Best Piano Books

Best piano books - or at least, the ones I find myself using over and over again in my music studio!  Here are my recommendations.

What makes a good piano book?

Let's cut right to the chase - the best piano books are the ones that actually get used, that don't end up forlornly sitting on the shelf, being rejected by student after student.  They are also the books you, the piano teacher, trust and know inside and out.  While I am always on the lookout for new music, there are some books I have come to rely upon.  This list of frequently-used books is actually rather short...

The Method Book

Many of you are probably more adventurous than I, and like to use several different methods.  Well, shame on me, but I like to focus on other areas in which to be creative, and keep on with the tried-and-true piano method I prefer.

Piano Adventures Primer Level

Personally, I prefer the Piano Adventure series by FJH over the other piano methods out there, for 4 reasons:

  • I know it really well and it is an old friend.  I can anticipate which songs students are apt to have most trouble with, and which ones they will likely enjoy the most.  Over the years I've developed "approaches" to each of the songs so that I can teach it most efficiently.
  • The pictures are not distracting, disturbing, or too goofy, as some other method illustrations have occasionally been.  That's my own preference; I don't like to look at illustrations that seem stupid to me!
Piano Adventures Lesson Book Level 1 (One)

  • Some of the music is very pretty, some is exciting, and some is just cute and fun.  Good music, in other words.
  • And yes, the most important reason: progression from one technical skill or tidbit of music theory to the next is logical and smooth.  Very few of the piano pieces seem like a huge or unexpected leap.

For very small children

There is a set of Lesson books, also part of the Piano Adventures series, that is aimed at younger children.  They are known as "My First Piano Adventure" Books A, B, and C.

My First Piano Adventure Book B

I do make occasional use of the Blue Book B, when I have a slow-moving student who has taken a long time to get through the black-notes-only section of the Purple Primer book. This B book progresses very slowly, with a set of little "friends" who continue to show up throughout the entire "My First Piano Adventure" series.

Why just Book B?

Though it is adorable and full of charming ideas for your students, I do not use the A level book with students.  Rather, it is an idea book for me.  The problem with the book is that it is aimed at pre-readers, but there is no way they can read the instructions when they get home in order to remember what to do!  They will need their parents or an older sibling to sit down with them each day and work through the pages with them.  Every page has a lot going on.

On the other hand, if you are a parent who wishes to start a very young child yourself, and you are willing to spend time at the piano with them frequently, Book A might be ideal for you!

By the time my younger students get to the end of Level B, they are usually eager to move into the Red Book rather than the Level C book. But each child is different!

What about the extra books that go along with the method's Lesson Book?

Most courses have companion books for each level of the series... the Theory book, the Technique book, the Repertoire book, etc.  Piano Adventures has a lot of additional books - Jazz, Pop, Rock, Christmas, Folk, Hymns and more.  

I like a lot of the repertoire books, and have them on hand for my students, but currently I don't use the Theory and Technique books except actually AT THE LESSON for a change of pace, as a way to "spot-check" details - I prefer to do "hands-on" theory and technique, finding the chords and scales right in their music (after acquainting them with pentascales and chords).

Piano Adventures Performance Book Level 4 (Four)

I have purchased all these books in the past, and have found that there just isn't time for it all!  At least, not the way I tend to teach, and not in 30-minute lessons.  I like to give my students extra "fun" music, chord songs, and scale and chord exercises.  And I like for THEM to choose much of the extra music.  

Some of the Repertoire or "Performance" books are "best piano books"

Levels 4 and 5 of the repertoire books (which FJH calls "Performance Books") have some really nice pieces. The Level 4 book in particular (which I call "The Yellow Book") is worth buying for your students.  

But I'm happy with my piano method

If you have a favorite piano method that has worked well for you, then you have a good thing going.  I believe that most of the methods will bring your students to the same place eventually.  But perhaps you get the itch to try new things; I know some teachers like to have their students in different methods so they (the teachers) don't go crazy hearing "The Juggler" 4 times in one week.  But I LIKE hearing the same song played 4 ways by 4 different students!  To me, THAT is interesting.

Piano Adventures Lesson Book Level Two (2)

The Perfect Start for Notereading

Another one on my list of Best Piano Books is fairly new in the piano world; by Kevin and Julia Olson.  The Perfect Start for Notereading, Book One, is a fabulous easy book that keeps students on the same 2 notes for many pages.  Then, just 3 notes for "x" number of pages.  Then, just 4 notes.  

You get the idea! Each song tells a short story or shares a feeling or idea, and has truly CUTE ILLUSTRATIONS, simple and blocky-looking. The songs are short.

The Perfect Start for Notereading by Kevin and Julia Olson sheet music

Use this book for a break from routine

Though this book could be used as a method book, I do not think of this as a method.  It does progress logically, adding new concepts when appropriate.  But instead, I pull this book out when a student - usually a boy - seems to be memorizing his music only, and not making headway with NOTE READING.  This book makes a very nice BREAK - NOT ADDITION - to their routine.

For a while, we cease doing their regular Lesson Book.  Then, when I feel like they're ready for it, we'll go back into the Piano Adventures Lesson Book again.

When? It depends on how far they were when they began languishing in their Red Book (Level One, Piano Adventures). They need to go back into the Lesson book having covered the same notes in Perfect Start for Notereading.

And as an aid for sightreading

Also, this series (Books 1 & 2) makes great sightreading exercises for all students... sometimes I'll just keep a copy of the book on my piano for several weeks and have each student around that level read 3-4 songs for me, lightly pencilling their name at the top of each page so we'll remember where to start the next lesson.

