providing there is enough supplemental material, you won’t go far wrong.
#7: Play Piano Now; Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course
The final book featured in this article is also geared towards older beginners, although this volume is specifically geared towards adult beginners rather than teenagers. It provides an excellent progression through various levels of difficulty for the adult beginner with no previous musical training.
It is again geared towards those who don’t have much time to dedicate to learn to play the piano, presenting musical concepts and ideas in a compact and straightforward way. This is a slightly slower-paced version of Alfred’s other adult piano course books, with a greater emphasis on sight-reading exercises.
This is quite clever, as if one can become a good sight-reader, they don’t necessarily need to spend several hours practising pieces in order to just be able to play them. This is a good idea to enable the student to cultivate a long-term enjoyment of playing the piano.
What I also enjoy about this particular book is that it takes the time to teach the student better rhythmic accuracy and a more thorough explanation of the various components of playing the piano than most other instruction methods.
It does a very good job of explaining concepts such as sight-reading and theory, and putting them into practice by providing good exercises to practice what the student has learned. However, my main concern with this book is that it is overwhelmingly focused on sight-reading, which while being a key skill a student should learn, is not the only aspect of playing piano, and I would have liked to see more actual pieces that the student would be able to learn.
This is again a book a student can use to learn by themselves, so don’t be surprised if you give this to an adult beginner and they have completed several pages beyond where you finished up in the last lesson! However, as mentioned with nearly all these books; it is not enough to use this book on its’ own; you should supplement it with another instruction book.
What else is necessary for a piano beginner?
I’d thoroughly recommend getting your students a book of blank staff paper. This will help intrinsically with their music-reading and learning abilities. This really is a must for any student learning theory; without the ability to write down the things they have learned, it will make it much harder for the student to retain information.
Any brand will do; I’ve recommended one down below, but you can pick this up from any good music retailer.
Hopefully this has been helpful for you to determine which books you should use to teach your beginner students. As always, if you have any questions, or want me to elaborate on something I’ve mentioned in this article, then please reach out to me either by leaving a comment below or by filling in out the form on the "contact us" page. I’d be more than happy to help you!