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*Excerpted from Professional Piano Teaching, Volume 1, by Jeanine M. Jacobson.

What Is a Piano Method?

The function of a method book is to provide a logical progression for learning concepts and skills, and music for the practice of these elements. Choosing the appropriate method will help students move through the beginning stages with relative ease, while laying a strong foundation for future study. The student’s learning style, experience with music, understanding of the keyboard, aural and physical development, reading capabilities, and rhythmic maturity are all factors to be considered when choosing a beginning method. Teachers should consider individual needs to select a method that meets the requirements of each student. The variety of beginning methods available today provides teachers with many choices.

Successful teachers are familiar with a number of beginning piano methods to assure that educated choices are made for individual students. Judging a method by teaching it is time consuming and sometimes places the student in an experimental role. A preliminary review, using a specific set of criteria, is an excellent way to become acquainted with a wide variety of methods. Initially, three basic questions can be considered.

Is the method systematic and logical in its presentation of concepts and skills?

The presentation of concepts and skills should be systematic and logical. For example, in many methods, beginning students learn to play pieces that use melodic 2nds only. Other intervals (3rds through 5ths) are added gradually, and larger intervals are introduced later. This is a systematic introduction to intervals. If, during the first weeks of lessons, the student has a piece that has 2nds, 3rds, and one 6th, the 6th is out of place since 6ths have not yet been presented. It is likely that the 6th would not occur again until several weeks or months later. Methods that include such out-of-order presentations are not systematic. When teachers study an unfamiliar method, they must compare each piece to the preceding one to make sure it is only incrementally more difficult. Each new concept or skill should build slowly on what the student already knows.

Does it provide ample reinforcement?

Once each new concept or skill has been introduced, students should use it in a number of pieces, or several times in the same piece, to assure mastery. For example, if a tie is presented as a new concept and practiced in a piece, but does not appear again until several other new concepts and skills have been introduced, students will probably need to relearn the concept of a tie when encountering it the second time. Likewise, when any interval is introduced, there should be several pieces in which that interval is presented with increasing complexity, variety, and frequency. No other significant new concept or skill should be introduced until there has been sufficient reinforcement of the new interval.

Does it present a comprehensive introduction to music through piano playing?

Methods that introduce concepts and skills in a way that helps students become complete musicians are superior to those that limit their experience to repertoire and technique. Students can simultaneously experience reading, rhythm, technique, ensemble, ear development, transposition, creativity, theory, and musical performance. For example, when each new interval is introduced, students can learn to read it, fit it into a rhythmic pattern, learn the technique for playing it, and play it in a piece. However, they can also identify its sound, move it to a different place (transpose), use it as harmony as well as melody, and play it in various ways (loud, soft, short, long, fast, or slow). They can hear the interval in relation to the teacher’s duet part, find it in other pieces, write it, and create their own pieces with it. When a method provides this variety of experience in a single book, or through supplementary materials, the student receives a comprehensive musical education.

After the three primary criteria have been evaluated, teachers can further explore methods for other specific characteristics. The following twelve elements should be investigated and considered when evaluating a method.

  1. Scope and Format – When elements seem inconsistent with the targeted age group, the method loses its effectiveness.
  2. Keyboard Exploration – Methods that limit students to playing only one section of the keyboard inhibit the students’ knowledge of musical sound.
  3. Reading Approach – Explore questions like, “Are the reading concepts introduced logically?” or “What is the reading approach?” or “Is there sufficient reinforcement for each new reading concept?”
  4. Rhythm – Consider questions such as, “Are rhythms introduced in a logical way?” or “How does the method build rhythmic understanding into the body?”
  5. Technique – In some methods, the technical exercises prepare for future needs, while in others, the technical exercises seem to follow their own independent order without a logical relationship to the pieces surrounding them.
  6. Musical Content – Originally composed pieces are often written to support the reading, rhythmic, and technical philosophies of the authors.
  7. Aural Development – When methods provide ways for students to develop their aural skills, they will make fewer mistakes, be able to correct the mistakes they makes, and learn to listen critically to their playing.
  8. Development of Musical Playing – When methods make it easy to play musically from the very first lessons, learning will be satisfying.
  9. Creativity – Students will understand concepts thoroughly when they create their own music from the musical ideas they are learning.
  10. Musicianship – Students who learn about the music they play will become musically literate.
  11. Application of Learning Principles – Successful authors of beginning methods have observed principles of learning, leading students to learn efficiently.
  12. Supplementary Materials – Supplementary materials enhance and make learning more enjoyable, assuring that no essential information has been omitted.

