For piano teachers who choose not to use piano tutor books for the absolute beginners, it can be a challenge to find suitable piano books that can be linked to how they introduce notation to the students and also when to introduce such books.
In the natural order of learning how to play the piano or any instrument for that matter, playing should always come first because that’s how the learners develop the skill to listen actively to the sound they make with their finger work. When the early learners are focusing on reading, the sound often escapes their ear so they tend to develop symptom of not really hearing what they’re playing. When students acquires basic listening skill to their own playing, they also build sound vocabulary that can be a great contribution towards developing healthy reading skill later on.
During the period of cultivating aural and playing skills, teachers can introduce many useful simple songs by rote. Sometimes, it may help to draw a pictorial guide to help students understand, organise and internalise each song; be it finger numbers (but note notes attached to them!), melodic shapes, rhythmic notation, words & stories, even Morse Code to help with some tricky rhythmic patterns!, etc. This period is also a crucial stage where they can develop steady pulse in their playing while they don’t need to worry about reading notation.
Notation can be introduced gradually, separately from piano playing in the early stage. Always include lots of writing exercises, including melodic pattern recognition, rather than reading the notes off the paper. Writing always activate and engage learners’ brains much better. You may find that delaying reading notation could cause problems later on. It’s only natural that their playing is far ahead than what they can read to play but reading will eventually catch up. So, during this period where students learn songs by rote and learning to read notation separately, teachers can gently introduce the piano books that are very easy to read but include lots of notes that they’re learning to read on the side and also that are full of patterns! Pattern search in the music is like creating a musical map. The learners can organise how and where to start learning each piece of music, so that they feel learning a new song is less a daunting task. Some young children may need to start with the notated version of some of the simply written songs they’ve already learned (see if they can recognise the songs they can already play, but this time by reading it!).
Here’re some of my favourite piano books so far that I introduce to my students when they can read 5 notes in the right hand, a couple of notes in the left hand, and also can recognise melodic patterns (stepwise/skipwise-up/down in relation to the direction on the keyboard) in the music and can play several songs well. Some books are suitable for little children; some are suited for 10 years old and over & adults:
Grand Piano Solos, Book One
American Pop Piano, Primer
Microjazz for Beginners
Vogt & Bates
Piano Explorer, 1A
Accent on Solo, Book One
Nancy Faber & Randall Faber
PreTime Piano, Jazz & Blues, Primer Level
Attention Grabber, Book One
Christmas on the Jazzy Side
For more ambitious players:
Janet Vogt & Leon Bates
Piano Explorer, 1B
Denis Alexander, Gayle Kowalchyk, E.L. Lancaster, Vicotria McArthur & Martha Mier
Alfred’s Premier Piano Course, Lesson 2B
Really Easy Jazzin’ About
Little Peppers, Very Easy
Nancy Faber & Randall Faber
PlayTime Piano, Popular, Level One
PlayTime Piano, Kid’s Songs, Level One
Grand Piano Duets, Book Two
Popular Christmas Songs, Level One
There’re always more new books appearing in the market. I shall add more to the above list when ready. Happy music hunting!