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Method Books

Method books are a great asset to have as a teacher, especially as a new teacher. A method book series has been carefully sequenced by its author to take students from novice to intermediate level.

What Methods Can Do

Method books can provide an excellent framework for teaching students to read music. The music and informational pages in a method book can act as the bones from which you can hang the other components of your curriculum. 

Method books can also teach you an enormous amount as a teacher. Even if you explore a method which you don’t end up using in the long-term, the exploration itself will be extremely valuable. You’ll learn as much from the aspects you disagree with as those which align perfectly with your own philosophies.

What methods cannot do

No method book can provide everything you need for effective piano instruction. In fact, I think it’s useful to get in the habit of calling books “reading methods” rather than just “methods”. Even those which include some technique, ear training or improvisation are primarily focussing on teaching music reading. 

The authors themselves, in most cases, will have included much more beyond the content that is on the page in their own teaching. By all means, use the method book as your scaffolding, but do not rely on it to do the planning and the teaching for you.

Exploring different methods

It can be tempting – especially at the beginning of your career – to stick with one reading method and get to know it inside and out. 

Resist this temptation.

Pigeonholing yourself means you are putting your students in a box, too. If you stick with one reading method, however fantastic it is, you won’t have the tools and flexibility you need to teach students who don’t fit that mould. 

Don’t be an “X method teacher”.

My favourite method book, for instance, is Piano Safari. I love it and I use it more than any other method. But I do not call myself a Piano Safari Teacher. If the universe magically and tragically ate all the Piano Safari books tomorrow and the overlords banned the presses from printing them, I would be upset, sure. (Partially because I don’t really want to live in a world with overlords.) But I would still be the same teacher. It’s not my identity as a teacher and the books do not determine how and what I teach. 

I think a rhythm of 3 new piano methods each year is a good pace as a new teacher. Over time, you’ll find you settle on a few favourites as you try and test these with students. 

Method book analysis

How do you choose those 3 method books? 

Before you start using a new method with a student, you want to be sure it has the potential to be a winner. You don’t want to use something which clashes with how you like to teach reading or your teaching philosophies in general.

This will mean a little investment up front. Please know that purchasing a reference copy of any method you are considering trying with a student will not be a waste of money, even if you don’t end up using it. You’re going to learn a ton from it and you can save all of the rejects to use as sightreading material for your students.

The first step to a good analysis is to play through the pieces. It would be easy to switch off your brain while you do this – after all, the pieces will be easy for you! To avoid that trap, here are a few questions to ask yourself before you play each piece:

  • What is this piece teaching the student?
  • What earlier concepts are being reinforced here?
  • What would be the most challenging part of this piece for a student? 
  • How could I inspire them to connect with this music?

When you do get to playing it, don’t just play it through. Focus on making each piece beautiful, however simple it is. 

After you have done your play-through of the book (I suggest doing this in one sitting, if possible) go back to the contents and look at the order of concepts. (Most method books will show you when new things are introduced in the table of contents. If the one you are studying does not, take a few minutes to jot down a list for yourself.) As you look through this list ask yourself “why?” 

  • Why is this introduced before that? Do you think that makes sense? 
  • Why has the author chosen the piece titles or why have they put in certain pieces as arrangements?
  • What would you move around if you could?

In the beginning, it will be hard to answer these questions but go through the process anyway. The more methods you analyse, the richer your answers and analysis will become. 

Preemptive Theory

Remember our old friend, Preemptive Theory? She deserves revisiting here as you start to investigate different method books. 

Remember that you’re going to be aiming to get ahead of all new concepts before they’re introduced in the method book. Once you settle on a contender to use with a student, draft a plan for how you’re going to do this for the first 10 or so concepts. 

A few good methods

I know how blind you’ll feel if you’re just starting teaching or have only used one particular method in the past. So, here are a few of the most popular piano method books out there today to get you started. 

If you have a new student in mind, start by analysing one you think might fit them. If you don’t, start with one for an average-aged (7 or 8 year old) beginner. 

More prescriptive methods 

There are some methods out there that might be described more truly as “methods” instead of just “reading methods”. These curricula tend to come with training (usually paid) and some take a pseudo franchise model where teachers need to pay a license fee. 

I don’t suggest you use these. I’m not going to pick on any one in particular, and I am definitely not suggesting they are bad. What they are, though, is prescriptive. I believe you will become a better teacher, over time, if no one gives you an exact roadmap of how to teach and what to teach.

That’s why I’m not giving you one here! You can become a pretty decent teacher by following someone else’s curriculum. You can become a GREAT teacher by forging your own.

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