Some teachers don’t think that they need to use piano method books for beginners. However, a good method book can provide much more than just repertoire.
A method book gives you a useful structure and, even if you break away or mix up the order, it provides you with some security that you are covering what is needed in order to give your student a great start with the piano.
When you’re thinking about which piano lesson book to use with your new piano student, you have a lot to consider. In this article, I’ll run through some of the pros and cons of the most popular choices so you can make the right choice for you and your student.
Need more help planning your piano lessons? Check out the resources on my Lesson Planning Page.
Piano Lesson Books for Young Beginners
There are countless piano method books for young or average-aged beginners on the market. Here I will only review those piano teaching methods which I have personal experience with so that I can give you a thorough overview of the pros and cons of each.
(‘m grouping all the John Thompson series together here as they take a pretty similar approach.)
John Thompson’s piano method books for beginners are what I learnt from as a student. So, obviously, they definitely can work because, well…here I am. 😉
In general, though, I’m not a fan of this series. It takes a very reading-centric view of learning piano and doesn’t include much in the way of technique development (actual technique, not just technical exercises) let alone any creative elements.
John Thompson: Reading
Even though it is reading-centric, this piano teaching method would still be a valid choice for those teachers who are happy to use it only as a reading tutor while covering the other stuff outside of the book…that is, if the Thompson series employed an effective strategy for teaching music reading. Which it does not.
All of the John Thompson books tend to focus on notes rather than intervals, and they keep students reading in certain positions on the piano. This seems like an easy way to get started, but it has many pitfalls in the long-run as students get locked into their “spot” on the piano. This makes it hard for students to develop the freedom of movement they need to play well.
Easy to follow
Poor technique development
Jibbidy-F and A-C-E
This is the piano lesson book that I used with my first students when I started my piano teaching journey. For that reason, it holds a special place for me. I even (sort of) named a game after it. 😉
However, I’ve learnt a lot since my first days of teaching and I no longer keep this method book in stock in my studio.
Jibbidy-F and A-C-E: Reading
Much like John Thompson, this piano teaching method is almost exclusively about written music with little to no creativity or technique development. It also starts in a middle C position and focusses on introducing 1 note at a time, which doesn’t help students see the patterns on the staff.
Easy to follow
Poor technique development
The Music Tree
The Music Tree is an interesting piano lesson book which I have used with a few piano students over the years.
When I first found out about this series, I wanted to love it! It has so many good things going for it, such as:
- Intervallic approach to reading
- Pedagogically-sound technique
- Improvisation prompts throughout
The Music Tree: Repertoire
What has stopped me from using this with more students, though, is the music. The actual pieces are just not that interesting or inspiring for most students and, to me, really feel more like drills than real music.
That could be great if you have a student who is highly self-motivated and wants to learn to read in a way which is focussed and effective. However, I don’t think this describes most students.
The Music Tree: Visuals
The other issue I have with these books is their visual design. The graphics here are just a bit outdated, and the colourful page dividers and borders could be distracting for many students.
Sound technique approach
Could be confusing for teacher
Piano Adventures is probably the biggest name out there in piano method books for beginners.
Teachers love that it is simple to dive right into without much prep on their part. The music is, for the most part quite pleasant, although not always very exciting in the beginning levels.
Piano Adventures: Reading
Piano Adventures is essentially a position-based method book series. I like that it doesn’t stay in a middle C position for as long as the John Thompson or Jibbidy-F and A-C-E methods do, but its reading approach still cannot be considered intervallic. The way it is structured encourages students to think about their hands being in certain spots on the piano, which is not helpful in the long term.
Piano Adventures: Pacing
The thing that caused me to move Piano Adventures onto a higher shelf in my studio and only keep it as a backup option for certain students is the pacing.
I found that it was too slow for most students at the Primer level and into the beginning of level 1, and then it suddenly raced forward and required a lot of management and lateral movement planning for me to keep the student feeling successful.
Easy to follow
Boring beginner music
Piano Pronto has gained a very loyal following of teachers who love its familiar tunes and lack of clutter.
Piano Pronto: Reading
For the most part, the reading approach in the main series (starting with Prelude) is position-based, although it does start in C position rather than middle C position, which I think is a big improvement.
In order to create full-sounding music right from the get-go, the left hand keeps to simple chords in the beginning book. This means that you will have to be careful to reinforce the bass clef notes outside of the method book so that students don’t become overly treble clef-biased.