My Kind of Music, Book 2

The funny thing about this book for Elementary students is that it USED to be Book 1.  But now there is an easier book in the "My Kind of Music" series, so this book has been renamed.

My Kind of Music by Kevin and Julia Olson sheet music

The songs in this book by Kevin Olson are elementary level, with lots of repeating little patterns that make them easy to learn, but they are truly recital-worthy little pieces!  And fun!  Most of them sound much harder than they are, because the hands usually play separately. 

Favorites from this book are "Something Spicy," "Sudden Storm," and "Saturday Surfers" (VERY FUN open fifths).  Kevin Olson has a real gift for pulling melodies together into a great rhythmic climax.  You can look inside the book and see those first two songs here...

There are some challenging pieces

All the pieces aren't easy, however.  "Too Cool" LOOKS as if it should be easy, but the 3/4 rhythm makes it tricky... and cool-sounding.  And the nearer to the end of the book you get, the more skill the pieces require. 

Pride and Prejudice movie soundtrack sheet music

I LOVE this book.  

The music of Dario Marianelli's movie soundtrack for Pride & Prejudice, once learned, can be returned to again and again with pleasure each time.  And your young students will feel so grownup playing the pieces in this collection.

This book will drag a reluctant teenager out of a deep rut, and heave her up onto a new plateau where she will look around bedazzled at the beauty and fun of playing in a semi-classical style.  And she will fall in love with her new abilities.

(I say "she", because I have never given this book to a boy.)

But don't take my word for it!  Check out the 115+ comments on the Sheetmusicplus website page.

A word of caution: before starting "Dawn", arguably the most beautiful and famous of the pieces in this book, or "Georgianna's Theme," the most energetic and perhaps fun to play, be sure to have chord inversions well in hand.  If your student has been dithering around with them and making poor progress, these two pieces will convince her of the need to learn her chords.

"Dawn", with its long broken chords which span several octaves, and many turnarounds, is also a good piece for hammering into stubborn heads the need for precise fingering!

Update: There's a duet version of this music, which I have bought.  I thought it would be a nice way to introduce less-capable students to this beautiful series of pieces, but unfortunately, the separate parts do not have the charm of the solos, so they are not motivating to learn.  I have not been able to bully any of my students into taking this book!

Especially for Boys: 
The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo

The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo sheet music for boys

This comic book super-hero approach to music is especially aimed at boys, and has been very popular in my studio.  Each song is like a bit of a soundtrack accompanying a movie.

The "books" (Part I and Part II of the Adventures) are actually digital downloads from the site "Teach Piano Today/Piano Music for Boys", for about $19.95 the last time I checked (I've bought both parts).  With your purchase comes the right to make as many copies as you wish, forever, of the digital download book of pieces accompanying the mystery in the life of Fearless, whose story seems amazingly similar to that of Bruce Wayne & Batman.

The book has 3 different levels for each piece, so that after your student learns the piece at Level 1 (Early Elementary), they can learn it all over again at the next harder level of the arrangement, and even one more time at the Intermediate level if they want!  And that is just what many of my students have done.

Lots of mysterious-sounding stuff

Most of the mysterious music seems to be set in the key of D minor, and the upbeat pieces in C major.  The different levels have been an inducement to some of my students to learn a "song," then get the next harder version of it, because each level does add more atmosphere and texture.

There is lots of repetition in some of the pieces, like any soundtrack, but so what!  THE BOYS LOVE IT!  Some of the girls do, too.

I had a local printer print up a few copies of the 3-page comic for me, on card stock (this is not the music itself, but the story book).  Too much colored ink for me; it is so expensive.

Check out The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo; your boys will be glad you did! (And no - darn it - I'm not getting paid for this endorsement!)

Sonatina Book, Schirmer #51

For older students approaching the land of classical music, this book is unbeatable.

Schirmer's Library Sonatina Album for the Piano

Turn to the Table of Contents, and you will see each piece listed twice; once, by page number, and again, at the bottom, progressively, from easiest to most difficult!

Who are the composers of the music?

There are a number of pieces by Clementi, Kuhlau, Beethoven, and others.  SO MUCH MUSIC - and so cheap.

But... the pieces LOOK harder even than they really are, because to produce this very inexpensive edition, the type is unfortunately more cramped than modern, spoiled piano students are used to seeing.

Oops! Did I say spoiled piano students?  Well, there DOES seem to be a lot more white space on sheet music pages these days than when I was a teenager, making for a nicer reading experience... but fewer pieces in the books!

It's just broken chords and scales!  I love playing snatches of music from this Sonatina book for my students; I say, "Look!  It's just broken chords! And scales! And look - more scales!"

Well, this is a pretty short list, but I'm talking about the BEST PIANO BOOKS - according to me.  I would love to hear about the piano books that you find YOURSELF coming back to again and again!

Comments: Do you have a story or a question about music teaching? Share it!

Please note that all comments are moderated, and will not appear until I have approved them. Also, IF YOU ARE ASKING FOR MUSIC THAT IS NOT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, YOUR REQUEST WILL BE IGNORED. That's pretty much any music written in the last 75 years...

New! Comments

Have your say... Leave me a comment in the box below.

Music Notes Blog
Music Ed Tools
Guitar Music
Piano Music
Vocal Music
Lead Sheets
Broadway Music
Halloween Songs
Autism & Music
Privacy Policy
About Me
Contact Me