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Method Books and Materials

In this article I will discuss method books and other materials that I typically use with piano and trumpet students of various ages and skill levels. All of these materials would fall under the category of “written music,” which involve the process of learning to read and interpret music, or advancing in that capacity. It should be noted that I often put equal, and sometimes greater, emphasis in my teaching on learning to play by ear, depending on the age, skill level and interests of particular students. My usual approach in teaching individuals to play by ear does not involve any written materials. Rather, I use a very practical step-by-step practical approach that incorporates songs with which the student is familiar. Similarly, I do not normally use any kind of method book to teach creative endeavors such as improvisation and composition; rather, I tailor my instruction to the interests of each student. However, I do use a variety of music books in the process of teaching jazz improvisation, in particular. A few of these will be mentioned in one of the following sections...


Beginner Level:

Elementary School Students – Currently, my two favorite method book series are “Piano Adventures” and “Alfred's Premier Piano Course.” I have also used the “Alfred's Basic Piano Library” series and “Bastien Piano Basics” series extensively in the past. Other methods I have used (and will occasionally still use, especially with transfer students that have prior experience with them) include “Bastien New Traditions,” “The Music Tree,” “Hal Leonard Student Piano Library,” “Helen Marlais' Succeeding at the Piano,” “John W. Scaum Piano Course,” “Michael Aaron Piano Course,” and “John Thompson's Modern Course for the Piano” (not recommended). Although I used to incorporate supplemental books (such as theory and technique books) into lessons quite frequently, I usually stick with the main “lesson book” of each series, as I've found that using other books tends to slow progress and detract from the pedagogical process in most cases. However, I do encourage students to begin selecting their own level-appropriate supplemental repertoire books, particularly that contain music of interest to them, after the first level of a method book series. Some common sources include the collections from both the Faber and Alfred libraries. And, of course, I always defer to the wishes of parents/guardians regarding the use of any additional books/music.

Middle School Students – My two favorite method book series for children of this age are “Accelerated Piano Adventures” and “Alfred's Premier Piano Express.” Other methods that I have used in the past include “For the Older Beginner” and “Chord Approach” from Alfred's Basic Piano Library, as well as “The Older Beginner Piano Course” by James Bastien, although I now find them to be somewhat outdated. Again, I encourage students to pick out supplemental music books of interest to them after they have completed the first level of a method book series.

High School Students – For students of this age, I usually use adult method books, as the methods for younger students tend to be viewed as childish. Actually, there is not very much difference between a typical child's method book and an adult's method anyway, except for presentation, speed of progression through concepts, and musical “sophistication” of some pieces. My favorite adult method book is “Adult Piano Adventures,” which I have always found to be very effective for high school students. As with younger students, I encourage the use of at least one supplemental book for music reading after the completion of the first level of a method book, or even before then if the interest is there.

Adult Students – As with high school students, my favorite method book series for adults is “Adult Piano Adventures.” I have had so much success with this method over the past ten years or so that I rarely recommend any other series. However, I do inform beginning students that they are welcome to peruse the other available adult method books and choose whichever they find to be the most interesting or appropriate for their needs. Other popular methods include “Alfred's Basic Adult Piano Course” and “Bastien Piano for Adults,” both of which I do still use for certain individuals. Occasionally, beginning adult students would rather dive right into specific written music than use a method book. I am fine with this approach, as long as students are willing to accept the inherent challenges.

Intermediate/Advanced Level:

After students have completed all levels of a method book series, or have reached an appropriate age to decide to discontinue their endeavors in a method series, I work with them to select music that is both interesting to them and that will help them progress in their reading skills. Normally, I encourage the use of a graded series of books that contain a variety of classical pieces from the four historical periods of keyboard literature, such as “The Festival Collection” or “Masterwork Classics.” Additionally, I encourage each student to select a book of popular or jazz music, especially for the rhythmic challenges that are not usually present in classical styles.

Transfer Students:

When students transfer from another teacher, I typically continue with whatever method book series they were using previously, at least temporarily. If they are happy with their materials and have been successful with them, we may continue with them on a permanent basis. If, for whatever reason, we decide that it would be best to switch to another series, we explore the options and try to find a better fit. For students that have moved beyond a method series, I also like to continue with whatever materials they were using prior to beginning lessons with me, at least until we figure out what might work best moving forward.

All Students:

For students that are interested in learning jazz improvisation (after having reached an acceptable overall skill level), I use a variety of materials to supplement my own approach to instruction. As an introduction, I often use books with play-along accompaniments such as “Jazz Combo Session” and the Jamey Aebersold series (especially volumes 24, 54, 70, 1 and 2). For students that are interested in composition, I usually create my own exercises for them based on their skill level and theory knowledge. However, for young students, I occasionally use the composition books from “Alfred's Basic Piano Library.” For beginning-intermediate level students that are interested in using a music theory workbook, I typically use “Harmony Lessons” by John Schaum, “Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory,” or “Essential Elements Piano Theory,” depending on the age of the student.


Elementary School Students:

I use whatever method book is endorsed by the student's school music program, including “Standard of Excellence,” “Essential Elements,” “Sound Innovations,” “Traditions of Excellence,” “Measures of Success” and “Accent on Achievement.” For home-schooled children or those that learn apart from a school music program, I normally use “Standard of Excellence” as a beginning method book. Once students have begun playing in their school band, I work with them on that music as well. We also sometimes use a supplemental book of popular songs.

Middle School Students:

By the time students have entered middle school, they have usually completed a basic method book series. At that point, I often use an intermediate method book, such as the Rubank Intermediate Method or Book 2 of the Beeler Method. I also work with students on their school band, orchestra or jazz band music, when necessary. For students that are interested in jazz improvisation, I often use “Jazz Combo Session” and the Jamey Aebersold play-along series of books, as well as my own materials for instruction.

High School Students:

In addition to their school band, orchestra, jazz band or marching band music, I use a number of books that focus on either solo pieces (etudes) or pieces with accompaniment (play-along recordings or piano accompaniment), and sometimes use duet books (for two trumpets). Some of my “go to” books are the Voxman “Concert and Contest Collection,” Voxman “Selected Studies,” Rubank's “Solos for the Trumpet Player,” and the etude collections by Sigmund Hering. Students may also select books of popular music if they would like. Of course, with students that are interested, I work on audition materials for festivals such as district band and district jazz band.

Adult Students:

Although adult trumpet students are quite rare, I always enjoy helping them with whatever they would like to work on!


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