Piano Pronto: Repertoire
I keep Piano Pronto method books for beginners fully-stocked in my studio because of the pieces. Jennifer is an expert arranger and did a fantastic job of picking out music that students recognise – primarily folk songs and classical themes.
This is perfect for certain types of students. I find it particularly useful for transfers who need to upskill their reading, as we can get through lots of basic material without it feeling like they’re just playing dry exercises.
Easy to follow
No creative elements
Piano Safari is by far my favourite piano lesson book. No single piano teaching method will ever be perfect for every student, but these books come the closest for many of my kiddos.
Piano Safari: Technique
In my opinion, this is the only method book that covers technique in a way that’s effective for young children.
Through the series, students learn different animal gestures and techniques which they apply to their pieces. They start with non-legato (Tall Giraffe) and learn to use whole-arm movements before developing their legato playing (Tree Frog and Soaring Bird) when they’re ready.
Piano Safari: Reading
Like The Music Tree, Piano Safari takes an intervallic approach to reading which is based on sound research and study into the most effective ways to read music. I find the Piano Safari pieces a lot more “musical” than those in The Music Tree, however, even at the basic level.
Piano Safari: Repertoire
Reading pieces at the beginner level can only be so interesting if they’re going to stay accessible for the student. That’s where the magic of the rote pieces in Piano Safari come in.
Rote pieces are highly-patterned pieces which are taught by demonstration. Students don’t need to be able to read these pieces, and therefore they can play across the whole keyboard right away and create really rich and interesting harmonies.
Piano Safari: Learning Curve for Teachers
Piano Safari is not like any other piano lesson book.
That means that you will need to take some time to adjust and learn how everything works.
It might feel like a lot at first, but I can assure you that it is absolutely 100% worth it and there are excellent resources on their site.
Piano Safari: Is it more expensive?
I have put the cost of Piano Safari method books for beginners in the cons list below because it is more expensive than other method books at face value, and I know this is a factor that has some teachers hesitate to try it.
I would encourage you to look at the big picture here because the sticker price of the book does not tell the whole story.
Each level of this piano teaching method takes a lot longer to get through than the average piano lesson book. You will also find yourself supplementing far less in the beginning levels.
Over the long-term, I have actually found the real cost to be very similar to any other piano method book series.
Excellent technique development
Could be confusing for teachers
Needs parental support
Piano Lesson Books for Older Beginners
Older beginners such as teens and adults need a different approach. They need to move more quickly in some areas so that they don’t feel like they’re learning “baby music” but they also need to move more slowly in some areas of technique, as the coordination can be challenging for them.
Below are my top 3 piano teaching methods for older students. All are good choices but work better in certain circumstances.
I have used the main Piano Pronto series for some of my adult students for a long time now, and will probably continue to do so for those students who gravitate toward the simplicity of the layout of those books and the comfort of playing familiar melodies.
Fired Up! is a newer piano lesson book specifically designed for older students. This is especially good for students who lean towards pop or film-style music.
Fired Up!: Reading
The reading approach is also a little different to the main Piano Pronto series as it breaks out of C position much earlier on. It is still essentially position-based, but mixing up the positions for each piece means it’s less likely that students will get “locked” into a particular spot on the piano.
Fired Up!: Pacing
As I mentioned, pacing is extra important in piano lesson books for older students. So, where does Fired Up! stack up on this front?
I would say that this series is on the faster side, both in terms of reading progression and technique progression. This makes it a better fit, in general, for teens and young adults than for older adult students who need a more gradual increase in technical challenges in order to not get frustrated.
Easy to follow
Variety of positions
Need a pedal right away
Fast pace (could be good or bad!)
Accelerated Piano Adventures
I prefer the Accelerated Piano Adventures series over Adult Piano Adventures, so I have chosen to focus on that one here. (The adult piano teaching method is a little too slow and includes a lot of folk songs which adult students are not often thrilled to to play!)
Accelerated Piano Adventures: Reading
The reading approach here is similar to the main Piano Adventures piano lesson books. It is basically position-based, starting in middle C position. It moves faster than the main series but is still quite a gentle progression.
Accelerated Piano Adventures: Pacing
This piano teaching method moves more slowly with reading and technical challenges than Fired Up! and Piano Safari for the Older Student do. This can be a very useful feature, although I do wish it brought in “hands together” work a bit earlier.
