The most popular Piano books in UK – Pros and Cons
Have you ever wondered which piano method would be the best and how to find a piano teacher who follows it? Does it make sense to feel that you are effectively learning and the lessons are paying off?
In Hampstead Piano Academy we believe that music can be taught from innumerable viewpoints – always tailored to every child – rather from an ultimate method. Therefore, we made a selection of the most popular piano methods in UK to evaluate their pros and cons based on our teaching experience. There we go!
First piano lessons: How to get started
Dogs and Birds
This book provides a fun introduction to music in three graded levels. It is a revolutionary piano book for children aged 3 to 7 created by Hungarian pianist and teacher Elsa Luzher.
There are two versions of each which need to be combined with each other. In the animals’ edition, seven animals are placed within the musical note whose name starts with the same letter – Ant, Bird, Cat, Dog, Egg, Fish and Goose. Then, the blank edition contains the same pieces without the animals drawings, so it is used as a transition to the conventional music writing. It is recommended to sing along while playing, to make the students enhance their inner ear.
It all makes the learning process so intuitive that children as young as 3 may start practicing book 1 without even knowing the alphabet. What is more, it will make the piano lessons much more fun and engaging for the youngest pupils.
Chester “The Frog” is a popular character among those young students who have just started learning piano. It has become a favorite among piano teachers in UK.
Written by Carol Barratt and illustrated by Sarah Lennon, this method combines pictures, games and activities with a clear approach. The three volumes may be complemented with two volumes of piano duets, a carols book and two sets of music theory puzzles.
One of the most satisfying characteristics is that the progress is gradually paced through a simple introduction to music theory in combination with sight reading exercises and pieces of the same level. After realising that children are particularly engaged by the lyrics of some pieces, we would recommend to apply the same principle to all pieces.
Jatekok, games in Hungarian, is a method created by the contemporary composer György Kurtág. One of the peculiarities of this creative piano method is its way of music notation, which makes improvisation an important factor and liberates children from sight reading. It may not be as popular as the ones we have mentioned so far, but it successfully works.
This collection of short piano works was composed in order to supplement traditional teaching materials for youngsters who have not learnt how to read yet. It allows the teacher to pay attention to the importance of the body in the piano playing, which will eventually play a decisive role in the performance. Besides, its kinaesthetic approach stimulates the student to experiment with sensations and sounds without the need of reading from the score. It helps the students to develop their awareness of rhythm, pulse and pitch as well as enhancing the control and perception of their movements.
Nevertheless, this non-traditional notation is something to bear in mind and, therefore, it is advisable that the teacher complements the piano lesson with some other materials.
Bastien Piano Basics is probably one of the most famous piano books around the globe. Despite its popularity, you would not use it in a first lesson.
Their four graded volumes of piano, technique, performance and theory provide a clear sense of structure and harmony to the piano, as most of the pieces are based in three hand positions rooted in C, F or G.
While this visual approach gets people playing some notes straightaway, some students may eventually feel too attached to the same patterns.
J. Thompson´s Piano method
This is another example of an illustrated music course with colourful drawings and characters.
However, the learning process is sometimes not well-measured as the book keeps adding too many new concepts before the pupil has enough time to internalise them. Hence, it is advisable to work simultaneously on some other materials to reinforce the lessons proposed.
From experience, we found that most of the beginners who completed the first volume, were still unconvinced about how to read music from the score. In addition, the second book became so hard at some point that it was necessary to look for other materials.
Working on Piano technique
Dozen a day
It is a book to improve piano technique that might remind you of The Virtuoso Pianist by Charles Hanon.
Well paced sets of exercises for the ten fingers written in the key of C Major make daily practice fun and appealing. It offers the teachers a chance to watch their pupils’ technique and consciously work on the appropriate use of the fingers, wrists and elbows.
While it does not require the students to have advanced reading skills, it is recommended to make them transpose to all keys as many exercises as possible.
Take your lessons seriously
ABRMS and Trinity College. Music graded exams.
These methods represent the main choice for those who want to take their piano lessons more seriously.
The three of them offer a clear pathway to build musical skills and encourage progress towards a final goal: a graded music exam. These methods allow the teacher to split the lesson in order to carefully prepare each part of the exam – pieces, scales, arpeggios, aural tests and sight-reading. Available at eight levels, these examinations asses a combination of skills – such as performance, technique, notation and listening – as well as a good knowledge and understanding of music theory.
On the other hand, we found that some students who had obtained great marks in their exams, had huge difficulties when reading a music score. They were able to nicely play the pieces but were in need of copying from a teacher.
You may have noticed that all books named so far are for children and young beginners, but is there any piano method specifically for adults? Of course. There are less materials for grownups but, as it is never too late to take piano lessons, here are a couple of recommendations for them.
The Waterman/Harewood Piano book
It starts from scratch and squeezes a wide variety of concepts into it.
It demands the students the ability to quickly assimilate every lesson before moving on.
Therefore this challenge is much more appealing and makes piano accessible to adults.
Jazz piano lessons
Jazz and improvisation lessons can be another option to become knowleageble about harmony, arranging, chords or scales.
JazzPianoOnline.com offers watch in-depth, easy-to-follow video lessons on any device. Study Jazz Theory & Composition, Improvisation & Licks, Chords & Voicings and Styles, Arranging & more. Downloadable PDF Practice Sessions feature exercises and tunes to print and play with custom backing tracks. Each lesson is transcription-based, so the techniques and concepts presented are derived from master musicians playing on timeless recordings.
Ask your piano teacher for advice
As we mentioned at the beginning of the post, it does not exist such an “ultimate piano method” and all pros and cons stated are meant to be a reference for those looking for a book.
In the same way people tend to rely on experts, turn to your piano teacher for some advice when searching in the market for the “best piano book”.
Considering that all pupils are different and so are their needs and skills, a good piano teacher has the duty to know all piano books and choose whatever suits the student best.