Updated: Jun 15, 2021
I am often asked to provide recommendations on which piano books are suitable for the young beginner. What a great way to support a child's musical journey by giving the gift of knowledge in the form of music books. Parents and relatives who would like to purchase a musical gift for their budding pianists are often faced with a dilemma on which books are at the child's current level of playing. Even more confusing is the term "easy" or "beginner" which publishers use to describe the book on their listings.
"Easy" as advertised, may still be challenging for the young beginner who have just learnt how to read half the notes on the grand staff. I have had students come to lesson being excited to show me gifts they have received, only to find out they are not ready to play it yet because of more advanced concepts not yet learned. Fortunately, books are valuable items that can be kept for many years to come, and so children can always go back to it when they are ready. You will be pleased to know that music teachers are constantly assessing books as they search for new repertoire for students, and so don't hesitate to ask your child's teacher for recommendations.
Today, I'll share with you some basic tips when looking at piano books on the market. There are two beginner level terms associated with books for students in their first year study:
Typically, books labeled with these terms are suitable for the child who has learnt how to confidently read music notes from Middle C - G (right hand), Middle A-B (left hand), and Bass C - G (left hand). That's about 10 - 12 music notes on the grand staff.
Primer Level books have pieces that contain simple rhythms in the melodies (i.e. quarter, half and whole note rhythms). The length of the music is short and reinforces the students ability to be confident in both-hands playing, by sharing the whole melody alternating between both hands. Primer Level books also have Teacher Duets to play long with. Duets are very valuable learning for beginners as they teach the student to listen attentively as they learn to keep in time. Here’s a popular example of Primer Level books by PreTime Piano Faber Collection. I use these books a lot as supplement learning for my beginner students:
Five-Finger Piano books are slightly above the Primer Level in terms of difficulty. Music notes are still within the grand staff, but there is often more complex quick rhythms such as 8th notes, tie notes and dotted quarter note rhythms. Pieces are longer and may require a few page turns. They do have Teacher Duets to play along to as well. Most pieces are suitable to play as a solo.
It is important to remember these books contain repertoire pieces for piano playing and do not replace your child’s core method pieces. These books supplement a student's learning and it is crucial for your child to continue practicing any associated method pieces assigned to them. Method pieces are like drills and they assist in introducing new concepts in the music language.
As a teacher myself, it is such a joy to witness students progress in their reading and hand playing co-ordination. It is also a wonderful feeling of achievement for students themselves to know their hard work has paid off as they are now able to apply the learning into playing familiar tunes they enjoy. While we use our ears to listen like a musician, knowing how to read music immensely supports one's music education. It is a valuable skill to carry on for many years to come!