Category Archives: Music

Piano lesson notes

One of the things I’ve been able to do since school was canceled is spend time teaching the girls piano.  I’ve made attempts before, but I never followed through.  This time, L is old enough to be enthusiastic and self-directed, and B conveniently wants to be like her older sister.

I taught myself piano as a child using the John W Schaum method.  I believe it was quite popular in the 80s.  In hindsight, it was a poor choice for self-teaching, and this time around, thanks to the internet, I was able to do some research on what the options were.  I start both girls out on the John Thompson Easiest Piano Course.  It’s been a while, but I think I chose it because I mistakenly believed it was the “easiest” option out there.  It worked really well for L at age 8, but it was just too hard for B, given that she cannot yet read.  L progressed through and finished the book, and it’s not a bad approach by any means.  However, I decided to transition both girls to the Alfred series.  Among other reasons, the Thompson books felt a bit dated, and despite a publication date on Amazon of 2005, the books were clearly written far before that and included at least one illustration that felt racist to me.  Alfred books also have more support for music theory and just generally more resources available.

I moved L over to Alfred’s Basic Piano Course Book 1A.  She comfortably transitioned into the second half of this book and finished it.  We are currently working on book 1B.  I then discovered that Alfred has another series targeted at the “earliest beginner,” and moved B into Alfred’s Prep Course Level A.  I’ve looked at a fair few piano methods at this point, and Alfred’s Prep Course, which runs Levels A through E, is by far the best one for a child aged 5 or 6, maybe even age 4.  I did do a preschool piano course with L a few years back, the first two Wunderkeys books.  Those books are probably appropriate for 3 and 4 year olds, but I honestly think you might just as well wait until a child is old enough to begin the Alfred Prep course.   While we had some fun doing Wunderkeys, I don’t think it really helped L all that much with her later piano progress.  For ages 7 or 8, a child with interest and aptitude is probably best suited for the Basic Piano Course 1A linked above, but the Prep course I think is also  a great option if you want to take it a little slower.

Alfred’s piano course includes a number of books, obviously in part for moneymaking reasons.  Honestly, the only one you *really* need is the lesson book.  I learned piano with little or no theory, and I derived great enjoyment from playing despite doing things “wrong.”  Nevertheless, we initially bought the lesson and theory book.  L doesn’t love doing the theory, but I think it is very useful specifically at this level for learning note names, rather than simply associating a written note with an unnamed piano key.  I’ve also decided to purchase the recital book going forward, as learning more songs enables us to slow the pace a little.  With regular practice, you can progress through the lesson book quite rapidly, which can start making it increasingly difficult, which can be frustrating for an 8-year-old.

I have been surprised that Bri, at 5, is capable of productive practice on her own.  We are skipping theory with her so far, and in addition to the lesson book, I bought a Christmas song book (since at her age, Christmas is the best thing ever), and the two books have proved a good combination.  She’s progressing slowly but enjoying herself.  I hope we can keep it up once school starts.