For a more detailed explanation of each of these elements, refer to Professional Piano Teaching, Volume 1, by Jeanine M. Jacobson.


Alfred Music offers two top-selling piano methods: Alfred’s Basic Piano Library and Premier Piano Course. The information below will help you in choosing the best piano method for each student.

Alfred’s Basic Piano Library

00-20656

This method for the average-aged beginner (7-9 years old) uses a position-based reading approach that promotes freedom of movement around the keyboard. This was the first piano method to use an eclectic reading approach, combining elements of the Middle C, Multi-Key, and Intervallic reading approaches. The logical progression of concepts and skills makes it a fun and pedagogically-sound method, appropriate for any student. There are supplementary instructional and performance publications that correlate page-by-page to the Lesson Books.

About the Core Books

  • Lesson Book—introduces all new concepts.
  • Theory Book—contains enjoyable games and quizzes to reinforce concepts and increase musical understanding.
  • Recital Book—provides correlated repertoire to Lesson Books that are based on concepts already learned.
  • Technic Book—includes rhythm & reading drills to improve musicianship and develop coordination of the hands.

(Additional materials are available for the course.)

What Teachers Like About Alfred’s Basic Piano Library

  • It is an easy step-by-step method that emphasizes correct playing habits and note reading through interval recognition.
  • It provides students a solid foundation in music theory.
  • In the first book, entertaining pieces are included along with clever lyrics that help the student play and understand the intervals of 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths.
  • There are supplementary instructional and performance publications that correlate page-by-page to the Lesson Books.

See progression of concepts and skills.

Premier Piano Course

00-20652This method is also suitable for an average-aged beginner (7-9 years old) and uses a non-position-based reading approach, offering today’s students a fully integrated and comprehensive approach to piano instruction. This student-, parent-, and teacher-friendly method provides an imaginative exploration of the exciting world of music. It was written by a superb team of America’s most respected composers and teachers—Dennis Alexander, Gayle Kowalchyk, E. L. Lancaster, Victoria McArthur, and Martha Mier. All of the writers have extensive experience teaching students of all ages. After more than four years of research and testing, they created a course that perfectly blends music, lyrics, pedagogy, art, and fun! There are four core books with a correlated set of flash cards and multiple supplementary books at each level.

About the Core Books

  • Lesson Book—introduces all new concepts.
  • Theory Book—promotes comprehensive musicianship.
  • Performance Book—contains outstanding music written in varied styles to reinforce new musical concepts.
  • Technique Book—introduces easy-to-understand technique tools and applies them to artistic performance.

(Additional materials are available for the course.)

What Teachers Like About Premier Piano Course

  • The pacing and sound pedagogy provided by E.L. Lancaster, Gayle Kowalchyk, and Victoria McArthur produce strong sight readers.
  • The original music composed by Dennis Alexander and Martha Mier is appealing and accessible.
  • The musical structure and concepts are presented in a fun and interactive way.
  • The emphasis on performing rhythms in patterns helps with reading and memorization.
  • The CDs for Lesson and Performance books, beautifully performed on acoustic piano, provide an excellent model.
  • The creative orchestrations on the General MIDI disks for the Lesson and Performance books are motivating to students.

See progression of concepts and skills.


Using a beginning reading method is the most common approach to teaching beginners. Teachers must know how to choose the appropriate method for each student. When teachers take time to critically evaluate available methods, they’ll be prepared to build on the strengths of each method and will be ready to supplement where necessary to meet the needs of each individual student. For more information on how to choose the right method for your student, see Professional Piano Teaching, Volume 1, by Jeanine M. Jacobson.

To learn more about our most popular piano methods, visit alfred.com/pianomethods.

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