Easy to follow
Slow pace (could be good or bad!)
Piano Safari for the Older Student
As you may have guessed, this is my favourite method book for older students. It will absolutely not suit every student, but when it’s a good fit students can really excel here.
If you’re wondering which adult/teen piano lesson book to use with a particular student I think this one is an especially great choice for slightly younger students (i.e. the 10- to 15-years-old crowd.) That’s not to say it can’t work for older students, but I think this is its sweet spot. 🙂
Piano Safari for the Older Student: Reading
Just like the main Piano Safari method, the reading is based on intervals and patterns which means it’s an excellent foundation for anyone who wants to read music fluently.
Piano Safari for the Older Student: Pacing
The pacing here is somewhere between that of Fired Up! (faster) and Accelerated Piano Adventures (slower). The technique coverage is much more comprehensive than in other books, though, so it’s difficult to make a direct comparison there.
Excellent technique development
Could be confusing for teachers
Fast-paced (could be good or bad!)
What’s your favourite piano lesson book?
As I said, this post is not meant to be comprehensive – I’ve only reviewed those piano teaching methods which I’ve used myself. I’d love to hear about your favourite piano method books for beginners in the comments, too!
31 thoughts on “Best Piano Method Books for Beginners”
Have you ever tried Alfred’s Premier Piano Course?
No, but from looking through them I see the approach as being quite similar to Piano Adventures in many respects. I haven’t used them personally though so couldn’t comment further than that.
I also use Alfred’s with adult beginners. I like the LH chord (blocked and broken) approach.
My overall favourite is Piano Adventures which I use with all my kids. But I’d definitely like to try Piano Safari – will look into it.
I personally also start with Alfred’s
Have you ever tried “Succeeding at the Piano” by Helen Marlais and others? I attended a workshop about this series when I was in college and have loved their materials ever since! The music is fun, and for the beginner books I think they do a great job balancing hand position and note reading, I think it is sequenced very well and my students seem to like it.
My students and I love Suceeding at the Piano as well!
I use Faber and Faber. I think the pieces are interesting and it introduces technique right away.
I use the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library books as it is easy to read with large letters / notes and some colourful pictures, with improvisation and intervallic reading. I find most beginner books has too much information on one page and this doesn’t so it is great for teachers, parents and students.
I’ve used several of these methods also. Piano Safari is definitely the best out of sl the ones you mention, but after Piano Safari I went a step farther and tried Music Moves for Piano. It is *INCREDIBLE*! My students love MMfP and I’m amazed every week with the things they are learning. Music learning is very similar to language learning and nothing comes close to helping students understand music like MMfP. My own skills have been rapidly progressing since using this method and I couldn’t be more excited about it!
Thanks for sharing, Alyssa!
Have you tried any of the Wunderkeys books?
I have used the older editions but don’t have enough experience with the newer ones to have included in this post.
I love the Wunderkeys books! I’m using the primer and elementary ones. They have preschooler ones, too, but I don’t teach any preschoolers.
I like the approach of Andrea and Trevor Dow and their Wunderkeys series. My teen are generally excited about it. For the younger students, it’s a different approach with cute characters and games included that supplement the lesson. And it’s Canadian.
This is an excellent run-through of some of the more popular method books out there. I tend to use Piano Adventures, Piano Safari, and most often, Wunderkeys. I don’t love the note-reading-centric approach of wunderkeys and I think the music is fine for learning to read but not very intuitive in terms of internalizing music (which Piano Safari does beautifully). But, my students love the characters of wunderkeys and the stories so it is quite engaging. Unfortunately, Piano Safari isn’t as colorful so seems to be less attractive to some of my students. I’m also curious to hear what people think of various approaches in teaching. It’s always good to hear of different ways to present information
I like the Alfred series – “Music for Little Mozarts” for the young ones; it comes with a workbook. Then, the other levels, I like using the corresponding theory and note speller books with the lesson book. And the Adult-All-One includes theory and note spelling.
I tried Fired Up! Series with 4-5 older students (teens and adults). The soundtracks are awesome but reading approach needs a lot of reinforcement. There are 2-3 “random” notes on the staff at the beginning, and my students could not identify them after 1,5 – 2 months. Now I am using this book as a sight-reading source mainly,
Interesting thoughts, Olga, thanks for sharing.
