Best piano books & sheet music- or at least, the ones I find myself using over and over again! Here are my recommendations, with some updates.
"Night Ride!" This fabulous piece by Robert Vandall is 3 pages of an erupting volcano - or at least a crashing storm.
All of my students want to play it even when they are not ready to READ IT - and if I don't give it to them soon enough, their big brothers or friends will show them how to play it! (Inaccurately, usually.)
As it takes place almost entirely in the bass clef, kids need to have a good grasp of note reading down below Middle C, or you will be limping along with a bit of reading here and there, but mostly ROTE teaching.
A bit like driving a car - FAST - with a map at which you occasionally dart glances.
Luckily, the piece is full of repeating patterns and scales, and fits in the hands very nicely - no acrobatic fingering required. It's written in Dm and does have quite a few accidentals, for only 2-3 lines. I HIGHLY recommend this piece.
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.
I tend to start students out in this book and stay in it until they reach the middle of the book, where the staff is introduced. Then I move my kids into "The Orange Book," or as it is more properly named, "Perfect Start for Notereading" (more about that book down below.
Personally, I prefer the Piano Adventure series 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!
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.
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!
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 personally (SACRILEGE!) 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).
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 ( "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. And informative.
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 Note Reading, 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.
Use this book for a break from routine
I used to pull this book out when a student - usually a boy - seemed to be memorizing his music only, and not making headway with NOTE READING. This book makes a very nice BREAK to their routine.
For a while, we would cease doing their regular lesson book. Then, when I felt they were ready for it, we'd go back into the Piano Adventures Lesson Book again.
Now, however, I have many of my students using this as their primary method book, and ALL MY NEW BEGINNERS, as soon as they are done with the black keys & non-staff white keys sections of the Piano Adventure Primer, go into this Perfect Start for Notereading.
They have WEEKS of opportunities to say aloud, "D, C, D, C, C-2-3-4..." You get the picture.
Each week, I assign one song in "The Orange Book" to be a "note-naming" song, and one song to be a "count-aloud" song, in addition, usually, to a "super-fast" song, and a new song.
Though it may sound grueling, when they get used to the routine, it is not a burden. I go easy on them at first...
Also, this series (Books 1, 2, & 3) makes great sightreading exercises for all students... I just keep a copy of the book on my piano, and have each student not-too-far past that level read 3-4 songs for me.
There is even a place on their lesson sheets now for me to record where we left off in "The Orange Book." I think their confidence in reading, and their counting ability, is improving.
With students getting far along in Piano Adventures Levels 1 & 2, I will use LEFT HAND ONLY of the Green Book (Book 2) of Perfect Start for Notereading.
We play the songs like a duet, with me taking the right hand. I enjoy hearing students say note names aloud, or singing words to easy new songs with me.
This is my favorite beginner book.
It works well for kids who need to firm up their finger numbers & counting, as well as slower learners who need lots of repetition.
It is a very good way to start children playing real songs, reading the music "code" language, without jumping in "over their heads" into the sea of treble and bass clefs.
I had already been using these songs for some time when I started adding teacher accompaniments - some of them are quite beautiful!
Once they catch the hang of it, the kids love how they can figure out songs with little to no help from me!
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.
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.
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 - strangely - I have never given this book to a boy.)
But don't take my word for it! Check out the currently 119+ 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 should convince her of the need to learn her chords. Try starting again with my Louie Louie sheet music for piano arrangement, the chord inversion arrangement.
"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! :( Perhaps you will have better luck!
Especially for Boys:
The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo
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.
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!
Update 2018, September:
I'm REALLY LIKING the music at Supersonics Piano, written (and sold) by Daniel McFarlane of Australia. He has music that is jazzy, bluesy, rock, dramatic, and also soft and expressive.
I'm having all my students listen to some selections this week and choose a couple, of which page 1 will be a theory and counting exercise for a few weeks. They are interesting enough for that!
One of my more ambitious young piano students said today,
"Who IS THIS GUY? I'm really liking his music!"
I recently purchased your arrangement of The Moldau (a longtime favorite of mine).
I wasn't sure if any of my students would be interested in it, but to my amazement 3 of my students LOVE it. Thank you so much for making your great arrangement.
Kim in Washington:
My son is hooked...I've been introducing piano to my son on and off for a year or so, but he's not had much interest. Then I gave him "Monsters Everywhere". He loved playing it with the organ sound on our piano. He memorized it that week and I'm printing off the other Halloween songs to keep him going. I love the detailed instructions on teaching since he is my first student! Thanks so much.
That is so neat that your son has experienced the magic and mystery of music through this little song. That is so exciting to me! Thanks for writing, Kim!
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...