I use different series for different students. After doing at least ten weeks of “no book lessons” with any beginner, it gives me a better idea of which book will work. If a student struggled with the simple rote pieces I do during those first weeks, Piano Safari will NOT be a good choice. I also don’t use PS unless I know there will be some parental involvement. I also use WunderKeys and Piano Pronto pretty often. I sometimes use Supersonics, and Fired Up as well.
If a transfer student comes in being very successful in a different method book, I leave them in that and work with it. I figure the method book is just one of my tools, so I can work around just about any book!
Yes, absolutely! It’s just one factor to great lessons and great teaching. 🙂
I used to teach with Alfred years ago; I decided I hated the position based methods so I switched to Piano Adventures since it does teach that any finger can play any key. It seems to work better for my students- for my adults they like the Adult Faber, and for my older kids we do the Accelerated series.
I do have one little who maybe would benefit from Safari, so I’m open to looking at that – I’ve just never tried it before.
This was a great blog post – I learned some things, thank you!
Thanks for reading, Jody!
Love, love, love Piano Safari and Music Tree! My preferred choice for kids is to use Music Tree for reading and the Piano Safari Pattern Pieces / Animal Adventures for technique & rote. Plus, there are some separate technique books by Frances Clark – Musical Fingers – that I teach by rote after finishing Time to Begin.
I’ve never had kids get distracted by the graphics in Music Tree. In fact, the graphics in Time to Begin are pretty intentionally placed to help draw kids’ attention to certain aspects of the score or sound of the music. Chip the chipmunk has big eyes and always serves to draw kids’ attention to written features that the authors want kids to notice. Bobo the dog has big ears, so he’s always strategically placed to get kids to focus on the sound. The idea is that kids will notice Chip and Bobo first on the page and then as the teacher, you can use that as a launching point to guide a discussion on the patterns that the kid sees and musical expectations.
I have been teaching for over 50 years and have used many different methods. I too learned from John Thompson. I am not sure anything else was available when I was a child. I agree there are good things about every method. Sometimes I like to show a student several methods and let them choose. This gives them motivation.
In the last few years, I have used the Bastien New Traditions ALL in ONE Piano Course. It includes everything in one book and often there is writing at the top of a new song which really helps with understanding the song. There is also a lot of writing pages to go with the keys and helps students with theory.
I also like Wunder Keys for younger ones and they love it. I get a lot of songs and activities from Andrea and Trevor. They are great for classes or private.
My favorite series is Hal Leonard. Children enjoy the characters Spike and Party Cat. The music is enjoyable throughout the series. Theory concepts are paced well and coordinated with lesson books. Improvisation is included at the earliest levels. I also have students in Music Tree. Group classes and the Activities Books make the series much more effective. Supplemental materials are needed for musical variety. It is important to read the guides that are created to help teachers understand how a series is put together. Especially for understanding the sequencing of musical concepts.
Very true! Many of the best methods come with guides and aren’t very effective if you don’t understand the reasoning behind certain things.
Has anyone used Supersonics Plus? I have subscribed and used it a little, mainly because there was a lot available for a reasonable price and it is digital (which is great now!). However, I have been using Alfred’s Premeire, Piano Adventures (meh), PA Accelerated (better), and most recently, PianoTown. I have used Fired Up! with one student, and own a copy of Piano Safari, but am not confident with it yet. I’m all over the map, and would like to narrow it down. Supersonics?
Hi Kathleen, I use Supersonics and love it for many reasons. Intervallic, pattern based reading approach. Technique guides, rote pieces, chord pieces, improvisation and composition opportunities included in each method book. The app has backing tracks, annotation, theory and more. The music is enjoyable! Join the Facebook group to chat with the author, Daniel, and other teachers about how to make the most of your subscription.
Hi Nicola, Curious to hear why you feel Piano Safari needs parental support? Is it in terms of the price of the book or some other factor?
Lovely round up of method books
Have you ever heard of Magic Keys? Three generations of teachers have used it in our family and loved it. The only issue I have with it is that it is all black and white and I find students do much better with color…
As an adult who knows the basics, practiced informally decades ago, and would like to read fluently and have fun, is there a series I could use on my own?
My son is following Piano Adventures with his teacher and I am finding it very intuitive, only a bit “too easy” for me.